Chrustmas 2018

I understand the need for celebrations. We humans are hard-wired to respond to special occasions and special opportunities. As they say, everyone loves a good party. And sometimes it is those who have the least pleasant lives who are the most in need of a celebration. Christmas is a time when those who are sometimes forgotten get remembered.

For example, juveniles in federal detention centers are often incarcerated far from families and many of them come from dysfunctional families that are short on support in the first place. They can go for months and even years without a visitor or a letter or anything else to show them that they are unique and special. The teachers who work with them try to praise them for their accomplishments and systems of points for good behavior provide incentive for them to earn bits of recognition, but for many of them there is a sensation that they have been forgotten and left behind by society. But at Christmas, there are presents and pop and cookies with frosting and decorations and much more. Christmas isn’t just any other day for them. There is a party and there is recognition that it is a special time.

Carolers visit nursing homes and for some of the carolers it is the only time that they visit those facilities. There are special meals and special presents.

Those whose lives are marginal in other senses also have a need to celebrate. I’ve sat in the parking lot of K Mart Wal Mart and the pawn shops and the places where some of our communities most impoverished people shop and been amazed at the amount of merchandise that is loaded into cars that appear to be on their last journeys. Big screen television sets, high end stereo equipment, huge stuffed animals. Big things seem to be popular. It is as if there is a competition to show their Christmas spirit. Extravagance, even extravagance that cannot be afforded seems to be the order of the day in the final hours before Christmas.

Maybe those who have the least are the most in need of celebrating.

But there also is a part of me that is a bit taken back by all of the push to make one day the focus of all of the celebrations and activities. I’m no grinch, or at least I don’t think that I am, but I do grow weary of all of the parties and concerts and special dinners and events. I tire of the repeated Christmas songs in the corridors and elevators. I feel no particular need to over do the decorations and I wonder what it is that motivates people to spend weeks stringing lights on their houses and what seems to be a competitive need to be bigger, brighter and better than the neighbors.

I’m content in my little house with a book and the light of a lamp and am not particularly drawn to climbing about the eaves stringing lights to impress the neighbors.

The thing is, this holiday has long been an occasion for misplaced expectations. It isn’t just the stress that comes from trying to have a perfect holiday when we are decidedly human and most of our events fall short of perfection.

As I read the words of he Hebrew Prophets, I am made aware that there were voices in ancient Israel who expected the Messiah to come as a political leader who would restore the monarchy, establish the power of the united monarchy in the style of David and Solomon. There were those who longed for the consolidation of arms and wealth and knowledge and power in Jerusalem in such a way that the rest of the world would be compelled to join in.

I’m not sure that the prophets expected the “shoot from the stump of Jesse” to be a baby born into poverty in Bethlehem in the midst of a strange Roman enforced census that was aimed at increasing the wealth of the Emperor at the expense of those who could least afford to pay.

The thing about the birth of Jesus is not that it was extraordinary, but rather how ordinary it was. It was another baby, the first for Mary. I don’t know if it was her instinct or the wise counsel of the other women in her family, but she seemed to know what to do. She delivered that baby by herself in the common area - the place filled with the straw and ready for the messiness of animals. She figured out how to make swaddling cloths. As one of the children in our church said, in response to a question about what Mary and Joseph did to prepare for the baby, “They’re gonna need some diapers.” Mary worked it all out. It was what women did in her time. It is what women have always done. It was normal and usual.

God doesn’t need a holiday to enter into human lives. God doesn’t need a special celebration. God doesn’t need luxury accommodations or extraordinary circumstances. The messiah came as an ordinary baby born to an ordinary couple in an ordinary town about 30 miles from Jerusalem, the city where he was to die all too young.

I don’t begrudge anyone their extravagances or their celebrations, though some ways to celebrate are better than others than others. I don’t pretend to have any special insight to direct how others might celebrate and recognize the event. But for me there is great value in recognizing the gift of God-with-us in the everyday moments of live.

When I sit with someone who is dying I am aware that we are not alone. God is with us.

When I hold the newborn child of a young couple in our church, I am sure that God is with us.

When I listen to the power and beauty of music, I feel the inspiration. God is with us.

When I feel the love and support of family and friends, I know God is with us.

The incarnation is evident in the everyday.

Thanks be to God.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!