Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Meanings of Christmas

Btw, I'll be preaching during the 11 a.m. worship of Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church this coming Sunday, Dec. 29, here in Atlanta.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Queen Latifah’s Last Holiday has joined my short list of “must see” holiday movies each year, joining the ranks of It’s a Wonderful Life, The Bishop’s Wife, and at least one of the many versions of A Christmas Carol. It’s the story of a working class dreamer told she has three weeks to live. She splurges on a trip to an exclusive European hotel whose restaurant features a world-class chef. A chef wannabe, she endears herself to him by wanting to taste as many of his gourmet offerings as possible. At one point he tells her that shiitake mushrooms get all the press, but a radish can be prepared as a mouth-watering dish, explaining,

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but without his subsequent life, we would never have known him.

I have fond memories of Yale Divinity School’s celebration of Christmas each year in the mid 1970's. The silver and china came out in the dining hall, prime rib was the main course, we dressed up, the choir gave a concert in our white New England chapel, and in front of the decorated fireplace in the wainscoted Common Room, the charming old Luther scholar Roland Bainton would make a delightful presentation of how Martin Luther would’ve told the story of Jesus’ nativity. We concluded the evening by everyone singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

One Advent in morning chapel, an African American student dropped a verbal bomb into this cozy observance of Christmas by beginning his homily, rather harshly, “There would be no Christmas without the crucifixion,” a refrain he repeated several times during his sermon. It felt like an unnecessary attack on a warm and fuzzy season.

But he was right.

Though I can’t believe the early Christian concept that Jesus was crucified to obtain God’s forgiveness, my unbelief does not diminish but rather enhances Jesus’ sacrifice, in my view. Jesus was willing to live and die what he believed and what he taught regardless of consequences. That to me is a greater sacrifice than his death being a means to an end, even if that end is the salvation of the world.

What we have in that early Christian belief, though, is a spiritual understanding of God’s child as vulnerable, born poor, reared in a subjugated country’s backwaters, risking even death to remind us of God’s gracious love and to urge us to love just as graciously.  As God’s children too, we might prove as willing. After all, the story’s ending is not the crucifixion, but all who follow Jesus for generations to come.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Related posts:
Honoring Christmas in 2012 [re Dickens’ A Christmas Carol]
Wise as Serpents [re Mary’s Magnificat]
The Soul Feels Its Worth [re O Holy Night]

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  1. yes yes yes! thanks for this because for me it has made of the good news the great news!