Like most of you, Christmas calls forth a host of memories for me. Many are so intense I feel I am reliving them. At one moment I am in the backseat of the family’s 1953 Desoto. We are on the way to my 6th grade Christmas concert. The next moment I am at my grandparent’s home. Christmas eve dinner is set out on the same buffet cabinet that now sits in my sister’s dining room (60 years later). Then I am at Grace Memorial Church for Christmas service. I am an acolyte. My brother is in the choir. And my sister is sitting with mom and dad. But above all it is the infant in the manger I remember.
As I approach my 70th birthday that Christmas manger is one of the places I go to get grounded. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the Christmas’ of my youth. I have participated in many things. I even played a tiny logistical role on the Apollo 11 recovery team. I have been blessed with the opportunity to earn a Master’s degree, and serve as part of the governing body of my church on a national level. The years I served my local congregation were filled with gifts I cherish. In addition to blessings, life also has a way of adding layer upon layer of complications to our lives. Christmas can be an anchor point for us.
Christmas is built on one simple thing, trust. The people present at the first Christmas did not have theological degrees. Nor could they recite the creeds our various churches cherish today. What they could do was discern who they could trust and then commit themselves to that relationship. It began when God sent Gabriel to ask Mary to trust God. After a little understandable hemming and hawing, she said yes. After his own struggles, Joseph decided he could trust God and his betrothed. Then the Lord God of all Creation entrusted His Son to the young couple to love and to cherish. None of these choices were theoretical, theological, or particularly religious. There were simply decisions to trust the one their hearts told them they could.
Over my years I have served people who find themselves at various places along the spectrum of what we call faith. Many were able to embrace something close to literal belief. Some needed to examine every aspect of what the church teaches before accepting any portion of it. When the struggles of theological and practical differences between the various Christian communities were added to the mix, things got muddled indeed.
Making things more complicated is something the human family loves to do. One example I like is the work of the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. He sought to prove that mathematics works by developing a proof that 1+1=2. The resulting paper is 372 pages long. As it turns out people like me, pastors and theologians, have a talent for complicating the Christmas event and the Christian message to such a degree that is has become incomprehensible to many.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein, (1879 – 1955)
You can trust that. Merry Christmas!