Taylor: Christmas now and once before

One would be hard-pressed to invent a scene more beautiful than that of the Christmas nativity. The newborn child, his young mother and her betrothed, the shepherds, the wise men, the ox and the donkey, all with the Star of Bethlehem beaming gaily — this, no doubt, is the stuff of poetry. But poetry aside, the nativity scene represents a story of hardships and terrible difficulties. Mary must bear the shame and unbridled gossip that accompany premarital pregnancy; Joseph must decide either to part with Mary or to raise a child who is not his own. Even the wise men, to quote a poem by T. S. Eliot, have “a hard time” of it, traveling through “the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly.”

But of course the utmost hardship in the story is that of the little baby lying in the manger. In the form of this baby, God himself — according to Christian teaching — has stepped down from heaven, put on flesh, adopted the lowly nature and the vulnerabilities of the humans he created. The infinite and almighty has assumed finitude and dependence. Throughout the Christmas narrative, we find as a recurring motif the idea that adversity must be met with self-sacrifice: Mary’s sacrifice for her child, Joseph’s sacrifice for Mary and her child, and above all Christ’s sacrifice for humanity.

More than nine out of 10 Americans celebrate Christmas, including many who do not profess the Christian religion. The Christmas narrative has exerted an immeasurable force on our societal conscience and consciousness. And yet we have achieved the remarkable feat of coupling that narrative with another, quite different narrative: that of the commercial.

The commercial tells us that a successful and fulfilling Christmas is one in which we receive the newest iPod, the latest gaming system, the highest-definition television screen and (to make it a December to remember) a brand-new Lexus. The meaning of Christmas is twofold: Celebrate the birth of Christ, and get a lot of sweet new stuff — and not necessarily in that order. On the same day we pay homage to self-sacrifice and self-indulgence, difficulty and ease, suffering and convenience. We will bow to the manger, but only on the condition that some gold, frankincense and myrrh be tossed in there with the child.

This is an exaggeration, of course. Most Americans would survive a Christmas in which they failed to receive the most expensive new gadget, and many, it is true, deem themselves more blessed in giving than in receiving. Nevertheless, the distinctly American ability to pair the spirit of the nativity scene with the spirit of the commercial points to a tension lying deep within our national heritage and identity.

Our dominant political philosophy has told us that we have an inalienable right to pursue happiness; our dominant religion has told us to carry a cross. Our prevailing economic system is premised on self-interest; our most prevalent religion is premised on the commandment to serve the interests of others. The characteristically American attitude towards money says more is better; the characteristically Christian attitude towards money says, in the words of G. K. Chesterton, that “to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck.”

But somehow we manage, during the Christmas season, to hold together these two contraries — what we might call the “will to ease” and “receptivity to hardship.” Less than a month after Christmas Day, however — on Jan. 22, to be precise — the tension erupts into bitter discord. On this day, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, hundreds of thousands of protestors meet in Washington to march on the Supreme Court in protest of what is perhaps the gravest manifestation of our nation’s will to ease. Others celebrate the occasion in commemoration of what they perceive to be a liberation from unfair hardship.

Arguments over abortion continue to rage, as they must. But perhaps we would do well, on occasion, to set aside dialectical jousts and consider both sides with respect to their aesthetic appeal.

Which is more beautiful, more noble, more admirable: the vociferous American woman demanding the right to preserve her body from the intrusion of a baby, or the young Jewish girl in the Christmas story who sacrifices her plans and her reputation in a gesture of openness to the gift of new life? What is more worthwhile: the life that seeks convenience, or the life that accepts the call to sacrifice? Sincere contemplation of the nativity scene yields an unambiguous answer.

Bryce Taylor is a sophomore in Silliman College.

Comments

  • CBS

    Another excellent article, Mr. Taylor.

    God Bless and Merry Christmas to all.

  • an evolution in egalitarianism

    I may be incorrect but I believe Roe v. Wade was not designed to allow women the right to protectt her body from the "intusion" of a baby. It was designed to circumvent or neutralize the inequity of rich folks being able to afford a ""legal' abortion offered in expensive-to-travel-to geographical locations, thereby inadvertently forcing the indigent into illegal abortions in back rooms administered by non-medical personnel sometimes with womb piercing coat-hangers.

    Of course, the Supreme Court or our culture itself would never admit this imperative motivated Roe v. Wade, but it was certainly fanning the fires which
    produced that opinion., Ironically, Mr. Taylor, Roe v. Wade was about money, health and life---about egalitarianism and a country which seeks it make its laws live up to the promise of egalitarianism---not about the moral imperatives inferable from an idyllic little scene in a Biblical morality play about the life of a Hebrew family in a Bethlehem stable 2009 years ago.

  • Yale 08

    Well done.

    I was ready to give up on the YDN until reading this.

    Excellent work Ms. Taylor

  • Angry male feminist

    Taylor says: "But perhaps we would do well, on occasion, to set aside dialectical jousts and consider both sides with respect to their aesthetic appeal."

    Ah, yes, thank you so much for the enlightening thought. Let's consider an ethical question by using Taylor's aesthetic preferences. Clearly a move away from "dialectical jousts."

    The sanctimoniousness here is revolting, as Taylor, in the name of praising women, turns them into pretty objects to be protected and admired, and then celebrated in stories. God forbid women have agency! No, I know, let's remember and deify a story about a God who can inseminate a women without her consent.Sounds like an excellent basis for 2000 years of morality …

    So, "which is more beautiful, more noble, more admirable":

    Obviously, "the vociferous American woman demanding the right" to be able to choose the course of her life, and the use of her body.

  • @ Yale 08

    It's "Mr." Taylor.

  • a proudly vociferous American woman

    We're not demanding the right. We have the right. We simply urge you not to take legal recognition away from us. Focus on sex education, on ALL education, on self esteem, on maybe lightening up about birth control, on all the things that will help eradicate abortion without taking away a fundamental right.

  • tap lines

    doodlelover--you're a bit off--while there are many societies that still do tap lines, a fair number (certainly beyond bones and keys) do go beyond lines. Statistically, however, your advice is sound.

  • Y '11 woman

    I disagree with number four but number six says it best, so I agree with her! It's not about abortion so much that society treats women so poorly that many times they can't afford childcare, safe sex education, etc.

    Yet, I also agree with Taylor. People miss the point. Mary is truly an inspiring ideal that all women should aspire to be! What's wrong with selfless devotion and placing a child's life before your own? Our society is imperfect but we should still aspire to model our lives after such people!

  • furious feminist

    Angry male feminist: "as Taylor, in the name of praising women, turns them into pretty objects to be protected and admired, and then celebrated in stories."

    Do we, as feminists, not praise women, protect them, admire them, and celebrate them throughout history? If this is tantamount to objectifying them, then I am left without an alternative as to how to view women.

    Further you say: "God forbid women have agency! No, I know, let's remember and deify a story about a God who can inseminate a women without her consent."

    Mary did have agency. She consented to being the "Lord's servant" and to birthing God's son(Luke 1:38). If sacrificing one's life to plans that look detrimental does not require a huge amount of agency, then I don't know what does.

  • Y'11 man

    Whatever your stance on abortion, you have to admit that this is the worst argument about it you've ever heard. Mr./Ms. Taylor is merely attempting to extend the shaky basis of faith (assumption based on emotional and minimal sensory data) to a legal question with moral implications, which he/she hilariously attempts to mask by invoking his/her intro-philosophy vocabulary.

    Though he/she contrasts the selfish and the selfless, the heart of Taylor's argument is aesthetic value: After extracting himself/herself from the hypnotic glow of the nativity scene, he/she asserts that the nativity must look prettier and feel better (and therefore BE better) than a hypothetical scene of a woman enjoying herself (what such a creature might enjoy besides iPods, video games, TVs or a Lexus, Taylor has no idea). This isn’t substance enough for an op-ed; it’s barely enough for an awkward non sequitur in his philosophy section (my condolences to his/her classmates).

  • Weirdest left-turns

    Okay, so the first two paragraphs don't really go anywhere. Yeah, the manger's beautiful, especially because everyone in it was either ashamed of what was happening or CHRIST OUR LORD AMEN. But the rest of the piece is a pretty straightforward denunciation of Yuletide materialism (an annual ritual for the YDN and most papers) … until the third paragraph from the end, where suddenly all this yammering about charity and selflessness is reduced down to … Roe v. Wade.

    Considering that the items on Brycey's Christmas list seem to be pricey electronics and luxury cars, something tells me he missed the broader point of his own article. To be fair, though, Lexus makes nice cars.

  • voice of reason

    Wait wait wait. Wasn't this a joke?

    It's hard to believe that somebody could praise Jesus, the corporation, and suggest Mary as a model for taking rights AWAY from people all at the same time.

    Well done, well done…

    That being said, I'm shocked at many of the responses supporting this message of faith, consumerism, and anti-choice. That such views might be held by otherwise intelligent people is very disappointing indeed…

  • Anonymous

    Actually, I know the author, he's not joking at all - these are his views.

  • Yale Fem '08

    Mary had a choice- and she chose LIFE.

    Joseph could have divorced her, abandoned fatherhood and left her to fend for herself. He chose RESPONSIBILITY and FIDELITY.

    LIFE, RESPONSIBILITY, and FIDELITY.

    Surely any of my fellow Yale feminists can get behind these principles.

  • @ Yale Fem '08

    Regardless of whether I think a biblical character (i.e. Mary, or Joseph) has actual agency, I will agree with you that Mary chose to have the baby. To be fair, some angels came, I believe, and told her that her child would be the son of God, which may have influenced her decision. It also certainly helped Joseph, who, because he did had not yet slept with his virgin bride-to-be, could have only assumed that she had been unfaithful to him. Her pleas to the contrary, without the angels to back here up, would have not have been very convincing. Without the agels, Joseph might likely have left and found a new bride, especially given men's tendencies to, certainly at that time if not now, to hold women to the standard of absolute virginity before marriage.

    Now that I have deconstructed the biblical nativity story, just let me say two things:

    1. I respect Mary's decision to keep her baby.

    2. Had Mary chosen to have an abortion, I would respect that choice, too.

    p.s. I'm sure God could have tried again.

  • DoodleLover

    http://www.facilities.yale.edu/Campus/Building1.asp?lstBldg=1715

    What a terrible deal for Elmo's! Now they own a shack on Lynwood (a very nice place, but still a shack comapred to what they used to have). Granted, it was not a senior society back in the 60's, but I still can't believe that its alumni gave up the space so easily.

  • Anonymous

    Also, this article neglects to mention that St. Elmo was formed in the Sheffield Scientific School shortly after Berzelius and Book and Snake.

  • Anonymous

    Dear "voice of reason,"

    Did you really take this column to be praising "the corporation"? Try taking an elementary class in reading comprehension.

  • Anonymous

    #14--You actually have not "deconstructed the biblical nativity story." You might try not to use words (like deconstruct: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/deconstruct) if you don't know what they mean. It takes clout away from the several good points you did make. Additionally, using grandiose statements like that makes you sound, frankly, like a huge tool.

  • furious flabbergasted feminist

    Dear voice of reason,

    You say: "It's hard to believe that somebody could praise Jesus, the corporation, and suggest Mary as a model for taking rights AWAY from people all at the same time." Your comment is a total non sequitur. The article does no such things concerning the corporation and Mary.

    You go on to say: "That being said, I'm shocked at many of the responses supporting this message of faith, consumerism, and anti-choice."
    Again, the article is criticizing consumerism, not lauding it. Did you read the article, oh voice of reason? And as for the oh-so-easy-to-make anti-choice accusation, the article is praising choice: the choice manifested in Mary's great sacrifice. She CHOSE life, responsibility, and faith.

    It's rather ironic that the voice of reason can't comprehend and reason out a fairly straightforward article. In fact, it gets it totally wrong! In the great words of the voice of reason: "That such views might be held by otherwise intelligent people is very disappointing indeed…"

    It is disappointing, oh voice of reason. In fact, I can't be sure in anything I'm saying because it seems to me that the voice of reason is on the opposite side of the issue. Oh, voice of reason, save me from my epistemic crisis.