Christmas messages strive for relevance
Why celebrate now?
The story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is tied to the Passover on the Jewish calendar, but it’s unknown what time of year Jesus was born.
For that and other reasons, Christmas wasn’t added to the Christian calendar until the fourth century. Then, it was tied to the Feast of Saturnalia, the Roman celebration of the winter solstice held Dec. 25. Since most other people around the northern hemisphere celebrated the solstice, celebrating Jesus’ birth in December was a good tool for early missionaries.
“It’s a great example of how adaptable Christianity can be,” said Father Brooks Keith, pastor of the Vail-based Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration.
EAGLE COUNTY — The Christmas story of the birth of Jesus has been celebrated for centuries. And nearly every year, ministers strive to make the old story relevant to contemporary listeners.
There are four biblical gospels — the cornerstones of the New Testament. Many churches focus on three of the gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — and rotate their readings and study of those books, since all tell the story of Jesus’ life in different ways.
The Christmas story is different.
‘MASTER STORY TELLER’
According to Father Brooks Keith, pastor of the Vail-based Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, the Christmas story told over and over again is the one spoken by Linus in “It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas.” That story, from Luke, is the most detailed, Keith said.
“Luke is the master story teller,” Keith said. “There’s just every kind of detail in (the story).”
In fact, two of the gospels, Mark and John, make no mention of Jesus’ birth.
But Pastor Rob Wilson, of the Eagle River Presbyterian Church, planned to incorporate the gospel of John in his Christmas Eve message.
That gospel begins, “in the beginning was the word … the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us … ”
Wilson said during the past few weeks, he’s asked his congregation to silence their lives, in preparation to listen to the word of Jesus, to let his message of grave, love and the forgiveness of sin drown out destructive messages.
‘FOR ALL OF US’
Pastor Scott Beebe, of Vail’s Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church, wrote in an email that his focus this year reflects a message he heard when he was studying in seminary school.
The core of that message, Beebe wrote, is “that God is constantly coming to meet us where we are. That’s the message of Christmas … God coming down in the form of an infant … for us, for all of us.”
In a draft of Beebe’s Christmas Eve sermon, he relates a story about his then 18-month-old daughter and an attempt to decorate the family tree. There’s a lot of fussing, a diaper or two and, of course, increasing grumpiness. After a nap, the Beebes’ daughter simply sits and stares at the tree, transfixed. Dad’s grumpiness quickly fades, of course.
“We realize again that sometimes it takes little children to help us see the light,” he wrote.
Keith was still struggling with his Christmas Eve message Tuesday morning, wondering which one of two ways he could go.
One way is the story of the way Christians are today being persecuted — and often brutally executed — by ISIS terrorists in the Middle East. It’s the kind of persecution early Christians endured for holding fast to their faith.
‘PEACE ON EARTH’
Another, more peaceful possibility is pondering just what people believe their best-ever Christmas gift has been.
Having just turned 50, Keith said right now the best gift we could give each other is what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds outside Bethlehem: “Peace on earth; goodwill toward men.”
That gift, for Christians, begins in the stable with a newborn.
“That’s the blessing we’ve been given,” Keith said. “The Christ child helps anchor everything else.”