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Tabernacle United Methodist Church

Thursday Thoughts
December 7, 2017

“Keep Christ in Christmas!” they demand. “Say ‘Merry Christmas,’” they yell, “and not just ‘Happy Holidays,’” as if the sheer volume of their drumbeat could alter opinions or practices. We are now in the midst of the annual skirmish in the curious “culture war” that began a decade or two ago. (Now that I think about it, the argument may have begun when I was a boy in the late 1950's, in reaction to the rise of commercialism and its impact on the community of faith. Back then, the abbreviated version of “Christmas” was often printed as “X-mas.” Folk lined up on both sides of the matter, with some saying that “X” was the first letter of “Christ” in the Greek language of Jesus’s day, and so it was a perfectly legitimate expression of the name and festival. Others said, in response, that it was a replacement of Christ with Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, and all the rest of the “alt-culture” - meaning “Christ-less,” generally.) Back in the day, the slogan “Keep Christ in Christmas” was a revolt against the abbreviation, if not implied elimination of Jesus’s birth and name from the holiday being celebrated. (And if it’s meaningful, I notice that rarely do I see “X-mas” used commercially much anymore, if at all.)

In response to them, “The Just Grace Gospel Music Band” recently posted (on Facebook, that “great formative influence of recent culture”), this insight: “Here’s how to keep Christ in Christmas. Feed the Hungry. Clothe the naked. Forgive the guilty. Welcome the unwanted. Care for the ill. Love your enemies. Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Might I add a couple more? Shelter the homeless. Return grace for injury. Ask forgiveness for the past. Extend love where none has been sought or requested. Take responsibility for what you’ve done, or wanted to do but never quite got around to accomplishing.

Now, lest you think I’ve “gone all preachy,” let me remind you whose birthday we celebrate. One whose entire collection of speeches and pronouncements can be read aloud in just a couple of hours. One who owned no property, held no public office, won no popularity or “superlative” contest. One who was born into the most humble of all imaginable circumstances - uncertain parentage, without permanent residence a long way from home, and whose life the imposed ruler of his homeland sought to take, as he saw Him as a threat to his own longevity.

Ours is a God, it seems, who has a propensity (first time I’ve ever written that word, I think!) for choosing those we would consider the “wrong” ones, and then working through them to accomplish something extraordinary. For instance, He invited a “very old” man and his “very old” wife, to introduce His covenant with humanity. And Abram and Sari found the whole idea so preposterous that they named the baby in honor of their laughter... Isaac! And then there was David, the least of eight brothers, the sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who had to be called in from the range where he was sent to watch out for the sheep. Not particularly strong or skilled, the baby of the family, he was anointed by Samuel to be the new king... and about that, the current King (Saul) was not especially happy, and sought his life!

Then there were the prophets, not at all popular in their day, as they seemed to speak only of “doom and gloom,” the downfall of the Kingdom, and all sorts of treasonous matters... Remember Jeremiah? He was thrown into a cistern/well by the king because he said all sorts of things against him, in the name of God! No knee-taking, but got the same kind of disdain at every hand! And then there was Saul, paragon of Judaism, strident keeper of the Law, persecutor of any/all who advocated otherwise... and after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, changed his name, his entire identity, as an expression of his new life. Before it was all over, Paul gave up that life as an offering at the hand of a Roman executioner for advocating that there was another god than Caesar... and His name is Jesus.

Mary. Joseph. Teenagers, perhaps, on the way to meet their civic responsibilities. Some suggest that even though she was in the late stages of pregnancy, Mary went along with Joseph on the somewhat arduous trip from northern Israel to the little village of Bethlehem (located about 10 miles from the capital, Jerusalem), not because “We never go anywhere,” but out of concern that as a single, pregnant woman, she might not have survived trial in “the court of public opinion” during his protracted absence. Nobodies, really. Why should God pay attention to them?

It’s a good question, you know. Why, indeed, should any of them - even any of us - draw the gaze of the Creator of the Universe, such that He might use them/us for His intentions?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s about grace. A heart and life, given in faithful availability, in response to God’s grace might just be “the ticket.” Remember Mary’s song, often called “the Magnificat?” She sings “Who am I that God should notice?” and before her ballad is complete, she offers, “Let it be to me according to your word.” I don’t believe that our God just “thunders” into the hearts and lives of folks, and summarily takes over - because He can. No. I think that He enters only into those chambers of life where He’s been invited. When space (in time, priorities, value center) has been made ready, He takes up residence there.

I believe that “keeping Christ in Christmas” is about expressing that He is already present, and shown to be such by the words we use in our truth-telling, the actions we take up in our treatment of others, the choices and priorities we embody in our daily living, even the songs we sing when we think no one hears. It’s not so much about “X-mas,” or what kind of TV shows we watch on the Hallmark Channel or HBO, or even how much money we spend on how many presents. It’s really about who inhabits the core of our being. So before I run out of lines to use, let me ask how you’re keeping Christmas this year? Or better yet, with whom....?

Grace and peace to you,

Jim Earley, Pastor


Last update: December 7, 2017 8:16 PM