Pastor’s Column: Celebrating the “Christ” in Christmas

Jim Coppoc.

By the time you read this, it will be November. Crisp air, campfires, turkey in the freezer. The World Series will have ended, football will be in full swing, and the days-well, the days will be short, dark and sometimes dreary.

This is the end of what Christians call “ordinary time,” the season before our new year begins. In just a few short weeks, we will celebrate Advent, the beginning of the Christian calendar.

Jesus Christ didn’t celebrate Christmas. The holiday didn’t exist until well after his death, and he was Jewish anyway. Instead, we celebrate him. We tell the story of his parents, Galileans under Roman occupation. We tell of his birth, and his refugee childhood. We look ahead to the movement he began. We tell and retell these stories not during the actual season of Jesus’ birth, but instead in the season of Solstice, as light returns to the Earth after the literal darkest of times.

Christian or not, as we enter this holy season, I invite you to celebrate with me the revolution Jesus represents. The most important commandment, according to Christ, was to love God. But that’s not where he stopped. He went on to reframe this commandment by reminding us that loving your neighbor is “like” loving God. To emphasize the importance, Christ then declares, “on these two commandments hang all the law and all the prophets.”

Pope John Paul II once said, “in Advent, we await an event which occurs in history and at the same time transcends it.” We tell these stories so that we can live these stories again and again, and remind ourselves of what it means to be Christ-like. It means Hope, Peace, Joy and Love: the traditional themes of the season. It means light, returning. It means justice for the orphan, the widow and the stranger-all who suffer. It means every word of the Christian Beatitudes. Blessed be the poor, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart…

Christ didn’t come to tell us what words should or shouldn’t be on our Starbucks cup. Christ didn’t come to tell us how to vote. Christ didn’t come to feed our egos or our greed. Christ came to teach us how to live and how to love: graciously, expansively, without exception or reservation.

This Advent, I will give more. I will love more. I will work for justice more. I will offer my time and my talents more to feed my human siblings who hunger in body or spirit, and to comfort those who mourn. In whatever way makes sense to you at this point in your life, I invite you to do the same.

Happy Holy Days.

Jim Coppoc serves the Ripley United Church of Christ at 400 S. Main St. in Traer, IA. He lives in Ames and Traer, and also holds a “day job” as Director of Integrated Health Services for Center Associates in Marshalltown and Toledo.