Time for a “Christmas Truce”

I want to declare a “Christmas truce” in the growing chorus of worry about churches, complaining about churches, wishing that churches could get with modernity, and all the lamenting and fussing and blaming and bickering.

Instead, as British and German soldiers once did on bleak battlefields in 1914, I suggest we leave our trenches and go stand in the open with each other. Exchange gifts, share tea, shake hands, sing “Silent Night” – but, for the sake of God and God’s people, see the good and imagine better days.

I am speaking to myself as much as to anyone else. Trends in progressive Christianity have troubled me for years. I think we are on the verge of financial bankruptcy and too weak and self-serving to stand effectively for justice in a world drifting toward fascism.

But then I remember something: so was the world when Jesus came. Rome was corrupt, establishment Judaism was corrupt, and people were suffering the bar of the oppressor. But still God came, not giving the victory to any cadre of combatants, but shining a new light in an old world.

At our best, we are still trying to shine that new light. When frightened bigots set to tormenting Muslims, shouting down immigrants and continuing three centuries of violence against African-Americans, it is brave Christians who emerge from their parlors and liturgies to stand with the targets of intolerance.

When the mega-wealthy unleash their avarice on an entire nation, it is brave Christians who preach truth to power. It is kindly Christians who do what they can to make life better for the needy. It is mindful Christians who lift up simpler living.

When Christmas comes, clergy will dig deep and spend hours in hospital rooms and nursing homes, comforting those who feel lost and alone. No one will see their steadfast presence. Their year-end performance reviews will look at Sunday numbers. But the sick will have been visited, and God will be glad.

When Christmas comes, a few grownups will instruct children in the art of the Christmas Pageant. Performances will range from homely to spectacular, but every child will have learned something about the “reason for the season.”

When Christmas comes, choir members already exhausted from a 21st Century holiday will attend one more rehearsal and sing two or three times on Christmas Eve. Few will know their effort expended. But God will know.

When Christmas comes, even churches that are struggling to stay open will turn on all the lights, crank up the heat, maybe hire a trumpeter or two, spruce up their finery, and open the doors to God’s people. It won’t be like 1957, and for many it could well be their last Christmas. But they will do their best.

As a pastor who walked the walk during this season of high expectations and emotional outbursts, I know how difficult this season can be for clergy. Few appreciate the exhaustion and the emotional roller-coaster. Maybe the people don’t need to know it. But God knows it, and I believe God is grateful.

British and German troops returned to their trenches and commenced slaughtering each other. The war didn’t end with one singing of “Silent Night.” Neither will the trials and worries of modern congregations. Much is changing, much requires rethinking, much needs tending. This is a challenging time for us, and the challenges won’t go away because we shared one cup of coffee.

But this truce matters, I think, because it can remind us that our wars aren’t God’s wars. Our bickering and complaining aren’t God’s voice. The vitriol we aim at each other isn’t God’s sourness. The ways we shrink from duty as prophets and healers aren’t God’s fear at work.

When Christmas comes, if we can stand together for a brief truce, we can see what God wants from us.

Topics: Belief, Church Growth, Church History, and Clergy/Ministry. 8 Points: Point 4: Act As We Believe. Seasons & Special Events: Advent and Christmas. Resource Types: Articles.

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