By Bill Martin
What do you do for Christmas? That's a tough question, a very large question that begs to be broken into several, smaller parts. Yet, that is a question that gets asked every year at this time.
You might think that we could refine our answer and be ready every December, all set to dispense the definitive response to the annual query.
I'm sure you offer an answer, but I'm equally certain that you are never quite comfortable with your reply.
Now imagine yourself as a pastor and try to formulate your comeback.
That is my dilemma when somebody asks, "What does a pastor do for Christmas?"
We have all the same obligations as you: family, friends and cohorts. They bring the same requirements as you: Christmas shopping and event planning that require us to host or travel.
But, unlike you, a pastor is called to much more during the Christmas season and it is this extra that challenges me to find the truth in all that we have blended into this season we call Christmas.
We know that not everyone sees Christmas as a joyful, giving event. Many are not financially capable of celebrating. In fact, too many are downright incapable of fending for themselves, let alone able to buy presents or dine in a festive way.
Others are so alone that the camaraderie of the season only magnifies their isolation. This is all the worse for people who are surrounded with others yet suffer an inner loneliness.
I see all the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping and while there is a certain joy, there is also a great deal of anxiety. Expectations of giving have reached proportions that even the most enthusiastic marketer might never have dreamed.
Actually, to be more correct, it is expectations of receiving that have reached gargantuan proportions, and our desire to give is often tied to the measure of what we receive. Maybe that's why we so often hear, "Oh, you shouldn't have," which is translated, "You got me two and I only got you one."
We can all get so easily caught up. It is a magical time, a wonderful time. What has made it a difficult time is the excess. Christmas would be fine and, perhaps, oh so much better, if it was a little more humble.
And, that is where the extra work comes for the pastor. It is the excesses of our world that should give us pause. It is this over-the-top spending, and the outdo-the-neighbours decorating, and the conspicuous consumption that feed the sermons of the season.
Pastors everywhere are called to walk the ever-so-fine line between Santa and the Grinch. Push too hard on Jesus is the reason for the season and you'll be called Scrooge. Don't push enough and, well, you can imagine the names a pastor might be called by the very "religious."
You see, Christmas and Advent are not the same thing. They share the same season and they share the same Christ, but they are definitively different. A pastor must find a gentle way to celebrate each, at the risk of celebrating neither.
It is this dual walk that adds to our load at this time of year. On the one hand we find the tree adorned for Christmas, while on the other we commit attention to the Nativity. And, like every time you try to focus on two things at once, you either blur the view or miss it altogether.
So, many pastors attend twice as many events and do twice as many things. We feel the joy of those who can afford the gift exchange, and we treasure the joy of giving to those who cannot respond in kind. We bask in the glow of Christmas lights, and we are humbled by the flickering light of the Christ candle. We dine on turkey dinner with family, and we serve a festive dinner to those who have not.
In many ways it is truly the best of times and worst of times, and yet, the two ends of that spectrum come together in this season. The haves and the have nots get our attention at the same time.
What I do know for sure, is that Jesus came for all. He could see the bigger picture and He could handle the extremes. I know He came to show us the way, to make clear the muddle of our man-made confusion. Through Him I can say to you, Merry Christmas.
Bill Martin is pastor at the Debert Baptist Church. He teaches we cannot go back to changing our beginning, but we can start now to change our ending.