How old were you when the glitter started rubbing off Christmas? I was about 9 when my older sister asked me that loaded question: “Do you still believe in Santa Claus?” I didn’t miss the import of that key word: still. But I rose to the challenge and answered with my first true declaration of faith:
“Well, I don’t believe a man in a red suit comes down the chimney. But I still believe in something.”
Many of us adults have long since lost the sense of mystery in Christmas. We’ve seen a lot of Christmases and they become routine after awhile. Once, a tired housewife confessed to me, “I just can’t wait for it to be over.” We may long for that moment of transcendent joy: holding a candle at the Christmas Eve service, or connecting with an old friend. But we have guarded our hearts against expecting anything of “Hallmark movie” proportions.
Some of us, sadly, approach our churches in the same way. In our memories, the church was once a joyful place to visit friends, hear a great message and beautiful music, and enjoy the mix of generations at a potluck. Now it has become more like that room in your house where there is always work to be done. Like Christmas, our church gatherings may become bittersweet reminders of a time that no longer exists (and possibly never did).
Why do we keep coming to church even when the experience loses its luster? Maybe it’s habit. Maybe it’s obligation. Or maybe it’s because we still believe in something.
The Church is not all magic and miracles any more than Christmas is. It is about cleaning up melted candle-wax and getting Mary and Martha to quit bickering. It’s about miscommunication and unanswered prayers and driving bats out of the attic. And after a Sunday with that horrible substitute organist, most of us just can’t wait for it to be over.
But we keep coming back. We still believe in something bigger than all that. We can’t even name it. We haven’t stopped believing that something miraculous can still occur among us, tired and jaded as we might be.
And miracles do happen. Not like in the Hallmark movies. In slow, steady ways the Church in all its frailty is changing the world. When I doubt this, I go visit a church I love in a nearby town. Or I read a few pages of Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.
Today I was heartened by a Loren Mead article detailing 10 ways the church is still transforming society. It can be found at this site
There is nothing magic here. This transformation is the result of hard work by individuals in many communities over many centuries, guided by a Wisdom much greater than ours.
I have experienced that disallusionment that comes when our churches fail to live up to our expectations. But I still believe in something.
What do you still believe in?