Thursday, December 18, 2014

Heart, Hearth and Head: Wrapping our Hope around Christmas



Christmas. It's meaning has changed for many of us over the course of just our lifetime, and the memories of those we have loved. Not too long ago, Christmas was a time of hope in the face of horrifying conflict. People still talk about the legendary night during the trench warfare of World War I in which enlisted men ceased firing of their own volition, ventured out of their defensive line and joined "the enemy" in "No Man's Land" on a stark Christmas Eve in order to give praise to the Prince of Peace. Not too long ago, Christmas was a time for a desired homecoming. Troops overseas dreamt of a "White Christmas." They sang songs of longing, lamenting separation, and people everywhere sought out the hope of a time when the ideal of the whole family being together again would be a reality. Most of us remember a time in our lives when Christmas meant breaking away from exams, from work, from the press of reality, in order to travel home to the gathering of extended family. 

Fast forward to the years of my childhood, and the season of Christmas programs and specials. Pageants and music concerts regaled us in school assemblies with all the secular carols our little minds could memorize. We sang about sugar plums, without ever having tasted one. We rejoiced in sympathy when Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer went from rejected to desired because of a nose so red it glowed. On television, we sang along with Fred Astaire that Santa Claus was coming to town. We laughed and sang the chorus of the Heat and Cold Miser brothers We cringed when Boris Karloff voiced the dreaded Grinch. We smiled and sang along with our parents and grand parents, and with Burl Ives and a host of other beloved crooners about Frosty the Snowman and we danced with the Peanuts gang to the music of the Vince Guaraldi Trio.

But all that reminiscence comes to a quiet pause when Linus, our beloved, blanket-loving Linus comes out on stage to recite a passage from the Gospel of Luke....




Christmas rolls out once a year....and yet the noise around it so often threatens to overwhelm why we wish to gather, why it is important to go to our homeplace and gather with those we love but see too seldom. Christmas is more than lights, more than decorations, more than Pinterest pages. It is more than songs, or nostalgia or candy canes tossed from trains and fire trucks. It is more than bumper stickers reminding us to "Keep Christ in Christmas." It is more than media figures either decrying or debunking the culture war on Christmas. It is more, even, than a holiday break. All that is the wrapping paper around what is real, what we acknowledge as the true reason for this season...and it is not about retail sales.....

It is a pause, a REAL pause in a busy life. It is a moment in which conflict and rejection, isolation and sorrow are not given entry. It is a moment of peace that does not pass understanding, but instead in which it is completely and utterly understood and embraced.

It is the moment when we recognize that God becomes incarnate. When all that was beyond us becomes completely comprehend-able. When all of time and space hinges on the first, gasping cry of an infant. In that moment, hope and grace are reborn. In that moment we recognize the birth of the Son, the one who will be called the Christ. In that moment, we receive the greatest gift we possible could from a loving God...union and communion in Jesus, born of Mary.

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