Sunday Sermonizing: Scary Ghost Stories
Christmas is definitely the time for a lot of cheap sentiment and glitz, especially in a culture of capitalism and marketing. It’s a “season to remember” because we’re apparently buying each other $60,000 cars with giant bows on top.
We try to do better in church circles. We’re not always successful.
These are some of the biggest services of the year - and we need people to come out for them. So, let’s exchange the worldly spirit of the world’s worldliness for the “real spirit of Christmas” and celebrate Jesus and jingle bells together at church.
I’d frankly much rather attend Advent antiphones at an Anglican Church and call it a holiday.
Historically speaking, this season (at least in the Northern hemisphere) has direct ties to an event that’s already happened this week. Solstice is the shortest and darkest day of the year for everyone north of the equator. We don’t know exactly when Jesus was born. We do know that he was most likely not born in December. Probably April. Maybe October. December 25th didn’t become a thing auntil the 4th century, or later.
So whether we like it or not, a lot of our Christmas traditions, decorations, and stories are borrowed from pre-Christian tradition and lore.
As a Christian, I don’t have a problem with this. Redemption is about hope and seeing that there are answers to our questions, even if they are answers we don’t fully understand.
I’m fascinated by the seasonal stories we love that are actually quite dark. A Christmas Carol scratches the surface of death and darkness, especially in the more gothic, less sanitized versions of Dicken’s classic. It’s a Wonderful Life and The Grinch are also glimpses into the darkness.
There’s a line in one of the schmaltziest Christmas songs of all time about telling “scary ghost stories” at Christmas which seems weird to my modern ears. So I assumed it was a weird thing from the ’60s.
But it’s a much more ancient tradition than that. It goes back to pre-Christian times, when we needed covering from dark times like this.
Literally and figuratively.
We still live in them today.
I think about the brevity of life a lot more than I used to. We just had a long brunch with some old friends yesterday and commented on how you do begin to feel the exponential nature of time somewhere around your 40th birthday.
Death is real.
But death is defeated.
We talk and sing about it at Easter. But Christmas is possibly an even more appropriate time to celebrate this reality. Darkness and death dance with light and hope.
There is darkness and suffering.
The light enters stage left at the crescendo.
A weary world rejoices.
Sometimes it does feel like the light is gone again. Exited stage right. The suffering and darkness have returned. The news cycle is a relentless reminder. Is there still hope? Messiah came and went. It’s like he left us.
But he left alive. Death, while still in the dance, is fatally wounded.
The thrill of hope remains.
So we wait.
The darkest day of the year is a turning point. Light is coming, death is defeated, and everything sad is coming untrue.
The stories of death and darkness this time of year begin to make sense to me.
While death is still very real and must be looked in the eye more often than we like, this is a season of hope.