Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Waking Up This Christmas

The discussion all began with some observations on last week's local Christmas parade. For all of you non-southern readers, we have small-town Christmas parades down here. It's a tradition my Michigan-born husband still finds amusing.

Some friends were there with an Ethiopian family from our church. Both families are new-ish to this area and both families were struck by the same ironic "oversight." 

In the midst of a parade commemorating Christmas, there was no Christ. They were baffled.

I must admit, I felt kind of guilty by the fact that I wasn't baffled. In a culture that celebrates multiple religious holidays alongside all things Santa and North Pole and tinsel and consumerism, my own vision has become dulled to the omission of Christ. I'm used to our cultural celebration over Christmas overshadowing the Christian celebration of Christmas.

Rest assured, I'm not knocking Christmas trees or gifts or Santa or even parades. We decorate our home and buy gifts for our kids and love us some Santa. I also understand that we live in community with others who represent an array of religious traditions. 

This isn't a post about beating people over the head with baby Jesus and his manger, nor is it a rant against the other symbols and non-religious traditions that even Christians, us included, partake in during this time of year.

It's a post about the dulling of our senses.

As I've been studying the book of Matthew this year, I'm struck by how many times Jesus speaks to the spiritual blindness and deafness of those who had front-row seats to his message. And not just to his message and miracles, but to Him, the actual Messiah.

They couldn't see who was right in front of them. And this seems crazy to me, until I realize that we're not so different today.

In Matthew 13:14-15, Jesus is speaking to great crowds and quotes the prophet Isaiah using this very imagery of senses:

You will indeed hear but never understand,
  and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people's heart has grown dull,
  and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
  lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
  and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.

Like the great crowds, I fear our hearts have grown dull.

It's easy for Christians to fall prey to the assumption that we are immune to dulled senses. Dull implies fading. It can be a gradual thing and that means we're often unaware that it's even happening at all.

I wasn't at any local parades this year but I fear that my own senses would have been too dull to see and to hear and to understand that amid all the tinsel and music and baton-twirling, we've forgotten what it is, who it is, that we anticipate. 

But this week, I've woken up to the loud and unmistakable truth of December. 

It's as if the brutally honest words of one of my favorite Christmas characters of all time, Gladys Herdman, have been ringing crystal clear in my ears:

Hey! Unto you a child is born!

If you've never read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, it's one of the my all-time favorites. One of my grade school teachers read it to our class when I was a kid and now my family reads it each year. The story never gets old or any less funny. 

There's something completely refreshing about the irreligious, irreverent Herdman kids who found the Christmas story so startling, so amazing, that they hijacked the annual pageant {cigars and dirty sneakers in tow} and told the Christmas story to the entire town. A town that was so polite and well-mannered, they were embarrassed by the startling truth and wonder of their very own Christmas pageant. 

It took the filthiest, most uncouth family infiltrating the town's Christmas pageant to wake the people up to the greatest news of all: 

Hey! Unto you a child is born! A baby! Sent to rescue the world and take us as we are. It's crazy and wonderful and seems too good to be true.

We don't have to be embarrassed about it. We don't have to make it politically correct or socially acceptable because it's neither of those things. 

A pregnant virgin. A baby king. A star that shone unabashedly so people could come and worship. A hooker grafted into the family line of Jesus. A perfect man dying a brutal death on a cross to save a wretched world. 

There is nothing polite and acceptable about any of that. It's downright scandalous. We're not supposed to clean it up or gingerly set it upon a shelf alongside the other traditions of the season.

Though Jesus came quiet and unnoticed in a stable, the magnificence of his coming deserves a megaphone and exclamation point.

Our culture celebrates many things this time of year but for those who are in Christ, we can be bold in our acknowledgment and in our worship.

I don't say that lightly. For a soul-searching contemplative like me, I'm more comfortable being like Mary and simply "pondering these things in my heart." And we can. We should. But let us not forget that Mary also sang a song of praise out of her heart's overflow, a song about the mighty, magnificent God she served.

This year, I invite you to wake with me out of our dulled slumber. 

Let us see the glorious truth and person of Jesus with eyes wide open.

Let us hear his voice with new ears.

Let us perceive his message of hope and deliverance with fresh understanding.

Let us ponder and sing, hope and rejoice.

Let us wildly anticipate and parade the great news.

Let us boldly celebrate with our liturgies and our very lives that unto us, a child is born!


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1 comment:

  1. I loved this! Wow, wow, wow. I've never read the Christmas Pageant story but I will find it and read it now. Thank you so much for this. It's so true and honest and I feel like I want to bawl. Oh come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!


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