Archives: Christmas

Day 7 to Day 8: Naming the Truth

One week. In the nativity story, Jesus is one week old.

We in the Church are still knee-deep in the Feast of Christmas, even though most of the rest of the world has moved onto after-Christmas sales and New Year’s Eve partying.

There are twelve days of Christmas, and we’re only on Day 7.

So today we celebrate the First Sunday of Christmas, and we have what I think are jarringly grand scriptures.

In Isaiah, we read phrases like, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

In Galatians, we hear, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”

And then, of course, we have John’s Prologue. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”

It’s all this sweeping cosmic theology, and in the case of Isaiah, seriously grand celebration.

It’s all very appropriate for examining the deep eternal meaning of Christmas and the world-changing implications of the Incarnation.

But I can tell you right now that it has precious little to do with what’s happening to the Holy Family at this moment. Continue reading

True Confessions of a Grinchy Priest

Okay, St. Francis, I’ve been on board with you now for over a year, and it’s time for me to come clean, publicly, from the pulpit. It’s time for you to know the full truth about your Associate Rector, and I hope you still love me after I tell you.

I’m a Grinch.

It’s true. It’s awful but it’s true.

I do not want to jingle all the way.

I don’t deck my halls—I don’t own a single Christmas decoration, not even a sad Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

I do not ding dong merrily on high, or on low for that matter, nor am I interested in participating in any reindeer games.

I am a Grinch.

There. I said it. Let Father Davies know if you’d like him to ask for my letter of resignation.

Here’s where I need to clarify.

I do love the Feast of the Incarnation.

The birth of the infant Christ is deeply meaningful to me, and the Holy Family are three of my absolute favorite people on earth—I even have an icon of them in my office.

But I do not love American Christmas, which is very different from the Feast of the Incarnation, and every year I find it harder and harder to tolerate.

I know it makes me sound like an 85-year-old telling those kids to get off my lawn, but I can’t help it—the noise, the materialism, the smearing of badly considered theology on top of secular pagan traditions—blech.

It just wears me out. I basically stick my fingers in my ears on the day after Thanksgiving, close my eyes and shout Advent hymns to drown it all out.

But what I’ve gotten up here to tell you today is that this year I’ve received an additional insight as to why I hate American Christmas so much, and it’s actually much closer to the Feast of the Incarnation than I expected.

And to explain it, I have to tell two stories. Continue reading

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Are Not the Same Thing

We made it! We’ve arrived!

Every bow has been tied, every stocking has been stuffed, every cookie has been baked and every Christmas tree light has been lit.

Or if that’s not all done, well, it’s too late now, so don’t worry about it.

The storm is over and we have gathered in a quiet country barn with the family who found no room at the inn to see and experience the miracle that changed the world.

This is the most sacred hour of the year. The whole world hushes to anticipate the arrival of the incarnate God, our savior Jesus Christ being born.

The interesting thing is that along with all the holiness and awe, there is a great deal of pain. Continue reading

The Church as the Infant Body of Christ: We’re Just Getting Started

I think we can all agree that the Church has been pretty ineffective in general at both sharing and living the gospel, and 2016 was probably one of our worst years on record.

If the measure of the Church is its ability to bind up the brokenhearted and seek justice in the earth, our record looks extra lame this year.

From the paranoid, truth-free politics of the U.S. election to our paralyzed gawking at slaughter and starvation in Syria, 2016 was pretty much a bust.

And when I say “the Church,” I mean that on all possible levels.

I mean the three specific congregations I have served this year, my diocese, the Episcopal Church USA, the Anglican Communion, worldwide Christianity and the Church Universal.

Actually, I basically mean everyone making some kind of effort to do right in the world, whether he or she takes on the label of “Christian” or not.

After all, Jesus said, “whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).

So we’re basically crap at our job.

Suffering is at an all time high.

There is an edge of despair in our society right now that seems to render “peace on Earth, goodwill toward all people,” a cruel mockery.

Add the veneer of “ho, ho, ho,” and “deck the halls” and it becomes almost grotesque.

What do we do? Continue reading

Christmas is a Choice

Christmas is not an event.

Christmas is not a holiday.

Christmas is not a church service.

Christmas is not a set of familiar carols or decorations of red and green or a jolly man in a red suit with eight tiny reindeer.

Christmas is not an occasion or a party or a festival. It is not a piece of history or time off work or a gathering with family.

All of these things are connected to Christmas, but fundamentally, Christmas is not an event.

Christmas is a choice.

Christmas is a choice that we make every year, and that we must make over and over again every day of the year.

Choice and lack of choice place us in one of two positions: one of vulnerability and one of power and control.

When we don’t have a choice about something, we are vulnerable to that circumstance. We can’t defend ourselves from that reality.

That situation acts upon us and we simply have to make the best of it.

It’s not a very fun place to be sometimes.

When we have a choice about our situation, we have power and control.

We can influence our surroundings and how they affect us.

So you’ll be glad to hear that Christmas is a choice that we have, that we can make.

Christmas cannot simply happen to us without our consent.

We have to say yes to a very specific decision, which I will explain in a bit. But again, first let’s talk about lack of choices and the vulnerable position that creates. Continue reading

The Disco Fiber Optic Holy Family

One of the things friends do for each other in seminary is exchange websites featuring bizarre religious phenomena. It helped remind us that other people do things in pursuit of serving God even stranger than work on the “Hot or Not: Theologians vs. Martyrs” bulletin board in the student lounge.

One of my favorite of these websites was a blogpost my dear friend Lindsay sent me called “Cavalcade of Bad Nativities: It Came Upon a Midnight Weird.” An Episcopalian in California had browsed through eBay and found so many strange nativity crèches that she compiled them into one spectacular gallery to share with the world.

Among the truly unfortunate ways people decided to depict the manger scene were the marshmallow nativity, the rubber ducky nativity, the inflatable nativity, the leprechaun nativity, and the celebrity nativity with Victoria Beckham as the Virgin Mary, Hugh Grant and Samuel L. Jackson as shepherds, and George W. Bush as a Wise Man, to which I’m just going to say “no comment.” Continue reading