Friday, December 14, 2018

Come On In!

Each Advent for the past several years I’ve shared a story that I’ve titled “Come on In.”  The story is not original with me and I do not know its author or even where I first found it.  If the Quakers have it right, and I believe they do, there is “that of God” in every human being (that includes those on the Right and those on the Left, gay and lesbian, transgender, migrant, feminist, misogynist, black, white, brown and yellow—all humanity).  Whenever, however, and wherever we attempt to shun, discriminate, or denigrate any human person we close the door of our “Inn” to the Marys, Josephs and baby Jesuses of our time.  Here’s the story:

The children’s Christmas pageant was about to begin. All the children had rehearsed their lines and were now dressed in their costumes.  Some were wearing angel costumes with tinseled-edged wings.  Others were dressed up like the wise persons with Burger King crowns and fake beards.  There were also a few bathrobe-clad shepherd types. Mary, Joseph, and the Baby (played by a life-sized rubber ball) were ready for the curtain to rise.

All were happy to have a part in the pageant, except for one little boy who was cast as the innkeeper.  The little innkeeper was saddened as he thought about his one line in the play.  When Joseph knocked on the door of the inn, the innkeeper was to simply say;  “I have no room!”  The thought of turning away the Baby Jesus was breaking the little innkeeper’s heart.  

The pageant began.  All went well until Joseph knocked on the door of the inn.  The innkeeper opened the door and Joseph asked, “Do you have any room?”  There was a long silence.  Supposing the little innkeeper to have forgotten his line, the director could be heard whispering a prompt from behind the cardboard scenery.

Suddenly the sad countenance of the child innkeeper turned into a glad grin and he began to speak.  His line came out loud and clear:  “Come on in!  I’ve got plenty of room!”  The pageant ended right there, as the audience stood to their feet with applause and outrageous joy.

Redeemer, come, with us abide;
our hearts to thee we open wide;
let us thy inner presence feel;
thy grace and love in us reveal.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

In His Image

Some say that God is but a figment of our human imagination.  It is not God, they say,  who created humankind, but rather it is humankind that has created God.  From whence then, did this wonderful gift of imagination come?  Howard Thurman tells of a young sociologist who gave a lecture on “The Philosophy of a Fool.”  He ended the first part of his address with these words:  “On the seventh day, therefore, God could not rest.  In the morning and the evening God busied himself with terrible and beautiful concoctions and in the twilight of the seventh day God finished that which is of more import than the beasts of the earth and the fish of the sea and the lights of the firmament.  And God called it Imagination because it was made in His own image; and those unto whom it is given shall see God.”  “Imagination,” Thurman writes, “is the angelos of God.”

When my granddaughter, Eleni, was visiting with us a few years ago she said a most beautiful thing.  She said she loved to visit Grandad’s house because it “had imagination.” Now I don’t know exactly what Eleni meant in saying that—I’ll leave that to her imagination—but her words struck a deep place within me.   

Imagination is a great gift.  It enables the artist to see beyond what is and to create that beyond on canvas.  It provides the child with the wonderful capacity to experience make-believe Narnia-type worlds.  It gives us the gift of memory.  Without imagination we would not dream, or create, or hope.  Without imagination we could never love, because love is the ability to put  (imagine) oneself in the life of another and to look at life through the other’s eyes, to feel and think and react to another, even as one remains oneself.  

Imagination is a gift in you waiting to be opened, “the angelos of God.”  Those who live out of that wondrous gift “shall see God.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

All I Want for Christmas

Do you remember the Christmas song written in 1944 by Donald Yetter Gardner?  Gardner was a music teacher in Smithtown, NY.  He asked his students what they wanted for Christmas and noticed that many of the students had a front tooth missing as they answered his question with a lisp.  He wrote, All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” in 30 minutes.  In a 1995 interview, Gardner said, “I was amazed at the way that silly little song was picked up by the whole country.”  

Spike Jones and The City Slickers recorded the song.  It reached the top of the charts in 1949.  I was five years old then and loved the song!  
“All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, my two front teeth, 
just my two front teeth. Gee, if I could only have my two front teeth,
 then I could wish you a Merry Christmas.
It seems so long since I could say, ‘Sister Suzy sitting on a thistle,’
 Gosh, oh gee how happy I’d be if I could only ‘whithle.”  

When I first thought of the song today, I thought it was Jimmy Boyd who made the song popular—but no, I was mistaken, he sang another song we all thought was hilarious back then:  “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

I thought of “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” while sitting at the hospital today as my wife received her Christmas gift--a new knee!  It has always been difficult for me to find a Christmas gift for her, but this year I had no problem at all.  I couldn’t arrange to give it to her Christmas Day, because of the surgeon’s schedule—but it is a Christmas gift nonetheless. For the last several years she could have sung,  
“All I Want for Christmas Is A New Knee, one that doesn’t hurt all the time.
  Gosh, oh gee, how happy I’d be, if I could only walk without pain!”  

The surgeon assures me that the new knee is going to relieve her of that pain.  She’ll have a tough time with the physical therapy for the next several weeks—but when that is over—she’ll walk without pain.  What a Christmas gift—a new knee!  Miracles still happen.  

When I reported today’s successful surgery to a friend in Illinois, she responded:  “Wonderful!  Now you have to spoil her for the REST OF THE YEAR!”  “What?” I responded.  I just gave her a new knee for Christmas!  Now I should spoil her?”  “Yep! she answered.  “Here’s your choice…spoil her now or get her another new knee for Valentine’s Day.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Will We Hear the New Promises?

The prophet Amos (c. 750 BC) reminded his people, the people of Israel, that God speaks in the present through the remembrance of sacred past events.  (I’ve been on this “kick” for several days now—we cannot move forward without reviewing, remembering, and knowing the past.  The “new” cannot be understood or experienced without knowing the “old”).  God had given Israel a special task and destiny as a people years before Amos showed up on the scene.  But Israel, Amos proclaimed, had forgotten that calling and their yesterdays.  Only if Israel recalled her past history and her special calling could anything “new” occur.

You see, Israel had the absurd notion that God was their national god, to be mobilized in the service of their self-interests.  They believed this divine favoritism provided immunity from catastrophe, regardless of their own conduct as a people.  Their relationship with God, so they believed, was the only relationship God had, therefore, it was their divine right to prosper and to be more blessed than other nations.  

Amos tried his best to tell the people of Israel that their special calling did not entitle them to special privilege, but rather to greater responsibility.  But Amos’ words fell upon deaf ears.  No one listened.  “God was the God of all nations,” of all peoples, Amos shouted, but no one listened. 

Amos prophesied in a time of great prosperity.  The stock market soared.  But it was a false prosperity because it benefited only a few.  The poor and defenseless, the refugees and migrants   were exploited while the rich were “lying in beds of ease.”  The religious community of the time did not protest against these social injustices.  In fact, the religious community became complicit with the powerful (so that they could, in turn, be themselves powerful, and force their ways on everyone else).  The “have’s” had become calloused, hard-hearted, and no one seemed to care about the “have nots.”  Amos said, “God cares, because God has a heart!”

Israel could not hear any new divine promises (annunciations) because they were already convinced, “God is with us” and with us alone (Amos 5:14). God has already done God’s thing—we are the  only  recipients—nothing else is expected from our god. This moral impoverishment, what the Bible often cites as “hardness of the heart” or as the impairment or loss of moral discernment; the failure to take into account what happened yesterday, the incapacity to hear, though one has ears; or to see, though one has eyes (Mark 8:14-21) incubates a profound apathy toward  human life.  Can God break through our obstinacy?  Can we hear the divine promises of Advent if we think we’ve already arrived?

Monday, December 10, 2018

God Is Here!

The good news of Christmas is not in heaven, that you should say,”Who will go up to heaven for us to fetch it and tell it to us, so that we can keep it?”  Nor is that good news  beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea for us to fetch it and tell it to us, so that we can keep it?  It is a thing very near to you, upon your lips and in your heart ready to be kept” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

The good news of Christmas has been around since time began (even before time began)—long before the advent of Jesus Christ. Emmanuel—God with us—did not begin in Bethlehem. The good news of Christmas is that God has been around before the very foundations of the world were laid.  God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, and called Abraham to leave his home and kinsman to find a new land.  God spoke to Moses through a burning bush and told him go free the slaves in Egypt.  God has been here; God is here.  Not in heaven, not across the sea, but here, right here,  right where we live.  The good news is a thing very near to us all.

God is here—in the world—in you, in me, in our neighbors and in our enemies—waiting to be recognized, waiting to be born!  This is Christmas! This is the glad tidings of great joy we are to announce, share, sing, and publish abroad.  Each one of us is called to be a midwife, one to the other, recognizing ourselves and the person (all persons) next to us as being pregnant with God.  The task of every human being is to encourage and help one another give that God birth in the Bethlehem of each individual heart, thus transforming society and the world.  

There is a deep-seated contempt for human life among us these days (though it has always been around).  It is a condition described biblically as “hardness of heart.”  It is an affliction in both individuals and institutions (including this nation and all other nations).  It presumes that there is "no room in the inn,” for anyone else but us!  We have even made the  “stable” off-limits! We proclaim, as those at that first Christmas long ago proclaimed, “Nothing good can come from Nazareth!”  It was this very “hardness of heart” that prompted God, who has always been here, to take drastic action, to provide an example of what being fully human means—an embracing, inclusive, love-based person named Jesus.  

Have no fear.  Even now the living waters flow.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Old and The New

The Bible is divided into two sections:  the Old Testament (Covenant) and the New.  I’ve long been convinced that the New Testament cannot be understood without knowing the story of the Old Testament.  

One of the distinctive marks of the Jewish People is their sense of history.  They have always been a scattered and diverse people—in culture and ethnicity—but they are a People held together by a common history, a story told and retold from generation to generation.

Christians also have this historical sense—or at least ought to have it.  The Christian faith is culturally, socially, and theologically diverse, but it is a distinctive community with a memory that reaches back to the events to which the Old Testament gives witness.

The Old Covenant is a record of the unique historical and God-experiences of a particular people, Israel, from about 2000 B.C to 150 B.C.  This historical drama tells us a story of the beginning, about Abraham, the Exodus, and the Prophets of Israel, all of which are the heritage of the Christian faith.  Without knowing the Old, we cannot even begin to understand the New Covenant.  The early Christians knew this and included the Old with the New as one  book and called it the Bible.

Advent is a time to open ourselves to the new things about to happen, but we cannot adequately do this if we do not know the old, old story.  No one cares about ancient tribal laws or genealogies, but we ought to know how God has acted in the past, how God spoke in days of yore, so we can have some idea of how God might act and speak in the here and now.  

“Though He led them through the desert places they suffered no thirst, for them He made water run from the rock and streams gushed forth.”  If God did this in the old story, what might God do in the new story, which is still unfolding in this Advent time?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Getting Down and Personal

Sometimes in order to move forward we have to move backward.  We have to review what has been in order to get to what is and what will be.  This is particularly important in this season of Advent as we are called to prepare for a “new thing.” Isaiah 43:18 urges us to “Cease to dwell on days gone by and to brood over past history.  Here and now I will do a new thing; this moment it will break from the bud.  Can you not perceive it.”  Yet, in order to perceive that new thing and eventually to receive it, Isaiah 42:20 reminds us that we “have seen much, but remembered little…our ears are wide open but nothing is heard.”  It seems to me this morning that it is difficult to get hold of the present moment and the “not yet” if we can’t remember what we’ve already seen and failed to remember—those yesterdays.  If you’ve seen much and don’t remember, how can you possibly  get hold of what is going to happen?

So it is that I look back and try to remember the year that has gone by so quickly.  In January and February we traveled across this land “made for you and me.”  We had a wonderful visit with friends and relatives all along the way, going and coming.  We visited with Cherie’s mother in California near her  94th  birthday.  It was a great adventure:  snow in Flagstaff, our grandchildren preparing a cake and singing “Happy Birthday” to their grandad, my granddaughter playing “Happy Birthday” just for me on the piano, a sunset in Pipe Organ National Monument, and so much more.  

Shortly after our arrival home we received word that Cherie’s mother had suffered a stroke.  Off she flew to California where she spent the next month or so at her mother’s side to the end.  While she was there our second great granddaughter was born with a heart issue requiring days of waiting and hoping.  She made it through with flying colors! 

Another trip took us to England for our granddaughter Katie’s “second wedding” to the same guy she married here in the USA in October 2017. We were delighted to have my brother and his wife travel with us for that event and be with us on a cruise of the Baltic Sea.  What a trip!  

August came with a shock.  Cherie suffered a mini-stroke. Our trip west was canceled.  She also lost her niece from a sudden illness shortly thereafter.  A brief trip to Maine in October was therapeutic, but Cherie’s arthritic knee was creating mobility problems.  She will have a knee replacement this week. 

Life tumbles in with all it ups and downs for all of us.  We must recall those ups and downs in order to press on to the new thing.  The Apostle Paul didn’t reckon that he had gotten hold of that new thing yet, and says, “All I can say is this: forgetting what is behind me, and reaching out for that which lies ahead, I press on towards the goal…”—toward the “new things” of this Advent time—the promise of a new song to sing, a new dance to dance, a new life to live.

Our second "Great" Grandaughter is
doing GREAT!