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On Christmas Day

December 23, 2011

One of the highlights of my Christmas season every year is the Christmas party that happens at work. I’m not talking about the staff Christmas party (or if my boss is reading this, then yes I am!), but rather the one that takes place with the students that I work with. I think this party is fun for two main reasons: 1. I plan it 2. All of the guys have to bring a date.

These Christmas parties are a sort of tradition, so they have to include certain activities. I am nothing if not a creature of habit* so I continue these festivities in much the same form as they were when I was but a young student myself. The bringing of dates might not sound like something unusual, but there are a few hidden reasons why this rule is strictly enforced. The first, and most important, is that by forcing everyone to ask a date, the potential for awkward situations increases by a factor approaching infinity. Sure, a guy can say something dumb in front of his friends, but that’s just par for the course. If he says the same dumb thing in front of his date (or better yet, to his date in front of everybody) then it is of inestimably richer comedic value.

*Some would substitute “stodgy” or “uncreative” for “creature of habit.” You be the judge.

My sadism does not end there. Of course I see it as my duty to provide the most fertile environment for these embarrassing missteps, and therefore I have each of the students decorate a stocking in advance of the party and then present it to their date in front of everyone. I buy $1 stockings and cheap glitter glue and let them have at it. The presentation is intended to include reasons why the guest had inspired the artist to decorate the stocking in the way that it was. In the days when we had seventeen presentations, you could rely on at least four train wrecks. Now that I supervise a smaller dorm and presentations are down to seven, it’s a good Christmas when you can get one cringe-worthy moment.

While not the main point whatsoever, I would be remiss if I did not include some all-time highlights from the stocking presentations. Bear in mind that prizes are awarded by the vote of the girls for three categories: Best Presentation, Artistic Merit, and, my favorite, Reverse Artistic Merit. This year, Reverse Artistic Merit was given unanimously to a poor young man whose girlfriend assured him that her whole family would see the stocking and thereby know how much he cared for her. You can’t get amazing moments like that watching a Lifetime movie, that’s for sure.*

*I was actually entrapped into watching such a drivel-esque film the other day with my wife’s family. She receives a text from her friend about how she was watching a terrible movie with her parents but secretly enjoying it. As it turns out, that same movie was being viewed by us with much less enjoyment. Perhaps this was only funny at the time because I desperately needed a bright spot in my day.

Another year, one guy actually ended up folding his stocking in half while it was under construction. It looked even more terrible than that sounds. His date was a girl he was interested in, but I think the party was one of their first times to spend any real activity time together. Horrified by not only the awful aesthetics but also the subtle-as-a-truck presentation in which the young man tried to be suave but basically let the girl know that he would marry her on the spot if she would have him despite, again, them not having any real time together prior to this evening, the young lady begged the first couple leaving for a ride home. Compounding the unintentional comedy was the fact that the car leaving the party was driven by a young man whose plan it was to take his date out to coffee and spend some alone time in preparation for asking the girl to take the relationship to another level. Having the first girl google “restraining order” on her iPhone as they headed home certainly killed the mood for both of those young guys.

I hope I have given adequate flavor to help you understand what happens at these parties. I don’t want to bore anyone by making this post too long as there really is a good idea lurking in here somewhere. You’ll have to hold on just a bit longer to get to it, but it should be worth the wait. If not, then, as before, I’ll refund all of your money.

One of the more recent traditions instituted by yours truly is the patented “Hotdog Theology made up Christmas Trivia Game.” (At the parties I use my real name rather than my stage name.) The title is descriptive: I stand up front and make up Christmas trivia questions off the top of my head. I don’t usually make up the answers, but if I’m wrong, my word is still final. Since it’s Christmas and all, it might be fun to play along at home. If you were playing live, I would throw you candy at you if you were either correct or amusing with your answer. It’s similar to how they feed seals. Since I’m not there as you read (or am I?), you’ll have to serve yourself. On with the questions:

1. Am I wearing a Christmas sweater?

2. From whom did Norway celebrate their independence?

3. What day does the Eastern Orthodox church celebrate Christmas?

4. What is my favorite Christmas song?

5. Which books of the Bible contain a Christmas story?

Now the answers to most of these are obvious, as you can tell, but it’s #5 that always raises the most interesting answers. But before we get to that, I would be remiss once more if I did not trace you through the answers. First, I was not wearing a Christmas sweater. It was a 500th anniversary of Norwegian independence commemorative sweater. Thus question 2 makes sense, in a way. For this second question, I did allocate a coveted Reese’s cup to a young lady who answered “the man,” but it is more precisely pronounced “Denmark.” Each of the Scandinavian countries has taken turns conquering each other up there. Who knows–it could still be going on. Question 3 is another one of my favorite trick questions, because the answer is of course December 25th. It seems too easy. The Orthodox do celebrate Easter on a different calendar, and, in related news, a guy I went to college with is now an Orthodox priest. To the fourth question, the answer is certainly not “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime.” That song makes me want to punch somebody, usually my college roommate, in the throat. The real formula is simple: Anything sacred beats Anything secular; O Holy Night and O Come O Come Emmanuel beat Anything else sacred. Very simple. Generally, anything with an O in the title is a good bet.

The last question is probably the hardest: Which books of the Bible contain a Christmas story? There are various answers available such as “all of them!” since they all in some way point to Christ. This type of over-inclusivism doesn’t usually get me going, so I awarded no candy to those who answered in this way. Others might say “the gospels,” but this is patently wrong. Sure, Luke has the most famous one and Matthew makes sure to get the wise men in there, but Mark certainly doesn’t have one. It’s as though he was typing a paper and the computer swallowed his work before he thought to save it. Unwittingly, he just went on from the middle. (This is likely not what actually happened.) Others said Genesis (see Gen. 3:15) or Isaiah; Philippians 2 has a decent argument for inclusion and Revelation does as well, depending on how one takes the woman birthing in front of the dragon passage, which I am hearing is adapted into a film starring Daniel Craig.

The one book that gets most often overlooked in these Christmas inventories is John. Yeah, there’s no manger, no star, no census, no nothing, really, except for a weird bunch of terms lifted from Greek philosophy. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is a tricky passage. I think most people intuitively grasp that the Word is Jesus, and that’s right. What gets confusing is when people conflate the ancient meaning of Word with our own uses. I remember my fifth grade teacher telling me that the Word of God is the Bible, and that Jesus was the Word, therefore Jesus lives on as the Bible. While Bibliolatry is another topic for another time, you can see both how she got confused and how silly it was.

What we translate as “Word” is the Greek “Logos.” Aside from being snazzy Bible software, logos was a Platonic term encompassing ideas from wisdom to deity. What John is saying is that Jesus is God, was with God, and existed for all time. He uses logos to broaden the concept of Jesus’ existence beyond that of a man, as Arianism taught, and beyond that of a demi-God, as Jehovah’s witnesses still teach. Jesus was God in the beginning; he remains so now. This is all feeling very orthodox. Both Augustine and C.S. Lewis would be thrilled with me.

What gets really crazy and really Christmasy is when you scroll on down to John 1:14*: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus, the prexistent God, the same God who made the universe, the same God we still worship and pray to, the same God who rules the universe–that God became flesh. This is really quite a difficult concept to grasp. How did God put on a body and enter the world? John’s gospel leaves it vague; luckily we have Luke to fill in the gaps:

*I say scroll because I know you all read your Bible on a Steve Jobs approved device, or an Android if you’re a technological hipster.

Luke 2:6 is familiar to anyone who has ever seen a church play or viewed a Nativity scene. “She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.” The same great, glorious logos from John 1 has just been placed in a manger where cows were just feeding! I tried to explain the concept of a manger to my three-year-old by saying it was where the animals’ food was. He immediately equated it with his grandparents’ dog dish, from which a fat, sloppy pug dog scarfs his luxury dog foods. “Why did baby Jesus have to go to bed in Spunky’s dish?” Why indeed, kid, did the creator of the Universe announce his arrival in the humblest of means, the equivalent of a Sizzler for oxen? What a ludicrous, glorious entrance.

So this Christmas, when you’re wondering what sort of presents you’re getting (and secretly hoping for 3rd edition DnD minis!), or when you’re feeling grumpy about braving the mall to find some sort of junk to foist upon your nieces and nephews so that you can check them off the list, or when you stress about cooking an eight course meal in perfect Whole Foods/Food Network style, take a step back: look at that most Christmasy of Christmas decorations, the Nativity scene. Remember that your Savior, your Maker, lay in a feeding trough for you, and that is why we celebrate. Sure puts finding a parking spot near Santa’s photo line into perspective, doesn’t it?

Rejoice! Emmanuel has ransomed captive Israel!

Merry Christmas. May His presence be near you this holiday season.

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