Thursday, December 11, 2003

As most of you are probably aware, Christmas is coming. This is the time of year (i.e., finals) when I feel most lonely for home. Maybe it's the fact that I keep forgetting to burn the proper Christmas albums and bring them up here, so my Christmas music is impoverished, and the fact that a college campus doesn't exactly get decked out in holiday finery (though the freshmen have tried, which I appreciate. And people wonder why I wanted to live here).

Lately I've been thinking about Christmas as a holiday - I mean Christmas as Christmas, not as the holiday which Christians decided would be our winter solstice holiday. Christmas is something that I think people tend to leave out of the Jesus story - I mean the fashionable Jesus story, which likes to paint Jesus as a traveling rabbi who said some decent things and was executed as a result of power politics. The Christmas story - the story that God made Himself a man and invaded the territory to which He had banished the Accuser all those eons ago - that doesn't fit in the fashionable Jesus story. The story of the return of the High King of Existence does not mesh very well with a story about Decent Moral Teachings. The moment you introduce Christmas into the narrative you have to ask what it was really all about, and the Christian explanation - that the King marched into enemy territory for the express purpose of getting Himself killed - is really the only one on the market.

Now of course that explanation is, in its way, a moral one. The idea that "greater love has no man than this, that someone should lay down his life on behalf of his friends" - the idea of selflessness - is, I think, the heart of Western morality. Possibly Heinlein's Col. Dubois was right and it's the foundation for all morality. But that is clearly not what Jesus, at least, is getting at. "This is my command, that you love one another just as I loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that someone should lay down his life on behalf of his friends. You are my friends ..." The "someone" in question is, at least in the immediate sense, Jesus. Which raises again the problem of Jesus dying (in fact, looking for death) being the central point of the Jesus story.

So what I've been thinking is that Christmas as Christmas is a holiday about freedom from morality. Let me explain what I mean by that. I suppose the purpose of morality (by "morality" I mean "virtuous conduct") is to produce righteousness (by which I mean being in line with the moral standard). Those are, of course, pipe dreams: the first thing anyone learns about morality is that nobody can do it. And I mean nobody can do it all the time, which is really the only satisfying standard: who wants a moral standard that says, "well, you tried your best, that's good enough?" That would be a moral standard which compromises, and the whole point of being a standard is that you don't compromise. Christmas is the story of the Return of the King, who set things up so that righteousness could be attained in a way different from morality. Morality doesn't work for human beings. Maybe it was supposed to (that's my opinion, anyway), but for human beings as they are now it doesn't. Christmas is the celebration of the incident which allowed morality to bypassed on the way to righteousness.

Now, I don't for a moment mean to suggest that Christmas throws morality out the window. (I remember Antilles and I talking to Violet about this four years ago.) It does mean that the motivation for morality changes - and this entry has gone on long enough, so I'm going to leave it at that unless somebody actually wants to talk about it.

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