I’ve slightly altered my Christmas greeting this year. Instead of wishing people a “Merry Christmas,” I am offering people a “Blessed Christmastide.”
Part of it is because I am wanting to be intentional about offering people something true, not just what can come across as a glib holiday greeting. Another part of it is because I am attempting to revive something of the sacredness of “Christ Mass” (from which we get the term Christmas). Still another part of me is wanting people to experience the fullness of Christmas, the 12 days of Christmas (from December 25 – January 6) in which the Church celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation, the “in-fleshing” of an infinite God in the finitude of human flesh. Truth be told, it is a mystery that would take an eternity of eternities to truly grasp.
And in addition to all of that, what my prayer for people of God this season is just that – a Blessed Christmastide. A season where they can experience, more fully, the blessing of God in their lives. I am yet of the belief that a true encounter with God will forever change one’s life. Ask Jacob, “the supplanter,” who had lived his life as a liar and a cheat and thus had become estranged from his family. One encounter with the divine one night left him changed, and even changed his name to Israel (literally “One who strives with God”). Howard Thurman talks about the life-altering capacity of the “religious encounter” in his book The Inward Journey.
If we have really had an encounter with God, our lives will be changed. There is just no way around that. For the rest of our lives, we see differently, we walk differently, we talk differently, we live differently.
So celebrating the coming of the Christ child isn’t just about celebrating an event that happened 2,000 years ago. Christ’s birth in the manger means nothing if he isn’t reborn over and over again in our lives and in our hearts. It’s also about recognizing what effect that has had on our lives. Tremaine Hawkins sings about this change in her song “Changed.” She sings:
He changed my life and now I’m free…
The Christ came to change the game, to change our lives, to change our destinies. When God “took flesh and dwelt among us,” it forever changed who we are. So when I say to someone “Blessed Christmastide,” I am speaking a blessing over their life that their consciousness and spirit be raised to a point where they can recognize and experience the fullness of the implications of Christ’s birth – a “wonderful change.”
I know what Christ means to me – a new way of talking, a new way of walking, a new way of giving and receiving love. That’s my experience. That’s my story. 10,000 tongues would fail to describe the significance of Christ for me, but it isn’t a change just for my sake.
In one of my favorite sermons, Dr. Martin Luther King talks about the “Transformed Nonconformist,” a person who has had their lives so radically changed by an experience and an encounter with God that they can no longer conform to the sinful and oppressive structures of the world. They are forever at “ill-at-ease” with the status quo, the way things are. A disciple of Jesus Christ is always challenged to challenge, always changed to change, always moved to move.
Christmas is more than presents under a tree, it is a presence in our lives. It is a presence that has an impact. It is a presence that can do nothing less than change us and by doing so, to change the world.
With that being said, Blessed Christmastide to you all! And I mean it.
Keep the faith, and make it colorful!