Would I be tarred and feathered and rode out of town on a rail if I admitted I don't like Christmas? (I don't like Easter either, but for entirely different reasons. I'll probably post a rant about Easter sometime in March!)
I used to love Christmas. But that was before I became a pastor. Well, let me take that back. After I started going back to church (I had no interest in Christian stuff: I had been raised in the south in a Presbyterian church and I had had enough being around judgmental people. Actually, I just liked sleeping in on Sunday morning and reading the NYTimes and doing the crossword puzzle. I actually was fairly good at it for a while. Well, to get back to my parenthetical, my son was in boy scouts. The boy scouts are big on the God-thing and so he asked me to take him to church, because we were Presbyterians (at this point I think the kid, then 12, had been in a Presbyterian church once, to be baptized, unless my parents took him at some point). And so off we went to the nearest (I thought) Presbyterian church. I got hooked on God. That's another story.) Back to this story. My increasing involvement in things churchy included visits to Nicaragua back during the contra war (no, for you youngins, that has nothing to do with Scottish dance). I visited the north Atlantic region where the indigeneous people didn't even speak Spanish. One year, I went in December. I came back from a land where people had nothing, but were ready to give their best to strangers to a land where the Sunday morning newspaper was about six inches thick, mostly with ads for things no one really needed. Then Christmas and the greed involved made me sick. Not that I didn't enjoy getting and giving presents. I loved choosing the right present. I loved Christmas Day when we'd open the presents and find that we had all chosen the same present for each other! I finally came to terms with American Christmas when I realized there were two holidays with exactly the same name. One is secular Christmas: filled with Santas and presents and food and revelery. One is the remembrance of the time when God chose to be incarnated and live among us.
But, now, Christmas is again hard for me. It is a time filled with too many things to do; to many expectations to fulfill, usually too many sermons to write (this year a reprieve, no sermons to write). But I have to be somewhere and I have responsibilities to fulfill and a role to play. Jesus came as a servant, but I have a hard time being a servant. What should be a joy is a burden. What should be a privilege is hard. It is a time when I ask yet again, am I really called to this? Do I really believe? I mean really? Is there really a God? I'm back to the age-old question of a loving God in an unloving world.
I sit in a warm house. I look out the window at the sun beginning to warm the cold day. It's 29 degrees in Memphis. I sit in a warm house, but I know there are men and women who sit on the street this morning who have slept outside during the night. Where is God? Where is God in a city where everyone goes to church (or synagogue or mosque) and yet the homeless shelters charge $6 a night? Where is God in a city which has more "Christian" schools than I can enumerate and the African American children struggle in underfunded schools? Where is God when I sit and rant on my computer and do nothing about any of this but wallow in my self-pity? Where is God when I try to lead a congregation out of self-concern and into concern for others, out of a focus on themselves, their music, their building into a focus on the needs of the wider community.
This is a season for hope. Hope is the expectation of things unseen. Hope undergirds our faith--trust--in God. Hope. We have hoped for two thousand years. Christmas is a reminder of hope. That God's grace is sufficient for all. That God will change us and transform us into the people God wants us to be. That God loves us just as we are; but loves us too much to leave us just the way we are. (I don't know who said that, but I really love it.)
Merry Christmas. May those who lead others to the Christ child tonight find God's love and grace. May those they lead see God's love in them. May all of you be blessed by the celebration of God's grace incarnated in this world.