Sunday, December 25, 2011


My thoughts this Christmas season have wandered often to the Christmas narrative of John 1:14—where we hear that God invaded the earth as a living, breathing human. And not just some far off locale, but as Petersen’s The Message puts it, ‘into the neighborhood’.

And so my musing isn’t that it happened once, a couple thousand years ago, but happens everywhere, everyday, if we allow it to happen.

If the plan of the Divine was to make sure that we understand how loving our God is, then we need not be surprised that Christmas happens every day of the year, in every corner of the world.

It seems that power often rises to stifle the simple message of grace. So God needs, again and again, to counteract that kind of arrogance with the welcoming message of love.

Surprised to find out that you get to be the latest incarnation of the love of God? Find it a bit scary to think that you are the only Jesus people will see?

Don’t be scared! Just let Love invade you, and pervade you, and then escape out through your actions and words.
That is my Christmas message.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas spirit?

If you are into Christmas at all, you probably subconsciously search and long for the ‘Christmas Spirit’. Naively we might expect that that Christmas Spirit is the same for everyone.
That is far from the case.
Each of us has that inner combination of nirvana, utopia, childhood memories (colored by the passage of time), and zeal that styles itself as ‘The Perfect Christmas’.
That is what we tend to long for; the reincarnation of something that actually never was.
We want everything to be perfect, just like we remember, except it never really was that perfect.
We take our piecemeal assortment of Christmas images, tastes and feelings and try to make them all magically appear right in front of us.
And then when it doesn’t quite all come together as we had hoped, we deal with the rubble as our dreams crash around us.
What’s the solution?
Lower expectations?
Give up?
Well, no, that’s a bit extreme.

How about:
  1. Recognizing the futility of trying to make everything perfect, and
  2. Choosing to make one part as good as you can, given your present circumstances.
No, you won’t be able to bring peace on earth, or solve all of your family dysfunction with one marvelous turkey dinner, but you might well be able to accomplish a special moment to honor a special relationship.
There’s no way that you will make all of the kids completely happy by buying everything on their ‘gimme’ list, but finding something within your budget will both let your child know they are loved, and yourself survive January without plastic surgery.
Or maybe it can even be more simple than that.
Last Christmas I did my normal routine: Write my Christmas newsletter, and try to get creative for some special Christmas gifts for some special friends and family members. I decided to create a little booklet of some of my blog posts from the previous Christmas. That worked out well enough, and they were delivered into the hands of Canada Post.
But the special memory of last Christmas is what happened Christmas morning.

Last fall I met a young man hanging around Centennial Square. He had recently lost his job, and like many of the rest of us, didn’t have enough saved to survive until he found another job. So, here he was, out on the street. Panning, trying to find a job, moving night by night through the 7 day rotation of the youth ‘Out of the Rain’ shelter system. 7 different locations each host the shelter one night a week, but the kids are turned out after breakfast and have no dry/warm place until the next evening.
We had some great conversations. He’s quite a friendly guy, and we hit it off.
His home life had left a little to be desired, so he was missing the positive presence of his parents.
As Christmas approached, I began feeling quite ‘fatherly’ towards this young man.
I really wanted his Christmas to be special, something more than just another night at the next stop on the youth shelter tour.
So, I made plans with him to take him out for Christmas breakfast.
I found out where he would be spending the night of Christmas Eve, and the time I could pick him up.
And there I was, at 9 or so Christmas morning. Knocking on the door, asking if Dan was there.
A few moments later, out he came.
I had spent a bit of time trying to think of some fun little gifts I could afford. A flashlight, some candy, a pair of gloves, etc. I wanted him to have some special gifts, something to let him know he wasn’t just another lonely young man, some guy alienated from his family.
So as we sat in the van, getting ready to head to Denny’s, I gave him his little pile of gifts.
It really was as much fun for me as for him.
And then we went for breakfast. He still snickers at the memory of how a hamburger was his special Christmas Day meal, but he enjoyed it.
And so did I.
I’ve seen him many times over the past year. Some things are going a bit better for him, some things haven’t changed much. He is an industrious sort, so has put on a lot of miles collecting bottles and cans, turning them in for the deposit. But for now at least, he’s still not back in the work force.

So a few days back, I asked him if he was interested in Christmas breakfast again.
And what he added to my memory of the previous one almost broke my heart.
Although he knew we had planned on getting together for breakfast last Christmas, he really hadn’t expected me to show up. People hadn’t kept their promises before, so he didn’t expect me to either.
So when I showed up at the door of the shelter, asking for him, he was quite shocked.
It wasn’t anything personal, just how he had learned to deal with the downer of broken promises.

It looks like we’ll be able to do breakfast again this year.
I’m looking forward to it.
It may well be the best memory of this Christmas as well.

And I think that’s one good way to deal with that inner longing to rekindle the Christmas Spirit—find one kind, special thing to do for someone, and do it right.
That’s the kind of Christmas Spirit that should last all year.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas--it's more than just gifts

November 27, put up my Christmas tree. 4 weeks until Christmas Day.
For some reason, every year I seem to entertain different emotions, ideas, insights, or whatever you might call them.
A couple years ago, I really got into the themes of Advent, and lots of memories of Christmases past.
Last year, not nearly so prolific on the musings.
This year has its own unique flavor.

Since I’ve been contemplating Kingdom principles on many different levels for months now, and with the whole Occupy Wall Street movement stirring up a new awareness of the emptiness and greed of capitalism, I’m really not looking too positively at the whole Buy, Buy, Buy thing.
And then today as I was letting the nearness of Christmas waft around my mind, I had a revelation.
For all of the push for buying wonderful gifts for everyone on your list, gift giving is really a small part of celebrating Christmas.
How long does it take to buy, wrap, mail, deliver, etc. the gifts? A fair amount of time.
How long does it take for the recipient to open them ? Mere moments.
And then it’s back to those things that Christmas really is about.
You wait forever it seems (at least it feels like forever when you are a kid) for that moment when you get to gather around the tree and open the gifts.
You wait weeks and weeks.
And in literally minutes it’s all over.
As a family, long ago we got in the habit of taking turns opening our gifts. That way we would actually get to watch each other open what we had bought for them.
But even then, it didn’t take 30 minutes for the party to come to a crashing end.
But the good thing is, for all of the $$$ spent on the gifts, Christmas is about so much more.
(And no, this isn’t a sermon about keeping Christ in Christmas. I may yet rain on that particular misguided and hypocritical parade, but not in this post.)

Whether you are a person of deep Christian faith or not, here are some of the things that make Christmas meaningful. Things that actually take up a lot more of your time and effort, and also end up meaning a lot more than the gift bags around the tree.
Music. Whether it’s a special concert, listening to the old traditional vinyl, singing the carols in church or on someone’s doorstep, music is a wonderful part of our Christmas celebrating. Bing Crosby still tugs at the heart, even though ‘White Christmas’ is now 70 years old. This is a genre where all ages can make music together.

Food. I don’t think I have to explain this one. But Christmas dinner isn’t the only time food and special company figure in our celebrations. Between the work Christmas party, the eggnog with friends, baking cookies, or the special meals for kids home for Christmas, there are many, many special moments spent over a special meal.

Lights, trees, decorations. We all have some special memories of a particular Christmas ornament. Maybe the one you made in Grade 1, but that one is probably the special one on your parent’s tree, not yours. And then after all the decorating is done, you get to sit and absorb that old, comfortable, traditional atmosphere. Crackling fire (even if it’s only on TV), hot apple cider, and a piece of that Christmas baking. And if you weren’t rushing around trying to get every last bit of shopping done, you could even enjoy the ambiance more.
Family. Sure, some of us aren’t quite so sure about the annual visit from Great Aunt Hildegarde, or maybe your Mom’s new ‘attachment’, but by and large, family is particularly important at Christmas. It’s one of those seasons when we usually think past the surface tension to the deep awareness that family is who will stick with you longer than anyone else.
Friends. If the family thing doesn’t work well for you (and there are certainly those who battle the most royally with their family members), we do tend to have friends. Probably a few very close ones. And those are the ones you hang out with whenever you can—and not just at Christmas. But we create special occasions at Christmas to celebrate those relationships. One of the strengths of these relationships is that they don’t require a fancy gift to prove their existence—a cup of hot chocolate is just as effective.
Spiritual. Nearly everyone has memories of some kind of inner experience connected with Christmas. It might be the Christmas Eve service at church. The choir. The kids. Or maybe the peace that settled down in your spirit along with the gently falling snow. Maybe it’s that when everything is done—the house decorated (inside and out), the baking done, the shopping done (including wrapping, mailing, etc.), the house cleaned, the turkey in the oven, and so on—then you pause and remember that Christmas is, after all, the story of God showing up on earth as a human. Bringing joy. Bringing peace. Bringing love.

Oh yes, love. Love keeps sneaking into all of our Christmas celebrating, if we let it.
The love within the family (at least some part of it!).
Love for your friends.
Love for the little kids that are a part of your life.
The love in giving gifts. And receiving them.
Loving good food, and good music, and beauty.

Lately I’ve been realizing that one of the greatest gifts that Jesus brought was the understanding that God isn’t some big, mean ogre.
If Jesus shows us what God is like, then God is the lovingest, mercifulest, kindest being you could ever, ever imagine.
And we get to experience that love, and pass it along.
Sure, a gift can demonstrate love.
But so can sharing a special time with a special friend over coffee and a cookie.
So can singing Christmas carols in the park with a gang of untrained, but exuberant voices.
So can sitting beside the tree with your dearly beloved.
So don’t get all hung up on the gift buying. Going into debt isn’t loving anyone except your bank, and they don’t tend to know how to deal much in the currency of love.
Instead of trying to fill everyone’s gift list, fill their love tank instead.
‘Cause really, they’ll spend a lot more time eating your baking and enjoying your company than they will opening your gift.

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