Monday, December 20, 2010

The Christmas Letter

We've all received them.  Some of us have written them.  I have produced nearly three dozen of them myself.  They arrive this time of year; sent by family and friends alike.  I am referring to the annual Christmas letter that many of us send out with the sure and certain knowledge that all those who read it will be just as interested in its contents as those who produced it.

I know many who malign this tradition.  I've even caught myself joining in such discussions knowing full-well a rough draft of the latest edition was on my computer's desktop at that very moment.  In some folks' minds, the Christmas letter is the postmodern version of a fruitcake...we're not sure exactly what's in always arrives with a self-proclaimed sense of importance and purpose that not all appreciate...and it appears to have taken some effort to produce, though we're not always sure to what end.

But, what if....just once...someone used this opportunity to do something more significant than recount the litany of children's activities, trips and health challenges?  With permission from the author, here's a "fer instance" from a member of one of the churches I serve in Anchorage...

Hello dear family and friends,

I managed to weasel my way out of a shopping trip with my wife by promising to stay home and prepare a draft of this year's Christmas newsletter.

So far I have made myself a cup of hot cinnamon spice tea, chatted by cell phone with my son for a few minutes, plucked a few gray hairs from my right eyebrow, discarded a few old emails, gazed out the window at the hoar frost on the bare tree branches and generally just goofed off.

So how can I take the male-perfected skill of goofing off and relate that to something as wonderful as Christmas?  Please, allow me a few moments to think.

OK, who would be the opposite of a goofing-off male?  It would have to be some guy who had a rough start in life.  He might have been born on a cold bed of hay.  Even as a boy I'll bet he took his responsibilities very seriously. (No gazing at hoar frost for him.)  I would guess he had a lot of important work to do and very little time.  I would also bet he faced harsh critics...

I also wouldn't be surprised if this "opposite of the male goof off" guy had really important work to do - work that would impact not just the folks in his hometown for a few years, but work that would impact folks all over the world, for generation after generation.  But what message from this man, this non-slacker, could be so important that, thousands of years later, people all over the world would still be talking about it?

This man was none other than Jesus, the Son of God.  You know, THE one and only God...I know, I know, but we're among friends here, so it's OK to say 'God' and 'Jesus.'  You're not going to get in trouble, I promise.

And his message was, and is, this: God sent his only Son to suffer and die for all of us so that no matter how much wrong we do, no matter how much slacking off we do, we can, because of Jesus, ask for forgiveness and live forever in heaven with God.  Amen...

Hmm...I'm trying to remember when it was that I allowed myself to be vulnerable enough with my family and closest friends that I could share with them my faith in and love for this Jesus whose birth we soon celebrate.  It just seems easier - no, safer - to make lists of activities, accomplishments and the transformations in our lives and bodies created by the passage of time.  Through our silence and reluctance, we have established the example that it's not OK to mention "God" and "Jesus" - even with friends and family.

I think I remember hearing once that the New Testament word for "witness" is the same word from which we get the word "martyr."  I admire this member of our church who could die to his pride and reluctance enough to share his witness with family and friends.  Years ago, a pastor who was a few years away from retirement shared with a group of us who were newly ordained words to this effect: "If you're lucky and observant, you'll discover that the people you serve have more to teach you than you have to teach them."

I feel very lucky.

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