We need our sacred moments

I stopped to watch a life-sized talking deer head this week while Christmas shopping. Mounted in a fashion similar to the way a taxidermist would prepare a deer for a museum display, the deer moved, called out jokes, and made references to the holiday season. I laughed, then prayed no relative would think it cute and send one to my husband, the biologist.

The toy reminded me of the Christmas, some years ago, when my father-in-law sent my loudest child a toy bullhorn, like the kind Ty Pennington uses to motivate workers on the TV hit, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” My father-in-law explained his choice, in an accompanying note, by saying it was payback time for the moments he had endured sitting next to this same child—known during those infant years for bellowing in frustration from her car seat when the ride went way too long.

I also laughed this week when a long-time friend sent my husband and me an animated greeting card over the Internet that featured Santa’s reindeer choir, directed by Rudolf and performing a bawdy rendition of, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas!” Contrary to popular belief, those of us who comfortably align ourselves with matters of faith are not offended at every turn, especially when sacredness or children are not skewered by the humor.

Following my marathon shopping expedition, I treated myself to an eggnog latte and sang along to a CD featuring the “Hallelujah Chorus” as I drove home. While my children would have moaned in agony at the quality of my voice had they been there to listen, I knew God did not mind my feeble attempts to sound divine. After all, He created me with a mundane voice.

He also places in my heart the need for moments of sacredness and holiness.

It is why I so enjoy Advent, the “Season of the Coming,” that heralds the start of Christmastime. Technically, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas Eve. It was begun by the Christian church hundreds of years ago to give congregates the opportunity to prepare their hearts for the holiness of the celebration of Christ’s birth.

It is a wonderful idea, for it is a difficult matter to conjure up detectable levels of anticipation and celebration when something is done over and over again. Hence, the animated deer. We like to be enticed and entertained in ever-new ways.

While such silliness is all in good fun, I cannot let Christmas progress without some planned moments of deep contemplation. Mixed in, somewhere, has got to be God.

This year I am giving thought to the people of ancient Israel and what they must have been experiencing in their day-to-day lives. Forever, it seemed, they had been waiting for their Messiah. He had been promised in the scriptures and they desperately needed him, as the political scenery was nearly unbearable for most of the people. The Roman government occupied their sacred city of Jerusalem, taxed them beyond reason, and kept physical order using legions of Roman guards and soldiers.

While the general citizenry played by Roman rules, Jewish underground guerrillas, known as Zealots, frequently confronted the soldiers at night. This unrest, under the cloak of darkness, must have troubled Jewish mothers and fathers trying to create atmospheres of safety and peace in their homes. Over time the Messiah was viewed as a political player who would rise and deliver his people from the hands of these oppressors.

It is here that language plays a fascinating and important role in our understanding today. “God” in the Hebrew scriptures (today’s Old Testament in the Bible) is Yahweh. It means, “The Holy One of Israel” and is considered so holy and sacred that a practicing Jew would never have uttered God’s name out loud. The term, “holy” in Hebrew is kakosh and it means, “That which is far above (man and woman), distant and beyond our understanding.” The term “of Israel” means, “Right here in town.” In other words, “The distant, holy one is here in town, with us, always.”

The language and deep imagery of the Christmas story is what touches me each year. The Messiah, called “Emmanuel” later in the Bible, and translated, “God with us” continues to stir the hearts of modern believers like me, asking us to look past the seasonal hubbub and respond in tangible ways as we live our daily lives.

God came to town two millenniums ago. He came not only for the Jewish people but for all people, for all time. He came to demonstrate peace and hope and to give us life eternal.

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