December 24, 2012
As I was driving up South Street to the church this morning, I couldn’t help to notice the city’s flags were half-staff. They were lowered to mourn the deaths two Fridays ago in Newtown, CT. I don’t recall a Christmas Eve when this nation was in a mourning period – it seemed wrong on some level and most certainly sad.
The flags, though, were a visible summary of what this year seemed to have been. We suffered two other significant shooting deaths this year, the movie theater in Aurora, CO, and the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI. And if that wasn’t bad enough, this morning in Webster, NY two volunteer firefighters were shot dead by a sniper who ambushed them after setting fire to a house. The New York metro area was hit by Hurricane Sandy – thousands will not celebrate this night in their homes. Although President Obama was re-elected, a large percentage of the population resents it. Furthermore, the campaign reminded us that racism is very much alive in this nation despite that the March on Washington was 49 years ago; a reminder of how far we have yet to go. This nation faces very significant problems, but the powers in Washington, especially Congress, would rather create a political crisis rather than find solutions. We remain engaged in a war begun 10 years ago that seems to make no progress towards resolution. Internationally, the Syrian government is killing its own people and the Israelis and Palestinians seem as far apart as ever.
When I arrived at the church, Civitan was packing 150 Christmas dinners to distribute throughout the community and at 4:30 today, a few people came for dinner and we fed them, too. I found out that in one of the elementary schools, it was not Conte or Morningside, more than 50% of those students are on free or reduced lunch. All of them are reminders that we have big issues of poverty and loneliness in this city.
Christmas at least from my perspective doesn’t quite seem so cheerful this year.
But then, maybe that’s a reality about Christmas. We’re bombarded with messages that we should be filled with good cheer or that miracles can happen or that magic is in the air. But let’s be honest and admit that Christmas is an arbitrary day – a day designated by the church some 1700 years ago to mark the birth of Jesus. Indeed, Christmas wasn’t even a holiday in Massachusetts until 1865 lest we make it idolatrous. To a large extent what we have come to perceive as Christmas today traces back to the 1800s as a way to promote commerce.
In one sense, the real Christmas, the night when God came to earth in the body of an infant in order to live, to suffer, and to die, was not an evening filled with good cheer. The angels sang of the Good News because the hope for all the world was in Jesus. Jesus would reorder a world ruled by fear to one rooted in love. Scarcity would be no more because Jesus would remind everyone that God created this world with an abundance so no one would ever have to know deprivation, and wealth would not be measured by what you have, but by what you can give away. Jesus would teach people not to fear touching the leper. We would understand through Jesus that everyone prospers when we work towards the common good, even when we have to give up something we hold dear. Jesus would urge us to forgive and to love our enemies. Jesus would come in order for God’s shalom, God’s reign of peace and justice, to come here on earth.
Despite the state of the world, there is Christmas. It isn’t a day or even twelve days, the actual liturgical season of Christmas. Christmas is hope turned to joy when love casts out fear. Christmas is daily bread for everyone and when everyone has a place at the welcome table.
Christmas comes when we make it happen. As the American Baptist Church reminds us, we are the hands and feet of God. As Christians we have an obligation to serve as God’s instruments of peace. Our discipleship reminds us that we are to love one another regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, physical ability, and mental capacity.
When we understand and embrace Christmas in this way, it really doesn’t matter if all the gifts aren’t wrapped or that our Christmas dinner is not as we envisioned it. Our celebrations are one day, one moment, in the span of a year, but our commitment to Christmas is every day of the year.
We are made in God’s image and thus, we are to be God’s presence in the lives of those for who are without hope and without daily bread. We are to be present to comfort those who are afflicted and to be the healing balm to those who are broken. As the angels proclaimed the Good News to the shepherds watching their flocks by night over 2000 years ago, we proclaim the Good News of new life in Jesus Christ tonight, tomorrow, and throughout the year through our ministries of healing, hope, peace, and justice rooted in God’s radical, inclusive love.