In 1516, the year leading up to Luther’s seminal event propelling the Reformation along, December 25, Christmas day, fell on a Monday. As my family is with me this Christmas day, I’ve been wondering what Christmas was like for Martin Luther.
In the Reforming Church, there is an alternative way to the consumer driven Christmas we know in the United States.
When our children were born we were unprepared for the bundle of presents that found their way under our Christmas tree. There were gifts from aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, too – and of course our own gifts for our children. Even in the years before environmentalists were warning us about excessive consumption, I knew it was too much. And besides, there was so much, our children were unable to focus on any one thing as their attention was drawn from one prettily wrapped package to another.
Having a generous spirit it was hard to say enough, though some in the family did, and I thank them for their courageous commitment even as we thought of them as a little “scroogy.”
The Reforming Church says, Enough.
In 1974, radio broadcaster, scholar, and writer, deeply sensitized to racism in our country, wrote and recorded “The Christmas Story.” NPR began playing the recording on Christmas day in 1994, and as far as I know, every Christmas day since. I have heard it many times and share the link with you, to both the recording and the actual transcript: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5028755.
A 12-year-old boy exclaims, “I want to show him (cousin) my orange old Santa Claus brought me” (Faulk, The Christmas Story). It is hard to imagine a child being happy with just an orange for Christmas.
In the Reforming Church Christmas, it is more than the giving and the receiving. It’s about our joyful welcome of strangers and aliens and people unlike ourselves, even if appearing to us in our most intimate routines and rituals as less than shepherds, magi, and angels. And it is about giving, but it is God’s gift to us. It is for us to learn what that gift means, apart from the hoopla of culture – the Reforming Church takes an alternative path.
In the Church, the liturgical year completes the life cycle of Jesus from his conception to his death and resurrection. In the liturgical year, Christmas is not just about Jesus nativity. It is bracketed by Advent and Epiphany. It is a total package. It isn’t just all about December 25. It is about expectation and waiting. It is about lives tossed about by the mindless caprice of governments and the mean circumstances of life it creates. It is about an incarnate hope surviving, fleeing from the insane terror of genocidal slaughter. Yes, this is all in our Christmas story. And the Reforming Church reminds us of whom Jesus is in that story – God incarnate in a helpless baby – the resilient bearer of the hope of the world.
The Reforming Church takes the time to remind us of the entire story, the saga of hope, and expectation through the Sundays in Advent preparing us for the pensive climax and the unrestrained joy of Jesus’ nativity. And the days after Christmas the Reforming Church reminds us of the holy family’s flight to Egypt becoming political refugees. The Reforming Church does not spare us the horrifying slaughter of the innocents. And then, again and again, year after year, the Reforming Church both comforts us and challenges us with the message that our hope is not to be undone by empires or principalities. Yet, even this is not the end of the Christmas story. On the Day of Epiphany, the Reforming Church remembers that our hope has reached out to a grateful and humble world. We remember how the magi came from the East and we anticipate that the wise will come from the West and the North and the South as well.
And a child having received only an orange for Christmas said, “Mister, we had the wonderfulest Christmas in the United States down to our place. Lordy, it was the first one we ever had had there.” (Faulk, The Christmas Story)