Archive for December, 2013

Jesus, Relatives & Christmas Dinner

December 14, 2013

Everybody Loves Raymond‘Tis the season for families to gather together at the table. We gather for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or a Christmas dinner to connect with our extended families including our eccentric relatives and that one crazy uncle. These family gatherings can be rather peculiar, as most of us do not live in a Norman Rockwell painting.

This is also the time of year we set up our nativity displays. They are idyllic and sanitized representations. Mary is sitting up, composed and tranquil after giving birth without an epidural. The dirty rags and straw have been removed. Jesus lies clean and happy in a feeding trough that looks like it was just bought on Black Friday and never used. The whole scene looks like a Febreze meets Purell commercial. As we gather with goofy grandpa and silly sister we look nothing like the Holy Family and thus feel disconnected from them. This sanitized view of that first Christmas does us a disservice (though I am not advocating we set up a realistic church crèche with all the smells, mind you). It distances us from the very child sent to be “God with us.”

Jesus is supposed to be relatable to us. His favorite title for himself was Son of Man, meaning he wanted to be recognized as one of us, for us, and with us. Let us ponder this family for a minute and see if we can relate.

Think of that year’s Hanukkah dinner. Mary is there; she’s the quiet teenager pregnant out of wedlock.  There is the fiancé Joseph, the hardworking blue-collar step-dad with hardly a hint of his royal lineage left. Across from him is Mary’s crazy uncle Zach who saw a vision of the angel of the Lord and is now dumbstruck seated next to his elderly expecting wife; they are having that “surprise” baby anytime soon.

You can imagine a few years later at a similar dinner with a teenage Jesus. His cousin John’s is the religious extremist with peculiar clothing. He’s also a picky eater (he prefers organic honey-dipped locusts). Jesus’ brothers are there also. I can only imagine his grandma scolding them for not washing their feet before coming to the table saying, “Why can’t you be more like Jesus.”

I hope you forgive me the indulgence of my imagination, but what I am simply trying to say is that Jesus was from a typical home. It’s a blended family with a stepfather and has all the peculiarities that yours does. That’s the point. When you hang out with your family this year remember you have a Savior who can relate. Teenage pregnancy, mid-life changes, blended family? Maybe you have a child that is labeled “special” or “gifted.” Mary and Elizabeth understand all too well. This Christmas remember that God entered a messy and inglorious ordinary world. And he has entered yours as well. Jesus wants to be part of your Christmas, not matter how crazy it is. He doesn’t mind. He can relate.

Advent: The Unexpected Appearing

December 1, 2013

no-vacancy1Today we begin the celebration of the Season of Advent. This is that splendid time of year punctuated on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The word Advent comes from the idea of a personal visitation, of the coming of Christ. Advent comes from the Latin translation of the Greek term, parousia. This word, parousia, is often found in the study of the last things (eschatology) concerning the Second Coming. At Advent we celebrate the first coming of Christ, born of the virgin Mary and we also look forward to the Second Coming.

Just as Christ’s first advent seemed unexpected so too is his second advent. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” (Matthew 24:36). The Christ child came in a crowded town bustling with visitors for the royal census. Joseph brings Mary to his hometown and finds no accommodations until someone graciously allows them the use of their currently unoccupied basement (which is a seasonal pen for their livestock). This is no place for the king’s mother to give birth.

The real question is that if at the second coming of Christ, after his long hiatus, whether we will have room for him in our schedules as well. Jesus is returning and Advent is just at the right time of year.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the busiest time of year as we fulfill familial obligations of gatherings and worry about the proper gift etiquette for coworkers and neighbors. Its time we worry about meeting estranged family at formal gathering. Its the time filled with gluttony and greed, of commercialism and community. Its a time of hustle and bustle to make things look prim and proper and decking the halls. What a perfect time to test our loyalty the keep our eyes on the Kingdom of God amidst the consumerism of modern life.

We are awaiting the unexpected Jesus. Will there be room for him at our crowded table of to-dos? Are we bustling about our Father’s business amongst the mores of modernity? Advent reminds us to keep our priorities in line. Yes, eat and drink and be merry. Enjoy the lives God has given us but watch lest we become so comfortable we forget that we are here with a mission, to witness to the work of the heavenly Christ and prepare the way for the return of the King.

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