(This article will appear in the upcoming December edition First Lutheran Community Church newsletter)
Jesus is the reason for the season.
Why do people say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” these days?
There’s a war on Christmas in this country.
I am thankful to an ELCA colleague in Upstate New York, Pastor Justin Johnson, for his blog post guiding my reflection on my Advent and Christmas practices regarding the meaning of Jesus’ birth and how I observe and celebrate that world-changing event with my family and the Church. I do not ascribe to any of the aforementioned statements about Christmas. Why? Because these statements represent public discourse about how people wish to direct their energy in the month of December (give or take a few weeks or months). These statements represent preferences, and the propensity for humans to want their preferences to be normative for the entire society or culture. Another point regarding public discourse about Christmas is the frenzied tone created to gain television ratings, make a political statement, or sell us something. None of these public discourse goals is inherently evil, but I believe we should recognize different public conversations regarding conversations for what they are--not the guiding force for how we connect with God.
How could anyone possibly articulate the “true meaning of Christmas” when people are arguing about their preferences? Each congregation, family, neighborhood or city can have their own local customs regarding their celebration. It is my responsibility to lift up the story of Jesus’ birth and what it means for us as Lutheran Christians. I look for what the birth of Jesus says about the identity and activity of God. All of the cultural attachments to Christmas are wonderful in that they represent our diversity as God’s children—our culture around Christmas connects us with people we love and presents to us opportunities to serve our neighbor. It is our calling as Lutheran Christians to celebrate what God is doing in the story of the birth of Jesus. It is important to recognize what we can proclaim as normative through the story about Jesus’ birth. The arguments stated at the beginning of this article represent more about what humans do than what God does. Let us welcome our neighbors to worship with us on Christmas Eve at 5, 7, and 9 pm and tell them what this birth story says about God (just to name a few things):
+ God is passionate about being with us in our humanity and values humanity.
+ God doesn’t connect with people because of societal position. God seeks to empower the outcasts.
+ The powers of the world are no match for the love of God in Christ Jesus.
+ God has big ideas and work for the world (and for us) with Jesus.
My message to you: marvelously enjoy your family and congregational celebrations. Love and serve your family, friends and neighbors. Do what you can and try not to do too much. But also give your voice to proclaim that God’s actions in Jesus give us the opportunity to live our lives with joy. May this season of anticipation of God’s action in the birth of Christ bring you joy and peace.