There is always lots of talk this time of year about the evils of commercialism. Christians debate the dangers of Santa Claus and gifts, and endeavor to bring us back to the Sacred by way of the social. Even Christmas movies, themselves often the product of commercialism, bemoan the distraction of avarice and chide us to get back to the “spirit of Christmas.” All valid concerns, in their way, but I don’t think, as it is sometimes posited, that all the season’s symbols and traditions commandeered by manufacturers are contaminated and useless. Symbols, connecting the finite with the infinite, making the ephemeral visible, have a life beyond us. They continue to point to the truth they were originally made to signify, even if we have lost the ability to see them rightly. Santa Claus might be a jolly shadow of the fiery Saint Nicholas, but he still evokes his name and story each December. Most of us might not remember “the Light that is the Life of men” as we decorate our trees and houses with twinkling bulbs, but the parallel is there nevertheless. Christmas carols are played in every store and mall merely to give a festive mood, but they continue to whisper the Angels’ “good news and tidings of great joy to all men.” If it takes a desire for profit (which isn’t actually a bad thing, in moderation) to bring the Christmas story to forefront of the world’s busy stage each December, so be it. The symbols of old, though festooned with tinsel and neon, are still pointing to the Truth, to the Great Story, to the Word become Flesh. And He promises that when He sends forth His word, it will not return to Him without accomplishing the purpose for which it was sent.
by George Herbert
All after pleasures as I rid one day,
My horse and I, both tir’d, bodie and minde,
With full crie of affections, quite astray ;
I took up in the next inne I could finde.
There when I came, whom found I but my deare,
My dearest Lord, expecting till the grief
Of pleasures brought me to him, readie there
To be all passengers most sweet relief?
O Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,
Wrapt in night’s mantle, stole into a manger ;
Since my dark soul and brutish is thy right,
To Man of all beasts be not thou a stranger :
Furnish and deck my soul, that thou mayst have
A better lodging, than a rack, or grave.
THE shepherds sing ; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymne for thee?
My soul ‘s a shepherd too : a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is thy word ; the streams, thy grace
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Out-sing the day-light houres.
Then we will chide the sunne for letting night
Take up his place and right :
We sing one common Lord ; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.
I will go searching, till I finde a sunne
Shall stay, till we have done ;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipt sunnes look sadly.
Then we will sing, and shine all our own day,
And one another pay :
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev’n his beams sing, and my musick shine.