Courage in the Face of Fear

Dan Bracken

Pastor Mike was back at Ginghamsburg to preach over the weekend. We all call him “Papa” Mike now. 38 years in ministry at the same place will earn you that title. Mike reminded us, yet again, that Christmas is not our birthday.

The Christmas story has been sanitized over the years; cleaned up for prime time.

First of all, I’ve witnessed childbirth. I doubt it was a “Silent Night”. And in all likelihood the birth of Jesus didn’t happen in a barn, which most nativity scenes depict–but a cold, dank cave.

Maybe the toddler Jesus had a pleasant first couple of years, but the moment King Herod put out a hit on his life (Matthew 2:16), the boy Jesus celebrated his next few birthdays in Africa as a refugee.

How far have we swayed from the heart of Christmas? The pain of Christmas? The opportunity of Christmas?

“Christmas has become a hedonistic feast of materialistic gluttony” – Mike Slaughter

The first time I heard Pastor Mike say that was on the heels of our return from Sudan. I had just zipped through the desert in the back seat of a Range Rover with a machete clanking at my feet to protect myself from bandits should they attack us from the brush. I had just eaten fresh-baked bread with sand in every bite and washed it down with bottled water from the hotel because the water served looked like chocolate milk. I had just witnessed dehydrated cows and burned villages– remnants of the Janjaweed who were carrying out ethnic attacks on behalf of the government, whose genocide reminded me of none other than… King Herod.

Then, I came home to Christmas trees. And presents. and egg nog. And Santa Claus.

How’s that for a parallel?

After agricultural, educational and safe water projects in Sudan, it was Malaria in South Sudan, GED programs in Dayton, flood relief in Baton Rouge, refugee aid in Lebanon, being a voice for the voiceless in Palestine, addiction recovery programs, planting churches and conquering food deserts back in Ohio…

So now, for me, Christmas is dissonant. Deeply, darkly dissonant. Something is weird about the way we celebrate Christmas.

I guess it’s not a bad thing to celebrate Jesus’ birthday by showering each other with gifts. Generosity is cool and all… but I think we should be careful not to forget why God sent Jesus, Immanuel, to be with us in the first place:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61

Mike said another thing to me once. He said, “Dan, the one thing most Christians lack is courage.” Hit me like a sack of potatoes. Because my Christmas is soaked in Christmas trees. And presents. And egg nog. And Santa Claus. I don’t want to give it away. It feels too good. But dang…

Christmas is not my birthday.

So what do I do?

I acknowledge the secular origin of Christmas, but hold the holiday in tension with the reality of what it means to be a Jesus follower.

Lord, give me courage to shape my family’s identity in a way that would orient our hearts toward the poor…to enjoy the holiday, but to remain willing and available to come alongside those in need. Amen.

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Dan Bracken 1 Communication Director

Dan Bracken
Communication Director | Ginghamsburg Church