Today is the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, God made flesh.
–Proclamation of the Birth of Christ
Christmas isn’t just any other day. It’s a day on which Christians will gather for worship to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ into our world. We’ll sing familiar carols, listen to beloved stories from the pages of scripture, and hear the word proclaimed. Around the world followers of Christ will light candles, break share bread and wine, and pass the peace. The service will last an hour, maybe two, and then we’ll all be on our way rejoicing–most of us to secure homes with copious amounts of food and drink and heaps of presents waiting under the tree.
This isn’t just any other day, but so what? How do we explain its difference to a world that seems so openly opposed to the message of the gospel? How can a tiny, ethnic refugee baby compete with all the trimmings of an American holiday? What’s a Christian to do?
Well, perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about all the hype and hoopla, about reasserting our “right” to wish people a “Merry Christmas” in the marketplace or set up oversized plastic nativity scenes on government property. Maybe we shouldn’t let ourselves be sidetracked and annoyed by the frantic last minute shopping and spending that accompanies the season. Maybe we shouldn’t even count the number of worshippers that gather to worship early Christmas morn. Alright then, you may be saying, now what? If no handwringing, what would you have us do?
I suppose the answer to that is be ready to receive. That has been the message all through Advent–to be ready to receive the good news as it comes to us incarnate. What would it mean, for example, if we took literally the words of John’s gospel (1:4) as Eugene Peterson translates them in The Message:
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
What would that look like? I’m pretty certain it doesn’t involve a Mayflower van full of stuff. My suspicion is that the Word is sneakier than that. Everything we read about Jesus points to an upside-down, inside-out way of doing things, a counter-cultural way of being in this world. It’s hard to get a grip on just how the Divine One works in our world. God is simultaneously as elusive as mercury through our fingertips and as visible as the frosty, frozen breath we see right in front of our faces on cold winter mornings. The point is that God is active and working in the midst of humankind, and the baby Jesus is the tangible reminder of that reality.
Christmas calls us to be good neighbors, ready to receive newcomer and stranger alike. This year, perhaps more than any time in recent memory, our faith communities are being asked to enter into a hurting, troubled, and uncertain world bearing the light of Christ.
Will we go on living in “the neighborhood” as usual, or will we create a spiritual renaissance zone to welcome Christ’s presence in each other and in the world? Will we make God the “what” in every decision this year? My prayer is that we will have the courage, the faith, and the will to do so.
May the peace of Christ be with you this Christmas and always!
Copyright (c) 2008, The Rev. Sharron Lucas, all rights reserved. Used by permission.