“But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.”
The Gospel according to John
I got half a mind to scream out loud, I got have half a mind to die-
I’ve read the Christmas posts, seen the reindeer pajamas, laughed at myself, then cried. I have always struggled with Christmas, especially as a Jewish person finding her way as a Christian in the world of reds and greens, happy Santas and nativity sets. I have struggled to understand why Christmas lights make Christians so mad, or why they are so upset about Santa. I have never understood in all the years I’ve been a Christian why I don’t feel the Christmas joy at all…
I have struggled with my expectations of Christmas, as I am sure many of you have. Some of us have lost loved ones and traditions are just not the same without them. Or maybe you’re working. Or maybe like me you’re some sort of convert (aren’t we all though?) fumbling their way through the Christmas festivities.
I decorated, bought the gifts, lit advent candles, went to mass as per our usual routine. I tried to anticipate, to see what everyone else was “seeing.” I read the posts about cancelling Christmas for kids who are bad, the posts that talk about Christmas as a pagan holiday, or Christmas trees that are just from the devil. I have read about the uproar of plain red Starbucks cups and C&E Christians and from people who are not Christians at all. For all that I’ve read and all that I’ve seen, (including the perfect family Christmas pictures replete with elves and bells and matching pajamas) I have to say I am completely unimpressed. I’m not the grinch, I’m just a girl who’s looking for the real Christmas.
My kids, they have been fighting for days. Mass, it was filled with standing room only (no strike that, no room at all). I have no family that celebrates Christmas, not one. I sat alone with my husband last night, two Jews eating a Christmas ham and casserole, kids crying upstairs on Christmas Eve, sans Christmas music.
I cried because I tried to plan the perfect Christmas. I tried to decorate the only way a little Jewish girl knows how. I bought the gifts, not many, but ones I knew the kids would enjoy. I filled the house with candles, an advent wreath and sugar cookies in the refrigerator. I got them each those ridiculous looking Christmas pajamas, as I do every year, threw reindeer bells in the backyard. They still fought and hated each other. I was still sitting in my dress from mass, no shoes, tired eyes.
I imagine many people feel the same way as me in some way, shape or fashion. It’s cliche to comeback and say Christmas is about Jesus so get rid of everything else and send your kids to go do a service project in Africa. My kids are little. I have three of them. I gave up all of my possessions, sold them all, and followed God’s leading to a small house away from where we were. Then I got rid of more extras.
I give money away when I feel prompted; the way I see it it’s just paper with a bunch of dead presidents. I visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every Wednesday. I pray constantly, and then some more. I make my kids go to mass, AND listen (or at least try). I wear a veil because God called me to. My kids still fight and hate each other, and then love each other and then punch each other in the face. They still believe in Santa Claus. They still can’t quite understand why the rest of the world doesn’t believe in Jesus.
It took me awhile after crying, stuffing my face with the kosherest of hams, having a screamd-filled dinner, an overpacked mass, ungrateful kids (because that’s just kids), more screaming, sitting here while my kids are each in their rooms having their own little Christmas, that life doesn’t stop for our expectations. That Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. That although we celebrate his birth, I celebrate it everyday. That today is special yes, but not more special than the day he found me, then the moment I knew my husband found him, when He saved our marriage, or the moment I realized His calling me home to the Catholic church was the moment I had been waiting for but just didn’t know it. I thought of all those moments, and more, and realized for me I can’t glorify this day above all days, expecting that the day will be filled with perfect Jesus moments and kids who just can’t understand quite yet that the reason their family is together is because of that little baby.
He is an innocent baby, a youth, a rabbi, a grown man, a mystery. And He exists everyday for me, just as important as the next. On the days I don’t have perfect expectations for myself or my kids, it seems to work out, I just have to let Him in.
So I’ve decided that today is like every other day. The kids will be fighting, ungrateful and well, just being kids. My husband and I will try for the millionth time to understand why every holiday sucks. We’ll threaten to take away presents and try to “cancel” Christmas. The kids will spend some time in their rooms. I’ll read the scripture of the day and pray and thank God that in all my chaos my family is together. And I’ll let my expectations float away with my grief over my unperfect day.
There is a sweetness in the air this time of year. No, it’s not all the sugar that we use in baking all those yummy Christmas cookies and Holiday treats. I don’t know, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside and can sense the sweetness that accompanies that.
Too sappy? As I sat down to write a post, list of ideas before me, I decided to change direction. I decided to sit a moment and just look into my heart and see how I feel.
As a “church goer” for many years, “feelings” seem to be put on the back burner by some. I have actually heard many a sermon instructing Christians that feelings are not something to base your actions on. Say, “I believe”, rather than, “I feel”.
Say what??? Being a person that feels the presence of God and feels how others are doing, etc., that just goes against who I am. I could study the Bible till the cows come home and walk away with very little memorizing of scripture but my heart is full of it’s meaning.
I love that about me. I love that others are more theological and logical. After all, isn’t God that way? BOTH ways? How can I be who I am not?
I tried that growing up. A right-brained child in a left brained house – so to speak. We were given a lot of creative things to do but had to create a certain way. Explain that to the God who created armadillos or stripped horses – aka zebras.
I’m being silly in some ways. But it is just fine and dandy to use your emotions. They are real. So, back to my opening line…..
I feel a sweetness in the air today. A cozy comfy feeling and I love it. Could be Christmas or Holiday Season or just the love of Holy Spirit surrounding me.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Hebrews 12:1-2]
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Never, before today, have I thought of Christmas in terms of “shame”. Of Mary’s shame of conceiving out of wedlock, Joseph’s shame to wed a pregnant bride, their family shame to bear their son in a cast off stable, to bed Him in a feed trough…
And what of Jesus Himself? Who can even begin to conceive of the contrast between His glorious throne, and swaddling clothes, nappies, and nipples?
And yet… and yet… He EMBRACED that! ALL of them did! Who can imagine such a thing? Mary dared deadly shame to say “yes” to the Angel Gabriel. Joseph dared to trust Mary when she told him of Jesus’ conception.
And Jesus? Jesus willingly embraced His humanity, placing Himself in the care of this incredible couple. He embraced the shame. He accepted His own weakness, helplessness, dependency.
Doing so… as a puny little infant… His very presence terrified a king, prompting the slaughter of countless boys. His presence inspired other kings, who paid Him homage and presented Him gifts. His danger, and the warning of an angel, uprooted His family to an alien country to preserve His life. Did they travel in secret? Like people ashamed? Traveling by little known routes, not to be seen, moving by night, resting and hiding by day?
How strange does this all seem for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?
Did they despise the shame? Yet did they all embrace it, for the love of God and those He came to save? Did they love us? Somehow know that somewhere, sometime, you and I would be sitting here praising God for all this?
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All this… all this shame… they took on and embraced, that WE might come to be freed of OUR shame! That our own shames, guilts, sins, be remembered no more. That we stand clean and clear, robed in the righteousness of Christ before the Holy Throne of the Father!
What about us? That’s the question that came to me this morning. That’s the question the Lord confronted me with this morning.
Does “shame”, a concern about what other people will think of me, ever prevent me from doing the right thing, a righteous thing, an action of grace?
It has, Gentle Reader. I must be honest. There are times I have refrained from doing “the right thing”, because it would embarrass me. You too? * head nods here * Well, our human frailty gets us all sometimes.
But just let me encourage you, Gentle Reader. Let me ask you to encourage me as well, from time to time. Acts of grace, of compassion, of gentleness… should never be constrained by “how it looks” to others, or whether we will “lose status” by embracing the shame. Do the right, the gentle, the loving… and let onlookers sort themselves out before the Throne.
Jesus’ earthly life began embracing shame. His earthly life ended the same way. But throughout… He is, was, and ever shall be… King of Kings, Lord of Lords…
“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” [Philippians 2:8-11]
For those of us who serve in churches, whether staff or congregant, this month (December) is just horrendously busy. In the midst of such a flurry of activity, working to make these holidays rich and meaningful… we sometimes just get…. “tarred”… as they say ’round here.
For me, humor is often the best tonic. I found myself listening to some Bob Newhart, and from there was led to Grady Nutt. If you have never seen/heard Rev. Grady Nutt speak, allow me the privilege of introducing you.
This may begin a new “tradition” for me. Mondays, we just deserve and need a smile. Please enjoy this!
The times we are living in can be quite frightening. The news stations alone are terrifying some days.
Now that it’s the Christmas Season, or Holiday Season, a lot of people out there get melancholy or even deeply depressed. Some long for the old days or dwell on hard times that have hit them during this season. Some have fallen into deep crevasses and can’t find their way out.
Let us be aware of those around us. There is more to Christmas than shopping and decorating. There are hearts all around us that need a word or words. That need hugs. That need love and attention. That need true Hope.
May you be a Hope Bringer. May you bring the rope to pull them out of their pit.
Remember where you came from and help others to get to their dreams and purpose.