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So, it’s Christmas.
It seems hard to believe.
Here we are… still intentionally placing distance between ourselves; still waiting for the time to come when we can embrace one another; still sort of stuck in Advent…waiting. I‘ve grown weary of the waiting: of the strange movement of time, of the worry of what lies ahead, of traveling with grief, and the obscurity of the wilderness.
It seems like we’re still pregnant with Advent pains, and yet, it’s Christmas.
Joy seems a bit more fleeting and smiles are more obscured; gathering at church, parties, and at our loved one’s houses isn’t happening. All the words of hope and promise seem ‘off’ this year…
Nothing seems to happening in the ways we’d wish, and yet, it’s Christmas.
And, if you will allow me, personally, I feel cheated. On this last Christmas Eve that I’ll spend with you as your associate pastor, I can’t begin to tell you how much I want to look upon your smiling faces, to watch you wrangle excited children in the pews, to see you dressed in your festive clothing, to meet your family members who have come in for a visit, to witness the wonder and joy that your children bring. And none of that is mine to have.
And yet, somehow, it’s Christmas.
These past nine months have a created a space of waiting, of longing, of hoping incomparable to any I’ve known before. There’s a way in which this very unusual Christmas affirms that something is happening that is worth waiting for.
And, I’m not talking about the vaccine.
Although, that is a gracious gift of God and science.
So, while it may not feel quite like Christmas’ past, this long period of waiting and the swirl of anxiety, buttresses exquisitely with that first Christmas some 2000 years ago.
After Mary waited nine months. After Joseph waited nine months. After Elizabeth and Zechariah waited nine months. After the confusion left in the wake of life, after the fear of the unknown became a constant companion, after the loss of innocence and security gave way…
After nine months: Jesus came. In the flesh. To a dingy, broken, fallen world.
And so, the great pressing prayer upon my heart this Christmas is:
Do the same this Christmas, dear God.
Creep in beside us, and stay with us.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Now, I know this is no time for a child to be born. The world is betrayed by war and hate; sickness and death are running rampant. Time seems to be running out, the grounds are warming at too great a rate. Nations and towns are gripped by too much poverty or too much luxury; people are marginalized and trampled upon. We look upon one another with scorn, suspicion, and greed. It is not a good time for a child to be born, let alone the savior of the universe.
And yet, it’s Christmas.
See, here’s what I was thinking (and I don’t want this to be a total downer, but…):
It’s ok if Christmas is not a source of great joy in all the conventional ways, with all the trappings of tinsel and bows, ribbons and tags (and now, I’m very aware that I sound like Dr. Seuss). It’s ok if Christmas feels a little traumatic and lonely (I mean, I know those aren’t great feelings, but I think it’s important to say that it’s ok if that’s how you’re feeling)…
Personally, I don’t think we offer enough spaces and places to talk about the shadowy places in our lives, especially when they are present during Christmas. Because, as we all know, everyone is supposed to be happy this time of year!
See, happiness does not tell the full story. In fact, it really has very little to do with the story at all. Because, if I may, let me offer that Christmas is actually about a traumatized family trying to navigate a dark, lonely night. And God erupts right into it, as his cry breaks the bow of death and despair.
There is nothing neat and orderly about Christmas. Somehow it gets lost that Mary and Joseph were living under the yoke of oppression; it gets lost that they are scared and completely uprooted; it gets lost that they’ve lost so much and cannot begin to fathom what lies ahead.
Into the midst of it all God comes housed in the flesh as a small, vulnerable baby. Jesus crept into the mess that was and made the earth his home.
Christmas didn’t make logical sense then. And it doesn’t make logical sense now.
Which is why I love it.
Life isn’t logical.
God isn’t logical.
Love and Hope aren’t logical.
And, just as an aide: I’m ridiculously thankful that we worship, love, and have a God that’s illogical! This is so helpful to my logical, intellectual, controlling self. Which is why I have a great sense of hope and expectation on this illogical, traumatic, somewhat lonely Christmas Eve…
See, I think a better question this year is what does Christmas have to say to our broken fearful hearts? For me it’s not the promise of eternal life, nor is it the forgiveness of sins. I don’t find either of those comforting right now. I want to know what Christmas has to say to the pains and hardships that so many are facing today. What does it even matter when life is one traumatic event after another?
Well, the one reason (ok – maybe there’s more than one reason) I haven’t thrown my Bible against the wall and walked away from all this long ago can be boiled down to one word: Emmanuel.
God with us.
God is with us.
God is with us: dying in hospital rooms, sighing in our prayers, crying through our births, marching in our streets, waiting for the vaccine, looking for tomorrow, kissing framed pictures, stringing up lights, wishing it was different.
All of it.
God still comes.
God still abides.
God is with us. Incarnate.
Love still takes the risk of being born.
Jesus being born into the mess of it all was and is a light shining in the darkness. It was and is about life being born from death. It was and is about hope – a hope that rings in a brighter tomorrow, despite today’s gloom. It was and is about love: divine love so strong that it will not let us go, will not abandon us (no matter the challenges that face us; the ways we deny our faith; the dangers that may befall us; the traumas we confront).
God is with us, despite us.
That is Christmas.
I mean, who knows what tomorrow might bring? According to Christmas, anything could happen. Certainly, Jesus was a ‘perfect’ baby, insomuch as babies are perfect. But, the coming of Jesus and the incarnation is NOT about perfection.
So, if I may, just once more…
Christmas is dangerous, because it promises us that God will erupt into our lives too, as we navigate joys and traumas; dark nights and bright days. Christmas is about the fact that God is with us through it all.
Jesus did not come because we came to find Him or because someone had the right zoom link. He did not come sensibly masked, with hand sanitizer and appropriate physical distancing.
He comes to us in our living rooms adorned with candles and trees; comes to us as we lie in bed staring at the screen of our phone; comes to us as we sit at our kitchen tables, while our kids squabble at our feet.
Jesus just comes.
Into it all.
And, if you happen to not see God.
If it still feels a bit dark and dank.
Let me promise you on this Christmas – that’s ok.
It does not stop God from being birthed. Coming into the world was and is God’s prerogative. I think there were plenty of folx that first Christmas that didn’t believe, didn’t see, didn’t even know the world had changed.
But, yet somehow it was still Christmas.
Somehow it is Christmas.