Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's Christmas Time Again

My sister and I grew up in a home in which we were loved and where all our needs were met.  Growing up as we did, Carolyn and I saw Christmas as a magical time of the year.  For us, the magic began as soon as that first Christmas catalog from Sears, Roebuck & Company or Montgomery Ward arrived at our home.  We spent hours studying those catalogs, circling those items we just had to have!  We didn't always get all we wanted, but Christmas morn always brought joyous surprises.  Oh, the magic of going to bed and waking up to find gifts under the tree!

As I grew into adulthood, I thought such magic would never come again.  How wrong I was!  I could write about the magic of many Christmases, but this one is so much like others that it will suffice to demonstrate that the magic of those early years has given way to something better--the mystery of Christ among us.  Of course, I've known of the mystery of Christ among us for a long time.  I knew of it as a child.  Today, I know the mystery.

That I know the mystery is due in large part to the amazing congregation with which I've spent more than three decades.  Their actions remind me again and again of the real meaning of Christmas.  Consider just these three examples:
  1. For the past two winters, this congregation has chosen to provide new winter coats for every child in our local school who needed one.  By the time this season ends, our people will have provided over 100 children with new, not gently used, coats.
  2. Standing just outside the sanctuary is our Giving Tree.  Each year, volunteers, working with our local school and social service providers, gather the names of children whose parents lack the means by which to provide presents for them.  The Giving Tree is decorated with ornaments that indicate the gender of the child, age, and the gift desired (including sizes for clothing).  Church members take an ornament, buy the gift, and return it unwrapped.  The gifts are then taken to the parents, who are able to wrap them and present them to their children as gifts from them. 
  3. For the past several years, a church member has visited with me early in December.  We exchange pleasantries and enjoy catching up with each other.  As our time comes to an end, the church member hands me an envelope and says, "I know that as a pastor you come in contact with lots of folks who could use a little extra help.  I've been blessed.  Use this to bless others."  Inside I will find more one hundred dollar bills than I've handled all year. The member attaches only two stipulations to the generous gift: (a) Recipients are not to know from whom it came; and (b) I am not to tell the donor who the recipients were.
The magic of Christmas has given way to the mystery.  According to Matthew's Gospel, the angel who visited Joseph told him that the child Mary would bear was to be called Emmanuel, God with us.  I believe God is with us.  I believe because I see evidence of the Kingdom in this little community in which I am privileged to live and serve.

CHRISTMAS!  What a glorious way to begin a new church year!