Pastor’s Perspective – December 2021
The mad dash toward Christmas has begun. Over the next four weeks I will plan, study, work, wrap, and worry. Then it will be December 26th and it will all be over. The sermons will have been preached, the gifts opened, the work completed and then it will be over and the planning for the next event will begin.
It is a temptation to treat Christmas as a task to be completed, instead of a moment to be experienced. I work feverishly to accomplish my tasks in order to earn a transcendent moment at its completion. This way of living, popular though it is in 21st Century, is neither healthy nor sustainable. It can turn Christmas (and in many ways our life) into a grind that drains us of peace and makes walking with Jesus a job instead of a joy.
Many successful Americans have swallowed the lie that we can only enjoy life when we arrive at its destination: success. But we soon discover that we will never truly arrive. One task turns into another, and the pursuit of accomplishment never allows us to reach its purpose. The mountain that you have summited suddenly becomes the base camp for the rest of your life’s endeavors. The expectation of completion is never attained.
To those of us born into the West of the 20th and 21st Century we conceive a life cycle that includes the completion of family and career goals within an 80-year time frame. We expect that we will meet our objectives and complete our goals with a precision that does not anticipate nor expect delays, crises, or missteps. Many of us assume that we can “have it all” and carry with us a sense of loss or failure if we do not achieve all that we desire in our limited time of productivity.
Because we are immersed in a culture of completion and fulfillment, we never reach a moment of satisfaction or contentment. We never know when or how to rest in the process of daily and weekly life. So, we content ourselves with the understanding that someday our work will be completed, and we will then be able to enjoy the fruit of our labors. Sadly, in this new achievement and consumer mindset we never reach contentment, for there is always something new to buy, something new to achieve, or something new to learn. Something has been twisted in us from which we must be saved.
The allure of 21st Century living has transformed the way our lives are ordered. One hundred years ago retirement was rarely a consideration in life. Few assumed that the tasks of living would ever be completed. Agrarian workers never contemplate their work. They work until they cannot work anymore, not only in their professions, but also in their home life. Farmers, preachers, and doctors did not stop working because they had reached a particular age. They farmed to eat, preached because they had a word to share, and took care of their neighbors until the day that they became the patient for another physician.
We have been transformed by our technological and cultural achievements into a people who seek mountaintop moments rather than lives lived in community and peace. This impacts our daily lives as well as our holiday expectations. Christmas became one more annual mountain to summit. Baby boomers made the event and the gifts far more important than they had been in our collective past. What used to be celebrated with an orange, some mixed nuts, and a wooden toy, was replaced by a mountain of consumer goods and increased annual expectations. It was not the spirit of Christmas that Jesus shared with the world.
The people in the biblical Christmas story never sought salvation in accomplishments and consumer goods. They were seeking a different kind of salvation and a different sort of mountaintop experiences. They sought changed lives and a peaceful and hopeful future. They sought God’s presence and they never stopped hoping, living, searching, wondering, and working toward the fulfillment of God’s will in their life and in the lives of their neighbors.
When Mary was told that the child forming in her womb was the long awaited Savior and Messiah, we imagine that she must have, at least momentarily, contemplated the cessation of her problems, concerns, and trials. It is typically assumed that once the long-promised Savior arrived the fight would be over and won. The work is accomplished and complete. The struggle is not only won but finished.
The conclusions of Christ’s salvation were not so easily embraced and realized. Jesus did not easily persuade the Jewish people, let alone the representatives of Rome that resided in Jerusalem. From his birth he and his family were harassed, threatened, and constantly demeaned. The lives of Mary and Joseph, which we might assume should have been one that was blessed with ease and comfort, was instead filled with pain, suffering, and conflict.
Why wouldn’t we think this way. American Christians have been enjoyed a historically envious lifestyle for generations. We who enjoy temperature-controlled homes and indoor plumbing have a warped vision of the realities of life as the people of God have traditionally understood it. Those of us who have visions of sugar-plums dancing in our heads have little understanding how most of the people on earth have and do live their lives. We are the one percenters in the world. So blessed that our lives would have been considered heaven for those who carried water, cut wood, moved stone, and thatched roofs. Our perspectives have been warped by our opulence and with it our vision of completion and success.
This is why we were so devastated by a, historically speaking, mild pandemic. The terror that filled the hearts of the people of our time is not that we face an unbeatable virus, but that we face an unanswered question. We have no easy answers to Covid-19 and thus we are in an existential panic. Even though the fatality rate is relatively low and an inoculation was developed within months of the pandemic, the small danger that remains is still enough to halt travel and cripple our economies and relationships. While we are still the healthiest, safest and the most pampered people in known history, we still “feel” like we are the most endangered, fragile population in the history of the world.
We are angry that we haven’t solved this yet. We are angry at each other, our governments, and finally we are angry with God for the crisis that we currently face. Of course, a reasonable person with any historical perspective would laugh at our assumptions and expectations, but they would also cringe at our concerns about Christmas deliveries and those who cannot find the perfect gift due to the collapse of the supply chain. We are not reasonable people.
We are a people in need of salvation. Not from the oppression of Rome, or the abuse of a tyrannical religious system, but from our own warped hearts and selfish expectations. How many of our fellow citizens would bristle at the Edenic command to tend to the garden of God? Isn’t heaven supposed to be easy? What if heaven doesn’t have Wi-Fi or climate controls? How many of our creature comforts are really addictions and sins that separate us from God and each other? And how many of us would rather have what we have today than what God may have in store for us in the Kingdom? How many of us have mistaken Hell for Heaven and would (like King Herod) seek to take the life of the newborn King?
Many of us know what we plan to do over the next few weeks. We are making our lists and checking them twice. Few of us however have learned how to live life in contentment and peace. The hope, faith, love, and peace that Jesus came to grant us was not about 401-Ks, vacation plans, and robust family meals. It was about peace in the midst of storms, faith in the presence of danger, hope for our temporal and eternal lives, and love for God and those with whom we walk through life.
We are still in need of the Christ. Still in search of salvation. Still seeking the blessings that have already been offered to us in Jesus. Let us consider how we might embrace life in Christ this holiday season and put these revelations to use in our lives and for our future.