Community and Christmas as Public Domain

Note: It occurred to me that the last two holiday episodes of Community have inspired blogs (the third? We’ll see. I wasn’t in school for the last two). Since one of my favorite sitcoms is about to go on hiatus, I figured I’d throw them up here. Here’s the second from December 10, 2010.

Community is one of my favorite shows on TV. I love its pop culture references, meta-humor, and anarchic streak. Yet beneath its action movie and zombie spoofs, Community is about a group of vastly different and flawed individuals that come to depend on one another. There is a sincerity under its ironic exterior. For those reasons and more, I thoroughly enjoyed last night’s “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” on one level. On another level, I felt a twinge of sadness. And yet on another level, the episode help me better grasp the Christian faith’s place in our society. It was like a stop-motion, holiday-themed Inception.

The twinge of sadness came during a heartwarmingly surreal scene toward the end. The message was that Christmas was about all these wonderful things with a side of Jesus if that’s the faith of your choosing. In reality, none of these wonderful things associated with Christmas would be without Jesus in the first place. The Spirit of Christmas - peace, goodwill, love - was being exuberantly confused with the Meaning of Christmas - God’s love for humanity boldly declared through the Incarnation.

At the climax last night, the study group united around Abed by collectively realizing the proverbial meaning of Christmas. As Jeff-in-the-Box said, the meaning of Christmas is that we give Christmas meaning. So it’s about Jesus for Shirley, but it could be about Hanukkah for Annie. It’s about peace, goodwill, being with loved ones, and candy cane nunchucks. 

But beneath that sadness, I had to come to terms with the fact that this is what Christmas is to many people. Christmas has become public domain. It stopped being an exclusively church holiday a long, long time ago. Instead it has gone into our cultural melting pot and thus means a lot of different things to a lot of different people: Christian and non-Christian.

How do Christians respond to this situation? The knee-jerk reaction is to channel our inner Jack Shepherd and scream, “We have to go back!” People yearn for some nostalgic, possibly non-existent time when things were more ideal. Yet it is impossible to undo decades or centuries of history. This is a silver bell that cannot be unrung.

The most vocal response via the media is to fight. I have never bought into the War on Christmas narrative. In fact, I believe that if the people perpetuating that story were truly concerned with Jesus that they would spend more time being Christ-like than looking for a fight. Getting furious that a store is wishing Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas has as much in common with Christmas as ugly Black Friday mobs.

That brings us to Shirley. Shirley is a fascinating, frustrating character for me. She is the token Christian of the study group. Her demeanor veers wildly from loving, sincere, and compassionate to angry and judgmental. She’s an inconsistent character, but in a way that makes perfect sense. I can easily see why those outside of the Christian community view us as wildly inconsistent people.

As a result, Shirley gets tagged with the Christian faith’s multiple personality disorder. At the beginning of this episode, she is a seasonal soldier for CHRISTmas and is ejected from Abed’s holiday journey early on (as is our too-cool-for-school Jeff and our cold and - dare I say - afraid to believe in anything Britta). In fact, in Abed’s Christmas world he sees Shirley as a baby. Perhaps because she treats the holiday as her toy to play with and hers alone. Yet at the end, Shirley is right there beside the rest of gang. Even as she sings about Jesus, she’s there - as are they all - because she loves Abed.

The Christian community is part of this larger community, made up of people we are called to love. At this time of year, that larger community is celebrating the ideas of love, giving, peace, and goodwill. That’s awesome. We should be on board with that. We should affirm that. And we can affirm that without getting angry that the Jesus part is not front and center. Love finds a different way than that to share Christ.

It does not have to be an either/or type of situation. We can celebrate the birth of Christ, tell others with gentleness and respect that is why we celebrate Christmas, and still celebrate the holiday that is Public Domain Christmas. We don’t sweep Jesus under the rug nor do we shove him down others’ throats. It’s an opportunity to celebrate culture embracing good - the love, giving, peace, and goodwill and it opens the door for us to tell others about the hope that we have.

So while that climactic scene gave me a twinge of sadness, I saw a glimpse of a way forward in holidays to come. It’s difficult and surely some Christians will not be pleased with the way I am framing this. But we are in a diverse society. Fighting or crawling into our own bubble is not going to make a difference in this world. We live in a community. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

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