Christians around the United States are faced with a mountain of evidence concerning dwindling faith. This is not a new phenomenon, but the projection of a steady decline that has been in progress for decades. Saints have been replaced with elves and cuddly creatures, religious symbols with commercial kitsch, and the Holy Event with secular revelry far removed from humble gratitude. "Joy to the World" is reduced to "The World Is our Joy" and man-made comforts leave little room for the Savior of all.
Interestingly, some zealous believers are madly stuffing the cracks and fissures of the groaning dike with all they can find, when perhaps post-modernism floods and swells would require a different tactic. The last century has seen the tide of commercialism overtaking the eddies of authentic piety, so that the barking dogs now belt out "Jingle Bells" well before grandma has begun to thaw the Thanksgiving turkey. What has any of this to do with Emmanuel?
I am torn by the well-meaning crusades to "Put Christ back into Christmas" and inciting avalanches of consumers to insist that pet gifts be properly attributed to the Nativity. There isn't an entrepreneur in the country who doesn't weigh the prospects of gift-giving in December in his annual totals, counting on the materialistic side of the holiday to launch him solidly into the new year. Those who dare water down the "Reason for the season" will have angry Christians to deal with, threatening cold shoulders or out-right boycotts. "Family trees" will not be tolerated, when evidently faith counts on the purchase of a "Christmas tree" complete with baubles and glitter to captivate the young ones. And yet the store managers scratch their heads and wonder.
Does our faith really rest on this? Does a properly named tree enhance the soul? Will pet gifts extend the Kingdom if they are designated as being for Christmas instead of consigned to "holiday" bins? Why must we mount this battle to assure the proper categories in the materialistic frenzy? It would seem as though our campaigns are at cross purposes. We want to diminish the distractions and help believers to focus on the Christ-Child. We want to embrace the poverty of the crib with purified hearts — hearts that have spent the four weeks of Advent properly preparing. We want all souls to understand authentic freedom and choose God, Who deigned to give Himself as Cherished Gift, fulfilling all needs, and answering all prayers. We want the humility of Bethlehem to stand in marked contrast to the wild excess of hedonism and selfishness. How do noisy campaigns objecting to "Happy Holidays" help accomplish any of this?
If the West has moved past its Christian roots and found them unconvincing, the haughty insistence of past glory carries no weight. That means that while Judeo-Christian wisdom was the bedrock of the country's foundation (praise God!), if the present generation no longer believes, we cannot force them to observe our feasts. If a shopkeeper wants to sell to Wiccans, the market is his playground. If African-Americans want to subscribe to a hodge-podge of customs born of good will, then it is their right. If secular rabble-rousers want to "rock around the Christmas tree," then by all means give them room. Such is the order of the day as the true faith increasingly slips into hiding.
Shouting down the materialist mob and demanding that they wish their customer "Merry Christmas" only adds to the cheapening of the greeting. It's a badly tarnished phrase bearing little resonance to the holy exchanges to which we're called. Each year, I find more and more to wonder over in Advent. It's more and more difficult to long for a Savior I find sprinkled meaninglessly amongst reindeer, snowmen, and tinsel. Should Advent be a yearly battle of the "culture wars" or a retreat into silence and oblation?
The five week Christmas-blitz leading up to the feast has already bull-dozed the wise preparation that Holy Mother Church has always asked for. The Twelve Day feast limps along, usually petering out in the first week, and the joy that should last until Candlemass is long-since heaved to the winds with the New Year's hats and horns.
Let it go. Stand in contradiction to the premature revelry and the misguided festivities. Give the world over to the world. Go into your rooms, shut the doors and pray — pray for fidelity, pray for oblation, pray for true peace. Such an example to our children would be far more helpful than to demand that the world pay lip-service to a God it will not honor. It didn't receive Him upon His birth, and now it mocks Him on His annual feast. Branding the mockery as "Christmas" only heaps scorn on our Beloved. Let it go.