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Christmas is a Game Changer

Christmas is a Game Changer

I love Thanksgiving. What is better than a whole day devoted to food? Eating being one of the more proficient hobbies of mine, I’m in heaven with the preparation and the tradition of it all. It is of course the kickoff of the holidays, and as the Food Network so cleverly coined, “Seasons Eatings” is upon us. But of late it appears Thanksgiving has been eclipsed by consumerism—surprise! Eating a turkey and some stuffing is something you do while biding time to rush into the stores at three in the afternoon and begin the frenzy. So when I heard the Verizon commercial and a new buzzword a la the Food Network, I froze in my tracks. According to the commercial, we are now in the season of “Thanksgetting.” Yes, that is what they said; Thanksgiving has become Thanksgetting. It does sum it all up—however disgusting. I admit it really got to me.

Advent has begun, and we await the arrival of Christmas in the midst of much “Thanksgetting.” On the radio I heard a discussion regarding the etiquette involved in not sending holiday greetings to those to whom you may feel an obligation. Maybe you work with them but don’t have a close personal relationship with them, or perhaps there “isn’t anything in it for you,” speaking about the relationship. Wow, now there is some serious yuletide right there—my greeting card list needs a once over so I can make sure I’ve identified what the relationship gives me before I feel all warm and fuzzy about just saying Merry Christmas.

I don’t know, between the commercialism and the “me” orientation of gift getting, I can get pretty cynical about the whole thing as evidenced by the increased use of my signature eye roll. There’s the red cup fiasco involving Starbucks, the ridiculous amount of car commercials (my personal favorite being the comparison of saving a few bucks on some stuff on Black Friday vs. the thousands your neighbor saved on their new car, as if they were comparable) and wondering if I should say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? On the other hand there is the violence on the world stage, the hurt that people have during this time of year, friends and family with serious illnesses. The accumulation can be a bit overwhelming. I can get wound up pretty tight, pretty fast and ask myself, “Why is this day such a big deal?” All I have to do is think about “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Linus tells the Luke birth narrative and concludes, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” He’s right. Everything gets put back into perspective.

Nearly 2,000 years ago something extraordinary happened. Through Jesus’ birth the transcendence of God’s love broke into human history. In Jesus, God’s desires for us were made palpable, real and humanly comprehensible. That’s pretty darn amazing. Like the moment when suddenly matter existed and creation began and the universe unfolded, God’s seeming intangibility became flesh and dwelt among us. Barely conceivable, it is worth celebrating in a big way. It doesn’t matter if it actually happened on December 25 or even why the church chose that day. That’s not the point.

I get wound up about the consumerism and the other things I deem so very wrong in the world. I know it isn’t my birthday, but I selfishly ask, “What’s in it for me?” God says, “Here you go. How is this for a present?” Jesus’ birth brings the kingdom of God right to us. Let go and breathe that in. The magnitude of that event is arresting. The transforming power of Christ is more than an intellectual experience. Around the world it is manifested in the heartfelt compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters. It is in the acceptance of the reality of the world, yet free from the grip of that reality. It is a deep understanding of the elation of giving rather than receiving. It is a moment. It is beauty in the midst of our human mess. What a cataclysmic event!

I don’t get to feel that way all the time, and frankly I’ll get irritated by those commercials, get fed up with that string of lights that seems to go on and off just to taunt me; I’ll roll my eyes in exasperation. It doesn’t matter where or what circumstance I find myself, the beautiful words of the season ring true: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Folks, that’s a game changer.

About Bill Gray

Bill Gray works as director of grow ministries for Floris UMC. He is responsible for the connection, education and group life of Floris' adult congregation. Bill is married to his wife, Monica, and has four children.

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