Institution, Institutional, Institutionalized

‘Tis the season once again. Passing through Halloween and heading toward Thanksgiving we are approaching Advent and Christmas. So far, so good.  Except for interjecting the season of lament along the way. Lamenting the commercialization of Christmas. Lamenting stores putting Christmas things on display in September.  Lamenting the beginning of Christmas carols after Halloween. Lamenting the so-called taking Christ out of Christmas.

Hogwash. Poppycock.  Bullshit.  Take your pick.

No one takes Christ out of Christmas.  That would presume that we control Christ and we don’t.  If God can come to earth in human form (and God does in Christ) then it is highly unlikely that we can take Christ out of Christmas.  What we can do instead is get sidetracked by what I refer to as the Hallmark marketing machine.  It isn’t just Hallmark but the marketing machines in the U.S. have made secular holidays out of almost anything.  And everything.  For the purpose of making money.  It’s what they do.

But we allow their purpose to control our thinking on Advent and Christmas.  Our time-honored traditions and faith practices feel threatened and as with any threat, it makes us afraid.  The root cause of our fear is that we’ve allowed the institutions to have us act in an institutional manner and in the process we’ve become institutionalized.  That isn’t how the Church, the Body of Christ, is supposed to work.  Let me ‘splain my thinking here.

Institutions function by gathering a group of like-minded folks to promote a particular cause.  Basically, a bunch of people that agree on something.  Fair enough.  The Church, the Body of Christ, is a group of people who agree on something.  Not many things perhaps but when it comes to Christmas we generally agree on the doctrine of incarnation, God coming to earth in human form as the person of Jesus Christ.  Celebrated in Advent as the preparation for Christ to come and on Christmas as the arrival of Christ.

Institutional is where the trouble starts.  We of the Christian institution have become institutional in too many cases.  Rather than exercising our faith in Christ as individuals we’ve come to rely on the church (note the small ‘c’ here – indicating individual houses of worship or denominations rather than the capital ‘C’ – the Body of Christ) for any manner of things.  We’ve made the church responsible for the exercise of our faith rather than exercising it as a personal connection with God through Christ.  The church has to do ‘this’ and the church must do ‘that’ and if the church (again with the small ‘c’) isn’t doing X, Y or Z then everything is messed up and our faith is threatened.

The trouble with institutions is that they intentionally, or more charitably unintentionally, promote an institutional mindset that eventually we come to rely on as the source of our faith.  We become institutionalized.  We become desensitized to an active faith because we’ve been institutional too long.  We lose the collective strength of our faith because we’ve depended on an outside entity to exercise our faith on our behalf.

It is a similar process to prison inmates that become institutionalized after a number of years in prison.  When they are released it is challenging for them to function in society because they haven’t had to for so long.  It isn’t that they don’t have the capability of functioning in society but instead it is their ability that has been compromised through a forced dependence on the institution to make decisions for them.

Likewise, many of us have been institutionalized with respect to our faith.  We depend on ‘them’, whomever ‘them’ might be, to protect our time-honored traditions and faith practices.  Whether that be the the local church or denominational structures, our government or Wall Street, too many of us depend on an outside entity to do the work of promoting and exercising our faith.  SO THAT WE DON’T HAVE TO.

In this regard, we’re our own worst enemy.

It would be funny if not so ridiculous.  How many followers of Christ complain about the early shopping start for Christmas and the 24 hour Christmas carols beginning in November but put up their Christmas trees the day after Thanksgiving and take it down December 26? Hint: the season of Christmas STARTS on Christmas, it doesn’t end there.  How many of us are decrying Christ being taken out of Christmas but aren’t engaged with and Advent devotion of some sort, like the one at Occupy Advent?  We spend a fair amount of time being against things but what are we really for?  And what are we doing about it?

The long and short of it is this.  Our own faith is a gift from God but if we rely on an institution to exercise our faith then we’ve turned to the wrong source.  Do what you will with your shopping and holiday time.  Don’t get carried away but have fun.  Enjoy the season.  And instead of lamenting Christ being taken out of Christmas, make certain you are putting Christ INTO Christmas.  Pray, go to worship, have family devotions for Advent.  Whatever.  Just DO something.  If the followers of Christ work as individuals to keep Christ in Christmas then that is how the world will see Christmas.

Sidenote: Xmas is a completely legitimate way to shorthand Christmas, the X representing the Greek letter Χ or ‘chi’, frequently seen in the Greek shorthand for Christ  ΧΡ.


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