Dangers of Christmas 2017: Getting Caught in the Upside Down
A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas. The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season. They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast. The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas? What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.
Now, a few years later, I have enlisted the help of some friends, colleagues, and noted theologians to share the dangers they see every year during Christmas.
Up first, Rev. Lindsey Baynham
Recently I had some time off from work and after a rigorous fall travel schedule, I committed to staying home and doing the important things. Things like cleaning, pulling out decorations and binge watching shows on Netflix. This last essential activity led me to finally watching the Netflix Original show Stranger Things. I know I’m way behind on the scene—not the point. For those who are unfamiliar, its The Goonies meets Star Wars [sort of]—and if you haven’t seen those, well you’ve got some catching up to do yourself. Alas, I digress.
So in Stranger Things there is a realm called the “upside down”, an alternative world to the one the characters experience day to day in their town. Now, the “upside down” looks like the real world, but even while you see familiarity, you know it is not the real deal. It’s darker. Quieter. Cold. Nothing about the “upside down” makes, you feel welcome, loved and cared for. It’s miserable.
Without giving too much away, some characters are stuck there or come and go—each time thankful to be back on the normal side of things.
The danger of Christmas is that we are often caught in the wrong upside down.
Generally during the third week and on the third Sunday of Advent, Mary’s boisterous song, the Magnificat is read [Luke 1:46-56]. It is the theme song for the upside down to come through the baby and person of Christ. In her call narrative, Mary receives a lot of information at once from the angel Gabriel.
“Do not be afraid Mary for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”
In the midst of her ordinary life, this celestial encounter leaves Mary’s world upside down. Keep reading and questions of reproduction, the divine and age are all answered with the punctuation, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
And then Mary does something that keeps us rightly in the upside down of God sending Jesus to be flesh, human yet divine, God’s own self in our midst. She belts out an anthem that not only affirms the ridiculous miracle of the virgin birth but the justified goodness of God.
“I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.”
This God will upset everything we think we know. Knocking the proud off their pedestals, lifting up the low, feeding the hungry and rocking the world of the unjust. Ultimately keeping a promise to a covenant made with Abraham.
In Christ, we are anticipating the ultimate upside down where King is baby, Mother is a virgin, and the God-news to be shared is for all people. Good news, of great joy.
In Advent I like to go back to a theologian I read in seminary—St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. And FYI, this is not exclusively a “pastor” book, check it out. So, Athanasius, early church father[think 4th century] was a student of the scriptures and theology who was persecuted and exiled, yet still seeking to inspire the early church. In his work, On the Incarnation, Athanasius names up front the importance to “take a step further in the faith of our holy religion and consider the Word’s becoming Man and His [Jesus’] divine appearing in our midst.” And to understand why Christ’s coming is essential, Athanasius says, “He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men [all people]."
It would be dangerous to claim that Christmas is for our own warm and fuzzy feelings. It would be dangerous to claim that Christmas is about more stuff. It would be dangerous to claim that Christmas is only about your family. And it would be dangerous to claim that Christmas is a picturesque realm of “normal”.
In Advent we truly experience the great upside down in the divine person of Jesus. It has glimpses of what we know, but then on the other hand, it is completely other. A realm where one baby can change the trajectory of a people. A realm that is hopeful. It’s patient. It’s not about how much you have or don’t have. It’s inviting. And it is the upside down of the gospel.
O come, O come Emmanuel and set us right in your strange, yet beautiful upside down.
Rev. Lindsey Baynham is an ordained United Methodist elder and the Associate Director for Call, Candidacy & Discernment in the Virginia Annual Conference.