Another Christmas

After 43 years in ministry, what more can I say about Christmas than I’ve already said … some would say more than once. Has it become too formulaic? Do you resort to the same themes and talk about the same characters which with people are so familiar? Can anyone come up with an original thought, a fresh word?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached a sermon in Barcelona during Advent 1928 in which he spoke about how casual we can be in the observance of the Incarnation: “It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously people trembled at the day of God. We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse us, We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.”

If the news that our default condition of separation from the Righteous God because of our sin has been cancelled by the grace and mercy shown in Christ doesn’t shatter us, then we should check our pulse. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ died for us,” Paul wrote to the Romans. Destined for and deserving death, we were giving a status we couldn’t earn: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 3:23); “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God” (Ephesians 2:8); “You are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s own family” (Ephesians 2:19).

Prisoners set free? Slaves liberated? The guilty forgiven? Adopted as joint heirs with Christ?

Stop me when this gets boring. A baby, wrapped in love, hope, and peace, came into this world to state forever that God was willing to do anything required to reclaim the lost. His Son would say, “I came as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

If Christmas becomes ho-hum for any of us, we should be ashamed. The first Christmas present was also the best Christmas present. Joy to the world! The Lord has come!

 

“You’re kidding, right?

Apprentice angel to supervisor: “Hey, boss, I just heard the strangest rumor.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Some of the other angels were whispering and I wonder what’s going on.”

“What did you hear?”

“I heard that there was a baby to be born soon.”

“Did you miss orientation or what? That’s how it’s done down there. Babies are born every day.”

“Yes sir, but this is supposed to be really unusual, and get this, the word is that the King is personally involved.”

“The King is always involved when it comes to what happens on earth.”

“Yes sir, but the story is that He is going to be that baby! How does that work?”

“Well, this is way above your pay grade but I’ll give it try. When the Father gave humans the gift of free will, He made it possible for them to accept it or reject it. He knew that humanity would fall so He put His plan in place. Someone would have to take the penalty of their disobedience and rebellion. The King volunteered to be that someone.”

“So He had to become one of them? Why couldn’t He just send some of us to straighten out the mess that humans made?”

“It’s not easy to understand but when you love someone like the Father loves those creatures, you are willing to make sacrifices. In this case, the greatest sacrifice anyone could imagine.”

“Let me get this straight. The King becomes a baby, lives like a regular human, tries to show people how God feels about them, then is willing to lay down His life to save them?”

“Well, there’s more to it, but that is really what is about to happen.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

 

A holly, jolly Christmas

Hurry! It’s cyber Monday! You need to buy stuff you don’t need quickly! We seem to suffer from one of two maladies: conspicuous consumption or perhaps constipated consumption.

With our church recently experiencing the Matthew 25 Challenge through World Vision, it is even more painfully evident that we live in shuttered world. If we open the shutters, advertisers would have us believe that there is a brand new SUV or other luxury vehicle sitting in our driveway with a big red bow. They just appear!

Materialism isn’t new. Our consumer-driven society has been splurging on itself for many years. One silly column isn’t going to change selfish to selfless.

Still, it is heart-warming when you see people more interested in giving than receiving, people who accept blessing by blessing, people who intentionally open their homes and hearts. Yes, Christmas is the best time of year because we are confronted with the amazing gift of a generous God who knew exactly what we needed.

Let’s think of how we are going to invest not spend this year. I don’t mean to make ourselves more comfortable; I mean being more concerned with eternal values than earthly bargains.

Give Thanks

Two days before Thanksgiving, I sit down to write words of gratitude. In the rush of the season, it is difficult to hit ‘pause’ – to think, to reflect, to contemplate, to pray, and to give thanks. It really should not be so hard to consider and count blessings. I have tried to begin with things and people I too often take for granted. I think of people for whom Thanksgiving will be different this year – some with joy, some with grief.

Some have added to their families. Some face an empty chair this year at their table. Some have experienced success in business, sports, academics, and relationships. Some who have had a tough year of disappointment and discouragement.

Regardless, it seems so right to offer gratitude. I know you cannot force it or pretend, but somewhere in our souls we know we are loved by the infinite God. He created us out of that love. He sustains us with that love. He redeemed us because of that love.

In our broken world, we need to remember to say thanks. On September 28, 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln to request that a day be set aside for a national day of thanksgiving. Lincoln honored that request in establishing the last Thursday of November as a national observance. Seventy-four years (October 3, 1789) to the day when George Washington declared a day of thanksgiving, Lincoln’s proclamation directed that the nation pause for this recognition.

Fall of 1863. The still-young United States was suffering through the divisive and destructive Civil War. It did not seem like an appropriate time to express gratitude, but life rarely provides an easy path forward.

A part of the proclamation reads: “I therefore invite my fellow citizens … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions just due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience … implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation …”

In our broken world, we also need to pray and work for peace for the sake of the Prince of Peace. Our many blessings afford us opportunity and inspiration to impact our world for Him. I am grateful that He would count us worthy to labor for Him.

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Musings

The first thanksgiving occurred in November, 1621. The meal was a combined effort between the Pilgrims, who set the table and provided the napkins, and the native Wampanoags who brought everything else. No, wait. That’s not right. The Pilgrims began a new tradition that day – somebody made a casserole. I bet it had those small marshmallows. Those people were from southern England.

While we don’t have the exact menu, we know they had plenty of meat. The governor of the colony sent four men on a fowling mission to provide enough game for the planned 3-day event. You think it’s tough preparing one meal for all those relatives. The meat would have included wild turkey, duck, geese, and swan. Can’t you hear it now? “Hey, please pass the swan.”

There would have been fruits and vegetables native to the region. All kinds of berries – blue, cran, goose, and rasp – were collected. One Pilgrim had a bright idea – “Hey let’s mash all this fruit into a brick-like cake.” A kind Indian pulled him aside and said, “Let’s wait for a month and send it to people we don’t like.” Okay, I’ve offended all the fruitcake lovers out there. My bad.

Vegetables like onions, beans, spinach, carrots, kale (another word for seaweed), and arugula (just kidding) would have been served. We know they had corn but not like we know it. The corn would have been shucked and turned into cornmeal, which was then boiled and pounded into a thick mush or porridge. Should have left it on the ear.

Right after the meal they had a football game between the Patriots and the Indians (can’t say the R-word). For dessert, they all went to Baskin-Robbins with its one flavor – pumpkin.

Whatever you may have this Thanksgiving, may it be a time for relishing what matters most. Let’s make that “who” matters most. Blessings.

 

 

A Walk in the Dark

“Let’s go for a walk.” I need to stretch my legs. It’s a beautiful day. It’s time for some exercise.

There are a number of reasons why we take a walk. Most often, it is not out of necessity. We have cars, bikes, and public transportation so we don’t have to walk … far.

If we get thirsty, we can walk to the refrigerator or the water fountain. We can just turn on the tap or reach for a bottle.

What if we had to walk, not a few feet, but a number of miles to find water? In too many places around the world, water is not so easy to obtain. Clean water is even more difficult to find.

Sometimes people will begin their walk to the water before the sun comes up. The two-way trip can take most of a day.

We need water to survive. When we say “I’m thirsty” we don’t normally mean we have reached a crisis point. We just want something to drink.

We partner with World Vision on several fronts. This week has been the Matthew 25 Challenge. I hope it has been eye and heart-opening for those who have participated. Much of the work of World Vision is to provide clean water for people in many parts of the world. Last year 4.6 million new people were able to have clean water. Many of them were children.

From their website: “We believe in children. Water changes the lives of children. They have better health, improved nutrition, and can go to school instead of spending the day fetching water.”

The next time you go for a walk, remember those who walk to survive. The next time you sit down to enjoy a meal, remember those near and far who may go hungry today. The next time you put on a warm coat, remember those who shiver in the cold. We can make a difference.

 

Heavens to Betsy!

We say some strange things. One that always confused me: “I’m just beside myself.” Does that mean there are two of me standing here? One is plenty. Or how about: “Heavens to Betsy!” No one knows who Betsy was or why heaven was involved.

Some of these sayings have an easily understood back story. A “scapegoat” comes from Jewish history. A scapegoat is a person who is a convenient fall-guy or unfairly blamed for problems. The concept originally comes from Leviticus, in which a goat is designated to driven into the desert symbolically bearing the sins of the community.

What if you were trying to learn English and heard some of these?

  • As Cool as a Cucumber …
  • Hold Your Horses …
  • Kick the Bucket …
  • Blue in the Face …
  • Storm in a Teacup …
  • Head in The Clouds …
  • Dead as a Doornail

I’m certain people have their favorites and every culture has their strange idioms. The truth of the matter is that communication is hard enough without navigating through colloquialisms. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exercise more diligence in expressing our thoughts and feelings.

It might be as easy as falling off a log or you could gum up the works. I’m not pulling your leg that you probably have bats in your belfry. See how easy this is? You try it.