Christmas is celebrated on December 25 to commemorate the enfleshment of God
Lord and Savior!
My children and wife have complained about Kopper being on the wallpaper/screensaver of my cellular.
I said it's because he always greets me with body shaking, tail and tongue wagging, inviting whimpers, and passion for hugging and cuddling.
My youngest: "Oh, now I get it."
I've been a pastor for over three decades; and over those years, folks have dropped off books for me to read and, admittedly, I haven't read them because the stack of what I've wanted to read has always been high enough without any help.
Surely, the intentions have been noble; except for the occasional recommendation scarcely concealing passive-aggressive contempt to reshape my life and ministry into an image/icon more palatable to the bearer so often related to a predecessor or religious personality like the inaugural intercessor or toothy guy in Texas.
I've become a tough old boy after too many years of spiritual warfare in our sociopoliticoreligio culture. I've got lots of calluses and my naiveté along with romance for life and ministry have dissipated over the years. When you're always putting on the armor and heading off to battle the darkness in this world and worldly church...
Be that as it is, there's a friend in our family of faith who our Lord keeps touching to touch me through books that I need to read for the joyful edifications in 'em. She has a precious and sensitive sense of what He wants me to read and absorb into my soul to increasingly align my heart with His.
Recently, she gave Kevin Alan Milne's The Paperbag Christmas to me; and His Holy Spirit of Christmas has been refreshed in me!
While I won't spoil the story for you, it's about receiving what you never wanted for Christmas.
Some excerpts: "Until one feels the spirit of Christmas, there is no Christmas. All else is outward display - so much tinsel and decorations...Christmas began in the heart of God. It is complete only when it reaches the heart of man."
The author quotes Dickens: "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."
He also quotes Whittier: "Somehow, not only for Christmas but all the long year through, the joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you. And the more you spend in blessing the poor and lonely and sad, the more of your heart's possessing returns to you glad."
Here are my favorite lines which I think the author got from Him: "One day, this child will tell those who follow Him, 'If you love me, keep my commandments...Love one another, as I have loved you'...There is no worldly gift that He needs. He does not ask for gold, or wealth, or money. He asks only that we love others."
Those are teases around a theme that drove me to my knees in tears, thanksgiving, wonder, love, praise, and passion to hug and cuddle.
I've been preaching on Christmas Eve and Easter Day for so long; but I still feel like a just reborn Christian when it comes to preaching about Christmas and Easter.
Christmas and Easter.
You can't have one without the other.
Pretty divine stuff.
I'm just too human to grasp all of it.
Of course, I've been seeing glimpses of what it all means for as long as I can remember.
Even years of formal education haven't ruined it for me; and there's always that cautioning echo from an early mentor: "Don't separate yourself from God and His people by degrees."
Come to think of it, all of my memories point to the meaning of it all.
Easter Day or, better said, the day of our Lord's resurrection, certifies Christmas as the enfleshment of God: Emmanuel (viz., "God-with-us").
John 1:1-18 provides the best definition of enfleshment.
But it's Christmas; so we'll concentrate on those memories and get back to Easter when the weather warms up.
My earliest memory is spending a lot of time after Thanksgiving in the book that seemed to capture so much of the season for me; paging through it with so much excitement, anticipation, and amazement: the Sears Christmas Catalogue.
Actually, I'd spend lots of time in that catalogue after Christmas too; which reminds me of a friend who confessed, "Anyone who thinks Christmas doesn't last all year doesn't have credit cards."
Shirley Temple: "I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph."
Maybe that's why I often return to my favorite prayer book when the meaning gets confused with its marketing: "We ask, Lord, for ourselves the most meaningful Advent season we have ever known...And grant that when Christmas morning breaks for us this year, we may have something more to show for our much running about than tired feet, wrapped presents, and regrets for cards not sent" (Ernie Campbell's Where Cross the Crowded Ways).
I know Christmas is about Jesus, but the holly spirit seems to squeeze out the Holy One a lot; which reminds me of the sign that I saw in a hardware store display window so long ago: "Artificial Trees with Real Christmas Spirit."
Even Kopper looks for trees.
We need Spirit.
Some merchants even substitute "Happy Holidays" for "Merry Christmas" and some critics refer to Advent as "Sparkle Season"; which brings an exchange between Lucy and Charlie Brown to mind. Lucy says, "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. Since it's this time of the season, I think we ought to bury past differences and try to be kind." Charlie Brown asks, "Why does it just have to be this time of the season?" Lucy looks at him incredulously and shouts, "What are you, some kind of fanatic?"
Charlie Brown would have liked Charles Spurgeon: "To a renewed soul, every day should be the birthday of the Savior."
Lots of folks don't get it; like the woman who called in to a talk show, "I wish the church would just stay out of Christmas."
Even those who are getting close to the meaning can miss it.
I've heard of the old wealthy woman who wanted to leave her entire estate to a televangelist in Texas; but when she visited him and saw how he was living such a lavish lifestyle, she questioned how he would use the money. He said, "I will use all of the money for Heeeeeeiiiiiim; and I know you wouldn't expect Heeeeeeiiiiiim to live in a barn."
I know Christmas is about Jesus, but I remember shoveling snow on Christmas Eve and waiting for Grandma and Grandpa Kopp to drive in from NYC.
They always brought the best presents.
I remember sneaking some of that special egg nog, eating all of those cookies, and avoiding that darn old mistletoe.
I stopped avoiding mistletoe in around 11th grade.
We'd go to midnight mass together.
It meant something to her...in addition to the mistletoe.
Bess Streeter Aldrich: "Christmas Eve was a night of song that wrapped itself about you like a shawl. But it warmed more than your body. It warmed your heart...filled it, too, with melody that would last forever."
Getting back to snow, Christmas and snow have always gone together for me.
Maybe that's why I'll never move to Florida.
I like snow because it covers up holes, junk, trash, dead plants, scarred landscapes, and other unsightly and depressing things.
Yes, I like snow.
It reminds me of Christmas.
It's a metaphor.
I almost forgot about waiting for my dad to come home from war at Christmas.
Maybe that's why I always think of Christmas when I hear about wars; especially when we celebrate Him as the Prince of Peace by buying toy soldiers, plastic assault weapons, and those terribly violent video games for our children.
Maybe that's why I keep going back to those words from Henry Van Dyke which the first pastor to make any sense to me used to repeat almost every Christmas Eve: "Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weakness, the loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you? Then you can keep Christmas. And if you can keep it for a day, why not always? But you can never keep it alone."
The 60s and 70s weren't the best times for Christmas.
I remember a Doonesbury cartoon from 1970 that had Megaphone Mark falling asleep with this thought above his head: "It's Christmas Eve as a tired, disappointed and disillusioned student activist drops off to sleep."
The next frame shows him sleeping; but then the frame after that has him stirring awake as he's startled by noise as he exclaims, "I thought I heard reindeer."
I think everyone, deep down inside 'em, is like Megaphone Mark; waiting and hoping and anticipating Someone more than something to wake 'em from slumber.
Come to think of it, I don't remember many Christmas gifts.
Yes, I liked 'em and was always appropriately thankful; but I don't really remember many of 'em.
I do remember most of the warm stuff that I've already mentioned; and Who was behind it.
Truth is all of my memories point to Him; or as Christina G. Rosetti put it, "Love was born at Christmas."
Yes, Christmas is about Jesus.
Him loving us.
Us loving Him.
Loving Him by loving like Him.
But it begins with Him.
He loves first.
John 3:16 amplifies John 1:1-18.
We've been celebrating ever since.
Charlie Brown is right!
Michael W. Smith often talks about "Smithizing" music for popular consumption; meaning he soups up old Gospel songs and converts the secular to sacred.
He got that from Luther who used to put Christian lyrics to bar tunes.
Be that as it was/is/should/be, I remember an old Paul McCartney song that sounds like the ultimate romance sealed by Christmas and Easter: "Maybe I'm amazed at the way You love me all the time...Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need You...Maybe I'm amazed at the way You're with me all the time...Maybe I'm amazed at the way You help me sing my song...Right me when I'm wrong...Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need You..."
Yes, I've been preaching on Christmas Eve and Easter Day for a long time.
Here's what I remember most: "Don't be afraid! I bring good news of great joy for all people! A Savior is born for you!"
He's all I need to remember for now and then.
Blessings and Love!
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