Monday, December 24, 2012

Advent, Week 4: Christmas Eve

From Scott....

Incarnation.

 

And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us… (John 1:4)

 

Recently, I attended a wedding in San Antonio, Texas.  The reception was at a museum near the University of the Incarnate Word, and a cousin asked me what my understanding of “incarnate word” was.  I told him that Incarnate Word referred to the religious order who founded the school, but that the term had a deeper meaning.  “Literally,” I told him, “this is the University of the Word Made Flesh; in other words, the University of Jesus.”

 

As humans, we have tremendous capacity for abstract thought, unlike any other beings on the planet.  We can recall the past with detail and imagine the future with hope.  We make sense of symbols and ideas, and use the creative gifts of art and music to express ourselves and inspire others.  We are unique among all living things in our ability to do so.

 

Yet, despite our capacity for conceptualizing that which is not concrete, we have our limits, and God knows it.  Sometimes, we need to experience something “real” to understand something mystical.  Yes, seeing is believing.

 

Unconditional love is one of those mystical, hard-to-understand concepts.  Bolstered by our own experiences and egos, it is hard to even fathom the depth of love for love’s sake, no strings attached and impossible to stop.  Just this week, a loved one sent a text I’d been expecting for some time.  “Bridgette died last night,” she wrote, letting me know her beloved dog had passed after a long illness.  Bridgette was a “Heinz 57” dog, as my Dad used to say—a little of this and a little of that.  She was a loveable, barrel-chested companion who had been rescued from a certain death years before as she prowled the area near our local industrial zone.

 

I reminded her that Bridgette would have been long gone many years before had she not reached out to her and taken her home.  “Yes,” she replied, “but when I think about her, I have to ask:  who rescued who here?”  Bridgette had been unconditional love incarnate to her, at a time she needed it most.  A real-world, full five-senses example of something we find so hard to understand.

 
How loving and thoughtful of God to send Jesus into the world…a fully-human, living, breathing example of unconditional love, so we could completely and finally understand.  Pure and gentle as a baby, self-sacrificing and offering love and healing as a man, let us remember this Christmas Eve to look for the word made flesh and choose to be rescued, again.


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From Kathy....Distracted Christmas


“It’s happened,” a friend of mine told me over coffee this week.  “I hate Christmas,” she said. Oh, she’s not a scrooge, in fact she may be one of the most Christ-living-following women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.  And I’m not a scrooge; in fact I adore the gift giving and the Christmas happenings.  However, the parties, the food, the goings and comings, the lights, the lists, the presents and the wrappings of Christmas have taken over my mind this week.  I knew it would be a tough fight this year and I knew I was weak but I was hopeful.  I was hopeful that I would remember and focus on the real truth of Christmas – the birth of God into this human world.  But the power and trappings of this retail-frenzy we somehow call “Christmas” overtook me.  So when my friend whispered these unusual words, “I hate Christmas”, my heart heard and I was jolted.

 

 

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feetlistening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:37-42 New International Version

 

So, Yay! for Martha as she too struggled with the trappings of preparations. Yes, the distractions of Christmas are what my friend revealed in her comment.  I read these bible verses and wondered again why I get so very distracted.  I’m distracted by food preparation and by my gift list.  I’m distracted by errands and by Christmas baking.  I’m distracted about the upcoming Christmas Eve service and how long it will last and what plans we have after it. I’m distracted by my selfishness and the selfishness I see in others.  I’m distracted by relationships - who is arguing or who has their feelings hurt?

I suddenly find myself as the family peacekeeper when the actual peace-bringer is waiting for me in His manger.  

 

The God my spirit craves is waiting for me to come, kneel, and listen.  He’s whispering to me, “Kathy, Kathy you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one.  I’ve come into this world – your God, your creator, your redeemer, your Saviour.  I AM what you seek.  I AM what your heart craves. I make you complete.  Yes, My manger is lowly and quiet.  I wait for you in your world.  Come see me, touch me and KNOW I am born.  Then you will have chosen what is better and it will not be taken from you.”

 

He's whispering these words to you too.  Go find Him in the quiet.  Let's force ourselves from the distractions and choose "what is better and it will not be taken away."

 

Merry Christmas – Christ is born indeed!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Heartbreak...and a request for your patience

I, along wll of you, am struggling to make sense of what happened in Newtown, CT this week.  Our hearts are broken for the children, teachers, school leaders, and their families and friends.

As I've attempted to write an entry for to share this week, I'm finding myself blocked.  I will continue to pray for the right words to write.

In the meantime, thank you for your patience as I take a day or two extra to complete the Advent Week 3 post. 

And, let's continue to pray for Newtown and an end to the senseless violence we are seeing over and over again.

Peace,
Scott

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent Reflections, Week 2: Mystery

From Scott.....
Mystery.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (I John 4:8)

When I was a young boy, my brothers and I had a vintage collection of Hardy Boys mystery books.  I was a big fan, and I suppose I took to Frank and Joe Hardy’s adventures because I imagined that they were just regular kids like my brothers and I and all the other kids on our block back in the 50s and 60s, except for the fact they were always in some sort of thrilling situation that required their skillful sleuthing.

With titles such as “The Clock Ticked,” “The Mystery of Cabin Island,” and “The Clue of the Broken Blade,” Hardy Boys mysteries were pretty formulaic.  Each chapter finished with a little cliffhanger that made you want to read the next, building to a somewhat surprising resolution tied up neatly by all the clues the boys had discovered and deciphered, followed by a happy ending that made you want to read the next installment.

The mysteries that baffle us in real life are not so easily resolved.  “What is the meaning of my life,” “Why did this happen to me,” and “Why did I do to deserve this?” are mysteries many struggle to solve their whole lives through.  Even with the most obvious of clues, the big mysteries of life are not answered as neatly as the Hardy Boys found.

One of the big mysteries—perhaps the biggest mystery of all—is the mysterious nature of God.  Throughout my adult life, I have asked the same essential spiritual questions others have through the ages:   “Who am I…who is God…and who am I in relation to God?”  Throughout this journey, I have felt at times that I have “the answer,” only to be awakened to some new understanding of myself or the nature of God that shakes my certainty…and then I’m back to looking for clues to solve the mystery.

Scripture certainly provides many clues.  Who is God?  Well, John’s first letter plainly tells us that “God is love,” and that those who do not love do not know God.  And yet why do many who profess to know God show such contempt for others who are different from themselves?  Why do we separate ourselves into the spiritual “in” and “out” groups because someone prays differently, acts differently, votes differently…does anything differently than the way we believe they “should?”

I believe the scripture, “God is love.”  My belief in that scripture and what it says about the nature of God is steadfast, yet my understanding  has broadened through my lifetime based on my experiences, my study, and my encounters with others. 

The unfolding chapters of my life have led me to an understanding I have today, one that may make some who read uncomfortable:  that I am a Christ-follower by choice because I’ve come to know that the humanity of Christ helps me to understand the divinity and mystery of God. 

But I also am a Christ-follower by accident of birth because that is the tradition of my mother and father, and their parents before them, and the community into which I was born.  Had my circumstances been different, would I have come to know God through Christ?  And am I called to love anyone less whose circumstances led them down a different path…a path with as many twists, turns, and answers that led to more questions did mine?

Our world is a divided place.  Lines are drawn and have been drawn in the sands of time over the ages, often in the name of God, as simple-minded human beings have understood God to be.  Sometimes, people settle into one “answer to the mystery,” and—enjoying the comfort that comes with certainty—never allow themselves to consider that “God is love” is a bigger and more complex idea than they had ever imagined!  Instead, they neatly resolve the mystery of God like a good Hardy Boys novel—satisfying, but perhaps best meant for a child.

I, for one, don’t want a “Hardy Boys” faith.  I want my faith to grow as I grow.  I want to fully understand who God intends for me to be, and who I am in relationship to God, who is love…a God who is continually being revealed in ways both plain and mysterious...through relationships, tragedies, joys, sorrows, music, art, compassion, the environment…and through one of the most mysterious choices God has made:  to be revealed as a baby in a cattle stall. 

How mysterious that the unimaginable, incomprehensible God we seek to understand would show up in the form of one so vulnerable, so utterly dependent on love, pure and simple, to survive!

Then again, maybe not so mysterious after all…

Prayer for Today:  God, I do not completely understand all that you are, or all that you would have me to be.  But I do know that you are love, and that I am to love others if I am to know you.  Help me today to be more prone to love than to judge, to reach out rather than to exclude, and to show the love of Christ to the world today in all I say and do.

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From Kathy...


Wonder of Christmas

 

 

The line to visit with Santa was long.  It stretched and curved and jigged and jagged all the while children ran to and fro, moms stressed, babies cried…it’s Christmas.  I looked at some of the children closest to Santa.  Some were too old to still really believe in Santa Claus, some too young to even know their whereabouts but there was one.  One little girl in her beautifully smocked Christmas dress stood gazing at Santa.  She held her mama’s hand and had her stuffed animal firmly grasped in the other.  Her eyes held wonder, perhaps a little fear but definitely intrigue, yes-even mystery.  She believed.  Her eyes held wonder.

 

I walked away from that scene with a smile.  How precious!  Additionally, I was visiting with a friend last night and she shared that her grand daughter would be with them on Christmas morning.  I found myself thinking, “Oh, how wonderful that you’ll get to experience Christmas morning with her and through her eyes.  It will be an exciting morning.  One where you wake up early and run to the tree, paper is flying, boxes trampled in the excitement.  The mysterious presents that have long waited are finally opened.  The joy and wonder of Christmas being revealed.”

 

After these two experiences I begin to ponder whether or not I'd lost the gift of wonder.  Michael Yaconelli describes wonder in his book, Dangerous Wonder"We have lost the gleam in our eye.  Jesus [birth] no longer chases us in the rugged terrain of our souls.  We have forgotten what it is like to stand speechless in the presence of Jesus, hearts beating wildly, staggered and stunned by what God is doing in our world.  Do not give up.  Dangerous wonder is still possible for us all."

 

I’m 54 years old and I want my eyes to behold mystery and wonder this Christmas.  I want the mystery of God being born as a Baby to confuse, amaze and bring me to my knees.  How is it possible that a majestic God could or would force Himself from heaven to come to a painful place called Earth and squeeze Himself into the skin and frame of a baby?  If that’s not enough of a mystery add to it that He came for me and you.  I really can’t comprehend or understand such a God.

Perhaps it’s only in realizing His magnificence that we can fully begin to understand the lowly birth into a manger.  Read these words:

At this my heart pounds and leaps from its place. Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven
and sends it to the ends of the earth.
After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. 

When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back. God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.

He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth, and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.
So that everyone he has made may know his work, he stops all people from their labor.

The breath of God produces ice,
and the broad waters become frozen.
He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them. 

At his direction they swirl around, over the face of the whole earth to do whatever he commands them.  Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge? 

Out of the north he comes in golden splendor; God comes in awesome majesty. The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power…Job 37 (selected verses)

The God Job is describing in these words is the same God we celebrate this Christmas.  I challenge you to re-read this scripture about the nature of God.  Read it again today, tomorrow, the next day and the day after…

The mystery is that this all knowing, all wise, all loving, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Creator, Redeemer was born to us this Christmas.  In all His glory He was born to touch us and to let us touch Him.

What a wonder...What a mystery

 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Reflections, Week 1: Waiting

2012 Advent Reflections, Week 1

For many years, my good friend, Kathy Hayes, and I led an annual Advent Reflection Series at First United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi.  We would share our thoughts on how we were preparing for the coming of the Christ-child with our stories and the songs of our friend, Debbie Sewell.  Kathy has sinced moved to Alabama, but she contacted me earlier this week and suggested we resurrect our Advent tradition through sharing in our individual blogs...a brilliant idea (as are all of Kathy's ideas!), so each week, I'll post two Advent reflections--one mine, and one Kathy's--for your reading.

If you don't follow Kathy's regular writings on her blog, you are really missing something.  Become her "follower" at kathyhayes.blogspot.comAnd if you like what you read here, share with others who might be interested in taking this Advent journey with us.

DSE

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Week 1:  Waiting
From Scott...
 
Come, oh Just One, here descend…Like the rain, our drought attend…

It’s definitely dry in these here parts.

News reports daily detail the impact of what is now believed to be one of the worst droughts since records were kept in this part of Texas.  What were once lakefront homes now seem strangely and aimlessly abandoned, their piers leading nowhere.  Farmers planted in the Spring, and nothing came out of the ground in the Summer.   Lawns have gone to seed, and water restrictions will soon be upon us. Neighbor will no doubt turn against neighbor to secretly report those who dare to water their flowerbeds during prohibited hours!

Day after day, cloudless skies, unrelenting in their blueness, withhold from us the rain for which we have waited.

And waited.   And waited.

Waiting can be discouraging, frustrating, anxiety-producing.  In our society, addicted to instant gratification, even the shortest of waits tests our patience.  And waiting on something over which one has no control—like the rain—is a double-downer.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

As I listened to the choir sing this well-known hymn this morning, the first Sunday of Advent, I thought of those exiled long ago who waited their entire lives to be restored to their homeland.  We lose our cool when we have to wait more than five minutes for a food order.  They waited for generations to be brought back from the Diaspora.

We enter the Advent season, a time of waiting for the Christ-child, each coming from a different experience.  For some of us, we begin from a place of abundance, peace, security.  Not such a bad space in which to wait.

And others enter Advent from a place of turmoil, despair, pain…or spiritual drought.  And waiting there can be unbearable.  The refrain, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel is a personal and impassioned plea.  We are Israel, desperately awaiting restoration.

The Spanish word esperar means “to wait.”  But the same word in Spanish also means “to hope.”  To me, this is what the “waiting” of Advent is about.  It is not staring in despair at the cloudless sky, waiting for the rain to come.  Advent “waiting” can lightened by the hope that Christ will eventually restore us from our exile, and attend to our spiritual drought like a soaking rain.
Prayer for today:  Come, Emmanuel, and rain your unconditional love on the dry and parched places in my soul. I wait with hope for the restoration you have promised.  Amen.
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From Kathy...



Christmas is coming – have you noticed?  Lights are up, wreaths hung, Christmas trees are fully decorated and the stores are swarming with people shopping.  I already feel the peer pressure to ‘get decorated’.  Currently, I have a crooked, naked tree standing in my house.  It has lights on it but no decorations and there it awkwardly stands waiting for further attention. Waiting for someone to notice.  I’m pretty content to just let it wait…

 
However, when my children were young the tree was never waiting for long.  Every Christmas box was brought in and opened on the spot.  Every box within the box was opened and squeals of delight could be heard throughout our house.  The discovery of an old ornament, a memory retold, there was laughter and joy.  We were caught up in the delight of what was coming.  The exciting ‘wait’ of Christmas had started.

 
So these days, the house is quiet and the tree awaits my touch.  The wait of Christmas has started but in a less than dramatic fashion.  Which is good…

Henri Nouwen shares these words,

“I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and other’s of God’s saving power….Our temptation is to be distracted by them…When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence-the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends….”

“The small child of Bethlehem, the unknown man of Nazareth, the rejected preacher, the naked man on the cross, He asks for my full attention.  The work of our salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with its claims and promises.”  Henri J. M. Nouwen, GRACIAS! A LATIN AMERICAN JOURNAL

On this first week of December I’m waiting with quiet attention.  I hope to protect my mind and actions from the insane going, doing and buying of this season.  Oh, how I want to wait with great excitement and anticipation for the coming of Jesus!  But I also want and need to wait in prayerful, meditative silence.  My soul needs those quiet moments to realize God's gift to our world.

    
I think I want to be like the tree standing in my den.  Content to wait, anxious for the beauty that will soon adorn me when He comes again into my world…and yours.  Will you actively wait in anticipation with me?

I wait for the Lord,my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
     more than watchmen wait for the morning 

Psalm 130:3-4