Reclaim Christmas: Caring for the Small Things 12-23-12

Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed! And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!

Dec. 23, 2012

Reclaim Christmas: Caring for the Small Things

I would like to get my family members the perfect gift for Christmas. I really would like to please them with exactly the right gift on Christmas morning. I’ve set my sights pretty low this year though.  I’m aiming this year as we have been discussing, to spend less and give more. I’ve been trying to lower expectations about a Christmas morning extravaganza and raise expectations that we’re going to spend time together and enjoy each other’s company.

I’ve been keeping track of how much I spend on Christmas gifts with the idea that we will give an equivalent amount to things that Jesus would support.  I may have spent a little less, but mostly the challenge is encouraging me to give more.  My wife losing her job and crashing my car has made it feel a little more risky to give more, but it still feels like a risk worth taking.  I’m ready to practice what I preach and see how it works out.

We can always find reasons to be cautious. We might say, “We just went through the greatest recession since the great Depression.” We might worry about retirement or education expenses or healthcare or food.  You can submit your own worries. The middle class is shrinking and I’d rather not be part of the shrinkage.

I’ve been inspired by Adrienne’s alternative Christmas ideas and I find it exciting to give at Christmas as much for hurricane relief as for headphones for my son, as much for the Icebox youth service as for gifts for my wife.

We received in the church office this week a gift check of $15,000 to be distributed equally between Heifer International, UMCOR and St. Luke. That gift helped me feel like my comparatively small contributions would not be negligible when added to others.

There’s something about the birth of Jesus that inspired people to think differently from the very beginning about what is possible for the world.  From the very beginning, as we heard today from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ mother Mary proclaimed that the world had been changed. She felt in her womb not just that a baby was getting ready to be born, but that the world had changed for the better, that the hungry would be fed and that tyrants would be deposed. She felt to the depth of her being that the promises of the ages were being fulfilled in front of her eyes.

Babies have a way of engendering those kinds of hopes from the depth of our souls. They are such hopeful beings. They pull out of us our own biggest dreams for the future. I think that’s why the killing of 20 young ones in Connecticut left us feeling so bereft in the last week. It was like killing our most precious dreams or most precious hopes. We identify with those parents who buried their babies this week and we can hardly imagine the pain they are going through.

Some Christian commentators like Mike Huckabee and others reacted last week to the tragedy by saying that they were killed because we have lost sight of God because we don’t allow public prayer in schools. Other commentators claim it is because of growing acceptance of Gay and Lesbians in our society or whatever other pet issues they want to highlight.  Rev. William Sloan Coffin helped me understand that kind of theology, when he said something like this.  “Suggesting that God would kill 20 children to punish our society for not allowing forcible public prayer in schools is not just a distortion of the gospel. It is a complete abandonment.”

I don’t think that language is too strong – even as it suggests that these supposed Christian leaders have left Christianity, have left Christ behind.

God was born into our world to bring hope, not to condemn. Christ came to help us to expect miracles, not to get lost in our fears. When Jesus was born, Mary felt in her bones, that the whole world would be set right, that everyone would be treated fairly because of this birth. Christ is born in us when love is born anew in us, love for all God’s people, compassion for all God’s children.

God can reclaim us through Christmas – even through this crazy distorted holiday, God can reclaim our lives.  We have a sign out on our front lawn inviting people to reclaim Christmas with us, and I want to brag about my feeble attempts to do it, but the truth is, God reclaims us; we do not reclaim God. God reclaims us with a love so powerful it will heal every heart broken by the events in Shady Hook School last Friday. God reclaims us with a love so powerful, it shines through the commercialization of the holiday and our desperate attempts to prove we can buy enough or have enough or be enough, and that love reclaims even us.

Responsive Hymn:  3066 Still, Still, Still