At this time of the year I always have a struggle, a fight against numbness. The hustle and bustle of the Season leaves me striving to grasp something authentic and meaningful. I have a hard time staying afloat the flood of packaged cheeriness, muzak in jingles or bells, ephemeral Santa’s and reindeer. With the word “Hallelujah” almost becoming a laughable cliché, an ordinary expression for scenarios from finally finding the right gift for the family pet to paying up the Visa bill, soon it would take a history lesson to clarify the origin of this festival called Christmas.
Intentionally or not, the Reason of the Season has been masked so not to offend, the birth of Christ replaced by themes acceptable to most cultures, like gift-giving, family reunion, ornaments, decorations, and good will towards all. ‘Season’s Greetings’ has become the politically correct sign of the time.
On that winter night in Bethlehem, the shepherds bore no gifts. Indeed, their very presence and worship could well be the gift they offered. Yes, the several wise men brought along gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the Christ child only, not to share among all. For these gifts symbolized the very reason for His Advent, the infinite King debased, the lowly birth was just the beginning of a short and misconstrued life that ultimately ended in a horrific death.
The Advent, the few weeks before Christmas, is the best time for me to ponder again such a paradox. If there is any joy or cheeriness, it comes from the initial degradation and ultimate agony of One. It is from that vicarious suffering with humanity and the offering of substitutional death that Christmas derives its meaning for me.
A few weeks ago during a Sunday message, the name Joni Eareckson re-emerged in my mind. I was a young teenager when I first read her tragic story. At 17, she dove into shallow water and broke her neck, and remained a quadriplegic ever since. I cannot imagine myself paralyzed from the neck down, having had to be lifted from bed to wheelchair for 37 years.
But what she has done sitting in that wheelchair has surpassed many able bodies. Her international ministry to people with disabilities is still thriving after 30 years. The paintings which she has labored over inch by inch with a paintbrush between her teeth have become a testimony of perseverance, every stroke an ode to life. Through her writing and broadcasting, Joni has become a voice and inspiration for the disabled and their families, all because she knows her suffering had been vicariously borne by the One who came just to share that pain, and redefine the meaning of life.
The hymn (Phillip Bliss, 1875) that had uplifted Joni in her most despondent hours painted not a cheery figure but a suffering Christ who came with no jingles or bells, and utterly devoid of packaging: “Man of sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came…”
If you have a few minutes in this busy Christmas season, pause and take a look at this short clip. Of all interviewers, I found Joni talking to Larry King, dated June, 2009.
12 thoughts on “Season’s Musings”
It takes concerted effort and concentration, as you’ve said, to uncover what we really want to focus on at Christmas time. Thanks for the reminder about Joni’s ministry. I remember seeing the film about her life many years ago.
I’ve never followed any of Joni’s news since reading her first book. So I was quite amazed by her achievement, after 37 years… do click on the links on my post to Joni’s website.
A paradox indeed. Our Man of sorrows anointed with Joy…
Thanks for sharing the video…
Isn’t it true, Christianity is full of paradoxes: Life through death, exalted through humility, servant leader… and Joni sure has shown us strength through weakness… ‘for when I am weak, then I am strong’ — 2 Cor. 12:10
The beauty of the Christmas season and celebration is its very richness. For the faithful, a focus on the atonement, the incarnation, the lofty Logos theology of St. John or the simple, human stories of Matthew, Mark and Luke are equally
Unfortunately, the church has been just a touch too willing to let society dictate the nature of her celebrations – the hunger to be accepted isn’t limited to individuals.
I very much appreciated the video. I didn’t know Joni Eareckson, and her story is inspiring, a wonderful reminder of all the gifts we already have, and often forget to acknowledge.
Yes, Joni is an extraordinary human being. I first learned about her story from her book Joni, which I read as a teenager. But since then haven’t followed much about her until a few weeks ago, heard her mentioned in a message. Her website Joni and Friends is the site of her international ministry to the disabled. And if you click on her name on my post, you’ll see her bio. Quite impressive considering someone who can’t even move from the neck down, confined to a wheelchair for 37 years.
With the trend we’re seeing in our society, I’m afraid the origin of Christmas would sooner or later be swept into oblivion. Ironically, it’s in the Western world that such kind of political correctness is emphasized, or maybe similar to the censoring of Christianity in totalitarian nations. But in most of Asia, and the place I know well, HK, they celebrate Christmas unabashedly, albeit a bit more commercially, at least the name does not need to be toned down or changed. As a matter of fact, the literal translation of “Christmas” in Chinese is “Holy Birth Festival”… and people greet each other by saying: “Happy Holy Birth!” Nobody says ‘Season’s Greetings’ except maybe Westerners.
Arti, while I was at work this afternoon I heard a report there had been discussion in our current administration about eliminating the nativity scene which traditionally has been placed in the East Room of the White House.
It will be left in place, but the reason given for pondering such a move is that the administration wished to achieve an inclusiveness greater than that represented by the nativity scene.
I’m rarely just plain tickled by something coming out of Washington these days, but this set my funny bone all a-quiver. What could be more inclusive than Gospel references to God loving the world – the whole world? Goodness me.
At least here in Texas, when the State School Board was debating whether to remove Christmas from our textbooks, they were willing to replace it with Diwali 😉
This is getting too common, and the most ironic of social phenomena in the Western world, that we’re banning expressions of Western culture and civilization.
As I was writing this post, I phoned our City Hall and asked whether they had a nativity scene set up this year in the municipal building and yes, despite protests last year, they still do… so far. But for how many more years? I think as Nikki says in her comment, it’ll take ‘concerted effort’ to maintain the Western cultural root.
We would not ban the expressions of other faiths in public. We have a Menorah set up as well since it’s Hanukkah, and the local paper always have full coverage of the Ramadan every year. But often it’s Christian symbols that are protested against and censored, like the banning of Christmas celebrations in public schools.
Replacing it with Diwali in Texas? I can fully understand your sentiment.
Thanks for this thoughtful post, Arti. I, too, wrestle with the concept — “how can it be that a baby so sweet was born to die for me?”
You know the saying “Jesus is the reason for the season”? My DH hates that saying, simply because he believes this one is more accurate: WE are the reason for the season. It’s just semantics, I suppose, but still I think he’s got a good point. We’re the reason God came to earth in the first place, and thinking about that incredible love for us is humbling, and puts our hearts in the right place to truly celebrate the hope, peace, joy, and love of advent and Christmas. (Um, sorry… getting carried away in the comment section here!)
Also, I’m sure it’s been years since I thought of Joni and her story — nice to recall it again!
Of course! That’s a good correction… we are indeed the reason for the season. This leads to a visual analogy found in the film The Passion of the Christ. One of the Roman soldiers pounding the nail into Jesus’ hand is none other than Mel Gibson himself… signifying we are responsible for Jesus’ death. Thanks for the thought!
Wow, what a profound post. I’m thinking it over now, as I try to compose a post that says something more than, “Bravo!” (I don’t find many Christians in my day to day life, nor my blogging life, and it is a great refreshment to read your thoughts, which mirror mine.)
When we were told to celebrate Ramadan, in our public elementary school, I went out and bought an Advent calendar to which I assigned all the children in my class a door to open. I am tired of Christianity being the forgotten religion, the left out religion, the tromped upon religion. Has it been forgotten that our money says, “In God We Trust?” Is it forgotten that every single day the children say the Pledge of Allegiance “One nation, Under God, indivisible with justice for all”? We have become so embracing of everything (which in many respects I enjoy) that we seem to have forgotten our roots.
Ah, but I digress on a personal rant, and I’m sorry to take up space here on your blog. Suffice it to say, that I loved your post. And Joni has always been an inspiration to me.
I’m not sure, but I doubt public school teachers are even allowed to use an Advent calendar in their classes here in multicultural Canada! Yes, multicultural, but not Christianity… No mention of Christmas or Christ, it’s Winter Break or Winter Festival. Santa and Rudolph are ok though.
I’m glad through blogging, I’ve come to know a few fellow Christians. Although I don’t explicitly advocate my faith and conviction, my values could be reflected in my posts inevitably. While I try to avoid being ‘preachy’ and didactic, I don’t feel I should hide my faith either.
As a matter of fact, I hope through my Blog, people can see that a Christian can also be a thinking person, a reading person, a creative (hopefully) person who appreciates the arts, someone who can have conviction and subscribe to a certain set of values and yet still be accepting of others with different views, and who is intelligent enough to discern when to stand her ground and when to embrace pluralistic expressions.
Thank you for your kind words and it’s my pleasure reading your candid sharing. Here on Ripple Effects, there’s no need to apologize for length of comments!
I wrote something like what Shari’s DH said in my Christmas post a year ago, that you are the reason for the season, each of you.
America is in a unique position of collected cultures. But why not handle it as India does, with multiple festivals and holidays? We don’t have to homogenize. Some of our laws are just so silly.
I remember Joni’s story way back when and did not know either that she is still on the scene. How wonderful. I couldn’t load the interview, it took too long here at home, sadly.
Multiculturalism is supposed to be the official policy here in Canada… but what do we get?
I’ll be interested to read your Christmas post from last year.
As for Joni’s video, maybe you can load it better if you go directly to YouTube(?) Here’s the link:
Arti, You’re writing some beautiful stuff. Just stopped, really, to say “hi” and try to catch up. Oh yes, I have the Xmas “thing” going on; nevertheless, not sure I’ll get cards to all I care about so consider this a card! along with any posts I can eke out this season which I love madly. The fire’s going in the hearth and we just made wreaths – wish you were here for some hot apple and mulling spices drink!
(I hear it was so cold last week, it made my friend’s face nearly freeze – she was visiting Calgary!)
Big holiday hugs!
Thank you for your Christmas greeting… yours is the first Christmas ‘Blog Card’ I receive this year! And the same to you too! May the wonders and blessings of Christmas be with you all year round!
As I write, the temp. outside is minus 27 C. With wind chill it’s minus 36C. That’s Celsius… oh well, when it gets down to minus 40, it really doesn’t matter that it’s C or F. So, that’s life here in the deep freeze, and people still go out doing whatever they need to do, two weekends before Christmas. I’m glad to have you back in the blogosphere and hope you’ve had a wonderful time writing your novel in November.
I used to receive calendars with Joni’s paintings from my mom. She had faded from my mind until this post. Thank you for sharing. Her story is so inspirational. Vic
Yes, I remember seeing those cards. Joni has certainly drawn our attention to these disabled artists who paint with their mouth. I just checked, they are called ‘Mouth Foot Painting Artists’ and have their own website. She has not only survived a paralysis but persevered and helped many along the way. Amazing life indeed. Thanks for your comment!
Hi Arti- Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
I never feel threatened by political correctness because it safeguards all of our rights. And because the truth will always come forth and shine brightly.
And while Christ’s birth is the reason we celebrate Christmas now, the season does have its origins in a pagan celebration. After all, I’ve heard that historians are pretty sure Jesus was born in springtime.
I always think of how Jesus would react and how I believe He says to everyone, “Come, unto me.”
Thank you for your well wishes and the same to you too… may the spirit of Christmas give you joy all the coming days and best wishes for a fantastic new decade!
You’re right in pointing out that Christmas day actually is an arbitrary date. But since we’re given such a ‘legitimate’ day to celebrate the birth of Christ, might as well make the best use of it and focus on its true meaning. Because, I’m afraid, such a ‘right’ may not last forever, and from my post, I’ve expressed the sentiment that such a privilege is slowly eroding from us in this pluralistic and secular society, at least here in Canada. We’re not allowed to relate Christ to the Season in public schools… being one example.
Thanks for reminding me that everyday should be a Christ-centred day. Again, all best wishes to you in the coming new year!