In a recent sermon I confessed to the congregation my consternation over the calendar in 2011 … and the fact that Christmas Day falls this year on a Sunday. It doesn’t happen very often (about once every 7 years, I think), but it does make life a little more “interesting” for those of us in church work.
Wouldn’t you know it – after 8 years with relatively little work to do for Christmas (nobody wants to see their District Superintendent in December!), I am back in the pulpit, back doing “honest work”, and December 25th is a Sunday.
When my children were young they would wonder aloud why we had to go to church again on Christmas Day, after two or more worship services the night before, on Christmas Eve? Especially since there were all those packages under our Christmas tree, just waiting to be opened!
So when I pointed the calendar out to them this year, I fully expected them to groan, at least a little. But their response surprised me, when they said, “Great! We’ll get another opportunity to worship with you at your new church!”
Their response caught me off guard, and helped me to bring my own expectations of Christmas back in line with my faith. Why wouldn’t we want to go to church on Christmas Day? Christmas is, after all, a celebration based in community. It is, at its root, really all about community … the Divine/Human community we call life.
Manfred Weber edited a little book (which I found in the First Church library, by the way) called Christmas with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, where I read these words about community and Christmas:
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” –
This is how we speak at the manger in Bethlehem,
this is how our words pile up on one another
at the sight of the divine child…
Yet these words are finally in fact
nothing other than a wordless silence of adoration
before the inexpressible,
the presence of God in the form of a human child.
The inexpressible wonder of Christmas, the inexpressible gift is the presence of God in human form. It is this reality, as Eugene Peterson puts it in his version of the prologue to John’s Gospel:
The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word.
The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him;
Nothing – not one thing! – came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out….
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
God in Christmas is still becoming flesh and blood and moving into our neighborhood. I can’t think of a better reason to gather together on December 25th in celebration and gratitude for community and for Life.