The annual newsy Christmas letter has a bad reputation these days. I must confess that I enjoy reading letters from friends and family, hearing about their celebrations and transitions, especially people who aren’t active on social media or frequent e-mailers.
Christmas letters are one way we share about ourselves with others. If we don’t gloss over things, we can share joys and struggles with our loved ones. Sharing what is going on in our lives through “the dreaded Christmas letter” is one way we build community, even if it’s just a brief newsy letter. This year was jam-packed with transitions, downsizing, joys and difficulties for my family, and these will feature in my Christmas letter – joys of the season to be sure, but tempered with honesty.
At a recent Bible study on grace, my small group talked about how we understand God’s grace at work in our lives. Like those Christmas letters revealing a glimpse into each other’s lives, we opened up about how God’s sanctifying grace – the ongoing work of the Spirit to make us holy – is working on us, and how we struggle with that. We talked about John 1:16 – that we receive grace upon grace, and that we realize it often in the midst of struggle. We were vulnerable with each other, listening deeply, and through hearing each other, learning about each other, we were building community.
Building community with others requires vulnerability and honesty. Building community happens when we share our joys and successes, and when we share our struggles and sorrows. Being vulnerable in community requires trust. It takes time to build community. Honesty, trust, vulnerability – these are gifts of God’s grace when we share together.
The work of mission requires us to be especially attentive to the Spirit and to God’s grace. Building community through honest conversation, being vulnerable enough to be honest with people that we might only see for a week or ten days is difficult. When we go to a place and work to help people rebuild after a tragedy or work with a community that is impoverished, we must be especially attentive to God’s grace and the need to work WITH others and not simply for others. God’s grace builds us together into the Church, the body of Christ. When we allow ourselves to deeply listen to those we go to serve, and we are vulnerable with them, we are living into the teaching of Christ’s commandment to love one another found in John 13:34-35 – “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
As you prepare for Christmas, whether through a Christmas letter, baking, or decorating, may the grace of Christ bless you, and may all your mission work be filled with grace, grace upon grace.