Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dreaming of a Quaker Christmas?

Does it seem like Christmas keeps coming earlier every year? It’s like thanksgiving just gets glossed right over – at least in the stores. And after-Thanksgiving-Day-Shopping has become like a holiday in itself. You might remember a few years ago around this time a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death in a “blitz” of shoppers out to snatch up the limited deals. I can remember a few Christmases back having a conversation with a few different people about how some stores weren’t celebrating Christmas but a more generic, politically correct, “holiday.” Some of my friends were upset and were “fighting back” by refusing to say, “happy holidays” and instead wishing their tellers a, “Merry Christmas.” I remember wondering if my friends had missed the point a little. Why should I be upset if Wal-Mart isn’t promoting consumerism in the name of Christ? Why would I want to wish someone merry Christmas with a “gotcha” attitude? It just takes all the fun out of it.

Quakers have a unique historical perspective here. This is what George Fox writes in his journal, “When 0the time called Christmas came, while others were feasting and sporting themselves I looked out for poor widows from house to house, and gave them some money.” Friends, in the beginning of their movement, had this sense that all days were holy and sacred and that Christ’s present reality existed 365 days a year. To recognize one day as special, they believed, demonstrated a belief that the other 364 days were somehow less holy. Many chose not to celebrate.

That being said – I love Christmas. I mostly love the simple things like the sights and the smells. The smell of noble firs and cedar boughs, cinnamon candles, apple pies, and crisp air. The sights of Christmas trees, snowflakes in the streetlights, and children bundled so tightly they can barely move. But believe it or not, the thing I love most about Christmas is the waiting. I know that might seem strange. It’s strange to me especially because I’m not usually the most patient person. Waiting in the checkout line in the grocery store can just about give me hives. But yes, I love the waiting. My brother Jesse would often spoil the Christmas surprise by walking into the living room and nonchalantly announcing, “We’re getting a Nintendo this year.” I would be devastated. While most kids would shake, poke, and peak into the box, I was content to just be giddy with the anticipation.

Christians for centuries have celebrated a time called Advent - the four week preceding Christmas. It means the “waiting.” The celebration of advent is a call for a kind of anticipatory waiting, a reflection of the beauty and mystery of the incarnation. Just ponder this for a moment - the fullness of God’s divinity somehow resided in the finiteness and messiness of humanity. But as remarkable as it is that Jesus is Godlike, I think it’s even more of a wonder that God is Christlike (and in Him there is no unChristlikeness at all). When we wonder what God is like, we look to Christ. When we wonder how God feels about us, our neighbor, and this world, we look to Christ. I am going to borrow a few reflections concerning incarnation from Frost and Hirsch’s book The Shaping of Things to Come.

First, the incarnation brings a profound identification with the entire human race. God takes upon himself all the emotions, temptations, struggles, and doubts that any person experiences. God, through Christ, understands our experience and even sympathizes with us. Jesus became that he might redeem.

Second, the incarnation bring locality. Someone once said, “If you want to make something real, you have to make it local.” Jesus makes the presence of God real to us by dwelling among us. He took residence in time and space, had real human interactions, and completely felt and experienced the human condition.

So, in thinking about the ways of Christ, I wonder what it means for us to be incarnational in our approach as Christ followers. I think it means that we can no longer stand aloof and indifferent to the experiences and lives of others - we actually need to identify with them. I am convinced this can be done in thoughtful and generous ways without compromising the gospel itself. Also, we may need to find more intentional, creative, and natural ways to be a real and abiding incarnational presence. This means that we are no longer satisfied to let people come to us, we seek to be a presence in our neighborhoods, communities, schools, and places of work. The message translation of John 11:14 says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” If this was true about Jesus, then we too are invited to practice the spiritual discipline of presence and identification. Where might you find ways to incarnate yourself this Christmas season and beyond? A community service project, an arts and crafts group, sports club, common interest group, or a parents group? Jesus identified and practiced presence so that his redemptive purposes could be completed. As Christ Followers we should constantly wrestle with the question - how can I be different in important ways, but not so different that I make no difference at all?

Though many of the early Quakers did not celebrate Christmas or other holidays, I wonder how we could distinctly express our hope and love for God in another way this Holiday season. My hope is that we might embody charity, peace, presence, hospitality, and grace. But how? Would you consider hosting a neighborhood Christmas party, or inviting someone over who is usually alone on Christmas? Would you consider simplifying this year so that you might give a gift to someone in desperate need? Would you be willing to serve a meal at the Boise Rescue Mission? Or perhaps you might practice being incarnational by simply looking your teller in the eye, smiling, and saying, “Merry Christmas.”

(First Printed in the BFC Newsletter - December 2009)

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