Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012.30.12 Mary, Joseph, and Santa Claus

In a neighboring town in a Boston suburb we saw a creche set-up, effulgent with strings of lights, strung about on hapless trees. Creche figures stood tall, gathered in a threesome: Mary, Joseph and Santa.

The sight amused and teased me. The first temptation was to scoff and scorn such cheap excess.  The second was to lament the way the religious meaning of Christmas has been all but lost. And the third was to wonder if Santa was an image of Divinity, of Christ.

In important ways Santa is a christ figure.   In equally important ways,  Santa falls short, because the old elf's generosity and love has conditions (naughty and nice lists.)  But.....Godde's love in Christ offers unconditional love.

Christmas is surrounded by other holy day traditions with similar meanings. Hannukah is a celebration of liberation for the Jewish people, ancient and modern. The day after Christmas, Kwanzaa is celebrated. It’s a pan-African celebration of “first fruits”—all the best offerings and gifts coming together in a celebration of shared life. Kwanzaa started during the Black Freedom Movement in the United States in1966, but has ancient roots in Egypt.

All these days honor the mystery of the human spirit. Religious interpretations attribute a portion of that mysterious expansive spirit to God working within human strength, empowering us to go beyond our limits for love, liberation, and generosity.

Kwanzaa’s founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga, chose to make the holiday cultural rather than religious, so that people of all faiths could gather to celebrate.

American culture right now has more Santa-awareness than Christ-awareness. Christmas has become more holly day than holy day,  a day more cultural than religious.

Some Christians rue this as religious loss, but I wonder if it’s gain?