“Everything in moderation,” I like to remind myself, when reaching for the egg nog and the sugar cookies at this time of year.
If truth be told, I can tend to take the same approach with religion. Extremes scare me.
You may identify: most of us can agree that killing people in the name of a religion is not okay. As Louis CK, playing Lincoln, might say regarding slavery, it’s not “cool.”
Of course you don’t have to go so far as killing someone to be taken in by extremes.
If there were ever a time when we as Westerners might eschew moderation for extremes, it would be now, during the holiday season.
If you’re not sure, just look around. In the stores. In our houses.
The other day I was talking with someone who joked that she had become bored of just decorating her house for Christmas. Now she likes to decorate the decorations. The other day she had bought a light that would illuminate her decorations with an angelic glow.
We laughed- only there is something eye-opening about the sentiment: it points out the element of the absurd in all the consumerist hoopla around this time of the year. If now in the public sphere we become appropriately embarrassed in the name of political correctness by the religious dimensions of our holiday celebrations, we fill our stores and our homes with schmaltzy, over-the-top reminders that this is the “happiest time of the year” and that Santa is almost here.
The other day I was in Target trying to buy wrapping paper. There was loads of it, all bedecked by big, cardboard cut-out reminders, in case I had forgotten that buying wrapping paper was a big celebration. Snowmen. Tree ornaments. “Happy Holidays!” gesticulations. All the while some Frank Sinatra sound-a-like was singing about the “miracle” of Christmas in nauseatingly sugary tones.
All I’m doing is buying wrapping paper, for goodness’ sake, and I’m thinking to myself, “I’m so over this!”
It’s artificial…to the extreme.
Even the atheists seem a bit over-the-top at this time of year! Did you see the humongous billboard sign they put up in New York’s Times’ Square? Under a big, blow-up picture of Santa next to the crucified Jesus, the sign reads, “Keep the merry. Dump the myth.”
I guess the myth of Santa is okay, but crucified Jesuses are too, well, depressing. I guess you can only be an atheist if you don’t struggle with depression. (For that matter, I thought we were mostly celebrating Jesus birth at Christmas.)
Isn’t irony grand?
But I wonder if these over-the-top tendencies at this time of the year tap into something that is genuinely human, namely, a longing for the kind of goodness that breaks into life’s routine tedium with some dramatic healing power- poof!- that puts everything right.
We want everything to be made right and put back together- right away. Now.
Honestly, I think most of us really want a miracle- if not from a crucified Jesus, then a politically correct Santa who gives a reason to be merry all the time.
Today’s reading from Isaiah 35 reminds me that this desire is one that God really will fill, just not on our own time tables or in the fashion we might expect.
The picture the prophet Isaiah gives here is one of a lush and plentiful land at peace. It is a land in which the parched places have become springs of water.
And only God, the prophet Isaiah says, leads us to that place. We can’t erect it ourselves. We can’t pretend it’s there, by throwing our best advertisements at it.
We can let God lead us there.
The meaning of Christmas is that God leads us there like a helpless baby would lead us. Gently. Quietly. Almost imperceptibly even. Kind of like the sun as it comes up each morning, the first beams of light dispersing the night.
That’s the kind of miracle that makes me sing.