I thought by now I’d be writing something else, like the spiritual and socioeconomic ramifications of the Marx Brothers. But instead, I find myself, like everyone else, in another pop-culture referenced state of suspended animation. We are all living through the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.”
His movie was funnier than the real thing we’ve been experiencing and continue to experience. Idle hands may be the devil’s tool kit, but so is extended holding patterns from everything to going out and eating an omelet at your favorite breakfast place or attending Mass and getting to confession.
Cracking under the pressure of it all, my wife and I threw caution to the wind and performed a death-defying act. We invited people over for dinner. No masks, a modicum of social distancing, but an old fashioned get-together where we could talk, laugh, and discuss all manner of important and unimportant issues of the day, which is the modus operandi of this particular group of unindicted co-conspirators.
We all had been starved of these kinds of gatherings for a long time and it showed. We tried to get everything in from the state of the Church to the decline and fall of Western Civilization that was taking place in real time on a daily basis. Sadly, we failed to solve any of the world’s problems, but it was good to vent a little, laugh a lot, and share our friendship face-to-face — at a distance of course.
There is just no substitution for the serendipity of active conversation. Something no amount of social media can replace or replicate. It’s only through face-to-face conversation that serendipitous things happen, as it did during our post-dinner conversation.
One of our friends, a very intelligent and insightful man, and someone with a deep and dedicated faith in Jesus and his Church, responded to a vein of conversation around all the troubles we as a Church, a nation, and a world have been experiencing since the first third of 2020. We all agreed that the only answer to any of the major problems we face as a culture and a country lie within the bosom of the Church and faith in the Lord. Even if, as my friend added, “The Bible is the worst Christmas letter ever written.”
That stumped the panel — for a moment.
Our friend explained. We all get Christmas letters. They usually come inside a “holiday” card with a Santa Claus on water skis or a Santa and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer relaxing under a palm tree with pina coladas in hand and hoof and the words “Happy Holidays” emblazoned overhead.
The Christmas letter, oftentimes single-spaced, tells you everything you ever wanted, or didn’t want to know, about the goings-on in the family that sent the card. We learn about engagements, graduations, feats of great accomplishments, and generally a bunch of other really impressive data that causes you, well, at least me, to look at my own kids and wonder what’s wrong with them. Whereas social media has “virtue signaling,” Christmas letters are an older form of “prosperity signaling.”
Though the Bible has the ultimate “good news” ending, it is not a litany of happy accounts of encounters with God. It often overflows with the opposite. It is one account after another of God making attempts to encounter his creatures, only to be rebuffed. People in the Bible constantly run away from God, act perversely, and generally ignore him until things get “interesting.” And there’s enough awful behavior to get any statue representing almost any person from the Bible dismantled on any college campus or public square in the country.
If the Bible was a fairy tale, it would have nothing but happy endings. It doesn’t.
Instead, it is an amalgam of good news and bad news from Genesis to Revelations, where people never get what they want or what they think they want, and God always surprises people with when and how he makes his presence known, while all the time humbling them to the ground with his infinite patience. And patience is probably a good thing we should take from Scripture; I’m sure it came in handy to the Israelites, who wandered around the Sinai for 40 years waiting for Moses to get his act together.
So, the bad news is, the Bible is the worst Christmas letter ever written. The good news is it’s also the world’s greatest love letter.