A Christmas Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13
(With apologies to Saint Paul, inspired by a meditation by Sharon Jaynes,
and freely adapted by Andy Langford)
Central UMC: Concord
28 November 2010
At Christmas, God offers to us the gift of God’s own son.
For hundreds of years,
the people of God had dreamed that the Messiah would come.
And then, in a world dominated by sin and death,
Emmanuel, a child conceived by the Holy Spirit,
was born of Mary and appeared in Bethlehem.
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, sang about the coming of the Messiah. Zechariah believed that Mary’s child would be the Savior of the world. In his exuberance, Zechariah sang that the child of Mary would: (Luke 1:68-72)
save God’s people from their enemies,
fulfill God’s covenant,
shine on people in the midst of darkness,
and guide us in paths of peace.
After the angel announced that Mary was God’s chosen servant, Mary sang that Jesus would: (Luke 1:46-55)
scatter the proud,
bring down the powerful,
lift up the lowly,
fill the hungry with good things,
send the rich empty away,
and help the people of God.
And so the child born in Bethlehem fulfilled all of Zechariah’s dreams and Mary’s hopes and more.
How then shall we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ?
Several years ago, I read on the Internet a version of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the 13th chapter about love, as adapted for Christmas. Let me now share with you my own version of Paul’s anthem to love, as adapted for this season of the year.
If I say that I love Christmas,
but do not have love,
I may overlook the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem
forget Christ’s presence in my life today,
and lose hope that Jesus Christ will return in glory.
If I read the Christmas story, sing the carols, and say “Merry Christmas,”
but do not listen to the meaning of the words,
I am just a voice.
If I decorate my house with red bows, twinkling lights, and shiny balls,
poinsettias, wreaths, and garlands,
but do not celebrate all that is beautiful,
I am just a decorator.
If I watch every football, basketball, and hockey game,
every high school, college, and professional game,
but do not care for the friends watching with me,
I am just a spectator.
If I slave away in my kitchen, bake dozens of Christmas cookies,
and prepare gourmet meals,
but do not share my table with others,
I am just a cook.
If I watch “A Christmas Carol,” “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,”
and “Miracle on 34th Street,”
but overlook the magic of the season,
I am just a jaded skeptic.
If I shop every sale, search for the best buys,
and find the perfect gift for everyone on my list,
but push to the front of the line, haggle with the clerks,
and buy a present for myself first,
I am just a consumer.
If I pack my car, fight traffic and airport security,
and travel great distances to visit family,
but forget why I hit the road,
I am just a weary traveler.
If I go to every family gathering, kissing and hugging
every aunt, uncle, cousin, grandparent, grandchild,
and who was that in the outlandish Christmas sweater?,
but forget that they are all my family,
I am just a solitary individual.
If I listen to Handel’s “Messiah,”
“Amahl and the Night Visitors,”
and Elvis Pressley’s “Christmas Favorites,”
but do not join in the song,
I am just a member of the audience.
If I give a gift for missions, for the church staff, for the church budget,
for the mail carrier, the garbage collector, the hair stylist,
the paper carrier, the teacher, and who did I forget?,
but do not say “Thank you” to the people who receive these gifts,
I am just a check writer.
If I mourn what I have lost, especially the ones I loved the most,
but neglect who and what I still have,
I will not find peace.
If I smile and say the right words,
but do not listen, hug, and weep for those who mourn,
I am an empty person.
If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home,
and ring a Salvation Army bell,
but only think about the next activity on my list,
I gain nothing.
If I set out all my nativity scenes, hang a star,
and watch a live nativity,
but see only the chipped paint, broken light bulbs, dirty animals,
and restless children,
I miss the wonder of the holy night.
If I trim my tree with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes,
attend holiday parties, and sing in the choir’s cantata,
but forget why I do all these activities,
I lose the meaning of the season.
If I attend every service, hear every sermon,
listen to every anthem, light a candle, and share in Holy Communion,
but do not worship the Christ child,
I have missed the point.
Love stops talking to hear the angel’s voice.
Love stops decorating to enjoy the beauty of the season.
Love stops cooking to hug my family and guests.
Love stops grumbling to say “Merry Christmas” to everyone I meet.
Love mutes the television to talk with friends around me.
Love does not dread everyone coming over to our house,
but is thankful that we have friends and family who wish to visit.
Love, though stressed out, tired, and frantic, is kind.
Love enjoys each activity during that activity.
Love does not envy another’s home with Christmas china and table linens.
Love does not outdo their neighbors’ lights and yard decorations.
Love worries less about the travel and more about the destination.
Love stops buying to simply be.
Love is less about the gifts and more about the giving.
Love does not show off what I got at Christmas.
Love does not dismiss what you got for Christmas.
Love does not fear the hurting and mourning people around us,
but summons us to be compassionate friends.
Love does not give only to those who are able to give in return,
but rejoices in giving to those who cannot give anything.
Love is less about giving to others and more about receiving from God.
Love is less about the worship
and more about the Child being worshiped.
Love bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, and endures all things.
Love never fails.
The Christmas tree will disappear, the decorations will be put away,
the Christmas china will be put back on the shelf, the games will end,
the wreaths will be taken down, the candles will burn out,
the video games will break, the jewelry will be hidden away,
the bills will arrive, the left-over food will be thrown away,
the car will be unpacked, the television specials will be forgotten,
the golf clubs will rust, the children will go back to school,
and family will disappear but the weight we gained will stay.
But, but, but,
faith, hope, and love remain,
and the greatest of these is love,
the love that came down at Christmas,
the love we find in the Christ child born in Bethlehem.