When I was driving into the city from Hialeah recently at night, I couldn’t help but notice how festive the city looked. Really beautiful. But then my pastor mind started wandering, much like my member’s minds do when I preach a sermon. I wondered if all of this “fuss” at this time of the year is about a religious event 2,000 years ago or something more like “Dancing with the Stars.” Namely is what we do cultural or theological? Theology is simply put, the study of God. It seems to me that millions of folks go through this season with hardly a mere thought about God, Jesus, Incarnation, and unconditional love. Why? Is it because commercialization has taken over? In part, yes, but there is more to it than that.
It seems to me that whether we are Jewish celebrating the festival of Hanukkah, the festival of lights that celebrated what Jews (175 years before Jesus) felt was a wonderful act from God to restore the temple. Or whether for Latinos it is all about Noche Buena, and the celebration with family over the festive eating of a pig, or whether it is simply a time of family sharing and gift giving, it seems to me that what we do has little relation to theology. Now I am not saying this because I am upset about it or angry for God, or shaming God’s people. Rather it was my thought as I entered the city that recent evening.
When I was ordained 40 years ago the Bishop explained to me that wherever I served in ministry, I served not only a building or a congregation, but my parish was the community around my church. That means to me that Hialeah, Doral and the Springs are my “parish” and I thus feel spiritually responsible for all who “dwell therein.” Now, thankfully I am not the only pastor, priest or rabbi with that responsibility. Several others serve in that capacity as well. But since I do feel “responsible” and since I am a father of seven children and my wife and I fostered over 450 children, I see my comments reflecting a love for all during this special season and my hope is that each one of us can reflect upon my concern. As we give and receive gifts, let’s think about the real gifts for our special time. A God, known by many names, spoken to in various languages, is the creator and sustainer of all that was, is, and will be.
So what can we do with the next 30 days? How can it have a deeper meaning, a spiritual meaning? When I think about Hanukkah, I think about lights, food, gifts, freedom and hope. When I think about Christianity, I think about lights, food, gifts, freedom and hope as well. Then I think about the darkness in the world. Wars that frighten and kill and little hope is seen and they produce anger and remorse. I think about folks who are sad this time of the year when the rest of us are happy. Why? Because a loved one is not with them anymore and there is still pain over the loss. Maybe a job was lost, a child defiant, a loved one less “in love.” It all hurts. But theologically, God came into the world as Jesus, at least that is what Christians affirm, and there is comfort and hope and assurance.
So while we are out and about this month why not think of the gifts to those who cannot repay, those we don’t even know, and those who have no hope. Help with a shelter, a homeless person, a school, a nursing home, and elderly neighbor, and a lost soul. Our political world of anger has spilled over into daily life and now is the time for lights, song, feasting, and hope. We can be that hope! We can change something for the better even if we can’t change the world. We have opportunities this month to think out of the box and act out of our own self-interest. This world we live in is not all about us. It is about a Deity who gives, redeems and restores. Sure, our city looks festive on the outside, but let our hearts reflect that on the inside.
I am reminded of the old Peanuts Christmas special many years ago where Charlie Brown was assigned to go out and find the tree for the family. He brought back a scraggly, hideous-looking tree and they all jumped all over him. They said, “We don’t need that tree.” And he said, “I know. But the tree needs us.”
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and whatever else you have wishes for.