Pastoral Series

Prayer: My Christmas Message to You

   It seems like I should have some special Christmas message for you, my Church family. It could be simple, like Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in Meet Me in St. Louis. All the music of Christmas moves me – so much so that I wrote a little book about sacred and secular carols, Why This Jubilee?

I find myself wanting to reach inside your heart to be sure you know what Christmas is about. God wanted desperately for us to know God’s heart. So God thought, I’ll do this, I’ll come as a small, vulnerable infant. I imagine the tender beauty of Mary cradling her newborn son, history’s most shimmering beautiful moment. Madeleine L’Engle said Jesus’ first cry sounded like the ringing of a bell. That circle of love, mother and child: that’s where you once were yourself – and when you were newly born, held by your mother, you’ve never been closer to God. You’ve never been more like God.

Christmas is an invitation to a new, hopeful, purposeful, joyful life. God asked Mary to let God’s very life take on flesh in her, to become reality in her. God asks the same of us. We begin by lingering at the manger, being awed, overwhelmed by the love, overjoyed by the grace. Rembrandt’s marvelous painting of the moment moves me: the infant Jesus, glowing like a lantern, enlightening the faces of all gathered around. One figure in shadow has his back to us as we look. Who is it? It’s you. You are the one kneeling, joining in, adoring him.

I love it that even cynics and atheists will string up some lights and celebrate with us. Fred said to his Uncle Scrooge (in Dickens’s Christmas Carol) “Christmas is the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

When I think about my own retirement, if you ask me to rank what I will miss the most about being a pastor, it will be Christmas Eve. I get to hug a few thousand people I love. I get to say the blessing at our family meal, as we are gifted in the Lord’s Supper with the very real gift of God becoming very real – and I get to be not the center of attention, but the one who centers our attention on Christ. And then we raise our candles as we sing Silent Night. Such beauty, such joy, so much love, such tender grace.

This is what I long to give each of you this Christmas – with the dream that it might linger through the year: to know the Lord Jesus, and to love him, and to feel the love, and share the love. It’s enough. For the whole year really.

I love you all,

James

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