Pastoral Pondering

We are expected to feel joyous at Christmas. Ho, ho, ho, and a merry Christmas to you, and all that. But for many people, that is not what they are really feeling. Some are facing financial losses — loss of a job, loss of a house or apartment. Some are facing relationship losses — loss of a loved one due to death or divorce or long-term separation (such as those who are serving our country in faraway places). Some are facing loss of their own health. Some are dealing with the loss of a dream, or, even worse, the loss of hope.

So how does one who is grieving, one who is facing loss, survive in a super-expectant “my gift is more impressive than your gift,” super-expensive “shop till you drop,” super-energetic “come to my holiday party,” super-happy “a very merry Christmas to you!” world? How do we cope when we feel like laying down our harps and weeping in this foreign land, a land where we clearly don’t belong? What do we do when Christmas no longer fits us at all?

Maybe by letting go of our assumptions about Christmas. Maybe the Christmas that doesn’t fit us is not really Christmas, the Christmas that God intended for us to experience. Maybe our expectations of Christmas are just how we in the United States have adopted and adapted Christmas so that it fits our very materialistic, very driven, very unhappy society.

When Jesus, who was God with us in human form, was born, God did not have the angelic choir sing a few verses of “Buy One and Get One Absolutely Free!” The bells that accompanied the wise men were the bells on their camels, not the chimes of the cash register. When the shepherds came to see Jesus, they did not stop at their local mall to buy toy trucks and building blocks. They didn’t even take a shower to wash off the dirt and stench of their profession. In Biblical times, shepherds were “unclean” — not fit for polite society and certainly not fit to visit God in the flesh. And yet, they did. Mary and Joseph welcomed all who wished to see Jesus.

At the first Christmas, one thing seems crystal clear — God invites all people, yes all people, into a deeper relationship. And Jesus, starting as an infant on day one, was available to all people: rich or poor, man or woman, adult or child, Jew or Roman, clean or unclean, happy or suffering, hope-filled or despondent.

Furthermore, look who Jesus hung out with as an adult: not the A-list movers and shakers. No, Jesus hung out with the outcasts, with the people who were hurting. He comforted them by healing them physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.

What would we do if Christmas was all about a relationship with a God who loves us? If at Christmas we encountered a God who cares deeply for people who are hurting? What if Christmas was all about the hope of healing of our pain? What if Christmas was all about a God who suffers with us and who carries our burdens for us? What could a Christmas like that do for your loved ones? What could a Christmas like this do for you?

Rev. Gary Langenwalter is the former pastor at Dundee United Methodist Church

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