Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Christmas Selfies

Christmas Day 2016
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and savior born to us this day, Jesus the Christ, amen.

A light shines in the darkness
(of the mall...) 
At the beginning of December, five youth and three adults, including myself, descended on the unsuspecting Quaker bridge mall to hunt for signs of the season of Advent. We were successful, and had fun taking selfies of ourselves looking for Advent when the rest of the world was already in Full-On Christmas Mode.

These were some of the selfies we took together: following a star like the wise men. Finding things, like trees and shoes, that were the color of advent, which was …. (Blue). Wearing a fur coat and giving our best impressions of John the Baptist. And my personal favorite, riding the down escalator, pretending to be the heavenly host.

But now Advent is over, and Christmas has actually, for real, finally here. But with it comes all the accompanying trimmings, including food, presents, stress, lights, carols, travel, family, traffic, and Christmas cards with pictures of happy family members with smiling, well-groomed children.

We of course want to share ourselves with family and friends at the holiday season, especially ones we can’t be with or haven’t seen in a while. But we never send out the picture where little Bobby is pulling Susie’s hair, when the baby won’t stop crying, or where Uncle Tim is arguing with cousin Billy, or the dog is chewing Grandma’s shoes. Instead, we send that one perfectly prepared moment when everyone is sitting still and looking great in their Christmas best.  

And similarly, the rest of the year, for those of us who post pictures and selfies on social media, we try to find the best angle or the best light, and we use filters and Photoshop. We curate and control how the world sees us - enhance the good, minimize the bad – so that we show the world, not our actual faces,  but our best faces, prepared for your viewing pleasure.

And at Christmas time, we go into overdrive. Weeks ago I started seeing so many pictures of Christmas trees and advent wreaths and churches being decorated for Advent. And as the weeks progressed, I saw pictures of people decorating Christmas cookies, posts complaining about traffic or lamenting about finding the “it” gift of the year – and also many, many people sharing how they couldn’t believe Christmas was almost here, and how woefully unprepared they felt for it to arrive.

Every year we strive to make Real Life look like what we send out in our annual Christmas cards. We’ve been prepping for months now, but still there hasn’t been enough time. What if we couldn’t find the almond bark or find time to bake and decorate cookies this year? What if the tree never made it up or decorated, or if you didn’t get as many gifts for the family as you usually do?

What if we’re not ready for Christmas to arrive? Will it still feel like Christmas? Will Christmas still come?

A friend of mine shared with me that she was looking back on past photos she shared on Facebook around Christmas time in past years. She remembers feeling surprised to see that five years ago, she and her husband had put up almost no Christmas decorations. That happened to be the year that her daughter was born (on Christmas Eve, no less!). Five years ago, though they had prepped for their daughter and NOT for God’s Son, Christmas still arrived.

Poor Mary and Joseph were certainly NOT READY for Christmas to come. They weren’t even in the comfort of their own home when Jesus was ready to be born. Instead, they were far from home on a road trip not of their own choosing, in a strange town with no room for them. Can you imagine Mary’s dismay when she realized that her contractions has started and she was going to deliver the promised Son of God RIGHT THERE, among these animals? And can you image Joseph fighting his panic when he realized how unprepared he was to act the midwife at Mary’s delivery? As NOT ready as these two were, they did the best they could with what they had, bands of cloths and manger and all. And Jesus still arrived.

The shepherds were not ready at all to receive the news about Jesus’s arrival either, during that night as they watched over their flocks on the night shift. And nothing on earth could have prepared them for witnessing the heavenly host arrayed in the sky, singing and praising God for the birth of a savior who is the Messiah, the Lord. The only response they could think of to this amazing announcement was to go see him for themselves. So they high-tailed it out of there and descended on the poor, unsuspecting Mary and Joseph, who with these visitors, got their second surprise of the night.

Many of Jesus’ own people weren’t ready for him when Jesus arrived on the scene, especially when he began preaching about the kingdom of God and healing people and hanging out with the wrong crowd. John the Baptist did his best to try to get people ready for his coming, and we certainly had our fair share of hearing this from John the Baptist during this Advent. But many people didn’t recognize Jesus as who he was, as the reflection of the image of God, and others chose NOT to see. After all, Jesus disturbed their picture of God, one of a  God loves some more than others, a God who cares more about following rules than about justice and peace. And so, some rejected him, because Jesus was a threat to the image of God they preferred to see instead.  

But ready or not, Christmas still came. Ready or not, Jesus still arrived. Ready or not, the light still shines in the darkness.

Jesus came to us as the image of God, the picture of who God is and how God wants to be seen. This picture is not filtered or “cleaned up” to look nicer in with filters or Photo shop. Jesus came to be with us in the grittiness of life, born into existence with dirt and animals. Jesus pitched his tent and moved into the neighborhood, became flesh and blood and lived among us, so that he could be present with us in the NOT so “picture perfect” times.
Jesus came into this word to experience those not so “picture perfect” times too. He experienced loss and rejection, grief and pain, suffering and even death – all the things that we would rather edit out of lives. Jesus chooses to be with us in the unedited version of our stories, to reveal to us that our stories, as unfinished and rough as they are, are part of God’s story.

Jesus entered into that story on Christmas Day. And the good news today is that the light HAS dawned upon the world, that Christmas HAS come, because here we are. We made it – we “made it” to this day, but we did not “make it” happen. We don’t have to make, strive for, find, or “save” Christmas, contrary to all the popular Christmas movies on the hallmark channel and songs on the radio. Christmas arrives, whether we are ready or not. Christmas arrives and Jesus appears, and we get to witness it as it happens. Just as Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds all did.

We, though, are unable to jump in a time machine and go back to witness the actually birth of Jesus. But we are still able to witness the arrival of Christmas today. Like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” with its spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, WE can say about Christmas that Christ came, Christ is coming to us now, and Christ will come again at the end of time. And in the present moment, Jesus is arriving all the time, all over the place. Think of these as the “Christmas Selfies” of Jesus, and our job is to find them, like a real life Christmas selfie scavenger hunt.

But what would these snapshots of Christmas arriving look like in our actual lives?

A Christmas selfie in real life might look like a friend of mine who, after witnessing a Kmart employee being chastised by a customer in the Layaway department, deciding to make an anonymous layaway payment for a stranger, and that made the Kmart employee’s day.

A Christmas selfie in real life might look like the time another friend had just started as the pastor of a church who agreed to make a meal and be a host overnight for a homelessness program, for the very first time, on the night of Christmas Day.

A Christmas selfie in real life might look like our Christmas pageant last Sunday, written by one of our own youth, when we witnessed a talking animal telling a scared and lonely foster child that “Christmas is the perfect time to welcome a stranger.”

These are just some of the selfies of Jesus shared with us in 2016. I’m sure that you all have witnessed others, and will be witnesses to many more in the years to come. You don’t need a smart phone or filters or fancy equipment to witness them. You don’t have to be completely ready or totally prepared in order for Christmas to arrive in our lives.

Christ was born for this. Christmas is HERE. Jesus happens. Every year. Every day. Right here and now. Amen.

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