Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ponderings for the Third Week in Advent

"This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
happened. Only dull peace
sprawled boringly over the earth.
This was the moment when even energetic Romans
could find nothing better to do
than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
when a few farm workers and three
members of an obscure Persian sect
walked haphazardly by starlight
into the kingdom of heaven."
--U.A. Fanthorpe

Sunday –December 12 – Hebrews 12.28a – “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks…”There is so little certainty in our world. Everything changes much too fast. Our parents grow old and die. Our children do not stay small. One day they are in the Nursery and the next day heading off to college. And we change. Tummies get bigger. We need glasses. We can’t hear quite as well as we did. Hair falls out or thins. And the terrain of our lives shifts—where is John or Don? Where are Margie and Herbert or Harriet and Tommy? Gone. We stood by their graves and said goodbye.

Old timers look out at a world of I-pods, I-phones, I-pads, Kindles, Internet and cell phones. Most of these were not with us 15 years ago. And in five years something new and shiny will render them obsolete. The ground shifts under our feet and it gets scary. And the old book says there is comfort and security in the shadow of God’s wings. In a changing world we reach out for something to hold on to. Most of our recipes don’t work. And this is the Christmas setting for 2010. The days grow shorter and the cold wind blows and we turn slowly toward Bethlehem. We’ve been here before—many times. The story is old and we know if by heart—but every year it comes to us fresh as if we meet it for the first time. Robert McAfee Brown and his family stood before the tiny crèche of the baby Jesus and his family. Here, he wrote, standing before the manger and the Christ child we find a small center of sanity in a wild and crazy world. So much changes—but Bethlehem remains reminding us that in this kind of a world there are wings in which we can find comfort. There really is a kingdom that will never be shaken.

Monday – December 13 – Psalm 41. “Happy are those who consider the poor, the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.” As we move another day closer to Christmas there are 14.8 million people in our country that are unemployed. Long-term unemployment—which means people who have been out of work longer than six months—total over six million of our citizens. To date Congress has refused to extend unemployment insurance any longer—or if they do there will certainly be something in the package for the well heeled. This is a scary time and for the unemployed this is especially a dark season.

I know one family who takes their children and grandchildren and find a family in their community in real need. Each Christmas they provide a Christmas for this family. Instead of giving gifts to each other—they reach out to someone needing help. I know. I know. Churches fill Christmas baskets and other groups provide Christmas dinner for the homeless. Critics say all these efforts are a drop in the bucket—and they are right. And yet I remember Mother Theresa’s words when a reporter asked her why she kept picking up little starving children in India. The task was seemingly endless. She simply said, “Young man, I do what I can, where I am, with what I have.” As Christmas comes we must all find some way “to consider the poor.”

Tuesday – December 14 – Isaiah 9.2. “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light…”
When my granddaughter was little she was scared of what she called, the dart. “Mama, I’m afraid of the dart—come lie down with me.” The dark—where we cannot see very far—is really the unknown Israel faced in Isaiah 9. God’s chosen were afraid that they were about to be invaded—and the far proved to be right. But the prophet standing in the darkness with them had a vision. He kept telling them that in the middle of their darkness light would somehow come. When John wrote his gospel he picked up this same theme in his first chapter: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.” People of faith know deep in their hearts that the light is stronger than the darkness. Meditate on the darkness in your life and in our world and remember that shining light that never goes out.

Wednesday – December 15 – Mark 1.1. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God…” There are no stars or shepherds or manger or even angels in Mark’s gospel. He falls back on the essence of the story. And what he says is:  that this is the beginning of the good news.

There is a strong resurgence of atheism today. Books on why there is no God have climbed to the top of the bestseller list. Most of their complaints say that belief in God brings bad news—not good. They footnote this idea with a multitude of injustices that can be found throughout church history. I concur with many of their ideas. When religion is bad news—it has missed the point. The angel sang, “Behold I bring you good news of a great joy which shall come to all people…” Ponder today the good news this gospel still brings.

Thursday – December 16 – Matthew 3.1-12. After Matthew had spent two chapters on the familiar Christmas story, he suddenly shifted gears in his third chapter. John the Baptist was now a full-grown man. He was wild looking. The whole theatre shook as he spoke. His eyes blazed and his message was strong. And the writer, Matthew simply says, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” Doesn’t that sum up much of the story?

God uses human beings as wild as the adult John. Even with his strange clothing and even weirder eating habits. But this John preached a message of repentance. So God can use any of us. His name was John. Your name is___________. But it could be Fred or Harriet or James or Mary. It hardly matters. God just might use you and me and bring some good news to somebody. I’m not talking about being a Billy Graham or a Mother Theresa. No—just using our humanity—that God-given you-ness can make the world a better place. What could you do, human as you are, top make your world a better place today?

Friday – December 17 – Psalm 40.1a.I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined his ear to me and heard my cry.” As I read this Psalm I first thought I would write about answered prayer But I looked back on many of the prayers I have prayed that seem to have no answer or were not answered to my liking. I have prayed for people to get well and yet they slipped away into the mystery. I have prayed for God to stop the madness of this seemingly endless war. And yet the fighting goes on and on. I have prayed for people I love to have it easier and maybe just not so hard—and still they carry heavy burdens.

This Psalm does not talk about answered prayer. It does say that when the writer waited for God her cry was heard. Long ago I began to learn a painful lesson. When my wife talks about a problem she usually is not seeking a solution. But she does want to be heard and listened to. Isn’t the Psalmist saying that when we cry out of the depths of whatever we face—we are heard and cared for? One of my favorite verses is Psalm 6.8b “…the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping…” Lift up your cares and longings to the Loving One. Hold on to the great promise of Christmas: We will be heard.

Saturday – December 18 – Psalm 55.6. “O that I had the wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest…” Life gets messy sometimes. The Psalmist in verses 4-5 says: “My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.” These words are the prelude to the wistful longing for the wings of a dove to take us away from all that hurts and harms. Unfortunately for those in the Scriptures and for us—those longing are not fulfilled. We have to face the music, the consequences, a bad lab report—the strictures of life.

When Martin Luther King was so afraid and despairing, he would have the choir to sing an old Gospel song: “No, never alone, No, never alone, He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone”. So here, where we live and ache and dream and often hurt—Christmas says we are not alone. And in the strength of that strong word we can make it.

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