Saturday, December 17, 2011

Real World Christmas and Its Meanings

I sometimes forget that the rest of the world goes into frantic shopping mode at this point in the calendar year.  Long ago, my family agreed to give to charity instead of giving presents to the adults.  We have enough stuff.

The ever-wonderful Jim Wallis reminds us of what our holiday dollars could have bought:  "Last year, Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas. Clean water for the whole world, including every poor person on the planet, would cost about $20 billion. Let’s just call that what it is: A material blasphemy of the Christmas season."


He reminds us of what God has risked for us:  "It is theologically and spiritually significant that the Incarnation came to our poorest streets. That Jesus was born poor, later announces his mission at Nazareth as “bringing good news to the poor,” and finally tells us that how we treat “the least of these” is his measure of how we treat him and how he will judge us as the Son of God, radically defines the social context and meaning of the Incarnation of God in Christ. And it clearly reveals the real meaning of Christmas."

The whole piece offers a nice counterpoint to those who would tell us that the real meaning of Christmas lies in making sure we say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays."  It gives us a wonderful reminder of what Christmas really should mean to Christians and to the larger world.

At this blog post, I was intrigued by a picture of Mary looking at a home pregnancy test kit stick.  Pastor Joelle's accompanying essay offers wonderful nuggets for thought, like this one:  "But this is in a part of the world where to this day, women are imprisoned for being raped, and stoned for adultery. How interesting that God chose to challenge this obsession with the purity of women by coming into this world this way and the church ended up using Mary to reinforce that purity obsession."

There was a moment in church last week, when I watched a mother comfort a crying baby, and I caught my breath at the thought of God taking on that vulnerability to enter the world as a baby.  And not only that, but to choose to be born in a remote corner of a brutal empire, to be born as a member of an oppressed class of people, why it's just remarkable.

Wallis says it this way:  "What is Christmas? It is the celebration of the Incarnation, God’s becoming flesh — human — and entering into history in the form of a vulnerable baby born to a poor, teenage mother in a dirty animal stall. Simply amazing. That Mary was homeless at the time,a member of a people oppressed by the imperial power of an occupied country whose local political leader, Herod, was so threatened by the baby’s birth that he killed countless children in a vain attempt to destroy the Christ child, all adds compelling historical and political context to the Advent season."

This week-end, many of us in the Christian world, at least those of us following the common Lectionary, will hear the story of Mary.  We will be reminded that with God, nothing is impossible.  We may not understand how God will make a way out of a series of dead-ends.  But the Advent texts promise us that the crooked pathways will be made straight, that the ruins and devastations will be restored to wholeness, that there will be justice tempered with mercy.  Come, Lord Jesus.  Be incarnate in our messy, messy world!

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