Leader to Leader

May Christmas Be Fun!

December 19, 2016 | Posted by Ken Chitwood

Whether it’s the long lines at the post office that are making you angry, the pain from the loss of a loved one last year that lingers, or the stress of putting together the perfect plan for your Christmas party, worship service, or program it can be hard to have fun at Christmas.

And yet, one of the promises of the good news of Christmas is that it can, and should, be fun.

Even so, Christians are too often known for sucking the joy out of the celebrations this time of year. Leading up to Christmas, we can be better known for tension than trimmings, for freaking out rather than reaching out, for anger rather than anticipation.

The invitation to both leaders and laity this season is to let go of the everlasting burden of being so serious, sullen, and always trying to sound so profound.

The prophet Zephaniah, speaking to the people of Jerusalem as their kingdom crumbled (Zephaniah 3:14-20), exhorted the people of his time not to weep and cry out, but instead to sing and rejoice. Surely, there was disaster. Surely, there was an anti-Jewish sentiment among the nations. Surely, there was idolatry and great sin in the world. Surely, there was chaos and pain, disease and selfish desires.

And yet, he exclaimed, “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!”

Why? Because he knew. He knew what was coming. He knew that the Lord would come, that he would be in the midst of his people and that once there, he would give victory, he would restore gladness, he would exult over his people with the singing of great feasts and high holidays because judgment would go the way of the dinosaur, disasters would dissipate, and enemies would be defeated…forever.

That message is the one we anticipate even today. Surely, there is disaster in our world. Surely, there is idolatry in our hearts and great sin in the world. Surely, there is chaos and pain, disease and selfish desires. Surely, we could find many reasons to complain and cry out, to get angry and lash out.

But Zephaniah’s call rings clear even now — to rejoice, to celebrate, to sing, and to find gladness in the promise of Christ — the promise that the judgment of God has passed, that our lives will continue, and that victory is ours — despite the pain, evil, and death that surrounds us.

The challenge, of course, is to put such an invitation into action. We in the church are much more learned in the ways of solemnity and silence rather than celebration and singing. Yes, we have our talented choir, we sing our liturgy, and every once and a while we laugh (when appropriate) in a sermon.

But we know little of unbridled joy and celebration.

Yet, the celebration is at the heart of the way of Christ. That’s because when the poor receive the good news, when captives are released, when the blind receive their sight, when the oppressed are liberated, who can withhold the shout of jubilee?

While there is a time for mourning, a time for healing, and times for lament I pray that this Christmas season we learn to laugh at ourselves. To be joyful even when it’s easier to be jaded. To let go of the everlasting burden of Christian severity and embrace the discipline of Christian celebration. May we live in light of Christ. May Christmas be fun again.

AUTHOR
Ken Chitwood
Ken Chitwood is a religion scholar, Ph.D. student, and graduate assistant at the University of Florida studying ethnography of Religion in the Americas and global Islam with emphases on globalization, transnationalism, and immigration. Chitwood is a forward-thinking Lutheran theologian, preacher and popular speaker who weaves together historical context, societal exegesis, and a fair dose of ironic humor. He enjoys ultra-distance running, well-placed sarcasm, craft beer, bike-commuting, traveling, hiking, camping, and rugby.