There are only 72 hours before Christmas Day (and less than that for those of us who begin to celebrate liturgically on Christmas Eve). In the place of what would have been just “another Christmas sermon,” I thought I would take a few moments and offer thanks for the gifts I have seen given this year.
We celebrate how God has GIVEN to us the greatest of gifts – whose birth we shall soon celebrate. I sit here on a very quiet and cold Monday night and think about the many people and things for which this parish community should be grateful.
There have been those who give of their time to help organize and plan those events (and all those who give up their time to work with them) which are necessary for our survival but in the future, I pray, we’ll be able to direct our efforts toward mission to God’s poor. There are those who labor in the quiet, do the gritty administrative tasks that are without glamour or glory but need to be done. There are those who share their voice and music talents to lead us in worship – to make us praise aloud and feel alive.
There are those who clean and prepare and fixate on the small details that remain seemingly “extra” but without which a parish community falters. There are those who generously give of their substance so that we can share fellowship in a small way after liturgies – and they clean as well. There are those who bring us out of ourselves, opening us to the community at large, and challenge us to Christ’s mission beyond ourselves. There are those who volunteer to share the burdens of governance. Never forget those who guide our liturgies from behind and who proclaim God’s word from in front. Nor those who bring the Lord’s healing sacramental presence to those who are sick as well as ministering to us each and every Eucharistic liturgy.
And there are you all – faithful and few – we are not a mega church and I believe God has not called us to be that. But we are called to be a light in the darkness and to bring the light of Christ into our culture and systems and world. And so, to you all: Merry Christmas. Feel loved and redeemed, as we have been – and then prepared to work again “to His upmost!”
With but ten days until Christmas, even I whose life experience has cautioned me to beware of mood and feelings (like my teen mentor, the Vulcan Mr. Spock!) was caught up in the sheer beauty, not of nature but of grace, which was Monday morning. Recall that early Monday morning was cold and rain soaked. I am fighting off a nasty cold (and whining about it – I’m male and we whine when we get sick – deal with it!) drudging thru semi frozen mud with my four legged morning companion who experiences only the sheer joy of another day, another chance to “smell the roses” (or whatever is left of them) and follow the scents of her friends (bunnies and deer) who have walked or hopped across the yard last night.
What struck me, about the 4th time we circled the yard (as border collies must do), is how different we all experience the same realities. Abby can perceive total joy where my physical limitations affect my perceptions. Created in God’s image, we ought to be able to experience that beauty which is of God no matter our moods or our health. I began to notice the sounds of rain hitting the frozen ground (it does sound like “bacon frying” – noted in one episode of M.A.S.H. decades ago). The light was making its way even through saturated darkness, and the shadows would inevitably give way to dawn – even a soaking dawn.
I needed to be reminded that our spiritual side allows us to perceive not only the physical beauty and ugliness of our world, but the truly important spiritual truths that are present for those whose eyes are open. Yes, there are only 10 days until Christmas, and the world is fever pitched, and so much must yet be done, and most of it will not be perfect. But walk into the early morning snowing/raining downpour with a four legged Being who only sees goodness (even in you) and you may get a glimpse of how our God sees us – his very flawed creation. There is beauty out there to be seen and experienced. There is love that must be given. There is hope that must be shared. A walk into the darkness can be beautiful, in spite of the cold and the wet, because it is there that God will be found. And you will “be still, and know that I am God.”
A man from this parish recently discussed with me his struggle with notions of “hope” (as a virtue and way of life) since hope can seem a justification to remain passive. There’s nothing I can do about this, so I live in “hope.” Advent is supposed to be a season that opens us to “live in hope” – and so isn’t this the ultimate theological or religious “cop out?”
Once again, let me share observations from my theological mentor: Abby, our border collie! Abby is not only smart, she is also instinctively attuned to this most misunderstood of virtues. I share our residence with a dog who is always living in joy-filled expectation. If I go into the back room, she darts there (getting to the back door way ahead of me) knowing that I may be reaching for her leash (and it’s time to go out – oh boy!). She now stares at TV as the time speeds to 5:00 pm when she knows, from the change of picture and the theme music of Eye Witness News, that it’s supper time, and she knows she is about to be fed. She rolls herself on the bed in early early morning, flapping about, wanting her tummy or butt or both rubbed and trusting that no matter where she thrashes or how fast she twists, I will be there to catch her and keep her from falling.
Hope is about both “expectation” and “trust.” It is both divine gift (as its companions: Faith and Love) and our human response to grace. Based upon my experience and trusting in the Father whom Jesus proclaimed, I hope – not because I believe I can do everything or I believe that God will do everything for me (such are acts of arrogance and human stupidity, right?). I live in hope because I trust that the God who calls us out of darkness into God’s light will never ultimately abandon those who truly seek God. I live in hope because redemption has already been won for me – the greatest of gifts have been given to me, and I am never alone or left behind in this scary and often hate-filled world. I live in hope because I believe the song of the celestial messengers: “Behold! I bring you good news of great joy!” I live in hope because I expect and trust that God will always and ultimately keep His word.
Sunday marked the beginnings of a new “liturgical” year. For those of us who pray Morning and Evening Prayer each day, for the next few weeks, we are immersed in the world, the mindset, the vision, the theology and the prayer of a prophetic seer named Isaiah whose readings can be hauntingly beautiful, thought provoking and deeply disturbing.
Isaiah is the one who gets quoted at Christmastime: you know all about beating “swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks,” lions and lambs lying down for a mutual nap, and the promise of “a child is born for us; a son is given to us.” Even folks with a peripheral relationship to Christian worship have heard this voice.
But there is this other side of this Isaiah who speaks to a modern world (just as he confronted the political and religious authority of his own). He voices the cry of a God who is frustrated by the abandonment of us who should live as God’s own people: (“The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib…my people do not understand”). He speaks for a God who is unimpressed with human worship services or the empty chatter that pretends to be prayer. (“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices…”)
Hear the voice of one “crying in the wilderness” as it were – one who says that the greatest gift of this season is what has been given to us. He simply reminds us that there is not one of us who doesn’t need to be re-opened to God’s grace and to be re-transformed by the one who is called “Emmanuel – God is with us.” And this can happen!
So … do you want to do something of value during this so-called “holiday” season? Here’s a challenge: Hear the voice: “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” In other words: It is time to be what Christ has been calling us to be. And what better time than now? I think of Isaiah as God’s Christmas gift to me to help me sort out what is truly important.