Christmas Will Come and Go – But the Christ of Christmas Will Remain

Candle

Christ Came as Light

Some years back, a person kept taking a cab to the same location several days in a row. He simply asked the driver to stop at a certain place where he would sit and stare out the windows. After the third night, the cab driver became suspicious. He contacted the police who came to talk to the man. The man told the officers that his wife was very ill. The future did not look good. He wasn’t, he said, a very religious person and found it hard to pray. Pointing to the stained glass windows, glowing in the darkness of a nearby church, he said, “Something about its light gives me strength and peace and somehow, looking at it, I have the words to pray.”

Something about Christmas and that light which came into our world gives me strength. Strength to face trials, hurts and the inevitable losses that life brings. It gives me strength to face whatever lies ahead for good or for evil. Because God chose to be present in our world, not only for a season, but for all time.  Christmas is about hope. It is about the light that breaks into our darkest night, our most anguished moment. Light that gives direction when we are confused or broken. Light that surrounds us and embraces us. We never really come to terms with Christmas and what Christmas is about, until we realize that Jesus was born for us – you and me. Light came into the world to meet every single one of us in our personal darkness.

I’ve been reminding myself of this as the season of Christmas has come with complications in my family. An extended hospitalization for a family member with surgery scheduled just before Christmas, has changed agendas and plans as well as created anxiety. Other family will be out of town. The forecast is not conducive to trust that many of us will be able to get together.

I’m reminded that this Christmas will come and go, but the Christ of Christmas will remain, shedding light into our world. A light that does not diminish with the years or shine only for a season, but lasts through each day. Christ came into our darkness to be our light, to be our hope, to be our peace and to give us life  – not only in the distant future  – but here, today,   at this moment.   The New Testament writers looked to the words of Isaiah to describe the changed reality. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9: 2)   There really is something about that light that stirs the soul, moves the spirit, encourages us and gives us strength.

Yearning for the Perfect Christmas

Chihuly Glass - The Ceiling

Chihuly Glass – The Ceiling

For years, I only bought Christmas cards that had a picture of the three wise men on them. It was my strategy to make sure I was in the right season when they were sent. I knew that the likelihood of getting cards in the mail before Christmas was in direct proportion to the parties, programs, practices, presents and cookie making I needed to get done. My best intentions of having them sent in time were often thwarted. Throw in a pastoral crisis or two, and the cards waited till January.

Something in our hearts and minds yearns for a perfect Christmas. A Christmas that fulfills our expectations of what the day ought to be like, when all the pieces of life fall into place. Written into our hearts and souls is a yearning for a day when everything will be right. Justice will come on earth and will usher in a time of peace and harmony which spreads throughout the world. This yearning has existed, almost, from the beginning of time. In our personal lives we yearn for the spirit of Christmas to warm our hearts in some mystical, magical way, telling us all is well.

The book of Isaiah was written during a period when there had been a series of corrupt kings. Throughout those years, the nation had been under attack with great loss of life. The words of Isaiah carry both promise and hope. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. The spirit of wisdom and understanding. . . the spirit of counsel and might . . the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1,2) Hundreds of years later, the promised savior does not come in Israel’s strength, but in it’s weakness. Not in the days of power but rather in powerlessness. When all seems lost, God works in that mysterious way of God to change the course of history.

Isn’t that the way that God most often works in our lives? When all seems lost, God moves in and around us, bringing life to dead and barren places. Just at that moment when we are ready to give up, God surprises us with grace and compassion. God works in our lives a miracle of love that restores hope and gives us a promise that there will be a future.

This Advent season is one to reflect on our faith, our lives and the one who enters our world in Bethlehem. It is written of him, that “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:3)

Our world is far from a perfect place. Wars consume lives of innocents. Systems of justice get corrupted. The wicked still prosper at the expense of the laborer. Good people grieve their losses. The promise of a day when all is just, peaceful and righteous continues to pull at our hearts, because it is God’s dream. The longing continues and will continue till God’s kingdom comes in all of its fullness. Meanwhile, there is Jesus, who came as Emmanuel, God with us, to walk with us through all the days of our lives in this imperfect world.

 

*Advent – Waiting With Expectation

*Advent – Waiting With Expectation

CandleFlame The dictionary defines “wait” as “to look forward expectantly.” Not all of our waiting is done with anticipation. From traffic jams and delayed raises, to family unrest, much of our waiting is experienced as impatience, frustration and a simple recognition that not all is well with our world. Advent reminds us that God is still working in this world.

We wait for our deepest hopes and dreams to come to fruition. We wait for answers to our penetrating questions. In our confusion, we wait for clarity of mind and purpose. We wait for ourselves to become the person we wish we already were.

Today I find myself waiting for God’s advent fresh over in this broken world. I wait for the lion and lamb to lay down together, for the misery of war to end, for voices of hatred to be turned from loathing into compassion. I wait for our world to become a better, kinder, more gentle place. I wait for the powerful to bend an ear to the powerless. I wait for a day when there are no refugees facing the terrors of the sea or fleeing the travail of ISIS. I wait for ancient ruins to be restored. I wait for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Howard Thurman echos my thoughts in his book “The Mood of Christmas”

“Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes,
and the heart consumes itself, if it would live,
Where little children age before their time,

And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold,

While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death,
Where fear companions each day’s life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed.
Christmas is waiting to be born
In you, in me, in all (humankind)”
— from The Mood of Christmas Continue reading

Do You Hear the Angels Song – “Be Not Afraid”

I’ve been needing to hear some angels singing. Some celestial visitors reminding me to “Fear not. Be not afraid.” December brings with it moments of reflection when we are reminded of the angel’s words. I’ve been walking through this Advent time with a mixture of events and reminders. From the awe inspiring St. Olaf Christmas Festival, to a musical at church, my grandsons’ school concert with its songs of peace, a granddaughter’s somewhat hokey Christmas play and my two young grandsons’ Sunday School program. Each spoke a part of the Christmas hope, reminding me of the songs of the angels. The angels of Christmas begin their assignments by addressing the fears of those they have been sent to. Mary is told, “Do not be afraid.” Joseph in a dream is called to trust, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” Shepherds hear the words, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy.”

It is difficult to every truly take in the whole message of Christmas. God’s gift of love born in Bethlehem’s stable forever challenges our understanding of God’s desire for humankind. God came to be among us. To live with us . . . to share in our lives, yours and mine. What causes God to love us with this love? What possible reason does God have, to enter our world?

Some days, when I look in the newspaper, I wonder about that. Certainly God was acutely aware that we needed help figuring out what to do with our lives and how to live with each other. There are times when I wonder if we have made any progress through these twenty centuries since Jesus’s birth. We make a mess of life quite easily. Our mistakes are legendary. Nations go to war without seeking peaceful solutions. And the “Prince of Peace,” is passed over, as one who is out of touch with the reality of our world. And so wars come, families are broken. Domestic abuse cripples families emotionally, spiritually, as well as physically. Life goes on as always . . . or does it?

The good news is that in spite of it all, God came. Not for a short season, but for all time. God came to dwell among us. For that very reason, lives can and do change. The message of Advent . . . this waiting time, is one of getting ready. Getting ready to hear the angel’s song, “Be not afraid.” Getting ready to let God into our lives. Getting ready to make the changes God would have us make. Getting ready for the adventure of faith, God is waiting for us to say “Yes” to.