Most of the Christmas traditions which we celebrate at this time come from pagan origins. Much of what we do—from trimming the tree to decorating our houses to giving gifts and feasting—I believe have nothing to do with the Christian festival of Christmas.
That doesn’t mean I’m a grump. I’m not judging. I’m only stating a fact. I love the lights, the feasting, the gifts. I love the activity and thinking about special people in my life as I buy gifts for them. I love smiling at people in the stores and on the streets, and getting a smile back from them. We’re so often busy and tired … but there is an undercurrent of good will beneath it all.
But the Christmas which Christians celebrate is about something different than all of that. It’s not about family values or people getting together or even about celebrating a festival of joy.
For us, Christmas is about God entering right into our world and shining with the light of love and compassion. It’s about inspiring us with hope that this world, dark as it may be, is not what God intended. It’s about firing us with joy so that we might commit ourselves to being beacons of light in the world, and living with the same love and compassion.
I’m going to tell you a story. Imagine this happening right before you, in our time.
A grungy–looking young couple are hitch–hiking on a lonely road. She looks to be about 17, and he is unshaven and disheveled. They may be gypsies or street people or refugees. The young woman is very pregnant and in obvious distress; the young man holds her protectively as they trudge along the side of the road.
A long–haul trucker stops to pick them up. He’s overweight, has a 4–day growth of beard on his face, and chomps on nuts and snacks as he drives. The young woman moans occasionally as the young man holds her close. The trucker, named Cioban, looks at the young couple with some concern. (An interesting side note is that the name Cioban also means “shepherd” in Romanian.)
They pull into a truckers’ rest stop at the side of the highway. The young man leads the girl to the washroom. Another truck pulls in, and a hooker comes out of a different area to flirt with the younger truck driver, hoping for some business. The lights outside the washroom flicker and go out with a pop. We are left in darkness.
You know something’s going on … but what? In the stillness of the night, we hear a baby’s cry. Cioban peers in through the open door of the washroom, and his face is wreathed in a miraculous smile as he sees the young woman holding her newborn baby to her chest. He takes out his phone and snaps pictures. The other truck driver and hooker come in, staring in wonder at what has happened. The hooker covers the baby and shivering young mother with her coat.
They set up a small camp outside the washroom around a small fire pit. A couple of police stop to check things out; the truck driver shows them his phone with a sheepish smile on his face, “It’s a boy! It’s a boy!” Then the lights on the washroom facility flicker on again.
There is a wall in the bathroom with this graffiti on it: ‘Wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.’ He shows himself in a simple place free from pathos and romance. If God is present, even a restroom can be a church.”
There’s the heart of a Christian understanding. It’s not only Christmas—it’s our whole lives. If God is present, then all of life is holy.
To be a Christian in this understanding means not so much that we are to become good people, or holy people, or moral people. To be a Christian is to learn to see God in the ordinary moments of our days. It is to see God in the homeless people. It is to see God embracing members of gay or lesbian communities. It is to see God in the vacant eyes of those who are addicted. It is to see God at work in every moment and movement which seeks to promote justice and peace, reconciliation and hope. It is to see God at work all around us.
Christmas is not just a momentary stop once each calendar year to gorge ourselves. Christmas is a reminder to learn to see, to be mindful, to discern God in the lives of “the least of these, my brothers and sisters.” (Matthew 25)
This is Christmas for a real world. This is the Christmas I wish for you, whether you are a follower of Jesus or not. This kind of Christmas is a reminder that we can all join hands to make life more whole, more complete, more just, more compassionate, more peaceful, and more loving.
The message is adapted from a message originally written by the Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt of Christ Church Anglican. Cranbrook, British Columbia
Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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