The pastor was preaching about Christmas. He appealed to every man in his congregation when he began to rant and rave about the channel on television which has Christmas movies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for more than a month before Christmas.
He got a round of male applause when he complained that there now was not just one of these channels – there were now two! And he made a rather impassioned plea for a support group for men who are the ones caught in the middle of the “Christmas spirit.”
Another man was in a bookstore one day a while back when he overheard a conversation going on in a nearby section of the store. He was talking about why he hated Christmas music.
The fellow started by lampooning one star’s latest Christmas album, saying how awful it was. But then the fellow blasted ALL Christmas music. He hated Christmas music across the board.
But then this man explained why he found the music so bad … It was boring.
“Christmas is boring because there’s no narrative tension,” he said. “It’s like reading a book with no conflict.”
It is interesting that this conversation took place right after one of America’s most tragic shooting incidents. For this gentleman, the tranquil soothing lyrics of our Christmas songs could not explain such terror.
You know, this fellow might have a point. After all, the first Christmas carol recorded in the Bible was a call to war!
Mary of Nazareth sings of God’s defeat of his enemies, about how in Christ … he “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52). There are some villains in mind there. Simeon’s song, likewise, speaks of the “fall and rising of many in Israel” and of a sword that would pierce the heart of Mary herself.
Even the “light of the Gentiles” he speaks about is in the context of warfare … [God’s] light overcomes the darkness (John 1:5), and frees us from the grip of the devil (2 Cor. 4).
When we sing the old (or even the new) Christmas carols today, they do seem a bit soft in the area of calling us to battle, or to rejoice because the battle is won. In a time when we seem to learn of a new tragedy each day, the unbearable lightness of Christmas seems absurd to the watching world.
And even when times are good (relatively speaking), we all know that we live in a groaning universe, a world of divorce courts and cancer cells and concentration camps.
Just as we sing with joy about the coming of the Promised One, we ought also to sing with groaning that he is not back yet (check out Rom. 8:23), sometimes with groanings too deep for lyrics.
Then, in thinking about groanings, I found myself dwelling on a statistical study in Great Britain within the last couple of years that claimed that Christmas is not only one of the most stressful times of the year, it is also one of the most dangerous!
That study claimed that, among other things, almost 20 percent of people find the experience of hosting guests and preparing for Christmas meals and festivities “completely overwhelming.” A third of women feel more stressed throughout December than any other month across the year. Three percent of people suffer an electric shock due to badly wired Christmas lighting and one in 50 fall out of the loft trying to get the tinsel and decorations down.
Some 2.6 million people have even fallen off a stool or ladder while hanging up the decorations. And then there is Black Friday, and the Christmas sales rushes. A mammoth 700,000 people have been injured in a sale rush, while trying to snag a bargain.
So what’s the solution to all of this? Well, in word, the solution is … Christmas!
Christmas is not only a time for celebrating the joy and peace of the season – it really is! –but it is a time to pause and reflect on what that first Christmas was all about. On that first Christmas night in Bethlehem, God did not play it safe, did he? No, instead, He sent His only Son into a world of accidents and hardship and injustice and un-safety and suffering for one very clear purpose- so that all who believe in Him would not perish (under the weight of “life”), but would experience and have everlasting life, free from all the burdens this world brings.
Unfortunately the festive and winter season can bring with it hazards for your health, from the cold weather and long, dark nights to unsafe electric decorations around the home.
And don’t you know it? We can take all the precautions anyone has ever thought of on the face of the earth – and accidents will still happen. We are not strong enough or wise enough or brave enough or powerful enough to be able to rescue ourselves “by our own bootstraps” out of the mess we (and others) have made of this world.
We are, in effect, in prison. While waiting in a Nazi prison cell in 1943 a few weeks before Advent, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a friend, “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”
Shortly after penning those words, the Nazis executed Bonhoeffer. But he was right: the door of freedom for him and for us today is still opened from the outside by the coming and second coming of Jesus Christ.
So then, Do NOT to go through another Christmas season singing the Christmas carols, watching the mushy sentimental movies, wrapping (and unwrapping) the presents, and doing all the things we are supposed to do without realizing that Jesus Christ is the Reason … not just for Christmas, but for ALL seasons!
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Times-Gazette and the News Journal. He is also a former Pastor of Port William UMC.
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