Every Christmas season, I like many of you, think back to Christmases of the past. The joyful and happy ones. The carefree ones. Those experienced through the eyes of a child. Those that were challenging and the ones in which I deeply missed family members and friends who are upon another shore in a greater light.
Speaking of Christmases past. A bunch of years ago, my wife Regina and I, before having children, were living in El Paso. On a late Sunday September afternoon, we were in our car in southern New Mexico not far from our house. It was on a road surrounded by cotton and chile fields that a sign caught my attention. The sign read, “Baby Goats, 5 dollars.” I looked at Regina. She looked at me and we pulled into a long driveway, at the end of which was a pen filled with baby goats.
They were all so cute I wanted to get out 25 dollars because I knew not all the goats were going to be adopted as pets but rather for recipes. But alas, one would have to be enough. After handing my five dollars over, Regina picked up our little goat, and we got into the car.
As we got back onto the road, that little baby goat began to scream. It was a sound I’d never heard before. Not only that, the screams were so ear piercing, we had to roll the windows down. And it was at that moment our baby goat received his name. Flip. We named him Flip because he totally flipped out that afternoon. Well, Flip grew over those fall months that followed.
Our neighbor at the time was the manager of a local mall. We were having dinner together one night, not long before Christmas, and I asked her how things were going. As this was a long time ago, well before there was online shopping, she spoke about how busy and packed the mall was. She said the next day was going to be crazy because hundreds of kids would show up for pictures with Santa.
The next day arrived. We put a leash on Flip, as he was used to neighborhood walks with us. But rather than going for a walk, we put him in the car and drove straight to the mall. After parking the car, with Flip in tow, we walked across the lot toward the mall. Flip thought it was great fun. He made sounds like this. I’m not sure why but so many people stopped in their tracks and stared at us.
We then made our way through the mall entrance doors, to the escalator and headed down to the lower level of the mall. It was great, those little slats in the escalator steps. Well they collected Flip’s droppings perfectly. At the bottom of the escalator, we walked a few feet and stood in a long line. After all, we wanted a picture of Santa with our “kid”. The sign after all, did say, “Santa Pictures with your Kids.” We were just doing what the sign told us to do.
After a bit of time, finally it was our turn. Santa said something about how he didn’t want Flip to sit on his lap. I am not sure why. Flip was nicely groomed for a picture. He also said that he could not believe his eyes as he’d never seen a goat in a mall for a picture with Santa before. But we got that picture. Yes we did. Santa even smiled. Flip too was delighted. So was our neighbor the mall manager when she heard about it all.
I think Flip was a perfect name for our goat. He flipped out when we first got him. He flipped people out when they saw him in unexpected places like a shopping mall. And I just like the word Flip because it denotes all kinds of things, like doing a physical flip or flipping out like our goat did. But the word flip can also mean to turn over, to change, to adopt a completely different approach, or even to see something in an entirely new way.
Although our pet goat was named Flip, I invite each of us to remember that when it comes to flipping things around, God is the master. When we turn to God, God will flip the way we see things, what we expect out of each day, our outlook, how we respond to challenges, and how we choose to spend our energy. God can even flip how we talk to ourselves and the thoughts that enter our minds.
Sometimes we say to ourselves, “I don’t measure up.” God’s spirit says, “I love and accept you as you are right now.” There are moments when we hold grudges and venom. God’s spirit says, “Forgive, and let go.” There are days in which we might feel judgmental. God’s spirit says, “Walk in their shoes. Empathize. They too are my beloved.”
Sometimes we might engage in exclusion or division. God’s spirit says, “Include and build bridges with others.” For those times in which we are filled with overwhelming fear, God’s spirit says, “Trust me and release your fear.” There are passages in which we may believe we have reached the end of a road. God’s spirits says, “There are always new beginnings ahead of you.”
Many of us sometimes question the future. God’s spirit says, “This is my world. Hold onto hope.” All of us have lost those we love. God’s spirit says, “They are with me and eternal life is your future with us.” We each encounter tension filled days. God’s spirit says, “Receive the peace I give to you.” And there may be moments in which we wonder what the point of it all is. God’s spirit says, “Love is the reason. Love is the answer. Love is the purpose. Love me. Love others. Love yourselves and you will have it all.”
Christmas is not just about celebrating Jesus’ birth and God coming among us in person, although it is that. Christmas is about being reminded that we have a God who loves flipping things around. Flipping how we think, how we see things, our expectations, what we feel about ourselves and others, how we see God, and flipping us around so that we come to realize that love is what matters the most, for God is love. And love is why Jesus was born.