Saturday, December 26, 2015

What About the Baby?

One of our annual Christmas traditions is to watch the movie "Christmas Vacation" on Christmas Eve.  Some of the funniest scenes for me are those in which "Sparky", the Midwestern, all-American family guy, interferes with the lives of his young neighbors, Todd and Margo.  They are picture perfect on the outside, but they would never fit into the family traditions of Sparky's normal (meaning: dysfunctional)  family.  I try to imagine self-centered Todd and Margo as parents with a newborn baby.  They are so into themselves and their lives that it leaves me wondering, who in the world would care for the baby? They would soon learn that receiving a Child creates new priorities.

Do you picture Joseph and Mary to be like Todd and Margo?  Somehow, I don't.  I think that they had to be a little bit more like Sparky and Ellen Griswold, managing chaos with a smile. On the first morning after the first Christmas, what do you suppose the new Mom and Dad did?  Did Joseph make Mary a nice hot cup of coffee, or at least retrieve it from the Innkeeper?  Did Mary tell Joseph it was his turn to rock the Baby, or did she just want to hold on all of the time?  Joseph and Mary certainly couldn't lace up the Nike's and go off for a morning run through the streets of Bethlehem.  Who would have watched the Baby?

We celebrate Christmas as a reminder that Jesus voluntarily gave up his place in Heaven to come live with people like Todd and Margo, Sparky and Ellen and Joseph and Mary.  And you and me.  On this first morning after Christmas morning we all need to ask ourselves, "what about the Baby?"  This Baby now, in his Spirit, seeks to live in each person. Are we willing to set our priorities so that there will we be time to care for the Christ Child?  Will we surround the Child with a nurturing environment?

The Baby has arrived. Are we prepared for what’s next? We cannot be less prepared than Todd and Margo. Or Joseph and Mary.  "God with Us" comes to everyone who will receive Him.  But, like Joseph and Mary, once we receive that newborn into our lives, we dare not just ignore Him.  We need daily reminders that we have a new Child in our lives. Christmas Day may be over but be careful not to throw out the Baby with the wrapping paper.  Don’t put Him on a shelf in the basement with the decorations.  Keep your focus on what needs to be done to keep the Child alive in your life and, miraculously, you will receive the gift you have waiting for: the salvation of your soul.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Christmas Prayer for All the Saints

How often have you said of someone you know and loved, “She was a saint”; or “He was no saint”? What makes a “saint” a saint anyway?

You heard this week that the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is near to declaring  that Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a Saint? Can there be any doubt that Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a saint? I think not.  Mother Teresa is a model for all Christians, indeed for all people who worship the One True God, of humble servanthood.  She was Jesus to so many people, following the leading of Jesus to all of his disciples as she cared for the poor. I join the Pope in holding her up as someone who devoted her life to God in a way which teaches me and all who will be saints what it means to be a transformed disciple of Jesus. But, are her deeds, is the good she did on this earth, that which makes Mother Teresa a saint? Our friends in the Roman Catholic Church will declare she is a saint because of two verified miracles of healing for those who prayed to Mother Teresa after she was dead. That is a part of their definition of sainthood. I do not judge their understanding of the faith, but I do disagree with it. Again, I don’t disagree with the conclusion about the good Mother Teresa, just how her church got to their conclusion.

I believe that the saints do not “earn” their status in this life or in death. The saints are those who, by grace alone, are called into the fellowship of God.  The category of “saints” includes that grandma to whom you attribute sainthood, not because she was so good and kind, but because she was a child of grace.  This Christmas week I urge you to give thanks for all of your “saints who from their labors rest”.  No miracle other than the miracle of the grace of God being visited upon them is needed. Sainthood is not attained by being good, but by the work of this Baby Jesus whom we come and worship this Christmas, the work of that Baby on his Cross done “for all the saints”, like me and you. Miracles happen, not because of the saints, but because of God alone, for God alone possesses the power and deserves the glory.  In giving praise to the “saints”, we are giving praise to God alone. So, here is my Christmas prayer for you, dear readers and friends; dear saints by the grace of God and the body of the Baby Jesus:

 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.(Ephesians 3:18-19, NRSV)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

God IS Fixing This

“God Isn’t Fixing This” screamed the headline of New York’s Daily News the morning after yet another incidence of mass murder in the United States. What we have learned since the events of December 3, 2015,  is that the violence in San Bernardino, California stemmed from a terrorist act, evidence that the insanity of ISIS had officially made its way into the U.S. borders. The newspaper’s headline writers didn’t know that terrorism, not gun control, was the real issue when they wrote their front page, but read in the light of the harsh reality of the true motive for the violence,  the headline is even more jarring. So the question is proper, I think: where is God in all of this?  May I start with this declaration from Jesus of Nazareth, whom I believe to be the Messiah, the Son of God:

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” Matthew 24:6 (NIV)

I am not a proponent of any version of “end times” theology which claims to know when the end is coming. Jesus didn’t know, and I certainly don’t know.  But, with the end of the earth as we know it will come the end of war and rumors of war.  God could bring the world to an end right now, before you finish reading this sentence, and the ISIS-spread terror would cease, along with wars and rumors of war in all of the other strife-worn parts of this world. Would you rather that the world end today, or that God continue to show divine patience so that all of his children might be able to know and profess Jesus as Lord? It is so hard to live in the light of the mystery of Advent: Jesus came; Jesus left; Jesus is coming again.  Jesus shall reign and the enemy shall be defeated.  But, in the meantime, which is when we live- today- people die in wars.  In this meantime it is the call and duty of we “keepers of the fire” to “act justly, love mercy, walk humbly,” and to pray for a “peace that is no peace, but strife sown in the sod.”

God is fixing to end the insanity humans commit upon each other.  The truth is though, until Jesus comes again, the “fixing” comes through our hands. Pray for strong hands.

    “ ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’  Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.” Revelation 22:20-21 (NIV)