A Christmas without church?

Published 6:15 pm Tuesday, December 22, 2020

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By Nathan Decker

Where does Christmas happen? Christmas happens at Rockefeller Center with the tree lighting, right? No, maybe it needs an important person there too, so the tree lighting at the White House? Maybe Christmas happens on Santa’s lap when we whisper our hope into the old man’s ear. Maybe it happens in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where lots of folks go to have their Christmas cards come from ‘Bethlehem.’ Maybe it only happens where is snows like the Hallmark movies? Maybe Christmas happens in front of your tree with all the presents wrapped under it, or at Grandma’s house with the smell of fresh baked cookies? I know! Christmas happens at church with candles and all of us singing “Silent Night!” No?

In the Bible, Christmas happens where we are. It doesn’t require a fancy address in New York. It doesn’t require powerful or prestigious people. Christmas doesn’t need a special zip code or a certain type of weather. Christmas doesn’t even need a tree or presents or Grandma’s cookies. And yes, Christmas doesn’t even need us to gather in a building and sing. Christmas, the coming of Christ into the world, always happens where we are.

An angel visits Mary to bring Christmas where we are. Christmas came to the backwater village of Nazareth. Christmas came to the least known zip code in the entire Roman Empire — Galilee. Rather than royalty, Christmas came to a simple, powerless teenage girl. There were no presents, Christmas trees or cookies. No snow was falling outside.

Christmas came to where we are. Christmas came to the oppressed people struggling under the boot of an oppressive government. Christmas came to the poor; the one’s to whom history would have never have paid any attention. Christmas came in conversations about sex and babies. Christmas came in fears about divorce and shame. Christmas came with questions, “How is this possible?”

The Impossible is Possible with God. How can we possibly have Christmas without singing? How can we possibly have Christmas without everyone gathering in the church building? How can we possibly call this Christmas … no lights, no family, no church? This isn’t the first time or the last time Christmas has been challenged by worldwide events.

Christmas has been challenged by our nation ripping itself in half. Dec. 25, 1864 — General Sherman and the Union Army had marched to the sea using a scorched earth policy to make sure nothing behind them was able to support the Confederate War effort. But on Christmas, 90 soldiers from Michigan, led by their Captain, attached tree limbs to two mules and went through Atlanta handing out food to families in need. Christmas came.

Christmas has been challenged by pandemics. The 1918-1919 so-called “Spanish Flu,” challenged Door County, Wisconsin, a tiny community outside of Green Bay on a peninsula jutting out into the frozen Lake Michigan. They were afraid; a Thanksgiving surge of deaths shook the community. The hospitals were full. They began asking a question they never would have considered asking before: Was Christmas to be canceled just at the time that the community needed it the most? What was to be done when the very gathering of people could cause them to contract the malady? Priests and pastors of all denominations felt the need to comfort their flocks, but their very presence could be bringing the illness right into the homes of their congregation members. On Dec. 20, 1918, the church leaders and health department came to an agreement. Christmas was not cancelled. Instead of their usual comfort inside the buildings, the brave Wisconsin families bundled up and showed up at the steps of their church buildings. There each pastor had put up a tree. In the snowy windy weather, they sang carols. Christmas came.

Christmas has been challenged by a world at war. Christmas came to the forest of the Ardennes during WWII. The German Artillery was shelling the troops with 88’s. A few soldiers on Christmas Eve found refuge in a little farmhouse. Keith Davis recalled, “We were out in the outskirts of Bastogne, we found this farmhouse … Inside was a man and a woman, and a little boy and a little girl … the wife, she gave us some soup and some black bread. We stayed there all night in this farmhouse. The war was going on fiercely outside and for some reason the farmhouse never got hit. We were there Christmas Eve. We sang Christmas songs that night with this Belgian family. We sang “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.” The words were different but the music was the same — Christmas came.”

The Impossible is Possible with God. Where is Christmas? Where does it happen? Who is invited? Christmas is the story of God bringing hope, joy, peace and love to us. Christmas happens where we are no matter who we are. Christmas is the impossible being possible with God.

Christmas doesn’t need all the sentimentality and traditional garland and tinsel wrapped memories. All Christmas needs is for us to join with Mary in laying down our own power and depending on God’s. Christmas needs for us to say, “Here we are, servants of God, let it be with us as you have said.” A Christmas miracle! The people of God carrying the Babe within their hearts today! That’s where Christmas happens. Amen.