Monday, December 19, 2016

We Need a Little Christmas!

Ah, it's almost here.  Less than a week now until Christmas Day will be here.  We have been waiting with anticipation since November 27 when we first began Advent.  We had Sundays with big attendance, on the first Sunday of Advent and the Sunday when the children presented their play.  That is always a big one---158 in attendance.  Then, we had low attendance Sundays, both shaped by the weather.  First there was the deluge one Sunday and then the freeze last week.  Both dampened and froze spirits and kept many home.

Advent provides this progression through the season leading up to Christmas that helps us reflect upon what we think and believe about the coming of Christ into the world and what we should do in response to this cosmic event.  We heard from Old Testament prophets and considered what they had to say about what it meant to go home at least when you have been far away from home and what the sign would be that would speak of hope for the future, a promise found in the birth of a child.  We stopped to see a loud-mouthed badly dressed man on the banks of the Jordan River shouting to all who would hear that they should REPENT and wondered what he had to do with us.  We considered the plight of a young peasant couple when both of them received news from an angel that they should consider a surprise birth to be a blessed hope, both for them and for the entire world.

Now, we are on the brink of celebrating another Christmas this next weekend, with Christmas Day coming on a Sunday, the day when Christians are supposed to go to church anyway.  What do we do with a holy day/holiday that intrudes into your routine and forces you to break with your normal Christmas routine and substitute a regular Sunday routine in its place?  Do we forget about going to Jesus' birthday celebration because it interrupts our regular routine that is reserved for Santa and his crew?  Does wishing him another good birthday trump sitting around the house in our pj's and sipping hot cocoa or another beverage of your choice?

We need a little Christmas to interrupt our lives and make us think about why we go through the trouble of doing this every year.  Are packages and presents and parties what make Christmas special to us?  Is buying or receiving the best possible gift what really gives this special day meaning?  OR is there a much larger, much more cosmic reason why we need Christmas to interrupt our routine and force us to think about something outside of our normal lives?

Perhaps the Christmas that we need to jar us loose from our normal lives is the one that is the most simple to consider.  Maybe something tiny and innocent and helpless is what we need to make us take notice.  Maybe seeing a peasant couple in the cold night air trying to shelter a newly born innocent one is a stark reminder to us that such ones as these are still with us, on a daily basis wherever we may be.  There are ones among us whom we overlook often who need a little Christmas to be interjected into their lives, and we may be the ones to bring about the Christmas miracle they need.

Advent has come and almost gone.  Maybe it has provided the time and space we need to really understand what it means to us, this year and always.  We NEED a little Christmas in our lives to help us see what is really important in life and how that understanding shapes us into being who we are.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Going Home

Home is where the heart is....
Home is where you hang your hat...
Home is the place where they have to take you in....

What does home mean to you?  Does the word "home" conjure up visions of a place, a real piece of property where you can walk on the acreage and go into the house and experience a feeling of welcome there?  Does the word "home" bring a feeling to you, a feeling of warmth, of welcome, of acceptance?  Are you lucky enough to have a "home place" to visit even if you do not live there, a home place that has belonged to your family for generations past, where a house stands that has historical significance to you and your other family members?

I have know people who can relate to all of the questions asked above.  They have a place to go to where it feels like home.  They have people who still live in houses that have special significance to them or they can see the people on the land where they have visited before even if the house where they once lived is no longer there.  They have a "home place" to return to to think about the past and imagine that it has to do with their future.

I am not so lucky.  I grew up in three different homes and the one that my elderly mother lives in is one where I never lived as a child or young adult.  I have no "home place" to go to.  Even when I go to see my mother in her home, I am a guest there.  I never feel completely "at home" but always feel I must ask permission before I do anything there because it is her home, not mine.

Children who grew up in military families and families with parents who had occupations that required them to move frequently may have this same feeling in their lives.  We often feel like gypsies or strangers, even in places where we should belong.

The people called Israel were strangers in a foreign land when they resided in Babylonia.  They never wanted to live there but their ancestors were kidnapped by the Babylonians and years later the children of those original captives were still stuck in captivity due to the actions of the Babylonian government.  So, they mourned and wept and wished they could be back in the place where they thought they belonged--Israel.

Finally, God spoke through Isaiah to tell them that they would go home, and when they went home, even the very landscape would welcome them as they went home. The wilderness would blossom and the way would be made safe and straight so that they would not get lost along the way.

"And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
(Isaiah 35:10)

They would soon be home, where they belonged, because God would make the way for them to come home, at last.  Isaiah's writings are often idealistic and Utopian because they describe a perfect world where everything works out well.  Deserts bloom.  Paths are made straight.  Valleys are lifted up and mountains made low.  Lions get along with lambs.  Little children have no fear of wild beasts and lead them along to follow them.

Even those who actually did "go home" when Cyrus, the King of Persia, finally gave the order for them to leave after he conquered the Babylonians, found the way hard and rough and found a pile of rubble waiting for them to repair after they made it to Jerusalem.  The Babylonians had pretty much destroyed everything in sight when they had invaded the land decades before.  It was up to Ezra and Nehemiah and others to repair the walls and rebuild the Temple and it took many more decades for that to be accomplished.

But, they were home, where they belonged, back in the holy city of Jerusalem, the city of David, where they felt a spirit that united them and gave them strength to make everything right again.  Home may be all those things that I began with above because when you find your heart is in the same place that you hang your hat, then it may indeed be the place where others take you in when you are there.  You may find the Shalom of God as you settle in to the place where God would have you to be, home, at last.  

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Waiting for a King

The Advent Season is a season of waiting, and we wait in Advent as we wait in the culture for the coming of Christmas.  Each of these is intertwined.  Christians count the days of Advent for the revelation of Jesus to happen in hearts and homes once again.  People in their homes and out in the cities count the days until Christmas Eve so that Santa Claus will come once again and bring them what they have desired to receive.  The two seasons run concurrently because we are Christians who live in the culture we inhabit and we cannot escape this.  It is part of life that cannot be changed because it has been part of it for such a long time.

Waiting for the Messiah to come was part of Jewish tradition also.  The Prophets spoke of one who would come who would set things right.  Life would be changed in such an extraordinary way that even nature would respond so that the animals lived together in peace even as human beings learned to get along also.  This week's reading from Isaiah 11 describes the one for whom Israel was waiting.  He would be wise and strong and be able to help others to see the way they should live by his words and actions.  All the nations would come to him and seek his advice.  People would see him as the glorious embodiment of God.

Isaiah and the other prophets wrote of the one to come but he never came in their lifetimes.  Hundreds of years passed and the people of Israel lived in their land that was occupied and ruled by a foreign power, the Romans.  People still waiting for the Messiah to come but this time their idea of what a Messiah would be like was based on their yearning to be free from the domination of Rome.  They wanted a king who would conquer the Romans and make them a world class power.

John the Baptist became the last prophet to speak of the coming Messiah.  He stood on the banks of the Jordan River and cried out for people to repent and get ready for the coming of the Messiah.  John told those who would listen that the one he was talking about was powerful and would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire.  He would do remarkable things that reminded them of the image of the Messiah the earlier prophets had spoken of.  The Messiah that Christians embrace, the man Jesus, was not the powerful ruler the Jews wanted.  He was the gentle teacher that wanted to change them from inside out.  So, John had spoken correctly of the coming Messiah.  He would be the one who would bring change through the repentance that John preached.

It is now the year 2016.  We are still waiting for a Messiah to come and set things right.  The world is still in a huge mess where powers are in competition to see who can be the most powerful and rule the most people in the most demonstrative way.  Nations rail against nations and threaten to destroy us all by unleashing powers that we cannot comprehend or describe.  We need a savior, a Messiah, a shepherd to lead us and bring us into the way of right living.  We all need that one....when will he come?

Or perhaps he has come already....and we refuse to give him the reins to our hearts, wanting instead to be in charge of our own lives instead of submitting to his control.  Will the world be ready when he comes to stay?  Waiting for a king....will this be the day?