We are settling into a holiday season like no other, and preparing for a very Covid Christmas. Family gatherings will be smaller. Meals may have less stuffing and potatoes. No Christmas carolers parading through nursing home halls, bringing some holiday cheer. The star on the tree may seem to have less sparkle, and the sleigh bells may have a sadder, more muted ring to them this year.
Our hearts are tired and our souls are weary. Our world is reeling from a collective disease and our public discourse sounds like “a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13). What we need this year more than presents and family get-togethers, is a fresh dose of good tidings of great joy!
The original good news that shook the ground in Bethlehem that first Christmas was “goodest” for those who were most desperate and at their wit’s end. The light shone brightest upon the people sitting in the darkest shadowlands. The Kingdom of God invaded a country stable, and the angels announced good news to the kind of folk who would be most receptive to it: the poor and impoverished, the humble losers and messy-faced misfits, the failures and the freaks, the burned out and broken down, the nightshift workers and unemployed welfare check collectors, the serial sinners and career self-saboteurs. And all who suffered from illness and diseases that wouldn’t have a vaccine for another 2,000 years. Can I get a witness?
The Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12 make clear that the Bethlehem Revolution is for all who find themselves at the end of their rope; for those who have hit the wall; for those who have climbed to the top of the ladder only to be pushed off, and can’t find the strength to start climbing again. The Good News of Christmas is that God’s blessings are tipping over like a giant cauldron of grace, about to spill fresh hope on all the ragamuffins who have learned the hard way to stop placing confidence in their own successes or achievements. This bucket of blessings “runneth over” on all who have finally sent their egos packing and are ready to learn to live simply out of their belovedness—their True Self—that sparkles beneath all the games and defense mechanisms of an insecure ego.
This Advent we will be exploring the Beatitudes of Bethlehem at MainStreet Covenant Church and on my Daily Illumination blog. So many of us feel longing to escape this dog-eat-dog world of clashing kingdoms and white-knuckle attempts to hold our fragile lives together. We want to climb up Christmas Mountain and breathe the fresh, minty air of that Kingdom from above, hoping for just a whiff of that “new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Here’s the opening scene from The Message:
“When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions” (Matt 5:1-2).
Christmas is the season when many “shop til they drop” and grow weary from all the gatherings and celebrations. This year, when the coronavirus is forcing us all to slow down and gather less, perhaps we can put more time and effort into a spiritual quest this year.
So, light a candle and hang up your stocking. Decorate the tree and put lights on the house. Let’s open gifts but, more importantly, let’s open our hearts and imaginations to the Blessed Life of the upside-down Kingdom born in Bethlehem long ago. Let’s listen anew to Jesus’ invitation and join him on the hillside this Christmas. I don’t know about you, but I want to be found among Jesus’ “climbing companions” as we finish this terrible year and move into a new one.
As climbing companions apprenticed to our faithful guide, listen to these famous words again, and begin breathing in the Beatitudes of Bethlehem one at a time in the coming weeks. I’m using Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase:
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. 7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. 9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. 11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble (Matt 5:3-12).