Another Christmas will come and go. For some it will be a festive time when families and friends reunite and celebrate and rejoice. For some, it is a poignant time where through distance or death loved ones can no longer meet. For a few, it is a desolate and despairing time that contrasts a joyful season with a less-than acceptable life situation. For some, it is primarily a religious celebration; while for others it is about reindeer and snowmen and sleigh rides and Santa – and for most of us it is a wild hodge-podge of all these things rolled together. A significant number of people look as forward to Christmas being over, as to Christmas coming. Indeed, our American culture in the United States allows Christmas to take over just about everything – starting around Halloween.
The concept of a quiet, contemplative Christmas where “Silent Night” is more than a nice idea appears impossible to many – even those who celebrate primarily because of the birth of the Christ child. There is simply too much going on.
For this reason, I offer a simple gift. I want to give you an hour. Sometime in the next few days leading to Christmas, you have my permission to withdraw, find a quiet space, take a hot mug of something soothing or tasty, and sit to ponder one question and one answer.
The question is: “Why?” Why Christmas? Why did God do it? Why does God continue to do it? We certainly don’t deserve it. We haven’t earned it. We break covenant as often as we keep covenant (and if we are honest, we probably break it more often than not…). We are not too kind to one another most of the time; at best, we ignore most of the people we don’t know. We don’t do a very good job being patient and tolerant. Our generosity is too often the exception rather than the rule. We are not always forgiving of those who irritate or annoy us. Why did God grant us this amazing gift of salvation?
Were two dirty, illiterate, unwed teenagers to show up at our church on Christmas Eve, how would we respond? We like to think that we would receive them with open arms; but truth be told, if we were that ready to receive them, we would already see them in our pews. Right beside the prostitutes and the astrologers and the shepherds and the tax collectors and those with physical, emotional, and spiritual ills. How many of us would leave the comfort of our homes to seek out a baby in a barn born to strangers? Why did God do this? Why did God do this in such a perplexing way?
The answer is simple, but not easy. God loves us. God loves us, no matter what. We put conditions on love; God does not. We draw the line and say “no more, we’re finished!” God does not. We look to see who is deserving, and who is worth it. God does not. God so loved the world… God so loved the WORLD. God so LOVES the WORLD. It is simply impossible for us to truly wrap our heads around this, but it is the core of all truth: God IS love. Let us not waste time trying to figure out how to despise those whom God loves. In this Christmas season, simply receive the gift – but know that it comes with strings attached. For those whom God loves carry a huge responsibility – to share this love with everyone we meet, every day of the year.
May you be blessed to be a blessing this Christmastime, and in the New Year to come!
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).