An annual symptom of our lunatic condition

C. S. Lewis wrote that there are three things that go around by the name “Christmas”.

The first is a religious festival, important to Christians and not really to anyone else. The second is a popular holiday, a time of hospitality and general merry-making. The third is, in Lewis’ words, “a commercial racket”, which he said was “forced on us by the shopkeepers”. It is primarily the third thing which annoyed Lewis, and which he condemned, giving the following reasons:

1) “It gives on the whole more pain than pleasure.” Pay attention, he wrote, to the family who tries to “keep” Christmas in this commercial sense. They are soon worn out by the effort of finding gifts and remembering everyone they need to give gifts to. Come Christmas, “They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.”

2) “Most of it is involuntary.” Lewis decries the modern rule that you have to give a gift to everyone who gives an (unprovoked) gift to you. “It is almost blackmail.”

3) “Things are given as presents which no mortal ever bought for himself – gaudy and useless gadgets, ‘novelties’ because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before.”

4) “The nuisance.” The whole thing, he writes, triples the trouble of all the normal work of life (like everyday shopping trips), that we already have to do.

He concludes (again, writing in England in 1957!):

“We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers?”

The whole essay is found in God in the Dock.


more than thin air and thoughts

Eric Metaxas, in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, on Bonhoeffer’s instruction to his students while a lecturer in theology  in 1932-33:

“Bonhoeffer was not interested in intellectual abstraction. Theology must lead to the practical aspects of how to live as a Christian. Karding was surprised when Bonhoeffer asked his students whether they sang Christmas carols. Their answer was noncommittal, so he said, ‘If you want to be pastors, then you must sing Christmas carols!’ For him, music was not an optional part of Christian ministry, but de rigeur. He decided to tackle this deficiency head-on. ‘On the first day of Advent,’ he said to her, ‘we will meet each other at noon…and we will sing Christmas carols.’ She remembered that he ‘played the flute wonderfully’ and sang ‘magnificently.'”

Just one of the ways that Bonhoeffer’s faith had a wonderful practicality, an earthiness. He would later write to his fiancee that,

human beings were taken from the earth and don’t just consist of thin air and thoughts.”

Filling the world, He lies in a manger




by Augustine of Hippo


Maker of the sun,

He is made under the sun.

In the Father he remains,

From his mother he goes forth.

Creator of heaven and earth,

he was born on earth under heaven.

Unspeakably wise,

He is wisely speechless.

Filling the world,

He lies in a manger.

Ruler of the stars,

He nurses at his mother’s bosom.

He is both great in the nature of God,

and small in the form of a servant.

The likeness re-drawn

Athanasius in “On the Incarnation”, roughly 376 A.D.:

You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains? The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel: ‘I came to seek and to save that which was lost.’

Which calls to mind a verse of Charles Wesley’s great hymn, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” which I’ve heard rarely sung:

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.

One might think they believed

In 1933, the US Ambassador to Germany was William Dodd. Adolf Hitler was the newly appointed chancellor and the Nazi party was ascendant.

In Erik Larson’s book “In the Garden of Beasts“, he describes the growing climate of violence, fear and oppression in Germany at this time, even as life continued in many ways unchanged. One of the things that continued unchanged was the celebration of Christmas in Berlin – a lavish celebration that stood out to the Dodd family, a family that was not religious.

“In traveling about the city that day, Dodd was struck anew by the ‘extraordinary’ German penchant for Christmas display. He saw Christmas trees everywhere, in every public square and every window.
‘One might think,’ he wrote, ‘the Germans believed in Jesus or practiced his teachings!'”