We might not think about it. We try to mask it with all of those Christmas lights. But Christmas comes at the darkest time of the year. The LONGEST nights—literally, and perhaps figuratively, too.
As pastors, we see it again and again. For many people, this season that is SUPPOSED to be full of joy and family and friends, is instead a time (as paradoxical as it sounds) filled with emptiness. Missing loved ones who are not with us. Grief we thought we had worked through suddenly resurfacing. A lonely time. A time of great financial and personal stress. How can we afford it? Will family members get along? Will everything be “perfect” for the meal? Will people like their gifts? Will we get what we want? (You can surely add to this list…) Longest nights indeed.
Yesterday I went to the Easton Mall for the first time. I was trying to finish up my Christmas shopping. They were even using empty fields in the area for extra parking. It was mobbed, and I could feel the stress—for people working there as well as for shoppers in those long, long lines. Heck, I was stressed! Was I getting the right size? How long would this line take? Could I fight through that traffic and make it to the Christmas party on time?
It struck me: The irony of all of this. We are celebrating Jesus’ birthday. Why do we make it about US?
On my birthday, do family and friends worry about whether they get what they want for my birthday?!
Would Jesus want our celebration of his birthday to be a time in which we stress out, and get depressed, and spend lots of money—money that we don’t have—getting things for people—things that they really don’t NEED?!
How would Jesus want us to celebrate his birthday? What would Jesus want this time of year to be like for us and for all of those we spend time with?
I love the story that Presbyterian preacher, author and professor Tom Long tells about a church putting on a presentation of A Christmas Carol in the fellowship hall. Near the end of the performance the church member playing Scrooge was supposed to throw open his bedroom window and shout out to an imaginary boy, “Hey, boy, boy, you there. Come up here. I have something for you to do.” Then Scrooge was to distribute gifts for the poor of London.
The actual performance didn’t go as planned, exactly. When the actor thrust his head out the window of the set and said, “Hey, boy, boy, you there,” a young boy in the congregation thought Scrooge was speaking to him. When Scrooge said, “Come up here. I have something for you to do,” the boy got out of his seat and came onstage. The actor (who was an elder in the church) spontaneously hugged him and said to the boy, “Yes, indeed, you are the one I need, the very one.” When the play was over, Scrooge and the boy received a standing ovation.
Dr. Long writes: “This is a parable of Christian worship. We are all actors in a great play, and the script of the Gospel drama repeatedly beckons to those sitting in the bleachers, standing on the periphery, existing on the margins: “Come up here. I have something for you to do.”
(Thomas G. Long, Beyond the Worship Wars, p. 46, The Alban Institute, 2001.)
I’m trying, and I hope you’ll try too. Let’s ask what’s REALLY important at Christmas. Let’s ask what Jesus would like us to do to celebrate the miracle of his birth. Let’s listen for that invitation of our Lord to follow him, as he embraces us and says, “Yes, indeed, you are the one I need, the very one.”