Christians around the world are preparing for Christmas Day; these past four weeks we have been on a journey. Advent is the time of the year when we expectantly wait for the coming of the Christ child; Advent invites us to experience Christmas anew. Christmas is less about lights, trees and a jolly man in a red suit and more about the coming of the Savior of the world. Each Christmas is an invitation to allow this coming to permeate our hearts and souls to be transformed by the presence of God with us.
Advent is about the colliding of two worlds. On one hand, we have the “secular” world. This world is the one we live in. On the other as people of faith we have the world of the holy. Many Christians believe in the full presence of God in the world who is in all things at all times. These two worlds seem to be in conflict with each other and it is highlighted each Advent.
With flashing lights and dramatic sales, the secular world as taken a religious holiday and it made it a selling tool. Christians around the world get caught up in the joyous nature of the season which on the surface is not wrong. Celebrating the coming of the Christ is a joyous occasion but have we missed the bigger picture? Have we shifted the focus too far away from the manger in Bethlehem? Have we allowed the secularization of the holiday to cloud our vision as we wait for the Christ-child to come in our lives again this Christmas Day?
Only two gospels share the story of Christmas, Matthew and Luke. Luke’s accounts tells us of Mary and Joesph traveling to the city of Bethlehem to register with the Roman government. There Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable because there was no room for them in the local inn.
Would we welcome Mary and Joseph today? The answer of our heart is one of a resounding “yes!”. Our actions however every other day of the year may tell a different story.
Reformer Martin Luther in his 1543 Christmas sermon wrote: “There are of many of you who think to yourselves: ‘If only I had been there! How quick I would have been to help the baby!” … Why don’t you do it now? You have Christ in your neighbor. You ought to serve your neighbor, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ himself.”
We turn away Mary and Joseph all the time. Mary and Joseph come to us in the form of hungry children, refugees from war torn areas and families living paycheck to paycheck; to deny them denies Christ. While we might think that we would not be so cold or brash, to judge someone based on their country of origin, gender or immigration status means that we have decided to turn away the image of God. We metaphorically say “there is no room in the inn for you tonight.” Is there room today? Who are we turning away in the name of our religion or personal/political causes?
For Christmas to mean anything we have to see each other as the bearers of the image of God then Christ’s coming be will be transformational. This reflects the world in which God wants us to create. Christ taught that the most important and greatest commandment was to love God and to love every person just as much as you love your own self. Christmas each year reminds us that this is possible through the in breaking of the divine in a world that is in desperate need of a Savior.
People are more than the product of their decisions or perceived sins. They are beautiful children of God who God loves just as much as God loves you and me. Christmas is about the invading of the secular space and showing humanity that God’s love is real, God’s mercy is right and God’s grace is given to all people, in all places and at all times. Faithful Christians must reclaim this not just for the season of Advent and Christmas but for the entire year.
The story of Christmas reminds us that God can show up in unexpected places. We need to remember this basic teaching. The Holy Family might look as we see them depicted in art and icons, rather they right be right under our noses and we refuse to see them. Christmas is about the opening of our hearts to allow the wonderment that is the incarnation to affect the way that we view one another and the world around us.
God came to earth in a manger in Bethlehem but God is also here with us. We just have to know where to look. God is found in the laughter of children. God is found when families spend time together; God is found in homeless shelter, nursing homes and ICU waiting rooms. God is found in you and me and in the actions we take to make God’s all-encompassing love known. This is the real meaning of Christmas!
One of my favorite Advent hymns is “One Candle is Lit.” The fourth stanza reads:
Come, wander where lion and lamb gently play,
where evil is banished and faith takes the day,
a babe in a manger to fool the world’s eyes.
One candle is lit for God’s loving surprise.
May this be our prayer this Christmas and into 2017.