* Health Update:  I’m mostly feeling pretty good these days; the nasty weather we’ve had lately here in the PNW tends to wreck havoc w/ my head, and I’m not seeing any recovery of my left hand dexterity (which makes updating this site fairly frustrating and time consuming.  However, there’s still so much to be thanking God for at this special time of year.  I’m still basking in the glow of my latest MRI results (though, cautiously so).  I’ve been able to start taking my infusion treatments here in Bellingham, and enjoyed only driving 30 min., as opposed to 2. 5 hrs., to get to a 30 min. infusion.  My insurance coverage continues to be a hugh blessing (blessing, in its proper usage, meaning God invoking his favor upon someone, thus giving them a portrait of himself) – I’ve hit my copay maximums for the year, making about 5 remaining Dec. doctor appts. essentially free of charge (kind of like Canada, but w/o the wait times and rationed care).  My prescriptions keep stacking up, but I continue to just pay $5 a bottle; I stood in line the other day behind a sweet little old lady who shelled out about $130 for two bottles.  My employer, a local school district, continues to be amazing; I can take off any time I need for appts., naps, or whatever, and just make up the time whenever it works, plus the staff in my new building continues to welcome me in like a long-lost relative.  And my beloved church family regularly lifts me up with prayer, encouragement, practical support, making me laugh, and continuing to show me what Christ’s love looks like in community.

So this is Christmas…

(so begins the anti-war musings of John Lennon) 

I’ve been really drawn to the plight of Christmas this year…

You see, Fellow North Americans, we’ve been sold a false Christmas.  The Christmas God gave us was one of hope, of reconciliation with a perfect, loving God.  It was one where light entered  dark, dark world, That cute little baby in the nativity set?  That little guy there went on to show us what God’s love really looks like, not what it means to follow a bunch of rules right. 

God’s love does not look like the Christmas we’ve been sold, my friends.  That Christmas tells us that traditions are based on the busyness, on obligation.  Obligation to give bigger & better gifts so that your kids, loved ones, or coworkers won’t be disappointed in you.  Obligation to match every Christmas card or gift received with one of equal or greater value being sent out.  Busyness from feeling the need to buy the best gifts, put out the best decorations, bake the best meal (for which you’ll need some help), and host the best party.  Busyness that tells you, “you’d better not screw Christmas up!”

Do we really think that our scurrying around will make for a happier holiday season?  Hey, I’m the first guy to stick up for the many, many rich traditions of Christmas found in this culture and others.  And, yes, many of those traditions revolve around giving & receiving gifts.  Great!  Gifts are awesome; I can’t tell you how many hours I’d spend pouring over the toy catalogs, lusting after the latest G.I. Joe vehicle.  So a Christmas without gifts just seems like a complete letdown; I’m nothing if not an avoider of complete letdowns.  So let’s steer the conversation away from abolishing presents altogether.

There’s got to be something in between lame, no-presents Christmas and crazy, out-of-control Christmas.  What if Christmas didn’t come with the phrase, “There’s so much to do!  I’ll never get it all done in time!”?  What if God even found a way to sneak back in there? 

Does that mean round-the-clock reading of the Christmas story?  Maybe for you, but my family would find that just a bit weird (no offense).  Instead, perhaps, some new traditions could take the place of the old ones?  Maybe “crazy presents time” could be supplanted by “fun minimal gift exchange game” or “board game time with quiet gift exchange done in smaller settings?”  And maybe, just maybe, your family could decide to give some of the money you would have spent on fairly meaningless gifts for people who really don’t need anything, and instead direct it towards some worthy effort that the whole family could choose to learn about & support. 

Maybe some of your new traditions could even take on some sacred significance,

Letting go of spending and rushing around is not an easy thing for those of us in a “stuff”- driven culture that places great value on overcommitment.  But, before dismissing these ideas as “pretty extreme,”  You should ask yourself if you’re really feeling happy with how you celebrate the beautiful gift God has given us, and if you feel like you could not do as much and still feel valued.  I hope so…

We’ve lost Christmas; let’s take it back….  It is, after all, the happiest time of the year!