When Thanksgiving turkey is still digesting, the Christmas season, or should I say the Holiday Shopping season commences. Like a shot, the American public leaves the starting blocks, sprinting to the nearest big box stores on a treasure hunt of discounted popular merchandise. Hey, it's good for the economy, right? Retailers claim Friday after Thanksgiving is when they first operate profitably "in the black" for the fiscal year. And our government needs the sales tax revenue, the income tax and corporate taxes, and every other tax that can be collected to pay for its' spending. So...let's spend, spend, spend, and buy, buy, buy. Then on Christmas morning we pile the wrappings in the corner and lean back on the couch to view our accumulation of Santa gifts. That is, until the day after Christmas when we run to the stores in anticipation of end of year "savings." Do I sound a little jaded with it all? Am I the Grinch of Christmas?
In the days of Caesar Augustus and the Roman Empire, there was a frenzy of commerce and hordes of people who went about buying and spending, trading and negotiating, often centered on religious or government holidays. And government was a big time spender in those days. So much so, that Caesar commanded "all the world" to travel to their hometowns for enrollment in the tax plan. Can you imagine the bumper to bumper donkey traffic, the push and pull to get to the merchandise retailers, food venders and hotel front desks? In the midst of the entire hubbub in a little town swollen with travelers, shoppers, and government officials, a young woman and a carpenter slipped into a stable in the back alley. There she would labor and deliver her first born, wrap him in swaddling cloths, and lay him in a manger, for there was no room in the Inn. The Light of the world had come among us, Emmanuel, "God With Us." He entered humbly into human history, and the weary world has reason to rejoice.
What do you want for Christmas? It's a fair question. If all we want is a "Happy Holiday" to party, blow off steam and get our fix of the latest fad or technology, aren't we a sorry bunch? Will we settle for a "holiday season" to buy and sell, push and pull, consume and then consume some more? Even family gatherings become tainted with "stuff" and one-upsmanship. We end up wanting it all to just be done so we can get back to the dull and routine. Are trinkets what we want to give and receive for Christmas? Or do we remember the reason for the season?
If Jesus was not born, then killed, and then rose to life, we have no reason to celebrate after sweeping up the broken tree ornaments. But He was, and He did, and we have Hope. We can live in Joy, even in the ongoing midst of life's bumps, hassles, and less than stellar displays of humanity. We have been offered a gift, a Pearl of Great Price, that we cannot afford to buy, and yet the one gift from God that fits just right if we will only receive Him. He is the special gift we can give away this Christmas to our loved ones: the Gospel of the manger, Calvary and the empty tomb.
A few days ago, the two Detroit Lakes LCMC congregations I serve got together for a chilly but fun project of building a parade float. In the midst of thirty other brightly lit floats on a Monday evening, we traveled the downtown streets in a caravan of festive spirit. Among the Santas and reindeer, fire trucks and snowmen, ATVs and sparkling candy canes, there were two floats that brought attention to why we celebrate Christmas. Our friends from the Community Alliance Church created a float with the theme "Jesus Light of the World." We followed a few floats behind with our newly baked and candle decorated cake proclaiming "Happy Birthday Jesus!" Did you see us? If not, the parade will be televised on Arvig cable channel #3 the week of Dec. 10.
Let's include a birthday cake in our festive gatherings. Let us sing, "Happy Birthday Jesus," and let's light the candles in remembrance of the Light who still shines, showing the way to the stable, the cross, and then to heaven.
"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14
Merry Christmas! -- Pastor Jim Osvold, Lund Lutheran Church, Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church, Detroit Lakes