Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Little Longer Christmas

The other day I mentioned to Pam that it seemed that the Christmas season had expanded to pretty much begin right after Halloween, and she said that, especially with the economy being down, people couldn’t afford to wait until December to buy Christmas presents but had to spread their purchases out over a longer period of time.  This year there may be more reluctance to use credit cards for buying presents, and by starting in early November, people have four paychecks to use for their purchases.
That makes a lot of sense.  It’s not unusual for me to pick up a present or two for Pam as early as the summer.  (The main disadvantage of which is not so much figuring out where to hide them for six months as it is remembering where I hid them six months later.)  But I have nothing on Pam.  She will use the after-Christmas sales as an opportunity to buy deeply-discounted gifts for the next Christmas.  And she shops all year long, looking for that perfect gift at the perfect price.  She doesn’t have to hide these, either, for most of them are for family members who don’t live with us.  I have been known, however, to get a Christmas gift that she had forgotten about only to discover during spring cleaning.  Which is actually kind of fun.  The point is, we have to spread Christmas out over a longer period of time, and not just for financial reasons.  I don’t know how it is for people who are not in full-time ministry, but for those of us who are, December is a blur.  We spend significant time and energy planning and conducting special worship experiences and Christmas programs, and have numerous social obligations that we have to fit in as well.  By the time the last Christmas Eve service is over, we are all somewhere between bone-tired and completely exhausted.  It’s not good form to fall asleep at your mother-in-law’s Christmas dinner, but it’s hard to avoid.  So to avoid having the Christmas season be something we can’t wait to be over and to be able to actually enjoy ourselves, we have to spread the celebration out over a longer period of time.
The very heart of Christmas was never intended to be for one month out of the year.  Christmas is about the incarnation of God—his enfleshment on earth.  Not just his presence—if you believe in the theological category of omnipresence, you believe that God is always present, has always been present, can’t be anything other than always-present.  “Immanuel” or literally “God is with us” isn’t about his omnipresence but about his being with us in flesh.  God in a bod.
Christianity has been over-influenced by Platonism and under-influenced by biblical theology regarding the body and the soul.  Platonism split the two, regarding the body—and anything earthly—as the lesser, reflected light of the soul, which was, if not heavenly, at least non-earthly, and therefore unhindered by the limitations of flesh.  Ancient Israelite theology—which is what biblical theology is—did not separate the two so neatly.  The soul was seen as the complete, whole person—which included the body.  And a body was flesh.  The afterlife wasn’t some bodiless existence, it was just with a different kind of body.  Those that believed in resurrection believed in the resurrection of the body, not merely the continuation of a person’s soul. 
The incarnation of Christ is a continual reality.  It may have begun with Mary giving birth in Bethlehem but it did not end with Jesus’ death or with his ascension.  When Paul said that we are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:12) he wasn’t just using a metaphor like any other metaphor to describe the church.  He really meant it—we are now his body, his flesh.  Our hands are his hands, our feet his feet.  We are to go where Jesus would go, do what Jesus would do, say what Jesus would say—or, better yet, we are to go where Jesus went, do what Jesus did, and say what Jesus said.  We are to go to the broken places in our world, go to the broken, hurting, and oppressed people and be Christ to them.  And to those who are convinced that because of their brokenness, their hurts, their oppression, and their sin that God has given up on them we are to tell and show them that not only has God not given up on them but he loves them completely and accepts them just as they are.  That they are a part of the “us” in the name “God is with us.”
Christmas all year long doesn’t mean that we keep our Christmas trees up longer—it means that we embrace the incarnational mission that Jesus has given all of his followers.

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