Wednesday, December 23, 2009

an american in christmas

Golly I like this season. And not just the story of the Nativity! I love celebrating Jesus' birth, but I also really like many of the things we've "customized" about this season. I know I should be lamenting the commercialism and the distraction from the Real Story (and I suppose I do, to some extent), but I really love finding just the right presents for people, sitting near a lit tree, hearing Christmas music of all sorts (well, everything except the Charlie Brown Christmas theme), and baking/cooking like crazy to get ready for the fun of just enjoying friends and family to the utmost. I'm goal oriented, so I also like the motivation to pull things together, get things done, make things ready and welcoming. I kind of feel like it's a dirty secret, but there you have it.

At church last week they were reading the story of the shepherds being visited by angels in the middle of the night and I got to thinking about just how crazy that had to have been. If you’re like me, the story’s been told so often now that it’s hard for it to feel any more noticeable than wallpaper. But I just had this picture in my head of shepherds: real, live, ordinary people going about their real, live, ordinary lives, when suddenly WHAM! a Real Live Other is right there too. How much would it jar you to have an angel show up right next to you, right where you are right now? What defenses would you have to shoot up around yourself, what questions would smash through your brain as you backpedalled and tried to align what you were seeing and feeling with everything else you’ve experienced in life so far? People in the Bible who saw angels felt anything BUT casual about them. Try terror, speechlessness, and a huge sense dirty-ness and smallness in the light of such beauty and perfection. And I’m guessing we’d add stuff like doubting one’s own sanity, suspecting a prank, and other forms of skepticism. Yet Christians believe that supernatural events really did happen, in history.

That kind of experience just doesn’t seem to fit within the Western understanding of the world. Am I the only one that can easily lapse into codifying, modifying, tweaking, dumbing down, watering down, and reinterpreting the Story and the Person until they fit within my boundaries, affirm my life, and don’t make things too awkward? I know I have to work pretty hard at stepping back to real awe and wonder about anything that “other.” I love that the season reminds me of that gap… that faith is relatively pointless unless it’s actually about believing something. And that I can’t just tweak what I believe till it works for me and makes me comfy… that if God is real, and if Jesus is Divine… well, I'd better be feeling some serious awe, sometimes. Otherwise - I’m missing a major something about Christmas even in the midst of the lovely presents and food and family.

So blessings and “awe” to each of you, this Christmas. May it be the best one yet!

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