I so enjoy the Christmas celebrations each year. Like a child’s sense of wonder at the sight of lights, magic and presents, my heart is full of awe at the signs of grace at this time of year. Annually, Christmas offers all of us a boat-load of love-signs from the home of God.
I am reminded of this as I serve a church in coastal British Columbia as its transition pastor. I have been here, away from home, for most of the month. But I am scheduled to go home for Christmas tomorrow and to be there for more than two weeks before I return. I have been speaking to the congregation about the story of Christmas in which our sense of God’s grace is rooted. Each year I am amazed by the simplicity and meaning in that old Christmas story. There is a multitude of messages in the original story of how God came down to us personally in Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus’ atonement for our sins of course is also an intricate part of that story. And the call to proclaim the story is very much a part of the story as well.
As the angels heralded the message of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, and as they in turn told everyone about what they had seen and heard, so it is that we have been given this privilege and responsibility as well. One would think it a simple matter to announce this Good News to everyone. But alas; we soon discover that the task is much more complicated than at first appears.
For one thing, it is clearly evident that, like King Herod in the original story, not everyone receives this news with enthusiasm. Some, though initially interested, end up being quite adamantly opposed to this news. Additionally, many of us struggle with how to apply this good news in our own lives. We easily become pre-occupied with more immediate interests and concerns, like making a living or pursuing the temporary pleasures of the world. And so the Good News which we ourselves have so gratefully received soon lies dormant on the shelves of our memories. Sadly, the news that could change so much for so many becomes lost in the complexities of our own lives.
These complexities in heralding the Good News call us to think more deeply about how we can make this announcement more effectively. Though it is the best news in the whole world evidently there are many variables in how to broadcast it. Besides knowing the news well and being able to apply it to our own lives, we know that it involves more than announcing it in the regular media. For one thing telling this story is most definitely a work of the Holy Spirit which also includes prayer. And it often involves more than simply using words. As St. Francis of Assisi said, by all means preach the Gospel; when necessary, use words. There is also the matter of credibility based on one’s own life experience as well as the lives of those who have already received this news.
And then there are cultural issues – the question of how well we know and love the ones to whom we are telling it. This latter matter is of special interest to me since I don’t think we always appreciate what it means to be fully identified with those we want to reach. It certainly is a proven fact, as it was for Jesus, that we are only as effective in communicating the message as we are willing to truly love the people we hope to tell.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Christmas message of God reaching down to us in love through His Son is the greatest news that the world has every heard. Therefore it also seems reasonable to conclude that the greatest enterprise for anyone is to be consciously engaged continuously in finding ways to make it known.