It doesn’t feel like Christmas to me. It’s hard to say why, since emotions can be hard to figure out, but it is safe to say some of these things have had an effect on me an many others.
- Covid has cancelled all festive events; for many it has had a crippling economic effect, and for so many, tragic personal loss.
- It has been a year unlike any other that caught us off guard with a modern plague coupled with economic, political, and social calamity; all in one year.
- We are tired of being shut up in our homes left trying to figure out how to manage.
- It’s not snowing. I am not a fan, but it is a mood setter at Christmas time.
- Winter gloom can take a toll on the emotions in a subconscious way.
Your personal list would probably add a few more bullet points to that.
All of this is context for my life-long journey of trying to make sense of my faith in my messed-up life in a messed-up world. I don’t have it all figured out and I leery of people who act like they do. I have spent decades with those folks who will tell exactly how you should do church, how you should vote, how you should look, what music you should and should not listen to, and what you should believe down to the smallest detail.
What I found out in that part of my journey is that there are a lot of well-meaning people who find a great deal of comfort in having things all spelled out for them. So many are hanging on to specific religious practices and beliefs simply for the sake of their own comfort.
It’s like a drug to feel like we are right, but inevitably it leads to self-righteous and looking down on others. We all have a tendency to rail on those people who sin in a different way than we do, or are tempted to. “Right Religion” inevitably leads to hypocrisy. It did in Jesus day and it does in our day. By the way, he hated it and was not afraid to let them know.
So, I came to a conclusion that how we practice our faith and do church needed to cleaned up in a revolutionary way. But the problem for me has always been what does this look like, which leads me to question, “What difference does it make that Jesus came to this world?”
He was God and was possessed the ability to do the miraculous.
He identifies with us. He was poor, born among farm animals into a carpenter’s family, dependent upon the generosity of others as he struck out on his own.
He loves fringe people. The wealthy and powerful were a tiny fraction of his followers, most of them were regular folks just trying to get by. His closest followers were real characters, unlikely candidates to be privileged to his teachings. A traitor, a denier, and some hot heads were among the folks he focused on.
He crosses societal boundaries. Lepers, beggars, Samaritans, and Gentiles were all people that he should have had nothing to do with, but he specifically reached out to them.
He tells stories. We call them parables. It did not take a theological dictionary to understand exactly what he was talking about.
He does what he does with a great deal of simplicity. He did not have an organization, a building, or any programs. He traveled with a small group of followers and occasionally taught among large groups, interacting with individuals along the way.
He re-defines the faith. The faith of his day was an immense burden of rules and obligations administered by heavy-handed religious elites. He boiled it down to loving God and loving people.
He sets people free. No burden of impossible rules. No penance. No guilt. No shame. No neurotic obsession with religiosity and trying to get everything exactly right. Instead, a light and easy burden. A simple faith. A belief that he is who he said he was. An understanding that we don’t need to strive to please because God there no further sacrifice required. He did it all. A humble birth. A simple, but revolutionary life that shows us how to live. A sacrificial death. A miraculous resurrection.
He gives us peace, love, and joy to share with others.
I feel better now.