Fifty years ago C.S. Lewis published an ironic little essay called, "Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus."
In it, he reverses the letters of his home country, "Britain." Then he writes about the strange winter customs of a barbarian nation called Niatirb.
It's worth reading, as we get deeper into Advent. I'll share with you just one passage.
"In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound, (the Niatirbians) have a great festival called Exmas, and for 50 days they prepare for it (in the manner which is called,) in their barbarian speech, the Exmas Rush.
"When the day of the festival comes, most of the citizens, being exhausted from the (frenzies of the) Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much as on other days, and crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas, they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and the reckoning of how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine.
"(Now a) few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast.
"But (as for) what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, (this) is not credible. It is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and so great things (as those involved in the Exmas Rush), in honor of a god they do not believe in."
What Lewis wrote about in Britain half a century ago is increasingly true about our own country today. We're already half way through Advent. What have we done to really live it?
The world has an ingenious ability to attach itself to what Christians believe; tame it; subvert it — and then turn it against the very people who continue to believe. Too many Americans don't really celebrate Christmas. They may think they do, but they don't. They celebrate Exmas.
The world has an ingenious ability to attach itself to what Christians believe; tame it; subvert it — and then turn it against the very people who continue to believe.
The world — left to its own devices — has no room and no use for the birth of Jesus Christ. It has contempt for Christians who seriously strive to be His disciples. So we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being the saints God intended us to be. We can at least seek to be holy by tithing our time to sit quietly with God; allow Him to fill our actions and our choices with His Son; and let Him shape us into the men and women He needs. We can get up and experience the dawn in silence as a reminder of what Advent and Christmas mean. We can prepare ourselves to be alert for the voice of God and to receive God's word afresh and proclaim it anew.
We need to understand that in many ways America is no longer a Christian culture. Of course, that can change. Many good Catholics and other Christians still live in it. But if people really understood and acted on the meaning of Advent, the world would be a different place.
Advent means "coming." What's coming in the reality of Christmas is an invasion. The world needs the invasion but doesn't want it. It's an invasion of human flesh and all creation by the Son of God; by the holiness of the Creator Himself.
All of us in the Church were baptized to be part of that good invasion. The doubts, the failures, the mistakes of the past don't matter. Only our choices now matter. How will we live our Christian faith from this day forward? How will we make our Catholic witness an icon of Christ's Advent?
For our own sake, and the sake of the people we love, we need to pray that our yearning for God will truly reflect God's yearning for us. And when it does, then the world will be a different place.
Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. "CS Lewis on 'Xmas and Christmas'." Denver Catholic Register (December 8, 2005).
This article reprinted with permission from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.
The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. is the ninth and current Archbishop of Philadelphia. As member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe, Archbishop Chaput is the second Native American to be ordained bishop in the United States, and the first Native American archbishop. He is the author of: Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Christian Faith in a Post-Christian World, A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America, as well as Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, and Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics.Copyright © 2005 Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput
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