An all too familiar story

It is a story that sounds all too familiar. Those who were assigned to keep the peace. Those whose job it was to enforce law and order. Those who had power, position and authority, they saw a man. But they didn’t actually see a man, what they saw was a thug. They didn’t need to know the whole story. They didn’t need to know everything that had led up to that moment. All they saw was a thug and so with justice deferred and an unrighteous act, an innocent man is killed. Killed by those who are in charge. Killed by those with power. An innocent man executed by state sponsored violence. His crimes did not warrant a death sentence and yet innocent blood was shed.

A story that sounds too familiar.

From the very beginning he was profiled. Not just him, but his kinfolks as well. Anyone who looked like him was seen as a threat. And so even as a baby, this one who would be called a thug would be profiled. Because of the family he came from. Because of the town he lived in. This is how folks saw him and treated him. He was a target in his own country – a land that never fully belonged to him and his people. From the very beginning his life was at risk. Everything was stacked against him.

A story that sounds too familiar.

This thug, this one who was innocent and killed was the Christ.

Around this time of year it is easy to get caught up in the twinkling lights, the majesty of the story, everything being beautiful, where memories are forged and memories recalled. We gather together. We want to join in Mary’s praise and pondering. We want to be in the magical, mystical moment of Christmas.

But we are drawn always, even when we look to the manger, we are drawn to the cross. We are brought to that place of suffering and pain. Of a world that could not understand the good news of Jesus.

The cross comes, even in our Christmastide, compelling us to not look away. This is not a time to ignore the violence and brokenness. This is not a time to wish away injustice. We cannot just live in a candy cane fantasy. We must see the whole story. We see the places where Christ is crucified again and again by racism, nationalism, nihilism.

We cannot turn away because in the midst of the pain, we find the triumph. There are healers in our midst. There are those that can overcome divisions. There are messengers among us uniting communities. There are prophets today striving for justice. There are glimpses of hope even when it looks like a losing cause. Peace comes to a violent world. These are the places where we witness Emmanuel, God with us.

It is in reconciliation we see God and it is in reparations. It is in grace that we feel God’s presence and in the act of forgiving and being forgiven that Christ is born anew. It is the light in the darkness, it is the city on the hill, it is salt and light, it is shepherds and fishermen. It is not the glory of the extraordinary but the humble and the meek. It is in everyday folk and everyday acts where the walls that divide get chipped away. Where the systems that kill are dismantled. Where a new world is possible

This good news comes to us; as sure as the choir of angels proclaims it.

But we need to place ourselves in the presence of the revelation. And so even on Christmas we are drawn to the cross. Even in this holiday of Joy to the World, we see how desperately the world is hurting and need that joy. We proclaim Christ crucified.

The cross it makes no sense to non-believers. It makes no sense to the world. It makes no sense to glorify this act of violence.

But when we know, when we know how Jesus came, how he has torn down the walls between us. When we see that Jesus has brought us close – those that were near and those that were far off. When we see the healing he has brought and that by his stripes we are healed. When we see that he came to fulfill the Law and establish divine justice. When we praise the Prince of Peace. THEN, then the story of the cross makes sense. Then we can revel in the glory of the death and resurrection, of life and life everlasting.

It sounds so familiar.

And then we know. We know why the twinkling lights are so important. We know why the gospel we have heard year after year still rings true for us and gives us a new message. It is what allows us to go into a cold and unloving world full of violence, profiling, injustice, division and brokenness to say there is one who traveled this path already.

There is one who has bore the sin of a fallen world.

There is one who has come to redeem all the broken places of the world and of our lives.

There is one being born among us over and over and over.

His name is Emmanuel. God is with us.

It is so familiar.

And it is our good news.


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.