Saturday, December 28, 2013

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...We've Forgotten All About It

Did you know that today is the fourth day of Christmas?  Yes? Maybe? No?  If you didn't, don't feel badly.  A lot of people don't know.  They think either the 12 Days of Christmas is just a song, or that the 12 days are the 12 days that lead up to Christmas.  But, historically, in the Church's calendar, the 12 Days of Christmas is the season from Christmas Day until January 5.  January 6 is Epiphany (which celebrates the Magi visiting Jesus).  

There is so much preparation that goes into Christmas.  Buying gifts, getting a tree (real or fake?), putting up lights, extra rehearsals for concerts and pageants, making costumes for pageants, decorating the outside of the house, extra special programming for church, complaining about the busyness and commercialism of the season yet going along with all of it anyway to make sure the kids have fun.  We make such a big deal out of something and then are done with it so quickly. The gifts are open, paper and ribbons and bows are strewn about, and we have to remember which day the trash pickup is because it is out of the ordinary.  They'll pick up the Christmas trees until the 2nd or 3rd so make sure to have them out on the right day.

We claim that Jesus is the reason for the season, but but we also want the fun of activities.  We want to have everything that we want.  A few weeks ago Aaron Baart, Dean of Chapel at Dordt College, said in a sermon that we want our "American Dream" and want Jesus to bless it.  I think we want that with Christmas too.  We want all the fun and lights and presents and parties and then we make sure to throw Jesus in the mix too, so that we can say "oh yeah, we're celebrating Jesus' birthday". 

Maybe there should be a different kind of war on Christmas. Instead of complaining about store clerks not saying Merry Christmas or children in public schools not being able to decorate with red or green, why don't we make war on what we have done by turning Christmas into a consumeristic competition?

What preparation was there for Jesus' birth?  Not much. While there were certainly extraordinary elements to it, his birth was still very ordinary.  It was childbirth--something that happens every single day.  We make a big deal about THE incarnation, but when the day is over we forget about the incarnational life of Jesus and the incarnational life we are supposed to live as the Body of Christ.  How did Jesus live an incarnational life?  How did the presence of God walk around on this earth?  What did he do?  How did he treat others?  What were his goals?  Think about those questions.  And we must ask ourselves, do our Christmas celebrations acknowledge that or not?

We do not live incarnationally by making laws upon laws for people to follow.  We do not live incarnationally by claiming persecution when we hear "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" or see the word Christmas abbreviated to Xmas.  We do not live as Jesus' presence in this world by belittling others or by oppressing them.

We live the incarnational life of Jesus when we are completely sold out for him and want to follow his way of bringing about the kingdom of God.  We will find this contrary to much of what we find in our American culture, including the Christian culture in which each of us lives.  

And I wonder if we are holding on to our fun Christmas traditions and celebrations so much that they are becoming and idol.  Are we putting them above the one who we claim to be celebrating?  We make ourselves feel good by filling a shoebox or contributing to food pantries.  But it is often extra; it's not as if we want to sacrifice our own celebrations in order to give.  We do not do a 2 Phillipians and think of others as better than ourselves or give up our power to celebrate.  We just keep everything around us the way we want it and add some feel-good compassion on top of it.

What can we do to get out of this vicious cycle?  How can we celebrate Christmas more?  Right now, today, we are only one-third of the way through Christmas.  Everything we did before the 25th of December was Advent.  We don't think of Advent as interesting or exciting or fun, just something to get through.  In many places, it's not celebrated at all or is just giving a passing nod, because it can be seen as "too churchy".  

What if we celebrated Christmas during the actual Christmas season?  What if we moved all of our Christmas concerts and pageants and parties to those 12 days of Christmas that we are in right now?   Of course, we'd run the danger of it eventually becoming an idol as well, but how can we do Christmas different and do it incarnationaly? 

Monday, December 16, 2013

What Does It Mean to Be Alive?

Back in January, I chose the word "abundant" as part of the One Word 365 project.   Since I have never kept to any New Year's Resolutions, I thought this would be easier--er, more meaningful...yeah, that's it--than attempting to keep any resolutions.  It was great.  I thought and thought about my word, and then chose it based on what Jesus says in John 10:10
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  
I acquired an image and put it on my blog and in my Facebook and Twitter headers.  I wrote a post about it.  I followed up with a devotional about it at MOPS.  

And then I forgot about it.  

Like every other New Year's Resolution, I failed.

And I haven't really felt abundant all year, and even less so in the last few months.  I'm living no more abundantly now than I was when I chose the word. 

But in the last few days, I read a book and watched a video that made me think (and made me rethink liking Brene Brown and Peter Rollins because they were making me start being more introspective than I really wanted to be).  In Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are there were two ideas that stood out to me overall (but really, the entire book is worth reading--and it's not too long and it's not too hard).

Brown defined authenticity as "the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are" (page 50).  Later in the book, she also included a quotation from theologian Howard Thurman:
"Don't ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."  (page 115).
I wanted to cry when I read that, because I don't really feel alive.  I am existing day to day, but not living abundantly.  I get so bogged down in stuff that drains me and I don't fill back up.  I stare at the pile of socks on my bedroom floor that's been there for days or weeks because by the time I get everything else folded, I could care less about matching socks. I look around at what needs to be straightened up and cleaned up just five minutes after I've spent time doing it.  Or less than five minutes.  The other day I folded a blanket in the family room, put it on the back of a chair, walked into the kitchen, turned and came back into the family room, and the kids had already unfolded it and started playing with it on the floor.  I lost it.  I yelled over a stupid blanket on the floor.

That's not abundant life.   That's not coming alive.  That's dying a slow death. 

A few weeks ago, I spent two hours talking to one of my pastors about spiritual gifts.  He'd sent out a letter to people reminding them of their gifts and encouraging anyone to come talk to him about how to use them if they weren't sure.  I knew I hadn't been using mine and took him up on the offer.  After that conversation, I've been asked by multiple people at different times--unknown to each other--to lead/teach something.  There are a few women in my community who are interested in reading and discussing A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans (and it would be good to start with something that is ready to go so I have time to write my own material for the future).  I started to get excited; I started to feel as if I was coming alive again, like when I researched and wrote and taught my study guide Called to Influence.  

On the day I am drafting this post, it is actually the second one I've drafted.  I feel energized.  Happy.  Joyful.  There is so much that I want to write and teach and I am so hopeful for opportunities to do so, and am so grateful that there is interest from women in my community who want some of the same things that I do.  Because really, when you are the only one who is interested in something, it can feel pretty lonely.  In the coming year, I want to come fully alive and be authentic.  I want to really learn who I am and encourage other women to learn who they really are and pursue their callings.