“I’m a Christian, so I don’t go to parties,” said a person to me recently. There was a time in my life I would have accepted such a judgment about parties without qualification. The theology behind the idea of canceling Christmas is partly to blame for this tepid approach to life. Indeed the Lord does give his peace to us not as the world gives with the implication that all worldly parties without Him will always fall short of the mark. But where does this trepidation towards partying in general and towards specific Christian feasts/parties mean for the life in Christ? How do we answer Scrooge’s argument to his jubilant nephew in our musical adaptation of Dicken’s classic Carol:
“The 25th of December from what I remember is no special day, just a date.”
This idea of minimizing or even obliterating the significance of special liturgical celebrations like Christmas has a long and sordid history. When Dickens first published A Christmas Carol in 1843, the Christmas season had been almost forgotten in the popular sentiment. First the Puritans in the seventeenth century outlawed the feast itself for a time followed by the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century which filled almost all remaining leisure time with unrelenting work, so that feasting of any kind had become nearly impossible. Had Dickens not published his inspiring work, once popular holiday traditions, “…would have become merely details of the neglected past, a part of history or even archeology… Perhaps the very word carol would sound like the word villanelle.” (G.K. Chesterton quoted in The Annotated Christmas Carol).
Dickens enters this cultural desolation with not one, not two, but an overabundance of party scenes in places as far reaching as miners in the bowels of the earth, lighthouse keepers stationed amidst tumultuous seas, and sailors, “moving on through the lonely darkness over an unknown abyss whose depths were secrets as profound as Death.” Dickens dares to bring even to these benighted souls the torch of Christmas Present, the party of the Savior’s advent into our misery and suffering. We hear from all of them an irrepressible song in praise of the Lord Emmanuel’s birth in Bethlehem.
And so Christians not only go to parties, but they alone possess the reason for throwing parties under the most extreme conditions imaginable. For the Savior Himself who descended into Hades to liberate the captives there has broken the power of Death itself, and He enables all those who believe Him to participate in His resurrection from the dead. May He who became flesh for all of humanity’s salvation reach even the poorest and most destitute among us and teach all of us how to party in the most desolate of places.