Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas: Exceptions to the rule make the best stories

soul-eyesWe have faith in the unexpected. After every earthquake, for example, we pray for the exceptions—for people to defy the odds and survive under the rubble for days.

We hope for miracles. We pray the person we know with cancer will be the one to beat the odds.

We love exceptions to the rule, the people who make good against all odds, like a baby worshipped in spite of being born to an unwed mother in the harsh culture of patriarchal society.

That’s why we can’t stop telling the Christmas story. No matter how you interpret it, the story is about faith in the unexpected, hope for miracles and love for exceptions to the rule—all the things that captivate us. Now matter how you feel about it, we can learn from it.

No matter what you believe about how Mary came to be pregnant, she was an unwed mother in a time when unwed pregnant women were shunned or stoned. Neither happened to her. She was an exception to the rule. No matter what you believe about who Jesus‘ real father was, he was an illegitimate child at a time when such children would have few prospects. Even before he could walk or talk, Jesus broke the rules.

Jesus captivates us because he lived making exceptions to the rule. He ate with the unclean, walked with the lepers, preached on the Sabbath, and turned the tables on religious rituals that prevented everyone from participating. If there’s anything we can learn from his life, and it’s a lesson too many Christian churches today forget, it is that love is more important than rules.

When forced to make a choice between the most compassionate option and the most obedient option, Jesus chose compassion.

A woman gets pregnant out of wedlock? Love her anyway. A child is born out of wedlock? Love it anyway. A man is disenfranchised from society? Eat with him anyway. A woman has a communicable disease? Walk with her anyway. Someone wants to learn or play or work even though it’s a holy day? Teach them, laugh with them or help them anyway. And, for goodness sake, open your doors and your ceremonies with unrestricted compassion for all people.

The Christmas story, no matter how you interpret it, reminds us to value exceptions to the rule. They make the best stories, and who knows what greatness a compassionate exception might lead to?

____________________

1 Corinthians 13:13

13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Some Christmas perspective: letters from the 1930s

Sometimes a little perspective helps to clarify our own circumstances.

I recently came across correspondence written by our ancestors. The letters span the years between 1928 and 1936. The mood changes from comfortable and optimistic, to worried, to discouraged, to desperate.

In 1928, times were good. People had no inkling of the challenges to come. They proudly made use of electricity as they gathered around their radio in the evenings.

letter-jan-1928

By October 1930, people had started to feel the pinch, but hope did not elude them. Reading this now, we know the long, lingering hard times that lay ahead of them—the Great Depression and then World War II—but back then, they were certain it was a short-term dip.

letter-oct-1930

In 1933 many people were out of work. Lay off notices were dreaded but common. Without a social safety net, no work meant no food or shelter. This lay off notice came just before Christmas.

letter-dec-1933

At Christmas 1934, this letter was sent:  “. . . we find that it will be impossible to send any gifts this year, and therefore we would rather not receive any gifts this year.”

letter-dec-1934-part1

letter-dec.1934-part2

By comparison, we are wealthy beyond all imagining. Our social safety net is not perfect, but it helps.

Rest easy. Enjoy our luxury. Happy Holidays.

6 ways to a meaningful Christmas

“Christmas,” he said, “should be like the Olympics—held every four years.”

My hair stylist pointed his scissors at me in the mirror. “I’ve got it all figured out. Change the date to February 29 and have Leap Christmases.”

I laughed when he said it. What would my year be without Christmas? But I have to admit, when I thought about a reprieve from Christmas, a tiny corner of my soul felt relieved.

Christmas, at its mystical best, enriches and inspires. Christmas, at its superficial worst, strains relationships and drains finances.

His idea made me ponder what aspects of Christmas cause stress for me, instead of joy. His idea made me consider what I really need at Christmas, and what I should discard from what I’ve been doing. I realized that all I want for Christmas is one thing: “Silent Night” sung with my family by candlelight at the Christmas Eve service.

That single moment is Christmas to me.

If that’s all I really need, what can I do to make the rest of the holiday season joyous instead of stressful? I came up with:

Six ways to return Christmas to its essence:

1. Reduce the “something/anything” gift list. We cram into shopping malls to buy “something/anything” for the obligation people on our lists. Those are the people to whom we feel we need to give something, but who already have everything anyone could ever need. So we buy things that no one needs—singing Christmas trees, snowman-shaped candles, or Santa Claus coffee mugs. And all those “little things” add up to a lot of wasted money.

I plan to ask myself if the person on my list is someone I really love, and if I want to show my love through a gift. If so, I will find something meaningful. Which brings me to . . .

2. Strive for a green Christmas. Be environmentally friendly. We bring those singing Christmas trees and Santa mugs as hostess gifts, and then they end up as part of the next tacky Christmas gift exchange or on the shelves at neighbourhood services.

I will make as many of my gifts as possible consumable or recyclable. Wine, fudge, or cheese maybe, or a donation to a charity.

3. Think of others. Focusing on ourselves, our lengthy to-do list, and the extra holiday spending just causes stress.

I will look beyond myself to help others at Christmas.

4. Create. Everyone appreciates a gift handcrafted with him/her in mind. (If they don’t, why would we be friends with them again?) Creativity is the secret to happiness.

I will use my skills to create gifts for them and happiness for me.

5. Refuse to be stressed. Christmas is a birthday party. It’s supposed to be fun, so if we feel the opposite of that, we have forgotten to live Christmas as it was intended.

I will monitor my thoughts and emotions and intentionally seek joy and avoid stress. If I find myself doing something I feel I “should” but which I resent, I’ll either stop doing it, or I’ll put on some Christmas music, pour myself a glass of wine and adjust my attitude.

6. Live Christmas mindfully. Ask yourself, “What is the one thing I really need for Christmas?” When you discover what that is, savour it, and realize that everything else is expendable.

On Christmas Eve, when they dim the lights, and we light our candles, and the first notes of “Silent Night” carry through the church, I will look around through tear-filled eyes at my family and my Christmas, and I will know that everything else is expendable.