It's the fourth week of Advent. More often than not this fourth week of Advent gets shortened to a few days, which can cause all kinds of additional pre-Christmas stress. This year, however, is one of those rare years when we have a full week of Advent before Christmas; and that, for me, is a good thing.
It means we have a full four weeks of Advent in which to prepare for Christmas in a new place, with new friends, in a new parish, far from what we have known. Thank you to everyone who has helped, knowingly or unknowingly, get us settled and welcomed here. Merry Christmas.
But “Merry Christmas” also has baggage associated with it. It has become a battle cry in a non-existent “war on Christmas” that some people want to inflict on all others, regardless of their religious leanings. During the campaign, our president-elect promised to mandate everyone say, “Merry Christmas,” much to the delight of a certain segment of people and totally ignoring this country's religious diversity.
Sometimes those words that have as their foundation a sense of hope and peace and goodwill brought into the world through a young woman and fulfilled in the Christ child lying helpless in a manger fall on deaf ears. I was at a Christmas event when I was approached by a man who associated me with everything wrong with the church and why he would never grace the doors. I wished him well in his new endeavor and we parted. I happened to walk past him at the end of the event and said, “Merry Christmas.” He harrumphed and brushed me aside.
And sometimes this time of year, and those words, ring hollow or painful. How do the people who will attend our Community Cafe this week view this time of year and those words? Or the people who are left lonely, homeless, or on the verge of homelessness? We have three parishioners who have had less-than-happy times this holiday season: a daughter's cancer diagnosis, the death of a brother, the death of a spouse. “Merry Christmas,” can be far from merry.
There's a lot that “Merry Christmas” can conjure up this time of year. But with all of that said, I pull words from Sunday's sermon and the Gospel of Matthew: Emmanuel, God is with us.
In this holiday season when we celebrate so much, may you have a blessed Christmas. May family and friends uphold you and give you strength. May the colors of the season bring a smile to your face. May the birth of our Lord in a lowly manger to parents unsure of their place in life give you hope. May the glory of the angels brighten your dark nights.
May you remember these words – Emmanuel, God is with us.
In all of your joys and sorrows, in all of your good encounters and trials, I wish you the best in this season and in the coming year.