Going to church at Christmas can be stressful ... especially if you're not a regular attender at a church. The building can be daunting, the routine is unfamiliar, and there's all these people who want to greet you with big smiles and firm handshakes ... it's all enough to make you suspicious.
Add to that the fact that it's a time out of a day when you're supposed to be having this great big family celebration, and the kids are moaning, it's hot, and you're stressing about that unattended dinner in the oven ... it's not surprising people start wondering why all this fuss.
Well, let me say "welcome", and be assured that there's no subversive tactic going on. The regulars you meet are all here for another reason ... they simply are remembering where their life as a Christian actually comes from. And all we'd like to say is, look past our strange rituals and know we're here for a person, not an institution.
Above all, have fun, because this is a celebration!
Books make one of the best Christmas presents, because unlike sweets, after you consume them you can consume them again, and again, and again ... and the only fat you might gain is the fat of wisdom.
Here's my top four picks that's I'd like to get (I have the 1st one already) from this years Christianity Today Book awards (see here for their extensive list).
So can I encourage you to choose one for a friend, and make them fat! OK, it might be too late to get some of these actually by the 25th Dec, but then hey, give a card that says "it's in the mail", or buy them the e-version.
The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable
Steven D. Boyer and Christopher A. Hall (Baker Academic)
"Boyer and Hall do an excellent job unpacking the subject of mystery, which is constantly alluded to in theological work but rarely carefully analyzed. The authors achieve clarity without sacrificing depth." --James Beilby, professor of biblical/theological studies, Bethel University
God's Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America
Larry Eskridge (Oxford University Press)
"This rich and surprisingly entertaining book is the definitive work on the Jesus People movement, a significant shaper of contemporary evangelicalism. Eskridge masters an incredible range of stories and sources. For anyone with a background in the Jesus People movement, Calvary Chapels, Vineyard churches, the Willow Creek Association, or the charismatic renewal that began in the 1970s, this is like reading an autobiography." --Thomas Kidd, professor of history, Baylor University
Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent
N. D. Wilson (Thomas Nelson)
"Death by Living is a reflective yet lively mishmash of theology, philosophy, and memoir. Wilson's mantra that 'life is meant to be spent' seeps from every pore of this book. Both playful and poetic, Wilson's carpe diem challenge is sweaty with urgency, his anecdotes buzzy with vibrancy." --Kristen Scharold, writer and editor, Brooklyn, New York
The World Is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good
Tyler Wigg-Stevenson (InterVarsity Press)
"Wigg-Stevenson offers insight and advice to a generation badly in need of visionary yet earthy wisdom. This book is freighted with the kind of realism capable of restoring and sustaining high ideals." --Eric Miller, professor of history, Geneva College
Do you get the pun? "Gravity" ... get it? No? Sigh!
Oh well, if you don't, it'll sink in at some point. Here's a clue: "For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy, hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity"
Or perhaps this one? "Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly"
Both quotes from GK Chesterton, someone who would have been completely at home with the blogsphere.
So here's a question: why are Christians so serious? I mean, it's not as if we should all be comedians, but really, the laughter factor in Christian writing and discourse is pretty poor ... and I'm as much a culprit as anyone. There are not many who can inveigle a keen wit within serious writing ... Chesterton was one, Kreeft is another. They both sneak in subtle humour that tickles like a feather just as you're trying to concentrate, turning seriousness into joyfully serious.
And isn't that what life should be ... at least, life as we were created to be? Being joyfully serious and seriously joyful? It's the humour of xkcd, Punch, Zapiro, and Chesterton (google them for yourself). Its where we laugh about serious issues because "humor can get in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle" (G.K. again).
This is the joy of security despite the seriousness of circumstances. As when I am my sister laughed through our tears while viewing our mothers body, because the funeral parlour had made up her hair in a way she never have dreamed to wear! And we could do it because we were in the full assurance that our mother had changed her address from the here to the hereafter.
But when we have no assurance, when we feel fragile, as the stress builds, then joy is first to leave the party.
At this time of the year I celebrate my reason for assurance. "Blessed assurance ..."
This is the celebration of Christmas ... the birth of a man descended from a couple with questionable morals. Was Jesus ashamed? Not in the slightest. If you can't be tainted by an association, why should you care about it being known? And its just as well, because there's a lot about me to be ashamed of, and I'd hate it if that meant he wouldn't want to associate with me.
So God, why do I bother? Because you bothered.