December 2010


On the first Sunday of Advent, I told the story of a friend who stumbled into Black Friday (the big shopping day that kicks off Christmas).  He was driving home with his family from his celebration of Thanksgiving with his relatives in Manhattan.  Matt lives out on Long Island and it was late when they headed for home on the Long Island Expressway.  As they approached their exit, there was an overhead electronic sign blinking a warning: “Tanger Outlet Mall of Riverhead – Parking Lot Full”.  It was 1:00am!  Black Friday!

            I was thinking about how much I would hate to go shopping on Black Friday; it just seems nuts.  Then it occurred to that I was being too judgmental.  There are some people who went out to shop that day for gifts that they might not have been able to afford otherwise.  It could well be that they were making a personal sacrifice for the sake of another.  If that were the case, then they were indeed moving with the Christmas Spirit.

            What is the Christmas Spirit?  It is about giving, right?  It is in fact about the gift of God in Christ, who has come into our unwelcoming world.  As unwelcome as the mall parking lots would be to me, they are nothing compared to the world into which Christ comes.  Indeed, the world has been compared to enemy territory which God invades with the nativity.

            If we look at the beginning from the end, we understand Christmas through the lens of reconciliation.  “God was in Christ, reconciling the world” (II Corinthians 5:19).  God enters the world through Christmas to pursue our reconciliation, with God and with one another.

            Last year, around this time, I became a member of the Spring Valley Rotary Club.  I have been amazed at all the services they perform for our community and beyond.  Their reach extends even to Vietnam.  Rotarian Howard Goldin, a retired Spring Valley police chief and a Vietnam Veteran, is a co-founder of STEP (Schools To End Poverty).  STEP has been building schools and supporting orphanages and providing wheelchairs all around Vietnam since 2005.  (See the article about their latest trip to Vietnam in the Journal News for November 30th - ).  It is striking to me that Vietnam Veterans play the key role in this humanitarian work.  It is a work of healing and reconciliation.  It is a group of men and women, leaving home to go to a far country, a country they had experienced personally as enemy territory, and they have done the inner work to extend healing and reconciliation.  The Spirit of Christmas.

            How will you and I celebrate Christmas this year?  Amid all the many wonderful festivities, how might we extend God’s work of reconciliation in our lives and our world?  Where is the far country for you?  Where are the places, who are the people, which might be difficult territory for you?  From whom are you estranged?  It just may be that God wants to send you exactly there.  This may be the Christmas gift God wants for you.

            The angels that appeared to the shepherds on the hillside outside of Bethlehem sang of Peace on Earth.  The Christ who comes into our world is heralded as Prince of Peace.  May we experience the advent of that peace in our own hearts and be instruments of that peace with others.