The Christmas cards have started to arrive en masse. Many of them are beautiful religious scenes, often copies of great works of art, medieval illuminations, and, of course, stained glass. Some are depictions of those ideal Christmases of Victorian times -- sleighs in the woods, gas lamps, carolers. Almost all of them hearken back to an earlier time when things were "simpler," "more pure," "less complicated."
Yet, all we need to remember is that "A Christmas Carol" (the classic short story by Charles Dickens, describes Christmas in less naive ways: workhouses, families stricken by poverty and disease) reminds us that it was never really simpler, more pure, or less complicated.
Our longing for "back in the day" is, in some ways, an escape from the present difficulty. No matter how much we dress them up in bows and glitter, the institutions (ways of life) for which we long will not magically transport us from those difficulties. We deceive ourselves for a few moments but ultimately have to return to the fact that we still face disease, poverty, inequality, racism, unconscious bias, reliance on force and fear. This story is as old as the original Christmas story itself.
Jesus came into a world plagued with poverty, inequality, and disease. The story of his birth makes no mistake about that . . . and his ministry focused precisely in these elements of the human condition. He came to proclaim that the world into which he was born need not be a place filled with unnecessary human suffering. What we need to do is to trust in God and God's loving plan for humanity.
This trust cannot be based on naive yearnings, however. That is clearly the message of John the Baptizer. That trust is born of true repentance, metanoia, a change in direction that can occur only with a deep change of heart.
And so we come full circle to the pile of seasons greetings on our sideboard. Each one of these actually represents the potential for an incremental move toward that kingdom Jesus came to proclaim. If we send those greetings in sincerity and truth and not out of mere habit, tradition, or worse, obligation, then each one represents on opportunity to realize the change of heart required for the kingdom of God to take root.
That was the transformation wrought in Dickens' tale. The greetings that were given in earnest by passersby and by family and friends to old Scrooge were finally heeded . . . and a heart was changed . . a metanoia occurred . . . a heart hardened against the grace of God melted in love and became human again -- just as human as the Christ Child.