We’re all familiar with both the concept and the actual sense of Joy that comes with the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Whether it’s in the “fa-la-la-la-las,” the candy canes or the tinsel, Christmas is a festival that celebrates new life, hope, and the coming of light. And, like many festivals that began as religious celebrations, Christmas has taken on a secular life as well. We can now celebrate Christmas without Jesus, substituting in his place a joyless celebration of materialism. Even among the faithful, there are those for whom Christmas brings no Joy at all. Instead, the “fa-la-la-la-las” become a painful reminder of despair or loss or darkness.
There is, however, a meaningful difference between those who suffer during the Christmas Season, and those who specifically eschew and reject the Joy that dances around them. Since 1843, when Charles Dickens first published his novella A Christmas Carol, there have always been people who were dedicated to emulating Ebenezer Scrooge. His cry of “bah-humbug” exemplified the grumpy Christmas spirit. But it seems in the last few years a new religion has sprung up – we’ll call it “Bahumbugism” – that is intent on sucking both the Joy and the meaning right out of the Christmas season, even when those are expressed in secular ways.
I recently read an article describing a group of Bahumbugists who wanted to ban – or to use more modern lingo, “cancel” – some beloved Christmas movies, like Frank Capra’s 1946 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Why? Well, of course there is the claim of a lack of ethnic diversity, though for a movie made in 1946 America it actually has a surprising amount of ethnic diversity. But what really bugged our Bahumbugists was a scene in which George Bailey yells at his wife, then gives her a kiss she doesn’t want. According to the Bahumbugists, this is a clear example of white, male, colonialist, sexist oppression. Did I also mention male toxicity? Conveniently ignored in this analysis is Mary Bailey, the wife, who is a strong, intelligent individual capable of recognizing that her husband’s undesirable behavior is a sign of a deeper problem. Forgiveness, based in love, is instant, and her response is to go out and rally the whole community to help her husband.
Obviously, in the Bahumbugist’s view, couples should never fight, and men should never, ever, try for a mistimed kiss, even with their wife. But what, more seriously, is missing is the understanding of the importance of forgiveness. In this, as in many other examples, we see that forgiveness plays no part in the Bahumbugist worldview. Yet forgiveness is what lies at the heart of Christmas Joy. It is forgiveness, given in the form of revelation, that leads Scrooge to repentance and ultimately to Joy. George Bailey is forgiven by love and he also receives a dose of revelation, and is returned joyously to his home and family.
“For God so loved the world. . .”
God so loved a broken, sinful world full of good people who do the wrong thing and bad people seeking a way out. It is the incarnation of God into this mess that is so miraculous, so hopeful and so joyous! What could be more joyful than knowing that God cares about you? What could be more joyful than God proving by beoming one of us for a time, shining a light on our brokenness, and using the same light to show us a way out.
Like Scrooge before his revelation, I really doubt that Bahumbugists really experience Joy, perhaps choosing to spend their time and energy wallowing in the brokenness. If a Bahumbugist wants to wait around until the entirety of the world’s brokenness is fixed before they can experience Joy, then not only will they never experience Joy, they will also significantly contribute to a joyless world.
It is revealing that both Scrooge and George Bailey are ultimately helped by angels, the ambassadors of God, and that they both discover Joy despite their own troubles. This is not simply a device of fiction, and I might advise my Bahumbugist friends to look around for those angels, because they are everywhere. They are there even for the Bahumbugists. They are there for those experiencing loss or darkness in a season of light. They are there for all of us broken sinners. They are there singing “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” They are here with us because they were there in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, when God demonstrated precisely how to bring Joy, real Joy, into a troubled world. Not with candy canes; not with tinsel; not with “Fa-la-la-la-la.” Joy came in the form of a baby who would free us all from our brokenness, grant us Hope, show us Peace, teach us to live in Love, and call us to embrace the Joy of Christmas. Bah-humbug? Not in an angel’s vocabulary. Instead, they sing “Gloria! In excelsis Deo.” And we should too – in Joy.