We’ve finally made it to the most anticipated month of the year. It’s December, and that means just sitting around the corner is Christmas and all the beauty and magic the season and day will bring. After 20 years in ministry, I’ve spent a lot of late Novembers trying to craft a message that might bring a little hope, peace and joy to the churches and people who make such a difference in my life. You never hear it enough, but thank you for your support and love. It is so appreciated and, hopefully, it’s been returned in a way you’ll think of Sandy, Teddy and me with the love and admiration we feel for you.
So what thought might I leave you with to prepare for a time of peace on earth and goodwill to all people? Sure, we could talk about gifts and how they take center stage in our Christmas preparations. Gifts, the good and the bad. The good, as we mimic the giving of an all-loving God as he sends his son to Earth to teach us what true giving means. The season opens our hearts to giving gifts without expectation and seeing how those gifts can and will make a difference in the lives of others. The bad? Well, sometimes we all get too caught up in how much we need to buy to keep up with the Joneses, and it becomes a competition in excess, both in giving and receiving. It can morph into quite the spectacle.
Certainly, the day and the gift from a loving father not only require but demand much more than a cursory glance. They demand a change in attitude, spirit and life which can not only illuminate Christmas but set the foundation for a year-long change in how we view giving. Maybe that’s the real beauty of Christmas: not seeing life as it is today but to see what it might be. A change that can outlast the season and not get swept away like yesterday's good intentions. Maybe this year we can sweep away skipping Christmas and all the Grinches that stealthily move in and out of our lives. Maybe, just maybe, we might work on keeping Christmas. And in that mode of thinking, I’d like to share one of my favorite Christmas meditations — a timely tome by the twice-serving chaplain for the U.S Senate, a man named Peter Marshall, whose message never fails to stir me to the core. Chaplain Marshall once wrote:
"In a world that seems not only to be changing but even to be dissolving, there are some tens of millions of us who want Christmas to be the same … with the same old greeting 'Merry Christmas' and no other. We long for the abiding love among men of goodwill which the season brings … believing in this ancient miracle of Christmas with its softening, sweetening influence to tug at our heartstrings once again. We want to hold on to the old customs and traditions because they strengthen our family ties, bind us to our friends, make us one with all mankind for whom the Child was born, and bring us back again to the God who gave his only begotten son, that ‘whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ So we will not ‘spend’ Christmas … nor ‘observe’ Christmas. We will ‘keep’ Christmas — keep it as it is … in all the loveliness of its ancient traditions. May we keep it in our hearts, that we may be kept in its hope.”
And so dear ones, I’ll close with a simple thanks as we prepare for the day we wait for all year. Thanks for your hearts and hope, giving and love. Thanks for all the memories and times together, and thanks for the gift of family. I guess it can be said, without a doubt, you can come home. So to echo another who expressed a not so “tiny” wish for the new year to come, "God bless us ... everyone."
May the peace of the newborn babe we find in the manger richly bless you and yours all year long.
Bob Stone is pastor of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Pocatello.