“the Jesus pile”

19 12 2010

Today’s Gospel text is Matthew 1:18-25, the birth of Jesus. Verse 18 begins, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way…” (NRSV).

Here at our house, the birth of Jesus begins like this photo: all the Jesus-es (?)in a pile on the bookshelf. Kajsa has loved playing with many nativities this season. Loved it. I have a couple fragile ones up high where she can’t reach, but for the most part, I’m discovering that our nativities are child-friendly. For the first few days I had them out, Kajsa was playing with Mary and Joseph, too.. who were frequently going to meetings.

the Jesus pile

“They’re very busy” she told me. So “Grandma and Grandpa” (other Marys and Josephs) and sometimes some animals were keeping Jesus company.

Then she turned to categorizing the nativities… all the Mary’s lined up in a row, Josephs, animals… shepherds… and this week, she left all the Jesus-es on a shelf. I asked her one day where a certain Jesus was, when I noticed he was gone. “Oh” she said, “He’s in my Jesus pile.” and she pointed to the shelf.

The birth of Jesus took place in one way, but has continued to influence many languages, cultures, socio-economic systems…. etc.

A child’s perspective can be so refreshing, even in a season that already brings wonder and joy and awe…

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following…

18 12 2010

Last Sunday afternoon, a group of people from Christ Covenant Church went Christmas caroling. Admittedly, I didn’t feel like going. I wanted to go, but I felt more like snuggling under some blankets and watching mindless TV. But I’m so glad we went. I felt better about my afternoon, and doing something for others, but the people we sang to gave me a gift–the reactions of singing, mouthing the words, motioning to a spouse when to ring one of the bells in songs, and a sparkle in some eyes that had been glossed over.

walking together while Christmas caroling

Not that our short visits of caroling were transforming, life-changing, or so phenomenal. But they made a bit of a difference, at least that day.

Much of what we do has the potential to make a bit of a difference.. even for one day. Sometimes for much longer. Now, as a mother of an easily-influenced preschooler right now, I appreciate the positive differences that people are making in Kajsa’s life. The people who lead and coordinate and gently grab her when she’s running too quickly.. the people who give her several minutes of grace when she enters the room quite grumpy… the people who give of themselves to others, but also respect their own limits and needs.. the people who walk along side her while caroling… the people who follow her when she insists on leading, and the people who lead when she follows…

During Advent I try to follow. I try to follow the journey of wonder, of excitement–not about the secular fun Christmas stuff I enjoy so much, but about the Christ child. I try to follow the journey to the Christ child, to the star, to the humble beginnings of my Lord.. try. And I try to make a difference– in my own life and in the lives I come into contact with.. by letting Christ make a difference in mine.





a sign, please!

10 12 2010

John the Baptist reappears in this Sunday’s Gospel text, from Matthew 11. This time, John’s in prison, has heard about what the Messiah is doing, and sends someone to ask Jesus, “Are you the one, or should we keep waiting…?” From our viewpoint, knowing what we do about Jesus and John both, this seems a bit strange. Wasn’t John the one who was so in tune with God’s Spirit? Was he confused? Having a “senior moment”? Doubting, since he was trapped, in jail…? Wanting his disciples to seek the answer for themselves?

If I were him, I’d want a sign. A big, clear, neon sign (all the lights working, by the way…), with a big neon arrow, pointing to Jesus, saying,  “This is, 100%-guaranteed, God’s Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ!”

I’m not sure what John’s thoughts were, when sending someone to ask Jesus for clarification. And if I once knew, I have forgotten. But I sympathize with John the Baptist, an obvious “let’s get to work” kind of guy, who was stuck in jail. Hearing reports, perhaps… wondering… lots of time to think and let your mind wander. It’s like those familiar seasons of waiting. And even if we might KNOW what is true and we might know that God’s promises are true, at times we still want a sign.

The other day Jim, Kajsa, Abby and I took our walk down to the baseball field below our church. Jim found this baseball… a sign of a season gone by, and a season to come.

baseball

Except for a forgotten base, now partially covered with sand, there is little sign of a current baseball season. But the baseball, found on the frozen ground beyond the field, reminds us of a season to come.

Often I feel as though the only “signs” we get from God are like the found baseball. Initially there’s an excitement at the find.. oooh, look! a baseball! Then the reality that the season is over…and the next promised season is not yet here. Completely.

Someday, God might shock me and give me a clear neon sign, complete with an arrow pointing to the direction I need–or think I need. In the meantime, I’ll find hope in the signs of God’s kingdom, God’s presence, God’s light in this season: the people of God bringing about God’s kingdom here and now, in our daily lives.





could you define “will”?

9 12 2010

Isaiah 35 promises many things-things that are not altogether bad. In fact
they are community-building, wilderness-enduring, healthy and faith-deepening
things. And yet the word “will” accompanies these promises so much, that if I
were alive back then, I’d be saying, “Define WILL… and let me know WHEN.”
Those of us who have spent many years waiting for something know how hard it can be to hope, when what we are waiting for doesn’t happen yet.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, life doesn’t always work like that. We don’t know
when, we don’t get to define “will”—at least not when it comes to Biblical
promises. We don’t always get it, or, if we do, we don’t understand it. Waiting is
hard.

the "patient" dog waiting for someone to play with her

Some promises in Isaiah 35 have come true in the life and ministry of Jesus
Christ. Literally and figuratively. Light into the darkness, the blind see, miracles
happened, the power of sin was conquered, rejoicing came to the wilderness.
Even so, at times the wilderness stinks. For instance, when someone says, “It
will get better…” or… “Someday you WILL see the good in all this waiting
period.” Whatever. That may be true. But in the meantime, waiting is still hard.

I suspect we’re all waiting, on some level. My good friend Karen says that
everybody is waiting for something. Whatever we are waiting for, may we be
graced with the strength to find joy in the wait. We may not know WHEN our
waiting season WILL be finished… but help us, Lord, to see you in it. And to find
joy in this time.





Preparation

7 12 2010

Preparation. John the Baptist preached, “Prepare the way of the Lord” (or “for” the Lord, depending on your translation). Preparation often involves lots of work. In the case of this photo, someone came to church early, before bell practice, to set  up a few things in preparation for handbell practice.

Preparation... for bell practice

This is what I’m told—I neither attend bell practice, nor saw this person. But I enjoy the results of practice—by sitting on some Sunday mornings and hearing the bell music. Preparation… work… which also means commitment. Commitment to prepare. To practice. Or set up. Or take down. Or clean. Or… lots of verbs.

And often lots of work. Which is why preparing spiritually is often a challenge. The beginning is fun, before excitement wears off. As with many human relationships, our relationship with God –before, during, and after Advent—might begin with excitement, thinking of possibilities, and a willingness to do all sorts of things for the relationship. But when the exciting becomes more routine, it can get hard.

So during this season of Advent, what are we doing to prepare for celebrating the Christ child? What can we do to prepare for a new step in our relationships with God and Christ?





Christmas Trappings

2 12 2010

This Sunday I’m preaching on a John the Baptist text: Matthew 3:1-12. John the Baptist is one of those people from the Bible who I love to read about—but he makes me uncomfortable enough that I’m glad he’s not preaching here in Harleysville! He shows up in Judea, looking and probably smelling rather weird, and preaching, “Repent!”… and “Produce fruit worthy of repentance!” Yeah, not a message we like to hear.

Scott Hoezee, (from the Center for Excellence in Preaching), observes, that if John the Baptist were here today, he might be calling on Christians to repent about the way we actually celebrate Advent and Christmas. Touché.

Christmas Trappings... waiting to be unpacked

The way I celebrate Advent and Christmas reflects an honest struggle. I want to celebrate Christ’s birth, anticipate his coming, and live into the reality of being a person of hope in a world overcome with problems. Yet I also love the Christmas trappings. I’m not sure I love the word “trappings”, but I understand it, and give in to it. Christmas trappings, for me, includes the decorations, some shopping, lights…lights…lights, Christmas baking, music… yes, I even like the guy from the North Pole. No, I don’t believe in him. Yes, I like him. Mostly.

It’s not that I think we Christians shouldn’t have fun, or enjoy the season. But despite my good intentions, I end up focusing more on the secular nature of Christmas than I want to. Or than I want to want to. And it’s not even that I have no religious decorations, nativities, candles, spiritual ornaments… I do. And I love them, and love to look at them throughout the season. But I still struggle.

“Repent!” John preached.

Ok.. I’ll repent. Then what? Then what do I do with this tension? I have lots of answers… and I also have Christmas decorations that I’m going to unpack. But the reality is, I’m so thankful that John the Baptist doesn’t live in Harleysville. Because he makes me a bit too uncomfortable.

And maybe he should.





leader for the week

30 11 2010

leader for the week

This Sunday’s Isaiah text is chapter 11:1-10. The kingdom that seems impossible, where the lions don’t eat the lambs and other strange mixed company groups survive and get along.

And in verse 6, Isaiah prophesies that “a little child shall lead them.”

This morning, we had a little child very excited to lead. Little does she know how challenging leadership can be, how much of a privilege, and also how disappointing at times. For now, Kajsa’s meaning of leadership is bringing snack to preschool for one week, and being the leader at school. She’s so excited she can hardly stand it.

She has a lot to learn about leadership.

But so do we all. If we could all learn a little of the excitement and joy of children, and apply that to the areas we lead in life, maybe the prophesied kingdom in Isaiah could begin to come about more quickly?