This year, Christmas hasn’t quite played out like I dreamed it up.
My brother-in-law and his family tackled the flu.
My wife’s grandmother was hospitalized.
I had a crazy ear-related virus give me a case of vertigo less than 24 hours before Christmas Eve.
Our family’s expected celebrations didn’t happen, were delayed, or seriously impacted by some illness or another.
I even ended up standing in the to-go room of TGIFridays on Christmas for forty minutes after they misplaced our order. (But we got it 50% off).
And yet, Christmas happened. In so many ways, I felt God-with-us, Immanuel, even in the midst of the craziness. I seriously have no idea how people who believe in nothing cope; faith is what keeps me moving on the dark days.
A doctor who accelerated me through the process, and made sure I received the medicine I needed early because, “ya know, Christmas Eve is your Super Bowl.”
A friend who invited us over for Christmas Eve dinner, knowing that at the last minute, we had no plans, and no celebratory food to share.
Good reports from family about health – children who remind me about the wonder and grace of our faith- A church that has shown me time and time again that you can label us “small” or “country” or “family sized” … and the expectations keep getting tossed on their head.
Whew, that was Christmas.
So, Christmas has come and gone, and I look back and wonder, did we see everything there? Did we get all of the messages? Did we receive Jesus into our hearts? If Christmas is God doubling down on us, saying a list of ten rules isn’t the foundation of what he wants, then what does Christmas leave us with?
#1 God uses people we wouldn’t expect – virgin teenagers, unassuming carpenters, lowly shepherds, and foreign astrologists to be part of his plan. One of my favorite billboards says, “Jesus ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and murderers; there’s room here for you, too.” The Christmas version might say, “God used a bunch of left out and forgotten abouts to herald in his own son, he can use you to share grace, too.”
#2 God is with us, Immanuel, and that means that we are not alone. Even when life is baring down on us with insane fury, and we want to cower under the weight of death, debt, work, and expectations, God is here. God is doing the heavy lifting and we need to pray and hope and have faith.
#3 Because God is with us, we do not need to fear. What would you do if you operated without fear? I’m not talking superhero brave but simply not worrying about what other people think or who you might offend. Just being the person boldly living selflessly for Christ?
#4 This news is not just for us but for all people. We’re supposed to share. sharing is something we do at Christmas but what if we did it all of the time? If we gave with no fear, no worry of being without, our perspectives and world would change!
#5 God wants peace for you and me. Christmas Eve isn’t the end but the beginning. God wants us to wrap our hearts around the message and be changed. God wants all of the broken up stuff in our lives to be knitted back together correctly and fully not “well, that’s the best that we could do,” but the way God always wanted it.
We must be actively participating in the way that God works in the world. We must be acting toward peace, being peace, doing peace.
Take the latest example from Australia: after the hostage standoff in Sydney, where the kidnapper waved an Islamic flag, people of the Islamic faith were scared to ride the subway for fear of violence. So – God bless social media! – someone tweeted: “you reg take the #373 bus b/w Coogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire, & don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you. @ me for schedule,” and followed it up with “Follow
Maybe start a hashtag? What’s in #illridewithyou?” One hundred and fifty-thousand people used the hashtag within twelve hours and a movement was born – to remind people at Christmas, in crisis, living in fear, that they were not alone. [Sorry to those folks who read this in my Christmas Eve sermon — I didn’t use it and am capitalizing on that on Sunday!]
I hope over the next few days, the last ones of 2014, you will pause and reflect on Christmas. Too often, it doesn’t happen during the holiday but maybe it should happen now.
God is with us. Everything is different.