What happens when the doubts and questions about our faith begin to threaten foundational beliefs and traditions that we love? One of the reasons we fight this process is that we don’t have much control over which doubts pop into our heads or when. And that’s okay. We need to consider the possibility that these questions don’t come from some dark place, but what if it’s the Holy Spirit drawing us into a deeper, more contemplative faith?
Imagine that you get yourself into church for Christmas Eve, maybe it’s the first time you’ve been back in two years. You’ve decided not to let Omicron ruin your Christmas, you’re triple vaxxed and masked! You reconnect with old friends, the sanctuary is decorated and beautiful, people are smiling behind their masks. You find peace singing cherished Christmas carols and then someone gets up to read the story… an angel appears to Mary…Then, suddenly out of nowhere it comes – a voice in your head blurts loudly, silently: “Nope!” Oh no! Not now! Not here! Not tonight! Your mind fights the intrusion for a moment, then gives in. What if this is all a lie? What if there was no angel? What if there were no shepherds? What if Linus lied?
You look around and you see it for the first time: so many people squirming, taking deep breaths. You are not alone. What if the birth narrative was made up? Why would the early Christians invent a myth around a virgin birth, a trek to Bethlehem, angels, shepherds, and magi?
The birth narrative, found mostly in the Gospel According to Luke, with some supplemental information from Matthew, served an important purpose, particularly for a Jewish audience: the story offers evidence that Jesus was the Messiah. The story demonstrates that Jesus was the fulfillments of old prophecies about the Messiah.
That kind of proof might not be as important for us today. But the story does so much more, and this is where the journey of reconstructing faith begins.
The pageantry of the Christmas story is about a God who chose to enter the suffering of the world. One who chose to be an utterly helpless baby, vulnerable to the world. One who chose not to live with the comforts of this world. One whose mother would be cast as unclean, a sinner. One who chose to share this news only with those who lived beyond the margins of society. One who gave up everything to walk among the poor and the marginalized. One who challenged those with all the answers. One who came to heal and erase the boundaries by inviting all into kingdom of God to experience his grace.
Look around again. You know these people, you know their stories, their struggles, their heartbreaks, and their sins that push them to the outside: the woman caught in adultery, the man whose skin made him unworthy, the one who is questioning their identity. Your own child. Yourself. In that moment, you choose to believe; not because of your grandmother or because the Bible tells you so. You choose to believe because you want to believe in a God who came for the least of these, a God who breaks the barriers that sin once imposed.
As you move through the Communion liturgy, you join the voices and hear the familiar words with new ears. You slip the prepackaged wafer under your mask and accept the mystery of God’s grace.
You stand to sing Silent Night, lift your candle and choose to believe that light has come into the darkness. You look around at those same people, the ones whom the Pharisees condemn and marginalize and see that they are the people whom Jesus called blessed. You receive the benediction and resolve to go into the world and continue the mission of the One who was born in a stable.
Maybe Linus was right. Maybe the Charlie Brown Christmas Trees of this world just need us to give up our security blankets and wrap them in love.
May the peace of Christ fill you with hope this Christmas, so that you may go out to love the world.