Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas Gone Right

Scripture for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day include Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

There are so many things that can go wrong at Christmas.

Batteries may not be included.

On that heavy long box holding your new bookshelves may appear the words,”Some
assembly required.”

Jesus, Joseph, Mary, or any one or more of the three kings may drop out of the
pageant for any of a surprising number of reasons, alarmingly late in the

The most blatantly self-congratulatory Christmas letter of the season may prompt you
to write your own, and you’re stuck on the paragraph where the hamster dies.

The roast may roll to the floor, and the dog gets it before you do.

The people you want most at your table may be unable to come.

That gift you most wanted to give may have been out of stock, or lost in shipping,
or the wrong item was sent.

That gift was available, did arrive, but does not please the person you give it to.

You may fall short of what you expect of yourself—no, you will fall short of that,

What you expect of others may be more than—and other than—they’re able or willing
to meet.

These little sketches of what can happen at Christmas really don’t deserve the adjective “wrong”, do they? Each is an example of the rule that life is what happens while we’re making plans. And each is witness to the beatitude that needs to be a link from Jesus’s sermon on the mount, Blessed are the flexible, for they shall figure it out (and perhaps create, along the way, an equally wonderful, even a finer, outcome).

What does deserve to be called Christmas-gone-wrong is when our Christmas makes no connection with Jesus Christ. If his story doesn’t shape our celebration, then our plans are headed in the wrong direction. If we don’t take into account the actual Christmas story told by Luke and Matthew in their Gospels, then we’ll fail to receive the actual gifts he has for us:

Courage to address what we’re afraid of

Wisdom to know when it’s time to move on

Hope to strengthen and steady us for our journey

Openness to the full wonderous range of life

Those are the actual hallmarks of the Christmas Gospel.

Courage is the response of faith stirred up by the angel who persuades Joseph to tear up the divorce papers and stay the course to wed Mary, this ill-timed pregnancy notwithstanding. “Do not be afraid,” again the angel’s message this time to shepherds struggling, like us, to make sense of the ways of God in the dead of night. God is at work within us, among us, beyond us, in ways that will cause great joy for all people, promises the angel. Courage is the response of faith to this promise.
Wisdom is for making the very best choices we can, in the light of that promise. It is by wise listening that Joseph steps back from the edge, by brave listening that Mary ponders these things, and together they choose the guidance God sends them, to leave their homeland to save their lives for the sake of the mission entrusted to them.

Hope replenishes their strength on their way as refugees. What else can keep a family together as they move from the known and familiar into the other, the unknown? And what is it Emily Dickinson said? “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul - and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all.”

Openness to the whole full wonderous range of life: isn’t that how Jesus shows his Messiahship? There is a radical equality at work in a story that makes shepherds just as important as kings, and makes the Savior of the world as subject as the next person to imperial tax regulations, hotel occupancy, and the paranoia of a violent king. The Christmas Gospel introduces us to a savior who takes it all in, takes us all in, embraces all, serves all: and that is the divine likeness that waits to be freed and shaped and commissioned in us.

Courage. Wisdom. Hope. Openness. Keep track of these links, as you consider the connection between your Christmas and his nativity. Recognize that Jesus Christ is the giver of these gifts. Welcome the privilege, the blessing, of being on the receiving end of his grace, because you are. Embrace the responsibility each Christmas brings to renew the promise of baptism, to let the divine likeness, the image of God in us, rise.