We all know what Christmas is “supposed” to look like, right? We’re surrounded by the Currier and Ives images of Christmas, the Thomas Kinkade scenes of snowy countryside and greenery. But if we’re honest, that’s just what we in northern North America think of Christmas–it doesn’t describe Christmas in Hawaii, let alone other parts of the world.
If we can admit of a different perspective on Christmas, then perhaps we can consider what Christmas might have looked like from heaven’s side–and whether that perspective is captured in Revelation 12. That was the challenge I posed in this weekend’s sermon, “Love’s Beachhead,” which was the first one that Sydenstricker UMC began live-streaming. Here is the link to our livestreaming page; for my service this weekend, I suggest you view the 8:30 service. You can start from the beginning and join in the worship, or skip to 33:10 where Don begins reading the scripture lesson. Either way, please let me know what you think–and please bookmark this page to find our livestreams each week!
It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon. The tree is finally decorated, there’s a fire roaring away, and apart from tidying up in the rec room a bit, there’s not a ton that has to be done today. I can sit here in the family room, enjoy the season and the warmth of the fireplace, and just…be, in the moment. (Well, and get a little writing done…)
How unlike my January this moment is!
At my still-day-job in Federal budgeting, we now have a w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l gift (insert eye roll) of having to roll out the 2021 President’s Budget AND report to Congress on our spending plan for the just-enacted 2020 budget, both in early February. Two major, time-consuming, intense processes that normally would be different times are now stacked on top of each other. There will be lots of late nights throughout January as we try to get everything done, done well, and done on time. Plus, at church, I am taking over responsibility for worship preparations each week: having people assigned to the right roles, communicating to ushers and communion assistants, etc. I know enough to know I don’t know everything, and I’m already afraid of what ball will be dropped in the juggling. Oh, and starting a new Sunday School class, and preparing for a Lent evening class on prayer.
Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10a)
I know I need times like this. I know I need recharging and renewal, before taking on what both my God and my job have in store for me in 2020. I know I need Christmas, and to have the faith of a Mary or a Joseph, to see what’s coming and to surrender entirely to God’s will.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38a)
In many ways, 2019 felt like the year of “Follow me.” And I did. As 2020 gets ready to start, with the whirlwind that January will represent, I wonder if God’s message to me for 2020 might be, “Trust me.” I confess I still have trouble with that one; Lord, may I have the strength to trust as I did to take those first steps to following you. Just as a young couple in Judea did two millennia ago, I must trust that what God has in store for me is exactly what God’s plan needs for me to experience, to become who he intends me to be. And that’s a Christmas gift that doesn’t fit under the tree, but rather, comes in these quiet moments on lazy Sunday afternoons.
This Christmas was different, of course. The head of the dining room table was empty this year, with Mom passing in October. And the call to Vermont was missing a voice, with Mary’s dad passing in June. I made it through the day pretty well, but for hearing that silly “Christmas Shoes” song, and immediately thinking of Mom. And yeah, crying.
And yet, there was brightness to the day. We were allowed to sleep in until well past nine; in fact, I was the first up, to start the coffee cake. Sarah was in much better spirits this year than in some past years, which gave me joy to see her happy and engaged. (Are the teen years ending?!?) We exchanged gifts and some very creative ones came out (I have a dozen new pairs of silly socks to wear to work, for example), and of all it, only two duplicates that we have to take care of.
In so many ways, this was a better Christmas than I expected, or have any right to deserve. I know so many others didn’t have a fire in the fireplace, or a turkey dinner, or the luxury of dozing by the first after the second. And as the years go by, the pile of presents gets a little smaller, and that’s okay: I don’t have anything to prove by great hordes of presents. In fact, quite the opposite: it truly isn’t the getting. The day is about much more.
The day is about love. The day is about the most tremendous love, far beyond anything we can imagine, breaking in and disrupting our lives. It’s about all the contradictions inherent in the fact of the Author of the Universe coming to us as a tiny, defenseless, utterly dependent baby in an insignificant backwater town two millennia ago. It’s not about the loss of our parents, it’s about love–the love they had for us, surely, but all the more, the love that wraps them now, the same love that pulls me in and won’t let go. It’s a much, much fuller Christmas than ever before. And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”
“‘And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”‘”
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Merry Christmas from our home to yours, and may the truth of that first Christmas light your day, your year, and your life.