How the Theologian Stole Christmas

Below is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Reflections of Immanuel, due out in Fall 2018 via Wipf & Stock Publishers.

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

~Dr. Seuss

It was Christmas morning. Jimmy was just coming around from the hard-night’s sleep he had encountered. He scanned the room with his half-open, sleepy-filled eyes and then glanced at the clock on the nightstand just next to his bed.

It was 7:08 in the morning.

Jimmy jolted out of bed, grabbed his Santa hat (to match his Santa pajamas), flung his bedroom door open, and headed for the stairs. He conquered them two by two as an effort to get to the living room as quickly as possible.

He had one thing on his mind: Christmas gifts.

Jimmy hunkered to his knees, checking tags on gifts.

His eyes widened. This one’s for me!, he thought to himself.

Oh, that one is for dad. Another for me. Mom, mom, me, dad.

After skimming over the presents, Jimmy’s eyes fixed on the hand-knit stockings hung on the fireplace mantle. His grandmother had sewn the festive images herself.

Jimmy’s hands cupped the bottom of his stocking. It was lumpy and full.

Just then, he heard the sound of creaking planks as feet moved across the home’s hardwood floors. Expecting to see either his mom or dad once he turned his attention from the stockings, Jimmy stumbled backwards in shock of what he saw.

Who was this man with an unkempt beard and hair, brown corduroy coat with elbow patches, a full button-up dress shirt with tie, pleated trousers, and scuffed-up Hush Puppies?

Jimmy had never seen this man before and wondered how he had gotten into the house.

“Whoooo are you?” whispered Jimmy.

“Why I am the Theologian of Christmas Past,” remarked the man.

Jimmy also noted a strikingly strong British accent as the man spoke.

“The what?” Jimmy asked with a furrowed brow and confused look on his face.

“Son, why, I am here to inform you about the indelible truth of Christmas. I’ve arrived to remind you of the story of the babe from long ago, but not just the story of his birth. I have come to show you a story about how people have remembered that birth throughout time.”

“To show me?”

“Why, yes. One cannot simply listen to this story. We have to go on a journey to encounter the story, one of centuries and centuries past.”

“You mean we are going somewhere?”

“But, of course. Again, I am the Theologian of Christmas Past. Each year I arrive at someone’s home to take them back in time and reveal to them the true meaning of Christmas. More than the gifts. More than the lights. More than Frosty and Rudolph. Now come, we must be going.”

“Bbbb-ut, I don’t know you. And I’m okay staying right here to celebrate Christmas with my family.”

“Son, your parents are asleep and, trust me, they will remain slumbering for quite some time. Now, let’s go!”

“I don’t want to.”

“Young man, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. Now grab on to my arm and away we shall fly.”

He cautiously arose, shuffled over to the unknown man, and hesitantly grabbed his right arm. At that very moment, the window flew up. Jimmy could feel the cold draft of the winter’s morning air blowing into the house.

Just then, both he and the man began to slowly lift off the ground.

“Hold on tight!” the man reminded him.

Jimmy held on tighter as they were almost vacuum-sucked out of the window into the open air.

At that moment, Jimmy jerked out of his sleep. Rapidly sitting up in bed, he then reached over to grab the glass of water on the nightstand, taking a sip to satisfy his parched throat. He peeked at the clock; it read 7:08.

Jimmy slowly breathed, in and out of his nose at a calming pace. His heartrate was soaring. He closed his eyes and continued the slow breathing.

His mind went back to the dream.

It had to have been a dream, right? He was back in bed as if nothing he’d just experienced had actually happened.

Where did that dream come from? It felt so real, Jimmy thought to himself.

He rolled out of bed then quietly opened the bedroom door. Slowly descending the stairs, he made his way down to the living room. As he neared the bottom, Jimmy stopped and peered around the room. Everything seemed normal. The tree stood alit, presents were neatly placed under the tree, stockings still hung on the mantle.

All of a sudden, Jimmy felt the cold draft move by him. The hairs on his neck and arms stood up. He slowly pivoted to glance at the window, the one he and the man, this Theologian of Christmas Past, had exited through.

It was open!

Perhaps it wasn’t simply a dream.

————————————

How the Theologian Stole Christmas.

That’s the title to this chapter. It could just have easily been How the Preacher Stole Christmas or How the Pastor Stole Christmas. The title is a play off the old Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Of course, Jim Carey has been forever impressed upon our minds when we now think of this classic story.

As you may also be aware, the storyline then is a spin-off from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Rather than the Ghost of Christmas Past visiting Ebenezer Scrooge, we find the Theologian of Christmas Past having come to visit Jimmy.

That’s how I feel at times when writing about Christmas. I sense I may be viewed as some stuffy, theologically-dried up dude (who, by the way, does have a corduroy jacket but does not wear pleated pants). That’s what theologians, preachers, and pastors are, right?

Keep your theology to yourself! the cries ring out.

Theology is helpful, but don’t let it ruin the fun of life! the calls comes forth.

Or perhaps, like Jimmy’s encounter with the Theologian of Christmas Past, I’m merely dreaming up these objections in my own head.

Still, I recognize that launching into a book about shedding much of our Christmas glitz and pulling on the reins so that we may patiently wait for Christmas can seem to suck the fun out of something, well, so fun.

Remember, altogether, I am not anti-trees or lights, anti-gifts or Amazon, anti-Frosty or Rudolph. I only imagine the words of this project as settling in our minds and hearts in order to be a “voice crying in the wilderness,” reminding us there is a better way. Or, again, as Corey Widmer reminds us: “Christians made their own calendar that helps us to this day have a different rhythm of life and reminds us of the gospel. When we “tell time” according to this calendar, it can become a powerful tool of Christian discipleship.”[1]

This “different rhythm” is why I think it’s worth waiting for Christmas and walking with the church during the historic season of Advent.

And as the season of Advent arrives, and you dive into this little book that offers reflections of Immanuel himself, my hope is that it would stir your thoughts and affections toward Christ. It would remind you that it’s okay even to experience your pain in this time of waiting and walking. The ancients waited centuries for Christ’s arrival and we still find ourselves waiting centuries for his final appearance to make all things right. But the people of old walked that journey and we have been walking the path for some time now.

It’s an ancient and good path.

They did it.

We are doing it.

Those to come will one day do it.

As the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Heb 11:39-40).

Together with us. That is the call.

The ancients first.

Us today.

Those to come one day.

Together with us.

As we wait for and walk the well-worn path, laying aside many of the consumeristic ways of America’s mall religion, perhaps we will be better drawn into the story of Advent, ending with an authentically eruptive Christmas celebration.

Maybe this isn’t about How the Theologian Stole Christmas. Perhaps it’s all about How the Theologian Refocuses Christmas.

————————————

[1] Widmer, “Telling Time Differently as Christ Followers.” http://www.thirdrva.org/blog/telling-time-differently-as-christ-followers

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