Word for Word 12/23/20

Rev. Kim Gates
Rev. Kim Gates

In a time when compassion and care are in order, what I have to say may come off a bit harsh but we need to hear it. Folks, we’ve heard what it would take to curb the spread of the Novel Coronavirus and far too many have not headed those directives so now we must face the consequences: no in-person worship during one of the most treasured times of the year. My observation is that, like a teenager who finds themselves pregnant, we just want to ignore and deny it but such immature actions will not make it go away! And just like that teenager must bear the pain of childbirth we must bear the pain of forgoing time-honored holiday traditions.

So let us honestly reflect on those “traditions.” How important are they to sharing the Gospel Message of Christ? We’ve been participating in some of them for several hundred years but have they resulted in the making of true followers of Christ? The biblical books of Mark and John say nothing of the birth of Jesus but instead go straight into the stories of his ministry - a ministry that demonstrated how we’re to show the love of God and it was in practicing those things that wide spread making of disciples was launched! Sadly, there are far too many people who are big into celebrating the birth of Jesus but never go beyond to get into learning what that birth really means for humanity.

Our Jewish religious ancestors had many feasts and festivals but those who chose to accept Jesus as the Messiah did not celebrate his birth with one - they didn’t even know when it was! Instead they celebrated the Resurrection because that is the “biggie”! So we also have to remember that most of the traditions we celebrate around Christmas are man-made. That’s right, we made them up because there is no Biblical basis for any of them! We made up the birth date, we made up the “Three Kings,” we stole Christmas trees and Yule logs from winter solstice celebrations - Christianity appropriated hundreds of things and gave them Christian significance to win converts! Even family gatherings at Christmas aren’t mandated - after hearing the angels and going to the stable the shepherds didn’t run home to their families they went back to their shepherding while telling everyone they came into contact with about the wondrous event: The Messiah is born!

Granted, without the birth there could not have been a death-n-resurrection but maybe the reason we are denied our usual Christmas festivities this year is so we can get back to the true basics of our faith. Just as Jesus was a gift to the world on the night/day he was born as the One to bring salvation to humanity, perhaps this stay-at-home holiday season is a gift to grasp hold of the calling we have to spread the good news. Instead of focusing on “giving up” of some of our holiday traditions we can instead focus on how they can relate to our Christian faith, and if we can’t make a connection then maybe they don’t really have a place in our celebrating.

One of the gifts Church tradition has given us is the season of Advent (you won’t find it in the Bible, we made it up) which asks us to prepare for the Christ. As the children’s messages I’m using for this year seem to point toward that “preparation” it is not necessarily for the baby Jesus but for the promised return of the Christ. For generations the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews were looking for signs of the Messiah - the deliverer - the Savior - but are we prepared for the Second Coming?

The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of many Old Testament/Hebrew scriptural promises God made to the Chosen People. So just as God was faithful in fulfilling those ancient promises of a savior through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, I believe Jesus Christ will be faithful in fulfilling his promise to return a second time. We need to be ready. I beseech you to read through the entire Gospel of Luke or Matthew. Read beyond the birth narratives and begin 2021 with a renewed sense of why we celebrate a babe born in a manger so that you may be in full preparation mode for the Second Coming by living out the ministries of Christ.

May you have a most blessed Christmas season however you choose to celebrate!

Pastor Kim Gates
St. Paul’s UMC, Waukon
Forest Mills UMC, Postville

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