An evangelical friend of mine recently told me: “We need to keep Christ in Christmas.” An Anglican friend of mine recently told me: “We need to return the ‘mas’ to Christmas.” [Note: The word Christmas is actually the bringing together of two words, that is, the Christ Mass or the ancient worship service welcoming the Christ child into the world.] It is not surprising that a common sentiment this time of year is “This is the season of peace and love.” What do all these sentiments mean? What does it mean to keep Christ in Christmas? Is it purely intellectual? How do we practice peace in this season? How do we show love to others?
Jean Vanier is the founder of the L’Arche Community (http://www.larcheusa.org). The L’Arche Community is a worldwide ecumenical organization that has hundreds of small community houses where people with disabilities live in a kind of monastic community. They are an example of a new monasticism that is becoming popular in the Protestant Church. Vanier, in seeking to explain how love is pragmatically experienced, writes, “To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: ‘You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’ We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things for themselves. To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.”
This season can subtly mislead us to think that the way we show others our love is to heap gifts upon them or to patronizingly give “the needy” a meal or “needy children” gifts all in a spirit of good will that leaves them with an armful of things and a heart that is still empty. Don’t confuse this sentiment as a minimizing of our efforts to provide food and toys through our constituent agencies (i.e. CAReS, Shelter of Hope, Salvation Army, etc.). Rather it is an encouragement to continue our interest in others year round. Our call to love others is a demand we place on ourselves to invest ourselves in the lives of others. How can we stand with other people of faith in our community to fight the ever growing problem of prescription drug addiction, broken families and unemployment? How can we use the resources and opportunities present within our own congregation to make a difference in our own backyard? How can we join with Christians around the world who live in countries hostile to the name of Christ?
May God keep us from assuming that our good fortune, our congregation’s strong financial commitment, is our own doing or that our ability to serve is anything other than a gift of God. To those much has been given, much is expected. I know you join with the clergy and elders of this congregation to thank God for his generosity. May we claim our role as spiritual leaders in this community. It is not that the darkness of the world is so dark, but that our light has yet to shine so that the shadows of despair and the absence of Christ are forced to flee. As one of our elders said recently, ‘May the devil tremble when he realizes that First Christian Church is awake.”