Christmas

Looking For Jesus In All The Wrong Places

By Rev. Evan Dolive

(This post originally appeared at evandolive.com)

Starbucks has been in the press a lot recently over a design choice. Traditionally November is the start of “red cup” season at Starbucks as they begin their journey into the holiday season. This year, however, is causing a stir.

Joshua Feuerstein is a minister and has millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. He and his backward red MLB hat take to the Internet in an effort to “rally” others to his point and his theological framework. He has ranted on subjects like evolution, same-sex marriage and even Target’s decision to make their toy section gender neutral.

Recently he took to the Internet to complain about Starbuck’s “attack on Christianity” in this so-called “era of political correctness.”(video above)  In Feuerstein’s mind, the removal of snowflakes, reindeer, snowmen and the like is akin to trying to remove Christianity from the public sphere. His solution? Instead of telling the barista your actual name, tell them your name is “Merry Christmas” (so lying is ok?) in an effort to “force them” to say “Merry Christmas” to you.

This argument of a hostile corporate removal of Christianity is one that has no basis; Christianity is not under attack from a coffee company or any company for that matter. Sure I do not like the commercialization of Christmas but not having “Merry Christmas” on a cup or a Christmas tree in the mall is not something I worry about, it doesn’t prove or disprove my faithfulness, it is not a threat to my relationship with God and Christ.

The story of the birth and ministry of Christ is not Starbucks’ (or any corporations) story to tell. This story of the coming of the Messiah is one of all people of the Church to tell through their life, their sharing and their embodying the teachings and actions of Jesus.

Starbucks’ previous red cups did not have “Merry Christmas” emblazon on them and the company still sells “Christmas Blend” coffee and even has a Advent Calendar. So just because the words “Merry Christmas” do not appear on the actual cup, this is an attack on Christianity?

The problem is Jesus is not found on the outside of a red cup from a multi-national coffee chain. If Jesus and all that Jesus stands for is not found at the bottom of a bottle or in prescription medications, then why would Jesus be found on a cup?

Jesus is found in places we would never expect.

Jesus is found at bed 57 at the homeless shelter.

Jesus is found at the bedside of an ICU room or at a hospice.

Jesus is found in the glassy eyes of a single mom receiving food assistance for the first time from the local food bank.

Jesus is found in the undocumented worker who harvested the food we eat.

Jesus is found when people of faith set aside their theological differences on Sunday mornings and strive for a more just and loving society.

Jesus is found in the laughter of children.

Jesus is found in the cool wind of fall.

Jesus is found where ever the faithful for God gather to worship.

Jesus is found when we give.

Jesus is found when we serve.

Jesus is found when we love unconditionally.

Jesus is found when we liberate.

Jesus’ love, grace and mercy cannot be confined to a single Sunday or even a red paper cup.

We cannot and should not limit the movement and presence of Christ to the four walls of a stained glass building or even a red paper cup.

If we are going to claim to be Christ’s followers then how we work, where we serve, the things we give need to emulate the ministry and movement of Jesus the Christ.

Having a barista write “Merry Christmas” as your name on a red paper cup for your triple venti toffee nut latte is not helping the cause of Christ. Rather take the $5 you would have spent on yourself and give it to someone who needs it is the definition of selfless giving and the gospel.

So the next time you are in Starbucks and you order a drink in their pretty red cups, do not look for Jesus on the cup, look for the Jesus in the world around you; you never know where you might see him.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

Don't Box Christ this Xmas!

By: J.C. Mitchell

I must admit I love both Christmasses.  Yes, both secular and religious.  I love the celebration of the incarnation: Emmanuel, God with us.  I preach about the Light breaking into the world and the return of The Christ.  We celebrate this festival because of the resurrection, and even more specifically to undermine the Gnostic idea that the incarnation did not happen.  Ironically I find those that are trying to keep the Christ in Christmas actually uphold Jesus the baby as a magic baby bringing salvation, despite the four Gospels (and even Paul) making it clear it was the Passion and Resurrection that did that, not simply his Birth. 

I spend little time worrying or fighting with those Christians that do not know their history, don’t really know the Bible, and reject careful and respected academia, who keep saying we should keep the Christ in Christmas and freak out when we use the common short hand for Christ, “X.”  There is much to do preparing for Santa, baking cookies, watching Christmas specials that have a great message but little to do with Jesus.  This is just as much Christmas, or perhaps even more important. 

I have friends of other faiths that share Holiday Cards.  I know many who never darken the door of the church who will be celebrating Christmas.  Yes, consumerism will invade this wonderful celebration, but tell me when it does not in our current culture.  What I do see are people starting conversations in public.  I see people giving more.  I find there is an emphasis on love, family, and friends.  The sense is we do desire Peace on Earth, and this time in the Northern Hemisphere when it is getting so dark, we all seem to dream it together.  But then some Christians, while not criticizing the consumerism, criticize Rudolph, Frosty, and the Jolly Ol’ Santa and have a hissy fit you said Happy Holidays. 

I would remind them that the Baby they claim to worship said, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” (Mark 9:40) and generally he told us to love one another, before there was anything called Christianity or the Church. 

So when you see a meme or hear someone say Keep the Christ in Christmas, ask yourself (but ask them if it’s safe to do so) should we be in the business of containing Christ?  Is not the Anointed One capable of using the world to fulfil the mission of Love and Peace for everyone? 

The Christ will not be contained by any church or religion.  As Anthony Barlett pens,

[Jesus] reinvents compassion as infinite modality, making it boundless, without structural limit. And when this example is raised up in the deathlessness of resurrection it is stabilized ontologically, as a final truth of being. It thus becomes an enduring human possibility, able to embed itself in the neural pathways of humans who look to him in faith as a true and living realization of the human.

Let us Xians follow the one that teaches us compassion by living that compassion to everyone, no matter what they believe or have done to us or our friends.  Let us be perfect like The Divine One as Jesus explains, “…for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous”(Matthew 45b). 

God bless us, everyone. –Tiny Tim Cratchit

Bartlett, Anthony (2011-03-16). Virtually Christian: How Christ Changes Human Meaning and Makes Creation New (p. 148). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.

The drummer boy is not in the Gospel, but it is a Gospel story as well.

The drummer boy is not in the Gospel, but it is a Gospel story as well.

Letting go of the soapbox

It all started last week when I was coming out of the supermarket parking lot, onto a street with road construction.  The light turned yellow and another oncoming car was approaching. My first instinct was to gun it and make my left turn.  My second instinct was to slow down and allow the other car through, well, because it’s Christmas.

Actually, it’s Advent. But that’s not the point I’m getting at right now.

We often feel a little more charitable this time of year.  We will give out our spare change, hold the door for others, etc. all in the spirit of the season.  For those of us in clergy/leadership positions, we will speak about hope, peace, joy and love. We will ask our congregants to model this in their daily lives.

But we also will use these seasons to preach out.  We will speak out about commercialization, consumerism, the “real” meaning of Christmas, and the inclusion of other holidays.  We will speak out for the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the marginalized, the homeless.

All of these are good things, but they can quickly turn into soapboxes, and often soapboxes=negative campaigning.

After coming through the election season we just faced, I realized I have had it up to here with negativity.  I feel it not only in the emotions of anger, bitterness and frustration, but I feel it in my very bones and muscles. Negativity has worn me out.

I’m tired of standing on the soapbox preaching against things.  Instead, as I approach the halfway point in Advent, I’d like to turn to encouragement, trust, hope, love, peace and joy—all those things that are traditionally part of the Advent season, all those things we often preach but don’t even practice in our preaching.  Perhaps we get a little too John the Baptist from the pulpit at this time of year instead of being more like Mary and Elizabeth.  Not to create a masculine/feminine dichotomy, but rather, singing and praising the wonders of God rather than calling those who aren’t like me “You brood of vipers” is a little more appealing, and a little more enjoyable (although I do love me some good John the Baptist moments) after this last election cycle.

So as we continue to prepare for Christmas, maybe this year, let’s rant less about consumerism and say more about how to celebrate the coming of Christ into our lives in a new way that doesn’t require consumption.  Let’s find ways of encouraging and building up one another rather than ranting soapbox-style about everything we perceive as Not From Christ.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a time and place to get angry. Our Savior didn’t turn the tables over for nothing. John the Baptist had a good reason to get angry.  But we’ve had four years of anger and bitterness in this last election cycle, and the anger and bitterness is still spilling over into the political discourse right now over the fiscal cliff.  Maybe it’s just time to try a different approach, at least for a while, to take a breather.  For we remember the same Jesus who before the cross said “Woe unto thee,” and after the cross said, “Peace be with you.”  There is a time and season for righteous anger.  There is also a time and season for encouragement and joy in what God has done and is doing.  Maybe it’s time to let go of our soapboxes, at least for a while, and give in to hope, peace, joy and love.

Christmas, Already?

It’s Christmas at Walgreens, apparently.  I walked in looking for one item and found myself staring at the aisles covered in tinsel and Christmas lights.

I have a love/hate relationship with early Christmas—that is, anything Christmas coming out before Thanksgiving.  On one hand, I think we in America spend way too much money and too much time on an over-commercialized, sensationalized shopping season.  On the other hand, I may or may not have already listened to some classical Christmas music on Pandora in my office.

As a pastor, I feel that I have to get Christmas when I can get it.  If I wait until Advent to start preparing, I have no time.  I am rushed with the busy-ness of church activities—the greening of the church, the lighting of the Advent candles, the Christmas bazaars and the special services all the way up to Christmas Eve.  Then it’s Christmas Day, and it’s over.  I know, I know—technically Christmas lasts twelve days, but our American culture doesn’t know that. If we’re lucky it lasts until New Year’s but the music stations have changed over by December 26th.

The last few years, my attitudes on Christmas have changed.  There are two separate Christmas celebrations: one in the church, that begins in Advent and lasts through Epiphany celebrating the waiting, the incarnation, and the revelation of Christ to the world.  The second is this overtly consumer-driven holiday about presents and crazy decorating and overeating.

But there is a third option for me, that I didn’t even realize I could choose as a Christian minister.  It’s the season of “Peace on Earth.”  This idea not only that we ought to do good things for one another and give to charity, but this season of when you light candles, drink hot chocolate by the fire, and do nothing else, but maybe watch snow fall if you live in a place that has snow.  Peace not only to brothers and sisters in the world, but peace for me.  Peace in me.  Peace on earth and peace within me. 

Peace where I can listen to Silent Night played softly on the classical station and not worry about burning my hand as I pass the candle.  Peace where I can rest and not be run ragged.  Peace where I can, if I choose to, contemplate the incarnation or take a nap in the darkness of winter.  Peace where I can remember I am just as human as anyone else, and it is ok to be a little excited on Christmas morning. 

So I will continue to speak out against the consumption of Christmas.  I will continue to advocate year-round acts of goodwill and awareness of the poor and hungry.  I will continue to preach on the incarnation and the “Reason for the Season” in the church.  I will continue to be disgruntled a bit when I see Christmas for sale in the early fall and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.  But I also will close the office door, sit quietly in my chair, and hum “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” even if the MLB playoffs are still on TV.  I’m finding my Peace on Earth.

EMMANUEL!

Jesus is not the reason for the season – neither for this calendar season nor for this season of your life. The reason for the season is Emmanuel – God with us.

It might be acceptable to be at a party with strangers, it is good to be at a party with friends, it is better to be at a party with your loved one. Take this “with-ness” one more level – that is Emmanuel – that is God with us.

God is always with us. So, the question really is: Am I with God in the same way that God is with me?

Those WWJD wristbands have it right – What Would Jesus DO – not believe, not wish, not pray, not sermonize – what would Jesus DO?

If we seriously strive to answer that question in all our actions, we will find ourselves striving to live like Jesus. Yet, such striving is inadequate. It is not that living like Jesus is not good or not good enough; it is just that there is more. That is where we find resurrection – the transformation of the human spirit. It is an earth-shaking experience. It is as if a stone has been rolled away from the entrance to our tomb. It is as if the curtain covering the Holy of Holies has been ripped asunder and we are no longer prevented from entering into that place where the immediate and tangible presence of God dwells and there we find our true and best self and find our true and best self with God.

Your journey is not about living for Jesus or like Jesus. Your journey is about being Jesus, being Emmanuel, being “God with us,” being the Good News, being the Kingdom of God on Earth here and now.

Merry Christmas! Doug.

The Darkness Has Not Overcome

Jeremiah 31.7-14Psalm 147.12-20 Ephesians 1.3-14 John 1.1-18 ________________________________________________________________________

When I was a child, I was terrified of the darkness.  I can’t remember when I first realized that darkness was terrifying, but I know that up until I was in junior high school I could not sleep at night unless I had a night light.  I can’t tell you what it was about the darkness that terrified me so.  We didn’t live in a dangerous neighborhood; we lived on a farm far from the violence we saw on the evening news.  We didn’t leave the doors unlocked at night.  My parents were always very intentional in bolting the doors as we went to bed.  There was nothing in the darkness that could harm me, yet simply the fear of the unknown was enough to keep me scared of what I could not see.

I remember when I was about 12 years old I happened to be visiting the older boy who lived near us, since he was the nearest neighbor who was around my age.  He wanted to watch a horror movie, and though I was not a fan of horror movies, I wanted to be cool and accepted by an older peer more than I feared the violent images of a horror film.  We watched the film, and before it was over I was physically ill.  I spent several minutes in the bathroom as my body wretched in fearful agony and expelled my dinner.  I was crying as I walked home to my parents that night, in the dark, mind you.  It was a fearful journey, but I didn’t stop long enough to be scared by the darkness.  I only wanted to get home as fast I could so that I could be safe in the arms of my parents.

I’m not sure I left our house for several days after seeing that film, and if I did, I was as skittish as a frightened animal.  If serial killers wearing hockey masks lived outside of my neighborhood, then I certainly had no desire to ever leave my neighborhood.  And so, I became a prisoner in my own home.  A prisoner held captive by fear.

It’s not only children who are held captive by fear; institutions can have fears as well.  The church, like a little child in so many ways, is afraid of the darkness.  We are afraid of the world around us.  We are afraid of being rejected by those around us who might think that we’re religious nutcases.  We’re too scared to speak up when others are maligned and abused for fear we might also face such violence.  We are afraid to stand up against oppressive regimes and proclaim the truth of the Prince of Peace—that violence is never redemptive.  We’re too frightened to stand up for what is right, and good, and true, in a world that is becoming ever darker because we are afraid of the consequences.  We allow fear to take us prisoner, and in so doing, we fail to be the light of the world Jesus has called us to be.

We cower in fear, while the Spirit of God dares us to move in faith.  The Spirit commands us to shine as light in the darkness.  And why shouldn’t we?

We are children of a God who called creation into existence with but a word.  God spoke a word into the darkness of the primordial world and brought forth light in all corners of the universe.  We believe in a God who created a people from an aged, barren couple and through them blessed all the nations of the world.  We follow a God who heard the cries of God’s children anguishing under the oppressive hand of slavery in Egypt and raised up a ruler in Moses who led God’s people through the waters of the sea into a land of freedom, hope, and promise.  We listen for a God who spoke words of challenge and indictment through the prophets to the leaders of a nation who didn’t give a damn about the poor in their midst; a God who reminds us always that there are consequences for our failure to care for those in need.  We have been healed by a God who brought comfort those exiled in a foreign land; a God who moved kings and queens to restore a people to their land.

We are the children of a God who has never been content to be separated from God’s creation; a God who violated the boundaries between heaven and earth, becoming part of the creation itself in the form of a tiny, fragile, vulnerable baby.  We follow a Savior, who though he was a humble carpenter from rural Palestine, dared to challenge the height of power and domination in the Roman Empire.  We worship a Lord who gave up his very life as a common criminal, crucified on a cross, in order to teach humans a better way.

Knowing all of this, we still allow our fears to keep us from shining as light for a dark world.  We come to church every Sunday and sit in our pews, lulled into complacency by the familiar rituals of our faith.  This is familiar, this is comfortable, this is safe.

We worship a God, however, who inspires not only warm sentimentality, but also awe.  Annie Dillard, one of my favorite writers, has written: The higher Christian churches—where, if anywhere, I belong—come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God.  I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed.  In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger.  If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked.  But in the low churches you expect it any minute.  This is the beginning of wisdom.

I am always reminded of Lucy’s question to the Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when she was told that Aslan was a lion. “Is he safe,” she asked. Mr Beaver replied, “Safe?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

We are a bit like the people who were always asking Jesus for a sign to prove his identity.  Jesus reminded them that they had Moses and the prophets, what more did they need?  We, like them, want an assurance that if we’re going to risk something, that it won’t cost us anything.  That isn’t really risk is it?  I suppose it isn’t really faith either.

Aslan, the great Lion King, could teach us something about the meaning of faith.  He offers his life to the White Witch in stead for Edmund, knowing that she will kill him.  He does so, dimly aware of a vague promise from before the dawn of time that when a willing, innocent victim gives one’s life in place of a traitor, death itself shall be denied.  Faith is stepping out and acting, uncertain of the consequences, but convinced that it is better to do something rather than set on the sidelines.  Faith is something which we lack in the church today.

Think of the faith that was required for Jeremiah to speak the audacious words of hope we have heard today.  The Hebrew people had been in exile for decades, and yet Jeremiah dares to promise that God will gather them up and take them home.  Think of the faith that the author of Ephesians demonstrated when boldly proclaiming that God had blessed the church with every spiritual blessing under the heavens.  The church was a tiny, heretical sect of Judaism at the time; hated by both Jews and Romans alike.

Our faith is a faith of bold, daring hope.  Our tradition is one of people who dare to look beyond the darkness of the world, and see a light shining in the midst of it all, and dare to proclaim that one person, one small band of committed followers can, and will make a difference.

We cower in the shadows, fearing what the powers that be in the world will do to us, and yet we claim to follow One who has defeated the ultimate evil of an unjust death.  Our Savior boldly proclaims that he has the power over life and death, no more shall death separate God from God’s people.

And yet, John dares to say that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  Here at this table, the Word that brought creation into existence, that became the light in the darkness, stubbornly shines still.  Here at this table, with an extravagant welcome to all, the Word continues to take flesh and dwell among us.  As Christ’s life was a beacon of hope in a world dark with oppression and despair, so our welcome of all to this table shines as an example for all the world.  This is life as God intends it to be lived.  When all people are invited to sit down at a table where each will have enough to satisfy the hunger within, then, and only then, will the reign of God come on earth as in heaven.

May God give us the courage to step out and extend that welcome to all people, that we might be the light shining in the darkness of this world.

AMEN.

--The Rev. Wes Jamison, 2nd Sunday After Christmas, January 2, 2005

The Rev. Wes Jamison lives on a farm near Pulaski, Virginia, and is a minister-at-large for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.  He currently chairs the Open and Affirming Ministries team for GLAD (Gay, Lesbian, and Affirming Disciples) and serves on the Renewal and Nurture committee for the Virginia region.   He also works as a counselor with a social service agency.  He has been in the search and call process for almost four years now and has yet to receive a call.  In spite of the frustration and pain, he continues to believe that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot and will not over come it.