The Courage of a Holy Night
When it comes to Christmas, you want everything to be perfect. Whether it is the tree, the decorations around the house, the food prepared for the family dinner, or the music heard only at this time of year, the Christmas preparations must be perfect.
So, you schedule your time and plan your activities. You have your lists. Lists for gifts and menus. Lists of names of all who will be present for dinner. You remind yourself that you will not forget the “reason for the season.” So, you hum the carols and you recite the readings. Besides, you know the story so well you can tell it by heart. You have everything planned and perfectly in place.
A Lot of Extras
Then, as wonderful as Christmas is in your thoughts and imagination, you soon discover you need a lot of extras. Extra time and energy for all the decorating, shopping, and activities. Extra strength and patience to deal with the demands of family, friends, and colleagues.
You work to find the time to attend the parties, cantatas, and candlelight worship. It is all good, very good. But as much as you have told yourself it will not happen this year, you begin to lose your focus and life gets blurry. Everything becomes nostalgic and somewhat unrealistic. Then, in the midst of your expectations of Christmas, you realize that something is missing.
“The Most Wonderful Time of Year?”
I’ve been there. When serving as the pastor of a church, I often experienced Christmas as one of the busiest times of the year. I confess there were times that I ended up going through the motions. I remember one Christmas season, in the midst of all the activities, being so tired, I said to myself, “I hope this story is true. I need God with me now.”
I didn’t have the words for it then, but today, I would say I was praying for the courage. So, with this blog, I want to give you a gift – The Courage of a Holy Night. So…
Throughout this Advent Season, we identified and explored courage in the lives of Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and the shepherds and angels.
We defined courage as a set of four teachable, observable, and measurable skills made up of rumbling with vulnerability, living into your values, BRAVING Trust, and learning to rise. So, to receive your gift, you must answer the following questions.
How will you be vulnerable this Christmas?
Before you answer…
Look at Mary.
She was trusting God to do something God had not done before. Who was she to be chosen by God? Yet, in willingness to be vulnerable with God, she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” She was willing to be vulnerable with Joseph. She had to trust he was going to keep his promises.
So, using Mary as our example, will you stop trying to engineer the uncertainty and discomfort out of what you might feel this season and step into experiencing the vulnerability that comes with being courageous?
Look at Elizabeth. Elizabeth has the courage to confront shame and disappointment.
The cultural expectations for Zechariah and Elizabeth were that they would have children. It was not only a disappointment to be childless but a disgrace within the community.
Because she was willing to vulnerable, she became a primary character of grace. Wouldn’t you agree that the only thing that removes disgrace is grace? Who is grace? Jesus is grace.
Everything changed when grace – Jesus – entered the world. It wasn’t just that Elizabeth experienced joy – her unborn child was having a joy party inside her womb. When we feel joy – it’s a place of incredible vulnerability.
So back to the question. Where or with whom will you be vulnerable this Christmas? Oh, Emmanuel, God with us, give us the courage of a holy night.
Where will you live into your values this Christmas?
Before you answer, consider Joseph. While he is engaged, he discovers that his fiancé is pregnant. Now, what is he going to do? He is a good man, a righteous man, a man who wants to do the right thing.
So, what does Joseph do? As he listens to God’s messenger, he leans upon his values. In a dream God says, “Go ahead and marry her. I want you to take care of her. I have chosen you to raise her boy.”
God says, “Joseph, I want you to raise the baby. You feed the baby. You care for the mother. You care for the baby.” Because Joseph lives his values, he decides to be who God created him to be. He does what is right.
So, where will you live into your values this Christmas? Where will you do what is right?
Oh, Emmanuel, God with us, give us the courage of a holy night.
Where will you trust God this Christmas?
Remember what the angel said to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)
Howard Thurman, in his mediation, “The Singing of Angels,” wrote:
“There must be always, remaining in every life, someplace for the singing of angels. Someplace for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful. Old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old hurting. A crown is placed over us that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear. Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.”
On that first Christmas, shepherds were BRAVING Trust. Instead of running away in fear, they moved toward the good news. So, I want to give you the courage to face your fears and anxieties and to experience grace.
So, how will you trust God this Christmas? Oh, Emmanuel, God with us, give us the courage of a holy night.
How will you experience hope and new life this Christmas?
Sometimes, at Christmas, we receive the news Elizabeth and Zachariah received and we hear, “adjust, adapt.” How could this be? We are too old for this. I have found that it is much easier to resist the change and not accept the new. A closed world is easier to administer, and when you don’t have a future, you don’t have to be curious or have an imagination.
So, the mundane takes over. No new thing is uttered or heard.
The pulpit becomes a place of platitudes, clichés, proverbs, and slogans. But sometimes, on a cold Sunday in December, you peek over the horizon stand on tiptoes and catch a glimpse of hope. You can see a new day and you imagine God’s love in a new way.
Years ago, I read a story of a family in a depressed area of Appalachia. The father was an out-of-work coal miner. He had not worked for months and his family existed on public assistance. The story centered upon him catching his children on the back porch thumbing through a department store catalog, imagining and hoping. He flew into a rage, switched their legs, tore the catalog into little pieces, and sat down in his yard and cried.
Did you read the Bible story about the young woman in a depressed region of Judea, a poor unmarried mother-to-be who was caught wishing for something more? She sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord…for he has done great things for me… He has shown strength…He has scattered the proud…he had put down the mighty…and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things.”
Oh friends, where will you experience hope and new life this Christmas? Oh, Emmanuel, God with us, give us the courage of a holy night!
Will you accept my gift?
If you do, here is what I think will happen. You will experience Christmas like never before.
I have a minister friend who tells of making a pastoral visit with a man who was near death. He said the man’s death was only a couple of days away. He said they had talked for a little while before he asked the man, “Here at the end, are you afraid?
The man answered, “Afraid? No. I’m not afraid because of my faith in Jesus.”
My friend replied, “Well, yes. We all have hope that our future is in God’s hands.”
Then the man said, “Well, I’m not hopeful because of what I believe about the future. I’m hopeful because of what I experienced in the past.”
“Really? Tell me more.”
The man said, “I look back over all the mistakes I’ve made; all the times I’ve turned away from Jesus, or gone my own way, strayed, and got lost. And time and time again, he found a way to get to me. He showed up and caught me even when I wasn’t looking for him. So, I don’t think he’ll let something like me dying defeat his love for me now.”
Well, I say that man has the courage of a holy night.
He understands Christmas. So, do you want the courage of a holy night? Hear the message, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today…He is Christ the Lord.”
O God, we are grateful for your love made known to us in Jesus. Help us hear the announcement of your love and peace so clearly that we have the courage of a holy night. Amen.
Thanks for the thought about courage and the examples you give for this time of year. We struggle with this with our kids and our grandkids to get them to go beyond being only Easter and Christmas attendees. Even though our kids would go with us when they were growing up they find themselves in a different place as adults and parent. We need courage to approach them in a manner that would help them return to the place they were as kids.
Over the years we have tried to get them to participate following Easter and Christmas services by having the grandkids do a prayer prior to dinner. This has not gone well until this year. At Thanksgiving we found a prayer that we could split among the reading grandkids so that it might help them see who to thank at that time of year. Surprisingly they did not balk at this.
Now at Christmas we found a couple of prayers that the two boys could read that had more depth than just a kids prayer. The boys did a fine job and we hope that the messages that were in the two prayers helped them and the other grandkids (parents too) see the place that Jesus has in their lives and not just the presents that they receive. We hope to do this every time we gather not just for C & E. That is where some courage is needed to believe that we will not just shut off their thinking about Jesus and having faith.