xmas or "I shall not want"
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want" - Psalm 23:1
The idea of not wanting blows my mind, especially in the age of consumerism, Amazon, and Xmas.
I've never been offended by the abbreviation "Xmas." Maybe it's a good way to distinguish xmas from Christmas. "Xmas" can be the commercialized xmas of consumer capitalism. "Christmas" refers to the annual observance of the birth of "God with us." Modern religion is funny. Belief has become so important. Arguments over the existance of God or historical truth of the Christmas story can completely miss what religion is really about: what we center life around and how we live. In my lifetime, there's been a celebration of Christmas as a time of good cheer, family, neighborliness, and generosity. That's the Norman Rockwell Christmas. I also grew up hearing the critics cry out about how commercialized xmas has become. "Black" Friday, consumer debt, nearly-competitive decorating and gift-giving. More than once I've sat around the Christmas tree feeling embarrassed about whether I've spent enough in comparison to others. I'm not a great gift-giver. It's not my love language.
In the last five years or so, the 23rd Psalm has haunted me in ways it never did before. The phrase that gets me is this: "I shall not want."
I grew up around people who thought God spoke King James English. People who talk normally would all-of-the-sudden start talking in odd words when they pray, "Thou," "taketh," "Thee," etc. This left me a bit cynical. Even at eight years old, I somehow knew God didn't speak early modern English. It had a pretense about it, a "holier than Thou" feeling. I just didn't relate to images like "He maketh me lie down in green pastures."
Then, my grandfather passed away as the Psalms were being read to him. He was breathing slowly. My cousin started reading Psalm 1 - the King James Version - and just kept reading.
Her story is that when she got to the 23rd Psalm, Grandpa was no longer breathing when she finished. My grandfather was a WWII vet. The war haunted him. I'm sure he needed the reminder in verse 4. As he walked in the shadow of death, he need not fear. The King James version translates the Hebrew word for "darkest shadow" as "shadow of death." The NIV and NRSV simply say "darkest." I think my grandfather needed King James' way of saying it. That means something to me. In Sunday School, I was asked to memorize the 23rd Psalm in third grade. My Sunday School teacher's name was Virginia Price. She was under five feet tall, oozed kindness, and was a modern saint. She was patient with us. None of us liked memorizing things. But, I'm so grateful now that I can still recite the 23rd Psalm from memory almost fourty (40) years later. Yes, I memorized the King James Version. These two unwanted religious experiences - memorizing the 23rd Psalm and my Grandpa's reverence for the King James bible - shape my life now. In an unintended way, they also impact how I live and think about Christmas. "I shall not want."
Reading through the eyes of the Christian tradition, the birth of Jesus is the birth of the shepherd imagined about in Psalm 23. He is "God with us" who "restores my soul." Jesus is the one who reveals the paths of righteousness for God's name sake. And, the Hebrew word translated as "righteousness," tsedaqah, can also be understood as "justice." The story of Jesus is the story of the one who comes at Christmas to end our want. These ideas are a light shining in the middle of xmas reminding us of the sham it really is: God, a shepherd
That's the meaning of Christmas. It's about spiritual gifts, ones that can't be bought and can't be wrapped.