Christmas: a Celebration of Life
Christmas is all about life.
Yes, I mean, first if not foremost, the swirling busyness all around us, the endless teasing and bickering of twins, the yipping of an ever-hungry dog, the carols sweetly emanating from the computer speakers, the lights perilously clutching to the gutters on the front of the house, the butcher behind the counter with his Santa hat dangling long blonde braids, the incessant hawking of expensive perfume and large diamonds on television, the rapturous concert of seasonal music at the local church, the large fir tree from 4-H stuck in a bucket of ice behind the house, the setting sun at 4 PM, the single digit temps, a drowsy afternoon at the car audio shop waiting for the installation of my bride's Christmas present... well, you get (or should!) the point, this life we live, I live, you live, the details of it, moment by joyous, boring, familiar, strange, hopeful, despairing, exhausting, and refreshing moment we have beneath the sun amid the snow, a gift beyond our expectation, life, out of the blue, from (I say this with faithful certainty) the hand of God.
Christmas is the celebration of our life. There are those who insist in poetry and sermon in this season that God sent us Jesus to lead us from this life to heaven. But what these faithful people often miss is that the path - from this life to heaven - lies through scenes, very human ones, described in the first paragraph. The Christian Gospel does not denigrate this mortal life to increase the importance of eternal life. I mean, who am I or anyone else to think of these precious days on the blue planet as of little value when God herself (or himself, take your pick) thought it a blessed way to spend thirty-three years, with a loving mother and father, making chairs and tables, dining with friends, going to church, loving little children, gathering in his compassionate arms the meek of all the earth?
In high church circles Christmas goes by the name Festival of the Incarnation. Incarnation has a nice ring to it. Especially in our house, where it might be slightly altered to read Incarnesation. Those of you who know Henry and Robert will understand whereof I write. Christians believe that God became flesh in a little baby who grew to be a rabbi who died on a cross for everyone everywhere always. The point is that Christmas is the celebration of God becoming human, experiencing firsthand the exigencies of the life we lead.
But we say "That's life" about a lot of things. A lot of unfortunate things. Like the woman upon whom was thrust the responsibility of caring for a couple of orphans, recently and tragically bereft. To them in their weeping she said bluntly, "Deal with it." Cruel? She could rebut, "That's life." Part of it, maybe, but the most of it, beheld in faith and under faith's impulse, insists in the title of that very bittersweet movie, about the Holocaust, "Life Is Beautiful." When lived under the influence of the soul whose birth is celebrated on Christmas. He's the one who likened himself to a good shepherd and said of his purpose among us, "I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly."
Besides carols and trees, bright lights and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, that life is defined from beginning to end by a much abused and overly used four letter word, love. Whenever I utter it in connection with Jesus, I feel the necessity of stressing the sinew and muscle of the love we have discovered in Mary and Joseph's son. There's nothing easy about turning the other cheek. There's nothing sweet about sticking your neck out for little children and women caught in adultery. There's nothing soft and sentimental about getting your flesh torn with nails and thorns. But behind Jesus' teaching, infusing his advocacy for the dismissed and forgotten, and suffusing those crossed beams of wood silhouetted against the Jerusalem sky is - there is simply no other way to say it - love. For you and me. For everyone. Believer or not, it doesn't matter. The love behind this creative endeavor (the universe), in the heart of God, is now incarnated in a carpenter from Galilee, born in Bethlehem, died in Jerusalem, reigning forever at the right hand of the One whose name is Love.
Therefore, and a very big therefore it is, cause and effect, in fact, the life of love we celebrate requires we go and do likewise. Give the Cratchits a goose for roasting. Send another $200 to UMCOR for Katrina relief in the Big Easy. Suffer the not-so-little twin boys in their seemingly endless quest for the perfect Christmas tree. Keep my promise to visit my exercise buddy in the hospital after his bi-lateral knee surgery. Invite the Jewish neighbors in for some eggnog. Take a poinsettia to a shut-in. Resolve to be more global in thought and advocacy for those who are on the outside of the abundance of the modern world. Saying "Yes, Dear" more often and with less sarcasm. Letting the dog chew its plastic bone while lying in my lap. Being kinder, happier, more helpful, faithful, more sympathetic... well, just letting the love of God as defined by Jesus be the rule of your/my life.
And you know what? With love doing the guiding, the ways of this life will merge inevitably and imperceptibly with the King's Highway at the end of which lies the house with many, many rooms.