A Christmas Story
What does Christmas mean to you? Or better yet, what does this Christmas mean to you? I believe I am in a bit of a reflective state of mind since I have spent quite a bit of time learning about the various historical Advent traditions held by the church universal. As a new pastor, it has been exciting to prepare and share the impact of the theological richness contained in the arrival of the Christ child. Of course, new information sometimes leads to additional reflection on past experiences.
As I was preparing for work early this morning, a memory came to mind of a rather life-changing event I experienced in August 2013. It was an unusual Saturday afternoon for a number of reasons. That day an apartment in the building in which I was living caught fire. The fire quickly engulfed and destroyed the entire building. I left the complex with the clothes I was wearing, and spent the night in a local hotel where housing had been arranged for the displaced residents. Two days later I was able to retrieve a few items from the apartment that had not been damaged by smoke or water. The remainder of those things fit into the trunk and the back seat of my car. As I drove away, I reflected on the preciousness of life. At that moment in time all of my earthly possessions fit into the trunk and back seat of my car. And it mattered not, because I was alive.
As I settled up with the insurance company to recoup my losses, I found myself underestimating and overlooking certain items. The insurance adjuster described the process as an attempt to “make you whole.” Yet I had difficulty estimating the contents of the kitchen drawers, or recent grocery purchases just before the fire.
If you have been through any kind of catastrophic loss you may be able to identify with these thoughts. Here I am being prompted to recall and account for every single item I may have owned, while even still owning more than many people living in poverty. Remember, the items in the back of my car. Also, the Red Cross organization provided essential toiletries and prepaid gift cards which allowed me to purchase some clothes. You really find out what’s important to you when you shop with limited funds for form and function and not for style. [Side note, this organization and its volunteers are to be applauded. They are very good at taking care of things during a disaster. Every time I see a news report of a disaster and hear the Red Cross is on site to render assistance, I know the people are in good hands.]
Through all of this all I could say to myself and tell others is how grateful I was to be alive. It was one turning point in my life which reminded me to not take life for granted. It was a time to reevaluate my life direction and not selfishly waste it pursuing perishable and temporal things.
So this Christmas is turning out to be full of quite a bit more meaning than any other to date. As I re-read the gospel narratives of Matthew and Luke and studied how John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Mary, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and the Magi were all moved to expressions of jubilation, praise, and worship because of this miraculous birth I had to join them in praising God. Prophets and angels have shared in revealing various pieces of the Father’s revelation his glorious purpose to redeem us. One can only marvel in wonderment at the power of God. As I enjoy the festivity and family time, I can reflect on how the persistent love of God and his goodness shines through. God sent the Son so that we may live. (John 17:3) God so loved us that he gave his Son so that we may be saved through Him. (John 3:16, 17) We are still living in the time of salvation. Christ did not come into the world to condemn us, no to save us from our sins. Without a doubt there is a coming time of judgment. However, today is a time of salvation for those who would hear the gospel.
There was a time when I was all caught up in the rightness, wrongness, and facts around the traditional Christmas holiday celebration. Yes, we have combined some of the details. At times, we humans have a tendency to embellish some things and some love to tell a good story to impart some pet teaching. Of course, the Magi were not there right after the actual birth but arrived some time later. And the gospel narrative does not specifically say how many of them there were. And it could be that Joseph and Mary were not really turned away at the inn, which makes for a good story about homelessness. And there is much more to be considered about the December 25th date, the Roman celebration, and the star guiding the Magi, the trees, the lights, and so forth. Yet take that all away and neither skeptic nor believer can deny that the man Jesus lived, taught, died, and was resurrected. He himself said he came to reveal the Father to us. He came to show us the way back into relationship with Him. And that my friends is a most precious gift. One to be enjoyed today, this Christmas, and every day into eternity. Merry Christmas to all!