12/13/2011 10:45 am ET Updated Feb 12, 2012

Keep the "X" in Xmas

Well, here we go again. As recently reported, a lot of people-most of whom don't live in Rhode Island--are upset because Gov. Chafee has referred to a decorated spruce in Providence as a "Holiday tree" instead of, you know, a Christmas tree. The troops have been deployed for another skirmish.

This year I'm going with John and Yoko: War is over. This year I'm declaring a permanent cease fire. This year I'm simply keeping the "X" in Xmas and encouraging others to do the same.

Even if you're like me and want nothing to do with this fictitious "war" on Christmas, you might still feel that something is not right in what usually happens in December.

The church calendar calls this season "Advent." But let's admit it -- that doesn't mean a lot.

What we call "preparation for Christmas" has very little to do with Advent -- the patient working to bring the mercy, justice and peace of God into the world while we await the coming of Christ. What we call "preparation for Christmas" in has little to do with the incarnation of God that we celebrate on Dec. 25.

We find ourselves, for the most part, not in "Advent" but in the "Xmas season," a name that suggests abbreviation, a cutting short. This is about Xmas, a name that suggests something is lacking. This is about Xmas, the season that begins with Black Friday and always seems to end in disappointment and disillusionment.

Something is missing -- what is it? Love? Peace? Acceptance? Joy? Something is missing and, really, all of our frenzied indulgence will not fill that void -- no matter how hard we try to year after year.

Keeping the "X" in Xmas might remind us that all the pushing and shoving, the buying like crazy and, yes, the "dissipation and drunkenness" that Paul warned the Thessalonians about have little if anything to do with the advent, the coming of God -- except that God came to save us from just such a living death.

So let's keep the X in Xmas and not kid ourselves about what we're doing.

Yes, I'm aware that "X" is also the Greek letter chi, an abbreviation for "Christ." But there might be another way in which the "X" can inform our Advent preparations and our living throughout the year.

Remember algebra class? "X" was the sign for the unknown. In algebra we were always trying to find "X" -- to solve the problem.

Maybe it wasn't apparent in high school, but many of us now recognize that there are mysteries beyond solving. "X" reminds us of the mystery in life. It can remind us of the wonder of God's love, which is what Advent, Christmas and, really, the whole of the Christian life are about.

"X" reminds us that there are all sorts of things in the life of faith that we don't understand. And yet these are the very things in which we participate and for which we give thanks: prayer, worship, love, forgiveness, newness of life, bread and wine that tell us better than any words that God is with us in our brokenness, that God's love is poured out for us.

I don't understand these things. But I know that my very life -- and the life of the world are dependent on them.

"X" reminds us that our faith is partial. Our knowledge is partial. Our love is partial. We understand only in part and see as if in a mirror dimly. There is a tension between our lives and our world as they are and as they might be.

As we live in those mysteries, as we act out of a faith that is deeper than our certainty, that "X" starts to resemble a cross, doesn't it? The cross is that place where suffering and uncertainty and unbelief meet and are answered with God's self-giving love.

We are in the Xmas season -- a time that is not quite Christmas, not quite the celebration of God with us. What's the biblical word for that? Emmanuel. The Xmas season is a time when we become aware of what is lacking. The Xmas season is the time when we enter the mystery of life and find the love of God at its very center.

So, keep the "X" in Xmas. Let it serve as an invitation to faithful living in the mystery that is God.

War is over (if you want it). This year, good friends, keep the "X" in Xmas.