Christmas is about giving, yes, but Christmas is also about receiving – receiving gifts, receiving people, receiving God’s grace. How do church boards learn to receive well? How, in a context where things are constantly being asked of them, do they practice reception? And not just receiving criticism or questions or various expressions of alarm from congregation members. How do boards – as a collective body – learn to receive the rich bounty of God’s grace? How can church leaders learn – together – to assume an attitude of grateful reception as part of their leadership?
Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
• What didn’t the poet know?
• Why didn’t he know it?
• What do we need to know in order to receive well?
Frederick Buechner has written about Christmas in a way that rekindles the wonder of what we are given – of what we are invited to receive:
Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed – as a matter of cold, hard fact – all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.
The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God…who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”
Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.
• Why do we try to make Christmas “habitable,” in Buechner’s word?
• How does Buechner want us to receive it?
• As you help lead a congregation, how can “grateful receiving” become part of the agenda? Can a church board lead a congregation with “wild and strange grace”? How?
We will be taking a two-week break from this weekly email and will return in January with a special focus on going deeper with church mission/outreach committees.