This Christmas, my husband I will celebrate the holiday surrounded by a variety of family and friends. Most of these folks have an unusual characteristic in common: they are recovering addicts and alcoholics. Their length of sobriety ranges from 10 days to 30 years. We have found real community with this circle of folks who are members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Transparency and honesty, joy and laughter, friendship and service are their hallmarks.
As I consider our upcoming holiday celebrations, I want to bring to light three ways that AA recovery reflects and enhances the Christmas story.
BEFORE AND AFTER During Advent, we Christians are encouraged to open our hearts anew to Jesus. At Christmas, we rejoice that the birth of Jesus somehow births new life in us. While there may not be dramatic differences year to year, many of us can name what life was like before Jesus was part of our story and how things shifted when—in the words of Eugene Peterson—Jesus “moved into the neighborhood” of our lives. We can even name how this ongoing relationship has positively impacted us and the people around us.
In AA, recovering alcoholics and addicts have a story too: what it used to be like in active addiction, what happened that they chose to get clean and sober, and what life is like now in recovery. Click To Tweet This story continuously evolves as people recover from the devastating physical, emotional and spiritual effects of active addiction. Once people open themselves to a new life, dramatic before and after stories are the name of the game. They are inspiring and faith-building.
GOD AS YOU UNDERSTAND GOD From the time Jesus was conceived and born, no one knew exactly what to make of him. The Magnificat records how Mary supposes a political and societal revolution. Joseph dreams that this surprise baby will save people from sin. The shepherds get an angelic message that a savior has been born. Simeon perceives that Jesus is a messianic figure; he foresees division, pain and suffering. Anna beholds the child and prophesies that the city of Jerusalem will be redeemed.
No one gets the same message. While we have strung these stories together into an overarching narrative, the elements of the story remind us that Jesus is more about possibility than dogma. All we really know is that Jesus is going to make a difference in the world.
In AA, recovery from addiction requires God. But AA’s understand that God is different for each person. In fact, there’s an insistence in the rooms of recovery that no one can define God for anyone else. No limits, definitions or dogma allowed. While this seems unnatural for the Christian, it’s strangely freeing for people in recovery. Here faith is not about orthodoxy or right belief. It’s about orthopraxy or right practice. The proof is in the pudding. Has your life transformed? Are you happy, joyous and free? Are you serving others? If so, nobody cares exactly how or what your Higher Power may be. Only that the fruits of this Power are evident in your life.
UNLIKELY CAST OF CHARACTERS The Christmas narratives place a diverse group of people together: families from the priestly line, shepherds and people of the field, Simeon a devout old man, Anna a prophetess who never leaves the Temple, a rather poor young woman, her older husband, and a surprise baby of divine origin. Let’s not forget angels and heavenly hosts. Later on, foreign dignitaries make an appearance. Oh yeah, and one crazed ruler. It’s a wild story. Who but God could have brought together this unlikely cast of characters?
Similarly, our addict and alcoholic friends form an unlikely assemblage. They include convicted felons, once-respected academics and clergy, school and healthcare administrators, construction workers, carpenters, painters, bikers, oilfield workers, psychologists, former menaces to society, and garden variety down-on-their-luck-just-lost-everything people who are scraping by. These are folks who would not ordinarily know each other, let alone mix. Who but God would but able to put together this unlikely cast of characters?
Wherever you may be this Christmas, and whoever you are with, I invite you to relive your own before and after story, to lay claim to God as you understand God, and above all to appreciate whatever crazy cast of characters you are with. It’ll be a sign that Jesus has been born among us.