I enjoy the Christmas season and when I discovered the liturgical season of Advent as an adult, that sacred time of waiting gave the season even more meaning for me. At the same time, I realize that there are many who have difficulty participating in the festive season. Some have painful memories from the past; some have been hardened by life and cannot make their way back to hope. Others have either lost faith, were nurtured in a different faith, or were raised without a strong faith tradition.
My hope is that everyone can find reason to celebrate the season and that we all can have hope for the days ahead. The following essay is one that was first posted in December of 2010. It was first written and presented at the request of Rev. Karen Matteson, a Unitarian Minister. She wanted me to take part in a Sunday morning service in preparation for Christmas. Many in that Unitarian congregation felt that it was very important to have a big Christmas Eve celebration. Others had a problem with Christmas because they came from different backgrounds, and most had a problem with affirming the divinity of Christ. The minister wanted to have a service to help bring everyone in to the celebration of the season while acknowledging the different places that many were coming from. "Finding Christmas" was my contribution to that service which I was honored to take part in.
Finding Christmas: A Post-modern Christian Revisits an Ancient Holiday
by Charles Kinnaird
"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me
there lay an invincible summer."
In the Jesus story, the Gospel writer at one point has the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, asking the question, "What am I to do with Jesus?" It is fascinating to me that from that time until this, most of us in Western Civilization have had to ask that very question and in some way respond to the question. When I was in high school, there were two Broadway musicals, Godspell, and Jesus Christ, Superstar, that represented one way that my generation was responding to the question of what to do with Jesus. Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, Handel's Messiah, Zulu Zionism in South Africa, Base Communities in Latin America, and the Jesus Seminar in Santa Rosa, CA, represent a few of the many varied responses to the same question.
In my own journey, I am always re-evaluating and redefining. I took a computer course once where we were working with spreadsheets. I loved the visual effect of having the spreadsheet all laid out, then typing in another number and watching the whole screen change in response to the new data. A living philosophy has to be that way. When we are confronted with new information or new experiences, our perspective will change in some way. There may even be a shift in our world view.
The Risk of Incarnation
A few years ago, I was attending a Eucharistic service at an Episcopal Church (some traditions refer to it as Mass, or Holy Communion). It was at a time when I was re-assessing what the Christian myth meant to me, given my world view. It occurred to me that however the person of Jesus fits (or does not fit) into one's theology, the Jesus Story dramatically illustrates the risk of incarnation. It was an emotional moment and I immediately connected with that notion because I knew first-hand the risk of incarnation.
In my work as a registered nurse, I often have to ask patients to sign a consent form for the surgeon to operate. I always ask the patient "Has the doctor explained to you the risks and the benefits of this procedure?" If the patient answers affirmatively, then I know that he or she is ready to sign the consent form. That day during the Eucharist, I knew that as I drank from the cup, I was affirming my own participation in the risk of incarnation. Knowing the beauty of being alive, I was also fully aware of the risk.
Celebrating the Light
Christmas is about light and life. It is a celebration in the middle of winter that the light will come and the darkness will end. It is a celebration of the promise of new life beginning. We call it Christmas, a time when Christians celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus as the incarnation of God and a light to the world.
The celebration existed, however, long before the Christians took it over. Winter Solstice had long been a time to celebrate the dawn on the darkness of winter. It was a time to extol the evergreen that proclaimed the promise of life in the dead of winter.
Christmas for us can be a time to celebrate the joy and beauty of incarnation as we know it. If we have lived long enough, we understand the risk, but we also know from our collective experience that the darkness will end. We sense the persistent hope of new life. We know that life on this planet is worth the risk. We can use the Christmas season to acknowledge our own participation in the incarnation of Life.
Our light has come.
Our day has dawned.
We can joyfully celebrate
Life is up to something,
and we are included!
Life is full of surprises,
and we are a part of it!