Desperate in December

Rockin around the Christmas Tree

Have a happy holiday!

Everyone’s dancing merrily

In the new old-fashioned way

Startlingly prescient lyrics for a 1950’s pop hit! When 13-year-old Brenda Lee recorded this Christmas ditty, it’s doubtful that anyone realized just how quickly “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” would become “old-fashioned.” No one has “rocked around the clock” since the 50s – if this jingle weren’t trotted out once a year, the concept would by now be largely forgotten. This is the fate of anything intrinsically tied to pop culture – anything that is hip, up-to-date and “mod” today is doomed to be as riveting as old news tomorrow. Attempts to capitalize on the fickly short attention span of our contemporary culture ultimately backfire, for contemporary culture is itself shallow, ephemeral and empty.

The 20th-century American push to make the Nativity of God over in our own consumer image has snowballed in recent years with the assistance of folks who would just as soon have a Winter Holiday with lights and trees, but would just as soon not worry about a concomitant Incarnation, Virgin birth, and Savior. The concept of Advent no longer exists in American culture – it’s the Holiday Season, “the season for YOU!” Even Evangelical Christians are strangers to Advent, and the desire to “celebrate Christmas” takes on odd emphases such as all-night vigils for the acquisition of Teddy Ruxpins, Tickle Me Elmos and Furbys – Christmas is about the children! On Christmas Day, kids, we celebrate the biggest present we ever got! Pretty much gone, even among Christians who insist on keeping Christ in Christmas, is the sense that the Incarnation can be nearest approached by the phrase “O Magnum Mysterium.” Oh, great mystery!

Words cannot express the emotion I experienced when a Baptist pastor introduced us to the Christmas jingle “Come On, Ring Those Bells!”

Everybody likes to take a holiday

Everybody likes to take a rest

Spending time together with the family

Sharing lots of love and happiness.

Come on, ring those bells,

Light the Christmas tree,

Jesus is the king

Born for you and me.

Come on, ring those bells,

Everybody say,

Jesus, we remember

This your birthday.

Dearie me – no wonder there are folks out there who profess to hate Christmas. Accommodation tactics like “Everybody likes to take a holiday, everybody likes to take a rest,” with a nod to the birth of King Jesus tacked on the end of this song, only serve to heighten the sense that contemporary Christians are a dying breed who strain to remain relevant around X-mas time – they’re desperate! “Fairytale of New York” is far more likely to engage the mind and move the heart of a modern-day skeptic than such Christian vacuity. Too often, in an honest attempt to evangelize, Christians come off sounding less like the Bride of Christ, and more like the chick in B-movies who’s willing to “be whatever you want me to be!” And the world finds us pathetic.

The number of unintended tributes to the power of God peaks online around Christmastime, as unbelievers go to YouTube for a taste of “the holidays.” Folks who describe themselves as “total atheists,” “agnostics” and “humanists” testify to the effects of musical evangelization done right – as in “O Sanctissima,” “Ave Maria,” and “O Magnum Mysterium.” These people seek Beauty – not realizing that the truly beautiful is the truly True. Some of these people, although they may not realize it, are also “desperate in December,” desperate for they-know-not-what. Can they perhaps find it in Christmas?

At Christmas, Catholics need to keep on being Catholic – for the Truth and Beauty of Catholicism are only obscured by attempts at accommodation to the world. Midnight Mass at your parish is a wonderful opportunity to be Catholic in front of a group of people who won’t be back till Easter (and God forbid that the experience should become a reminder to them of why they left in the first place – you may want to scrap the amateur talent show, even if it is Ethel’s big chance to sing “Mary, Did You Know?” in front of a crowd….) Christ-centered worship is the only real drawing card the Catholic Church possesses, for the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life – and something we can receive nowhere else. This should be front-and-center on Monday evening and Tuesday morning. There is a Reason for celebrating Christ’s Mass. He is Emmanuel, God with us physically in the Body and the Blood, pure, unadulterated Jesus Christ. He is Strong Stuff, and He’s not to everyone’s taste. Many of the unbelieving desperate will not want to accept that it is Jesus they are looking for. Many of the believing desperate will urge us to sweeten Him up or to water Him down to encourage more widespread consumption. That is the very thing we cannot do, for He is all that the Church has to offer. He is the only thing that keeps the Church from becoming the “new old-fashioned way,” an irrelevance in modern times. Christ is timeless, and it is only Christ Who imparts to His Church her timeless quality.

As Advent comes to a close, be boldly Catholic, be unashamedly Christian. Give ’em Christ. At Christmas, when they bring to the Church their hungry hearts, let them find in us His true Food and Drink – true Christ’s Mass indeed.

On the memorial of St. Jan Kanty

Deo omnis gloria!


Photo credit:  Santa Rampage in Austin, Texas 2004, by photographer Steve Hopson

  1. pantacrator said:

    “He is the only thing that keeps the Church from becoming the “new old-fashioned way,” an irrelevance in modern times. Christ is timeless, and it is only Christ Who imparts to His Church her timeless quality.”


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