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Lawton Posey: There is a deep need for some sense of joy

EACH year, I attempt to share some thoughts on the season commonly called Christmas.

I know that for many people, regardless of religious affiliation, the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are the Season.

This season has become longer.

 Consider that many commercial establishments have long had Christmas trees up, and wreaths with bows and artificial snow placed here and there.

For children, it may be a wondrous time, when expectation and hope abound. Santas hear requests of kids for this and that.

In my own memory, a sidewalk Santa asked me, when I was about 5, about my Christmas wishes. I quickly told him that I wanted a red wagon and an Erector Set.

Sure enough, my financially strapped parents produced the funds for these much desired and loved presents.  

I know, though, that for many parents, Christmas (as celebrated in our culture) is a time of anxiety. Just to think of trips into places where toys are sold may be daunting to some.

There is often the question of finances. How will I gather up the funds to provide my family with gifts?

On our televisions, we are told that there are many magical cards which can be swiped through a little machine on the sales counter, and nothing will lie ahead but endless payments.

I speak of these things because I and many friends have had these experiences. This was especially true if we were young ministers serving rural congregations.  

I now present an alternative to the present celebration of Christmas.

For some Christians, the weeks before Dec. 25 remind us that that the characters in the Biblical stories of the birth of Jesus had similar concerns.

Mary and Joseph were in a precarious situation. Having an infant in the corner of an animal shed is no easy task.

 All through the Nativity stories that will be read in some churches from Dec. 24 and onwards, there are stories of terror, narratives of journeys taken in haste, and announcements of heavenly beings of peace on earth.

I am reminded that twinned with the birth narratives is another theme - of the killing of innocent children and the tyranny of rulers.

So, there. There is a connection between what is called Christmas in our culture, and some of the themes of the stories that Christians listen to and others may appreciate. People are, indeed, the same.

Let me put in a plug for another way of marking the birth of Jesus.

In some churches, the songs being sung in early December can be off-putting to sentimentalists. The hymns of Advent are sometimes serious indeed.

A Second Coming of the Lord is proclaimed. A word of judgment is revealed.

There is a sense of longing as people sing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (meaning Godwithus). I remember my former church's choir singing "Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" with the pitch sounded by handbells, sounding mysteriously, as from a distance.

It brings shivers for me to write these words.

So I can leave some of the hurly burly of December and sit in a church where candles are lit, marking the passage of four Sundays called Advent.

I am being prepared to hear the stories of the birth of Jesus in its fullness, its pathos and sorrows, along with the word that the child will become a person who will offer to many a new way.

I like this approach, which was denied me when I was growing up in the austere Presbyterianism of my youth. I learned Advent thinking from an elderly Episcopal minister who taught me new things about this season.

I shall never forget him.

Take heart, all. The central meaning of the season is, as Christians understand it, that the word, the self expression of God, dwells with us, full of grace and truth.

This message may be one of hope for Christians, and those who live in hope, though not holding to that version of faith.

For years, I avoided saying Merry Christmas, feeling that to offer merry-ness is not at the heart of the story.

These days, at least, I say these words to myself, knowing that at the heart of these days, as the year turns, there is a deep need for some source of joy.

Posey, a retired Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister, writes from his home in Charleston.


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