upper room daily devotions

Thursday, December 21, 2006

short shrifting christmas

Christmas is almost here. Throughout Advent I have been one of many pastors asking parishioners to wait patiently; Christmas will come. Protestants and people who have come to the church without a childhood background of learning Advent rituals want to skip right past Advent. Why focus on the darkness? Why hold at a distance the joy and happiness associated with Christmas, especially if all we're doing is holding it off for the sake of waiting?

Over and over pastors like me (and, well, me) have told people to wait, so why, then, have I called this article "short shrifting christmas" when it seems like what I really mean is that we short shrift Advent? Well, it's because I think that in our rush to Christmas we lose the heart of Christmas. We are so weary by the time Christmas Day arrives that many of us are relieved to tear down the tree and toss it out back. We're beat. We're irritated with the Christmas carols that play relentlessly on the radio, in the elevator, at our doctor's office, in department stores, and even walking down city streets...Our minds are screaming, "Make this stop!!!!" while we plaster the Christmas smile on our faces. The jump to Christmas before Thanksgiving robs us of two beautiful liturgical seasons, neither of which have a whit to do with presents - or even family for that matter. Advent invites us into a season of prayer and preparation for the coming of God Among Us. What a holy season! Christmas is the inbreaking of God into the world - your world, my world, the world torn apart by ruthless killing, heartless prejudice, and barbaric war. We short shrift Christmas because we forget that, at its heart, it is a holy day in a holy season that demands for us to look at God - and to see, really see, God in the midst of the weakest and most vulnerable.

Christmas is a justice holiday. God breaks into the world and forces us to see how the most vulnerable are tossed aside (a child born in a barn? a cave? pick your story). This leads to the inevitable questions, "How do we respond to the most vulnerable? Do we perpetuate systems that create the injustice that marginalize and oppress? How might we live differently by recognizing the holiness in all of life, not just the strong, the pretty, the grand, and the convenient?"

We short shrift Christmas when we don't wait for God to act in God's time - to break into our world with an invitation to become something new, something we have yet to imagine. Christmas begins on Christmas Day; it doesn't end there. We have twelve days of it. It's too bad we're sick of the idea of it before it's even begun. I wonder how we might be in the world if we let Christmas come to us rather than grabbing for it every November, greedily grasping at saccharine images that offer us no real hope, no real transformation. Christmas, if we let it, gives us a young woman Mary frightened and faithful, Joseph confused but persevering, Elizabeth and Zecheria stricken dumb by his incredulity and sent singing with his joy, Elizabeth pregnant with a prophet, King Herod filled with fear, wise astronomers on a mission, shepherds unceremoniously - strike that...very ceremoniously - taken from their work and sent on a weird journey, and a messy birth in bad circumstances. This story invites us into the mess and filth of life, into the fear that accompanies every life changing journey, into a story of hope and wonder and awe at the idea of life emerging...without apology. The grandeur of angels crashing into our world of shepherds. The heavenly host with harps of gold clattering against our reality of poverty and homelessness.

It's too bad that we short shrift Christmas - tired of it before it comes. It really is something great.


RevErikaG said...

I totally agree, Katie! Thanks for voicing something I've thought for awhile in a thought-provoking way.
Messy Advent and Merry Christmas!

rev katie m ladd said...

thanks...i'm not exempt, you know. but i have really tried to stay in advent and now christmas is a few days away...hardly any presents bought and not at all ready. maybe that's really advent's gift...to recognize how unprepared we really are for something like christmas. there's really no way to prepare, is there? at least i'm trying to give my feelings of utter "unpreparedness" a theological slant!

rev katie m ladd said...

and, oh! messy advent and messy christmas to you!! (a little merry, too)

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