And on Earth, Peace

It’s been a brutal year. Terrorists mingling with refugees violated Europe’s welcome, wreaking carnage. Christians residing in radical Islamic territories have been beheaded, crucified or displaced from ancient homelands.

Meanwhile, the Cold War is heating up as America’s resurgent enemies challenge our cherished status as the land of the free and home of the brave. Our cities seethe with unresolvable rage. Even high school restrooms have become a war zone as common decency is denounced as phobia and even hatred. Voters desperate for trustworthy national leadership had to choose between discredited and scandalized candidates.

What an opportunity for Seventh-day Adventists to rise up and shine for Jesus! Many Northwest Adventists are doing just that with the glorious message and mission of grace and truth entrusted to us. Our global denominational structure struggles to provide oversight. Wary pastors and lay members lament about paternalistic committees that confuse unity with uniformity. Trusted veteran leaders express concerns that coercive policies are counterproductive in the elusive quest for revival and reformation.

Whatever our ongoing disagreements about such matters as women’s ordination, there is one thing about which we all can agree this Christmas season: We need Jesus! Santa Claus can’t save us. Holiday parties or manic shopping sprees won’t bring peace on Earth and goodwill toward fellow humanity. We need to glorify that Baby born in Bethlehem as the risen Lord of our churches.

Let’s make this practical. How can we experience good tidings of great joy, as the angels and shepherds did on that holy night so long ago and far away? How can God’s amazing grace revitalize your congregation? Remember — it’s within local church families we are dedicated as babies, baptized, married and ultimately memorialized. It’s where we hear the Word every Sabbath and learn how to share it in the marketplace and classroom.

Healthy, thriving congregations don’t fight over having a Christmas tree on the platform upon which to pin dollars for the poor. Disputes are resolved in mutual respect through prayerful discussion. There’s no brawling in a boardroom sandbox about trinkets and trivia.

And what about our homes? Will the Spirit of Christmas make room at your table for lonely people from the church and the community — widows, homesick students, single moms and their restless kids? Back in Bible times, hospitality was a sacred duty. It still is. You’ve got two options: Christmas Eve or Christmas dinner. Suppose you reserved one of those occasions for private fellowship with your relatives and then enlarged your family circle for those who might have a blue Christmas without you?

My mom was a single mother. Childhood in Germany meant joyous holiday fellowship, but parenting in America became a lonesome holiday experience. The war hero she married turned out to be an abusive father from whom she had to flee to save her three boys. For many years, the only outside activity she had on Christmas was overtime work as a nursing home aide.

One year near the end of her life brought a different Christmas experience, thanks to Candy Carson (wife of the popular, now-retired surgeon). The Carsons might have enjoyed exclusive fellowship with other celebrities, but one Christmas Eve they invited my anonymous mother and her pastor son to come over with my wife and our college-aged children. Others from various backgrounds were there too. The Carsons’ basement rec room resounded with our laughter and singing. The food was tasty but not fancy.

That wonderful evening culminated with Ben’s poignant Christmas devotional. The next day, as I recall, the Carsons had their own family dinner alone with beloved grandma Sonya.

Will you follow the Carsons’ unselfish example this holiday season? Many of you already do and always have. Some of the rest of us don’t always do what’s stirring in our hearts and consciences. Perhaps we imagine the need to pull off some big and expensive dinner event. We want to make everything completely perfect. (Full disclosure: Many things I could/should have done in my life haven’t happened because I’m still paralyzed by perfectionistic standards — after decades of theologizing about grace. One graduate professor advised me that anything really worth doing is worth doing poorly, if that’s the best I can do.)

Thank God, my good wife, Darlene, has been a wonderful hostess amid her other responsibilities throughout our 42 years together in ministry. Many otherwise lonesome Sabbath lunch guests have enjoyed our hospitality fellowship because of her.

Jesus promised, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40 NSRV). Maybe there wasn’t room at the inn for Jesus in Bethlehem, but there can be room in our homes and peace in our hearts this Christmas.

December 14, 2016 / Perspective
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