Finding the Christmas Spirit
In less than two weeks, on Dec. 11, a forty-year Christmas tradition makes its return to Nashville and to our church. Woodmont has hosted Walk Thru Bethlehem since 1982. What started as a small live nativity scene put on by a youth group has grown and evolved into a major Nashville tradition. Thousands of people will walk through and experience what it might have felt like in Bethlehem the night Jesus was born. In the middle of the overly commercialized Green Hills, we will have a stark reminder of what Christmas is all about. Remember, this is a special gift that we give our community. It is a labor of love.
We have now made the fast transition from Thanksgiving to the Christmas season. The season of Advent is here. Trees and lights are already up, a process expedited during the pandemic as many looked for hope in the darkness. Deep down in our soul, we all long for the spiritual gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love because we live in anxious and stressful times. Anxiety and fear have become the defining spiritual challenge of the twenty-first century. Scott Stossel captures it well: “To some people, I may seem calm. But if you could peer beneath the surface, you would see that I’m like a duck–paddling, paddling, paddling.” That resonates, even during this season of peace on earth, goodwill to all. We will open Christmas cards from family and friends but beneath the smiles and pictures at the beach, we know there is hurt, pain, loss, and brokenness. Life is not easy. We experience a range of emotions and it all comes together at Christmas.
Theologian Paul Tillich once observed that all of our anxieties and fears in life can be placed into one of three buckets: fear of death, fear of meaninglessness, and fear of guilt or shame. During the Christmas season, we long for gifts that do not come on the Amazon truck, under the tree, or in stockings. It’s our grown-up Christmas list that Amy Grant sings about at the Ryman each year: “No more lives torn apart, wars would never start, and time would heal all hearts.” We long for inner peace and joy that does not depend on the state of the world or external circumstances. This only comes from Christ and from being with the people that we love the most. If we wait for the conditions of our lives to become perfect, it will never happen. Life is not perfect. We must seek to experience joy every step of the way.
The Dalai Lama and the late Desmond Tutu once identified eight pillars of joy that are all important during Christmas – perspective, humility, laughter, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. Each of these virtues is necessary for growing in the spiritual life. Meister Eckhart said it best: “Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, or by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomever we may be. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.” That is our challenge this Christmas. To remember that God entered the world in the form of a child, born in a stable, placed in a manger. It was a humble birth that changed the course of history forever. It can still change our lives this year, but we must be ready and open to it.
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