Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Presents We Remember

"What did you get for Christmas?" We can hardly help but say it. "What did Santa bring you?" we ask the little kids. They give us a list of toys, scooter, bike, Wii, guitar. . . while older and wiser voices say, "Santa brought me you, all of you here for dinner."

What Christmas gifts do you remember best? Were they your first bike or the surprise visit from a family member? Was it a hand-made item like, "A Christmas Mix for Mom" -always my favorite cd of the year, or a hand-made candy dispenser from someone's wood shop? Often we can list unique gifts we've received but even more we remember those special gifts we've given. If you've spent weeks knitting the perfect gift, creating a scrapbook of an event to give, finding just the perfect addition to someone's collection, or making a recipe box down to the sanding and stain, then you are likely to remember a gift you've given more than one you've received. What was the best gift you ever GAVE?

For all the gifts we give and receive we often get the greatest joy for the ones we've given away. We may not even know how they were received but remember all the effort than went into finding or making it perfect. There is great satisfaction in knowing you gave just what was needed. That your work brought surprise and joy into someone's life. On those occasions we touch the joy God must experience each time we give thanks for Christ's birth. 

This most wonderful gift, a life lived among humans that blessed all generations is the best Christmas gift ever. Jesus came, not to die, but to teach us how to live. Every time we listen and follow his WAY, God's gift is received again and it blesses the earth with shared love just as God intended it.

In this Christmas season I hope you remember the gifts you've given and those who gave to you. I hope you look back with long perspective and forward with the hope for love that continues to give itself away. Then you will be a living Christmas gift.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Greatest Story

The Christmas story is the 'greatest ever'. So tonight we will tell it, listening to it from each character's perspective and singing all the additional pieces authors have imagined over the years. Tonight we will hear and see the characters that inhabit the ancient town of Bethlehem. We will feel the cold night air outside of town and be surprised by the voices of angels. Tonight we will look on the child with the same wonder as his parents first did as we enter the story as if for the first time.
Joseph is a righteous man. Perhaps it was his sense of God’s supreme justice and working in the world that allowed to trust his dream and obey.
Mary said “yes” to God’s messenger despite all the improbability of Gabriel’s words. Despite all the unreality of what was being promised. Despite all the odds that were against anyone believing her, she said ‘yes’.
Was Elizabeth surprised to see Mary? How she must have felt to have a companion to share her story and her pregnancy. How wonderful to know it was all really about to happen.
THE MOMENT COMES – All the waiting, the fears and anticipation, the wondering and the traveling have brought Mary and Joseph to this night. For every parent the moment of birth comes and is surprising, remarkable, scary, and wonderful all wrapped up in one. This is the night we celebrate with song.
Angels, no matter where we think we’ve spotted angels, a heavenly host singing glory to God is, well, incredible. What would you do if they hovered over you…tonight?
Surprised, blinded, wondering what just happened? All these things are likely what the shepherds experienced but instead of sitting around the fire and talking about it, they WENT, they went to see for themselves. Travel with them tonight.

May you be blessed in your services, your travel and in your celebration. Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth PEACE!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Seized By Life

Pregnant by surprise - surely no one in all of humanity was more surprised by the news than Mary. "Shadowed by God's Spirit" with words like that it was no wonder Gabriel had to say, "Be not afraid."
The roots of words contain interesting and sometimes enlightening information as to their eventual translation. Looking at Luke 1, the root words that are translated conceived are "seized in the belly". That's pregnancy, isn't it? All of one's being is contorted and transformed into growing a new human being. Nourishment produces cells that will differentiate into gray matter and bone. And when the first kick is felt, well, 'seized' is a good way to describe it.

We need not be pregnant to be seized by life, tho. Everyone who opens the door of the heart to God is seized by the ONE who creates life. The amazing event is that this Almighty One waits for our consent. Can we say, "Let it be with me.." Are we willing to be seized and transformed so much that we too can give birth to new life?

What would it mean for you to say yes to God so that all of your day, every day revolved around a new mission, birthing. Church would no longer be events on your calendar and prayer a new-year's resolution waiting to be fulfilled. God chooses US, not just Mary and awaits our consent to be seized by life. BE NOT AFRAID.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Identity and Vocation

What questions would you ask me to know who I am? 
  • What do you do for a living? 
  • How many children do you have and how old are they?
  • What do you like to do with your time off?
  • What's your favorite book or favorite theologian?
And my answers; pastor/2/college-age/ski or golf/depends/Tillich, give you a glimpse of a slice or two of my life. It's a completely different answer from that which John, the one who baptizes, gives in John's gospel. When folks (oi Ἰουδαῖος) 
ask John identity questions, he never gives any personal vocation information, he tells only about Jesus. He's the voice, a mouthpiece that points with his words and his life, to the One Who Comes. 
     It's unnatural, in this day, to be so selfless to the point of disappearing in favor of someone else. John challenges his society and when he gets people's attention, he points. It is a challenge to unite our voice and action in a direction that points so definitely away from self. Some of us can talk, and others just do, but few seem able to pull off a 'John' and point with both our voices and our lives to someone else. Yet its the job description of Christ's church, isn't it? To be pointers so that others may "Know and believe that Jesus is the Christ" as John says. Its a calling, a vocation for sure, and a challenge. Perhaps its time to review our job description.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Do you believe?

"We watch for advent" is the theme of this week's worship. Isaiah 40 promises an end to the watching and waiting and names the awaited hope, "the Lord God comes with might. . He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms. .in his bosom." Can you believe it? Do you?

How easily we suspend our reliance on what is possible at Christmas and believe in angels- breaking out in song on a starry night, shepherds- entrusted with the good news, and even a virgin birth. But when we walk out of the sanctuary doors, what happens to our belief? Do you still believe that goodness and mercy is in the world? Can you see it as you drive to work or watch the news? I've read 2nd Isaiah 40:6-8 at gravesides, "all people are grass. .and the grass withers, the flower fades. . .BUT the word of our God will stand forever." How is it we believe in God's possibilities when we stand at a friend's grave, but struggle to see God's goodness in the news? The Israelites deliverance was not based on human possibility but on God's action.

This year we should promise to watch for God and believe that God's advent is now and possibilities are endless. AND that God can and does use us to make the impossible happen. May the valleys in our lives be lifted up and the mountains leveled for nothing is impossible with God.