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A Good Christmas Swaddling

Chris NewlinIt’s a couple days before Christmas, and the usual Bible Study group is meeting. The lectionary is the birth story, right out of Luke.  Revised common Lectionary taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.  Good feelings – the regulars having coffee and kolaches, laughter and conversation about families coming home for Christmas, the shopping not completed, the expectations and hopes for the season.  The Old Testament selection is read aloud, and then comes the passage from Luke; the nativity scene is laid out before us, complete with the child being wrapped in bands of cloth and then laid in a manger.

A hand goes up, the gentleman beside me patiently asks what version of the Bible are we reading from?  “The NRSV”, comes the reply.  “Yes, but the King James Version would be so much more poetic here; especially for the Christmas passages.”  Immediately the nodding and the murmurings of agreement begin.  Well, yes — the pastor can’t help but agree.  “What version will be read on Christmas Eve?  Won’t we be able to hear about the baby being wrapped in ‘swaddling clothes’ and not these bands of cloth?”  The good Reverend knows that this is not going to go away soon.  “Well, I guess the NRSV” he stammers… “Yes, the bulletin is being printed with the NSRV version; yes, the deadline for the printer…” The murmuring is growing more restless until another one of the regulars emphatically declares, “So you’re just going to STOMP all over Christmas because of a printing deadline??? We can’t hear the original Christmas story as it was intended in its original, most poetic form because of a printing deadline??”

The place erupts:  laughter, shouts, accusations, dramatic cries of ‘heresy’!  The preacher doesn’t know whether to laugh, or hide behind the coffee pot.  As he shuffles and promises to “see what can be done” and we are laughing and pointing and elbowing each other, the gentlemen that first brought this to our attention quietly, stoically recites the King James narrative.  It’s as if Linus has to remind all of us Charlie Browns what the real deal was all about.

As we settled down, I got to thinking.  If we weren’t such a good natured group, that kind of thing could have torn us apart. For many groups, it does!  You have to understand, we’re an eclectic bunch.  A lot of older white guys, to be sure, but probably enough cultural and ethnic diversity to keep us honest. And certainly we come from a range of backgrounds, a range of experiences.  We have accomplished doctors and lawyers in our group, some blue collar guys, and a couple guys currently looking for employment. A good political cross section, and a healthy mix of theological perspectives.

But it’s tough.  Our good pastor works hard at preaching tolerance.  One of his core principles is interfaith and cross-cultural understanding. Religious discussions that veer off into politics are treaded upon carefully, and mostly with a fair helping of mutual respect.

It would have been easy to manufacture a big ole church issue out of the King James nativity scene vs. the NRSV.  Stomping on Christmas is what it was!  Why, it was a war on Christmas!  How many times have we heard that from the usual suspects?  And all the other faux threats as well: Retailers caving in to secularists by ignoring Christmas altogether – substituting the language of “Happy Holidays”, school children being denied all knowledge of the Christmas experience, and the government slowly, stealthily stomping down our Christian, Christmas heritage.

Or so we’re told by the screamers that want a fight, a crisis, a wedge issue to divide us up and play us against each other for various power struggles. I always enjoy the annual wringing of hands over retailers and shopkeepers that endeavor to show respect to their non-Christian customers by celebrating “holidays” and not “Christmas holidays” specifically. They are listed (in “naughty and nice” lists), boycotted, and “shamed” for not publicizing Christmas.   It seems amusing, because these screamers are the same folks that rail about Christmas being commercial in the first place!  I guess there are preferred, Christ endorsed shopping malls and restaurants. Maybe we need some kind of American Express type commercial, “Hi, do you know me? I’m the namesake of Christmas, and when I shop, I want to see my name on all half-off sales.”  (Don’t leave heaven without it!)

But none of us have to take the bait. When someone in the crowd wants to tear the community up over swaddling clothes in lieu of bands of cloth, we can laugh, finish our coffee, and go to work with a smile on our face. We can remember that Christmas isn’t about Christmas shopping vs. holiday shopping, or… you know, shopping at all. It’s not about the fight over Christmas or Xmas. It’s not about a “war” on anything. We really don’t need to get swaddled up in any of this.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.”

Yeah Charlie Brown, that’s what it’s all about.  Really.

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