There is a lot of nonsensical chatter amongst Christians (and others who seem obliged to instruct a religion on how they should and should not celebrate their holy day) about Christmas. It is as though there are five hundred persons in a train terminal having six hundred different conversations. “Keep Christ in Christmas.” “Having a tree is pagan.” “Christmas is just a pagan holiday the Christians took over.” “Kids should not be told there is a Santa.” “Pass the eggnog.”
Okay, I made that last one up but somewhere someone is asking for eggnog. We know this. Here’s my pastoral suggestion for us as we make our final descent into Bethlehem. Find a quiet place where you can retreat for as long as it takes you to say a simple prayer.
That is my advice. That’s it? Well, that’s it in a nutshell. Whether you walk into a beautiful church—and in Washington DC, you have a remarkable choice of places to retreat—or simply find a museum and stand before a work of stunning beauty or sit beside a window of light with all the electronics and noise turned off, sip the silence like a goblet of wine and say a prayer. Say a prayer preferably of thanks (no prayers for toys or favors). You could begin it this way: “The Word became flesh. Thank you. Fill me with this mystery, Lord God.” But really, any simple prayer said in the sanctuary of solitude set aside from the noise and banging pots and pans of a consumer culture hollow but not anywhere near hallowed, might deliver you into a golden moment or hour of bright awareness that God is Love and you are the recipient of a great Love in Christ.
As for all that other stuff—from chestnuts roasting on an open fire to bells both silver and jingling—hey, I’m all for that. And here is why: I have been lost without a recognizable marker anywhere that could get me back on the road, headed in the right direction. This season—apart from the mystery of the Word became flesh—is a landmark. Every year your journey stops by this marker called Christmas. For those who are not religious, it is a winter holiday. Fine by me. Really. Because the way this works—the way tradition and family and music and art and feast become intertwined—is that our mundane lives poured out over 365 days of routine and habit suddenly find a marker that helps us put so much into perspective. Like, “I am on a journey.” “I have been here before and now can find my way.” Human beings have much to mourn, much to grieve about, and much to repent of. But in this season, we turn our hearts and minds to family, friends, stories and songs, decorations and festive activities in a combined, if not coordinated, effort to celebrate with hope our species: human beings within whom abide deep reservoirs of altruism and even heroism. That is worth the trip. And it is a landmark on your journey that can, with God’s grace, send you forth into another year smelling of pine and purpose and sated with eggnog.
Merry Christmas, everyone. ~Pastor Bledsoe
Nelson Mandela is among us no more…
and yet, his life and his contributions to the world and in particular to the suffering people of South Africa for whom he gave his life, remain with us forever. In sorrow for his passing, we lift up our hearts in prayer for South Africa. We also pray for our own comfort, for he changed all of us. In joy for the life he lived so sacrificially, we lift up our hearts to God and give thanks.
Dr. John N. Jonsson, my supervising professor for the PhD, was a native of South Africa. He fought against apartheid. I remember him too as I thank God for Mr. Mandela. John provides this vivid translation of the prophet Micah’s urgent declaration to us (6:8);
So you call yourself a human being, well then you know what God wants you to do–Do what is right. Be kind. Walk humbly with your God.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela embodied the prophet’s urgent call to justice.
Rest in peace, Madiba.
ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH
The Riverside Choir and Musicians present a musical gift of songs, devotedly offered on Sunday, December 15th in our 10 a.m. worship hour.
Please join us for this special service and support those who have rehearsed and worked so hard to add their music to the heavenly chorus.
A SHIFT IN MISSION DIRECTION
There is a calm at the center of the consumer storm called Christmas Shopping in our culture and it is to be found here: in authentic worship in the sanctuary within the communal, covenantal bonds of faith. That is the first point I wish to make with you as I explain a shift in our programming for this season. How best do we celebrate the Lord’s birth?
First, we rededicate ourselves to being in the worshipping community and adding our voice, our prayers, our affirmation of one another and our collective affirmation by God through Christ
No doubt you are familiar with the Gospel of Luke’s beautiful rendering of our Lord’s birth wherein Angels sing to shepherds. So one of the opportunities offered you this year within that context of worship is a musical presentation by our choir and musicians on December 15th. They have been hard at work and will re-present the Angel songs of two thousand years ago, calling us to adoration. I hope you will mark this date.
A second way we have celebrated over the years has been through mission action. Mission is a Latin word used to translate the Greek word in the New Testament for ‘sent.’ We are sent into the world as Christ was sent into the world. Thus, we have for well over a decade provided toys and an article of clothing to deserving families. Initially part of the Angel Tree project that provided a gift to a child of an incarcerated parent, this program over the years has morphed into following several families. In some cases these children have grown up now. But overall, I and the Chairperson of Deacons have become concerned that the program has of late perpetuated the consumer side of Christmas by stoking a materialistic view of Christmas and by pushing our congregants into the madness of “Christmas Shopping.” But more importantly in evaluating our efforts, we believe this year our efforts for celebrating the meaning of Christmas would best be accomplished by empowering agencies with whom we are already involved (Martha’s Table and S.O.M.E. So Others Might Eat) that feed the hungry and clothe the poor.
This year we will transition from the “angel tree” shopping-for-a-toy and instead, ask you–each of you–to contribute what you would have spent buying such toys to our Shepherd’s Purse offerings taken on Dec. 1st and 8th. The offering on Dec 1st will be given to Martha’s Table and on the 8th the offering will be given to S.O.M.E.
At a time when food stamps have been cut and the poor are bearing enormous hardships, it simply seems to us that feeding and clothing “the least of these” better fulfills our mission and the spirit of the Christ who, as you know, was born in poverty. Let us rise to this occasion and give generously and mercifully on our communion Sundays in December. ~PSTR