Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Promise of Christmas

In December 2004, Time magazine published “Secrets of the Nativity.”  The article indicated that Biblical scholars struggle with the nativity narratives—found only in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke.  The author raised a lot of questions. “Where was Jesus actually born?  Who showed up to celebrate the baby’s arrival?  What about the virgin birth?  Who were the wisemen?”  Such questions are not new,  Scholars have asked them for many years, long before the Time article.  But do they really matter?

Christmas is about NOW—not then!  It is about believing that God really is with us!  We aren’t called to believe anything in particular about angels, wise persons or a virgin birth.  We are called to believe that something happened then, maybe in Bethlehem, maybe in Nazareth (who cares and what difference does it make?) that changed the course of history and by that unique Advent brought a whole new order of life.  This new order hasn’t come to fulfillment yet, but the Promise is that it is on the way.  The shape of that new order was described by Isaiah: 

The wolf shall live with sheep,
The leopard shall lie down with the kid
The calf and young lion shall grow up together
The cow and the bear shall be friends
And their young shall lie down together.

Isaiah takes creatures of nature, who are normally enemies of one another, who generally feed upon one another, and pictures them living together in peace and contentment.  This is symbolic of the New Order (the Unshakeable Kingdom, the New Age, the Promise) God inaugurated in that Advent (Coming) long ago.  It is a New Order in which natural enemies become friends.  Do we really buy into the Christmas Promise?  The Promise is not a fact or a joy to be realized in some other world.  It is here and now and coming!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Come On In!

Each Advent for the past several years I’ve shared a story that I’ve titled “Come on In.”  The story is not original with me and I do not know its author or even where I first found it.  If the Quakers have it right, and I believe they do, there is “that of God” in every human being (that includes those on the Right and those on the Left, gay and lesbian, transgender, migrant, feminist, misogynist, black, white, brown and yellow—all humanity).  Whenever, however, and wherever we attempt to shun, discriminate, or denigrate any human person we close the door of our “Inn” to the Marys, Josephs and baby Jesuses of our time.  Here’s the story:

The children’s Christmas pageant was about to begin. All the children had rehearsed their lines and were now dressed in their costumes.  Some were wearing angel costumes with tinseled-edged wings.  Others were dressed up like the wise persons with Burger King crowns and fake beards.  There were also a few bathrobe-clad shepherd types. Mary, Joseph, and the Baby (played by a life-sized rubber ball) were ready for the curtain to rise.

All were happy to have a part in the pageant, except for one little boy who was cast as the innkeeper.  The little innkeeper was saddened as he thought about his one line in the play.  When Joseph knocked on the door of the inn, the innkeeper was to simply say;  “I have no room!”  The thought of turning away the Baby Jesus was breaking the little innkeeper’s heart.  

The pageant began.  All went well until Joseph knocked on the door of the inn.  The innkeeper opened the door and Joseph asked, “Do you have any room?”  There was a long silence.  Supposing the little innkeeper to have forgotten his line, the director could be heard whispering a prompt from behind the cardboard scenery.

Suddenly the sad countenance of the child innkeeper turned into a glad grin and he began to speak.  His line came out loud and clear:  “Come on in!  I’ve got plenty of room!”  The pageant ended right there, as the audience stood to their feet with applause and outrageous joy.

Redeemer, come, with us abide;
our hearts to thee we open wide;
let us thy inner presence feel;
thy grace and love in us reveal.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

In His Image

Some say that God is but a figment of our human imagination.  It is not God, they say,  who created humankind, but rather it is humankind that has created God.  From whence then, did this wonderful gift of imagination come?  Howard Thurman tells of a young sociologist who gave a lecture on “The Philosophy of a Fool.”  He ended the first part of his address with these words:  “On the seventh day, therefore, God could not rest.  In the morning and the evening God busied himself with terrible and beautiful concoctions and in the twilight of the seventh day God finished that which is of more import than the beasts of the earth and the fish of the sea and the lights of the firmament.  And God called it Imagination because it was made in His own image; and those unto whom it is given shall see God.”  “Imagination,” Thurman writes, “is the angelos of God.”

When my granddaughter, Eleni, was visiting with us a few years ago she said a most beautiful thing.  She said she loved to visit Grandad’s house because it “had imagination.” Now I don’t know exactly what Eleni meant in saying that—I’ll leave that to her imagination—but her words struck a deep place within me.   

Imagination is a great gift.  It enables the artist to see beyond what is and to create that beyond on canvas.  It provides the child with the wonderful capacity to experience make-believe Narnia-type worlds.  It gives us the gift of memory.  Without imagination we would not dream, or create, or hope.  Without imagination we could never love, because love is the ability to put  (imagine) oneself in the life of another and to look at life through the other’s eyes, to feel and think and react to another, even as one remains oneself.  

Imagination is a gift in you waiting to be opened, “the angelos of God.”  Those who live out of that wondrous gift “shall see God.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

All I Want for Christmas

Do you remember the Christmas song written in 1944 by Donald Yetter Gardner?  Gardner was a music teacher in Smithtown, NY.  He asked his students what they wanted for Christmas and noticed that many of the students had a front tooth missing as they answered his question with a lisp.  He wrote, All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” in 30 minutes.  In a 1995 interview, Gardner said, “I was amazed at the way that silly little song was picked up by the whole country.”  

Spike Jones and The City Slickers recorded the song.  It reached the top of the charts in 1949.  I was five years old then and loved the song!  
“All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, my two front teeth, 
just my two front teeth. Gee, if I could only have my two front teeth,
 then I could wish you a Merry Christmas.
It seems so long since I could say, ‘Sister Suzy sitting on a thistle,’
 Gosh, oh gee how happy I’d be if I could only ‘whithle.”  

When I first thought of the song today, I thought it was Jimmy Boyd who made the song popular—but no, I was mistaken, he sang another song we all thought was hilarious back then:  “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

I thought of “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” while sitting at the hospital today as my wife received her Christmas gift--a new knee!  It has always been difficult for me to find a Christmas gift for her, but this year I had no problem at all.  I couldn’t arrange to give it to her Christmas Day, because of the surgeon’s schedule—but it is a Christmas gift nonetheless. For the last several years she could have sung,  
“All I Want for Christmas Is A New Knee, one that doesn’t hurt all the time.
  Gosh, oh gee, how happy I’d be, if I could only walk without pain!”  

The surgeon assures me that the new knee is going to relieve her of that pain.  She’ll have a tough time with the physical therapy for the next several weeks—but when that is over—she’ll walk without pain.  What a Christmas gift—a new knee!  Miracles still happen.  

When I reported today’s successful surgery to a friend in Illinois, she responded:  “Wonderful!  Now you have to spoil her for the REST OF THE YEAR!”  “What?” I responded.  I just gave her a new knee for Christmas!  Now I should spoil her?”  “Yep! she answered.  “Here’s your choice…spoil her now or get her another new knee for Valentine’s Day.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Will We Hear the New Promises?

The prophet Amos (c. 750 BC) reminded his people, the people of Israel, that God speaks in the present through the remembrance of sacred past events.  (I’ve been on this “kick” for several days now—we cannot move forward without reviewing, remembering, and knowing the past.  The “new” cannot be understood or experienced without knowing the “old”).  God had given Israel a special task and destiny as a people years before Amos showed up on the scene.  But Israel, Amos proclaimed, had forgotten that calling and their yesterdays.  Only if Israel recalled her past history and her special calling could anything “new” occur.

You see, Israel had the absurd notion that God was their national god, to be mobilized in the service of their self-interests.  They believed this divine favoritism provided immunity from catastrophe, regardless of their own conduct as a people.  Their relationship with God, so they believed, was the only relationship God had, therefore, it was their divine right to prosper and to be more blessed than other nations.  

Amos tried his best to tell the people of Israel that their special calling did not entitle them to special privilege, but rather to greater responsibility.  But Amos’ words fell upon deaf ears.  No one listened.  “God was the God of all nations,” of all peoples, Amos shouted, but no one listened. 

Amos prophesied in a time of great prosperity.  The stock market soared.  But it was a false prosperity because it benefited only a few.  The poor and defenseless, the refugees and migrants   were exploited while the rich were “lying in beds of ease.”  The religious community of the time did not protest against these social injustices.  In fact, the religious community became complicit with the powerful (so that they could, in turn, be themselves powerful, and force their ways on everyone else).  The “have’s” had become calloused, hard-hearted, and no one seemed to care about the “have nots.”  Amos said, “God cares, because God has a heart!”

Israel could not hear any new divine promises (annunciations) because they were already convinced, “God is with us” and with us alone (Amos 5:14). God has already done God’s thing—we are the  only  recipients—nothing else is expected from our god. This moral impoverishment, what the Bible often cites as “hardness of the heart” or as the impairment or loss of moral discernment; the failure to take into account what happened yesterday, the incapacity to hear, though one has ears; or to see, though one has eyes (Mark 8:14-21) incubates a profound apathy toward  human life.  Can God break through our obstinacy?  Can we hear the divine promises of Advent if we think we’ve already arrived?

Monday, December 10, 2018

God Is Here!

The good news of Christmas is not in heaven, that you should say,”Who will go up to heaven for us to fetch it and tell it to us, so that we can keep it?”  Nor is that good news  beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea for us to fetch it and tell it to us, so that we can keep it?  It is a thing very near to you, upon your lips and in your heart ready to be kept” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

The good news of Christmas has been around since time began (even before time began)—long before the advent of Jesus Christ. Emmanuel—God with us—did not begin in Bethlehem. The good news of Christmas is that God has been around before the very foundations of the world were laid.  God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, and called Abraham to leave his home and kinsman to find a new land.  God spoke to Moses through a burning bush and told him go free the slaves in Egypt.  God has been here; God is here.  Not in heaven, not across the sea, but here, right here,  right where we live.  The good news is a thing very near to us all.

God is here—in the world—in you, in me, in our neighbors and in our enemies—waiting to be recognized, waiting to be born!  This is Christmas! This is the glad tidings of great joy we are to announce, share, sing, and publish abroad.  Each one of us is called to be a midwife, one to the other, recognizing ourselves and the person (all persons) next to us as being pregnant with God.  The task of every human being is to encourage and help one another give that God birth in the Bethlehem of each individual heart, thus transforming society and the world.  

There is a deep-seated contempt for human life among us these days (though it has always been around).  It is a condition described biblically as “hardness of heart.”  It is an affliction in both individuals and institutions (including this nation and all other nations).  It presumes that there is "no room in the inn,” for anyone else but us!  We have even made the  “stable” off-limits! We proclaim, as those at that first Christmas long ago proclaimed, “Nothing good can come from Nazareth!”  It was this very “hardness of heart” that prompted God, who has always been here, to take drastic action, to provide an example of what being fully human means—an embracing, inclusive, love-based person named Jesus.  

Have no fear.  Even now the living waters flow.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Old and The New

The Bible is divided into two sections:  the Old Testament (Covenant) and the New.  I’ve long been convinced that the New Testament cannot be understood without knowing the story of the Old Testament.  

One of the distinctive marks of the Jewish People is their sense of history.  They have always been a scattered and diverse people—in culture and ethnicity—but they are a People held together by a common history, a story told and retold from generation to generation.

Christians also have this historical sense—or at least ought to have it.  The Christian faith is culturally, socially, and theologically diverse, but it is a distinctive community with a memory that reaches back to the events to which the Old Testament gives witness.

The Old Covenant is a record of the unique historical and God-experiences of a particular people, Israel, from about 2000 B.C to 150 B.C.  This historical drama tells us a story of the beginning, about Abraham, the Exodus, and the Prophets of Israel, all of which are the heritage of the Christian faith.  Without knowing the Old, we cannot even begin to understand the New Covenant.  The early Christians knew this and included the Old with the New as one  book and called it the Bible.

Advent is a time to open ourselves to the new things about to happen, but we cannot adequately do this if we do not know the old, old story.  No one cares about ancient tribal laws or genealogies, but we ought to know how God has acted in the past, how God spoke in days of yore, so we can have some idea of how God might act and speak in the here and now.  

“Though He led them through the desert places they suffered no thirst, for them He made water run from the rock and streams gushed forth.”  If God did this in the old story, what might God do in the new story, which is still unfolding in this Advent time?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Getting Down and Personal

Sometimes in order to move forward we have to move backward.  We have to review what has been in order to get to what is and what will be.  This is particularly important in this season of Advent as we are called to prepare for a “new thing.” Isaiah 43:18 urges us to “Cease to dwell on days gone by and to brood over past history.  Here and now I will do a new thing; this moment it will break from the bud.  Can you not perceive it.”  Yet, in order to perceive that new thing and eventually to receive it, Isaiah 42:20 reminds us that we “have seen much, but remembered little…our ears are wide open but nothing is heard.”  It seems to me this morning that it is difficult to get hold of the present moment and the “not yet” if we can’t remember what we’ve already seen and failed to remember—those yesterdays.  If you’ve seen much and don’t remember, how can you possibly  get hold of what is going to happen?

So it is that I look back and try to remember the year that has gone by so quickly.  In January and February we traveled across this land “made for you and me.”  We had a wonderful visit with friends and relatives all along the way, going and coming.  We visited with Cherie’s mother in California near her  94th  birthday.  It was a great adventure:  snow in Flagstaff, our grandchildren preparing a cake and singing “Happy Birthday” to their grandad, my granddaughter playing “Happy Birthday” just for me on the piano, a sunset in Pipe Organ National Monument, and so much more.  

Shortly after our arrival home we received word that Cherie’s mother had suffered a stroke.  Off she flew to California where she spent the next month or so at her mother’s side to the end.  While she was there our second great granddaughter was born with a heart issue requiring days of waiting and hoping.  She made it through with flying colors! 

Another trip took us to England for our granddaughter Katie’s “second wedding” to the same guy she married here in the USA in October 2017. We were delighted to have my brother and his wife travel with us for that event and be with us on a cruise of the Baltic Sea.  What a trip!  

August came with a shock.  Cherie suffered a mini-stroke. Our trip west was canceled.  She also lost her niece from a sudden illness shortly thereafter.  A brief trip to Maine in October was therapeutic, but Cherie’s arthritic knee was creating mobility problems.  She will have a knee replacement this week. 

Life tumbles in with all it ups and downs for all of us.  We must recall those ups and downs in order to press on to the new thing.  The Apostle Paul didn’t reckon that he had gotten hold of that new thing yet, and says, “All I can say is this: forgetting what is behind me, and reaching out for that which lies ahead, I press on towards the goal…”—toward the “new things” of this Advent time—the promise of a new song to sing, a new dance to dance, a new life to live.

Our second "Great" Grandaughter is
doing GREAT!

Friday, December 7, 2018

There's A Voice in the Wilderness Crying

One of my favorite Advent hymns is “There’s A Voice in the Wilderness Crying.”  The song is based on Isaiah 40:9 and was written by a Methodist pastor, James Lewis Milligan, in the early twentieth century.  The hymn describes the Advent journey— a time of promise, a time of preparation and new beginnings, a time of expectancy, happenings, annunciations, and dreams, a time of waiting, transition, newness, and vulnerability.  A season of “new things” and receptivity and openness, a time of searching and finding, a time for new dreams, new songs, new dances, a time to follow your star.  A time of new birth.

There’s a voice in the wilderness crying,
A call from the ways untrod:
Prepare in the desert a highway,
A highway for our God!
The valleys shall be exalted,
The lofty hills brought low; 
Make straight all the crooked palces,
Where the Lord our God may go!

O Zion, that brings good tidings,
Get thee up to the heights and sing!
Proclaim to a desolate people
The coming of their King.
Like the flowers of the field they perish,
The works of men decay, 
The power and pomp of nations 
Shall pass like a dream away.

But the word of our God endureth,
The arm of the Lord is strong;
He stands in the midst of nations,
And He shall right the wrong.
He shall feed His flock like a shepherd,
And fold the lambs to His breast;
In pastures of peace He’ll lead them,
And give to the weary rest.

There’s a voice in the wilderness crying, 
A call from the ways untrod:
Prepare in the desert a highway,

A highways for our God!

Prepare a highway...

Thursday, December 6, 2018

And Still the Angels Sing

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” written in 1849 by Edmund H. Sears and based on Luke 2:8-14 is considered a Christmas Carol—but it is also an Advent hymn—a hymn of expectancy, hope, and faithfulness.  Do the heavenly angels still sing over the Babel sounds of this weary world?  Can we in the midst of all our Christmas trappings—in the midst of this sad and tragic time in history hear their music?  

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,” (Don’t we all experience the crushing load?) “whose forms are bending low,” (Don’t we all feel the heavy weight?) “who toil along the climbing way” (Don’t we all know the ups and downs—mountains, hills, valleys, and wilderness places, crooked and rough roads?) “with painful steps and slow,” (Don’t we all feel the turmoil and pain?) “O rest beside the weary road” (Don’t we all need to stop, to rest, to look and to listen?) “and hear the angels sing!”  This describes Advent—the waiting, the preparation, the journey to the Bethlehem of the heart:  “For lo! the days are hastening on, by prophet seen of old, when with the ever-circling years shall come the time foretold when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.” 

There are those who make much ado about keeping “Christ” in Christmas (whatever that means) as though somehow the meaning of Christmas is up to us and the words we use make all the difference.  Thomas Merton suggests that keeping Christ in Christmas has never been in our hands, when he wrote:  “Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited.”  He comes to this world still, uninvited still, and it is for us to “rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing” and make room for His coming to our Bethlehem of the heart.  “For if Christ were born a thousand times in Galilee, it was all in vain until He is born in thee.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Fling Wide the Portals of Your Heart

Mountains and hills,  deserts and valleys, along with many a crooked road and many a rough place are part and parcel of every person’s life.  If we are alive we can’t avoid them. Some we create for ourselves.  Some mountains and hills, deserts, valleys, wilderness places, and crooked roads and rough places just seem to happen.   There is no avoiding them.  I’m not speaking of a physical geography (though climbing mountains and walking through desert places has a physical effect)—I’m using mountains, valleys, hills, deserts, crooked roads and rough places in a figurative way.  Some of our problems seem like mountains that we can’t scale.   The death of a parent, loved one, or friend can send us into a valley of sorrow.  Health issues can force us into a desert of despair.  A broken relationship can create a wilderness space of depression.  All that affects us outwardly, every mountain, every hill, every desert wandering, every valley, every rough and crooked road also affects us inwardly. 

Everything we experience on the outside gets built on the inside. We may scale the mountain and cross the barren desert on the outside but on the inside we say, “I never want to go through that again.  I never want to experience such depression, loss, hurt,  or despair ever again.”  Thus, to protect, shield and isolate our hearts from these outward things, to keep these things from ever happening again to us, we surround our inner chamber (the Bethlehem of the heart) with mountains, hills, valleys, deserts, along with crooked roads and rough places. No hurt, no despair, no loss, no sadness, and no one, can get to our hearts any more.

In Advent, we must go to that Bethlehem of the heart, to our inner chamber, and allow the mountains and hills we’ve erected there to be brought low, the valleys there to be exalted, and the crooked places there made straight “where the Lord our God may go.”  It is no easy trek to get to that inner chamber, and it is a life-long journey,  but it is part of the preparation necessary to experience “the glad tidings of great joy at Christmas:  “Unto us a child is born.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Advent Journey

There are three stages in the journey of the Christian faith.  The first stage is a journey to the Bethlehem of the heart:  a new birth within. This is followed by the journey to the Jerusalem of the heart: the crucifixion and resurrection of love.  The third is the journey to the Emmaus of the heart, where the birth within, the crucifixion and resurrection of love and a personal companionship with Love at the heart of things are internalized in the depths of our being.  You cannot deal with the Baby without the Cross; you can’t deal with the Cross without the Resurrection, and you cannot get hold of any of it without the experience of Emmaus.   

Advent is the first stage of that arduous journey.  It involves the journey to the Bethlehem of the heart: the new birth within.  There are many words to describe this new birth; you can call it an awakening, a new consciousness, or an epiphany, if you like.  This trek to the Bethlehem of the heart is not a “one time” trip.  You can’t see or experience it all at once.  You have to go back again and again and again and be born again and again and again.  Why?  Because the Bethlehem of the heart is not a constant.  The scenery changes with every passing day, month and year—and we change.  New mountains, hills and valleys form that weren’t present on any previous journey. That is why Advent comes, year after year, calling us once again to prepare for a new birth within, a new thing to happen, a new time to begin, a new dance to dance, a new song to sing. Every new valley must be lifted up, every new mountain and hill brought low.  The crooked roads must be made straight again, and the rough ways made smooth.  Yes, we must be born again—and again—and again! 

The Advent journey is not about visiting the actual village of Bethlehem or some re-created nativity scene. It is not about decorating the tree, singing carols, or keeping family traditions. It is about a journey into our very own life.  My inner life and your inner life has experienced many stumbling blocks—mountains, hills, deserts and valleys, plains and wilderness places in the year 2018.  Advent is a journey into our own inner geography.  It is here, in this Bethlehem of the heart that Jesus must be born anew in us this year.   Last year’s experience won’t do.  Just as the child Jesus grew in stature and wisdom so have we.  It is now time for a new birth, a new awakening within.  God speaks to us in this Advent time, even as God spoke to Isaiah in the long ago:  “Behold, I am about to do something new; now it shall spring forth; will you know it?  I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”  Yes, Advent comes, year after year, so that we may take the journey to Bethlehem and experience a new birth within.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Much Ado About Nothing

There has been much ado about the red Christmas trees in the people’s house—the White House.  Do you know how the people’s house got that name?  The White House was variously referred to  in the early years as the “President’s Palace,” “Presidential Mansion,”  and the “President’s House,” and sometimes called the “Executive Mansion,”  but none of these seemed to take hold.  After the Burning of Washington a myth developed.  It was said that the charred walls of the building were painted white to mask the burn damage.  Some say this sparked the public to begin calling it The White House”.  It wasn’t until 1901 that President Theodore Roosevelt had the “White House” engraved on the official stationery (previously it was the “Executive Mansion”) and it was during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration that the current letterhead   “The White House” appeared on the official stationery.   

In my brief research about The White House I read, “The main residence, as well as foundations of the house, were built largely by enslaved and free African-American laborers, as well as employed Europeans.  Much of the other work on the house was performed by immigrants many not yet with citizenship.”  

Now we are making much ado about First Lady Melania Trump’s red Christmas trees.  It is much ado about nothing!  Red trees for Christmas are not uncommon during the holidays.  It is true they are a change from the traditional green, but why get all excited?  And why try to find justification for the “red” trees as a FB post attempts to do?  The post has Mrs. Trump walking among the red trees with the caption: “A woman who knows the meaning of Christmas” and stating:  “Red trees are significant to the early Christian church.  In eastern Europe, the church would dye the trees red to symbolize the blood of Jesus and the resurrection.”  Search as I may, I’ve found no evidence of trees being dyed red in the days of yore, neither in eastern Europe or anywhere.  But be that as it may—it seems to me, this Christmas tree business is much ado about nothing.

The Christmas tree (red, white, blue, green, silver, or any other color) is a relatively new addition to our Christmas traditions.  The first Christmas tree set up inside the “White House” occurred only 127 years ago when Benjamin Harrison set up a tree for his grandchildren.  (Previous presidents had Christmas trees, but Harrison gets the credit historically).

How about pink?
Here in America, in 1840 or so,  the Christmas tree was seen as a pagan symbol and viewed as unacceptable by the majority of Americans.  In fact, Christmas celebrations were frowned upon by our “Thanksgiving” pilgrims.  Their governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out the “pagan mockery” of the Christmas observance, penalizing any and all frivolity.  The singing of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any and all joyful “heathen expressions” were seen as desecrating “that sacred event.”  So, reactions (negative or positive) about “red” Christmas trees is much ado about nothing!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Advent Comes Again!

“Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited” (Thomas Merton).

Advent is the beginning of the new year 2019 for me.  Advent: what is it?  It is…for me…

A very special time—a time of promise:
    a time of preparation for the new about to happen,
    a time of new beginnings

Advent is a time of expectancy...a time of happenings: 
   annunciations are heard if ears are opened,   
   and  dreams are dreamed and guidance given

Advent is a time of giving birth to God:
    we carry God around with us and do not know it,
    Advent is a time for a new birth within  

Advent is a time of waiting:
    waiting for mountains to be brought down;
    hills to be brought low,
    for valleys to be lifted up and crooked places made straight.

Advent is a time of moving—a time of transition:
   not a movement backward, but forward,  
   moving all inhabitants of the world
   to a place we’ve never been before.

Advent is about newness—a time for the "New Things:”
    a season of receptivity and openness,
    a time of new vulnerability

Advent announces a Way—a time of new dreams:
    a time to sing our own song, dance our own dance,
    a time of searching and for finding

Advent is all of the above—it is kairos time:
    time to start anew, to begin again,
   Advent is the time to follow your star. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Serious Call

Not many people who profess the Christian faith today have ever heard of William Law or his book, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.  The title alone is enough to scare one off.  The content is even more threatening, demanding and frustrating.  Law was born in 1686 in England.  At the age of twenty-eight he made a decision that seemed to him to be a matter of honor.  When Queen Anne died and George I ascended to the English throne, all holders of academic and ecclesiastical offices were required to swear allegiance to the new monarch.  William Law refused to do so, because people “swearing the direct contrary to what they believe,” in his thinking was wrong.  His decision deprived him of his expected career, but it opened the way for him to give his life to writing.  His writings of the 18th century influenced people like John Wesley and Samuel Johnson—and in the twentieth century his writing  had a profound influence on me, an influence that has continued even into this twenty-first century.

William Law is visiting me this morning.  We’ve just discussed the “wrongness” of swearing allegiance to someone or something that is contrary to one’s deepest belief and commitment.  A Christian, Law reminds me again, is a person who has heard One Voice above all others.  There is but One Voice to which he or she gives full allegiance and commitment—that Voice is Jesus Christ.

He reminds me, too,  that I, along with all others in the Christian fellowship, often confuse my own voice  (thoughts, positions, ideas and opinions) for the Voice of Jesus.   He tells me through words  he wrote over 300 years ago that I ought to at least make an honest effort to live up to what I profess to believe.  “Never allow yourselves to despise those who do not follow your rules of life, but force your hearts to love and pray for them.”

Law reminds me, too, that I (and my brothers and sisters who take on the name of Christian) must continually examine my life (my religion).  “If my religion is only a formal compliance with (that) which is in fashion where I live; if it costs me no pain or trouble; if it puts me under no rules and restraints; if I have no careful thoughts and sober reflections about it—is it not foolish  to think that I am striving to enter in at the strait gate?  How can it be said that I am working out my salvation with fear and trembling.”

Finally, he tells me to be careful of being puffed up:  “Now in order to begin in the practice of humility you must take it for granted that you are proud…For there is no one vice that is more deeply rooted in our nature or that receives such constant nourishment for almost everything we think or do…For you can have no greater sign of a confirmed pride than when you think that you are humble enough…So!  He who thinks he has humility enough shows that he is not so much as a beginner in the practice of true humility.”  Yes, William Law, shouts out a serious call.