Kierkegaard, Chrysostom and Christmas Boredom

In the technological age, we have a horrendous tendency towards boredom.  This is unfortunately true even of Christmas.  You see the same people, sing the same songs, hear the same homilies, and eat the same food, year after year.  For some, this boredom even stretches beyond the social and religious artifacts of Christmas, into the commercial aspects.  They stare blankly at shiny new gadgets that cost more than many developing countries GDPs.  They were ecstatic about it just one day previous, but today, the day after, there is no joy to be had.  Why?  Because these things are commonplace.  Getting new things is nice, but the feeling it gives you doesn’t live up to the hype that Christmas receives.   And in fact it can’t.  This is where many of us who profess a faith in Christ begin our “Keep Christ in Christmas” spiel.  But is this even enough to understand?  For all our slogans and good intentions even we get caught up in the boredom.  God is so much a part of our lives that it’s hard for us to feel like this season is special.  So how do we get over this problem?  How do we get past our “grown-up” boredom, and back to the childlike excitement toward this time of year?

I think it’s fair to explain this in two parts:

1. Realizing What’s Happened;

This seems like the most obvious thing in the world.  ”Christ is born.  Glorify Him.”  But it’s easy, even for the best of the Christian faithful, to forget what this beautiful refrain means.  Christmas is the day that “The Word became flesh” and the prophecies of old began their fulfillment.  Rather than ramble on about this, I would like to allow the Golden Tongue himself explain

This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged. -St. John Chrysostom

2. Realize What that Means;

God became man.  This seems almost normal to us at this point, but let’s try to comprehend.  For Christmas to matter at all we must understand something about God and us.  According to Kierkegaard, there exists between us and God an “Infinite Qualitative Distinction.”  Let me explain, a qualitative distinction is a distinction made on the basis of the nature of the things in question, as opposed to the amount of those things.  Example: the difference between you and your counter-top is a qualitative distinction, while the difference between how much food there is in your refrigerator and how much food there is in your neighbor’s is not.

This theme of infinite qualitative distinction can be found throughout Scripture, particularly the Old Testament.  But what does this have to do with Christmas?

Well, to understand that we have to understand the effect of the distinction between God and man.  God is the absolute Other.  Of all that there is, there is nothing in which man has less qualitative similarity (I mean, come on!  He even exists outside of time!(at least trees exist in time)).  This is a death blow to the ancient heresy of Pelagianism.  Man cannot overcome this infinite gap that lays between him and God.

And here’s where Christmas comes in.

Throughout the Old Testament we see God as the great hero, the true hero, of the Jewish people.  But what’s the use if there will always be this impenetrable abyss of separation between God and man?  But “He Who Is became what He was not,” at Christmas.  Thus God Himself overcame this absolutely insurmountable obstacle for us.  This is what can save us from the “grown up” boredom of Christmas; an understanding that it is not a time of presents, food and family for the sake of those things, it is not even the celebration of the birth of great man, but it is the absolute jubilation felt in the presence of a miracle, the miracle of the Incarnation and it is by this miracle of God’s Incarnation that we were saved from the otherwise unavoidable and insurmountable despair of the abyssal gap between God and man.

 

About Ryan Adams
  • http://wusti.blogspot.com The Byzantine Bandit

    Enjoyed reading this a lot. By the way, if you don’t know about the site “In Union with Rome,” (http://inunionwithrome.blogspot.com/) I’d recommend heading over there and getting Priest’s Wife to list you!

  • bill bannon

    Rahner called the Incarnation the “foregiving closeness” of God. We don’t cultivate it though as much as we cultivate the Church as intermediary. John 15:15 is rarely given front stage: ” No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”. Instead some months ago, Pope Benedict reviewed St. Dominic’s three positions for prayer…kneeling, standing, prostrate. We learned little from John leaning against Christ’s chest at the Last Supper.
    Michel Foucault…dominant discourses dominate culture unless other discourses intervene. St. Peter’s in Rome is a discourse about the God who is Almighty (and thus owns a lot of marble)…not about a Friend. We need both aspects of God but why do we think we need the discourse of the former Almighty affluent God at headquarters more than the Friend God….”but I have called you friends”.

    • Ryan Adams

      I would have to disagree, the “My Buddy Jesus” image popularized in the nineteen seventies didn’t do anyone any favors.
      Yes, Jesus is our friend, but he’s also He Who Is. And when you pray to He Who Is you do so reverently. If Jesus is a friend like any other, then He is not Divine, and the Incarnation didn’t matter; but since He is Divine we must treat Him with the seriousness and reverence due. The beauty of Christianity is that the Almighty God, who thus owns a lot of marble, became a man and did so to be our friend and savior.

      • bill bannon

        So….you cannot pray unless you are kneeling, prostrate or standing? You never pray in sitting position or in bed?

        • Ryan Adams

          We are called to pray at all times, as St. Paul says, to “pray without ceasing.” I do pray while sitting or laying, but you seem to miss the point of there being positions to pray in. The purpose of St. Dominic giving us a guide to pray is to make us aware of what we’re doing when we pray. These positions reflect a part of the equation that is just as important as the friendship of God; that God, even in his friendship, is still God.

      • Rosanna Rather

        Ryan I so agree with you. The term friend needs to be made clear… My friend Jesus is more than the word “buddy” implies… Don’t have any “buddies” that left heaven, born in a stable, lived life on earth, died on the cross, was buried and was raised from the dead three days later. Oh and also He forgave me of my sins, and has provided me a place unlike anything I can imagine when my life here on earth is done. The term “buddy” just doesn’t fit with my Savior and Lord Jesus.

  • JoeC

    A great article. One thing I noticed this Christmas was how few people bowed at the incarnation during the profession of faith. It’s easy to understand why Christmas might be boring if you don’t understand the value of God become Man.