Reflection December 24, 2017
Christmas: Do Not Be Afraid to be Happy by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
How to capture what cannot be caught?
So I wonder as Christmas comes bringing
Its visions of candy canes and cribs.
But as star-shine again strikes my eye,
I marvel over and over at this God-child
Who burned to be born into this bruised
And battered place we call our world.
Let’s try to comprehend if we can
How the One who gathers galaxies
Into his arms, stopped to embrace
One tiny world whirling through space.
And in that embrace took to himself
All the hurt that has ever happened
And all the darkness that ever dawned.
Sometimes we get so easily caught
In Christmas chaos, that we forget
To remember who this baby was.
This baby who continues to tell
Us all we need to know about a God
Who chooses flesh to wrap himself in.
This God who created all the worlds
That ever were and ever will be.
This God who dances across the sky
And dazzles the dark with his light,
Now comes to us crying in his crib.
It’s been some years since I last used my Christmas poem - so the “newer” members of our congregation may have never seen it. So - for what it’s worth - may it serve as a kind of “Christmas present” to all who receive this reflection in the mail and all who view it online.
Let me add some words from the great Christian theologian, Karl Rahner: “When not only the glimmer of candles, the joy of children, and the fragrance of the Christmas tree but the heart itself answers God’s childlike word of love with a gracious yes, then Christmas really takes place … God’s word is then born in our heart, too. God then moves into our heart, just as God moved into the world in Bethlehem ...
“And now God says to us what God has already said to the whole world thru Christmas: I am here. I am with you. I am your life. I am your time. I am the gloom of your daily routine.
“Why will you not bear it? I weep your tears - pour your tears out to me … I am your joy. Do not be afraid to be happy … I am the blind alleys of all your paths, for when you no longer know how to go any further, then you have reached me, foolish child, though you are not aware of it.
“I am in your anxiety, for I have shared it by suffering it … I am in the prison of your finiteness, for my love has made me your prisoner. When the total of your plans and of your life’s experiences do not balance out evenly, I am the unsolved remainder … my Christmas embraces all your days and all your nights.
“I myself am truly engaged in the terrifying adventure that began with your birth. I tell you, my birth was no easier and no less dangerous than yours. I assure you, though, it had a happy ending. Ever since I became your brother (at Bethlehem), you are as near to me as I am to myself.”
I ask you to please read these words from Rahner once more. They say so much in such a short space. I am especially struck by the words: “Do not be afraid to be happy.” I myself - perhaps because of my dark Celtic genes - am probably not the most happy pastor who has graced our church. I find life to be a seriously daunting challenge. It’s very hard at times to feel happy. Yet if we aren’t able to be happy at Christmas - then happiness may elude us altogether.
The problem, though, is that “we get so easily caught in Christmas chaos, that we forget to remember who this baby is.” We rush from here to there. We wind up coming to Christmas exhausted: exhausted from all we have had to do, but also exhausted by the wave of memories from Christmases past.
This is the time of year when we most poignantly recall our dearly departed. It’s hard to celebrate when our celebrations so clearly reveal those who are missing from around our family tables.
And, yet! There is more to be said. Rahner’s words point out how Christmas is God’s greatest gift to humanity, on a par with creation itself. Christmas is a heart-rending gift too easily over-sentimentalized and too often over-sold.
Yes, there are few of us who do not shed Christmas tears as we remember and as we watch the annual plethora of holiday specials on our televisions. Who among us is not moved by “It’s a Wonderful Life”?
I pray each of us may be unafraid to be happy, myself included. As Rahner writes, in God’s name: “If you judge the future only according to yourselves, you cannot be pessimistic enough. But do not forget that your real future is my present … The incomprehensible wonder of my almighty love, I have sheltered, safely and completely, in the cold stable of your world.” Amen & Merry Christmas to us all!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643