Remember last year at this time? Vaccines for the coronavirus were still being researched and developed. Many summer activities were canceled or postponed. As a way of providing hope, a local radio station did a twenty-four hour 'Christmas in July' music marathon. Twenty-four hours in July of Christmas music.
Over those particular twenty-four hours, I didn't listen to that radio station. At all. Which is a shame, because usually I do, and usually enjoy the music played on the station. Listening to Christmas music in July, during a pandemic, just seemed, well, a little off. I just could not bring myself to listen to Christmas music in July.
Fast forward a year. In planning ahead, there was the realization the days in July match the days in December. Both months have the same exact daily numerical listing. Thinking switched to "wouldn't it be cool (no pun intended) if we had a Christmas in July service on Sunday, July 25th?" The idea was dismissed, until our organist, Holly, commented "we should do a Christmas in July service."
Celebrating Christmas in July has been around possibly since the 1940's. One legend behind its start is that it was started as something to do at camp. Another legend is a pastor brought this tradition from one congregation to another as a way of encouraging the congregation to support global mission earlier in the year rather than at the end of the year. Still a third is to give those in the southern hemisphere a chance to experience Christmas in December.
Regardless of the reason, Christmas in July is perhaps a little quirky (aren't we all in our own ways?) And, I honestly don't know about you, but I'm okay being a little quirky at an unusual time of the year in an already quirky year. 2021 has been a quirky year for various economic, political, and social reasons. Our economy continues to recover from the impacts of so many out of work over the past year, and gradually returning to the work force. Politically, our differences continue to divide us rather than bringing us closer together as a nation. Socially, new variants of the covid virus are making their way across the country.
The continual quirki-ness of the world around us almost seems normal. Until we remember that when Jesus was born, the world had its share of quirks too: a government that required everyone to be enrolled for a census to be taken, meaning those who traveled to hometowns often were met with the reality of no place to stay. A baby boy was born in a manger -- not a hotel or hospital room, nota palace, but a manger. Who first heard this news? Angels announced it to shepherds. Shepherds in turn came to see what had been told them, rejoicing as they left what they saw. Later, wise men, sages, from the east would come to worship.
Perhaps the world isn't so quirky after all. Half birthdays are a reason to celebrate, right?
In the quirkiness of the world around us, we need Christmas in July. We need Christmas in July to remind us Jesus wasn't born for perfection. Instead, Jesus was born to love the quirkiness in each of us, to love the quirkiness in society. In loving the quirkiness of humanity and society, to take on human form, and lose his life.
Yes, we need a little Christmas this year. We need it earlier than December. We need a pause, a break from the quirkiness of the world to remember Jesus lived through quirkiness in his lifetime as well. More importantly, we need a pause to remember Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection continues to offer hope now more than ever. We do well to blend our voices joyfully in song (masked and unmasked) to sing "O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord."
"Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics." (Mark 6:6b-9)
When you go on a trip, regardless of the distance or the amount of time you will be gone, what type of packer are you? Are you an over-packer -- one who packs everything so that suitcases are overpacked and heavy? Or, perhaps you're an under-packer: packing essentially necessary items, needing to buy once arriving at your final destination?
Years and years ago for a family vacation, my parents did their best to instill in me the lesson "pack only what you can carry." Where they meant in one trip to the car and to our final destination, my child's mind heard it differently. Stacked by the bedroom door was a pile of items I wanted to take with me -- in multiple trips. Somehow, all the items made it into the back seat of the family car for that trip, into our final destination, and back home. I'm not sure how, but I do remember it being rather cramped in the back seat.
The disciples were a different bunch of packers: they were extremely extra light weight packers. No extra tunics, no extra money, not even extra food. The only items they were to take with them was a staff (think walking pole/stick) and their faith. They were to rely on the generosity and kindness of those who heard the gospel.
"Take only what you can carry." How often we go through life taking extra weight with us, whether the weight be from emotional, financial, personal, physical, social, or spiritual hurts and wounds. Walking through life with the weight of the world on our shoulders leaves little room for delight and enjoyment of others in our life, or the world around us.
"Take only what you can carry." I think of those from the Surfside Condo in Miami, Florida, forced to evacuate before the remainder of the building was demolished. Knowing there would never be another return, residents were forced to make difficult decisions of what to take, what to leave behind.
I think of those who left areas to avoid being in the path of Tropical Storm Elsa, and those who have left everything behind in order to find a new life here in the United States, and those who continue to leave everything for new life.
I think of the pilgrims, the immigrants, the settlers of American history, named and unnamed, famous, and infamous, who came searching for religious freedom, the search for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The difficult task of travelling across an uncharted country with unknown challenges: "take only what you can carry." -- possessions sold off to finance crossing oceans; or traded once arriving for food or other necessary supplies.
And I think, too of the Israelites fleeing from Egypt (okay, that might have been a little more than what they could possibly carry, but they were doing what had been told of them to do.), or Elijah fearing for his life, and going into the wilderness: a place of either running away from God or finding God; and Mary and Joseph travelling to Egypt, taking the infant Jesus with them. "Take only what you can carry" takes on new and different meaning.
Wherever you travel to, wherever you visit, whatever you pack -- remember to take your faith with you. It doesn't take much space, and can withstand multiple adventures, challenges, and opportunities. The best part? As it is shared, it grows, and still doesn't take much space.
Take only what you can carry -- take your faith with you in all things. You'll be amazed!