Tag Archives: Christmas

Baby Jesus, and Secret Hidden Messages Just For You

(in which I present my Christmas thoughts this year by discussing not so secret messages, which version of Jesus you prefer, The Mandalorian (Baby Yoda), The Book Thief, Death, Birth, and All Things New.)

 

I just finished reading “The Book Thief.” I was given the book by someone who told me that the narrator reminded them of me. It didn’t take too long into it that I realized the narrator is Death.
That’s its own thing, but given how much my head’s been swirling lately, and just how many thoughts go circling around up there, I can see the similarities.
But it’s the last line that really clinched it for me, a last note from the narrator.

I am haunted by humans.”

It’s true. Well…it’s true that that’s how the book ends. But not just that.
It’s true of me too. I am haunted by humans. One of the greatest gifts I can say I’ve gotten was stories of old, of people I never met nor knew. Letters written. Windows into just a PART of someone’s life.

But isn’t that what a story is anyway? Just a window? A person is so much more. And to know the person is SO much more than just knowing the story.

Every story ever told really happened.
Stories…are where memories go when they’re forgotten.”

I can’t speak to why memories get forgotten, but I can say with a certain conviction that stories impact us all differently, and the emotions they elicit in each of us individually can be just as varied as their impact.
But stories have themes. They may even have recurring messages. Some are poetically weaved throughout—subtle. And others are overtly stated right at the beginning.
In The Book Thief, the last line is the narrator stating, “I am haunted by humans.” But one of the first lines is this: “HERE’S A SMALL FACT You are going to die.”

Seems a bit overt, probably probing, begging you to ask yourself the question, “Am I okay with this? Am I okay with dying?” Maybe even makes you get a bit more philosophical in your self reflection and introspection, “What’s it mean to die? What’s it mean to be alive? What’s it mean to die while still living?”
But the more I read on, the more I realized that the Book Thief is less a about the character of Liesel Meminger, and more a character study of Death itself; AND as a result, a means of which causes you, the reader, to engage with the character of Death, and perhaps more subtly, your relationship to that character—to Death.

How do you relate to Death?

 

Well. Going back to Christmas. We’ve got a story of Birth, not Death (though, maybe as you’ll see soon, perhaps the story of Christmas is as much as story of Death as it is of Birth).
Put simply, I think the story of Christmas, of Bethlehem, and of the birth of a baby—the revelation that the most important thing in the universe is an infant—also serves to reveal more about you, the reader, and how you engage with each character.
It’s almost inescapable.
Unavoidable.
And ohhhh how we try so hard to do so. Let’s make it about making sure we say the right thing around the holiday, or do the right thing, or buy the right thing. Let’s keep busy. Let’s not think too hard. Let’s do just enough acknowledgment that we feel we’ve serviced the “heart” of the holiday, but not in a way where it changes us, or causes us anxiety about ourselves. Let’s not think too hard about it so as to ask the questions that REALLY SHOULD be asked, the ones that may just bring about the end of us.
It is, after all, simply the birth of the “Savior,” and we KNOW what name to write on the birthday cake.

And it’s the end of the story—the death and resurrection—that we’re left with.

But what does the beginning tell us? What does it reveal about ourselves?
Which version of Jesus do YOU pray to?

I started this post with a clip from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. It’s probably my favorite scene from that film because it presents such a real and honest display of everything I’ve been saying up to this point.
What version of Jesus you prefer and like the best says more about you than it does about Jesus.

And what’s wrong with liking the baby version the best?
Because it’s weak? Because it’s not the savior? Because it requires care and a more delicate hand on your part?

See, the grown up, bearded man version of Jesus is the one we go to. That’s the one that “carries us” when we’re struggling (why there’s only one set of footprints). The grown up version is the one that takes care of US, dies for US, saves US.
But the baby version…well…the baby version requires YOU to care for IT. The baby version requires YOU to take care of IT.

It’s the baby version that requires YOU to die for IT.

The baby version requires more on your part. More questions. More self reflection. More introspection. More anxiety. Maybe even the end of you. It requires honesty. Vulnerability.
It requires being an adult. Being a parent. Care. Tenderness. Protection. Realness. Stress.
Humanity.
You feeling weak, frustrated, open to hurt.
It requires you being human.
Sooo…

How do YOU relate to BABY Jesus?

See, I don’t think that’s a question we want to ask ourselves. So we project. We know the end of the story, after all. And the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus becomes more about what the end of the story means.

I am haunted by humans.”

Recently—much like most redblooded Americans—I began watching Disney+’s “The Mandalorian.” It didn’t take long to reveal the big shocker of the series: a baby Yoda.

Image result for baby yoda
Friggin adorable. You should see him eat a frog. Or play with spaceship controls. Or disobey.

Whoa! Spoilers!” You say. To which I respond with, “Welcome to the internet.”

But the series turns heel at that moment. And what you THOUGHT was a story about one character and his history, becomes about how he relates to an infant.
See he doesn’t know baby Yoda, or what a Yoda species means, it’s power, rarity, bigger narrative implications. He just sees an infant. An adorable one.
And come episode three, the titular Mandalorian abandons everything to take care of the infant.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens at the story’s end, because we the audience don’t know what this baby is, or how important it is, or what will happen to it in the overall narrative.
Like we do with the infant born in a middle eastern cave, and laid in a food troth.
We know the end there. “It is finished.” (Though I don’t think all of us understand the end…)

What if all we had was the beginning (of the story)?

Over the course of my teaching career, I’ve had countless times where students have approached me to say they’re convinced I said something in class just for them. Like I was speaking for their benefit, and speaking directly and only to them. Like I was coding secret messages in a general message JUST to reach out to them.
Funny thing about truth is that sometimes it pierces in such a personal way that it feels as if it’s talking to JUST US. And I won’t lie, sometimes I DID code secret messages in a general message JUST to reach out to specific individuals.

But sometimes a story can feel so personal simply because we think we know the ending. Or maybe that the storyteller does. We think we have it all figured out, the story. It’s like that with people too. We think we know the ending. Or that the other person does.
When in reality, it’s just the beginning. And what that means to us is that we don’t know the ending.
We only know that the story has truly just begun.
And that lack of knowing what happens next, well…if we think we have it figured out, what do we need the story for? What do we need another person for?

Personally, this year has brought about a lot of change. Like…a LOT.
This year has brought about the end of me in so many ways, it’s impossible to fully get into without long, drawn out conversations that stretch far into the night.
And anyone that knows me well enough knows how difficult and challenging this season has always been to me. Not just Christmas, but my birthday as well (which happens to be coming up soon, and falls prior to Christmas). This whole season, just difficult no matter WHAT else is going on in my life.
And I can always tell the struggle has begun because—without FAIL—my lower back begins to hurt to the point of debilitation. This year it hit two days ago. And each year I think, “Gah. What did I do? How’d I pull my back THIS bad??” And then I realize this happens EVERY YEAR.

But something clicked this year that has changed what I view this season to be. No, not that it cured my lower back pain.
The theme. What’s at the heart of the story of this season? The birth? Baby Jesus? All the questions and self reflection and introspection that relating to Baby Jesus brings?

Do not be afraid.” Zacharias. Joseph. Mary. The shephards. “Do not be afraid.”
This is one of the first lines of the narrative in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that provide us the Nativity Story, the birth of Jesus.
Do not be afraid.”
THIS is the theme of the story. Each of these characters may have been told the importance of Jesus, what Jesus will be, all of it. But what they were facing in the here and now was this: an infant. A baby.
“A baby changes everything…”

How much responsibility. Care.
The END of you. A NEW relationship.

And it’s scary. It’s frightening. There’s SO many what ifs. And it will more than likely be the end of you. But all of this is GOOD NEWS. The END of FEAR. Which is good news in itself.

You have everything to fear, and yet you’re told, “It’s okay. You have nothing to fear.”

This is how the story starts. Overtly.
And if anything is subtly weaved throughout the rest of the story, it’s this message.

So I may not know the future. I don’t, actually. Just like I don’t know what’s gonna happen in The Mandalorian, or if having a baby Yoda is somehow going to play into The Rise of Skywalker.
I don’t know it. And not knowing the story can be very scary. And present the end of me.

But I’m not afraid.

And no, this isn’t me making a subtle secret message. (But then again, I’m not that good of a storyteller.) I’m not being poetic, I’m not being mysterious or obscure.
I’m saying this directly and overtly.

DO NOT BE AFRAID.”
I bring you good news. And it’s this: You don’t have to be afraid.

This will change everything, sure. It’ll be the end of you, sure. But you don’t have to fear it.
You don’t have to fear anything that causes you fear.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays.
For this is only the beginning. And it’s not just a season. It’s a new life.
THIS is the new year. And none of us have anything to fear.

It’s true. WHEREVER you find love, it feels like Christmas.”

And Christmas means YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR.
So…WHEREVER you find love…DON’T BE AFRAID.
THAT’S good news.

There is no fear in love…perfect love casts out fear.” – 1st John 4:18

 

And I believe THAT is worth giving thanks.

So.
Let’s all give thanks to tiny, 8lbs 6oz, newborn infant Jesus, who doesn’t even know his shapes and colors.

 

(UP NEXT:What is Love? Baby Don’t Hurt Me… A Reexamination of the Film, Warm Bodies”)

->and the world WILL be better for this…

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Christmas Traditions I CANNOT Do Without

Pt. 2 (continued from “Christmas Traditions I Can Do Without”)

When I was living out my bachelorhood in a small apartment, there was a time when my bathroom sink stopped draining. I—of course, was far too busy to do anything about this so I created my own remedy; I found a way around this dilemma out of my control. I used the shower for water—as to wet my toothbrush and such, and I’d spit in the toilet.
Thereby, I didn’t need to use the sink. I had crafted a way to completely avoid it’s necessity.
Around the time of 7th grade, my world was forcibly shamed into a similar predicament. (*In case you haven’t been privy to that story, you can see me speak on it here) In fact, it occurred around the same time as the Christmas season (which, is actually also the time of my own celebration of Birth—December 8th).

I was forced into making my world work for me. And it left an extreme distaste for Christmas—much less my birthday.
It tainted the celebration of the season.
I went from a life of innocence to a life profane. And I began to strive to make the profane, sacred. To create for myself, a self worthy of Heaven. Not in God’s eyes, but in mine.
I feared my failures, I feared my missteps, I feared that I was just shy of nice too often to make the cut.

I crafted a well enough working means to live. But it was still a shower and toilet substitute for a working bathroom sink.

The past two years I’ve been privy to an abundance of discovery of not merely who God isn’t, but who God is.

God isn’t Santa.

He doesn’t watch your every move to make sure you’re not naughty.

God doesn’t delight in sending people to Hell.

He has not preassigned, consigned, predestined some for an eternity of being eaten by Krampus. Though he has woven Krampus and Hell into His story, and many—if not all, will feel it’s sting. But not for eternity.

God isn’t in danger of being made profane.

The curtain that separated the Holy of Holy’s was not to protect God from us. Nor is in war for his creation with Krampus, where a victor for the world (in its entirety) has yet to be decided, Krampus is not God’s equivalent.

God is Sacred.

The profane cannot enter the presence of the sacred, but the sacred is free and able to enter in to the profane. When Christ was born, he was birthed in to a manger—the sacred was clothed in profanity, but did not become profane. When Christ died, the curtain of the Holy of Holy’s was torn, and the sacred flooded in to a world profane.

God is Love.

He created out of Love, He redeems out of Love, He woos out of Love, He finishes His story out of Love, He tells His story to us and through us out of Love. If God is Love, then everything He does, even allowing some to feel death and Hell’s sting, to even Hate (Esau I have Hated) is out of Love.

He allows himself to be birthed, later allowing his birth to be associated with the winter solstice; years upon years before I was born, before I felt what profanity creates, so that I can be shown a clear example of what is Sacred being birthed in the midst of the profane, in order to make what is profane, sacred.

Christmas is naught to me but that action.
God—creator of everything,
Jesus—the image of the invisible God,
born in a state of vulnerability–not merely on the earth–in level with it, but even lower, below it, in a cave, in a manger;
a riddle of Heaven–in an instant, trading its position above the Earth, with that of its alleged antithesis; taking a position under the Earth,
turning the Earth upside down, and beginning a revolution, nay, the revolution.

The revolution that shows me that nothing I can do—and nothing that can be done to me, can ever outweigh Him and His sacredness.

The sacred is not in danger of becoming profane; it is the profane that is in constant danger of becoming sanctified.

And His Love for me outweighs any depth of Hell I may encounter—by choice or forced upon me, in this present life or for all time.

Love consumes Krampus, the profane WILL be sanctified.

Fear of either is then cast aside, and a heart and life of love, of sanctified profanity is free to be and celebrate with memories of it all: of profanity, of innocence, and of sacrality, every December, and all year around.

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Christmas Traditions I Can Do Without

Growing up in Germany has given me so many memories and traditions surrounding Christmas. As it is, I can now never seem to find Christmas presents I’m really excited about; whereas while there, I always managed to cover everyone on my list with one trip to the Christkindlmarkt (not to mention the freedom of sipping Glühwein and munching Mandeln ).
It also afforded me the experience of many Germanic/Alpine/Bavarian Christmas traditions.  And while most were amazing (Saint Nicholas Day on December 6th, great candy and food, great drink, etc), one stood out as the most awesome–metal tradition around: a face to fear around the Season:
And that face, was

KRAMPUS.

KrampusKrampus 2

He’s the antithesis of Saint Nicholas. While Nicholas gives you toys and gifts and such in your boot if you’ve been good, Krampus comes for the kids who have been naughty. He beats them mercilessly with a stick, stuffs them into his sack and takes them back to his cave in the mountains to devour for his Christmas dinner. (In fact, in some traditions, he not only devours them once, but digests them alive, only to devour them again and again for all time.)

It still surprises me that this face of terror and fear is not more widely known–that, or it’s given sway to other things that are “nice” up front but hold the same meaning. Elf on a Shelf, that “better watch out, better not cry,’ Christmas song.

It’s funny to me that when it comes to the nice faces, we always seem to not only have a choice, but if we choose poorly, we get what’s coming to us.  But when it’s a face like Krampus–even if we’re talking children who “chose” to be naughty, who were provided many times in their life to accept the true meaning and spirit of Christmas but who still didn’t “accept Christmas into their hearts”, it’s considered horrific.  And–to perhaps the slightly more educated, it’s called what it is: fear mongering.

Fear of a scale of naughty/niceness that you cannot control.

“Have I been good enough?”

“Am I naughty?”

I mean, is there really any way of knowing for sure?  What is the cutoff of being considered naughty? If I’m one step above that am I considered nice? Am I able to avoid Krampus when he comes around?

And that’s what I love so much about Krampus.  I mean, at least in Bavaria they give him the face that he deserves.  They don’t dress it up to look like something it’s not–a Monster.  Here in the States no matter how you justify it, that same fear is present for children around the holidays, it’s just packaged to not look like the (a) monster that truly elicits fear rather than love.

As I said, we have songs treating Santa like a ‘Big Brother’ government which we utterly wish to avoid; “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good…” (Or worse that damn spying, ‘Elf on the Shelf’—a spy sent to watch your every choice and behavior)

Will I get what I want? Or will I get nothing but coal (still useful if you think about it, but it doesn’t compare to getting everything you want free of any service of yours)?

Have you been good this year?

The single most terrifying question to a child with any ability of abstract thought.
“Uhhh, I don’t know. What do you consider good? What will happen if I’m not? I think I’ve been good, but is my frame of reference what’s being used here? What is good anyway?”

This reminds me very much so of another tradition based on fear, that can also be celebrated this time of year amongst another group of people.

Jesus.

Now, before getting in to what I do not mean with that, I will get into what I do mean.

I doubt many are unfamiliar with the Evangelical traditional view of Heaven and Hell—I myself grew up striving to understand and reconcile it with my thoughts of God and God’s character.

As ‘tradition’ (as which I shall here after refer to it as), the view of the afterlife bears a salient resemblance to the aforementioned Christmas traditions (indubitably so with the German Christmas tradition).

Firstly so, it’s not merely pertaining to receiving what you want—to which is a genuinely self-centered, selfish view of the world and beyond it, but survival: will I get paradise, Heaven, and outwit punishment, Hell?

Secondly, have I been good enough?

Am I naughty?

Have I done everything that I should to obviate Hell and achieve Heaven? Have I said the right thing, done the right thing? Am I part of the Elect? What is considered ‘the right thing’ for me to do anyway? Do I have to pray, believe, be baptized, and ‘sin’ no more?
What do you (God) consider good? What will happen if I’m not? I think I’ve been good, but is my frame of reference what’s being used here? What is good anyway?

Our view of God is the same as that of Santa. “He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake, He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for God’s sake…”

Is Krampus going to come and take me to Hell? To punish me forever for not ‘getting it right’ regardless of the ‘wrongness’ of the presentation?

GAHHH!
Scare tactics! All scare tactics to elicit appropriate, intended, desired responses. If there’s no controlling Truth itself, there’s no controlling it’s revelation to each and every one of us on Earth. But you better make damn sure that there are those who will strive to control it by controlling how it is presented to the masses. Religion may very well be the opiate of the masses; that does not requisite Truth to be the same.

There is no Fear in Love—rather, perfect Love casts out Fear.

Regardless of how this season is celebrated—be it Santa of the Birth of Jesus (or neither one of those), it has been traditionally a Season celebrating love.
And Love is something—like Truth, that we can’t control.

Love is something that is entirely self-less.

It’s when we try to control it that we make it fearful. We make laws, we build walls, and we go to war for something to which gives itself freely, utterly independent of us and our actions—naughty or nice.

Continued here in Part 2: (Christmas Traditions I CANNOT Do Without)

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