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Is the Church “Doing” Christmas Wrong?

 

I sat in a room full of pastors recently, listening to many of them describe the “let-down” that many of them … and us … feel, after the Christmas season is over. I have often wondered why that happens.

To be sure, there are some very good reasons. For children, all the anticipation over new toys and dreamed-for items has ended. For those with family that only comes together during the Christmas season, the pain of separation is made all too real again. As an adult living north of the Mason-Dixon line, I also find that the next two or three months of snow removal, cold weather and long dark days loom large.

And yet the theological side of my brain protests. No!! The best thing that ever happened to humanity is now here! Christ is with us, one of us, living life the same way we do, feeling all the pain and happiness, going through all the ups and downs of life! We should be still-giddy with joy and wonder!

As I pondered this irony, I ran straight into the idea that, at least as Church, maybe we are “doing it all wrong.” No, I am not suggesting that we not celebrate Christmas at all (and yes, some churches feel that since Christmas and many of its customs are pagan or secular, believers should not celebrate it.) While their points are accurate, too many secular customs have fallen into place on this holiday that are positive and good. I’d like to keep those.

The Complete Story of Christmas

I am talking about being more complete in our story-telling.  In his gospel, Matthew tells us the whole un-whitewashed story of Christmas, including this part: “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” (Matt. 2:16). His gospel does not feed us the popular version of a merry little Christmas. It tells the true Christmas story with a death scene, a foreshadowing of things to come. It tells us how Mary and Joseph had to become political refugees, fleeing for asylum. It does not explain to us why such devastating evil is allowed to happen and makes no excuses for it. Matthew only tells us that Jesus has come to usher in a new era, the Kingdom of God that we are called to help co-create, one where unjust evil like this will be no more.

So maybe the Church needs to tell the WHOLE Christmas story, the one that leads out of Bethlehem and into a messy, unfair, tragedy-filled world. The one that culminates in the cross and Easter.

Maybe the Church is not just failing to tell the whole Christmas story. Maybe we are also leaving out the reality of God’s in-breaking Kingdom … and forgetting to manifest it. We have not only “cleaned up” the story, we have allowed it to become a remembrance rather than the initiation of an ongoing action.  In plain English, that means we need to SHOW the world that Jesus is here. Every day. Forevermore.

How Do We As Christians Show That Jesus is Here

This generally means leaving our comfortable routines and doing good things for people who we don’t know or don’t often think of. Showing Jesus’ birth to the world could involve giving meaningful gifts to the refugees and undocumented people who work in the kitchens of our local eateries. (Yes, they are there, the dishwashers and cooks, hidden behind the scenes.) Manifesting God’s Kingdom could also look like helping shut-in people address and send their Christmas cards, getting baby items for single moms, gathering supplies for the local Domestic Violence shelter. One of the most joyful Christmas’s I can remember was the brainchild of our Tanzanian youth minister. He spontaneously decided, while praying during an Advent service, that we would collect gifts for the neighbors of our church, which is located in a lower-income neighborhood. We distributed them on Christmas day, going door to door with some of the youth. We were greeted with varying degrees of surprise, smiles, some skepticism and occasional refusal… some people we approached didn’t feel like they needed more gifts. They felt like there were others who needed them more and were glad to point them out to us.

As I worked though this even further, I realized that maybe the Church also “lets go” of Christmas too readily. Jesus wasn’t just a one-day event. He lived for over three decades and was in active ministry for three years. Perhaps the Church should sustain that Christmas spirit of giving and good will toward neighbor throughout the whole year … right up until we start the whole cycle over again. Keep right on comforting those to whom senseless violence has happened. Keep on taking those donations to the homeless shelter and the domestic violence shelter (who, by the way, NEED those items a lot more in the “off-season”.) Keep on visiting and helping the shut-in. Keep on helping and supporting the immigrants and refugees, the single moms. Manifest God’s faithfulness as well as His Kingdom.

Let’s Celebrate Christmas as a Church and We Mean EVERYTHING About Christmas

I’m not suggesting that the Church or that we, as individuals, stop participating in Christmas as we currently do. The warm and gentle worship services, the gathering of families, the generosity and good will of the season are wonderful and are worth repeating. What I am suggesting is that we have an additional responsibility… to tell the whole story, which leads to the cross, resurrection …. and to reconciliation on an awesome scale! To sustain the good will and generosity and to help humanity see Christ every day. To be as faithful to God’s work as God is to us. There would be no post-Christmas blues, because we’d have just gotten started.

I remember an adorable movie by the title of “Elmo Saves Christmas”. Near the end, the characters sing a song called, “Every Day Can’t be Christmas.” Church, I say that song has it all wrong. Every day CAN and SHOULD be Christmas! Lets start doing it right!

 

Holly Hoffman, Diaconal Minister

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