I put up Christmas lights yesterday. For someone who doesn’t like to climb ladders, this is a daunting task. In Atlanta, we had a neighbor who held nothing back when it came to putting up Christmas lights. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, he would begin a two-day project of putting up lights, inflatable characters, and whatever else he could get his hands on. Any display that anyone else put up paled in comparison. The neighbors would gather out in the street, shaking our heads and lamenting that we just didn’t have enough lights when compared to the Clark Griswold of the neighborhood.
This time leading up to Christmas is a time when many of us feel like we are not enough. Our inadequacies in what we don’t already own are suggested through each Black Friday advertisement. “You must get here at 6 am to get this deal. You can’t live without it.” We are led to believe that we need more to be enough. We feel the need for everything to be spotless and eloquently decorated for holiday house guests. We are led to believe that perfection leads us to be enough. The mail overflows with perfect family holiday cards, touting how good everyone looks and how well their grown children are doing. Inevitably, we wonder why our family is not as perfect and we feel like we aren’t enough. A struggle for me is the feeling of inadequacy comes from not leading a congregation through the Advent season for the first time in a long time. Will I be enough without this leadership role in this holy season?
Here’s the thing; Christmas is God’s way of saying to each and every one of us that we are enough. If a baby born in a humble manner is enough to bring light to the whole world, then surely it is enough to remind you and I that we are enough. The trick to really getting Christmas is to remember this great truth in the face of everything that would tell us different. We need nothing else to be enough in God’s eyes. No lights, no material goods, no perfect Christmas card, nothing changes the way that God sees us.
One of my favorite quotes for this time of year is from the late Peter Gomes, who reminds us, “For those of us who believe that the greatest gift is the gift of love, Christmas is the ultimate and most intimate expression there is. The child in the manger is the means whereby God’s love is presented to the people whom God loves”
I need that reminder. We are the people whom God loves. You are enough.
This appeared today as the Christmas Day devotion for my congregation. Sandy Springs Christian Church.
The child is here, and through him the whole world rejoices. I think we love Christmas Day so much because the world stops. We have some time to simply be. What a wonderful gift! Tomorrow, life will begin again, in more than one way. For you, what will be different now that the messiah is here? Will we rejoice at the new possibilities that are born through this child? Will we celebrate the new life offered through the messiah? The angels sing, the thrill of hope is real, a weary world rejoices– now what are we going to do?
The gift of Christmas calls us to be different. All of our expectation and preparation will be nullified if nothing in our lives and the world changes. Our reality is not unchangeable and the birth of a messiah is all the proof that we need.
Something I read every Christmas Day is Howard Thurman’s poem The Work of Christmas Begins. I share it with you now as it perfectly lays out our work following the gift of a messiah:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
We love to get birth announcements in the mail. The announcement usually arrives with a picture of the baby, the proud parents and sister and brothers’ names and their weight and height. For a baseball card comparison, it’s life’s rookie card. Jesus’ parents didn’t have to send out a birth announcement because of an angel of the Lord did so for them. I am bringing you good news of great joy.
Do you know the rest of the announcement? It’s important stuff. “Do not be afraid, for I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.” Eugene Peterson calls the birth of Jesus “an event for everyone.” We focus on the good news for us and our lives, but what about for everyone else. Not to mention that the very first words after the birth of Jesus are “do not be afraid.”
As we open gifts on Christmas morning, are we also willing to open our hearts and spirits? Are we willing to embrace that the birth of Jesus is good news for all the earth? Are we willing to quit letting fear rule our thoughts and actions?
Our land today is ripe with fear and misunderstanding and all of the bad fruit that fear and misunderstanding produces. Perhaps I am a bit naive but I still believe that we are stronger together than we are apart. I believe there is no “us” and “them” but only “we.” As a follower of Jesus, I am concerned that if we will not work for and stand up for peace, then who will.
Very soon, a word of hope will be spoken into our anxiety and fear. Are you prepared to receive and believe this word? It was the first birth announcement.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all people.”
Keep Christ in…Starbucks?
The war on Christmas has begun. More precisely, the war on the war on Christmas has begun. This is an annual tradition where some Christians decide that everyone and everything is conspiring together to do away with Christmas and anything having to do with the birth of Jesus all together.
The most recent affront was Starbucks (not a Christian company BTW, but one whose ethics align with Jesus in some ways) having the nerve to put out plain red cups for the season. They took off the snowflakes and other wintry accessories which apparently are symbols for the birth of Jesus.
Here’s the issue from my point of view. We do need to remember the “reason for the season” while also keeping in mind that Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection has very little to do with what we do to mark the holiday. Jesus was not born so that we may all get a good deal on a 40 inch TV and spend more than we can afford. My observation is that most people who are upset about the term “Happy Holidays” and the like are really upset about a loss of privilege. As our nation has grown more diverse, certain groups have lost privilege and influence and this does not sit well with them. So, a war breaks out against companies whose interest is gaining revenue and profit from previously mentioned diverse nation. If your customer base is broad, who wouldn’t work to speak to that broad base. After all, most retails companies capture 40-60% of their sales during this time of year. Yes, I’m looking at you, overly consumerist culture. The hysteria is pretty silly, don’t you think?
If we are serious about what Christmas means for our world, let’s have a serious conversation about it. If we really want to be outraged about something, let’s be outraged about the right things. How about we be outraged that we have the homeless, the hungry, people living on the margins because of discrimination, racism, an addiction to gun violence, etc ?Let’s be outraged about the right things if we are going to be serious about what Emmanuel- God with us- really means for not only our nation, but the world. What does that say about the faith if we are more outraged about what’s on a cup than we are about the suffering of God’s children?
So friends, how about we get over ourselves? Let’s drop the Christmas persecution myth and get on with the real work of Christmas. Healing, wholeness, and life abundant for all God’s children. That’s the type of world that puts Christ in Christmas.