[The “War on Christmas”] is the battle by Christmas against any other religion’s tradition. I defy Bill O’Reilly and his compadres to locate the smallest corner of our nation immune from the months-long drumbeat of Christmas stuff. For us, the holiday seems closer to Star Trek’s Borg Collective (“Resistance is futile!”) than anything I can find in the Christian scriptures.
…so much of Christmas in America has nothing to do with Christ or Jesus. If there was a war, it was waged long ago amongst Christians. And the majority of them decided they also wanted a cultural holiday that distilled an essence from Christmas and left most of the God stuff behind. In my mind, I think of that holiday as “Xmas.”
Look at our cultural holiday touchstones, all the way back to Dickens’s Christmas Carol. What are the books, movies and TV specials that come back again and again and again? It’s a Wonderful Life. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The Nutcracker. Frosty the Snowman. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. A Visit from St. Nicholas. The Nightmare Before Christmas. And on and on.
There’s only one example I can think of in the entire popular pantheon that includes enough actual theology for a short sermonette: Linus giving his unapologetic recitation from the Book of Luke in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Let’s not blame this on the ACLU or the Supreme Court or Barack Obama. The decisions about which of the many, many holiday-timed specials became perennials were made by the marketplace and over decades. Most attempts by Christian religionists to create entertainment that was explicitly Christian and transcendentally popular have had little success beyond preaching to their own choir.
“…the incarnation is the complete refutation of every human system and institution that claims to control, possess, and distribute God. Whatever any church or religious leader may claim in regard to their particular access to God or control over your experience of God, the incarnation is the last word: God loves the world. God came into the world in the form of the people he created, the human race (including you and me), who bear his image. God’s creation of humanity in his image gives hints of who he is, since we all are marked by his fingerprints.
But as flawed humans, we give only a vague hint of God. Our broken reflection of God’s image is easily drowned out by our broken humanity. then, two thousand years ago, God came in his fullness. He came to all of us in Jesus. The incarnation is not owned, trademarked, or controlled by any church. It belongs to every human being. The incarnation is not something that requires a distributor or middleman. It is a gracious gift to every person everywhere, religious or not. God gave himself to us in Jesus.”
? Michael Spencer, Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality
14 DAYS ‘TIL CHRISTMAS!!
I think we finally have our schedule set up, with leaders and musicians and practices and gatherings on the horizon.
I think today we may finally get our tree set up. I’m not sure our kids will let it slide another day.
I think this week I might have time to get some gifts together…finally.
I think adding Charge Conference, our main administrative meeting, the week before Christmas is going to add a burden that didn’t need to be there…but really “needed” to be there because of scheduling issues.
I think I need to read this quote again from Jeff Monroe.
Friends from Europe were visiting and after a long day we were discussing what to do for dinner. Sergio, whose family is from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, said, “My father was a shepherd. Like him, I am a simple man. If I have some bread, a piece of cheese and a glass of wine I’ll be happy.”
My father was a shepherd! Have you ever heard someone say that? How many shepherds or shepherds’ sons do you know?
Later that night, a smiling Sergio had his bread, cheese and wine. And I learned a lesson about joy. There is a relationship between joy and simplicity. The more we have, the more cluttered our lives become, the more difficult it is to find that elusive combination of delight, satisfaction and well-being known as joy.
Here’s my life too often: I have 300 channels on my television and am bored that there’s nothing on. I have hundreds of Facebook friends but precious few people I really share my life with. There are multiple cell phones, land lines, televisions, PCs, laptops and an iPad in my house, yet I feel increasingly out of touch. And Christmas? Well, Christmas can become a seemingly endless must-do list of tasks that have little relationship to joy. Amid the often unfulfilling complexity of modern life, I am reminded of the elegant simplicity of figures like the shepherds in Luke 2, who cannot contain their joy after what they’ve seen in Bethlehem. I envy them.
Yes, there are times in my own life that I envy the Shepherds. Even as I pastor, or shepherd, a people I can seem so far removed from the hands-on journeying and guiding that seems so basic to the role. Too much to do. Too much to think. Too many places to go.
And this Christmas season doesn’t seem to help.
And so, for today, I’ll envy our Shepherds.
“Wendy Wright, in her book of reflections on keeping watch in the season of Christ’s coming, says this, “Of all types of waiting, the waiting of pregnancy is most like the waiting that we do during Advent.The waiting of pregnancy is like the waiting we do for God.Advent is a season of waiting; we wait for the coming of God.We need him to come. Our world is messed up and we are messed up. We lament our condition and long for God to set things right, to make us better.So we pray and watch for signs of his presence. We do all we know to do so that we are open and ready. In the midst of hardship and disappointment, we continue to wait. We wait in hope. We believe that something is happening in our world, something is taking shape in our lives; something large, light-filled and life-giving. Even in December’s lengthening darkness, this seed of joyful hope grows within us.We are pregnant with it.In our waiting, we are enlarged.God is coming!”
(From Living the Christian Year, page 35.) via
So…just what limits do we want to put on grace? Who is it that we would exclude? Who can we not forgive? So much of our grace is “safe.” So much of it is “pristine” — “sterile” even! Even as I pastor I recognize I surround myself with the easy candidates for grace. Most of the people in my life are pretty easy to love. Not everyone. But most.
So it is with great interest I read the following today. This account from Brennan Manning’s All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir is stunning. I could sit and read this again and again. It really tests the limits of my own understanding of grace and it makes me question whether or not the grace in my life has become too sterile…too safe.
Grace is vulgar.
My life is a witness to vulgar grace — a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request — “Please, remember me” — and assures him, “You bet!”…This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough…
Sin and forgiveness and falling and getting back up and losing the pearl of great price in the couch cushions but then finding it again, and again, and again? Those are the stumbling steps to becoming Real, the only script that’s really worth following in this world or the one that’s coming. Some may be offended by this ragamuffin memoir, a tale told by quite possibly the repeat of all repeat prodigals. Some might even go so far as to call it ugly. But you see that doesn’t matter, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand…that yes, all is grace. It is enough. And it’s beautiful.
Now go back and read this again.
How “vulgar” is the grace in your life?
Are you “Real?”
How have you experienced this type of grace?