Advent Devotion 24

Christmas Cactus

When I went outside this morning to get the newspaper I looked at the two Christmas cactus plants on our porch. One bloom on each plant has opened! And there are many more to come. It’s like being allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve. It’s just a glimpse of what’s ahead.

How did these plants know to begin opening on Christmas Eve? How did they know it was the right moment? How is it that they are timed just right?

Christmas knows. After recent weeks of acrimony over the impeachment of Donald John Trump how did Christmas know to come? To bring the cheer of music and parties? To come with the distraction of decorations and presents? How did Christmas come just when we needed it? This most celebrated holiday in the world came right on time to upstage our political and moral morass.

Christmas is exactly what we need. Right now. So, celebrate!

Christmas comes. Whether we are ready or not. And it is exactly what we need. Amen.

2019 Advent Devotion 22

Laugh? Cry?

As we approach Christmas, we sing of the hopes and dreams associated with the birth of Jesus. We offer prayers celebrating the peace and joy that go with the arrival of Jesus. As with any child, birth is an experience of anticipation and hope. And this is magnified with the birth of Jesus.

We have so much to be grateful for as we think of the love and compassion that has come into the world through Jesus and his ministry. But as we reflect on all the light that Jesus brings, we still see so much darkness around us. Two thousand years plus after the birth of Jesus, why are people still greedy? Why do people still hurt each other? Why is there killing? How can we be letting the natural world as we know it collapse due to human activity and apathy? Why isn’t every child well fed, vaccinated, and well educated? Why are we still facing so many of the basic struggles of the human spirit that Jesus came to confront and to resolve?

We may feel much joy at the promise associated with the life of Jesus. But our hearts may be breaking over the sad state that we are still in.

But anyone who has been at a birth knows that it is a time of joy and tears. Laughter and crying. It is an ending. And a beginning. There is so much hope and promise but also the looming unknown. I remember an episode of the TV show ‘All in the Family’ where the son-in-law, Meathead, explains why he does not want to have children. He didn’t want to bring a child into a world with so many problems. And this was back in the 1970’s. There are people today who are opting not to have children because the environmental situation is so perilous that they don’t want to have a child knowing it will have to face such danger. And there are many other problems that children face today – school shootings, the internet, the economic system, racism and hatred. Many dangers! But having children that we love in our lives motivates us to take action to protect their future and do the right thing.

So, as Christmas approaches, do we laugh with joy or do we cry with heartbreak?

I heard a writer interviewed recently and he talked about how each day he finds that at some point he laughs. And he often cries. And he feels that both are part of experiencing life in its fullest. They go with being fully alive, deeply experiencing the many dimensions of life. So he sees both laughing and crying as good.

In the gospel of John, the writer has Jesus offer the promise of abundant life. Maybe this means feeling deeply. Feeling joy and delight and awe as well as grief and pain and disappointment. All of it. In its fullness. It’s richness. It’s depth. Being fully present and fully alive.

Laugh? Cry? Yes.

Note: I noticed that there was laughing and crying in church this morning. Maybe that’s what church is for. To help bring us back to life. To feel.

This is a complicated season. We want to be happy and celebrate and enjoy all of the festivities. But it is also a time to remember who is not celebrating. Who is struggling. Who is no longer with us. May our observance of Christmas remind us of what it is to be fully alive. Amen.

2019 Advent Devotion 21

Home for Christmas

Who hasn’t heard Bing Crosby croon, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”? Even if you don’t call it up from your music source, you will inevitably hear it in a store or on the radio. It’s virtually unavoidable this time of year.

And while some may find it sappy, it’s actually quite poignant. The song was recorded in 1943 during World War II. The song was popular because it expressed the sentiments of soldiers stationed overseas during the war. They wanted to come home for Christmas but for most it would only be in their dreams. The song made the top 10.

In this song, home is described as the place where the “love light gleams.” When we think of home in this way, we realize that Christmas is about the love light of God gleaming on earth for everyone. Welcoming everyone. Inviting everyone home not only for the holidays but always. Jesus shows us what it means to make our home in God’s love. We are invited to live and grow and find our highest good in the unconditional, universal love of God.

Yes, we may experience that kind of love in our actual physical homes. And we ideally share that kind of love with our families. But that kind of home, that love, is what the church is about. Or it should be anyway. Church should always a place where the love light gleams; welcoming and accepting everyone. That is the message of Christmas. Divine love at home in humanity and made manifest in community, especially the community of the church.

So, I hope that church is on your agenda for the Christmas season. Home is waiting for you. And not just at Christmas. Whatever battles you are facing – in your daily life, in these challenging times, with your health, in your relationships, with your finances, with addiction – you can always come home to church where the love light is gleaming.

We spend our lives looking for home. We want to be at home. A place of love and comfort, acceptance and growth. May we find home wherever we live as well as in the faith community. May we see the love light gleaming. And may we shine that light for others. Amen.

2019 Advent Devotion 19

The Elf on the Shelf

I recently learned about this relatively new Christmas obsession. There is a book and an elf toy and the idea is that the elf is watching the children of the household from Thanksgiving to Christmas and reporting back to Santa each night about what goes on – is the child naughty or nice? This surveillance is supposed to elicit good behavior which will then be rewarded with more toys on Christmas.

I just recently heard about the elf on the shelf for the first time. I have asked parents I know if they are doing it with their kids. No one has said yes. Maybe the elf hasn’t gotten all the way to Florida?

But Jesus has. Christmas is about God’s gift to the human family in Jesus. It is about God’s love for everyone. For all creation. Jesus is a gift for all of humanity and history. God isn’t short on love so it doesn’t have to be meted out or apportioned. And good behavior doesn’t get anyone a bigger helping. Everyone is already loved. Period. Bad behavior might actually be associated being given more love from God because more love might be needed, and we are given what we need. No surveilling elf is necessary.

The metaphorical image of God watching over us all of the time is not to be about judgment and reward or punishment. This image is to convey God’s constant care. God knowing our need. God looking out for us not checking up on us. It is about being constantly engulfed in Divine Love.

No, I don’t think there is ever going to be an elf on the shelf at our house.

In this holy season, may we know that we are precious and loved just as we are. Our imperfections make us human. May we grow in our capacity to love others and ourselves just as we are. That God’s way. We see it in Jesus. Amen.

2019 Advent Devotion 19

A little bit?

At our church communion is served by intinction. People come forward and there is a serving station with one person holding a plate with small pieces of bread and another person holding a chalice. The people take a piece of bread, dip it into the cup, eat it, and return to their seats.

On a recent communion Sunday, upon arriving at the serving station, a congregant commented, “I just want a little bit.” Considering the piece of bread is usually about the size of a peanut and can’t hold much juice when dipped, what is “a little bit”? It seems that everyone only gets a little bit. Why would someone want to be sure to get just a little bit of a little bit?

Is the message, I only want a little bit – of Jesus? Like, I can only take a small dose of this Christianity thing? I’m not too sure about this; maybe just a little to see what it is like? Not too much, though. “I only want a little bit.” Maybe.

But I like another way of seeing this. I only want a little bit. Because that’s all it takes. You only need a little bit. Of this Jesus thing. This Christianity. This Gospel. A little goes a long way. It makes a huge difference. Only a little bit and everything is affected. I just want a little bit because that will make all the difference.

Maybe this is good way to think about Christmas. Instead of thinking of all of our manifold plans and parties, remember that it only takes a little bit. Just a little bit of Christmas can go a long way. Make a huge difference. Be transforming. Just a little bit – of Jesus. It’s all we need to turn our lives right side up and leave us singing. We only need a little bit of Christmas. That’s all it takes.

In a world where we always want more, we are drawn to Jesus and with him a little is enough. May we look for a glimmer, a morsel, a hint of the holy for that is all we need. Love is potent and in plentiful supply at Christmas and all year long! Amen.