Christ still comes – ready or not.
Grace to you and peace on this Christmas morning. Advent has come and gone; the candlelight of Christmas Eve is over – and here we are in the broad daylight of Christmas day.
To tell you the truth it all snuck up on me. We just moved into a different house and even though it was several weeks ago we still haven’t uncovered the Christmas ornaments or lights. You wouldn’t know it is Christmas if you came to our house unless you saw the spectacular lights on our next-door neighbor’s house. It is surprising to me that even though we’ve had our advent journey and lit the candles on the advent wreath one by one, I wasn’t quite ready for Christmas Eve to arrive yesterday. Frankly, even now I’m not all that filled with what anyone would recognize as stereotypical Christmas spirit. I’ve had a cold all week, I’m sure I’ve gained at least three or four pounds since Thanksgiving, and for the 34th year straight I haven’t sent out any Christmas cards. Yesterday as I scuffled my way from the parking lot into the church I was in a sour mood. I couldn’t find the right outfit to wear, my hair had turned out wrong, the cat had thrown up on the kitchen floor, and my head was full of congestion. And worse than that, I felt guilty that I was in such a bad mood on the morning of Christmas Eve. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t shift my gaze from myself to that manger. No matter how much I wanted to be full of Christmas cheer, my demeanor better suited Good Friday.
I wonder if you have ever felt that way during the Christmas season? Have you ever felt like if you could just pause for a moment and catch your breath you might be able to enjoy this time of year a little more –but there is too much to do: too many people to see, gatherings to attend, gifts to buy and cookies to bake? Have you ever felt like it’s too hard to dig through the wrapping paper and tinsel and colored lights to even begin to find the real meaning of this holiday? Wouldn’t it be kind of nice if we could put off Christmas until we were really ready for it? Until a time when everything was in place and we all felt like celebrating?
Well, that is how I felt. But Christmas came anyway. It came in spite of me.
A friend of mine in Minneapolis told me a story about her young daughter who is fascinated with the little green plastic army figures that belong to her brother. Her daughter picks up these army figures and moves them around the house and so my friend said she wasn’t surprised when one day a few weeks ago she noticed in her family nativity scene, there wasn’t just Mary and Joseph, but six little green army men pointing guns in all directions. She said that she immediately took out the little green figures, but then she realized that maybe it was more symbolic of the true story of Jesus’ coming than she had initially thought. Jesus was not born into a world free of violence or hate. He was not born into a perfect world – but rather he was born into our world, right how it was, and he still comes into our lives, right now, just how we are.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? We dress up our houses and dress up ourselves and pour all sorts of time and effort into creating just the right holiday and to exude some sort of Christmas spirit to those around us – but the truth is that Jesus came for Scrooge just as much as Tiny Tim. He came just as much for the antagonist as the protagonist, as much for the villain as the hero, as much for the person you like the least, as for the person you love the most. We gather to celebrate Christmas and the good news of Jesus’ birth – but the best news is that he came even for those who cannot or maybe even will not celebrate his birth. That is amazing love. A love that though we may search for it, actually finds us all along.
One December when I was around 20 years old. I was full of righteous indignation at the commercial excess of the holidays and convinced that no one understood the depths of my feelings about this – including my family – and so on my Christmas break from college instead of going home or going to a friend’s house or staying at school and working, I went out to stay at my old Bible camp by myself.
I had high hopes for spiritual enlightenment as I went to live in the wilds of northern Minnesota for those weeks. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going. It was my secret pilgrimage. I sat and wrote in my journal by firelight and thought deep thoughts about the true meaning of Christmas far away from any of the commercial trappings, far away from my family’s traditions.
On Christmas day in the midst of the silence, the phone rang – it was my mom. To this day I don’t know how she tracked me down – but she called just to say “merry Christmas” and “I love you.” Although I was annoyed that my pilgrimage was not so secret after all, it provided me with the greatest revelation I had that week. There was nothing I was going to find by putting myself apart from everyone for that week. No great words of wisdom were written down in that journal. Although I had listened for God in the sound of the trees and the quiet of the snow dancing across the ice-covered lake, it wasn’t my searching that brought me closer to any great understanding. Rather, the things I needed to find were looking for me all along. The things I needed to find had been knit into my life from the very start. The things I needed to find were things I just had to learn to recognize rather than hunt down and conquer.
What does all this mean? It means that especially today, don’t worry so much about the searching – you have already been found. It means Christ comes to us again and again. Emmanuel – God with us – God with us in so many ways! Christ comes to us in parents, in each other, in strangers, in words that startle and amaze us, in the sacraments we share, and in a manger. Christ comes to us though we may not feel ready or happy or sane. Comes to us just as we are. When all is said and done, Christmas Spirit is something we are given, not something we create. And for that I am grateful. Merry Christmas.