This is a personal diary. You might even consider it a prayer of sorts.

I was raised as a Missouri Synod Lutheran. For those of you unfamiliar with Lutherans in general, the Missouri Synod is the most hard core, fundamental branch of the Lutheran churches in America. The most doctrinaire, the most severe in the tone of the sermons that are preached each Sunday, the most rigid in terms of the practice of their rituals and liturgies. Or at least they were when I was growing up. I haven’t been to a Missouri Synod church in years.

The predominant message of the church that I attended as a child was the drumbeat on the story of man’s (and woman’s) original sin, a sin we were born with, an irradicable stain that condemned us to eternal punishment. It was a message of how worthless in the eyes of God we all were, how depraved and ungrateful, how wretched. And how merciful God was to even think of offering us salvation in the form of his son, Jesus, who was sacrificed so we wouldn’t have to endure the horrors of hell fire and damnation for all eternity.

In short, we swam in a constant river of guilt and shame. Even one careless thought, one sinful back-sliding moment, might lead us down the path to degradation and abandonment by a loving God come Judgement Day. How fortunate we were to have the gift of Jesus’salvation, and how perverted we would be should we ever deny that gift. We were to lead a life of devotion to God and family and any failure was on our head.

Yet, though that was the predominant tone, it is impossible for any Church to avoid the teachings and the parables of Jesus which are found in the Gospels. The ones that call for forgiveness, and for tolerance of others, for loving one’s enemies and taking care of one’s neighbor. Amid all the guilt, somehow I clung to that message as a survivor clings to a life rafts after his ship has sunk.

Over time, I became more and more aware of the hypocrisy of the adult members of my church. How spiteful and mean spirited their gossiping was, and how quick they were to spread ugly rumors about others. How they bragged about cheating someone at a business deal during the week, yet piously prayed aloud at Church during Sunday. How Church elders schemed to get rid of our Pastor behind his back because of his history of alcoholism. How they drove off another Pastor because of his divorce.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I became very cynical about my religion. As I moved into my twenties and thirties, I turned my face from the church of my youth, sick of the hypocrisy I saw there. Yet, every Christmas I still attended services somewhere, still sang the Christmas hymns as fervently as all the others. Was it nostalgia? Perhaps. Christmas had always been the best part of my year as a child. The presents to be received, the food to be eaten, and the finding gifts for others so that someone I cared about might smile or laugh with unabated joy upon tearing off the wrapping paper.

And the church at Christmas reflected my mood. The songs were joyous ones. The sermons were less about sin and guilt, and fear of Satan, and more about taking care of those whom we loved, and those less fortunate than our own loved ones. There were church sponsored food drives, and clothing drives and (most importantly to my mind) toy drives, where each of us kids were urged to contribute new toys (or our old favorites) so that even the poorest children would have something under their tree, something shiny and colorful, tied up in a bow just for them.

The overriding theme was one of love; love for all peoples, no matter the differences among them, no matter if they attended a different church or no church at all. It was the one time of the year the church I grew up in really practiced the Christian spirit of tolerance and love, of compassion and forgiveness.

So perhaps it was that emotion I was seeking each Christmas, even as I stopped going to church at any other time of the year. I wanted to recall the message I had read in the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, messages of redemption for both the the giver and receiver through the act of compassion, through the act of love. That is still a message that resonates with me, a message that Jesus brought to all of us, and a message still out there to be discovered even though it be buried among all the perversion and exploitation and twisting of his teachings which is going on even as we speak.

Today, my family will join a gathering at my brother-in-law’s house where there will be food to eat, songs to be sung accompanied by the piano playing of my ten year old daughter, and gifts exchanged. Children will run and jump and act crazily happy. Parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles will smile and take into their own hearts this happiness that we witness, and smile and laugh in return.

Later this afternoon we will attend my sister-in-law’s church for a Christmas Eve mass where once again I can relive the best parts of my religious experience as a child. I will forget about the silly, ginned up “War on Christmas” and the hatred that fills the hearts of so many who call themselves Christians these days, and I will meditate on the true meaning of this, most wonderful holiday. One I offer to you now, the same message the angels purportedly sang to the shepherds as descibed in the Gospel of Luke:

On Earth, Peace, Goodwill to All.

0 0 votes
Article Rating