Tuesday, November 27, 2012

This is Not My Favorite Time of the Year

            If I may be painfully confessional and overly personal, there is a little truth that I would like to admit publicly. This is not my favorite time of the year.

            Generally, the aftermath of the Thanksgiving holiday leaves me exhausted and wondering if I should start my diet now considering all the turkey and sides that I consumed over the previous weekend.

           This time of the year I also prayer contending with the delicate tension between the strictly secular observances that mark the month of December and the vital Christian celebration of Christ’s birth. As much as I love the trimmings and trappings—not to mention the giving—associated with Christmas, I find much of the commercialism of the season hard to balance against the humble beginnings of Bethlehem some two thousand years ago.

           Part of my struggle comes from the fact that as the church prepares for Christmas and what is one of the most sacred observances of the year, the harried pace of Christmas shopping, card-sending, social gatherings, office parties, and a powerful need to hold onto long-standing traditions crowds out the message of the Manger. By the time Christmas Eve arrives, so many of us are exhausted from the rush, tired of hearing Christmas music, and worried about making January’s bills.
Although well-intended and passionately expressed, Christians who argue for the right to say “merry Christmas” instead of “happy holidays” or defend the necessity of having manger displays on the courthouse lawn do not help my discouragement this time of the year. As I see it, such passionate cries only cheapen the faith to mere slogans and plastic figurines. After all, Christ was not born to be a public display or a holiday.
Christmas is, in fact, very much a very secular and non-religious holiday. In spite of a whole host of religious threads woven throughout history, much of the traditional observance is a rich blend of sacred and secular, pagan and Christian, Bible and custom. In addition, Christmas traditions are observed by people who have little or no allegiance to Jesus Christ simply because it has become a powerful—and unifying—cultural norm.

            I am not against Christmas. Santa Claus is as much a part of my family as in most. Soon the tree will be up in my home and I have already started my shopping, sending cards, and wishing people the very best of holiday cheer. I cherish the traditions and get no greater pleasure than blessing people with special gifts. Christmas truly is a unique and powerful time of the year. Part of me really loves Christmas.

        Yet, in this weird time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I find my heart longing for something more. Within many Christian traditions, the answer is Advent—a time of preparation and anticipation. Most importantly, it is a time of prayer and blessing.

          As we enter this season, let us all be as intentional about prayer, preparation for the Biblical Christmas as we are about the traditional celebrations of the season. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Christianity After the Election

            The votes have been counted and the political landscape for our nation, state, and county have been laid out for at least the next two years. After what has likely been the most expensive and divisive election cycle in American history, a large question remains for American Christians: “Now what?”

            An informal analysis of Christians with whom I have personal contact reveals something very telling. As Christians, we are equally as divided over the outcome of the latest election as is our whole nation. This demands prayerful attention.

            Jesus said in Matthew 12:25 that when a nation divides against itself it is doomed to fail. Abraham Lincoln wisely and prophetically referenced these words of Christ before he ever ran for president. Tragically, the very issue he had in mind at the time would become the catalyst for the United State’s eventual bitter war under his presidency.

            Today we are truly a nation divided. The victory of President Obama was enough for him to remain in the Oval Office, but likely not enough for him to be able to garner the unquestioned support of the nation. In addition, a Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate mean that the next few years could prove to be bitterly divisive on Capitol Hill. The fact is, after a bitter and expensive election cycle, the only thing we have changed is that we know who won and who lost. Tragically, we are still bitterly divided and we face large decisions amid this division. If ever there was a time for national prayer, it is now. There are some key things that Christians can, and must, do.

            First, we need to put an end to the divisive posturing. We may disagree on matters of policy, biblical interpretation, and the role of government. Thankfully, we live in a nation where such diversity of opinion is not only permitted, it is encouraged! Yet, we fail to serve Christ when derogatory terms are used to degrade the humanity of people with whom we disagree. Likewise, to pray for—or promote—the failure of governmental leaders is unhealthy for us all.

            Second, we need to put an end to the hatred. Hate is not a Biblical virtue. It is generally borne out of the insecurity of fear and distrust. Clearly, the latest election cycle has generated a tremendous level of fear, hatred, and distrust. It will take a lot of prayer to overcome these bitterly engrained emotions. If we are honest—and I think this is a time for us to be really honest with ourselves—most Americans are extremely distrustful and fearful of what the “other party” is going to do to our beloved nation. It is time that we all started talking with each other, rather than talking down to, and insulting each other.

            Third, Christians share in our humanity regardless of political affiliation and it is time to embrace one another as brothers and sisters in the faith. There is no reason for supporters of Obama to gloat in the midst of his win and there is no need for supporters of Romney to anticipate the end of the world as we know it. Neither response represents the faith of Christianity.

            Finally, we Christians need to seriously work together for the good of Jesus Christ. We may disagree on particular matters of theology, politics, or biblical interpretation. We may not always agree with one another’s expression of Christian faith and that is ok. It is still a nation where freedom of religion is vital. Pray for our nation and our elected leaders. Pray for our leaders to be guided in God’s Spirit and for our nation to be healed in God’s love. Pray that we can once again truly be one nation under God rather than one red and one blue nation.