December 18, 2014

The meaning of Christmas

To me, Christmas is a year round celebration, not the weeks leading into nowadays Halloween and Thanksgiving. I get frustrated by the retail push to encourage us to spend money on kitschy junk as a way to "celebrate". Then there is the stress to get it all done, adding tasks to an already full plate. The past few years, I've given myself permission to skip one of the must-do tasks as a way of offering a reprieve. One year, I didn't bake cookies. Another year I didn't mail out cards. Another year I didn't write a Christmas letter, etc. But even by allowing myself a breather, I still feel overwhelmed and out of breath. I can completely understand the sentiment behind John Grisham's book Skipping Christmas, which was adapted into the film Christmas with the Kranks.

This year, for a number of personal reasons, I am not feeling any of it. My heart isn't in the mad retail or decorating melee. I've written Christmas letters, but not copied them and gotten cards, but still not mailed them. I decorated the tree but decided we didn't need to do outdoor lights, only to have to undo them in a few weeks. I'm just not in the mood for any of it. I don't want to bake, I don't want to decorate, I don't want to put on a fake smile. I just want peace. And quiet.

But, then once I get that peace and quiet, I remember why we even have the season. Over two thousand years ago, a baby was born into a humble life. There are a lot of stories about the hows and whys and the expectations of this young baby. When we stop thinking about another blow up Santa yard ornament or reindeer antlers for our car or ugly Christmas sweaters, we may remember the words that young baby grew up to share. We may remember His parables and stories, reminding us that Christmas is anything but all the stuff we force ourselves to do to celebrate. The things that ultimately leave us wanting. You see, Christmas has nothing to do with any of the things I am stressed about or not feeling.

Christmas is about the words of Jesus. Whatever you do or don't believe about religion, if you recognize Christmas as any sort of holiday, you must recognize the words of the namesake. Words like:
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.
He opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

These are the words that remind me what Christmas is about. The words Christ spoke, repeatedly.

Here in my town, I've been given a reminder. A man in my community is reaching out to the people that often are overlooked. Those who hide beneath our bridges and huddle in vacant buildings. People who haven't seen a shower or had a hot meal in days. People who need medical help. People who most of us turn away like we never saw them. He is finding them and going to where they are camping in a Tent City along our river. A loosely organized group has been doing daily outreach. They are going to where the houseless live, in makeshift shelters, up and down the banks of the river. Building trust with people the world has ignored and shunned. The group is helping keep our brothers and sisters warm, fed, and restoring dignity. They are no longer faceless ghosts we try to ignore. They are men like Will, who wants to find work in a restaurant, or Freddie who can work as a janitor. Or Jen who has worked as an office manager and billing clerk. The group is collecting bus passes and survival gear. Planting fruit trees so the camp will one day bear edible fruit for anyone who needs it. But more than anything, they are planting hope.

Jesus didn't charge us to hang wreaths from our eaves or put large plastic light-up figurines of His birth on our town square. He didn't ask us to yell at clerks who don't say Merry Christmas or write companies expressing outrage at a policy that won't allow it. He didn't ask us to exchange useless white elephant gifts and laugh about sticking someone with something nobody needs. He didn't ask us to bake piles of food and eat like gluttons while Lazarus sat the the gate waiting for even our scraps. Those aren't the messages we're supposed to hear about Christmas.

Thank you to a humble local shepherd, for reminding so many of us what we should be hearing.

If you're interested in learning more about Tent City and how you can help, please visit Go Fund Me. 

Let's all remember the Reason for the Season.



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