Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Please Don't Crucify Christmas!

Any last-minute shoppers out there? You're not alone. I guarantee that there are some last-minute sermon writers out there as well.

The Christmas season is busy for pastors--beyond the normal holiday preparations, pastors' visits with the sick and the elderly ramp up, even as their congregants drop in unexpectedly on them. There are end-of-year church business meetings, holiday dream weddings, and multiple additional worship services--which, for the pastor, means multiple additional sermons.

It can be tempting, I'm sure, to phone in a holiday sermon or two. Everyone's minds and hearts are elsewhere, after all: children have visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, and adults are recalling auld acquaintances long forgot or newly missed. Who would notice if the pastor pulled out a well-worn script to usher in the baby Jesus?

I don't begrudge pastors this merciful cheat. I only have one request: please don't crucify Christmas.

Especially among Protestants, I think, and particularly among evangelicals, and certainly among fundamentalists, it's de rigueur to steer the once-a-year church visitors from the manger to the cross, to remind everyone that Jesus was born, yes, sure, of course, but that he also died a horrible, painful, shameful death on our behalf, because we're all a bunch of sinners. The more zealous preachers will remind their audience that on the other side of death is either heaven or hell, and while heaven's halls are decked with boughs of holly, in hell the unrepentant among us will be forever wailing and gnashing their teeth.

It's a shame, really. In a season where we could reflect on and draw strength from the incarnation of God in Christ--the grand notion that God doesn't stay far off or turn his back on us but rather draws near to us and abides with us--too often preachers hit the fast forward button on the story of Jesus so that we can remind one another that we're totally depraved, hellbound, et cetera. There's something a little twisted about it, frankly: I, for one, have never heard any preacher rehearse the story of Jesus' birth on Good Friday, when we remember how Jesus loved us to death. If the cross is so important at Christmas, isn't the incarnation important for Easter?

At the cross we commemorate the actions of God on our behalf, which we recall is done out of love, even out of joy. But at the birth of Jesus we celebrate the character of God, who refuses to sit idly by while people suffer, who created human beings in his image, who took on flesh and dwelt among us out of love. Christmas is a celebration of the life that God breathes into us, the life that God knit together in us, a celebration of Immanuel--God with us.

So there you have it, last-minute sermon writers. Go ahead and do your worst, with my blessing. God knows you've earned as much of a Christmas break as the rest of us. Just keep in mind my one little Christmas wish: let baby Jesus have his moment, and let us have our moment, remembering that God didn't love the world just enough to save it; he loves the world enough to abide with it.

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