It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
Trees and lights. Congested malls and laughing Santas. Candlelight services and family reunions.
It's a wonderful, exhausting, and hectic time of year. As a matter of fact, if we can stay busy enough, if we can just keep ourselves distracted, we might even forget how unnerving Christmas actually is.
The truth be known, Christmas has always been something of an embarrassment to the church.
Now, the early Christians rather easily accepted the divinity of Jesus. One heresy even claimed that when he walked, he left behind no footprints.
But his humanity? That was outrageously scandalous. It left our ancestors stuttering and stammering, sometimes even disappointed and apologetic.
What? The king of the world did not arrive in a blazing chariot? He did not dispose of the despotic Roman Empire with a wave of his hand?
No. Christmas affirms that God comes to us as one of us. Jesus is truly human. He hungers. He thirsts. He sweats. He needs rest. His feet get tired, and his fingernails get dirty.
The Apostles' Creed says that Jesus is "born of the virgin Mary." In the twenty-first century, we tend to focus on the word "virgin." But in the ancient world, the emphasis fell on" born." Yes, Jesus was born. Born of a woman. He didn't just appear out of the blue. He did not spring from the head of Zeus with a sword in hand. He was born just like you and me.
What kind of savior is this?
Many years ago, in the first congregation I served, I often visited Jim. Jim's family had deep roots in that particularly community of faith, but he only attended worship once or twice a year. His wife came instead.
Then came the diagnosis: cancer. At first, the signs were hopeful. Radiation reduced the size of the tumor in his throat, and the surgeon was very pleased with the outcome of the operation. We all breathed a heavy sigh of relief and literally gave thanks to God for healing.
Three months later the cancer returned with a vengeance, and week by week I witnessed that disease slowly destroy a wonderful man who deeply loved his wife and three sons.
Several weeks after the funeral, I spent some time with his wife, Jan. She wondered how she could go on. She shared stories that filled the room with laughter, and she shared stories that left tears in our eyes.
Before I left, we prayed together. I asked, "What do you think you will most miss about Jim?" It was a clumsy question, and I almost regretted it as soon as the words left my mouth.
But she surprised me. She said, "At night, he would crawl into bed and pull the sheets and blankets over him. Then slowly, even gently, he moved his foot over until he touched my foot. That's what I will miss."
If I had listened carefully, I might have heard "Joy to the World" in the background.
Personal hurts need personal healing, and personal healing often comes in the form of touch. Yes, touching can be touchy subject. We know all too well of its potential for abuse.
But that's the way God comes to us. Through flesh and blood God reaches out to us to claim us, touch us and hold us. That's the good news of Christmas in a nutshell.
The next time you rub the shoulders of your spouse or kiss your child goodnight or softly caress your aging mother on her cheek or hold the hands of a neighbor who is grieving or wrap your arms around a long lost friend, dare to be embarrassed. Let your cheeks blush. You might not believe that you have the Christmas spirit, but the Christmas Spirit has embraced you.