Last night I sat down with my wife and watched the musical Scrooge. When Scrooge has his Zachaeus-like transformation and barrels down out of his house like the little tax collector tumbled out of that sycamore tree when Jesus called him, tears rolled down my cheeks ... which I quickly dabbed away (fooling no one but myself, of course). It was beautiful. Scrooge had been transformed. He forgave debt, he fell in love with the season, he made connections with others long neglected (yeah he also bought a boat-load of gifts ... but never mind that for now). It reminded me of the reason for this particular celebration.
I've been stressing over the fact that my family is far from the picture perfect Christmas at this moment. Only some of the presents procured, none wrapped, tree and ornaments and lights still boxed, cards as yet unwritten or sent. It's overshadowed everything. Then Scrooge the musical jogged my memory of my favorite scene from a Charlie Brown Christmas in which Charlie Brown, feeling like I did just then, asks Linus in frustration what the true meaning of Christmas could be. Linus, the Peanuts theologian responded with a passage from Luke. I'll give you the same, and then some.
Luke 2: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.Now for the deepest, most sophisticated theology in the New Testament related to Jesus' birth. We turn to John, the last writer of the first four Gospels, who had more time to think all his inspiration through and go really deep:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.With this reminder, thanks to that 1970s musical, I AM reminded that Jesus came because God loves us. And who does God love? Upon whom does God bestow favor? Return to John: "What has come into being in him [in Jesus, the Word ... just in case you missed it, I know you're busy] was life, and the life was the light of all people.
That's the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown, and all of us. This is a good reason to put aside all our petty arguments, our squabbles over rules of our own making and interpretations that skew one way or another, our bizarre expectations and actual fears over whether we're getting someone the exactly right bauble or over how we wish someone the best in this season that is overly fraught with unrealistic expectations, our outrageous schedules, and all the rest. It is time to drop all these heavy burdens, let the tears come, and accept deeply and completely in our hearts that we are loved by the creator of the universe, we are sought so earnestly that God was willing to come right down among us to tell us we are loved, we are cared for ... ALL PEOPLE ... so much that the two greatest commandments are to return the love of the one who loves us outrageously and to extend that love ... and the grace and mercy that go along with us ... to everyone we meet.
Like Scrooge we are told to keep that spirit of Christmas with us all year long and to let it inform and influence all we say and do. I'm holding onto that idea tightly, like a man trying not to drown in a raging sea of human built expectations.
And so, I say to you, without agenda, without engaging in the "War on Christmas" nonsense, but just out of heartfelt love for God and all God's children (no matter how crazy we get), Merry Christmas. May this Christmas and the new year find you blessed, even when it hurts, and surrounded by others on this journey of life who will make each of your days a blessing, each of your hours a little better, each of your moments a little sweeter.
Merry Christmas, indeed.
God bless us all ... every one.