Many Moods of Christmas: Hope in a Child Luke 1: 26-38

Bruno, like any eight-year-old boy, loves family, enjoys friends, and dreams of adventure.  Bruno is a son of a commandant of a German concentration camp in World War II.  Bruno looks out his room, he sees in the distance what he thinks are farmers; wearing are striped pajamas.  Hence the name of a film that breaks your heart: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

Bruno discovers a boy in striped pajamas.  Schmuel is also eight years old, but lives on the other side of a barbed-wire fence.  A friendship develops, and Bruno is surprised to learn his Jewish friend is hungry, scared, and cannot play.  It’s a sweet friendship, the two playing checkers through the fence; outside the gaze of adults.  Neither knew what is happening, but each wished they weren’t apart.  When Schmuel expresses worry about his father, who had disappeared so they devise a plan to look for him.  Schmuel gets a pair of striped pajamas for Bruno.

We are like Schmuel, waiting for someone to come to other side of our predicament and join us in the pursuit of all we have lost.

We begin the 4-week season of Advent.  The literal meaning of the Latin word “adventus” is coming.  Advent is God’s coming in human form, so we may come to God.  It’s a time of longing, which we prepare spiritually for the coming of Christ and the celebration of Christmas.  Others stampede the stores, trying to get to the goods on Black Friday; we wait patiently, knowing what’s really good are not goods at all.  We bide time, conceding parts of our real selves need to be made whole or resolved by the hope, peace, joy and love this season offers.

The theme for advent is, “The Many Moods of Christmas”.  I will not stand before you during Advent give you an ambivalent “I understand” as you express the many moods of the season.  The good news I proclaim during this season is we can bring our real selves to a real person who comes as God in flesh to make us whole.  All the dispositions, which express our unfulfilled and broken lives, can find resolution in the person of God coming in Christ.  We wait for the coming of Christ; bringing the moods of our lives; the good, the bad, and the ugly of our lives to this Christ child to find the grace needed.  Today, we bring our longing the hope our soul desires.

At a fundamental level, God designed creation with a yearning for hope.  The cells in our body continually remake themselves.  Aspiration, a desire for life to make more of itself is built into nature.  Biologists understand the technical aspects of procreation, yet its origins remain unknown.  Life seeks not only to survive in a Darwinian sense, but to go beyond what it is.  Hope is programmed into the processes of nature.  Perhaps William Blake shows us he knew this before modern science when he said, “Everything that lives is holy, and life delights in life.  Life delights in making new life”.

What is hope?  Positively, hope is the product of all that is good, but not yet perfect.  Negatively, hope desires to bring together what is separated.  Bruno and Schmeul know in a childlike way they are meant to be together; something is wrong with barbed wire that separates.  We all hope for a union of what is lacking: a union with God, loved ones, and enemies.  We hope for a future unthreatened by tyrants, terrorists, illness, job loss, or setback.  We hope for life not to end, even with death.  Thanks to God who wants hopes fulfilled.  Why else would desire be implanted deeply in us?

God will not be satisfied until the hopes of every person are fulfilled.  In one sense, every child born is nature’s attempt to make the world right, but sin continues to win.  Despite being separated by sin, God’s Spirit fashioned the Christ child in Mary’s womb.  God put on the uniform of flesh and came to our world and into our lives, which longs for hope; offering perfect, unending, and relentless love.  The angel telling Mary she is with a child that was shaped by the Holy Spirit was God making a way to fulfill our hopes; conjoining divine with human.  In opening her womb and entering into human existence, God opens a way for heaven to come to earth to do what only God can do in our lives, fulfill every longing.

Christ in Mary is only the beginning.  God does not just come one time or some times to meet us where we yearn to be made whole.  This Christ child invites us into a relationship so all the places of our lives that have not been made right can find remedy here on earth and ultimately in heaven  Christ wants to be born in you, me, and in all creation.

We try to bring hope by our own hands.  Wars are attempts to cripple evil and secure hope.  Accumulations are attempts to defeat scarcity in order to secure hope.  Hope comes in the gift of a person who invites us into an eternal relationship.  Our hopes are realized when we open ourselves to Christ’s coming into our lives and say with Mary, “Let it be for me according to your word”.  We are invited to receive this gift, allow the Christ child to grow in us, and change us into the person we were created to be.

Once we place faith that heaven has come to meet us on earth and begin to realize our hopes; then God wants us to shows signs of our new life in the way we live our hope among family, friend, and those we serve.  We are to offer the child of Christmas, so others whose hopes are not yet met might hear the call of the hope this Child offers to them in our lives.

Yet, some of us are still wondering why many of our desires remain unfulfilled, though we have said yes to Christ’s coming into our life.  We are like the person who is ill after the doctor gives the medicine.  We trust it will begin to work; hoping to be made well soon.  Recovery requires a recuperative period.  The symptoms will continue to be felt, even as we are being cured.  Although Christ is conceived in Mary, she had to carry him, suffer the pangs of his presence as he grows within and changes her.  Pain is a sign of hope if we have received the one who comes to make us whole.

In the meantime, we give gifts of hope to the world.  We put on the striped pajamas of other people’s travail and join in their search for hope.  We letg go of our own comfort and walking beside them in their suffering and grief; pointing them toward God who can fuel their life with hope that lasts.

The reasons churches have difficulty hearing the cry of the needy and tend to only take care of their own, are they forgot the Christ child put on striped pajamas and joined them while they were yet sinners to offer hope.  It takes a vivid recall to remember that Christ joined us in our needy state and gave us hope.  That memory is what will cause us to join with others in need; helping them have hope their cracked lives can be made whole.

Seventeen years ago, Larry James began work at Central Dallas Ministries.  The first week he bought a giant coffee maker, sat it on a table in the food pantry.  A longtime volunteer approached with aggressive bewilderment.  “What in the world are you doing?” she asked. “I’m making coffee for our guests,” he replied.  A frown rushed across her face and stiffened her frame.  With a mixture of amazement and anger, she counseled, “You can’t do that! If you make coffee, these people will never leave!”  He informed her he wasn’t going to rush people, but get acquainted with as many neighborhood residents as possible.  She turned on her heel and strode out of the pantry, never to return.  Larry’s coffee pot signaled a different perspective on those who suffered the indignity of not having enough food to eat.  The coffee pot screamed: Hey, slow down!  Have a seat.  Tell us your story.  In this place you’ll find we really care about who you are, what you’re dreaming, and how we can find our way together.

There are thousands of ways to give gifts of hope that signal the hope we have in Christ.  We have to be willing to put on some striped pajamas, put on a pot of coffee, or put on our thinking cap and bring our gift to those who may not even know they are waiting for it.  Offer the Christ child of hope to others while you wait during this season for your hopes to be fulfilled.

Thanksgiving Day and Every Day

I am spending the early morning hours in my home office thinking about Jesus words of overcoming the worries of life with daily gratitude, as I look forward to co-hosting family and friend tomorrow on Thanksgiving Day.  Before America thought it was a good idea to have a national day of thanksgiving, Jesus had something to say about gratitude when he said: “Consider the birds of the air”.  Those words implore me to feel the astonishing wonder of life and the abundance of God’s supply day by day in our lives.  In short, those words say to me, be thankful for every moment.

Thanksgiving Day has to be more than a day of reprieve from worry as we stuff ourselves with the bounty of food and family.  I want Thanksgiving Day to lead me further down the road of being thankful each day.  This cartoon says it all: 

Learning to be thankful daily is the Jesus way of life.  When I can focus on being grateful for the simple things of life I am not as likely to be tempted to mindlessly ask along with the masses: “Is It Friday yet?

This requires me to be specific with my gratitude and not just to be thankful in general.  Too many Thanksgivings have come and gone in my life, when I was full of gratitude; but for no apparent or specific reason.  Allow me to say particularly to whom and why I am thankful.

I am not just thankful for my family in general, I am thankful for every member of my family in particular and for the persons they are, even for their ugly sweatshirts at Christmas.  I am thankful for the way Terri loves me in way that makes me better each day.  I am thankful for all the ways Lauren, Tara, David, Erin, Emily, and Blake have taken me to places I might not have otherwise gone.  I just don’t love my family per se; I love each person in my family.

I am not just thankful in general for the church I am privileged to serve.  I am thankful for every person who makes up FUMC, Irving and for the way God is shaping us together.  I am thankful for administrative leaders like: Jimmy, Bill, Gary, Alan, Kathy, Ed, Linda, Mickey, and all the members of their teams that gave us direction and structure to build the Kingdom of God in 2011.  I am thankful for our ministry leaders like: Cindy, Joe Y., Bobbye, Judy, Danny, Marni, Phyllis, Gerald, Christine, Rod, and Cathy and the people they led in this last year to make us a better Body of Christ.  I am thankful to work with Barbara, Hyung, Keri, Debbie, Sean, Glen, Susan, Kelly, Jessica, Paula, Sammy, Seong, and Cindy, who make up a staff committed to doing more for the sake of our church than the minutes of a single work day allow.  I am thankful for all silent saints who made ministry happen in such unnoticed ways that we may have taken them for granted.

I am loitering this morning over the details of my life.  Jesus words that say: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” are the words I carry into Thanksgiving 2011. These words say to me, God wants me to know the fullness of life God wants to give each and every day.

Excuse me, I have to go.  I need to get busy passing along my particular thanks to many more people who bless my life.  So, I close with a general Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.  But, from my heart and till I am able to tell you in person, I am thankful for YOU!

What Would You Do?

What would you do if you walked into a room of strangers who were markedly different than you?   This clip started me thinking about hospitality in God’s house where all are welcome….What Say YOU???  Click Here to See Clip

Published in: on November 8, 2011 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Predecessors of Plenty: Our Legacy Proverbs 11:24-28

There is no greater blessing than being part of people who are the body of Christ in generous ways.  Being a part of a vibrant community of faith that breeds generosity despite circumstances is a blessing unmatched.

The good in my life gushes from a childhood church.  In 1960, my parents were vested in a new church, Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church located on the corner of LaPrada and Oates Drive.  They supported it monetarily and in every other way.  My mother served as a teacher and various committees.  My father directed the choir and held leadership positions.  I have fond memories of friends and the things we did together. The church grew to become one East Dallas’ strongest churches.  My mom still tells stories how certain events took place that she ascribes to the hand of God.

The church had pastors who were excellent pulpiteers, with short tenures.  The laity bought the land, built the buildings and conducted the business.  The changing pastoral leadership concentrated on spiritual matters.  My parents were in their twenties, and figured giving themselves and their resources to the Lord through that church was right.  There I fell in love with the church, and what I would come to understand was the Body of Christ.

An important life-event occurred in that church when I was eight and my sister was four years of age.  We sat in the pews with about 600 other people as my 36-year-old father was memorialized after his life ended too soon.  His faith and his coffee were alike-strong.  His faith made such differences in lives; people still tell me what he meant to them.  That corner of the Body Christ, despite being the place of my father’s memorial, shaped my life and reinforced the value of being a part of a faith community.

I was blessed to belong to a place where I came to faith in Christ.  I was blessed to belong to a place where I observed models for ministry that I emulate today.  I was blessed to belong to a place that spurred me to attend Baylor University; to acquire a great education and hear my call to ministry.  I have been blessed by that church in ways I am unable to fully describe 30 plus years later.  Whatever I am today goes back to that church.  I have been blessed a hundred times over because my parents blessed my life with the Body of Christ at LaPrada and Oates Drive.

The text comes from the book of Proverbs; the wise sayings of our forbearers of faith.  The Jewish Bible, the Tanakh, translates it:

There is one who scatters and yet is given more, and one who withholds from [giving] what is proper, only for a loss.  A generous person will become rich, and he who sates [others] shall himself become sated as well.  He who keeps back grain-the nation will curse him, but a blessing will be bestowed on the head of him who sells grain.  He who desires good seeks acceptance, but he who seeks evil, it will befall him.  He who relies on his wealth will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a leaf.

I join our Jewish friends in the belief generous life is rewarded.  This idea generosity is rewarded was rooted by my childhood experience and was confirmed in numerous ways throughout my adult years.

I cannot prove cause effect; there are thousand other factors that contribute to a blessed life.  Life isn’t a slot machine; where we put in X tithes and offerings, X time teaching, X hours in prayer, and then pull the lever and life come up 7s.  We are not to start out with the reward in our sights.  God will not let generosity from a faithful heart go unblessed.

We will choose to believe generosity is rewarded because our lives have been enriched by the generosity of others.  Any generous ways in my life are connected to the generosity I’ve experienced connected to the Body of Christ.  These connections have produced relationships, which feed my soul because of the generous ways they share their life.  My connection to the faith community has graced me with people who were more than willing to engage ministry in generous ways.  I have prospered as a part of the fellowship of faith.  Somewhere along the way I discovered I don’t just serve a church, I am blessed by THE CHURCH that has shaped my life.

I want to generously give the children of the next generation the same generous gift our parents gave us.  This can happen when we are as generous as our predecessors of plenty who handed us this Body of Christ they generously built.  Anything we do, builds upon their generous work.  Our limited time in this place and on this side of heaven prevent us from being able to contribute more than we have received, so we need to get busy becoming the next generation of predecessors of plenty.

Today, we pause to remember those who have died since we held this service last year.  This is a day to thank God for all the ways their generosity help build FUMC, Irving.  We will remember them by calling their names.  As we call their names, some of us will be able to specifically recall their generous ways and we will stand in honor of their memory.  We are not calling their names because they are extraordinary.  We are calling their names to thank God for the ways they made ordinary things seem extraordinary people.  We call their names because they are our saints.

I am struck on this day of the difference between saints and celebrities.  Recently, a celebrity stepped on the elevator with Terri and I with his son.  He was actually quiet friendly and wanted to talk baseball.  We enjoyed the chit-chat for a few moments before getting off on our floor.  We turned to each other after the doors closed and asked who was that person.  It took us to the next morning to recall this person’s name who has enjoyed celebrity status for multiple decades.  If you are curious who, CLICK HERE.

I am reminded how celebrities busy themselves branding their name on our culture; while our saints busied themselves branding the marks of God on this church.  I consider how a celebrity cannot be anonymous, while our saints are just fine not being too well-known.  I think how we are to keep our distance from celebrities, but we share common ground with our saints by our service together of Christ at FUMC, Irving.

They are our saints because they generously connected their lives to this Body of Christ.  They have blessed others in their generous ways as they served First United Methodist Church, like I was blessed by the generous saints I recall at Shiloh Terrace.  Their lives tell us a generous life will not go unnoticed by God.  We aren’t promised the more we’re involved in a church, the more material blessings.  Their testimony and mine is the deeper we root ourselves into the Body of Christ, the more God is able to bless us with spiritual abundance that is greater than our imagination.

In the Body of Christ, we count differently.  In the fellowship of faith we count our bounty, not our booty.  If we will spend our life in a faith community counting our blessings, we will lose track of our blessings; discovering again we cannot out give God.  The wisdom of the proverb is true: A generous person’s life is enriched because those who live generously end up with more than they can ever give.