Earlier this week, a friend of mine sent me a study that said that 50% of Americans don’t think that Christmas is a religious holiday. Another friend sent me a survey that said 47% of Americans don’t trust clergy– the highest percentage since the question was asked! Another friend called and said he attended the worst clergy Christmas party ever, because one colleague lamented the whole time over the looming reality that clergy will no longer have their housing tax exempt and they can’t get any respect. I have a lot of depressed clergy friends!
In a society where the only press clergy get is when a denomination defrocks one of their own thereby creating a war within themselves one week before Christmas, lets face it, we clergy are our own worse enemies. We are accused of being divisive, because we are. We are accused of having double standards, because we do. We are accused of not practicing what we preach, because we don’t. We clergy are as human and sinful and vulnerable and needy as anyone. We are trying to figure it out just like everyone else. And if anyone out there suggests that they have it all together and they have all the answers, run!
In April, 1966, Time Magazine wrote on the cover or their magazine the now infamous words, “Is God Dead?” They wrote that the current crisis of faith could be healthy for the church, and that it might force clergymen and theologians to abandon previously held certainties: “The church might well need to take a position of reverent agnosticism regarding some doctrines that it had previously proclaimed with excessive conviction.”
Today, some fifty years later it seems to me the church has taken the position of reverent agnosticism to the point that we have lost our sacred identity.
I don’t think Christmas will ever be forgotten, but Jesus might.
The other night I heard Ben Stiller explain the meaning of Christmas to Steven Colbert. He said, “Yeah, I like Christmas. Its a time to give thanks and appreciate all the blessings in our lives.” Really? That’s the meaning of Christmas? About all the stuff we have and how fortunate we are to have it?!
In the name of reverent agnosticism, Christmas has become a day when we count all our stuff and say, “Man, I am lucky!!”
Charles Schulz tried to bring some Jesus back when he had Linus read from Luke 2, and then say:
“That’s was Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Christmas will come and go this year. We will eat, unwrap, sing, play and give. The question is will Jesus be remembered, and if he is remembered, how we will remember him? Will he be remembered as a personal friend? God, I hope not. Will he be remembered as a personal counselor or physician, or our personal genie who will make all our wishes come true? Lord, in your mercy.
Will he be remembered as the ultimate representative of Love? Real, honest, profound love? Will he be remembered as the ultimate representative of sacrifice? I pray it be so. Will we own up to words like sin and redeem and recognize that we do and we are. It’s about love. It’s about redemption. Christmas is not a day, or 12 days. Christmas is a state of mind. Not our minds, but the mind of Christ.
This is not a question of “what would Jesus do?” It’s the question of “how would Jesus be?” How would he be in a world where most people don’t know what to do with him, where many commercialize him, where others make false statements in his name?
I think that happened.
Here is how he responded. He had meals with people everyone hated. He hung out with sinners. He healed wounds and he called out demons. He wrote in the sand. He considered the lilies. He welcomed children. He calmed troubled waters.
Here is how he was. He was welcoming. He was honest. He was angry. He was direct. He named injustice. He noticed bleeding women and little men. He liked calling people “brood of vipers.” He listened. He forgave. He lived peace.
I don’t expect this little essay to make a dent up against the business of Christmas. I do not expect us to do the season differently. I do hope that in some way we can all be different. Can we be Christ-like? Can we live not doing more, but being other?
I don’t want to be a reverent agnostic, I want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which is to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.
– St Teresa of Avila