I find myself with some free time I didn’t entirely want. When last I reported I was getting ready to start teaching two sections of a business communications class for the University of Phoenix Online under the supervision of a faculty mentor. I think two sections turned out to be about one section more than I could handle effectively. Unfortunately, the whole experience went badly and ended abruptly. I fell behind early in the class, in part because of having a colonoscopy during the first week, and I was never really able to catch up. Things went from bad to worse once my old enemies, depression, despair, and panic kicked in. I fell so far behind in grading assignments and providing feedback to students that my mentor and the mentorship team decided to cancel the mentorship in the middle of the course and turn my classes over to someone else.
To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. I seem to have developed a remarkable talent for self-sabotage and shooting myself in the foot. I have no idea what I’m going to do now to support myself. Plans I made that were contingent on successfully completing the mentorship and getting a part-time gig with U of P will have to be put on hold if not completely scrapped.
As if that weren’t bad enough, it looks as though I won’t be able to spend Christmas with my family as I usually do. My brother Bill, who usually provides the transportation, is working through Christmas this year. He is, however, planning to visit me a few days after Christmas, and we’ll go up to see the rest of the family then.
In spite of all of this, I am doing my best to maintain my good humor and Christmas spirit. I have a few small Christmas decorations up, and I’ve dug out all my Christmas music. Sometimes I worry about the future, but at other times I have a certain inexplicable feeling of peace (perhaps it’s just naive optimism) and an assurance that somehow things will be OK. I’ve been watching more TV than usual, and I notice that most Christmas specials these days are long on twinkly lights, pretty music, Santa Claus, and banal, meaningless phrases such as “the magic of the holiday season,” and short on references to the real reason for all the gaiety: the birth of Jesus Christ. All the pretty lights, artificial snowflakes, and presents in the world won’t make us happy if we don’t realize that God has already given us the greatest gift we could ever hope to receive: the gift of Himself.
Christians believe that two thousand years ago, more or less, God Himself came into the world as a human being in the person of Jesus. I take great comfort in the thought that when he came, Christ didn’t come to the big people, the important people, the successful people–just the opposite. He came to the little people, the people who were insignificant in the way the world measures significance and success. His mother was a humble little teenage Jewish girl who was astonished that she should be chosen for such an honor; his foster father was a carpenter and a stonemason who was concerned about the hint of scandal and gossip surrounding Mary but took her in anyway. They lived in a backwater town in a backwater province of the Roman empire. According to Luke’s gospel, the first people to receive news of this extraordinary birth were shepherds, people at the very bottom of the social and economic ladder, people who were forced to spend the night outside when everyone else was safe and warm indoors.
In his earthly life, Jesus experienced just about all the painful things a human being can experience: hunger, thirst, anger, rejection, loneliness, betrayal, paralyzing fear, an agonizing and public death, and the apparent failure of everything he had worked for. Yet by that death and his incredible, miraculous resurrection from it, Christians believe, Jesus changed the nature of life and death and the relationship between God and humankind. God desires a relationship with each and every human being–so much so that he was willing to become a human being. Death is not the end of the story. The power of God can overcome anything, even death itself. Jesus didn’t come into the world to suffer and die and rise again in order reward us for being perfect little ladies and gentlemen and for always doing everything right. He came to save us because we needed saving. He came to save sinners and screw-ups like me. These are the messages of the two greatest feasts of the Christian year, Christmas and Easter.
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I had a profound crisis of faith several years ago when my father died, I developed serious health problems of my own, and a precious personal relationship ended abruptly, all at once. I had to go all the way back to first principles and ask myself why I was a Christian. The answer I kept coming back to was that if there was a God I could believe in, he couldn’t be an airy-fairy, intangible intelligent something-or-other, away off in the ether, so far beyond my understanding that I couldn’t begin to relate to him or even be certain he was there. That seemed only a short step from atheism, which I’ve always found repellent. But a God who lived as I live, suffered as I suffer, died as I will die, and who rose again to show me there is something beyond death–that was a God I could believe in; a God who came to Earth to show me something of what the God in Heaven looks like–that was a God I could love. The Incarnate, Crucified, and Risen Lord Jesus Christ gives me the joy and peace of mind I need to say “Merry Christmas!” and mean it whether or not I have a job, whether or not there are any presents under my tree, and whether or not I am with my family.