Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ours is Not a Hallmark Religion

Many people seem to view religion in this Country as a cute, sweet thing. Almost like a Hallmark card. You come to Church, you see something pretty, you open the card and get a nice little phrase that quick and easy, and then you close the card, put it away, maybe look at it if you get lonesome or wistful -- but by in large the pretty picture stands on the shelf while you go about your life. We want Church to be. . . simple, polite, unobtrusive, and mainly on the shelf.

I find this to be true more at Christmas time - partially because things can become so romanticized, so. . . picture perfect (like something by Courier and Ives). And partially because this is the time of year when many people will pull that religious card off the shelf, trundle off to Church for the first time in ages, smile wistfully, and then not be seen again for ages again. Back onto the shelf with the pretty card until I think it's time to see something pretty again.

But ours is not a Hallmark religion. Our faith is not something to be left on the shelf throughout the year. And at no time of the year is this more evident than at Christmas (well, perhaps Good Friday). Behold the setting - road weary people forced to a barn, even when one is pregnant and ready to give birth (oh, how kind!). Forced into a stall, piled high with fodder, and who knows when last it was mucked out (oh, how sweet!). The pain and agony of child-birth, woman's curse from the fall of Eve so that Eve and all after her might be redeemed (oh, how lovely!) Angels appearing before shepherd who fall to their knees in fear and must be told, "Be not afraid" (Oh, how beautiful!).

No, Christmas would have been a visceral, fleshly thing - all the muck and down in the dirt of this human life, all wrapped up there in that day. Christmas isn't the card on the mantle - it's the pain and sorrow and trouble and rugged beauty of this human existence in this fallen world -- it's the pain of human bodies, the sorrow of disdain, the troubles the rise up to meet us each day, the glimpses of beauty that fight there way through this - it's the very stuff we see every day of the year. . . yet with one wondrous difference.

This time, in the center of it, that Child is no mere Child - that Child is God. That Child is Emmanuel, God with Us, God Himself come down from heaven to burst into our fallen world, so that with His own Body He might redeem our own Bodies, with His life He might win for us Life everlasting.

The point of Christmas isn't that it is a pretty time on a shelf, but that God Himself breaks and bursts into all the hurt and pain that we face in this life, and He declares to us, "I Am your God, and I win you salvation, and I am with you, always and forever, even unto all eternity." This is our religion - the religion we celebrate whenever Christ comes to us in the Lord's Supper, the religion we live whenever we ourselves enter into the messy world and show forth Christ's love unto our neighbors.

Ours is not a Hallmark Religion - ours is a religion where sin is attacked, confronted, confessed, and defeated by our God, because He is the God who comes to be with us.

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