Well, here we are again, at the best and worst time of the year. Christmas. I love it and I hate it. I listen to endless hours of Christmas music (www.pandora.com is wonderful), but refuse to hear musical triteness like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
Christmas is depressing because, for most people, it's a tawdry orgy in honor of materialism run wild. It's an event unworthy of those bearing the image of God. For others, however, it's a time marked by hope and excitement at the dawning of a new day.
Despite this paradox, it's perhaps my favorite time, because it marks - admittedly inaccurately - what is the most astonishing event ever: God becoming a man. It marks the day when hope was born, a day when we began the journey from darkness to glorious light.
I find that as the season grows near, I become more reflective, and perhaps it's as I grow older, but now I even listen to the words of some of the songs.
Some years back, I was in a church that didn't celebrate Christmas. The very idea was anathema. I swallowed hard one week, and spent my teaching time explaining why I thought it was simply wrong to ignore the birth of Jesus.
I appreciate that the very early church didn't consider the birthday of Jesus worth marking, and they didn't even mention the time in their earliest writings. Only the event, and even that somewhat briefly.
But that was typical of many ancient cultures, for a variety of reasons. The church was far more concerned about what happened - the results and implications of the birth of Jesus - than when it happened.
Perhaps they were wise, given the "Christmas" practices in the western world today, which demonstrate how badly our culture - and much of the church - has missed it.
I just finished reading an article suggesting that we spend so much attention and energy on the birth of Jesus some two millennia ago that we fail to see or hear what he is doing in our midst today. Everything is focused on the coming of a helpless and loveable baby, and nothing on the present work of the King of Kings among us.
That raises some questions: Just what is he doing among us? Anything? As we attend services at our churches, celebrating the event and season, can we look around and see God visibly at work among us? What about in our communities? Is God at work there? What is he doing? Or are we just going through the motions, trying to baptize the orgy of materialistic spending around us?
As I have written these thoughts - somewhat random - I wonder: How, every day of my life, does the birth of Jesus affect me? What difference does it make that he was born, lived, died, and rose again. Not generically, and not theologically, but practically: How is my life different today because of Jesus?
Have the merriest of Christmas times, celebrating the coming of the King of Kings, the birthday of Hope. Hallelujah!