Saturday, December 24, 2016

Jews and Christians Both Light Candles

One of my good friends, who was Jewish, died this year.  I did not get to say good-bye.  Tonight, while I am celebrating Christmas Eve, I am going to light candles. Tonight, if he were here, he would be lighting a candle too, on a menorah, to mark the beginning of Hanukkah. Tonight, I will light one for you.

Tonight, in a rare alignment of calendars, marks the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah and the Christian celebration of Christmas Eve.  While Hanukkah is a celebration of a different miracle of light (the mysteriously un-ending supply of oil that supplied eight days of light during battle by the Maccabees which led to the rededication of the Temple in 166 BC), it is an annual reminder that God sends light into the dark places of our world and our lives.  We can celebrate this other truth as well: Jews and Christians alike await the coming of the promised messiah. As the noted theologian, Martin Buber suggested, “Let’s all pray for the messiah-Christians and Jews alike. When he arrives, we’ll ask if he’s been here before.”  As Rabbi Michael Gottlieb puts it, “Christianity dispels a lot of darkness…. In its glow, it challenges Christians and non-Christians alike to consider that which his transcendent, eternal and greater than all of us.” (WSJ 12.23.16)

Tonight, Jews and Christians around the world will celebrate the miracle of light which sustains us during the battles of life. Tonight, Jews and Christians alike will rededicate themselves to worship God and God alone.  Tonight, we will all draw closer to God by lighting a candle which carries the hope that God still is doing miracles.  Tonight, Jews and Christians alike will think about the messiah, the one who, on the last day, we will have the joy of knowing “he’s been here before.”

I never made one effort to convert my Jewish friend to Christianity. I saw no need to do so. God already saved him. As a recent resolution by a German church organization puts it, “The secret of God’s revelation includes both the expectation of the return of Christ in splendor and the confidence that God will save his first-called people.” (Christian Century, 12.21.16) I believe this beautiful statement of faith expresses precisely the sentiment of Paul’s words: “…all Israel will be saved…for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:26,29).

Tonight, I will be thinking of my friend. While I did not get to say good-bye, one day he and I will together say, “Hello. Hallelujah. He is here.” 

Happy Hanukkah, friend. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

What I Saw at Grant School

Smiles. Possibly because it was Friday; or because the teachers wore Christmas sweaters, or a Mrs. Claus’ dress. I told her she must be Mrs. Claus’ daughter because she looked too young to be the “Mrs.” More smiles. It made me happy that my first impression was of teachers and staff who were happy to be there.  I saw children’s smiles too, on the playground where the kids in snow pants and boots slid down little “hills” of snow, making noises of glee only elementary kids can.  I saw the faces of children from nearly every background. I could see why God would make a rainbow of skin colors, because when they play together in the snow they paint a masterpiece.  No skin color is supreme on the playground, just as God intended.

Great books.  The Kids Hope USA (“KHUSA”) lunch was in the Media Center (what we used to call a “Library”), where I could not help myself from looking at the books. I found one which the Librarian let me borrow called “Need It or Want It?”(C. Herd, Rouke Publishing 2012) “A need is something you must have to live a safe and healthy life. Food, clothing, and shelter…” for example.  “A want is something you would like to have, but do not need to survive. A new video game is an example… .”  Now, isn’t that a perfect Christmas story?

Adults loving the kids.  The KHUSA participants from our church ate lunch with their students, some parents and some teachers.  The reason KHUSA can be in a public school is that the program forbids any speaking of religion or church.  The purpose of the program is to show the love of Jesus to children in need without ever saying Jesus’ name. You spend one hour a week to build a relationship with one child.  You spend time helping with homework, but mostly it is time learning to love each other. Can there be a more profound sermon these children hear each week?

I stopped in the Principal’s office to say “thank you”.  In the midst of the organized chaos of the end of the lunch hour and recess, the Principal, in his fun “Packers” sweater, was kind enough to chat for a few moments. I told him how his school gave me hope for our city’s future. This school was forming a future society which could work. What I saw at Grant School was an Advent song of love, peace, even joy: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. (All their faces bear his light), they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”  Hope is here.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Disappointment, Doubt and Jesus

...the mother who feels like she is at her last thread of hope with a "problem" child; the spouse who stares at the wall wondering what happened to the marriage;
…the sick person who wonders when, if ever, healing is coming; the child who struggles to find some way to understand that Mom won’t be here this Christmas;
...the survivors of the storms of life, who wonder why the fire happened, why their loved ones were there.

December, the church’s season of Advent, highlights the disappointments of life in a stark way.  The month in which we are supposed to celebrate Hope, Peace, Joy and Love seems to instead be filled with news or memories of just the opposite. And when disappointments persist to those locked into prisons of despair the mind moves to doubt. Is this Jesus really the Messiah we seek?

We can relate, just a little, to John the Baptist who was so fired up to announce the coming of the Messiah, but who finished his days in prison, waiting for the end of his life which ended with a decapitation. How exactly was Jesus being the Messiah for his prophet, John?  Are you the One we have been waiting for, or is there someone else?  John’s inquiry of Jesus becomes our question.

The mission of Jesus then and now, and the concurrent mission of the Church, is to encounter life’s disappointments and doubts with pictures and stories that people with eyes of faith can see. The child who was to die but now is scheduled to graduate from college.  The men and women with “incurable” cancer who instead become cancer “survivors.”  The poor being fed and clothed. The unjustly punished receiving justice.

Advent’s message is that if you look with eyes of faith, you will see just enough; just enough to see disappointment filtered through the lens of Joy; just enough to replace doubt with Hope. The almost hidden beauty of Advent is the promise that Christ is real, here still, and coming again.  Until then the faithful, today's prophets, can be excused expressions of doubt generated by cruel disappointments, for staring at the empty manger and wondering, Jesus, where are you?  Until then the prophets keep going to tell it on the mountain, Christ(mas) is coming. Just you wait...


Pastor Bill