What Wondrous Love by the Rev. Peter Jenks
Several years ago we had snow on Christmas eve, not just any snow, but big fluffy flakes that slowly drifted from the sky and blanketed the grass but melted on the streets. It was a perfect night. There are other customs of the season that I savor; the lights, the tree with decorations, a dinner with family and friends. When these all work out well I find myself in a place of deep thanksgiving. These are the elements of the cultural Christmas I work hard to create each year, with varying degrees of success.
None of these customs are directly connected to the story that is the central focus and principle reason for Christmas in the first place. The days leading up to the 25th of December are the rungs on the ladder of the cultural climb with hopes of reaching a peak moment or two of magic. The songs in the stores, the gathering of friends and neighbors for parties are all a part of this cultural magic. There is nothing wrong with the cultural Christmas, whether we say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas really doesn’t matter, it is time to be nice and connect with each other in ways we might never otherwise experience. There is even a level of cultural Hannakah, reminders of the varied cultural diversity and richness of our community and adapted and celebrated by Jewish, Christian and anyone else as well.
But then there are the stories of the source of Hanakkah, which Tony Antolini’s article describes so well.
And there is the story of Christmas, the birth of Jesus and the coming of God into the world in a way we had never experienced and was not entirely welcomed by all. The story of a pregnancy that was challenging, and whose delivery was upended by political events that caused great disruption. It is the story of God being revealed in our lives and how that encounter will always change, transform, upend and cause us to let go of our own control to be in the flow of God’s direction. The story of Christmas which is not cultural but biblical begins on the eve of December 25 as the cultural events are ending. There are the intense moments of overlap but soon the cultural trees come down and a quiet in the aftermath of the chaos settles. In remembering the holy source of this second Christmas, the one of Jesus coming into our lives, marks a grave challenge. The author G.K. Chesterson once half jokingly stated, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
In this season of celebrations, let us celebrate those things that are culturally sacred and treasured, and then brace ourselves for that which is most difficult of all - letting go, serving God and becoming one with the source of all life, light and love. This in reality has been tried and has transformed our world time and again, both individually and as a species upon this planet. But the cost, the honest self-evaluation, the humility, the humor and the grace of God will once again move us beyond our opinions, our habits, our grief, our wounds, our mistrust, and even our fears. When we get to the point when our own fears are left behind and the fear of the Lord fills our very core then we are able to sing the deepest songs of Christmas; the songs sung by Mary and Joseph, and those who have faced the greatest of tragedy, harm and loss, those who have been led to lands far beyond their imagination, and have come to know a love far deeper than any love we have known before and sung from a heart not just broken but made new.
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