So it is upon us once again, the season of Joy and Happiness that is Christmas time. At least, that’s what I’m led to believe it is, and I’ve got lots of evidence to back that up. Now that all the political ads are gone, the major retailers are going nuts buying up airtime like a super pac on a bender. And each is amazingly similar.
I don’t know where they film these commercials, but the people in them are always having a much better time than I ever see anybody having at Wal-Mart. I mean really, shouldn’t there be a two year old melting down in the background while the happy couple fills their cart under the watchful eye of the wide smiling yellow face that, incidentally, wouldn’t look out of place in a “the Shining” remake?
Seriously, who is that happy in any aisle of a large box store? And why are the couples all shopping together? I don’t know about everyone else, but my wife and I have a divide and conquer approach to these kinds of things. It’s not that I don’t like spending time with her, far from it. I just don’t consider dodging crazed “couponers” quality time. I’d rather spend time together somewhere more relaxing. Like the dentist.
Today holiday shopping ads look far more like beer commercials than anything that started with religious intentions. Think about it. Years ago some brilliant man (and come on, you know it was a guy) hit upon the idea that when you sell beer you’re not really selling beer, you’re selling a lifestyle. One where everyone is pretty, has amazing hair, and is happy all the time. And not drunk happy, but honestly happy. The message is simple, “Drink our beer, people will like you and you’ll always have a good time!” Christmas shopping ads are a variation on the same theme, “Shop our store, people will like you and your spouse will pay attention to you!”
So this is what Christmas has become: A state of temporary insanity where we’re doing things we normally wouldn’t in the deluded hope it will make us happy, or special, or needed. Sometimes I wonder how long until the CDC starts to call it a pandemic and starts offering vaccinations.
Those who choose to follow Jesus know that Christmas is about more than shopping and a tree slowing dying in your home. However, let’s be honest again, we are often part of the problem like everyone else. Sure, we’ll sing O Holy Night by candlelight, but the next morning we are shredding the wrapping paper with the best of them.
In truth, we don’t always want what God offers us. It’s just not simple and clean enough. Today Jesus would just be some punk kid. Remember, he was in his early thirties when he did most of his ministry, he hung around with the wrong people, and he expected a lot from them.
Really we want something easier, maybe a little older, not necessarily handsome, but with some charm. We want someone who blesses good people and ignores bad people. Maybe he could have a list to make it easier. And check it twice, you know, to be sure.
In today’s world we have supplanted Jesus with Santa because Santa is easier to deal with, and Santa does magic! Magic we like. After all, the whole point of magic is to take impossible things and make them look easy. Just wave your hand and the woman who was sawed in two is back together. We want God to do this. Wave a hand and fix that problem, deliver that blessing, cure that illness. Just as easy as that.
Unfortunately, Jesus doesn’t offer us magic; he offers miracles. Which, on the surface seem just as good, but miracles come with a hitch, they aren’t easy. Miracles take work. Think about it. God didn’t just transport the Israelites out of Egypt with some giant Star Trek transporter. That would have been magic. Instead, God sends Moses, makes him jump through all sorts of hoops, and then sends an army after them. Sure, the story is full of miracles, but it weren’t easy!
The birth of Jesus is a miracle, no doubt about it. But, it wasn’t easy. And I would argue that Jesus takes real issue with how his birthday is celebrated. Not because we need to graft Christ back onto our shopping madness. No, his issue would be about the miracles. God wants to still do miracles today. God wants to heal, to comfort, and liberate. And, just like in the Bible, God needs us to be part of the work. Unfortunately we are too caught up in what we are doing to really take part.
If we are going to truly celebrate the birthday of Jesus shouldn’t we be a little more concerned with what Jesus wants? On our birthday, sure. Enjoy the presents and go after the wrapping like a terrier locked in a cage a bit to long. But of Jesus’ birthday lets do something different.
The truth is that miracles are so much better than magic, and a feels really good to be a miracle worker! In our community our miracles will take the for of tuna fish, soup, granola bars, and chili collected for a local school food pantry. And before you get all uppity about that not really being a miracle, I’d argue they all taste a lot better than the manna provided to the Israelites. And to the one who receives it, it will be nothing short of miraculous.
So this year lets not expect magic, or jolly men in red coats. Instead, lets expect Jesus and the miracles that he brings. It will be so much better. I promise.