Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

This being my first Christmas in Japan, one of the things I’ve found refreshing is that I don’t have to worry about people whining about the so-called “War on Christmas.”

If you follow the western news you might notice that every December a few commentators, pundits, bloggers, and blowhards decry the fact that some people offer the seasonal greeting by saying “Happy Holidays” instead of the more traditional “Merry Christmas.”

This makes some people’s heads explode. They’re worried that by saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” Christ is being taken out of Christmas, thereby being denied his rightful place in our December celebrations.

But I won’t comment on the fact that Christmas doesn’t start when Costco decides to put up their decorations, or when the radio stations start playing Christmas muzak.

I won’t point out that Christmas actually starts tomorrow, December 25, the day when we actually celebrate Jesus’ birth.
I won’t mention that the song The 12 Days of Christmas alludes to the fact that Christmas runs from December 25 to January 5.

What I WILL say is that demanding that people bow down to the cultic consumer idol that Christmas has become, they are pushing people further away from what gives the Christmas story -the story of Jesus’ birth - it’s power.

They want Jesus at the centre of society. But they forget that Jesus wasn’t given a celebrity birth. Yes there were angels celebrating and singing in the sky. But Jesus was born in a barn far away from home to impoverished parents. He slept in a feeding trough surrounded by smelly animals, while a crowd gathered outside and visitors came and went. I can’t think of a less dignified birth.

So, for me, it’s, again, refreshing to be in a country that doesn’t have the cultural memory of Christmas. Japan is inventing Christmas for itself. And yes, it looks a lot like the Wal*Mart version of Christmas, which has more to do with Santa than Jesus. But Christians know that Christmas is so much more than what Tobu provides.

Christmas is about God inserting God’s self into history by being born as a first century, Mediterranean, Jewish peasant.

Christmas is about God making the whole world sacred by sharing the best and the worst of humanity.

Christmas is about God’s ongoing commitment to life by being born to a world obsessed with death.

Christmas is about God reaching out and gathering the whole world to God.

If this story is new to you, don’t worry. It’s new to many people. And it was new to most of those who gathered at the stable after the angel announced Jesus’ birth.

Most of those who were summoned to the manger were those who had been shut out of the halls of economic, religious, and political power. They were the 99%. They muddled through their days hoping that their lives would get better, even though they didn’t expect that they would.

They heard over and over and over again that they were insignificant little nothings, whose existence would never be remembered, much less celebrated. They were told that they had no direct access to God.

So, they had to pay the priests with money they didn’t have to gain forgiveness from a God they barely knew.

The system was broken. The deck was stacked against them. They had hope, but little expectation that anything would ever change.

I wonder if we see the same thing today.

People muddle through their lives directionless, devoid of purpose other than paying the bills and crashing in front of the TV. Work can be a meaningless slog up a slippery hill. Relationships break. Families fall apart.

And when people seek after God they often find even more troubles and burdens from those who claim to speak for God.

There’s so much religion out there whose chief aim is to make you feel badly about yourself. There’s so much religion out there who makes money off of YOUR guilt.

There’s so much religion out there that demands perfect moral behaviour from you, that trades on your shame, that requires that you hide those parts of your life that need healing but that others would judge you on.

There’s so much religion out there that tries to strip you of your humanity, denying your failures, your grief, your regrets, proclaiming a false victory in your life. There’s so much religion out there that asks you to ignore your pain in order to fit their tiny view of God.

But the Christmas story tells us something very different. The Christmas story tells us that God dropped Jesus down right in the middle of the world’s pain. God dropped Jesus down in the middle of YOUR pain. YOUR shame. YOUR sin. YOUR Death. By dropping Jesus right down in the middle of your aching failures God is saying to YOU:

‘You don’t have to hide anything from from me because I know everything about you. You don’t have to hide your shame. Your grief. Your loneliness. Your addictions.

‘You don’t have to hide your resentments and discouragement. You don’t have to hide your fear, your lack of faith, or doubts.

‘You don’t have to hide those moments when you wonder if life is worth living at all. In fact I will share them with you. I will take those burdens from you.

“Others may reject you. But I embrace you.
Others may point out your faults. But I celebrate your gifts.
Others may hold a grudge. But I forgive you for everything wrong you’ve done.
Others may demand that you stay locked in place, weighed down by social expectations. But I will give you wings so you can fly.

“I will wipe your tears. I will heal your pain. I will die your death so that you can rise to new and everlasting life as the beloved child of God that I made you to be.”

Today Jesus is saying from the manger,

“If you want to know who God is, just look at me, hear my words and feel my embrace.

‘When you’re longing to see a better tomorrow keep your eyes wide open because the future is as bright as a resurrection morning.

‘If you want to know eternal life, trust that I know what to do with you after you’ve closed your eyes.”

Jesus came so that YOU may have abundant life.
Jesus came so that YOU can live in the freedom and joy of being God’s child.
Jesus came so that YOU can be forgiven and set on a new path.
Jesus came so that your past will NOT dictate the future that God has for you.

Because of Jesus you have a new chance at life.
Because of Jesus you can know that your tomorrow will be better than today.
Because of Jesus you can know that the God who created the universe holds you in the palm of his hand.

So now you can go back out into the world carrying Jesus with you, giving birth to life and hope wherever you go.

You can go out into the world spreading peace and joy to you meet.

You can go out into the world shining God’s light in life’s dark corner’s.

You can go back out into the world singing the song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace and goodwill to all the world!”

That’s Christmas. That’s why we celebrate.

May this be so among us. Amen.

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