At the start of the Christmas season, I love to read the Christmas story in Luke 2. The story has such power, and is accompanied by so many memories… Memories of getting my first Bible in second grade and reading it in the King James Version… Memories of hearing it in church, reading it in church, preaching it in church… Memories of pageants, elaborate and simple, agonizing and sweet… Memories of reading the story to our children.
This year will be the first time in 35 years that Turner and I will wake up on Christmas morning with just the 2 of us in the house. Our children have both married in the last year, and they are rotating to the in-laws. We will plug in the tree and the lights, eat breakfast, and sit in the living room opening a few presents. Then we will try to call family members in three different time zones.
Later in the day we’ll drive to Helena and have dinner with our son, daughter-in-law, and her family visiting from points east and south. We’ll probably do the cooking while they pick up the relatives at the airport. There’s an anticipation in the air—our daughter-in-law is pregnant, and next year we expect a baby to be the center of attention in our family’s gathering. Somehow our waiting for a baby this Advent seems so appropriate.
On Christmas Eve we will have dinner with the Jewish side of the family. Then, later on, we’ll go to church. Our sister-in-law and nieces are Jewish, and always honor our tradition by having a Christmas dinner with us. We reciprocate at Passover, when it doesn’t conflict with Maundy Thursday. The Jewish community in Great Falls has a nice tradition at Christmas time. Volunteers from the Jewish community staff the Mercy Home, the shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence. The Jewish volunteers stay in the shelter so that the staff can have Christmas with their families. We’ll work our Christmas Eve dinner around our church schedule and their volunteer schedule.
This phenomenon is widespread. Across the country, and without making a big deal of it, Jewish doctors and nurses, firefighters and law enforcement and many others volunteer to work on Christmas so that their Christian colleagues can spend the holiday with their families. Jesus was a Jew, brought up in a Jewish family. Christians and Jews are cousins, with all kinds of reasons not only to get along, but to love one another. Come to think of it, Christians might use Christmas to love all kinds of people who coexist on this earth with us.
In our family we are a bit old-fashioned about Christmas. We celebrate the 12 days of Christmas—after Christmas and not before, as so many commercial businesses seem to be doing these days. We go from Christmas to Epiphany with lights and boughs, and with the Magi moving incrementally closer to the baby Jesus in the creches that aren’t immobilized. We enjoy the slow buildup to Christmas that Advent affords, and we relish the slow movement towards Epiphany that our tradition provides.
So you won’t see our Christmas tree in the recycling on December 26. And if you come by our house in early January, you’ll still see the creche sets around the house, and the decorations on the doors. We are in no hurry to eradicate Christmas.
Right now generosity is in the air. My inbox and my mail box are full of requests from good causes encouraging us to consider them in our year-end giving. My van driver from the auto shop this morning asked if I knew anyone who needed a Christmas tree. She had an extra one and wanted to share it with someone who is needy. We brainstormed about how to accomplish that. The grocery store has gift coupons to add to your bill, to provide food for the hungry. And many congregations and businesses have giving trees, as a way to help a person or a ministry in need. The Montana Synod got in on the giving tree idea, by offering opportunities to support Freedom in Christ Prison Ministry, Spirit of Life Ministry, Our Saviour’s Rocky Boy, NRIT, the Cape Orange Diocese, and children’s scholarships in Bolivia. Like you, we are weighing options, and writing out checks.
At the end of the Christmas season, I love to read the beginning of the Gospel of John. It, too, tells the Christmas story, from a different perspective than the narrative of Luke. It catapults the touching story of the extraordinary birth of a baby into a promise of salvation for all nations. As the days lengthen we hear the words: “The light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Thanks be to God.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
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Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA