Tonight is Christmas Eve, and my cousins and I just watched The Muppet Christmas Carol again, simply because we have done it for at least ten years in a row. I love that movie. It is a delightful rendition of Dickens's famous story, and really, who can resist the muppets?
Seeing that movie one more time got me thinking about traditions. So much of what we do comes from the familiarity of it. My mom's side of the family always goes to Pittsburgh for Christmas. From the time my brother and I and our three cousins were children, we always made a big event of Christmas, with all the gift-giving excitement you would expect in a typical American consumerist family. Why get rid of a good thing?
I'm happy to be here in Pittsburgh again this year, but I can't help notice how different things are. My brother, just like last Christmas, is on the other side of the Atlantic doing Christian missions. (Fortunately, he'll be with us tomorrow thanks to the wonders of Skype.) My cousin Loren is engaged to be married next year. Ethan and Eric are now thoroughly into their military careers, and I'm in graduate school. The "kids" are not kids anymore.
This is also the sixth Christmas I have celebrated without my father. Although I am glad to know that he rests in the arms of his father in heaven, I can't help but feel a little sorry for myself for having been without him all these years. I am astonished at how much more I have thought about him this Christmas season than I did in any of my four years of college. Perhaps that is because Christmas has given me the chance to reflect on these past few years more than the summer after my graduation. Perhaps I needed to look back at where I came from, so that I can assess where I've really gone since then, particularly in my college years.
I could go on about that, but I won't. Not here, anyway. I guess I was just thinking about how we tend to fall in love with the familiar patterns of life. All cultures develop some sort of calendar to keep track of time, both for practical and sentimental reasons. We need to know what's coming--what the weather will be like, for example--but we also need to set aside time to think about important events, themes, values, etc. which are represented by our various holidays.
What results from this scheme is a very cyclic view of the world. Every Christmas, we see something very familiar, and there is comfort in that. The New Year will come around just like it did last year, and we can look forward either cynically or optimistically to a lot more of what we've already seen. There is surely something good in this cycle. After all, it is part of nature for things to come in cycles.
But Christmas really isn't about cycles at all. If there's one thing the birth of Christ tells us, it's that history is going somewhere. Just as my cousins and I are not kids anymore, history also has grown up. Every year we are approaching the fulfillment of all God's promises; otherwise Christmas--the incarnation of God--is meaningless.
Human beings really have no excuse anymore for the way we continue to tolerate immorality and injustice. We have a perfect model in the man whose birth we celebrate this time of year. When I think about the atrocities of the world, whether it be the genocide in Darfur, or the terrorism of Al Qaeda, or perhaps the secret atrocities that we in the West commit daily, though we prefer not to think of them as such--I think, how can this be, seeing that God himself was born to us more than 2,000 years ago?
Yet the whole story of the world, according to Christianity, is one in which human beings cause both the downfall and the renewal of God's perfect world. "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God." (Romans 8:19) Indeed, you can already see signs of life in the dead race of man. There is love, there is joy, and there is peace this time of year, in many places all over the world, where people gather together to celebrate the God of all goodness and beauty and wonder.
God is doing something among us, and that is why we see our lives moving forward. For me, it means that these years ahead of me in are not just about building a career for the purpose of gaining enough of an income in my adult life to be comfortable. My future is all about God's future, which means ushering in an era in which people really do act like Christ. It means standing up against atrocities, showing people the most excellent way, and hopefully living ever more consistently with the message I endorse with words. I cannot just sit idly by while the world suffers, especially when God really has been so good to me.
God is moving history forward. In a world of cycles, it is easy to believe that what has happened cannot be undone, and that every year we know what to expect. But the challenge of Christmas is to believe that in fact the dead can rise again. Not only do we celebrate people being changed from Scrooges into saints, but we also look forward to a literal resurrection, in which people like my father will once again live on the earth, never to die again. No matter what it is in this world that makes our hearts sigh and yearn for things to be different, we know because of Christmas--because God is now with us--that things can be different, and they will be different.
I suppose that's the whole reason I started this blog. I know that even though history tends to repeat itself, nevertheless everything we choose to do with the time we are given matters. Every word we say, every stand we take, and every person we reach is a building block in God's project of history. If I didn't see it this way, I think I'd go insane. It's nice to take comfort in what's familiar, but a life that only goes around in circles really is meaningless. I guess I have just enough faith to believe that God is using these silly little blog posts as part of His mission to change the world.
Having said all of that, I really do think one of the best ways to change the world is to celebrate. There's nothing like a celebration to show the world that love and joy really will prevail. There's nothing like a celebration to show people that the King really is here to make things right. After all, we ought to be living in light of our hope for the future given to us by Jesus Christ, so how can we help but celebrate? The world needs to see what a real party looks like!
So to all of you out there in cyberspace...