Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Keeping the Christmas in Christmas

The Sentimental Version

Today included a visit to the post office. I had forgotten it was the week prior to Christmas, even though the reason for the visit was the acquisition of Christmas stamps for our Christmas cards.

There was a line. It was a long line. It was a very long line.

Standing immediately in front of me was a young mom and her two-year-old son. After exhausting various entertainment options, such as opening boxes, doing somersaults, and re-arranging philatelic collectibles in the shop, he turned to me with a huge smile.

"You are in line, too!"

For the next ten minutes or so, we had a little conversation. We then played that game where you say, "Hi five. On the side. Down low. Too slow." 

We played this game over and over. Meanwhile, the line got shorter and shorter.

I should say, I kept moving forward in the line. The line behind me was still long. 

Soon, a few folks from my church were in line behind us. We called out pleasantries one to the other from the front, to the middle, to the back. I swear I live in the biggest small town in America, because it never fails, in spite of our congregation making up only about 1% of the population of Fayetteville, that we see each other everywhere.

Having acquired appropriate Christmas stamps, I got back out on the road. 

There was traffic. There was a lot of traffic. 

You know those moments you have where you can't stop smiling? I was in one of those moments. That child was cute. Running into members of my church makes me happy. I was on my way to eat at a Lebanese restaurant with our campus community, people I really enjoy. 

I was going to drink Turkish coffee.

I also love the post office. I love stamps. I love postal workers. I'm related to some, and have had many of them as parishioners. 

We had just hosted elementary teachers at our church for a breakfast. The Bears group was making bears. People had stopped in to visit all morning. Meetings were accomplished. The car had a full tank of gas. 

You can see where this is going. It was a moment overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness.

The Restorative Justice Version

There's a lot yet to do this week to make Christmas happen. I have sermons to write, communion visits to make, work to finalize. I want to take time to encourage even more people to donate to the ministry of the church and the ministry of Lutheran World Relief as their end of year gifting.

But right now I just want to invite everyone, wherever you are, whatever you are up to, to look up, to take stock, and notice the place and the people among which God has planted you. There are neighbors to love. There are joys to be shared. There are ills to be mended, and wrongs to be righted.

There is a Savior who has come into the world, and as a result the world is changing. I don't mean this in any kind of sentimental sense, even though I currently feel more than a little bit sentimental. I'm a sentimental guy philosophically opposed to sentimentality.

My friend John Nunes of Valparaiso University, writes,
The Christmas drama of God’s mercy in a manger is not at all sentimental. It has nothing to do with God’s feelings for humanity. We think that, as Joseph Sittler puts it, because we’re “ingenious in evasion and flight and self-deception.” Rather, it’s a story of restorative love investing itself at the level of flesh, John 1:14.
He's so right. Christ's coming into the world in the flesh is not exclusively or even primarily to do with bright and shiny and happy things. God did not do it to make us feel good, or make God feel good. 

This is something that burdens us. The holiday sometimes seems to imply we are supposed to be more happy than we feel, more comfortable than we are able to be. But we should not be comfortable, because the truth is many of our neighbors aren't either. If you are like me, as happy as some parts of your morning made you, you also had really hard conversations and you grieved and wept with others.

God came in the flesh to make things right. To heal the broken-hearted. To lift up the poor. To cast down the overly powerful. To show solidarity with the refugee. To comfort the grieving. To offer deep solace to those who have lost children. To take on flesh that flesh might see and participate in the wholeness of God.

So, to all the readers of Lutheran Confessions, I invite us to hold on to this tension. We can put the Christ back in Christmas. It really is about Jesus. We can also put the mass back in Christmas. Christ had mass, he was flesh. So we can have a Mass where we share in his body and blood.

It likely means the synthesis we desperately seek, so transparently need, is to see Christmas in that post office line, AND to see it exclusively and most definitely in the One born into the world who will make all things right, even and including the wrongs we are unwilling to name or admit. 

Christmas is unrepentantly and unremittingly sacred and secular. It is that post office line, and the candlelight vigil, and the workers frantically rebuilding shelter in the Philippines. Disregard of any of it limits the expansiveness of "and he became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth."

Because if he dwelt among all of us, that means all and us

Merry Christmas! 


  1. sacred AND secular. yes.

  2. Shared some of your thoughts here on our facebook page. Thank you for saying it so clearly.