When Steve Wilson and I met, we were both students at Duke Divinity School. Steve became one of my roommates and great friends before we left Duke. Steve left to pursue doctoral studies at Notre Dame. I left to become a pastor in the United Methodist Church. Steve eventually made his way into the Roman Catholic Church, while I eventually made my way back to Georgia, where I continue to pastor. Through the gift of the internet, we have been able to reestablish our friendship in recent years.
A few days ago, my friend Steve (Dr. Wilson to many now), made the following observation: “Every time I see a sign saying, “Keep Christ in Christmas, as a Catholic, I can’t help thinking, ‘Why not keep Mass in Christmas? It is, after all, part of the etymology of the word?”
Part of my love for Steve has always been his ability to succinctly and sometimes ironically, put larger issues into perspective with a simple turn of phrase. Why not focus on the ‘mas’ of Christmas, as much as the Christ (versus Chi or X)?
I remember several years ago as a new pastor I was inundated with petitions to put “Christ in Christmas”. I was asked to forward emails, sign petitions and put signs in my yard. This same year, Christmas fell on a Sunday. I noticed that none of the people who asked me to sign their petition, forward their emails or display their signs actually showed up in church on Christmas/Sunday. When I asked them later, several confessed that they were actually amazed to learn that the church was open on Christmas day; ‘it being about family and all,’ as one person put it.
Now, I’m not against family time at Christmas, my own plans over the next couple of weeks are driven largely by visiting relatives I have not seen in a while. All I am asking is can we take some time on Christmas Eve or even Christmas Day (yes there are churches open even then) to accept the gift of Christ present for us in the mystery of communion.
It just seems like there should be more to our allegiance to Christ than how we greet cashiers in retails stores (insisting on ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays’- holidays being derived from the olde English ‘Holy Day’ being the subject for another time). So what if this Christmas we did something really countercultural, really radical. What if you greeted people on December 29th with ‘Merry Christmas’, and when they look at you bewildered just say, ‘Oh yeah, today is only the fifth day of Christmas, we’ve still got seven to go.’ Would that not call into question the way our culture tries to rush Christmas with sales and decorations beginning earlier each year only to be pushed aside as soon as December 25th has arrived?
What if you continued to listen to Christmas music until January 5th? (You will probably have to use an ipod or CDs, even most ‘Christian’ radio stations will stop playing Christmas music on midnight, December 25th.
Or, here is maybe the most radical idea yet, what if you find a church to attend with your family and enter into the mystery of God’s coming to us in material means by joining together in holy communion.
It is not a term I often use as a Protestant, but why not keep ‘Mass’ in Christmas this year.