Thursday, December 20, 2018

Thoughts on the Holidays....

Reflections from the Pastor:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
 (John 1:1-5, 14)
We have come to another Advent and Christmas.  Soon the lights will be up and the carols will be sounding forth.  Each year lately there always seems to be an ongoing to debate about what this season is really about, and while I do not think there is any kind of organized campaign to undermine Christmas, the fact is that I do think that the general society has lost a sense of exactly what Christmas is all about.  So I am going to wade into this minefield with my own reflection.  Here it is – In case you are wondering, Christmas is not about presents, or buying stuff, or lights and decorations; Christmas is not about saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays;” Christmas is not about the color of your coffee cup; Christmas is not about crèches in public places or the rights of one group over another or any of that stuff.  Christmas is not even about babies, mangers, inns, shepherds or wise men.  Christmas is about one thing and one thing only: God’s incredible love for us.  That is it.  Christmas is all about Incarnation and incarnation is about the love that God has for us that is so far beyond our comprehension that we cannot grasp but a little of it.
The scripture text quoted above from John 1 provides us with the center and foundation of our understanding of Christmas, and it is this understanding that comes from this particular Gospel text that needs to shape how we celebrate this great festival.  Think about it – God, the creator of the universe; the one who gives life to all; the God who called Israel out of bondage and led them to freedom; the God who refused to give up on the creation and stayed present and active with God’s people throughout all kinds of events.  This God has come into this world as a human child, born into poverty and darkness, welcomed by outcasts and people at the margins of society; visited by foreigners.  It is this God who has been born into the world as a fully human child; It is this God who will grow to adulthood and know every bitter and horrible experience that can befall a human being.  It is this God who will be persecuted and executed in a hideous and painful way, this God who will die on the cross because God’s love is so incredibly great.  And then it is this God who will arise and cast off the darkness and the shackles of death and life will burst forth.  This is what Christmas is about, and this is what we celebrate. 
And how do we celebrate this season in light of this incredible gift?  This is really for each of us to answer.  Perhaps the most obvious answer is through gift giving and certainly the practice of gift giving arose as a reflection of the fact that God gives to us the most amazing gift ever.  But it also calls on us to bear in mind that while accumulating stuff and buying presents is all fine and good, it should nevertheless not distract us from the central meaning of this festival: God’s love as shown forth in the Incarnation.  And that if we are to do anything to celebrate this season we should work on adopting an attitude of love and kindness to all; graciousness to all, especially those who find these holidays to be difficult because of poverty or intense loss.  For it is for those who struggle with the darkness of human life that God came into the world on Christmas. So, how do we keep Christ in Christmas? Simply by working to put love and grace into the center of our celebrations.
A final note: While some seem to find the phrase “Happy Holidays” offensive or a denial of Christmas, I do not.  For me the phrase “Happy Holidays” is a phrase of blessing and a beautiful phrase at that.  Remember that the world “holiday” actually his its roots in the phrase “holy days.”  So when you wish someone “Happy Holidays” or someone says this to you – a blessing is being spoken: “May your days be holy!”  What could be a more beautiful thing to say to someone at this time of the year?  And so, I wish you all not only a very Merry Christmas, but I pray that you all have the happiest of holidays as well.  And may you experience God’s love and grace in ways that are life-changing this season. 

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