News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Merry, Happy, Fraught

If you’re part of a happy, archetypal, Norman Rockwell family, today is warming up your heart with joy and contentment. Your house is full of grandmas and grandpas, uncles and aunties, cousins and kiddos stomping snow off their boots as they return from building snowmen and lobbing not-too-dangerous, non-icy snowballs at one another.

There are turkeys or hams to lovingly cook and carve, a fireplace to gather ‘round, and a jolly patriarch who drinks only enough brandy to redden his nose, not so much that inappropriate stories start pouring out or fistfights commence. Little kids play with Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys, big kids join the grownups for a round of cards or Yahtzee. No phones pollute the togetherness with their beeps and buzzes; the TV screen’s covered up by a Santa blanket.

If you are a Christian — whether one who actually practices their religion, or a Sunday-go-to-church sorta-Christian — this is the day for you. Set aside any doubts and celebrate your beliefs, religion, and community. Sing songs about stars, drums, Mary and Joseph. Contemplate an angel figurine or the star atop your tree.

If you are a Christian, you can watch the “Charlie Brown Christmas Special” with your kids, and chime in word for word along with Linus, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone all about them, and they were sore afraid.

“And the Angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”

You can feel good about your religion’s origin story for this holiday, warmed through with the knowledge that millions of other Christians (and sorta-Christians) are celebrating along with you.

On other days, the question “What would Jesus do?” might intrude on your feelings of merriment and gratitude. Unlike the cute baby in the manger, grown-up Jesus challenged the norms and conventions of his time.

He fed the poor — not as a wealthy man strutting around in fine robes, occasionally dispensing a dollop of charity to some wretched soul, maybe sitting on the board of a nonprofit organization when he could find the time, but as a poor person himself. He encouraged his disciples to abandon their worldly riches.

The Jesus of the Bible overturned the tables of moneylenders. He hung out with the lowlifes of his time: publicans, harlots, sinners. He openly rebelled against the religious leaders of his time, calling them blind, fools, hypocrites.

Most extreme of all, he urged people to love not only their neighbors — regardless of any political signage they might have displayed on their lawns — but their enemies. That’s right. “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

If there’s a “Go ye therefore and write mean-spirited rants on Facebook” in the New Testament, I haven’t run across it yet. Also, if someone asks to borrow something from you? Jesus says to let ‘em borrow it. (Surely he didn’t mean the new chainsaw you found waiting under the tree this morning?!)

If you’re a Christian on Christmas, it’s easy to overlook the difficult thoughts, ones that might compromise feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. After all, it’s your day. Your entire country stops to celebrate your religion, as though it were the only one in the land. What an honor and a privilege.

To those who are alone today, whose families are fraught or broken… To those who have no gifts to give, no homes in which to put any gifts that might be offered… To those who are troubled by the plastic-encased, made-in-China, disposable presents Santa brings their kids…

To those who do not practice the dominant American religion, and those who doubt their religious leaders…

I wish you all a day of peace. I wish you warmth, meaning, and nourishment, and — if it’s not too corny — love.

And I wish, meditate, contemplate, and pray that all of us might bring a spirit of grace and generosity to ourselves, our families, our town, and our nation — not just on December 25, but every day of the year.


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