Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day (Sacred Space-December 25)

Luke 2:1-14

When we began reading Sacred Space at the beginning of Advent, my hope was that it would be an awakening experience for many of the people at my church. That God would use these times of quiet study and prayer to touch the lives of our people and bring to new life a devotion to Christ.

I believe that for some that has happened. I saw it on faces during our Christmas Eve services yesterday.

It has also awakened something in me. It has been the calmest Advent in awhile. The same activities. The same “busy-ness.” Some unexpected challenges. But less hectic. Less frenetic. There’s been “sacred space” in the days this Advent. I give God thanks for that. I’ve enjoyed this Advent season more than many.

It’s proven to me that Christmas, True Christmas, isn’t lost and that its still possible to "keep Christmas well.” I’m already looking forward to Epiphany. 2011. And next Advent.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Constant Invitation (Sacred Space - December 24)

Luke 1:67-79

In a few hours our Christmas Eve services will begin. It’s a hectic time for pastors and the pace we set often doesn’t lend itself to a lot of time for introspection. So hearing Zechariah’s words are especially meaningful this morning:

“for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.”

In a very real way, that is the pastoral calling as well as John’s. To prepare the way, to open the way for knowledge of salvation so that all of God’s children can experience forgiveness of their sins. And each Christmas Eve is another opportunity to proclaim that message.

Unfortunately, Christmas Eve can become routine. Proclaiming the same story over and over again can become like listening to a broken record if your not careful with your heart. And careful with the Story.

Again, back to Zechariah. His words remind us that rather than a broken record, Christmas is a constant invitation! From Creation’s dawn God’s light has broken upon us to shatter the darkness of death and to guide us in the way of peace.

I haven’t always been careful with my heart. I haven’t always been careful with the Story. This Christmas Eve, I’m ready to invite Jesus into my heart and into my home. I’m prepared to seek his ways.

I pray that as others come to services today, they are ready to accept an invitation to do the same.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

We May Know Too Much (Sacred Space – December 23)

Luke 1:57-66

The Presence of God – One of the names given to Jesus in the Nativity story is Immanuel. It means God with us; God’s presence with us. Slow down and think about that for a second: God is with us. Not just in some abstract sense or some spiritual sense, but God is with us in the flesh. You could reach out and touch him. Hold his hand. Bump up against him. That alone should drive you to your knees.

Freedom – To think that there is freedom in being a servant of God. This walk of faith is full of paradoxes. Jesus is called Savior because he saves his people from their sins. But he is called Lamb of God because he is crucified for our sins. Lamb and Savior? Salvation and Sacrifice.

Consciousness – The King is almost come. Just another couple of days. And then we will hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.

The Word – All of these names for the Son of God in the Nativity story. Jesus. King. Lamb of God. Immanuel. Prince of Peace. Each reveals something to us about who Jesus is and what kind of Savior he will be. Names reveal so much. They become something of who you are. And at the same time something of who you will be. Jesus was King, Immanuel, Prince of Peace and Son of God. He lived into King, Savior and Lamb of God.

ConversationWe may know too much. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. It breeds unfamiliarity. I worry that because we know the story so well (or do we?) and because these names and titles of Jesus are so commonplace in Christian circles that they have lost their power. Is Jesus still King? Is he still Prince of Peace? Do we really understand what it means when we declare him Son of God? Perhaps our biggest problem isn’t our ignorance. Perhaps our biggest problem is that we have just enough knowledge to believe that we know enough.

Conclusion – Lord Jesus, May our heads and our hearts collide in a glorious collision.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Silent Night (Sacred Space – December 21)

This post is thoughtful words from a friend I wanted to share:

I had the distinct pleasure of getting a unit of blood today.  But really more exciting is that there were a number of friends that said they would donate for me, even asking if it were possible.  That’s astounding, and wonderful.

There are so many thoughts running through my mind at the moment.  I’m truly blessed to have anyone (and more to have many) willing to donate of themselves like that.

My mind wanders and thinks of the season, and that I’m glad I’m not in the hospital.  Is that just nonsense?  I don’t think so.  While a good portion of the world readies for the celebration of the coming of Christ, I wonder how many of us truly take in the meaning.  I mean, it’s just another Federal Holiday – right?  It’s just THE season for commercial gratuitous spending.  So, if I was stuck in the Hospital it’s just another day in another week.  Nope.

It’s not just another day, just watch the Peanuts Christmas.  A child was born to us, not just any child, but the embodiment of God, Christ Jesus, Lord with us, Emmanuel.  We celebrate this day, and season, because of the implausible way God chose to show himself to us.  A savior brought to earth as a baby, wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.

Of course Christmas is not a one act play.  The finale, should anyone forget, is Easter.  Easter is a beautiful word to hide the excruciating torture and death Christ endured and overcame to give each of us the chance to find our way to God and heaven.  Without Easter, Christmas has no poignancy.  All this leads me full circle to getting the unit of blood today.  It’s wonderful to know that someone will donate of him or herself to help me.  Think then, about the gift Christ offers, his blood shed for all our sins.

So, I don’t want to be in the hospital this season or on Christmas, I want to be with my family, friends and brothers and sisters in Christ singing Silent Night at a late service on Christmas Eve.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Anno Domini (Sacred Space - December 16)

These words are from Edith Lovejoy Pierce’s “Anno Domini.” A poet I, admittedly, know nothing about. I was introduced to this by a friend:

“If our blind earth has wandered far
From the pure orbit of the Star,
And interposed its own proud will
Between the Stable and the Hill,
May Truth's magnetic pull increase
Along the silver path of Peace."


Peace with God. Peace with one another. Peace with ourselves.

Peace would be nice.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nouwen (Sacred Space – December 15)

In the course of reading and meditating this week, I’ve come across a couple of poems that seem so suited to where this season is taking me. I want to share them with you.

Henri Nouwen was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest who taught for awhile and then left teaching to share his life with a community of mentally handicapped people in Canada. He wrote over 40 books on spirituality and is highly regarded by Protestants and Catholics alike for his profound insights on the faith.

An Advent Prayer by Henri Nouwen

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light & the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.

We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.

We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.

We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.

We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!

I feel like I’m getting prepared for the arrival of this King. There is more I can do and will do, but “Come Lord Jesus!”

~ Godspeed

Sunday, December 12, 2010

“Decorated?” (Sacred Space – December 12th)

Our Christmas tree went up on Friday night and we decorated it yesterday morning. That’s our usual way of going about this, gettree barre the tree one night and decorate the next day. It gives the tree a chance to “hang out” in warmer temps before the lights and decorations go on.

This year’s tree was looking a little “Charlie Brown-ish” when we first brought it home and during that hanging out phase there was a lot of conversation as to what it would look like when all was said and done. Too skinny. Not full enough. Not nearly enough room for all of the ornaments (and we have A LOT of ornaments). But there was really nothing for us to do but wait and see how things looked Saturday morning.

Well, things looked a lot better Saturday morning. Not perfect, but better. So the decorating began. We have a lot of ornaments to put on our tree – most of them handmade. Some from when Carol was a kid. Most from when our boys were small. All of those tree decoratedalong with a lot of Tigger and Pooh ornaments (long story) and the tree gets pretty crowded, pretty quick. Carol’s pretty meticulous about where all of those decorations go, but when its done … it looks amazing.

I wonder if this is at all what God does for us – takes us when we are bare and not much to look at and turns us into something shiny, amazing and glorious.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says that we are new creations. That all the old things have passed away to make room for new things. So in one sense the tree can represent what God has done for us. But in another sense it can’t express it entirely.

Because the tree is still the same tree underneath. In a few weeks we will take off the ornaments and lights to reveal – that same old, imperfect tree that we brought home Friday night. What God does for us in Christ is very different. We don’t just get “covered over” and made to look like something special. We get completely made over and made new from the ground up, from the inside out – that’s what a new creation is. Beneath the surface is a whole new you and a whole new me.

In Christ, we’re not just “decorated;” we are a new creation!

Friday, December 10, 2010

No winning! (Sacred Space – December 10th)

Matthew 11:16-19

The Presence of God – It’s been quiet around here for the last couple of days. How that works with two boys running around the house, I’m not sure. There have been some “loud” moments (God speaking) in that silence. Thank you, God.

Freedom – These verses say something about our freedom and the God who gave it to us. We’re free; even to make the wrong choices.

Consciousness – The reflection that follows the reading takes an interesting turn today; a challenge to consider people’s actions more than their words.

The Word – And yet, in Matthew 11, it was the actions of John and Jesus that were in question. Not their words. When I read these verses I see one of those “no win situations” that we often find ourselves in. John came without fanfare, not eating or drinking and they accused him of having a demon. Jesus came eating and drinking and they accused him of being a glutton and a drunk. Sometimes you just can’t win!

Conversation – What do you do in a “no-win situation?” You do what you know is right! There is really no such thing as a “no-win situation.” If you do what the Lord asks you to do, then you “win.” Regardless of what others may say. Even if you’re biggest critics are the good religious folks.

Conclusion – Going out to get our Christmas tree tonight. Cantata tomorrow. Will be a great weekend, I think!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

John (Sacred Space - December 9th)

Matthew 11:11-15

The Presence of God – I’ve had more time this week to “dwell for a moment on God’s life-giving presence.” A busy week but, a lot of time in the car and that becomes reflection time: listening to music or other preachers on my iPod. Amazing what you and God can talk about while you’re driving!

Freedom – Tuesday was the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s believed that there are only about 200 sailors who survived the attack still alive. They are in their 80’s and 90’s now. I had a chance meeting with one of them in Frederick a few years ago and spent an hour or so in a McDonald’s listening to him talk. It was fascinating.

“God is not foreign to our freedom.” He breathes life into us by the Holy Spirit and freedom is one of the first things he gives us: freedom to choose. Christmas is a choice; we have the freedom to embrace Christ’s Christmas or choose a cheap substitute.

Consciousness – Even in the middle of “busy-ness” there can be a sense of calm. It’s something to seek and out and enter into. It has to be an intentional creation.

The Word – I love John the Baptist - for obvious reasons! He plays the role of Herald in the Gospel stories. He prepares the way. I was reminded yesterday that I have the privilege of not only preparing myself, but of helping others prepare for Christ’s coming (thanks, Jim). How awesome is that?

Conversation – Yesterday, my conversation was mostly one-sided. I did most of the talking. I hope that  today’s conversation is also mostly one-sided. Where I do most of the listening.

Conclusion“Lord, show me how to make this world better, to prepare myself and others for your Coming.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Green (Sacred Space–December 8th)

Stan Freberg is a comedic genius. “Green Christmas” was recorded in 1958. Fifty years later it seems even more relevant to a culture and a Christmas that escalates spending out of control.

Green Christmas–Stan Freberg (1958)

May this Advent and Christmas be a time when the “Spirit breathes life into our inmost desires, gently nudging us toward all that is good.”

~ Godspeed

Monday, December 6, 2010

Two Christmases (Sacred Space–December 6th)

Yesterday, I mentioned “Two Christmases;” an idea I borrowed from CS Lewis. He laid it out in more detail (He actually talks about three Christmases) in an Essay entitled “What Christmas Means to Me” published in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics first published in 1957. The complete essay is below (it’s a little long for one of my posts, but well worth it):

Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a ‘view’ on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business.

I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it. I condemn it on the following grounds.

1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to ‘keep’ it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out - physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.

2. Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?

3. Things are given as presents which no mortal ever bought for himself - gaudy and useless gadgets, ‘novelties’ because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?

4. The nuisance. For after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it.

We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write it off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

In My Blindness (Sacred Space – December 3rd)

Matthew 9:27-31

The Presence of God – This hasn’t been one of my better weeks and I can feel my heart calling out for some time alone. Not just a time separate from people, but a time to set aside responsibilities and refocus. Only a  few days into Advent and already I need to refocus! Tonight I have a two-hour drive alone in the  car; I’m looking forward to listening to some music – that will help bring me back into the Presence.

Freedom – This has been a week full of troubling world news: a lot of damaging information released by Wikileaks, North and South Korea are posturing. It makes me so aware of how precious and how fragile is freedom. And how precarious life becomes when we put our hope and trust in the wrong places.

Consciousness – How long does it take to get diverted from the things of God and distracted by this “Other Christmas?” For me, it takes about a day. One day without some time devoted to God, prayer and the Word is all it takes. And then my spirit gets restless.

The Word – The blindness of these men from Matthew 9 is something that in a figurative sense I have struggled with all week. If I really want something different from Advent & Christmas, I have to know where to find it. These two blind men knew that they wanted something different and they knew where to find it! “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

Conversation – Today, as I meet Jesus I am saying, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!”

Conclusion – When Jesus asks me, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” I will say, “Yes! Yes, Lord, you can.”