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Posted December 12, 2014 in Advent and Christmas, and in Word Made Flesh:
Bah! Humbug!

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

"Bah! Humbug!"

Where does that "humbug" thing come from, Reverend?

You mean you really don’t know where "Bah! Humbug!" comes from? You’ve never read the famous book, Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens or seen it on TV during the Christmas season?

We didn’t have time for all that silly stuff when we was kids. There was work to be done.

Well, you’re just the kind of person Mr. Dickens had in mind when he wrote his Christmas story: it’s all about a poor working family, the Cratchits, who believed Christmas was, in fact, all about "that silly stuff."

And there’s a nasty old man named "Scrooge," poor Mr. Cratchit’s boss, who thought the whole idea was a silly waste of time, too, and he made sure everybody heard about it all during the Christmas season with his "Bah! Humbug!" wherever he went.

He could just as well have been saying, "We don’t have time for that silly stuff!" But the simple Christmas traditions of the poor Cratchit family turned out to be the stuff that changed Mr. Scrooge’s heart, from "Bah! Humbug!" to "Merry Christmas."

By the looks-a things historically, I’d say the "Bah Humbug" thing won that battle, Reverend. Won’t be long before we won’t even be able to say "Merry Christmas" out loud in public anymore without a fine or a day in court. Maybe this whole Christmas thing is on the way out.

It might be but not if we learn from the experience and from what we are witnessing in this whole trend of respecting other people’s beliefs while living out our own.

Maybe a certain aspect of the public expression of our own Christian faith is no longer feasible in this pluralistic culture, but what that translates into for me is that I have to deepen my own sense and expression of that Christian Faith in the privacy of my own life, my own home.

How much do I believe? Where are the signs in my home, in my everyday public life, in my religious life, regardless of what other people think?

Do I celebrate Christmas personally and in my faith community with all the joy of angels and shepherds and the reverence of those simple folk in Charles Dickens’ story?

Maybe this whole public Christmas thing is about getting us to go back to the center of our own tradition so that one day others without that tradition will see something they never saw before and perhaps desire it for what it is.

That’s kinda long-term don’t ya think, Reverend? The ways things are goin’ I don’t think we have that much time left.

Maybe so, but my suspicions are they were saying that same thing in and around Bethlehem about 2000 years ago.

Besides, I don’t think in those terms anymore. I decided a long time ago that I’m not a Christian in order to save the world. I am a Christian because I believe in what that means and because of what that does to my life.

Hopefully that will catch other people’s hearts and be part of "saving" the world, but maybe it won’t. And so sometimes I suspect the whole Christmas-in-public thing is the Spirit trying to get this faith of ours out of our heads and into our hearts, into our everyday lives.

If being Christian doesn’t have a certain life-adventure to it, if it doesn’t demonstrate a certain peace and security in the midst of a crazy world, then maybe as Christians, we have to go underground and grow up all over again.

What! Are you against public evangelism of the Christian faith now?

Now that, my friend, is a silly question to be asking me!"

Well, with you I never know!

Ah, Bah! Humbug! Of course I’m not against public evangelism, but we’re gonna have to face the fact that in our pluralistic society there are a lot of other religions with the same privileges as we have, and we haven’t had to deal with that in recent history.

We have to start asking ourselves, as individual Christians, what do I offer personally, by my life, to the world in which I live that might attract people to the faith I hold to?

Not just in church on Sunday but throughout my whole day all week long wherever I go, and not just "Scripture quoting" everybody to death or spiritualizing the human situation away "in the name of Jesus."

What about our life? Is anybody asking us about our Christian faith because of what they see in our life? Is there any peace, any joy, any hope, is there any vision in our life that attracts people?

If not, is it any wonder people don’t want a bunch of Christian decorations hangin’ around all over everywhere during the season? I wouldn’t either.

We want the freedom to say, "Merry Christmas"? Amen. But if we do say it, then we have the obligation to show, by our life, where to find this "Merry" in our messy, screwed up world.

And we can do that in all sorts of quiet, public ways, and then people might once again be interested in our Christ-mas!"

Do I detect a little Scrooge in there somewhere, Reverend?

I hope not. You know recently I was diagnosed with a blood disorder which tends to be rather fatal, and I made up my mind I wasn’t going to hide it from myself or my friends, so I let them know. And now I’m a bit overwhelmed by the response.

But what astounds me most of all is that nobody is talking about the Christian Creed I believe in, or the theology and the Scripture it’s all wrapped up in, or my own love of my Catholic faith. They talk about how my life has affected their lives.

Of course, we both know my life would be nothing without my Christian faith, my faith in Jesus Christ, but what they are saying is equally as precious to me: they are saying that my feeble embrace of the Christian faith has given me a life that has touched their lives.

To me that’s the "Merry" which comes from Christ-mas! And I suspect that many of us have to re-discover that it is by our everyday life that we reflect what we believe in Christ and that through our everyday life we can make present our powerful Christian mysteries silently even in public.

P.S. When was the last time you proclaimed your belief in the presence of this Christmas Christ by making the Sign of the Cross in public when you passed by a church with a tabernacle?

Well, I know a lot-a folk to whom that kind of preachin’ would be evangelical "Bah! Humbug!" Reverend. What yer sayin’ is too clean, and there’s no real confrontation with the sinful world in which we all have to live and will be judged on by Jesus.

Well, as the story says, it takes all kinds—Scrooges and Cratchits! I don’t know about you, but I’m more of a Cratchit myself. "Merry Christ-mas!"

 

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