A modest proposal: Let’s Cancel Christmas

I want to make a modest proposal. Let’s cancel Christmas. This year. Call off Tuesday night. Cancel Wednesday morning worship. Let’s skip it this year.

Now, before you cry “Grinch” hear me out. Having Christmas this week is simply exhausting. Yesterday, I did the unthinkable. I braved the stores. I wanted salt before the storm came and we were out. The local hardware store was already closed so I was left with the big box store. And they were packed. Not with the jolly feeling of Christmas cheer – but that angsty mix of gingerbread lattes and desperation. Toy shelves were lacking, only the least desirable Legos left.

The shopping, the pressure for the perfect gift, or if there will even be gifts. This isn’t simply some #FirstWorldProblem. This plays out in our emotional lives, our feelings of self-worth, our place on the playground – whether that playground is at school or work or the family table.

So, let’s cancel Christmas, take back those gifts and breath a sigh of relief.

It’s not just the consumerism that makes me want to cancel Christmas. It is also the 24-hour media-industrial-complex that is starving for some new way to tell a 2000-year-old story. We can’t talk about incarnation – that doesn’t really play well with the advertisers. So, the new way to tell the story – the story all week – Jesus was white and Duck ducking Dynasty.

Let me be clear. These are not real stories. They are not news. They are distractions. But since we’re all supposed to be thinking about God and stuff, they become substitutions for religious conversation and devotional thought.

Jesus was not white. One of the best descriptions has been floating through the interwebs is this:

Jesus Was.

And by the way, I was here yesterday. Santa ain’t white either.

Santa and Mrs. Claus

And then somehow this guy ends up representing all of Christendom. Because controversy sells so lets pit the gay-tors against the flag wavers and have ourselves a self-fueling twitter-sphere battle.

Christmas is not about these things. So let’s stop feeding the beast and just cancel it. Let’s skip the fake “happy holidays” vs. “merry Christmas” debate.

No? No takers?

Well, here’s the thing – let’s not skip it all together. Let’s move it to Jesus birthday. See, December 25th is just Christmas Day (Observed) like MLK Day or President’s Day. We know this because the shepherds were watching their flocks by night. It’s gonna be 39 degrees Tuesday night. That’s cold. The shepherds weren’t out in the fields in the winter. They went out during lambing season, when the new lambs were being born.

If we believe that account, Jesus was probably born in May. So, let’s cancel Christmas this week and celebrate it May 1st.

It makes perfect sense: let’s connect his birthday with a major day for labor and immigration rights. Because those days have way more to do with the life and ministry of Jesus than most of what passes for holiday celebrations in December. Jesus was constantly talking about economic justice, about the rights of the exploited working class. Jesus welcomed those of different nationalities (Samaritans). He himself was an immigrant/refugee fleeing to Egypt to avoid the persecution of his government.

So, May 1st, Jesus birthday.

OK, well, if we’re going to go ahead and celebrate Christmas this week, let’s do it right. Let’s celebrate the real reason we give gifts. It was the magi who brought gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh (this is why many in the world exchange gifts on Epiphany, the celebration of 3 Kings Days). They brought gifts and then knelt down to pay homage to the king.

The gifts we give should be a reflection of Love, the love we know through Jesus, the love we’ve been given, the love we share.

There is nothing wrong with sharing gifts with your loved ones. Christmas gifts are a beautiful tradition. Give gifts – but make sure they are a reflection of that love and not a substitute.

The things we say – the things we tweet, and post and write and speak and preach and live – all these things are a chance to reflect Jesus love. We combat hatred with love. We don’t debate because loving all of God’s children is not debatable.

We recognize the radical nature of our God, of a messiah born in backwater Bethlehem, of what John’s gospel tells us: For. God. So. Loved. The. World. Loved us. And them.

We need not tolerate intolerance. And we need not feed ignorance.

We commit ourselves to lives of purpose, of Love in Action.

This is what Christmas is all about. This is what we are preparing for.

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel!

Let’s celebrate the real joy to the world: mothers and fathers welcoming new children, kids being adopted, families being strengthened, healing happening, food being shared. All of these are real reasons to rejoice. Think of all the places where you have received love. Recognize all the place you have to share love.

The blessing of community – loving and being loved – allows us to celebrate the true gift of God With Us.

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The Stories We Tell

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The following is my article from the Holiday Partner Newsletter, being mailed this week. 

Normally our Christmas newsletter is filled with stories and images of the amazing things happening at All Peoples Church. We like to tell the stories of children being welcomed, youth being nurtured, and families growing in faith. We tell of the hungry being fed and the grieving being comforted. I love telling those stories because they reflect the best of our community, the amazing work God does in the midst of All Peoples.

There is another story that I don’t like to tell. I don’t like to talk about the violence in our community. I don’t like to talk about the gunfire shot from our parking lot into a nearby building. I don’t like to talk about friends and members being hurt and robbed. And I certainly do not like to tell the story of All Peoples being the victim of crime. I don’t like saying that copper wires were stolen from the church, live wires cut endangering the thief and others.

And I don’t like saying this is the third time it has happened.

In the last 6 months.

I don’t like to tell those stories because they have a way of defining us – reinforcing all of the negative images associated with the Harambee neighborhood and the city of Milwaukee. They become signs of brokenness. Those stories entrench notions of race and class, of urban vs. suburban, of fear and separation.

And yet, we worship a God who was not afraid of the pain and the suffering of the world. We are united in the belief that our God chose not to avoid the brokenness of the world but was born into, endured it, and suffered for and from it. Christmas is the reminder that God is present in our good times and in our struggles.

God becomes present in our struggles – not to condone them or to have us endure them for some greater lesson. God in Christ is simply with us in our struggle.

Because of God’s presence in all of our struggles, because God has delivered all of us from pain and heartache, our eyes are opened to the pain of others.

As partners of All Peoples Church, God has inviting you into the pain of crime and violence. Jesus is showing that news reports of violence and crime, poverty and fear are not stories about “some people” or “those people;” it is stories about your sisters and brothers. It is really about you. Our lives are intertwined. God’s hope for justice and Jesus establishment of the kin-dom draws us together. We bear one another burdens.

So, my friends, I share with you the pain of All Peoples. I show the pictures of damage from the theft. I let you know the $15,000+ lost from these robberies. And I’m trusting that we will not be defined by this but instead enter into the ways the Holy Spirit empowers us to rise above these challenges.

I share this pain because I know you feel it, too. I know you share the sense of hurt and violation when this happens to us. I know that you do bear our burdens with us. I see it in the notes and emails sent to encourage us in these struggles. I hear it in the prayers offered on our behalf. We feel it with the extra donations made to help us overcome the financial burdens that go along with the emotional and spiritual stress of these matters. Time and time again we are encouraged by our friends and partners. God continues to show us – through your love and support – that we are not alone.

In spite of the brokenness and crime and violence, the good news is still being preached. The hungry are still being fed. Families are growing in faith. A beloved community gathers to praise. Your prayers and financial support are necessary for this to happen and reveal, again, we are… Better Together,

Pastor Steve

So, what does all this mean? Every time we are a victim of a crime it takes a toll on our community. It also costs time and money. Our first theft we claimed through insurance. After much deliberation the leadership of the congregation chose not to file our second theft, with the realization that we would likely be dropped by our insurance company. We covered the expense with our savings and through a loan from the synod which will need to be paid back. We are still determining estimates for this event, and will likely file this with our insurance. Even so, we have a high deductable to cover. Between theft 2 and 3 we installed security cameras. This was damaged by the thieves and will need to be repaired or replaced. In the spirit of #GivingTuesday, this is an important time to support the ministry of All Peoples with a donation.  Donate online here: https://allpeoplesgathering.cloverdonations.com/glory-rising/ or send a check to the office.  Peace, ps