This Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Advent—and the last installment of our Advent Conspiracy challenge. So far this season, we’ve challenged ourselves to worship fully, spend less and give more . Now we come to the final challenge– the heart of it all—love all. So after we explore that in worship, we’re going to put it into practice. During our second hour, we’re gathering as a community to write Christmas letters to prisoners. We’re working with a great organization called Prayer for Prisoners International, and they sent us a list of folks to write and some pretty specific guidelines about the kinds of cards we can send. According to the guidelines, the cards:
must be Christian (no Santa or candy-canes) must not include stickers of any kind (they are contraband), must not have foil envelopes (also contraband), must not have glitter (this is a ban I can absolutely get behind, must not have rhinestones, plastic or banana fiber, must not be scented.
Because our wonderful Worship Arts Coordinator is quarantined with the flu & sick kids, I went out in search of appropriate cards for the ministry. Here’s what I discovered–we like our Jesus with glitter & foil.
It’s almost impossible to find a religious Christmas card that isn’t bedecked with gold leaf, sparkles, glitter paint, shiny embossing or evergreen scents. (Seriously, corporate America, an evergreen scented Palestinian manger scene?) We do everything we can to sanitize and disneyfy the story of the savior’s birth. And that’s too bad. Because when we turn the story into a fairy tale, we empty it of its transformative power. Because Jesus wasn’t born into a pretty place or a safe place. He was born an outcast, in a cold stable full of dirt and excrement. But nobody wants a picture of that on a Christmas card, we want something holy-looking, so we groom the livestock, give Mary a make-over, spackle on the sparkle and then step back to ooh and awe and worship.
And that might look picturesque, but it ain’t the gospel. The message of the incarnation is that God sees things differently than we do. God does not come to holy people, God’s coming makes people holy. God did not choose to wait for us to clean up our mess before moving in. God chose to be with us in our desperation and emptiness. That might not look holy—it just is holy. If we’re telling the Christmas story right, it teaches us that those people we write off as hopeless and worthless are sacred in God’s eyes—whether those people be prisoners, bigots, sexual deviants, non-believers, wall-street bankers, serial adulterers, terrorists or our own selves. Those lives we judge unworthy are in fact so sacred that Christ emptied himself of his divinity to come down and dwell among them. Jesus came, not to a fragrantly scented sparkling safe space, but to live in the middle of rejection, scandal and despair. I wish somebody would paint a Christmas card of that story. But until then, I’ll settle for no glitter and a less Caucasian looking Jesus.
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