I love Christmas, always have. But I sometimes wonder how much we love Christmas. I have noticed as I’ve grown older that Christmas seems to have lost much of its specialness. Could that be a natural part of growing up? I’m not sure, I mean, I was the guy who wore Santa Hats to classes while a seminary student (in my late 30’s and early 40’s) and even in the pulpit a time or two during the last 16 years. My family has always done its best to celebrate the day and the season with as much happiness and joy that we could, even when things seemed rather bleak economically, which has been often. That’s gotten harder to do as the years have gone by, especially with my health issues (I’m not allowed to climb ladders or get on the roof to hang lights any longer) and the fact that my kids have gotten to the age where they are moving away and establishing their lives in other places (what was once a busy, noisy house of eight is now a much quieter house of four). I will forever miss those crazy, hectic times but I also cherish the special moments that we have now.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. Our culture seems to be making a mockery of much of the season, but especially the idea of the Christ Child as the Prince of Peace and the concepts of comfort and joy. We seem to have lost sight of the personal aspects of the story of the Christ Child. Anyone who doesn’t believe me only has to visit any store during this time of year. A smiling cashier or waitress is a rare person, and one who probably hasn’t worked too long that day. Survey the lines at any Wal-Mart and you will notice that they don’t seem to be bursting with Christian cheer or charity.
But there are glimpses of hope. Very recently my birth mother called me with what has to be considered discouraging news at the least. I won’t belabor you with the sordid details but suffice it to say that she and I have a very troubled past and only in the last two or three years have been able to begin to piece together some semblance of a relationship.
Regardless, she called to tell me that her cancer is no longer in check. Her cancer has manifested itself in three different parts of her body and she has been turned over to hospice for the last stages of her life. I haven’t seen her since 1990 and we speak only occasionally. To be honest, I have a difficult time giving her what she needs from me. Her news couldn’t have come at a worse time for me (as if my time and life were somehow more important than hers), but she has acknowledged her sickness and is preparing herself for her last days.
Somewhere in the last twenty-six years my mother converted to Catholicism and seems to have a strong faith. That faith is what she clings to know. You see, part of her cancer is in her liver, and liver cancer is painful and hateful and quick. What was a two year prognosis just a short time before is now two months; two pain filled hateful months know that nothing can be done.
As a minister, I am supposed to know exactly what to do in this kind of situation, both by training and experience. But none of that prepares you for the gut-punch that happens when it hits so close to home. The fact that my mother and I were and have been estranged for forty years is not important. She needs me and I am beginning to understand that I need her too. I called her this morning (the trip has been impossible before now, but I shall find a way) with the intention of gathering more information and encouraging her as best I could. My words were polished and empathic...my understanding of her condition was deep and my experience gave me the proper sense of timing, of what and when to say just the right things.
But my words rang hollow in my heart and my ears, as I’m sure they did in hers. We talked quietly, but there was a strength and confidence in her words that was absent in mine. You see, my mother knew just where she was and what was happening and she was at peace with it all. Her peace, according to her, came from Jesus...the knowledge that she had given her life to Him and that He had forgiven and received her into His family.
Friends, my mother knows real comfort and joy. I have often told my congregations/youth groups through the years that joy is living in the confidence that God is in control and that He keeps His word. But somewhere in the last two years I had begun to lose sight of those words and the God who is the source of all true hope.
And it took a woman with only two months to live to wake me up from my spiritual slumber.
Maybe it’s time to put away the rush, the pressure, the foo-foo of Christmas and take a long look at a dirty cattle stall, a tired young family and the shepherds, filthy from their flocks, who came at angelic invitation.
Where has the Christmas spirit gone? Where is our comfort and joy? I want to tell you that we’ve lost it in all our cute Facebook posts and Jesus- light. The truth is that the manger is powerless without the cross and the empty tomb. Our comfort and our joy are to be found in the perfect life of God’s perfect Son who died for us and rose again so that we might one day be with Him.
Like I believe my mother will be soon.