Mike’s Been Thinking…

I’ve been thinking lately about Christmas. Christmas, we are told, is a “most wonderful time of the year.” And, we try as best we can to believe it. Yet, the pressures to make it so, often turn us into tightly wound bundles of nerves ready to snap, crackle and pop at the jingle of just one more bell. It can be a brutally busy, overly stressful and excessively indulgent time of year. The very peace we desire becomes more distant the harder we pursue it; our appetite for joy less satisfied the more we sing about it. We’re often told that the stresses of Christmas arise when we forget the “reason for the season;” that we need to put Christ back into Christmas and celebrate it as Jesus’ birthday.
Frankly, I wonder what Jesus would say about all the fuss over his birthday. What would this be. . . like, his 2,017th birthday? How many birthdays are too many? I saw a clip this week of Kirk Douglass while people around him were celebrating his 101st birthday. It was hard to tell but he didn’t seem overly delighted. Rather, he appeared almost somber or merely amused at best. Can you imagine yourself – or anyone else – celebrating a 2,017th birthday? How would someone with that many birthdays want to be celebrated? Do you think Jesus might want people to notice that he’s all grown up now; that he’s no longer wrapped in those swaddling cloths (whatever they were) lying in a feeding trough? Do you imagine that he may be a little weary of receiving those boxes and bottles symbolizing gold, frankincense and myrrh year after year? What gift could we offer that would make Jesus happy?
I’m thinking that Jesus might turn the whole modern idea of Christmas on its head. Jesus taught his disciples that the truly happy were the “meek”, the “poor in spirit”, those who were hungry and thirsty for righteousness. The kind of happiness Jesus prefers comes to those who show mercy and whose hearts are pure as they work for peace. In other words, happiness is a byproduct of a right relationship with God despite the temptations, distractions and the distresses that make that relationship so hard to maintain. I’m thinking Jesus might want us to focus on the very things we often conceal by the usual activities, sights and sounds of Christmas. The prophetic pronouncements and angelic good news regarding Jesus’ birth declared that the injustice, poverty and distress of the world, so long ignored, will finally be brought to light. And, Jesus spent his life addressing these issues and teaching his followers to do the same. Our busy holiday schedules are sometimes used to excuse our failure to notice the injury of injustice, the pain of prejudice and the sting of suffering. Too often the decorations of Christmas distort our view of a world in desperate need of good news. The carols of Christmas can muffle or drown out the cry of the needy. If we use Christmas as a shield from the darkness all around us and not to shed light and proclaim good news in the midst of that darkness then, I’m thinking that Jesus might prefer to be left out of Christmas.
As far as I know, Jesus never asked us to celebrate his birthday. He did, however, ask that we remember his death – his sacrificial, redeeming, reconciling death for a world loved by, but estranged from God. Celebrating Christmas by proclaiming that ultimate gift of God to those who most need to hear it is a sure way to assure that Jesus has a happy 2,017th birthday! That’s what I’m thinking about Christmas.
~ Rev. Mike Bowers
December, 2017