Will anything happen here this Christmas?
"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!' When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.'"
-Luke 2:13-15 (NRSV)
By Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr.
John Lenore lived in Paris, France, and he made his living making shoes in the late 1700s. His personal diary was discovered a few decades ago. His daily writings reveal a picture of what life was like in France during the reign of King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette.
Researchers are baffled by Lenore's journal entry of July 14, 1789. He wrote: "Nothing of importance happened here today."
Scholars cannot understand such a record of that particular day. In Paris on July 14, 1789, a mob stormed the prison known as the Bastille, killed the troops guarding it, freed the prisoners confined within it, and burned it to the ground. This single event was responsible for starting the French Revolution! Surely anyone living in Paris had to know about the uprising. Yet, Lenore completely leaves it out of his detailed diary. Sadly, at the conclusion of Christmas Day 2007, some people will write in their diaries as Lenore did: "Nothing of importance happened here today."
Is this what has become of God's great gift to the world?
For some of us, Christmas has become just another holiday, just another season that has lost its charm. We go through the outward motions of celebrating Christmas but, inwardly, nothing really stirs us anymore. We have abandoned any expectation that something momentous can happen.
So many times I 've heard people say, "I'll sure be glad when Christmas is over!" Worn out and weary of holiday preparations and expectations, they announce themselves void of a reason to celebrate. The season has lost its meaning and significance for them.
After you've strung the lights, invited the guests, and exchanged the gifts, are you one of those left wondering: Is this all?
Christmas may not come
I heard one minister say we know exactly when Christmas will come -but, unfortunately, it will not come to everyone. When I first heard that statement, I was confused. The pastor then said Christmas will not come to everyone because God 's great act of love will not be able to break through the stress-filled emptiness of every life.
The minister declared: In order for Christmas to come, you have to go to it!
Christmas is an elective. It does not force itself on anyone. You must embrace it, and you must allow it a special place in your life. Otherwise, it may not come.
In the Gospel of Luke, the angels appeared to the shepherds in the fields and announced what was happening in the city of Bethlehem. When the angels returned to heaven, the immediate response for those shepherds was to go and see what had been proclaimed. A key point is found in how the purpose of their journey is described: to "see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
Central to us this Christmas is a purpose-filled response to God's gift of the Son.
A trio of gift ideas
Let us begin by asking: "How do we get to Bethlehem this year?" Indeed, each of us has been to Bethlehem, has met God coming to us in human form in a special place and moment. If anything is going to happen this Christmas, we must find our way to that holy place and experience what God is making known to us.
My gift to you in this Christmas column reflects three ideas that, hopefully, will allow you to feel anew the awe of God's grace and share in the mystery and wonder of this event.
First, if Christmas is going to happen for you this year, you must go to it with a spirit of expectation! Have you seen the anticipation on the faces of young children at this time of year? They are wide-eyed, excited over what will take place. You can be, too.
The message proclaimed by John the Baptist says it best: "Get ready! Be prepared!" He knew God was about to make something happen. Go to Christmas this year expecting something to happen.
Secondly, if Christmas is going to happen for you this year, you must enter into it with a spirit of joy! The Scriptures remind us that God's angels announced, "Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy to all the people."
That means the good news and God's joy is for you and for me! It is not exclusive of anyone. No one is left out!
Each Christmas, I see expressions of desperate longing on many faces. People search for something missing. What is missing is joy! We must recapture the joy of this season; without joy, there can be no Christmas.
Once you do something for a person or family whose only response can be "thank you," something sacred will happen to you. My most meaningful and memorable Christmases have occurred when I gave the gift of myself and shared with someone in need from the abundance of what God has given me.
Throughout the centuries, when people of worldly importance were born, their advent has been marked by the roar of guns, by great strains of music, or by the waving of flags.
But when Jesus was born, there was no demonstration of earthly honor. He was born to a poor, unknown peasant couple, in a borrowed barn, and welcomed by humble shepherds. Even the people whose holy Scriptures promised the Messiah saw nothing unusual taking place on the most important day in history.
What will you write in your life's diary at the conclusion of Dec. 25, 2007? Will anything happen to you this year? Or will you miss Christmas -again?