Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Different Christmas

                                                      A Different Christmas

DaniRae had had it! She was fed up with all the gifts, all the parties, all the lights, all the food, all the sales, all the ads, and everything associated with Christmas. Even the church was getting on her last nerve with all their special services and projects that just piled on the fatigue and thinned out her patience. "They are supposed to preserve the true meaning of Christmas and they just vie for your attention like every store, TV special, kid and elf in the universe! I've had it." DaniRae swore to herself that next year Christmas would be different.

Her soul was at war and it seemed to be losing.

It didn't help that one of  the grandkids was in the high school football playoffs for the first two weekends in December and the other one that played basketball had a tournament the third weekend. Time to shop, decorate, cook, clean, or just breathe was spent driving 90 minutes to occupy a cold aluminum seat for over two hours. She tried to be happy and celebrate but DaniRae was just worn out. Fatigue steals gratitude. She was acting the part of a happy Christian, wife, mother, and grandmother. So far she felt she was in the running for an Oscar, but she seriously doubted she could hold it together much longer. She swore to herself again that next Christmas would be different--less stress, fewer gifts, less spent, just simple and quiet--different!

"If I can just get some good sleep, maybe I can just pull this Christmas off without turning into a Banshee woman."  She went to bed at 12:30 on the 22nd and woke up at 4:30 AM. Wide awake but with achy joints and a runny nose. "Thanks, God. Now cedar fever on top of it all." Her cough interrupted her complaint. So she got up and resented the fact that her husband just snored right on through. Into the den with a blanket to sit-up in the recliner...''maybe if I sit up I can still sleep a little." She was wide awake.

Then she looked around and noticed in the stillness, in the quiet, the manger scene on the hearth. It was still in it's  old popcorn can they stored it in. She hadn't even set it out yet. She moved quietly to the hearth and unpacked the contents. The camels, the wise men, the shepherds and sheep and even a cow was there. Preacher said something about there probably not being a cow in those days but who cares. Mary and Joseph were there and the angel to take her place above the stable, and the manger. No baby Jesus. In the semi-dark she searched. In the stable, in the popcorn can, no where. Maybe he was stuck in the legs of the animals, in the rafters of the stable. No where. This development was bothersome but she assembled the scene and promised to search again in the morning light. She plugged in the manger scene light, it had a star that lit up above the angel's head, and settled back into the recliner and hoped for a little sleep. DaniRae actually did feel a little sleepy now. It felt good to get the manger scene out. She began to gaze into it. The angel, the wise men, the wise camels, poor shepherds and dumb sheep.  In the glow of the star she thought she saw something. There in the tissue used to pack  and pad the popcorn tin.... she got up to investigate...there He was...wrapped up in the swaddling of old gift bag tissue was the missing Jesus.

DaniRae settled back down and thought  for a few minutes about what had just happened. For the first time this season, she rested, she de-stressed, she prayed. DaniRae knew this Christmas had been like the ten before and the next ten would probably be the same. But she vowed something to herself, maybe to God this morning with nose dripping, hacking cough and weepy eyes. She wouldn't necessarily try to make Christmas different next year, but she would first find the One who makes a difference and unwrap Him from the swaddling of cultural fluff and worship Him. If you want Christmas to be different, find the One who makes the difference. Find Him first, find Him often.

Merry Christmas,

Thursday, December 12, 2013

How About a Fifth for Christmas?

                                            How About a Fifth for Christmas?

All Christendom that celebrates Advent is right in the middle of her celebrations, festivities, musicals, parties, and general busy-ness that takes place not only at the mall, but at the church. Churches work to add some routine, some reflection and some anticipation to focus on the birth of Jesus in the midst of the commercial juggernaut rolling over society at this time. The lighting of the Advent candles in the evergreen wreath focus on the hope, peace, joy, and love of Jesus. All is good and well. We need the stillness. We need the consistency. We need the reflection. We need the simplicity.

We need another candle.

Yes, I am messing with tradition. Yes, the church has done it pretty much this way for a thousand years. Shoot, if you count the early days of the 4th and 5th centuries when Advent was observed in Spain and Gaul as a season of preparation for baptism of new Christians at the Feast of Epiphany in January each year, then it goes back longer than that. Those really early days were more penance and reflection than celebration , however. But Advent evolved into the four Sundays before celebrating the Christ  Mass so a final four was somehow decided upon and they are hope, peace, joy and love.

We need another candle. I pastor a church with about ten different denominations worshipping and working together. (Don't ask me how it works 'cause if I knew I'd probably mess it up.) I could probably tell the church that there are a few denominations that have a fifth candle in the wreaths and we need to include one in ours so as not to make them feel left out. That, however, would be a lie and lying's not on the Advent calendar. Just ask Santa Claus.

But without lying I'd still like to lobby for a fifth, candle that is. Why is there no candle of faith? Faith\trust is integral to everything in our relationship with Jesus. We place our trust in Christ and He gives us reason to hope. Frankly, we often have to look back through the lens of scripture and see in our own lives, in the lives of other Christians, and certainly into the rich history of the church and know our hope is secure even if current events cloud our vision for this day. We trust that God is in control, that His promises are true, and that His Spirit gives peace to each believer. We trust peace is not the absent of outer conflict but the real presence of Jesus in our hearts.  We have joy because our faith in Jesus is born and borne out in daily living with confident assurance that Jesus was, is, and will be victorious as He moves us and history to His appointed ends.  Thus the joy of the Lord is our strength in facing daunting circumstances just as," for the joy set before Him,"  Jesus endured the cross. And love,  no love-relationship is ever built or grown without trust at the bedrock of that relationship. Jesus has loved us and we trust His love and respond in kind, loving Him back.

I want a fifth candle. I won't get one. But even with no wax, wick, or flame,  faith is no less real. In a few days the Advent wreath will be put away for another year. We won't put away hope, peace, joy or love in our lives and I trust faith will not be on a shelf in the closet either. I suppose if we got to counting properly there would be an aspect of God's character that could be honored, celebrated, worshipped, and served every day of the year and in multiples. Yeah, I know, that would be too many candles for a wreath, but not too many lights for a heart. Maybe that's how He lights our way.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

December Flies

                                                December Flies

Quick, pesky, out-of-place. He should have frozen by now. But now he is crawling on my bald head, before on my arm, a jump and he's on my computer screen. SHOO!

Momentary relief... now he's back. December Fly mocks me. He crawls on my hand and I shake him off. He lands on desk inches from my hand poised to strike. I flinch, and he's gone again. He is spreading his germs, grime, and growing my agitation from book to Bible to to paper to phone. The pest takes on predator dimensions. I strike out in frustration. Miss! Why for the 60 days that he lives has he invaded this desk at this time? Shouldn't he be looking for food or a female fly? Maybe he is a she and that't why it is so persistent.

December Fly's by the window now. He can stay there and I'd be happy. Happiness in this world is short lived. He has moved and I don't know where. He will soon dive-bomb me and I am anxious about when.
There! He has flown to the desk and landed on 'The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln.' I pick up an Advent devotional book on the other side of the desk and slowly, quietly rolled it up. December Fly's found a speck, a smell, a trace of something on the book that has captured his attention, or maybe he just likes Lincoln. He is still. The Advent devotion is steady now above him. WHACK!

Then the irony hits me. Between a book of quotes about the man who freed this nation from the disease of slavery and was cut down prematurely and a booklet on the Prince of Peace, December Fly's ushered into eternity. 

I feel a bit sad. For the first time I've killed a fly and had some regret by linking the tiny creature to larger events in human history. Isn't this pretty much what we did to Jesus? His truth pestered us about our sin, our lack of relationship with Him, our pride, our spiritual independence, our need. Instead of facing it we shooed Him to the cross. Be gone. 

Now December flies by and in the rush and hustle we may very well shoo the One we celebrate into the irrelevance of gifts and lights and ornaments and food and parties. Just stay in the manger, Jesus and don't fly to our hearts and minds with grace, forgiveness, and change. We like flies  Jesus on our terms and as December flies we need You to stay in the manger scene and be small and quiet. 

Oh for crying out loud, it was just a stupid fly. I lift the Advent devotion book up to reveal the carnage and brush away the remains of the day. There is nothing there.

And Jesus won't stay where we put Him either, unless it is on the throne of our hearts. I'll try to remember that as December flies.