Bill Nieporte is a friend from my seminary days and pastor of Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. He’s toying with the idea of creating a “John the Baptist” line of Christmas cards. So far, here is what he has produced:
Outside card: “From our house to yours this holiday season.” Inside: “Merry Christmas, you brood of vipers.”
Outside card: “Let’s all pass the cup as we gather round the Yule log.” Inside: “which burns like the unquenchable fire of hell that is soon going to consume you for all eternity. With love, John.”
Outside card: “Season’s greeting to you from across the miles.” Inside: “Hey, who told you to flee from the wrath to come?”
This is, of course, straight out of Scripture, but not so very Christmas sounding. John’s words change our focus.
If Christmas is about renewing our hope in the idea of peace on earth and goodwill among all people, John reminds us that we are to be an integral part of bringing such an idea to fruition.
If Christmas is about God taking on flesh and coming to live among us humans, John reminds us of our need to turn our lives toward the one who is coming to us.
If Christmas is about God assuming the vulnerable form of a human infant, John reminds us that being vulnerable to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and open to the weak and vulnerable among us is how we embrace this infant being born into our lives.
If Christmas is wise men traveling from afar, angels singing and shepherds being astonished and afraid, John reminds us that our joining the cosmic and timeless celebration means confessing our failures, owning our weaknesses and seeking healing for our wounds.
Christmas can be a confusing time for many folks for a variety of reasons. In the midst of difficult economic times, money for presents will be limited for many.
If the focus of Christmas is buying, then, no doubt, there will be some who are feeling like they have not had much of a Christmas. If Christmas is about family, and a family member is ill, away from home, deployed overseas or has passed away, Christmas will be different at best and impossible at worst.
What John does for us during this advent season is to focus our attention on what the most important item is on our list of things to do in order to get ready for Christmas. With laser precision, John calls us to look at our own lives, our relationships with God and the ways those relationships impact how we live our lives.
For, you see, if Christmas is to happen, this time it will not happen in a far-away and long-ago stable. No, if Christmas is to happen, it will happen in the lives of women and men, boys and girls who are ready to invite and embrace the birth of a new experience of the reality of God in their lives.
December 25th will appear on the calendar tomorrow. Christmas will come. What John wants to know is whether or not Christmas will happen in you? Are you getting ready?
Ed Sunday-Winters is senior pastor of Ball Camp Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. He blogs at Just Words.