Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Advent Week 4: Temples

Are you the one to build me a house to live in? (2 Samuel 7:5)

I was talking with a pastor a while back about his church building.  He is the pastor of a thriving church, but every year, the building becomes more and more of a burden.  It’s moldy, outdated, and just hard to maintain.  I won’t go into all the details, but the church’s options are very limited, and yet they love their dear old building.

Lots of churches are stuck in this position, or an even worse one.  My heart goes out to churches in places that have been de-populated in recent years (due to industry moving away, et cetera) and are wondering how to keep the lights on.

In many ways, a building is helpful for Christ’s ministry today.  Lots of folks preach on street corners, but it would be hard to pay attention and learn in that environment, even from the best preacher.

In other ways, our churches’ buildings have become temples.

This particular Old Testament reading from 2 Samuel appears this week, in part (I believe) to drive home the point that God’s temple is anywhere his people go.  He doesn’t need a building.  People get the idea in their head to construct a magnificent structure to honor God, but we don’t stop to ask first if God really wants us to do that.

And after we build these temples, they can actually get in the way.  What do we do with them then?

As we approach Christmas and get ready to celebrate the birth of One born far away from any temple or other “officially” holy place, it may be useful for us to reflect on temples.  Consider how you have built unneeded temples in other areas of life.  Not buildings necessarily, but foundations and patterns that become overbearing and burdensome.

For example, you may be stuck in the ever-growing temple of Christmas gifts (if you gave someone a room-size TV in 2010, can you top that in 2011?)  Perhaps you are like the character of the father in Little Miss Sunshine who has built a temple out of the idea that someday he’ll make it big, and forces his family to carve out space for themselves around this idea.  Or maybe you have constructed a temple to your own opinions, and you’re finding that the temple is empty.

God appoints a place for God’s people.  Does it really matter what that place looks like, or where it is?

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Advent Week 3: Uneasy Journey

When I was a pastor in a rural area, some folks participated in a low-key mission project called “Dental Transportation,” for lack of a more exciting term. Every once in a while, volunteers would get a call notifying them that a family needed to visit the only dentist in the area who accepted Medicaid and provided pediatric services. His office was at least 30 minutes from our town, which meant that many of these families had been putting off the dental care for a long time. (Thank goodness it was only half an hour! I know many people have a much longer drive.)

I went along on one of these trips, to attempt to translate for a Spanish-speaking family. (Languages get rusty if you don’t practice!) On that trip I learned more than I ever wanted to know about childhood tooth decay.

Until today, that is.

This morning, my family was the family bringing in the baby with a mouth full of decaying teeth. We are still not sure how this happened — we have tried lots of things, and the only thing we have left to try is “brush more.”

But I’m not writing this to tell you a sob story. I’m writing because the episode has taught me about Christmas.

You see, I felt absolutely ashamed bringing my daughter in there. There is a stereotype of children with poor oral health: that their parents don’t take good care of them, that they can’t afford a toothbrush, et cetera. Many parents, myself included, also carry around a wishful-thinking stereotype of a well-educated suburban family with gleaming teeth. I thought I wasn’t a person who bought into to stereotypes. I’m above all that, I thought. Yet the stereotypes hit me with full force this morning, and I was ashamed. Afraid too.

After she got her fillings, and after we had received another reminder about brushing, we collected our precious doll and went home. As we left, I started thinking about Mary and Joseph.

What were they thinking as they traveled to Bethlehem? Did they wonder, “How did this happen to me?” Were they hoping that they wouldn’t run into anyone they knew? Did they give evasive answers to people as they asked around for lodging? (“Yes, she is my … uh … wife.”) Were they ashamed? Were they afraid?

I hope they felt full of confidence as they traveled that road. After all, how many couples do you meet that have received two visitations from angels, and who are about to be the caretakers of the Son of God? But it would be OK with me if I found out that the journey was emotionally trying for them. Nothing good is ever easy.

If Christmas means anything to us, it ought to mean that we sympathize with Mary and Joseph. They were tired, poor, outcast, and potentially in big trouble. And yet they brought forth a gift for all of us.

So, if we sympathize with Mary and Joseph, what is holding us back from having mercy on people in similar circumstances? Judgment? Fear of becoming like them? Shame?

If you can only give one gift this year, make it a gift to someone who is vulnerable and worried. A little comfort and joy go a long way on an uneasy journey.

a student surveying the journey ahead, New Mexico 2010

 

 

Sunday after Christmas: Time for a Change

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered….

Thus begins the Christmas story so many of us are accustomed to hearing.  The story sounds regal and beautiful, and that’s no accident!  It begins with reminding us of the power of the Roman emperors to move people around at will.  It continues along a pattern we see whenever there is a royal wedding or birth.  I remember during the eighties, when I was a kid, seeing the photo spreads in grocery store magazines about the royal weddings and births in Great Britain.  Everything was documented in minute detail–down to the number of hand-embroidered diapers given by visiting diplomats–and made public to remind everyone what a monumental event just happened.

Luke details the birth, the first visitors, the announcement … but it all happened in a rough stable with poor people.  Each detail reminds us of two things:  how important the birth of Christ is, and how much God intends to change things.  (For a great article on this, see this from the Presbyterian Outlook in 2005.)

So as a spiritual practice to close out Advent and Christmas, practice paying attention to details.  Pay attention to where God is at work in every situation, especially the situations that seem the most hopeless.  Think about details, even the most minute, that God may want to change.  Where are you in the details?

Advent Day 27: Worship

Advent Day 27

Young men and women alike, old and young together!  Let them praise the name of the Lord … (from Psalm 148)

Today is a great day to worship.

Yesterday I wrote about becoming part of a community of faith.  Tonight (Christmas Eve) there will be some beautiful opportunities to participate in a community as worshipers celebrate the birth of Christ.

Actually, for me this night is bittersweet.  In becoming a pastor, I’ve had to give up a cherished childhood tradition.  Some of my ancestors were Moravian, and the Moravians host a moving Christmas Eve service called a “lovefeast.”  For years, my family attended these services in the Winston-Salem, NC area.  I don’t live anywhere near a Moravian church and I miss attending those services.  If you live near one, go!

Yet tonight I get to have some fun dressing up as a shepherdess or Mary or some sort of “Bible woman” for our children’s Christmas Eve service.  Instead of robes, the senior pastor and I will wear the funny little bathrobe-type costumes we keep around the church for this occasion, and the children will dress up as people or animals from the Christmas story.

For me the children’s service is a chance to reflect on the meaning of worship.  By dressing down, I feel that I am putting away all my pretenses.  I am humble before the manger, in which lies a King.  I keep this image before me as I worship at other times during the year.

May your worship be humble and glorious tonight, and indeed every time you worship.

Today’s Scripture readings from the PC(USA):  http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2010/12/24/