Friday, December 26, 2008

Reflection on Luke 2:1-20

Mary pondered.

Here we have a scene where great and glorious things are taking place: Mary has been told that she is carrying God’s own Son, the Messiah, she and Joseph endure a long trip to Bethlehem, they search and find no place to stay but a stable, shepherds are visited by an angel and told to go see the child laying in a manger, they gather in the stable exclaiming with joy the things that are taking place, and with all of this great and glorious chaos of strange, rejoicing people and dirt, and barn animal smells, and cooing young child all swirling around her; Mary takes a breath and ponders.

What do you ponder on when you’ve just given birth to God’s son? What do you ponder when God has literally dwelled within you for nine months, and now stares at you, needing you to feed him, needing you to raise him. I guess you probably ponder how you are to raise him.

What would happen if you were to run dry of milk and could not feed him? What is the penalty for killing God’s son? What are you going to do when he brakes a plate on purpose, smiles at you while you approach in anger, and then snaps his fingers to put it right back together? Do you get after him? Did he do anything wrong? What do you say to him when as a teen he tells Joseph to his face, “You are not my father! I listen to only my father!” Do you send him to his room without food? Again, should you starve the son of God?

It is a lot to take in. It is a lot to think about. It is a lot to ponder for a fourteen year old girl who has never raised a child before and now is expected to raise the Son of God. Does the world come to an end just because you forget to clean your hands before feeding the Christ child and something tragic happens?

This night, while everyone else loudly dances around and rejoices and a Shepherd pretends to ride the goat across from the manger, the sound quickly falls away to silence as Mary ponders.

Who is she that God would choose her for such a task? She is young. She is inexperienced. To the outside world she appears to have slept around. She stares at her young hands and sees just how small her palms and fingers are. Their size betray her. They hide a secret greatness.

Great people are given great tasks by God. The surprising thing is that most people do not know that they are great. Most people do not know they have been chosen by God. Most people do not realize that the smile and handshake that they gave a stranger in K-Mart actually caused the stranger to go home and spend a great, loving day with their family, even though they lack the money this year to create a lavish holiday.

Most people do not realize that forgiving someone for saying something stupid about you may have little effect on your own life, you have big shoulders after-all, but it just may cause that person to feel good and decent once again.

Most people do not realize that God has made them great. Most people do not realize that God has chosen them. But, God has. God has chosen us to be his people.

As she sat there, Mary pondered on this wonderful truth just as she did nine months before when the angel told her that she would bear a Son. God has chosen her, a lowly one, a poor one, to be a servant through whom God might do great things. She did nothing to earn this privilege. God just chose to come to her in a very real way. God chose to dwell inside of her. God chose her to share God's love with all the world.

And, God also chooses to come to you. Christ chooses to dwell inside you in a very real way; with his very real love, his very real forgiveness, and his very real peace. The Christ child has chosen to dwell in you. This is something to ponder.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Reflection on John 1:6-8, 19-28

This morning as the light broke into the world, it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. As the light crested the edge of the world, it spilled through the trees, glimmering through the ice, spreading its light in a bright glow, making the trees look like God had just then created them, their life force beaming for all to see. It looked just as one imagines the tree of life did just on the verge of creation; beaming a light that touches all the world with God’s goodness.

I wish I had thought to grab a camera to show you. But, I was captivated, as I always am, when God paints the world with joy. I wish that you had been there to see it with me. Though, standing next to me, in my bathroom, staring out the window, probably would have been strange.

I wish I were a poet so that I could share it better; using eloquent words to effectively put you right there in the moment. But, I have done what I can. I have simply pointed to something beautiful and wonderful, and I hope that God will give you the chance to experience the same joy and awe. I cannot do any more than that. I cannot recreate it for you. I am not the light. I can only point to the light. I cannot do any more.

None of us can do any more. Not even John. People are flocking to this man John, out in the wilderness to experience something great and refreshing and new in their faith. They have been told that it is worth the journey. Out there, you will find great joy, peace, and hope. And so, the religious leaders send people to investigate.

“Who are you John. Are you saying you are the Messiah? Are you saying you are great? Who are you?”

“I’m sorry to disappoint," John says. "I know you have traveled a long way on foot, but I will share the same thing I share with everyone. I’m not the Messiah. I’m not Elijah. I’m not a prophet. I’m nothing at all. All I can do is this.”

And at that, he sticks out his finger and he points. He just stands there and points. He is a man, in the middle of the desert, sand swirling around him, pointing. To this day, that is all that John does. Look at any painting of him in any art gallery. He just stands there and points. Even as a baby, who cannot even lift his own head, cradled in the arms of Elizabeth, he lays limp, pointing at the baby Jesus next to him. That’s all we can do also. And, I find comfort in that.

As Christmas approaches, I find the pressure to create the best Christmas for those I love mounting. “This year, I will buy the present that will bring tears to her eyes." "I will discover the gifts that will bring joy that last for days to the little ones." "This year, I will create the dinner that all will remember; a time of laughter and healing for those who have been battered through the year." "This year, I will make all things great.”

I find it comforting to see a man in the middle of the desert pointing, and nothing more. He cannot save people from their hurts. He cannot bring joy that will heal all wounds. He can only do one thing, point to the one who can.

I cannot bring you the light of the world this morning. I cannot gather and carry its rays or devise some way or some contraption that will create its life giving light. I can only point.

Like all other years, we will not be able to heal any wounds. Aunt Anna will still hate Uncle Bill and she will let him know it at the Christmas dinner table as she always does by “accidentally” spilling gravy on him once again this year, and it will once again squash the little joy that a holiday ham can create. We cannot stop that. We cannot heal them. But, we know who can. And we can point to him, laying in the manger under the tree.

We cannot comfort Grandma as she once again misses not having her only love there to give her a gift and share a place by the warm fire. For her, it will be another cold time of year. We cannot stop that. We cannot take his place. We cannot give her the light that will warm her heart. But, we can point to the one who can. We can point to the lights on the tree and remind her of the light of the world; the light that is able to warm hearts and make life new.

Christmas itself is unable to bring light and peace to the world. Christmas comes every year. And every year, war and hate still continues. But, it is not celebrated for no reason. It points. It stands in the middle of our dark and deserted, wind blown lives and points to the one who will make it new.

None of us are worthy to untie the sandals of Christ, the light of the world. And, it is best if we do not even try. But, we can point. We can point when we see the light cresting the edge of the world and spilling its light on all. We can point when God’s love comes into our world. We can point, preparing the way, so that when love spills on the world, all are awake to see it glimmering on our skin, piercing our hearts, and warming our souls. Like John, we can point to Christ.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Reflection on Isaiah 40:1-11

Psychologists call them sneaky thoughts, and we have them all the time. They sound something like the following: Your elderly grandmother tells you that she has decided to take a cruise out of Florida to Costa Rica and then she is going to take a three mile hike through the rainforest, and before you know it you think these words to yourself, “Yeah right, if the flight down to Florida doesn’t rattle your bones apart first.”

Or, your wayward, brat of an adult daughter tells you that she is thinking of having another baby and the thought goes through your head, “Sure, because Satan certainly needs more demons running around.”

The thoughts just pop in there. They are sneaky thoughts. You would never even think of saying something like, “you can loose more weight if you think that a bag of sticks is sexy,” to your best friend. But your brain just pops the little evil comments up there. They are personal comments for you to savor alone. “That’s a great dress, for a prostitute.”

Everyone has them. No one really thinks too much about them except when they accidentally come out,

“Pastor, look at that stomach. It looks like you’re three months along.”

However, we do think of them as a big deal if they are spoken about God. God knows the heart after-all. God knows every word of the mind, and the fear is that these sneaky thoughts about God will come back to haunt us.

“Christ you think your so perfect, try being me for a while.”

“What if I don’t want to worship you, what you going to do? Give me a nice house and a nice car like my neighbors. Please don’t punish me.”

“A God of justice…pffff.”

Of course, God has big shoulders and can take it; but letting them slip into the mind still seems a little disturbing.

Isaiah lets a big one not only slip into his mind, but slip out of his mouth while talking to God. God promises that he is going to forgive and rebuild Israel. God was going to punish no longer. “Comfort, O comfort my people,” God gently promises. “Preach this good news Isaiah,” God says. And out of nowhere Isaiah lets it slip, “God, are you an idiot?”

OK, you can look in your Bibles and you will not find the words, “God, are you an idiot,” printed there. But Isaiah does basically say, “What’s the point. People are like grass that just turns brown and ugly. Then you restore them and then they just turn brown and ugly again. What is the point of preaching any good news to them? What is the point of telling them things will be better when they are just going to mess it up again.” “Oh, you just broke a crystal Christmas ornament by feeding it to the dog? Here have another.” “That’s just dumb.”

This is the same sneaky thought that I have when I hear Jesus tell us that we need to forgive seventy times seven times (in other words, we always have to forgive). “What’s the point if they are just going to do it again?” I think to myself.

If we came to church based on the greatness of the people, I agree with Isaiah, “What’s the point of even coming and opening our mouths.” If we proclaimed from the pulpit how great a person becomes if they choose to be a Christian, I would step away right now. I would step away because I know that it is a lie. I would agree with the millions of people out there right now who choose to stay at home with their families rather than wasting time at church, listening to a bunch of hypocrites.

But, the church says nothing about how great people are. People do just wither up and die after getting a second and third and hundredth chance. They are like grass that will certainly just go brown.

We come to church to hear the Word that will not die. It is a Word that lasts forever. It is a Word that does not fade. It is God’s Word that says, “sure you guys are a mess, but you are still my people, and I am your God.”

We come to hear the words of a God who practices what is preached. God does forgive seventy times seven times. Christ does die for the sake of people who do not deserve it. The Lord promises to “feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”

God is committed to mess-ups like us. “What’s the point? That’s idiotic isn’t it?” Maybe. But it is the way of our Lord. And we are an Advent people who do not forget it. We wait for God’s goodness to come. And it will. That is something to share.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.