You’ve noticed, I suspect, that many, maybe most, newspaper and magazine columnists feel obliged to churn out the obligatory Christmas article. Radio and television news media salt most every broadcast with something Christmasy. Around here it’s usually something on house decorations, a parade, or cops shopping with kids. Pastors are no different, at least from what I see in parish newsletters and on websites. It’s enough to make me begin mine with Bah Humbug!
I enjoy the holiday season as much as anyone. The decorated houses look great. Downtown in our small city is alive with traffic. Restaurants are full. Festive concerts abound from the symphony, to country rock, to the eighth grade choir, and everything in between. Non Advent observing churches have been at it for weeks. Which brings up a question. How come the Adventists don’t observe Advent? But I digress.
All that I love. I’m not too fond of the nonstop sentimentalized, sugar coated, made for t.v. movies. There are only two plots, and there’s not much difference between them. As one friend noted, they must not pay their writers much, and they’re overpaid at that.
The holiday season is so predictable, and if there is one thing I’ve come to know about God it is that God is not predictable. There is nothing that prepared Elizabeth, Zachariah, Joseph or Mary for what was about to happen to them. The shepherds were caught off guard and terrified. Herod was blindsided. Only the wise men seemed to have a clue, and they got lost. The true meaning of Christmas came crashing into an unprepared world through the lives of unprepared people who did the best they could with what they never wanted to do in the first place, and for whom the true meaning of it all remained a mystery to be held and pondered.
My friend David, a recovering fundamentalist, has a hard time with that. He was taught that all these folks were so fully in tune with God that they performed like a well oiled team responding to the plays as they were called in by angelic quarterbacks.
God doesn’t seem to play by those rules. Most pastors have had people ask for help to discern God’s plan for their lives, and they are sure it can be done because there are many books and pamphlets that say so. That’s not how it works, or at least that’s not how it has worked according to the scriptural record. God just interrupts normal life to show up out of nowhere needing a quick meal and directions to Sodom, to light a bush but not burn it up, to call a child into the life of a prophet, to call a shepherd out of the field and onto a throne, to confront a young woman with an unplanned pregnancy, to call fishermen out of boats to become disciples, to knock and enemy off his horse and make him an apostle.
I’m as surprised by, and unprepared for, Christmas as was Joseph. That’s part of what keeps it so fascinating. I have no idea what God has in mind for the remainder of my life, and considering the adventures that have taken me through the past seventy years, I’m almost afraid to guess, but I do trust him, or her, as the case may be, if there is a case.