Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
My granddaughter Nadia has read and/or seen the famous "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," because she began talking about it with me the other day. That brought back memories of having read the book by Dr. Seuss and watched the TV version when I was a young boy. This further led to some fantasizing on my part ... Perhaps it would have been a good thing if the Grinch actually did steal "Christmas!" (Apparently, I too have my "dark side" occasionally). The "Christmas" I am referring to, however, is the commercial pageant of excessive consumerism and endless activity that leaves one on the brink of total exhaustion by December 25. If the Grinch had stolen that Christmas, then perhaps the Nativity of Christ could become more central - even to Christians! In my fantasizing, I created an ideal world with an ideal celebration of the Nativity of Christ. Here is what I envisioned, at least for Orthodox Christians:
- The faithful would actually be able to come to more of the liturgical services - other than Sunday - during the forty-day Nativity Fast, instead of playing bumper cars in shopping mall parking lots, and then spending hours inside of the malls listening to drearily piped in "holiday season" music as they endlessly shopped and spent money (or jacked-up the credit cards). Or, perhaps not spend endless hours shopping online. Then, we could take something home of the peace and prayerfulness of the church. The music that would fill our minds would be the singing and chanting of the sacred hymnography of the Church that invites us to the mystery of the Incarnation. In short, the church and not the mall would be the focus of our seasonal endeavors.
- The faithful would be free of the consumerism that "obliges" everyone to shop and spend an extraordinary amount of money on a pile of gifts. This would free our minds and hearts to think of the poor and needy who could become more of our focus of attention and the recipients of our generosity, in the spirit of the real St. Nicholas; and ultimately, in the spirit of the Gospel. We would then only have to worry about "offending" God about forgetting to provide gifts for His neediest children and not only our family members, friends and co-workers.
- The faithful would make a point of coming to Confession before the Feast in a timely fashion rather than desperately trying to "squeeze" an extra fifteen minutes into those over-extended planner books that are filled with a myriad of "winter activities/vacations," social commitments and the like. This would also allow for greater time for self-examination in order to confess those sins with true repentance and compunction.
- The faithful would be able to concentrate more time on the Holy Scriptures - and less on shopping catalogs - or a good book that leads us deeper into the mystery of the "Orthodox Way" that is centered on the Incarnate Christ. Parishioners would be able to come to the church for any educational/catechetical programs that are scheduled during this same time, so as to communally penetrate that same mystery in a spirit of intense interest in Christ and fellowship as a group.
- The faithful, basically, would be free of the temptation to marginalize the Nativity of Christ because of the demands of the secularized "Christmas" that devours our time and energy and resources. This would allow for the practice of the "stewardship of time, talents and treasure" in a Christ-directed manner that is consistent with the Gospel.
Perhaps Dr. Seuss was onto something in realizing that the Grinch just may represent the "dark side" of our personality. But again - and I may be pushing it - perhaps the Grinch could represent our conscience that tells us that our focus and attention during Christmas is not quite "on target." That we need to eliminate some of the "distractions" of life that are superficially attractive, but which somehow prevent us from discovering that "something" that would really bring us an everlasting contentment. Of course, we want our children to enjoy themselves at Christmas, as we did as children. We would not want it to be "always winter, but never Christmas," as C. S. Lewis described Narnia when still under the control of the bad witch. So, in the end, the Grinch - like Ebeneezer Scrooge before him - was "converted" and discovered his "good side." Our conversion could entail a turning back to Christ so as to satisfy the deepest longings our minds and hearts. Perhaps this could happen if we were less concerned with conforming ourselves to the world, but more concerned with conforming ourselves to Christ._____
Another note: It will be quite a challenge, especially for families with small children, to come to church on Sunday morning, December 26 - The Second Day of the Nativity Feast. However, that Sunday, like all Sundays, is the "Lord's Day," and that is how the liturgical cycle works itself out this year around the date of December 25. I am hopeful that we will have a full gathering as we continue to celebrate the Nativity of Christ._____