"Stuff" Week Four - "Putting the Christ Back In Christmas"
When you have kids, these things happen. Adults are pretty adept at smashing ornaments, but kids make it an Olympic sport.
This year my 15 month-old son is experiencing his first Christmas as a sentient being. Last year he basically just sat where you put him and didn't do much. And he definitely wasn't capable of wrecking ornaments.
So in order to avoid Armageddon-like activity with our ornaments, we determined that the bottom portion of our Christmas tree needed to be filled with ornaments that were unbreakable, homemade, stuffed animals and the like.
Wouldn't you know the little knee-biter found a way to break one of the unbreakable ornaments.
When a Christmas ornament (especially one that has some sentimental value) breaks it's a sickening moment. When it hits the floor with that tell-tale crunch, everyone freezes at the sound of it, and slowly turns their heads to find out which one bought it.
I think that when we shatter a Christmas ornament that has meaning for us, one that contains a memory, if you will, we kind of think that the memory just might shatter with it. Even though we intellectually know that it doesn't work that way, it sort of feels like it.
Not too get too strange about it, but it's almost as if we grieve the loss of a broken ornament because it reminds us that the moment it represented is gone just like the shards of broken glass we're sweeping up.
And all of this is another reminder that stuff wears down, breaks, and is just... well, stuff. If we want to get at the truth of Christmas, and the truth of the goodness of Christmas we have to look beyond stuff.
So most of us Christian-types get our underwear bunched about how stores are making their employees say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" and how Jesus is no longer "the reason for the Season." But then we participate in the very systems that are perpetuating this shift.
We focus on Stuff, instead of a Savior, in other words. And what we participate in, more than what we say reveals the heart of our worship.
The Apostle Paul had some Christmas memories of his own that he shares in what I call the 2nd Christmas Carol ever written, which is found in Philippians 2:5-11.
Go ahead, read Philippians 2:5-11 here.
This passage of Scripture is thought to be one of the oldest Christian hymns. When you read it though, you realize that what Paul is talking about here is a very deep and wonderful Christian belief called the Incarnation---the idea that God took on human form in the man Jesus Christ in order to save all of Creation. How that happens is a topic for another blog, but suffice it to say that it does, and is and will happen--the whole salvation thing.
The most beautiful way to imagine the Incarnation and all that it must have meant for the very Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Christ... is in the Nativity. 2000 years ago on that starry night, in a rough hewn stone manger the Savior of us all lay wrapped in cloth, newly born, probably hungry and undoubtedly crying, helpless, small and lowly.
In Philippians 2 the Apostle Paul tells us that we should have "the same mind as Christ" (vs. 5), who was "in the very nature God," and who "made himself nothing." The Word of God, the Logos that John writes was present with God "in the beginning," the source, the creative, loving impetus for Creation humbled himself and became a tiny infant, born in impossibly awful circumstances.
And saved us.
Which is why Paul goes on to say that God then "exalted [Jesus] into the highest place," which we know to be Heaven or Where God Lives, and that one day "at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord."
I know what you want to ask me. "What was the first Christmas Carol?"
It appears in Luke chapter 2 verse 14 and it's sung by the angels who filled the skies over the shepherds fields outside Bethlehem, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
There's that "highest" word again. And a promise of salvation.
When the angel appeared to the shepherds prior to this first carol, he told them, "I bring you Good News..." Funny. At the time of Jesus when the exalted Roman emperor Caesar Augusts proclaimed something it was called "Good News." Caesar Augustus was also said to have been born in unusual circumstances, and that star burned bright in the sky over the place of his birth.
Caesar. Who brought about peace through superior firepower. Who imposed Roman culture around the known world with an emphasis on materialism and consumerism and worship of what wasn't God.
It seems to me that right here, right now the very same thing happens in our own culture. We're being told that the our only means of salvation is to spend more money. Maybe you've seen the same bumper sticker that I've seen, "He who dies with the most toys wins." I think it should say, "He who dies with the most toys...dies."
It's not about Stuff, it's about a Savior.
But in an effort to be more mainstream, accepted, and well, popular, us Christian-types have watered down our faith so much that we've forgotten what it means to need a Savior. We need some nonnegotiables in the mix:
First, we need to lift up that Jesus, the Son of God became one of us.
Second, we need to affirm that Jesus showed us how we should live with his selfless life.
Third, Jesus demonstrated unconditional love through his humility and sacrifice.
Fourth Jesus was raised from the dead to "the highest," which us Christian-types affirm every time we recite ancient beliefs like the Apostle's Creed.
Fifth, Jesus is Lord, yesterday, today and forever. Although God is God and we are not, and we can't possibly know everything about who God saves and how---what we KNOW is that believing in Jesus and making him Lord of your life cuts out the uncertainty.
So what does this all mean for us and our Stuff and Christmas and everything?
Here's the thing, when I think of my most memorable Christmas memories, I don't really think of stuff. I think of moments. Moments when my family and I were together, when there was laughter, joy, love and warmth.
I remember sitting in the back of a car smashed between my cousin and my mom as we drove around looking at Christmas lights on a frigid Christmas Eve.
I remember waking up on Christmas morning and smelling breakfast cooking and knowing that it was Christmas, which was just about the best thing in the world.
I remember family Christmas dinners, singing around a piano and everyone from out of town sleeping all over the house.
I remember the first Christmas Eve that my wife and I spent together before we were married. We went to a late night candlelight service at a Methodist church in her hometown. When we began to sing "We Three Kings" I sang under my breath to her, "We three kings of Orient are... tried to smoke a rubber cigar... it was loaded, it exploded..." We spent the rest of the service laughing, and upsetting the worshippers.
I remember all of the wonderful, magical Christmases with my kids...
I also remember something else...
Every year when I was young my dad would basically bring the festivities to a halt when we were all gathered together. He would bring out his Bible and would insist on reading the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2.
I used to hate that.
It was awkward, and everyone sort of got all uncomfortable when he did it.
I used to think that making everyone uncomfortable was kind of his point.
I was wrong.
The Story was the most important thing.
It still is.
The Story defines us. The Story tells us that evil doesn't get to win. The Story helps us understand that Stuff doesn't save us, Jesus does.
So this Christmas focus on the Story and the Savior and not your Stuff.
Love the Story.
Live the Story.
Tell the Story.