(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
By THE REV. DR. MOLLY SCHERM
Winter is a hard season of the year for Christians to remain focused on the meaning of our faith. On the day after Thanksgiving, just as we were trying to enter into an Advent mode of watching and preparing, the secular world wanted us to begin celebrating Jesus’ birth. Now, in the 12 days in which Protestant and Catholic Christians commemorate that birth (Orthodox Christians follow a different calendar and celebrate on Jan. 7), we’re besieged by internet ads offering to help us fulfill our New Year’s resolutions with discounted gym memberships and the stores are rolling out Valentine’s Day merchandise. A very young friend asked her mom, a few weeks ago, why her Christmas playlist didn’t include “real Christmas songs” like “Rudolph,” “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty the Snowman.” It’s hard.
Even our own carols and hymns have helped nudge us into cherishing an idealized vision of the Nativity, emphasizing stillness, serenity and even, in some cases, snow on the ground. I suspect that these images appeal to us as deeply as they do because we long for a world that is simpler than the one we inhabit, more beautiful than the ugliness that fills our news, and more peaceful than our own stressful lives. In both secular culture and in the symbols of our faith life, we comfort ourselves with a vision that provides respite from all that is difficult in the reality we actually live.
The events surrounding Jesus’ birth as described by the evangelists Matthew and Luke were messy and dangerous, with a journey to an unfamiliar town late in a pregnancy, a failure to find safe and clean lodging, and a surprise visit by unfamiliar (and probably rather unpleasant) shepherds. The Nativity took place against a backdrop of political intrigue involving a King intent on maintaining his power by pre-emptively executing his competition.
So, if we dig deep, what does the Christmas story offer us that is not just escapism? It teaches us that God, the power and origin of the universe, does not behave in ways that make sense or that fulfill what we expect and hope for. That God is not to be found among the powerful who get all of the headlines, but rather, shows up on the edges where life is, indeed, messy, overturning the order of things as we know them.
The Christmas story tells us that in the birth of Jesus, God enters our world, our experience, in a way that had never been known before. It tells us that the birth of Jesus is the expression of the profound and abiding Love that fuels the universe, entering into and becoming known within the messiness of human life and experience.
The Christmas story teaches that God takes on flesh, inhabiting our space, our terrors and uncertainties, in order that we might be able to see beyond the barriers of our own limited perceptions. The Incarnation promises that God is with us in the everyday world that is both fearful and wonderful. If we know joy, God is with us. If we know sorrow, God is with us.
The Christmas story not fundamentally about stillness and serenity — though I don’t think there is anything wrong with our longing for them — but about a profound self-giving love that exists not just long ago, but now; not just far away, but here. God’s love reaches out to transform us, to transform our lives, and through us, to transform our world.
About the church
The Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew represents the 2017 merger of St. James, Greenfield and St. Andrew’s, Turners Falls. We believe that God is calling us to cultivate a community of love, joy, hope and healing. Jesus is our model for a life of faith, compassion, hospitality and service. We strive to be affirming and accessible, welcoming and inclusive; we seek to promote reconciliation, exercise responsible stewardship and embrace ancient traditions for modern lives. Our office is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, and the church and chapel are open daily. All are invited and welcomed.
8 Church Street, Greenfield. 413-773-3925. www.saintsjamesandandrew.org; Facebook: www.facebook.com/saintsjamesandandrew.