What Did you Get New for Christmas?

I am reminding myself during the twelve days of Christmas something may be going on more than what it seems.  A powerful new reality could be at work and many may not recognize it, like that birth in Bethlehem.  It is tempting (because it is easier) to live into the reality that what we see clearly and hear loudly has the last word.  This makes life neater and issues simpler.

Is the WSJ, CNN, Fox News, and the Drudge Report the only reality that matters.  When we behave like it is we relegate the good news of the angels to the shepherds to children’s Sunday School classes.  Neither should we live only with the angels, embracing spiritual reality as the only meaningful reality.  There is no such thing as a religious excuse to spiritually escape the real world.  We must be careful to not embrace one reality and miss the other.

Christmas is the intersecting of two worlds, the melding of two realities.  Christmas is God’s incarnation, as God became human, not just to save the world, but to join us in our humanness that we might more readily join God in God’s divineness.  The mixing of the two worlds at Christmas is the laboratory in which we learn to look more like Jesus.

My pastoral word for Christmas and beyond these twelve days is to open our hearts to Christmas message that contains the power to cause new realities to emerge in our lives.  This is how we assume the position of Mary and know what it means to treasure and ponder like Mary as we open ourselves up for God to do a new thing in our lives.  We must remember when God’s reality shows up, everything changes!

Published in: on December 27, 2010 at 11:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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Did the Christmas Message Find You?

When I was a young buck of a preacher, a veteran pulpiteer told me Christmas Eve and Easter are the hardest messages to deliver.  In youthful exuberance, I failed to understand how he could not get more excited.  Now, with some experience, I have a degree of understanding of what my crusty colleague was saying.  What he meant was the message never changes, despite our window dressings.

Only Matthew and Luke give us stories about the birth of Jesus.  We run their stories together in our nativity scenes; shepherds and the wise men appearing in full quota around the manger at the same time.  The reason we may mix Matthew’s story with Luke’s is: to soften the harsh human realities contained in the first gospel.  Wise and wealthy kings from a foreign land involved in a political plot for power doesn’t make play well in Peoria while chestnuts roasting over an open fire.  Yet, this still may have been Matthew’s way of telling his readers the Christmas message reaches across human made borders to persons of every land.

Christmas doesn’t seem complete until we read the Christmas story from Luke, which is the version most of us prefer, learn, or memorize.  We teach children Luke’s story of angels appearing to Mary to tell she was chosen to bear a child, born of the Holy Spirit.  Luke gives us Mary’s beautiful song of acceptance.  Luke writes of “shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over flocks by night”.

The Christmas message told in Luke of “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” is a penetrating message; containing the power to speak for itself.

There is a reason why Luke’s omits wise men and speaks of shepherds.  Luke is making a single point throughout the entire gospel.  His perspective becomes apparent when we contrast Mathew’s gospel with Luke’s edition.  One example-Matthew has Jesus going up on the mountain for the “Sermon on the Mount.”  Luke says “Jesus came down the mountain, stood on a level place to speak the “Sermon on the Plain.”  Luke is concerned with showing Jesus cared for the poor, disenfranchised, and outcast.  Nothing says it better that God cares for all than caring for the least.

Luke has the angels appearing to shepherds.  These were not the rural, romantic shepherds laying all day in a pastoral setting.  These are rough, dirty, uncouth fellows.  They were not traveling to register for the census; they were unworthy to be citizens; migrants who drove sheep across so many provinces they could not call any place home.  Luke tells these were the people to whom the Christmas message of “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” was delivered.

The complete picture Luke paints is the Christmas message was first announced to the poorest of the poor, who ignored borders, and were homeless.  These bottom strata residents overcome fear, go to Bethlehem, to tell a woman of little status who was shamed by the rules of her religion; God’s light had shined down telling them of the birth of the child.  The words they shared with Mary were received like precious gems brought by kings.  Luke wants us to see the inclusiveness of God’s love; assuring no one is left out in hearing the good news of the Christmas message.

The fact the message never changes is fine with me.  This is a much-needed message for ancients and us, post modern folk alike.  The Christmas message is globally relevant and personally targeted toward all of God’s children.  The Christmas message has power to bind together each person in this place with those scattered in other places despite the time zone in which they reside.  The reason for its potency is the message is unchanging, immutable; the song remains the same.

We’ve gathered not as smelly shepherds to hear the Christmas message; but we, 2011 people, may have more in common with those first nomadic hearers than we might think at first glance:

-We do not travel from one place to another looking for sustenance for ourselves and our flock.  Yet, we are a people who travel in search for meaning down the many corridors of our lives.

-We are not stained and soil caked because of the long journey to remote places.  Yet, we’re a people discolored by disappointments or tarnished by regrets experienced along the twisted road our lives.

-We are not passing time each night with no real hope anything will change in the fields.  Yet, we are a people who are capable of few expectations other than morning follows night.

-We may not be startled by a host of heavenly beings making a world changing announcement that beckons them to tell.

Though we are a people in search of meaning, marked by the hardship of life, and expecting little to change, we too like those shepherds are:

-A people who God can surprise with incredible moments of grace; inviting us to see what new thing God is up to our lives.

Hospitals and Christmas are synonymous for our family this year.  My mom went home from Baylor this morning after twenty-four day necessitated by a December 1, eleven hour surgery.  Terri’s family will spend their Christmas in a Houston hospital to be with her dad, who is recovering from a broken hip he experienced in a fall this week.  These uncertainties have tinged this year’s celebration with sadness and days of anxiety.  It is into the world of hospitals we’ve waited for the Christ-child to speak the Christmas message.  Throughout it all, I am more acutely aware of grieving spouses, broken families, frightened immigrants and others, like your preacher, who needs to hear afresh the Christmas message of “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord”.  I’ve hospital stories.

More important-I’ve a question-Where are you waiting for the Christmas message?  Some of you are waiting in places where you think the message will not find you.  This is why I lift up the shepherds Christmas message.  If the message could find outcasts wandering on the backside of Galilean hills; it can find you.  Luke says if it can find the least, it can find any of us.

You came tonight because there is something within you that hopes the Christmas message finds you.  So, I point us to an unchanging message, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord”.  I can do no more or less; praying your heart is cracked enough, so you can hear the Christmas message.  The Christmas message hasn’t changed, making it possible for it to change each of us.  I thank God the Christmas message found me in the halls of a hospital.  Where will it find you? Merry Christmas!

Published in: on December 25, 2010 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Place of Equality…..We Hope?

All things being equal is their mantra and their praxis.

Every room is somewhat alike,

Every bed is made the same way,

The linens and pillow smell alike,

Every patient is uniformly immodest,

These patterns never change.

Vitals, fluids, meals, and rotating personnel,

It all comes in the most equalitarian way.

There are those who demand more than some,

But, their cries are met depending on the triage.

A caregiver knows no difference by what they see behind hospital fashion,

All things are equal in the sick place.

Would we want it any other way?

Would we want to be cared for at the expense of another soul?

Would we want to be forgotten because another person had a title?

Would we really want it any other way?

All things are equal in the mending place.

Each person receives care not based on

  • color of skin,
  • choice of religion,
  • or usual discriminating factors.

They are cared for because they are sick.

For all things are equal in the healing place,

Would we want it any other way?

Published in: on December 7, 2010 at 3:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Another Voice (Profound and Clear)-Richard Rohr

St. Nicholas Day

There is a great banquet that utterly relativizes and situates all our daily emotions, hurts, addictions and plans.  When you abide in your true Godself, the small self is always seen as limited, insecure and surely good—but still passing away.  We must eat from this big table to know who we really and finally are.

Our great myth of Santa Claus, of course, came from today’s Saint Nicholas, who was known for charity and gifts to poor children and young girls without dowries.  He would secretly throw sacks of money through their windows so they could experience a bit of this Great Banquet of God’s love.

Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, pp. 11-12

Published in: on December 6, 2010 at 12:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Changes Come Ready or Not

Sometimes changes come at us whether we are ready or not.  My mom’s 11 hour surgery on Wednesday and the finding of what could be some additional cancer has brought some changes in our family that could require some real adjustments.  The most immediate change it has wrought is expressed by her grandkids who want to know, “What are we going to do for Christmas this year?”  Of course the answer is, “We don’t know“.

My sermon based on the gospel text for the Second Sunday of Advent, Matthew 3: 1-12 started me thinking what I might say when the subject arises.  Here is what I am thinking.  This unexpected change may be a way we can mark this Christmas as more than just another family gathering of great gifts done in the name of commemorating Christ birth long ago.  This is time of in our family and for our kids and this kid (me) to:

1. Clean out of some cluttered traditions.

2. Tune ears to the carols of the season words.

3. Think a bit more about giving to grandma than what we might       receive from her.

John, the Baptizer says to me and my house, if we will receive this gift of change, the Christ child can rock our souls and can give us the best gift we may have ever received on any Christmas.  So I am not out of line when I say to Advent people-“Repent, the Kingdom of God is near and getting us ready for Christmas!

Published in: on December 5, 2010 at 7:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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Hospital Hope

Early predawn arrival the quiet feels alive

The moments of check in, the necessities required

Family gathers around the warm fire of love that is practiced

Doctors and nurses fly in like Olympians on skates

The moment arrives and every emotion is awakened

Coping continues with laughs, smiles and concerns about things that could go awry

The family gathering grows, and it feels like a holiday with the background music strained by monitored concern

Talk, eat walk, take a seat, call, read, sit and talk some more

Is there any day more exhausting

Updates come and mixed feelings swell

Consoling and comforting abound even if they are in awkward ways

The day drags into the night and uncertainties abound as the clock ticks at paces that just seem unsound

They come in and say it is done and you wonder what that means.

You go into see her and it seems so……..

You talk to your family and to yourself even more.

Finally you take that walk back to room with a hospital hope that goes beyond you.

Hope rocks you to sleep as fretful as it may be

So you rise in the dark of another predawn

…….and hospital hope begins all over again.

Published in: on December 2, 2010 at 9:08 am  Comments (1)  
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