Saturday, December 17, 2016

Christmas Hope

What Christmas means to me

I recently saw a post on someone’s social media that said “becoming a Christian ruined Christmas for me.” My first reaction was “that’s pretty harsh”, but I get where that person was coming from. I usually start the Advent season in church by reminding people that a lot of Jewish babies were born 2000 years ago, and while it’s great to celebrate Jesus’ birth, what’s really important is what happened some 30+ years later. Lots of babies were born, lots of men were crucified, but only one was resurrected. Only one died to conquer sin and death.

So if  'ruining Christmas' for us means that all of a sudden (or even gradually) our obsession with lights and presents and parties goes away, then I am definitely there. Instead of focusing on Santa Claus and bonuses, Christians have the opportunity and obligation to focus on the true meaning of the season. And the true reason for the season lies in a baby born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, who went on to turn the world upside down.

Yesterday I had the privilege of being present during the interview of a young man who, after spending 11 years in a refugee camp, was relocated here by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The reporter asked this 21 year old man if his faith had been tested while he was in the camp, and also how his faith had sustained him. He agreed that being in the camp was a test of faith, but how that faith is what kept him going when their limited food rations didn’t last until the end of the month. He talked about a hope of returning to his home land, a nation that his family had been forced to leave because of the terrible circumstances of a civil war. But through it all there was God. He went on to talk about how people here celebrate in so many different ways, but also how so many people leave Jesus out of the celebration.

It sure made me think, and the reporter and I talked a little later about how we whine and complain over some pretty inconsequential things compared to what people in the refugee camps have to endure.

So Christmas for me has to include hope. Hope that Jesus will return soon, because with that second coming, will be the restoration of creation. A hope that I can keep strong in my faith in the face of the trials that each of us faces on a daily basis, and a hope that instead of just putting in time until I finally ‘escape’ this place, that I can ‘live well’: caring for others, and caring for creation.

Hope is such an important part of what Christmas is all about. For liturgical churches, and even some families, who celebrate the Advent Season with the traditional wreath, we even light a candle that represents and signifies ‘Hope’.  I want to include a couple of links in this post: links to trailers of movies that released earlier this year, movies that include the theme of hope, and both of which will be available on DVD next week (Dec 20, 2016).

The first is “Greater”, the story of Brandon Burlsworth a young man who hoped against hope to get a spot on the football team. He finally made it, but it wasn’t easy, and along the way he relied on his faith to maintain his hope, his dream.  It’s a pretty incredible story, and even if you’re not a fan of college football, this faith elements of Brandon’s story make this a must see film. His hopes were realized, not because someone gave him a handout, but because after someone gave him a chance, he did whatever he needed to do to get to the next level.  Watch the trailer for GREATER

And the next is the story of Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, the movie.  If you’ve been to church a few times there’s a good chance that you’ve heard or sung a worship song by this group. Hillsong started small, but has grown and the current estimate is that on any given Sunday, 50 million people in churches around the world are singing their songs. Their hope has always been to engage people in worship in such a way that it brings them closer to God. One person actually says that the songs they write are meant to be sung, not just listened too.  Worship is a verb, an action verb, and the hope of Hillsong is that people will participate in music. This is a humble group whose hope is to serve God. One member points out that they don’t do what they do to get rich, they do it to serve. Watch the trailer for HILLSONG LET HOPE RISE

It’s easy to get distracted and drawn from one’s faith, especially this time of year when there are so many things clamoring for our attention, so many people full of good ideas for fun times (ideas and times that often involve poor choices if we choose to pursue them). My hope is that, in the midst of the fun times of the season, that Jesus will continue to be the center of the celebration.
There’s also a part of the suggestions for this post that is difficult for me. Bloggers are asked, “Was there something you were able to do for someone this Christmas season?”  Short answer Yes. But it was done because of what Jesus did for me, not so that you would know about it.

Suffice to say that I root for the underdog. And that means seeing people, even the most unsavory types, as being children of God, created in His image. Brandon Burlsworth certainly wasn’t an unsavory type, but he sure was an underdog when it came to getting a spot on the team. The homeless in our cities are our neighbors and are worthy of love, dignity, and respect. Immigrants and Refugees are not coming to our country because their lives were so simple, fulfilling and financially beneficial at home. People released from prison have paid their debt to society, they deserve a second chance. People don’t go to 12 step meetings because their lives are perfect. Churches are full of sinners, people who make bad choices, but Jesus died for them, just as he died for me.

My hope for all this Christmas season is that in the midst of whatever trials you might be experiencing that you would still find time to celebrate Jesus. Worship Him, and point other people to Him…He died for them, just as he died for you. 

And in the spirit of Christmas, I Hope to have some 'swag' to give away early next week, compliments of Grace Hill Media.  Like the post for a chance to win.

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