Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ugly Christmas Sweaters and Peace on Earth

I get a kick out of the popularity of ugly Christmas sweaters. Over the past few years you see more and more about these 1980's fashion relics from grandmas' closets. A National Ugly Sweater Day has been established for the Second Friday in December. This year 5 million participated. Seasonal stores have been popping up: like the Christmas Sweater Depot in the Chicago area. Ugly sweater themed Christmas parties and pub crawls have become popular with millennials who are looking to have another excuse to dress up and act goofy. One leader in the apparel industry thinks that the whole phenomenon is a rebellion against the formality found this time of year: from stressful travel plans to dinner and office parties. "Everybody could use a laugh... the world is so incredibly stressful."

Knocking down the stress level a few notches just might be what the doctor ordered. During the darkest time of the year, as the sun disappears behind the clouds and the temperatures get colder, its tough enough to find the good news that comes with Christmas. But then when you add all the financial and time expectations placed upon you, this time of year can easily lead more people into a dark fog than toward the Light of the World.

Humor helps. I love reading the Christmas story to children and adults from a Children's Bible. It adds some humor, knocks down the stress, and still reveals the good news that is given to the world through the story. After the angel shares with the shepherds the news about Jesus' birth and the Heavenly Host sing "Glory to God," the shepherds are called to pay homage to this new born king. But they wonder what they should do with the sheep. They can't leave the sheep all alone. "Let the angels watch them," is what the youngest shepherd says. And I guess that's good enough. Later, at the manger with Mary and Joseph, the story is intentional to tell us about the "moo-o-o-o" and "baa-a-a-a" and "coo-o-o-o" of the cows and sheep and doves. Try making the sound of a dove right now. It will put a smile on your face.

Maybe by knocking down the stress levels a little bit and finding a chance to laugh we will be more open to power of that Heavenly Host song: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors." When there was no room in the inn, you gotta believe that a little bit of a laughter would have been extremely helpful in Mary and Joseph not falling into deep despair. It can do us all a little good.

And may that little dose of humor move us to hear the Lord's call through the Christmas story: Our Savior has been born... born to bring us peace. Christ's peace will be a direct contrast to the peace that was found at the time in the Roman Empire. Romans celebrated the peace that Emperor Augustus brought through conquest by building the Ara Pacis Augustae in 9 BC. The peace of Christ will not be found through contempt for weak neighbors. The Prince of Peace points to a peace that comes through the Kingdom of God... it is peace and power through compassion... Freedom through service.

Armed with your ugly Christmas sweater, the news of Christ's birth and mission, some humor in your soul, and a heart eager to speak kindness, you are ready to become an instrument of peace. The world is so incredibly serious and so incredibility needs peace. Allow yourself to be a light of hope as we await the coming of the Kingdom of God and the Prince of Peace.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Indigo Christmas

You ain't been blue; no, no, no.
You ain't been blue,
Till you've had that mood indigo.
That feelin' goes stealin' down to my shoes
While I sit and sigh, "Go 'long blues."

Always get that mood indigo,
Since my baby said goodbye.
In the evenin' when lights are low,
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

'Cause there's nobody who cares about me,
I'm just a soul who's
bluer that blue can be.
When I get that mood indigo,
I could lay me down and die.
("Mood Indigo," lyrics by Irving Mills)

On the longest night and busiest shopping day of the year... in the midst of cold and gray... facing full calendars and empty bank accounts... it's understandable if a person feels blue. Clouded by memories of the past and regrets for the present, many feel so lonesome they could cry. Missing loved ones and wondering about the future, indigo is just right.

Trying to navigate the hurly-burly, some lash out with anger: bitter because they feel that they've been suckered into feeling this way. Crying out: "Keep Christ in Christmas!" or "Jesus is the reason for the season" they are tempted to blame others for their blahs. "If only all that other stuff wasn't getting in the way, maybe I'd enjoy this."

Some fall into self-pity seeing only saccharine in the holiday cards that come in the mail, in cookies from Wal-mart stacked on the counters, and in the lineup of plastic wreaths, "'cause there's nobody who cares about me." Hearing Andy Williams piped out along the sidewalk by city hall, some sing to themselves: "I'm just a soul who's bluer than blue can be."

The Word of God found in Scripture suddenly gets lumped into a pile of green and red LED lights. "Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, good will to all" shares space with Buddy Elf's four groups: Candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.

But the Word is exactly the place to find light dawning among the gray and blue and indigo. Let's leave the little town of Bethlehem for a moment and head up to Nazareth. An angel is approaching a young woman with a message. She will have a child who will save his people from sin. The young woman, Mary, can't understand it. It's impossible. She can't possibly be pregnant. Ahh.. and this is where that great line comes in, spot of orange appears in the sea of blue. "Nothing is impossible with God."

Nothing is impossible with God... A double negative that gives birth to life.

We can dwell in these blues... and be honest about them. It may be how you feel right now. Know, though, that God is with you in that indigo field. In Christ, God takes the nothing and impossible and gives us Emmanuel to meet us exactly where we are. God swirls the blues and the indigos into bright oranges, yellows and reds. God transforms gray clouds and cold air into his warm, comforting embrace. God will grab hold of this longest night and shortest day to present us with a gift of hope we can hold on to.

Nothing is impossible with God... A double negative on Indigo Christmas that tells us that a new day is dawning.