Dear Family and Friends,
As I begin this, the sun has broken through deep gray clouds and is shining on a beautiful December day. The chill, like the Werewolf of London’s hair, is perfect. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been listening to traditional Christmas songs and carols from the British Isles, struck by how melancholy many of them sound. None of that saccharine sentimentality we hear bleating from speakers in our shopping malls. It’s as though they anticipate the complexity of the events that have been started in motion by the birth of Jesus.
Then I thought about Luke’s Gospel and the prediction that Simeon makes to Mary, Jesus’ mother, when she presents her newborn baby to him in the temple: “Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
What’s going on? Where did “We wish you a merry Christmas” go? Recently I visited with a dear friend whose toddler daughter had just undergone another of what will likely be many surgeries to correct a dreadful anomaly. He spoke about how his heart breaks every time she shrieks, “Don’t touch me!” at the rehab therapist trying to improve her range of motion. Rehabilitation, before it brings healing, brings much pain, and my friend is helpless to prevent it. “I would do anything for her, if only I could,” he laments. Therein lies his agony—the piercing sword.
I believe God feels like that about us as well, knowing we need “rehabilitation,” but painfully aware we will refuse him and yell, “Leave us alone!” when he sends his son to heal us. Matthew tells us that Herod was so desperate to destroy the infant Jesus that he had his soldiers kill all the children two years old and younger in and around Bethlehem , a massacre preserved in the deceptively beautiful lullaby, the Coventry Carol.
From the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus is seen as a threat to the established order of things. Religious people hate him. Politicians regard him as an odd curiosity. Both groups think that killing him is the only way he will leave them alone, once and for all.
Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us alone. He is determined to save us in spite of ourselves. Because of Easter, Christmas is worth the “rehabilitation pain” it inaugurates. We become Resurrection People, newly alive, charged to love as we have been loved. Jesus tells us, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
But we need reminders. The world has a way of beating us up. Often we want only to “burrow in,” pour that glass of wine, and lose ourselves in a book or a television show. Not that there is anything wrong with “recharging our batteries,” but the point is just that—restoring ourselves so we can restore others. Christmas is our yearly wake-up call—at once a call to to arms against the evil that would ensnare us, and a call to minister to those wounded in the ongoing battle. We become God’s paramedics—his EMTs—healing the pain of others, furthering their “rehabilitation,” speaking truth in a world of lies and bringing comfort to those who need it most.
Christmas is our annual reminder that we worship a God who “takes a bullet for us,” and we are called to do likewise for our families, our neighbors, our communities. It’s the war room for planning strategy before the battle resumes, the locker room at half-time, when our Commander/Coach fires us up to go back out and fight even harder in the second half.
For all of us, may this coming New Year be a time of courage and compassion—a renewal of mind and heart and spirit. May God’s unique call to each of us be heard above the din of the trite and the trivial. May we, as God’s paramedics and rehab therapists, become the healers he wants us to be.
Bill and Sharon