What Christmas means to me

What Christmas means to me

December 22, 2016

By Bishop Laurie Haller
A few years ago, when I was preaching at four Christmas Eve worship services, I finally gave voice to the dis-ease I feel every December. When we sang It Came Upon the Midnight Clear right before the sermon, the tears started to flow. “And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low; who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow; look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing. O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.”

“That’s me!” I admitted to myself. Once more, I was bone-weary from the expectations I felt to decorate lavishly, shop creatively, preach perfectly, cook exquisitely, and party continually. That, in addition to so many extra Christmas activities at the church and three December funerals. Under such a crushing load, my heart’s only desire was to sit in my prayer closet in silence and hear the angels sing.

For me, Christmas means journeying quietly and simply through the wilderness of Advent to prepare the way of the Lord. Christmas is being with our three children, son-in-law, and two grandsons, laughing, telling stories, and playing together. Christmas means listening to Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, and O Holy Night, or better yet, singing in the choir!

Christmas is caroling to shut-ins, volunteering at the food pantry, taking a long walk through the snow, and playing catch with my grandson. Most of all, Christmas is marveling once again at the wonder of Christ’s birth and the joy of sharing the good news to a weary and waiting world. Can you hear the angels sing?

By Bill Poland

Merry Christmas—Your world is changing Forever

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18 CEV)

I have always been amazed at these concise, simple, words in Matthew as the Gospel describes how Mary’s world is about to be turned upside down. And Joseph’s too, for that matter. I know this is not what they envisioned in their wildest dreams. I can imagine their plans were like ours when my wife Judy and I were engaged. We busily planned our first home, plotted our wedding, our time together when it would finally be just her and me to build our life together. It was a reasonable expectation.

But all changed when the Holy Spirit descended and Mary became pregnant. “Don’t be afraid,” the angel said to Joseph in a dream. We seem to live in a world today that is filled with fear. We are afraid of the future. We are afraid of our neighbor. We are divided politically. We are anxious. We fear.

The Christmas story is a reminder that we have been here before as humans. Many times, even. No things aren’t turning out like we’d planned or hoped. To Joseph and to Mary the announcement of her pregnancy must have felt devastating. Yet is seems that is how it often is when the Holy Spirit shows up. Everything changes. The old, expected, future is gone; a new one takes its place.  We can never know what that looks like in the beginning. We must wait to see it. Wait with the promise, “and they will call him, Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us.’”

By Bill Steward

Rev. Sam Araya came from Chile to the Quad Cities to lead a new Hispanic ministry in the early 1980s. He had been arrested and jailed for his opposition to the U.S. backed military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet and for his support of democratically elected President Salvador Allende.

Sam’s office was in Grace United Methodist Church in Davenport where I served as pastor. In our conversations, I was inspired by his perseverance, intellect and liberating theology. This was the message on Sam and Anita’s 1984 Christmas card:

It was not only the child who was born that night.
It was a whole new world,
beginning not among those operating and managing the old order,
but emerging from its victims in splendor and light.
(Joseph Donders) 

Aside from Mary (see The Magnificat), Herod was the character who best understood the meaning of Christmas. When the poor manger-baby was born, Herod knew the ground was shifting under his feet, a new world was coming, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He lashed out in violence—as do all tyrants breathing their last—and was swept aside by the splendor and light of God’s whole new world.

This Christmas Eve, I will pause before the manger, quiet down, and listen again for the Christmas promise: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. I can hear her breathing.” (Arundhati Roy)

By J. Robert Burkhart

“Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they shall call him Emmanuel. God with us.”  (Matthew 1:23 CEB)
I was very excited as a child to be invited to my first birthday party for a friend. How surprised I was when each person invited to the party was handed a gift that another had brought and told to open it. We each unwrapped the gift brought by another. I assumed that I would get to keep the gift I had opened. However, when the party was over we were instructed by the parents giving the party to make certain we turned over the gifts to their son.  I went home sad because the only person attending the party who got a gift was the birthday boy.
The Bible reminds us of the greatest gift that has ever been given. And it comes from God.  In Matthew’s words: “Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they shall call him Emmanuel. God with us.”  (Matthew 1:23 CEB) Unlike the birthday party I attended, God’s gift, God’s presence with us, is intended for everyone. No one is excluded. Matthew joyfully tells each individual and each generation that God is with Us, all of us, not God is with me alone or just certain people.
Christmas brings life-giving meaning to me when I consider that Jesus’ birth is for all people, including those persons whom I struggle to love.

By Courtney Glienke

Christmas Is…
Christmas is winter school bus rides home in snow coming down so fast, the bus gets stuck in your driveway.
Christmas is an endless supply of hot apple cider your mother makes in a percolator filled with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
Christmas is watching your father plow snow into piles twice your height, and digging a maze of tunnels through them.
Christmas is decorating sugar cookies with your grandmother and getting to lick frosting off the spoon.
Christmas is trees and tinsel and excitement.
Christmas is remembering those who are no longer with us and are looking down from Heaven.
Christmas is candlelit services, feeling the warmth from wax and flame.
Christmas is more than all of this, however.
Christmas means the coming of a Savior.
A Savior born to a carpenter and his wife, not as royalty in a palace. God as man, who lived and breathed as we do. Who made memories with his family as we do. Who felt pain and suffering as we do. Who died to save us all.
Christmas is an opportunity for radical hospitality.
Jesus didn’t tuck himself away in a synagogue, he went out into the world to help the hungry, the sick, and the marginalized. Christ called us to be like Him. To go out into the world and make it a better place, and not just tuck ourselves away in the warmth of our churches.
Christmas is just the beginning.

By Rev. Andrea Severson

Since I was a kid, the candlelight Christmas Eve service has been a favorite tradition.  In my younger years, there was a thrill in staying up late and being allowed to handle fire. Even then, I recognized something special happening as we gathered. 

As the years pass, I continue to experience a sense of awe standing in the darkened sanctuary, gazing at the illuminated faces around me, singing about what happened on that holy night long ago. 

For me, it is an embodiment of the opening verses of John.  As we read, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:3b-5, NRSV). 

I find that image of a light shining in the darkness so powerful.  After all, we don’t have to look far to see signs of signs of darkness, signs of hatred, brokenness, despair and death.  We walk with others through those experiences; we know them ourselves.   

The hope of Christmas is that Christ came into the world to meet us in places of heartache and pain, to heal and transform, to bring light, love and life!  As we stand in the glow of those small candles, singing, we are invited to welcome the Light, and we are reminded of our call to let that Light shine through us that we might carry it into a hurting world. 

That is what Christmas means to me.