The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: December 22, 2018
It’s the feast before the Feast, on this “Christmastime is here” edition of the Saturday Monks Brunch. Hope many will start the day with us before rushing out to complete their last minute shopping and getting the house ready for the annual family invasion on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Grab a coffee and a place at the table. There’s plenty to chew on here today.
• • •
Keeping “X” in Xmas
Griffin Paul Jackson’s article at Christianity Today notes that “Nearly 6 in 10 of those with evangelical beliefs (59%) find the use of “X-mas” instead of Christmas offensive.” This, despite the fact that the “X” in Xmas represents a thoroughly Christian symbol that has been used by believers for centuries. Since the days of Constantine, the Greek letter chi (X), which is the first letter of the Greek word Christos, has been used as a shorthand for Christ. Combined with the second letter (Greek rho, or R), it became a traditional sign of the faith.
In fact, there are even earlier instances — including some in the New Testament itself — where “X” was used as a substitute for writing out the entire title.
Another small instance of Christian silliness destroyed just by a little understanding of our past.
• • •
“Christmas” and “Nativity”
Here’s another enlightening historical article, also at Christianity Today. In his piece, “Why Putting Christ Back in Christmas Is Not Enough,” W. David O. Taylor traces how our American Christmas tradition has developed from
…four fundamental influences: the legal actions of Puritans in the 17th-century, the domestic celebrations of Queen Victoria, the publication of a Charles Dickens novel, and the work of poets and painters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Instead of being shaped by the actual stories of Christmas in the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke, therefore, our cultural celebration has almost entirely displaced the actual narratives and themes of Christmas. As Taylor says,
Because the story of “Christmas in America” is bound up with fundamental American myths, like baseball and apple pie, the difficult details of the Nativity narratives get swallowed up and repurposed by the nostalgic story of Americans at Christmastime.
What I like most about Taylor’s article is that his suggestions for dealing with this aren’t bluntly separatistic but nuanced and wise. He commends much associated with the “American” Christmas as positive and wholesome. We don’t have to fight against our cultural celebration or try to inject Christ into it. Let it be. And enjoy.
Enjoy it for both personal and missional reasons. Enjoy the twinkling lights that dot your neighborhood. Take pleasure in making the sugar cookies and homemade wreaths. Have a good laugh, or a good cry, by rewatching A Charlie Brown Christmas. Listen to your Bing Crosby and Mariah Carey records.
Enjoy them because the grace and goodness of God are not absent from these things. Enjoy them because we are always, as Augustine might say, citizens of two cities. Enjoy them because they become a way for us to be wholly present to the lives—and longings—of our neighbors.
But he also encourages us not to mistake “Christmas” for “The Feast of the Nativity.” That’s the Christmas that starts on Christmas Day, not the one that ends with gift wrap flying.
• • •
SUBLIME: Song for the Refugee King
Away from the manger they ran for their lives
The crying boy Jesus, a son they must hide
A dream came to Joseph, they fled in the night
And they ran and they ran and they ran
No stars in the sky but the Spirit of God
Led down into Egypt from Herod to hide
No place for his parents no country or tribe
And they ran and they ran and they ran
Stay near me Lord Jesus when danger is nigh
And keep us from Herods and all of their lies
I love the Lord Jesus, the Refugee King
And we sing and we sing and we sing
Reprised from “Away in A Manger”
by Liz Vice, Wen Reagan, Bruce Benedict, Greg Scheer, Lester Ruth
• • •
RIDICULOUS (but fun, and for a good cause!)
The singer and YouTube sensation LadBaby (real name Mark Hoyle) went to #1 on the UK Christmas song singles chart with We Built This City, a cover of the track by Starship. But where the 1980s glam rock band sang of a city built on rock’n’roll, LadBaby’s version imagines one built on pork-stuffed pastry.
All proceeds from the sale of the track are being donated to The Trussell Trust, a foodbank charity.
• • •
Marketing Christmas cheer
An article at BMJ wonders if the messages our Christmas (and other) greeting cards are promoting unhealthy behavior.
Sir Henry Cole is widely credited with “inventing” the first Christmas card in the UK in 1843.  His friend John Horsley was the illustrator and each card sold for one shilling in his first card run of approximately 1000 cards.
The first Christmas card was also controversial and unpopular with some people as the illustration depicted a scene showing people drinking, and included a young child being given a glass of wine (figure), but it heralded the beginning of an industry that in 2016 had grown to one billion cards sold in the UK alone annually.
175 years after Sir Henry Cole’s first card, the depiction of alcohol on greeting cards is commonplace, and while they may not depict children drinking, the messages they promote about drinking are still controversial.
…The idea that excess drinking as shown on many greeting cards cards is normal, enjoyable, and to be encouraged is at variance with public health messages. In 2016 new guidance was issued which recommended “that it is best, if you do drink as much as 14 units per week, to spread this evenly over three days or more.”
• • •
Christmas Quotes for Cynics
“Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year.” (Victor Borge)
“Christmas is a time when everybody wants his past forgotten and his present remembered.” (Phyllis Diller)
“Next to a circus there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit.” (Frank McKinney Hubbard)
“Christmas is a state of mind and that special feeling that only comes with an empty bank account.” (Melanie White)
“That’s the true spirit of Christmas; people being helped by people other than me.” (Jerry Seinfeld)
“Let’s be naughty and save Santa the trip.” (Gary Allan)
“Christmas is a time when kids tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it. Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want and their kids pay for it.” (Richard Lamm)
“I love Christmas. I receive a lot of wonderful presents I can’t wait to exchange.” (Henny Youngman)
“I was going to exchange my brother one time after Christmas, but my mom would never tell me where he came from.” (Melanie White)
“A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. (Garrison Keillor)
• • •
Top Ten Weird Gifts for Christmas 2018 — for you last minute shoppers!
Check out the link for descriptions, prices, and where you can buy these must-have gifts!
2. Bob Ross Chia Pet
3. The Yodeling Pickle Christmas Ornament
4. The Llama Duster
5. DishFish Scrubber (4-Pack)
6. Motion sensor toilet bowl light
7. Cat Toilet Brush
8. Dan the Sausage Man’s Favorite Sausage Gift Basket
9. The Star Wars Cookbook
10. Shakespearean Insult Bandages
Get ’em while they last!
• • •
Remembering the Forgotten and Abused
When I was 5, my mom asked me if I wanted to help her write holiday cards to people in prison who had been raped behind bars. She didn’t say it like that, of course, because I didn’t know what prison or rape was.
Instead, she told me that there were thousands of ladies and gentlemen who were spending Christmas alone, unable to leave their rooms as they pleased, and that other people had been really mean to them.
I can’t remember which I thought was worse — to be forced to stay in my room or to be mistreated. But either way, I agreed to help my mom.
I am 13 now, and I still write holiday cards to people in prison. It’s really fun to think of nice things to say to people you’ve never met. I always try to imagine what I would want to hear if I was forced to be away from my family and was being treated poorly. I would be terrified, sad and worried that nobody remembered that I existed.
I usually end up writing something simple, like “I care about you,” or “We will not forget you.” And then I make colorful little drawings of flowers or Christmas trees or smiley faces or fruit. I know that those silly drawings make people really happy; there isn’t much color in prison.
The holiday cards make some prisoners smile. Others cry because they didn’t think people on the outside cared about what was happening to them. I know this because Just Detention International, the organization that passes my cards along (and also where my mom works) has showed me many of the responses it gets from the cards it sends around. When I was a little kid, I thought that was so amazing to be able to make grown-ups smile and cry.
…Even for those of us not in prison, it’s been a pretty hard year. Everyone seems angry and afraid. But it’s not all bad. We can still choose to be kind and do something nice for someone else, someone we don’t even know — and we’ll feel better about ourselves as a result.
I write Christmas cards to prisoners. I hope you do something that makes you and another person feel good this holiday season.
• Sofia Robinson
• • •
A Favorite Traditional Christmas Album
My favorite classical singer of all time is Kathleen Battle, and her Christmas album, A Christmas Celebration, is a perennial must-listen for me. As you prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity, enjoy these magnificent, inspiring performances.