Rev. George Miller
Dec. 20, 2015
Last week we talked about the two different ways in which people seem to prepare for the Christmas season: those who do everything last minute and those who are uber-organized.
How many here have all their gifts in the mail? How many plan on standing in a long line tomorrow or Tuesday?
There’s another way to playfully categorize folk this season- the tradition of sending Christmas cards. Specifically, what kind of cards to send.
First, for the card sender, do you prefer the cards that stand vertical, which open out? Or the cards that stand horizontally, which open up?
My family has a tradition of stringing cards along the wall, so horizontal cards are the ones we prefer.
Second, which kind of Christmas card catches your fancy? The one’s with nativity scenes and religious imagery? Or the ones that are a bit more nature based?
For me, there’s something about Christmas cards that feature birds, especially a vibrant red cardinal which just pops off the page.
Third: sparkly or sparkle free?
The sparkle-free are so neat and clean. The sparkly are fun, but they can create a crunch-crunch-crunch sound as you press down to write your note; they also leave glitter embedded in your table, carpet and hands, and can stay there for weeks, or months.
Then there is the actual card writing itself. Do you include a full page year-end missive catching folk up with everything you’ve done?
Do you simply write to and from?
Do you take a moment to write something personal and specific to the card recipient?
Of course, in today’s culture one can even wonder “why even write?” In the age of Facebook and Facetime is it even necessary since cyber-space has allowed us to stay connected to folk all year long?
And if you do decide to send a horizontal, sparkly card with a cardinal on it, to whom do you send it?
I was aghast last week when reading a post from a pastor wondering if they should send cards to folk who didn’t send them a card last year, as if token of friendship is based on reciprocity.
So, being a good A-type personality, I’ve been going through my phone book day by day for the last few weeks, doing a few cards each night.
For some reason this year, I became more aware of who I was sending cards too. Sure, there were the obvious people: siblings, aunts, close friends.
But what about those I haven’t seen or even talked to in years? Those who I have almost forgotten because it’s been so long?
Do you use up a card, spend money on a stamp? What do you even say? Would they even notice if you didn’t send a card ever again?
There’s an ex I haven’t heard from since we broke up years ago. A great uncle who I haven’t seen in decades. An old friend who never writes back but I miss dearly.
Should I write? What to say? How to sign it?
This year the answers were simple. Yes- send a card. Speak simply from the heart. Sign it “always” because that is right and it is true.
“Always”, meaning my ex, my uncle, my friend will always be in my heart and I’ll always remember the joyful times we’ve had together even if we never set sight on one another ever again, even if we never hear one another’s voice, even if there have been hurt feelings and no chance of reconciliation.
While writing those Christmas cards this year, there was perhaps an understanding of why we do this each holiday season.
Because even in that one moment of writing, there is a sense of reconnection, there is a recollection of good times, and there does become a flicker of hope, that maybe one day things can resume.
Not the same; rarely are things ever the same. But different.
And different is OK…
…What if God sent us a Christmas card? What would it look like? What would a Christmas card from God say?
Would God send us a vertical card we can stand on a table or a horizontal card we can hang from a string upon the wall?
Would God opt for a nativity scene or something with a nature-theme?
Would God go for sparkly-free or super-duper sparkly?
Would God sign each Christmas card with a simple signature or a personalized note?
Today’s reading from Micah is like a letter from God. A passionate letter in which God speaks to the people through the prophet.
It’s not the happiest of letters. God tells the people that things ain’t so good.
The north has had their share of problems and the south is quickly following suit. The rich are becoming richer at the expense of the poor who are becoming poorer.
Widows are losing their homes; the youth are being robbed of a promising future.
There have been falsehoods and lies, nation is against nation, and those in power are breaking the hopes and backs of others.
In this letter to the people, God is actually quite mad at them. God’s honest about this anger; brutally honest.
God basically says to the people “You’re actions are causing chaos and will create great suffering to come your way; so great that it’s too late to even stop it from happening.”
Who’d ever want to receive a Christmas card like that from God?
But, as always, grace, optimism, and the promise of regeneration comes from the Lord.
“Listen,” God says through the words of the prophet, “from the little town of Bethlehem shall come one who will be of peace.
“This little one will bring you back to how things were supposed to be, to the real purpose of your life.
“A new kind of ruler will emerge from Bethlehem who will unite the people, nullify your pains, and help you return to the things that makes living in community so great.”
God continues to speak to the people, “The One who is yet to come will stand tall and strong. He’ll be like a shepherd, feeding the flock from my pantry of righteousness.”
“This small-town shepherd will reflect the Lord’s majesty until the ends of Creation. His greatness will empower people to stop, pause, and breathe securely.”
“Because- He is of PEACE.”
That’s what God has the prophet write in chapter 5, but if we read on to chapter 6, we hear how God calls upon the people to remember- remember all that God has done.
Remember how God has delivered, God has redeemed, God has sent Moses and Miriam, God has reversed curses and performed many saving deeds.
“Remember,” God says, and the people respond by asking “What should we give you as a way to say thanks?”
We don’t know if the people are being honest and humble, or if they are being facetious and fake.
But they say to God “What do you want as a gift? Should we give you burnt offerings? Thousands of rams? Barrels of oil? Bottles of cologne? Should we give you our 1st born?”
And in chapter 6, verse 8 of Micah, do you know what God tells the people?
God answers their question so briefly, so eloquently, so simply:
“O, what is so good, what do I really, really want? But to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with me.”
God has done all these things for the people over the course of centuries: freedom, redemption, salvation, and now the promise of a shepherd who will stand strong and feed us all…
…and all God wants, all God ever wanted, was-
-For us to treat one another fairly
-For us to enjoy the ability to be kind to one another
-For us to simply walk, side by side, with our Creator.
…If God was to send us a Christmas card this year, be it vertical or horizontal, religious or nature based, plain or super-sparkly,
Is it possible that the words of Micah 6:8 would be just what God would inscribe?
And if God indeed did so, would we be able to obey and follow?
If the people of Micah’s time never seemed to learn, is there a chance that we, living 2,500 years later, 2 continents away, in our own unique geo-political world, can learn?
If we were to get such a Christmas card from God, and we didn’t respond in kind, would God still send us a card with the same message again and again, year after year after year?
If God did not fully give up on the people of Micah’s time is it possible that God will never give up on us as well?
…As we conclude our final days, our final miles into Bethlehem, sending out Christmas cards, giving and receiving gifts, awaiting for the birth of Jesus Christ,
maybe this year we can be a bit more mindful of the gifts God has already given us.
And the gifts that God so clearly wants to receive.
In joy we can receive; in joy we can obey.
Amen and amen.