Sunday, December 20, 2009
Christmas Sunday Thoughts
My work has been egregiously busy - no December slow down for me. In fact, it has picked up in December. Largely because government agencies have descended on my clients like flies. Used to be they'd wait until January, but not this year. The United States Senate is in session as I write, on a Sunday - on Christmas Sunday.
Something is wrong.
Is it me? Certainly in part, I could choose to ignore my client's pleas for aid and just celebrate Christmas. I could elect not to read the news, turn the Christmas music up and try and cocoon myself. But Christmas is to be shared.
I look around me and I see traditions jettisoned. In every aspect of life the traditional seems to be disappearing. Christmas has been commercial for more than 100 years now - that's not what I am talking about. It used to be that while Christmas was commercial in the secular world, those of us that loved Jesus still had the opportunity to gather and celebrate and worship. But this year it seems like we are being robbed of those opportunities. The secular world is forcing its way into our sacred spaces, whether they be familial, temporal or physical, and trying to crowd out their sacredness.
I am a firm believer that we have choices about these things and in my house we are doing our best to save the spaces - but again, our desire is to share those spaces. Sadly, they seem to be crowded out of even church. And because I believe we have choices about these things that makes me very sad.
In many ways, I believe the church has aided the secular in its efforts to crowd out the sacred. As we have endeavored to make ourselves "relevant" to this modern age; I think that sometimes all we have really accomplished is to jettison that which matters most.
I have just laid the table for what could be an enormous topic, but I shall limit myself to three thoughts.
The first is the value of the traditional, high church liturgy. The loss of this pre-dates the modernization of worship of the last few decades, it's been slipping in American for a couple of centuries now. Liturgy matters if for no other reason than memorization has a way of wearing one down like water wears a rock. Sameness may be boring, but it works. Constantly seeking the new keeps the old from ever really sinking in.
If one wants to be a good golfer, one must swing a golf club over and over and over again. One takes the same action thousands, even millions, of times until one does it without thought. If one wants to live like a Christian, should we not do the same? The same words of an Assurance of Pardon that were so rote and boring to me as a young man, now burn and sear my soul with a message that I simply could not hear, let alone have a partial understanding of, had they not been branded into my essence by 52 repetitions a year for a decade or so.
Fresh attracts, but it does not build.
Which brings me to my second thought. In our never ending quest for modern relevance we often leave the older in the wake. What kind of witness is that? The older are a repository of wisdom. And yet we set them aside in our never ending quest for relevance. They are the most valuable resource the church has.
Christianity is not new - it is very old. It was not discovered in the 1970's. The more I study the history of the church, the more I learn there are no new struggles. Technology changes, but life does not. Go to Athens Greece and walk through the ancient Agora below the Acropolis or go to Rome and wander through the ancient Forum. Life was so similar to life now. People went to work, they raised children, they purchased food and other goods, they even went to the gym and worked out. They may have done it on foot, and without benefit of phoning ahead for an appointment, but life was so much the same.
But instead of asking those that have gone before how to cope with something they have been through a million times, we figure they are not relevant and we try to reinvent the wheel. If we learned to build on those that have gone before, think of the heights we could reach!
But my final thought is the most troubling. When we seek to make Christianity and its practice "relevant to us in today's age," we are missing the point of Christianity altogether. Becoming a Christian is about making ourselves relevant to Christ, not the other way around.
The church does not change to meet our needs, rather the church is God's tool to change us into His people. And what it means to be God's man or woman has not changed since God created us. The church does not serve people, it serves God.
The value of the traditional is that it calls us to something higher. As we seek to make the church relevant to our lives today what inevitably happens is that we lower the bar for what it means to be a Christian. We bring that to somewhere within our comfort zone rather than allow ourselves to be called out of it.
That's what I miss most of all this Christmas season - I want to be called out of the daily and into the presence of my incarnated Lord, and I want to share that with others that love Him. What I find is all the others running from that presence into the daily and I feel like a salmon swimming upstream.
Am I being a curmudgeon? Probably.
But my experience is as real as that of those that are on a different path. And I know this - I am tired - I need to recharge, a recharge I find in tradition. If I do not get it, I lack the strength to evangelize and I lack the strength to serve those that need it.
God help us all!