Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Time Between Times

The busy-ness, the rush of the season all comes to press on the day - and then is followed by a kind of hush in time, a gentle stillness in which to settle back and enjoy the great gift of a few moments of leisure. Thoughts turn to tomorrow and the coming year. There are no guarantees, but chances are pretty good that you will receive the great gift of 365 days in the coming year. Before rushing into them, why not take advantage of this brief breathing space and think before the Lord about what you will do with the terrible gift of time. There is a kind of terror in receiving such a great gift. It is not a gift to be squandered.
Perhaps we could begin our consideration of the future with reflection on the past. What kinds of things over this past year have brought you the greatest joy? When have you felt closest to God? When furthest away? What made you laugh? Who was at your side in the year's best moments? What mistakes did you make that need to go in the "lessons learned" column? What opportunities did you miss because you were afraid? Are there any friendships with open agendas that need to be dealt with? When were you fully relaxed and at rest? Are there any regrets that need to be put to rest with forgiveness and, perhaps, repentance? What tripped you up most often? When did you feel fully alive in Christ?
Now, with that inventory in mind, turn your thoughts to the days ahead. How will you impose shape on those days to allow you to enter more fully into the great love of God for you? What deliberate steps will you take to explore the world of deep grace? What one thing about yourself will you finally embrace as God's gift to you - and to the world? Who will you choose to forgive, embracing a new future with them? What weight on your soul will you give up? What closely held and comfortable sin will you walk away from? What risk will you take for the love and glory of God? Where will you carve out the moments and days for deep rest and retreat? What will you do simply because it needs to be done even though you know you won't do it perfectly the first - or thirty-first - time? At what will you give yourself a break? Where will you be on the look out for the fruit of the Spirit?
What a great and special gift is this time between times! Oh for grace to be deeply present in it.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

How Gently He Comes

Soft smooth skin
     of the baby’s cheek
     against the back of her

Slow sleeping sighs
     of the baby’s breath
     against the crook of her

He stirs
     and looks at
     her with unfocused
     they close
     again in sleep

Months before
     his kicks
     made her smile
     in anticipation
          and wonder

She laughed at the
     strength of this

Now his small
          each nail perfect
     encircle one of
          and hold on

There is strength
     in those hands
     in those legs

But now
     strength is at rest
     completely at rest
How gently
     He comes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How Shall We Respond?

The stories surrounding the Incarnation are studies in response. Luke carefully tells a series of minor stories that all pile up to one great story. But along the way, each small story has a fascination all its own.
We are ushered into the holy place as Zacharias comes to present the daily sacrifice. The people he represents stand only a few yards away – but an impossible distance of holiness separates them from the action. Zacharias’ surprise at being met in the holy place by an angel quickly gives way to shock at what the angel says. But that shock fades to incredulity. While understandable, this response is one of those lessons it would be wise for us to learn from someone else’s example.
A couple of months later, we sit with Mary as she is taken by surprise by the same angel with a similar announcement. Like her uncle, Mary’s shock at the angel’s presence is superceded by the stunning pronouncement he makes. Against all odds and against all nature, she was to become the mother of the promise of God – the long awaited Messiah! Her shock likewise gives way – but to a question of mechanics. Her problem is not with the promise, but with the execution of the promise. Mary’s response is admirable, but I doubt that any of us, in similar circumstances, would have been able to respond with even close to the same kind of dignity.
Other responses surface in the moment of the event– Herod’s crafty assassination plot, born out of an insane jealousy – possible for any of us who would be king in the face of Him who is King; the informed nodding of the scholars, content to know about, without any interest in actually knowing, Him for whom they waited professionally.
Yet again, the surprise visit and welcome announcement of the angel – and the song of the angels – stuns the shepherds on  the hills just outside of Bethlehem. Their response is classic. “Let us go and see!” Here, at last, is a response that we can imitate. We, too, can come and see.
Finally, Matthew tells the story of the wise men, who had been journeying the better part of two years in response to the message they had read in the stars of the night skies, found themselves crowding into a humble dwelling, bowing down, presenting their precious gifts, recognizing the King whose birth they were compelled to celebrate. Here, again, is a response that we can imitate. We, too, can come and worship.                  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Courage At Christmas

Christmas can bring out the best in people - smiles shared with strangers, gifts expressing generous hearts, snatches of old songs hummed even while standing in long lines, the light reflected in the eyes of a child reminding those who aren’t what it used to be like, the excitement of the whole world getting ready for one single day. Families come together to share in long remembered and cherished traditions, re-making connections that stretch backward and forward through the years. Friends search for something that will perfectly reflect their heart for another. Tiny lights breaking the dark of the longest night, sparkle and shimmer, almost dancing to the music of peace and joy.

Of course, Christmas can also bring out the worst in people - snarls wrestling over the last must have whatever on the shelf, gifts given out of guilt, banal and boring words and melodies that trivialize deep meaning, greed in the eyes of a child mixing with disappointment over not getting everything, the stress of the whole world heading towards the same finish line. Families come together to resume the same old, tired conflict after the truce that distance called last year, wondering if family can mean anything other than baggage and hard work. Friends desperately search for anything that will be of approximately the same value as what they just got from someone they had no intention of buying for this year.

It is enough to make a person disappear for a month or two. But don’t do it!  Take heart - be of good cheer - have courage at Christmas

Courage to let yourself relax and enjoy an imperfect celebration with imperfect people of the coming of a perfect savior who is God, with us.

Courage to be who you are in Christ and not be sucked in to the death dealing structures of greed and guilt.

Courage to settle for simple without shame and to carve out time for the things and people that are special to you.

Courage to recognize the holy in the holiday.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


"What Must I Do . . .?" 

The question is asked by a young man who has it all, but recognizes that he is missing something essential. He asks a logical question for one who has it all. It is a question formed by his life – a life of grasp, get and hold. It is clear that there is intent, he will do whatever is required in order to put him in a place where eternal life will come to him by inheritance. It is an interesting choice of word, perhaps giving away the source of his own wealth – which, we discover later, is considerable. He understands the nature of connections, of networks. He is willing to do the work necessary to make those connections.

He sees Jesus as a source of the type of life that he wants. Jesus does not take him too seriously at the beginning of their conversation and tosses off an answer that gets to the heart of his deep need – but which the young man is unable to understand. “I have done all that stuff . . .” but still the need remains. At this Jesus stops, looks at him, and loves him. Out of His great heart of love for him, Jesus speaks this young man’s greatest need, “sell everything you have and give it away – then, come and follow me.” The young man is exactly right. Connection with Jesus is his ticket to the life he longs for. But he is held fast in the grip of what he clings too – his wealth, his life. He must first let go before he can receive. All his grabbing and grasping will not enable him to get what he most wants. Life can only be received by someone with empty, open hands – but his hands are full, and closed. Unwilling to release his grip on what has him in its grasp, the young man turns and walks away.

One of the hard lessons of the Advent season is this – we can only receive with hands open and empty. So we, like that wealthy young man must release our iron grip on what has us in its grip. Whatever we have relied on to make us safe and let us know who we are, we must let go and stand still without. We must trust that our empty hands will not remain empty. We must trust that our open hands will be filled with the longing of our hearts – that we will receive life. Life which can not be earned, can not be grabbed, can not be inherited. Life which can only come as gift.

Advent is the season of waiting with open and empty hands, trusting that He to whom we look for life will not turn us away, nor disappoint us. That He who is Life will come, once again, to us.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Chosen Waiting

Approaching the third Sunday in Advent at breakneck speed it is hard to put ourselves into a mode of waiting. We don’t have time to wait. There is just too much life to cram in to every available slot in the day to even think about waiting. But sometimes life forces us to come to the realization that waiting is all we have to do. We can fill the moments of our waiting with distracting things – but we will still wait. The danger of distraction is that we may miss the very thing we are waiting for. Advent reminds us that it is important to learn how to wait, well.
Babies, even supernaturally conceived ones, take about nine months to work up the courage to be born. That is not something you want to rush too much. Nine months is about right. After the miraculous events surrounding conception, I wonder if Mary and Joseph looked with different wonder at her growing belly than any other young couple expecting their first child. Culture probably prohibited it, but Mary’s conversations with the other mothers would reveal that her pregnancy was pretty much like everyone else’s. Nothing supernatural there! She had to wait, just like they did. The promise she had received receded into the back ground noise of life.
The noise of our lives tends to become so loud that we can not even hear the melody of the season unless we stop and sit still long enough to retune the ears of our hearts to the silence at the center of the Universe. Christmas becomes one thing after another, one item checked off the to do list then on to the next – until we simply check off the day and are into the new year without even knowing what has happened. Advent is a deliberate attempt at slowing – at remembering – at reflecting.
We remember the promise and what it might mean. We consider the longing for which the promise was good news. We let ourselves enter in to that place of deep desire once again and refuse to be filled with anything but Him for Whom we wait. We walk slowly and drink in the lights and the laughter and the love that seem everywhere present in this forced, embraced waiting. We know that they will be missed if we don’t notice – and so we notice. We walk slowly enough for small children to keep up. We walk slowly enough for weary souls to explore the edges of longing. We walk slowly enough for the sense of adventure and hope to begin to build. We stop every once in a while and listen. “Do you hear what I hear . . . ?”