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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

To be content

Call me an old softie and a slob. I love Christmas. I love the whole month of December.

I love the scripture and hymns of Advent. I love the “stir up” prayers. (God knows, we need to get stirred up.) I love the candles. I love the concerts. The late service on Christmas Eve has always been one of my two favorite worship services of the whole year. (You didn’t ask, but the answer is the sunrise service on Easter Day.) I love the Sundays after Christmas, with relatively small congregations and all the great carols we didn’t get to sing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I love it all.

On the other hand, I do not love the commercial Christmas, the one that kicked off with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, even though the advertisements started to pop up as soon as the political advertisements stopped. I do not love the Christmas that is about “stuff:” getting it, giving it, accumulating it, searching for bargains on it, all that “stuff” stuff.

But then…here’s where the slob in me comes out…theologians smack their foreheads when I say this…I also love “the other Christmas.” You know the one. The one with Christmas trees and Christmas lights. The one with cookies and other goodies. The one with all Christmas music on the radio, all the time, beginning in mid-November. The one with Gene Autry and Mariah Carey and Andy Williams and Bing Crosby and the Bare-Naked Ladies singing about “An Elf’s Lament.” The one with TV movies about grouchy bosses catching a vision of what the future might hold for them and turning their lives around, leaving form critics genuflecting in the direction of Mr. Dickens. And TV movies about Santa saving the day, bringing romance to the lonely and hope to the downhearted. I might shake my head now and then, but I love it.  Shucks, I even love Christmas sweaters.

So on some night not long before Christmas I will sit in front of the TV and pass from Advent to Christmas by watching David Letterman. Darleen Love will come on and sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”, and the joint will be rocking and artificial snow will fall from the sky and the band will be wailing and it will be time for Christmas. But hold on there…this is where we’ve been heading from the very beginning.

Darleen will be accompanied by Paul Schaeffer and his band, along with some string players: violinists, violists, maybe a cello or two. I always look at them and wonder. They were probably musical stars, phenoms, back in high school. They went to St. Olaf or Luther or Concordia or Augsburg or Gustavus or Augustana and were the concertmasters, the first chair players. Maybe they even went on to Julliard. They could see bright futures ahead, prestigious chairs in great symphony orchestras, touring opportunities. But things happen along the way, and there are only so many chairs in prestigious orchestras, only so many concertmasters. For right now they are reduced to playing back-up for Darleen Love on Letterman and having artificial snow dropped on their heads. God bless them. This is where their vocation has taken them.

And God bless the pastors and interns who had a vision years ago in which they saw themselves in lofty pulpits with hundreds of faces looking up at them as they expounded learned and eloquent sermons, not to mention those across the nation watching at home; and now find themselves trying to stir up a little excitement in some small urban or rural church where most of the faces are old, most of the paraments are tattered, and all of the offerings are below average. God bless you for sticking with it, for proclaiming the good news of Advent and Christmas where you are, even if where you are is not where you ever dreamed of being. This is where your vocation has taken you, and Christ is there with you.

You’re going to be busy this month. That’s a given. But it is a good busy-ness. Don’t let it be an anchor on your enjoyment of Advent and Christmas!

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