Monthly Archives: December 2012

Advent Devotional Dec 24: O Holy Night

O Holy Night
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3tUEBIypSA

 O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!

O night divine, O night when Christ was born;

O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

 

Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,

His power and glory evermore proclaim.

His power and glory evermore proclaim.

 

I would say more but these words really say it all, “Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease.” 

The question for us now is: are we willing to be taught this lesson?  What is our law?  What is our gospel?  When other people look on our life is the story they see have the major themes of love and peace?  Do we seek to free people from oppression… oppression of class wars and the oppression of abuse and addiction… oppression of religious turf wars and the oppression of a system of earning love and respect through achievement… oppression of nationalism and the oppression loneliness, disease, and bearing our burdens by our self.

And if we are not actively fighting these oppressions… than are we not making tonight’s birth meaningless?

O holy night… make it so! 

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Advent Devotional Dec 21: People Look East

People Look East
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SPLN1g_ZFY

People, look east. The time is near 
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

I’m going to be short and sweet today.  We will sing this song on Sunday because I’m preaching about love.  In fact, I might just mostly tip my hand with what I say here – so you can go skiing on Sunday without fear of missing the sermon now (though we will surely miss you not being present with us).

If God is love (and I believe that fully to be true) then the whole idea of making God an external something… a something that we are seeking outside of ourselves, outside of our lives, outside of our world… is a fruitless enterprise.  If God is love than we do not seek God, we live God.  God infuses our lives, our relationships, and our world.  1 John 4:16, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

Incarnation is the word made flesh and living among us – tangible love.  But we too become incarnation when we embrace and live love.  And when we abide in love towards life we are living the life of God who dwells among us and within us.  We are at one with God when we love… we love God, ourselves, one another, and all creation.

People… look east, but also look within and find the love of God that is seeking to be lived in your life.

Advent Devotional Dec 20: Twas in the Moon of Winter Time

The Huron Carol (‘Twas In The Moon of Winter Time)

 Full song in English:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6pNQO6ENW8

 

Tri-lingual version (not all verses sung in English):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcT0Sh4TRmk

 

‘Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds had fled

That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead;

Before their light the stars grew dim and wondering hunters heard the hymn,

Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

 

Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found;

A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round

But as the hunter braves drew nigh the angel song rang loud and high

Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

 

The earliest moon of wintertime is not so round and fair

As was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there.

The chiefs from far before him knelt with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.

Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

 

O children of the forest free, O seed of Manitou

The holy Child of earth and heaven is born today for you.

Come kneel before the radiant boy who brings you beauty peace and joy.

Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

 

Words: Jean de Brebeuf, ca. 1643; trans by Jesse Edgar Middleton, 1926

Music: French Canadian melody (tune name: Jesous Ahatonhia)

So we talked last week about the nature of Christmas adopting new culture and fitting the story into the already present practices of that culture.  This song is a great example of making some translation of the story.  This is no traditional nativity but we turn shepherds into braves, and wise men into chieftains.  Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh turn into rabbit and beaver pelts.  The message however is retained in a way that would not be true if we left the story unaltered.  The story requires translation and it is for this reason that the Jesuit missionary who wrote in the 17th century changed aspects of the scene that is set by the birth narrative of Jesus.

So as I hear this song it makes me wonder.  What does the story look like for us today?  How do we make this story be a living story in our context? Immigrant workers called upon by Angels to tell the news?  Jesus born of a mom on welfare in public hospital? Who is it that attends this birth with gifts while politicians and religious authorities are too involved in “more important” conversations than attending to the injustice of the birth of this king in this way? 

One of the foundational concepts to the Protestant movement was that we tell the gospel in the vernacular of the day, to a be a people’s faith – that they may encounter the word for themselves unmediated by established human authorities.  So how are we re-telling this story today?  What does the birth narrative look like for us in our world?  Not what do we wish it would look like, but what makes the original story come ALIVE for us in a way that relates to our world, our lives, our culture retaining the significance of the original story? 

This much I think I know: God was born of and among the marginalized of the world, in the unexpected places, of unexpected people, and then lived and ministers in that same way.  If we are not making ourselves see into those cracks today, to the edges of our society, turning away from the powerful to walk besides the powerless then we likely to miss God’s birth and life which is lived under our very noses while we are looking in all the wrong places.

Advent Devotional Dec 19: Better Days

Better Days by Goo Goo Dolls

 And you ask me what I want this year

And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days
Cause I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings
And designer love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cause everyone is forgiven now
Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again

I need someplace simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And thats faith and trust and peace while we’re alive
And the one poor child who saved this world
And there’s 10 million more who probably could
If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cause everyone is forgiven now
Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again

I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cause everyone is forgiven now
Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again
Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again

 I’m going to imagine that this was a new song to many of you.  It is not a traditional carol but a recent pop song done for a Target Christmas CD.  And yet it captures on many important Advent themes.  I enjoyed its overall sense of aspiring to better days, which is clear just from the title.  However several particular lines jumped out at me as well.  The first and most important was the line, “And that’s faith and trust and peace while we’re alive.”

I remember in college studying Religion and Ethics and reading about the struggle for Christianity to not bypass issues of justice by holding out the golden carrot of afterlife, aka Heaven as a place beyond Earth and beyond the grave where all is perfect and all past injustice is put right.

I ran across a great example of this while I served in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines as I was taught that Filipino theology was immersed in the a theology of sacrifice born of the Spanish Conquest.  Spanish missionaries (using the Church to prop up Empire) talked about sacrifice being the keys to Heaven and if the people would patiently endure suffering they would get eternal rewards.  Maybe that sounds good in Peter’s letters in the Bible, but in practice is was theological abuse of marginalized people and Church sponsored oppression.  Heaven is a danger to every Christian journey, the idea that all will be made right as excusing a lack of effort to make it right now is a concept we have to be ever vigilant against.

And that’s faith and trust and peace while we’re alive.”

While we’re alive!  This is the true revelation for me about incarnation.  Incarnation says God’s place is here, and God’s time is now.  We do not simply wait for some great justification in the sky to right the wrongs at the end of the drama.  We wait, watch, prepare, and participate in the reality made flesh – made real – right now, “while we’re alive.”

Incarnation explosion is about…

“If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them”

“I wish everyone was loved tonight, And somehow stop this endless fight”

“Cause everyone is forgiven now, Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again”

And yes that is the work of Christ – but the work of Christ is the work of God and the work of humanity made one.  We are at work in God and God is at work in us right here, right now, “on earth as it is in heaven.”  That is our goal – not an escape from here, but recognizing that God has come to dwell among mortals in order that heaven might explode on earth.

For this work to be good and true it means no injustice can be excused as something that will be made right later because later is now or never

“So take these words
And sing out loud
Cause everyone is forgiven now
Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again
Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again.”

Advent Devotional Dec 18: Breath of Heaven

Breath of Heaven

I have traveled many moonless nights

Cold and weary with a babe inside

And I wonder what I’ve done

Holy Father, You have come

And chosen me now to carry Your Son

 

I am waiting in a silent prayer

I am frightened by the load I bear

In a world as cold as stone

Must I walk this path alone?

Be with me now, be with me now

 

Breath of Heaven, hold me together

Be forever near me, breath of Heaven

Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness

Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy

Breath of Heaven

 

Do you wonder as you watch my face

If a wiser one should have had my place?

But I offer all I am

For the mercy of Your plan

Help me be strong, help me be, help me

 

Breath of Heaven, hold me together

Be forever near me, breath of Heaven

Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness

Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy

 

Breath of Heaven, hold me together

Be forever near me, breath of Heaven

Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness

Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy

Breath of Heaven, breath of Heaven

Breath of Heaven

 

This song gets us into the story of Mary.  Mary who received a visit from the angel Gabriel saying that she would conceive a child and give birth to a child who would be holy and be named the Son of God.  Mary who had to figure out how to stay in relationship to a husband who was not father of her child, and who had to journey to Bethlehem while pregnant and give birth in the most grueling of circumstances.  Mary who questions how she could do it, but also was humbly willing to serve – who responded to an unexpected calling with the simple but profound response “Let it be with me according to your will.”

 

The words of our song give voice to Mary’s story.  It is a strange thing about Mary in the protestant tradition that we tend to almost ignore her.  It is as if in reaction to Catholic emphasis on Mary’s role in the life of Jesus we swing as far as we can away from such practice and in the process miss her pivotal place in our scripture and story.

 

I have traveled many moonless nights

Cold and weary with a babe inside

And I wonder what I’ve done

Holy Father, You have come

And chosen me now to carry Your Son

 

I am waiting in a silent prayer

I am frightened by the load I bear

In a world as cold as stone

Must I walk this path alone?

Be with me now, be with me now

When I hear these verses it really puts me in an understanding of the challenging of sacrifice Mary went through – and not because she signed up for it.  It is popular today to talk about serving in ways that you are gifted, that bring you pleasure, and that line up nicely with your gifts and talents.  And yet, this is hard to find in the biblical stories.  Mary didn’t sign up.  Mary didn’t feel gifted, and Mary only found the pleasure later… after the sacrifices.  Where would we be if those who came before only served communities in the ways they wanted to serve?  We would have no Abraham or Moses… no Noah or Elijah.  There would not be a Mary or a Paul… so many of our stories of faith are about unexpected people being called to serve in uncomfortable ways that end up fulfilling them.

Fulfilled by their calling – but it didn’t start that way, “And I wonder what I’ve done.”  Granted this isn’t what scripture says but I feel the rightness of these words.  What have I done to deserve this??? And yet in a not too far off moment Mary will sing of how great it is to bear this child. And will rejoice at the way God has looked upon her with favor.  This thing she was frightened of, could not imagine, and felt a burden became life transforming, enriching, a blessing not simply to her but all who encountered her and her story.

Must I walk this path alone?

And part of the why of that turnaround is that she didn’t walk the path alone.  Her initial reactions are changed when Elizabeth rejoices at Mary’s pregnancy.  The community makes her see it all from a different perspective.  And the shepherds will give her more news that she will ponder and treasure.  Many people will encounter her and her story and when she sees the profound impact her life will have on them that which was a burden she could not imagine carrying became her greatest blessing.

What burden are you carrying for the sake of others?  What burdens are we avoiding because we lack the imagination to believe we are the right person for the job?  How might God be calling us to just this kind of “sacrifice” which is actually great good news to all people… and blessings to our lives that we didn’t know we needed?

Advent waiting and preparation – incarnation explosion… how is the Christ child wishing to be born through you this season in unexpected ways?

Advent Devotional Dec 17: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbMwD24flbA

 

Come, Thou long expected Jesus

Born to set Thy people free;

From our fears and sins release us,

Let us find our rest in Thee.

Israel’s Strength and Consolation,

Hope of all the earth Thou art;

Dear Desire of every nation,

Joy of every longing heart.

 

Born Thy people to deliver,

Born a child and yet a King,

Born to reign in us forever,

Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.

By Thine own eternal Spirit

Rule in all our hearts alone;

By Thine all sufficient merit,

Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

 A couple of years ago I spent some in-depth time with the apocalyptic genre.  Jewish Apocalyptic (which would include John’s Revelation for it fits the literary and even theological expectations) had a short lived history and it is mostly contained in the inter-testamental time period.  While it has threads that are older it basically arises in 250 BCE and wraps up around 100 CE.  In that time period however there is a lot of apocalyptic texts that are written, most of which did not end up in our scriptural canon which includes only two primarily apocalyptic  texts: the second half of Daniel and the Book of Revelation. 

 The study of apocalypticism went through something of a renaissance during the 1960’s and 70’s with the backdrop of the Vietnam War and continual civil rights movements.  I mention all this because some observe that the movement to apocalypticism is born of great cynicism with society.  What we are doing isn’t working and the only way we can imagine goodness happening on the level we need it to happen is for some radical upheaval from beyond us. 

 For those of theological mind it would be the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom – the end of time – the scourging of all that is to create abundant newness… or even nothingness.  Nothing also works two ways, some theological believe God’s Kingdom to be in a different place and that God will lay waste the world we know and rescue some out of it.  There is another type of nothing as well that comes in the form of an apocalypse of non-theological nature.  A great deal of science fiction movies and books center around a post-apocalyptic world, be it nuclear winter or the rise of autonomous and violent machines… etc, etc. 

 Why all this reflection?  Did I forget my song, my purpose, my audience?

 I wonder – do we live in such a time of such cynicism?  Do we live in a time where we cannot imagine a way forward without totally and violent upheaval?  Violence is on the rise and rearing its head everywhere.  Ecological devastation.  Political polarization.  Vested interested in broken ways and means keeps us from creative responses and self-interest has us looking out for our own safety at the expense of the love of neighbors (in all the ways that term can mean ALL people). 

What is the way forward in this world?  Can we imagine a world where won’t have armed guards in school hallways, and gas masks so we can breathe our own atmosphere?  I’m not an alarmist personality.  But it is hard to ignore that fear is growing more rapidly than it is abating, and many of our responses to our fears actually create greater fear in pursuit of safety… in pursuit of safety.  Perhaps that is part of the problem.  We pursue safety at all costs – and maybe that is a phantom whose pursuit costs us our lives (in spirit if not in body).  After all most apocalyptic scenarios predict that the means of our demise will be our own creations – the stuff we created to secure safety.

 Come, Thou long expected Jesus.

 This call is also an apocalyptic call.  It is a call for that which is hidden to be revealed.  A call for the world to be turned upside down.  A call for radical newness. 

 Born to set Thy people free;

From our fears and sins release us.

 This call however is about creating freedom from fear.  It speaks of hope and grace, strength and consolation, and rest.  The call is born of longing for something we do not have… and something that we have come to realize that we both need, and cannot do for ourselves. 

 When the addict enters a twelve-step program they admit weakness, and they admit that there is something that has power over them and they cannot overcome that power without help.  We are addicts of fear and the pursuit of safety.  And while we will pursue our addiction at all costs something inside of us realizes that to get anywhere on a large scale we need to change the nature of the conversation.  We need something from beyond us to have the power to alter our pursuits, to put our spirits at ease, and to restore our hope in a future free from fear.

 I am reminded of words from a song by musician Rich Mullins, “I do not know if we can have a heaven here on earth, but I know we need not have a hell here either.”

 We need not create our own demise… WE NEED to not be the authors of our own demise.  We need to not create “safety” by creating a world of fear holding ourselves hostage to the virtue of safety.  And we really don’t know how to do that… and so comes Advent… we prayerful wait and actively prepare to welcome a new spirit, a new conversation, a new pursuit – and we name him Jesus. 

 This advent are we willing to admit we need to find a new way forward, we need to the coming of a way of life that will alter our pursuits – that safety at all costs is too much cost.  And that we need to embrace humility to imagine that we don’t have the answers already in our grasp but need to seek newness from which freedom might ring.  Come, thou long expected Jesus… come and set us free from our preoccupations, set us free from ourselves, set us free from the hold fear has on our hearts. 

Advent Devotional Dec 14: The Holly and The Ivy

The Holly and the Ivy

 

The holly and the ivy,

When they are both full grown

Of all the trees that are in the wood

The holly bears the crown

O the rising of the sun

And the running of the deer

The playing of the merry organ

Sweet singing of the choir

 

The holly bears a blossom

As white as lily flower

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ

To be our sweet Saviour

O the rising of the sun

And the running of the deer

The playing of the merry organ

Sweet singing of the choir

 

The holly bears a berry

As red as any blood

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ

To do poor sinners good

O the rising of the sun

And the running of the deer

The playing of the merry organ

Sweet singing of the choir

 

The holly bears a prickle

As sharp as any thorn;

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ

On Christmas Day in the morn.

O the rising of the sun

And the running of the deer

The playing of the merry organ

Sweet singing of the choir

 

The holly bears a bark

As bitter as any gall;

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ

For to redeem us all.

O the rising of the sun

And the running of the deer

The playing of the merry organ

Sweet singing of the choir

 

The holly and the ivy

Now both are full well grown,

Of all the trees that are in the wood,

The holly bears the crown.

O the rising of the sun

And the running of the deer

The playing of the merry organ

Sweet singing of the choir

 

This song gives another opening to a side conversation I find important on Christmas myths and traditions.  I say that because it’s commonly believed to have pagan roots and may be over a thousand years old.  Does that make it a bad song?  By no means.  It is an interesting conversation in a day when we talk about a War on Christmas and the horrors of allowing society and culture around us to alter our own worship, words, and traditions.  Because that has always been true. 

 Most of what we think of as Christmas comes more from pagan tradition and practice co-opted by Christianity as it moved into those new regions.  Does pagan mean bad?  Not to me.  What is bad is to think that somehow the traditions we inherited are pure and unformed by the world around us, and that only today is that a true… or that suddenly it’s a problem.

 Christianity as it spread around the world grabbed a hold of traditions and practices native to its new missionary regions and injected Christianity into them.  Much like the Apostle Paul who, in Athens, finds them worshipping idols and preaches to them that the “unknown god” they worship is really the God he is preaching (Acts 17).  He takes their practices and injects Christianity into them.  He is hardly the first, our scriptural creation stories are full of Babylonian and Ancient Near-eastern mythology.   The language of Jesus used in the Bible is pulled directly from language used by Rome (and they used it first) to talk of Caesar.  Even the word church (ecclesia) is a re-defining of a term used for Roman community. 

 We take from the world around us and find new meaning, and inject new meaning, into those common practices.  The same occurred with our understanding and traditions of Christmas (which is why Puritans actually outlawed Christmas because they really did want to war on Christmas by way of returning it to what they saw as its true religious meaning).  So there is no new war on Christmas.  And whether the traditions we have come from some “pure” theological/religious place (if such place exists) or not – their goodness lies not in their human origin, but in so far as they put us in touch with the realities of hope, peace, joy, and love.  If the practices aid our preparations and gives hope to longing for God’s presence, then they are sacred, good, and true regardless of where we got the practices.  If the practice does not (for you) then don’t do it, but do remember that it may do that for someone else so don’t practice it yourself and don’t forbid it or slander it for others.

 Now all of this is really an aside to this song.  I know that – but the song invited my journey down the rabbit trail and I do so love rabbit trails.  Plus I kinda think keeping good perspective on our traditions is important.  So back to the song for the song’s sake, why does this song survive?  Why did it become incorporated into the Christmas practice?  The Holly and the Ivy have been lifted up for their hardiness through the harsh northern winters.  In more mild climates winter simply means cooler days and slightly cold nights with less daylight hours.  In the northern climates winter is deadly… deadly cold but also deadly emotionally.  How do our spirits survive the loss of light and warmth?  Our bodies actually need to absorb light.  So the question of winter is, will we survive this?  The Holly in particular is at its best in winter when its red berries provide a pop of color in contrast the white and grey of snow and clouds.  The Holly is a symbol of, “a light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.” (John 1)

And so in the midst of a type of dark night of the soul we see the Holly and we think of the hope born in the Christ child.  We are reminded that we will run and play again, and the sun will rise. 

 “And this shall be a sign unto you, you will find the child wrapped in bands of cloth, lying in a manger” (Luke 2)  We seek signs, we find reminders, we hold them close as means of grace and hope.  Again this is sacrament – to find in the ordinary (the pagan even) something that has been turned to a sign and seal of God with us.  So the Holly is not simply holly… it is the bread broken which reminds us of Christ, which gives us hope, which assures us that the sun will rise again and the darkness cannot overcome us.

Advent Devotional Dec 13: Some Children See Him

Some Children See Him
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XR5vupwpRJc
Some children see him lily white,
The baby Jesus born this night,
Some children see him lily white,
With tresses soft and fair.

Some children see him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of Heav’n to earth come down;
Some children see him bronzed and brown,
With dark and heavy hair.

Some children see him almond-eyed,
This savior whom we kneel beside,
Some children see him almond-eyed,
With skin of yellow hue.

Some children see him dark as they,
Sweet Mary’s son to whom we pray,
Some children see him dark as they,
And, ah! They love him, too!

The children in each diff’rent place
Will see the baby Jesus’ face
Like theirs, but bright with heav’nly grace,
And filled with holy light.

O lay aside each earthly thing,
And with thy heart as offering,
Come worship now the infant king.
’tis love that’s born tonight!

 A couple of initial reactions to this song which happens to be another one that is new to me (it really is fun having other people create your list of reflection material).  The first is that this song has waaaay more tact than growing up singing: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children in the world.”  That song maybe has its heart in the right place but clearly missed all the purple children.

The second is an important reminder in conversations about incarnation.  It took me back to a conversation about the challenge of Christolatry in the work of Christology.  (Yes yes… big weird words I’ll stop that now I promise.)  Christology is the theological endeavor to understand the nature of Christ.  Christolatry is defined differently by some people but the working notion I have of it is the process of turning Christ into an idol where we begin to worship the particularities of Jesus’ humanity forgetting that Christ is also fully divine and far more than a man, a Jew, a carpenter, a wandering teacher, a turn of the millennium Galilean.

As we wait for the incarnation of the word, the word made flesh, we wait for God with us.  God in Christ Jesus lifts up humanity, lifts up creation, it is not the lifting up of one class, gender, race, or type of people.  We may see Jesus as white or black or anything in between.  I’m not sure that is wrong… so long as we do so realizing Jesus is far more than all of that.  If we turn our picture of Jesus – mental or painted – into the norm, as if our Jesus is the only Jesus, than we have committed a form of idolatry.  We have begun to worship a form of God (our own creation) rather than God.  As this tendency is pervasive in our faith, our churches, and our theology.

I love the line in the song, “They love him, too.” Because how often to do we take someone else’s view of God as not only a threat to our faith but as some sign of a lack of faith for themselves.  We all love Jesus, we all love God, we all love each other.  The idea that we all have to do so in the same way misses the whole idea of love.  Love is a relationship and it flows in two ways, must take into account two different worldviews, sets of needs, dreams, blind spots, hurts, and history.  Therefore love cannot look alike for all people and all relationship – and neither can Jesus, neither can God.  God will be the love you need in order for you to be love in and for the world.

Incarnation explosion.

O lay aside each earthly thing, 
And with thy heart as offering,
Come worship now the infant king.
’tis love that’s born tonight!”

Advent Devotional Dec 12: I Wonder as I Wander

I Wonder as I Wander

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQqp6hpBpd8

 

I wonder as I wander out under the sky

How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die

For poor on’ry people like you and like I;

I wonder as I wander out under the sky

 

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall

With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all

But high from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall

And the promise of ages it then did recall.

 

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing

A star in the sky or a bird on the wing

Or all of God’s Angels in heaven to sing

He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King

 

I wonder as I wander out under the sky

How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die

For poor on’ry people like you and like I;

I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

 

This carol causes in me two different reactions.  The first is that I love the music of it, the feel it creates in me, the way it speaks to my own wondering and wanderings.  I will come back to that but first I feel a need to speak to my other reaction.  It is unfair to place this critique solely at the feet of this single carol, but something about spending time with its words particularly took me to the place of dis-ease I get with the conventional nativity scene. 

 In four Gospels there are four different ways of treating the birth of Jesus.  Mark completely ignores it.  John the Baptist starts preaching and Jesus pops onto the scene as an adult ready to engage his ministry. 

 John’s birth story is really a birth of the world story – John gives us a creation story through the Word and then in reverse that the Word that gave birth to the world is now made flesh within that world.   John never speaks of birth, doesn’t name Mary and Joseph or stables and shepherds, no angels or wise men. 

 Our infancy narratives really come solely from Matthew and Luke and the focus on completely different parts of the story.  Even this however is a misnomer.  There is not an infancy narrative in Matthew either.  Matthew has the foretelling of the child to Joseph but that is all it says about the “birth of Jesus” which it actually skips and then tells the story of the Wise Men (not three just a plural number).  They actually don’t arrive to see the child until Jesus is a older… not older than two but probably close to two years old.  We only know this because based on what the wise men tell Herod of the star he guesses that the child is under two (and then precedes to kill all children under two to be safe that the “king” is dead and no longer a threat to his rule – this sets Jesus in motion down to Egypt until he too can be recalled from Exile in Egypt to the land of promise).  The wise men story introduces the star (the real messenger in this account) and finally find Mary and the child in a house, not a stable. 

 So we come to Luke – Luke of the in-depth infancy narrative.  Luke gives us the conception of John and Jesus, the songs of Mary and Zechariah, and the major mover of this infancy narrative is the shepherds and angels (as opposed to wise men and stars).  And in this account – and only this account – do we encounter the baby, in a manger, in a stable. 

 Our carol today sort of mixes all that together.  Which isn’t wrong.  But it cause me to want to clarify the story, to make sure that in the hurry of our lives we don’t forget this all took longer than a single night, and it all isn’t just a single pretty scene, and to different Gospels it isn’t even all even necessary to Jesus’ story. 

 That point made… let me return to the carol – or rather let me wander with it.  Because there is something beautiful in the way it acknowledges that whether shepherds or wise men we are all wandering.  Wandering in our life in search of meaning – in search of our place – in search of our purpose.  Whether it’s a star or an angel, a house or a stable, the birth of Jesus draws us in from our wandering to find all that we are searching for in the knowledge that our purpose, our place, our way is not out there – but it lies within us.  Because God came to us, God who could have anything, chose to come to us because we are worth hanging out with and we are the place and purpose for creation. 

 We have no need to wander to find meaning – the meaning lies inside us.  This is the secret perhaps to incarnation, that the meaning of life doesn’t lie beyond this world, or beyond the horizon, but right HERE!  And that the life of Christ tells us we are worth dying for, but even more importantly, we are worth living for!

Advent Devotional: Two’fer Tuesday, Hippos and Mirth and Ringing Earth

Advent Greetings!

So I’m pairing two songs together today because I managed to make my schedule of songs while missing a couple of suggestions accidently so I’m fitting them in here and there.  Today I’ve selected two songs that on some level are completely different:

 I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oOzszFIBcE

 and

 On This Day Earth Shall Ring

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g55v9bhdIMc

 And while one is clearly a playful Christmas song, the other is a Latin song whose origins go as far back as the 14th century.  But it too was a playful song in its day.  It evolved into a song sung when the “boy bishop” would take over worship leadership in parody of the real bishop on the Feast of Holy Innocents.  The song is meant to be fun and emphasize the joy of Christmas.

 Last week we talked about the need for some somber space – the need to acknowledge hurt and hurting and make space for those among us who struggle to claim hope.  We are also reminded by these songs not to slide too far in only one direction.  Advent can and should be somber, but it is also a time of joy and mirth and celebration that hope and good news is real.  And there is way of engaging in laughter and fun that doesn’t gloss over pain but also doesn’t forbid us joy while hurt abounds.  It is healthy to be able to laugh in the midst of waiting.

 I’m reminded of a great quotation used by Eugene Peterson in his wonderful first book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  “I have read that during the process of canonization the Catholic Church demands proof of joy in the candidate, and although I have not been able to track down chapter and verse I like the suggestion that dourness is not a sacred attribute.”  (Phyllis McGinley)

 Advent really is a time of in-betweenness.  Of the already and the not-yet, of waiting but also of preparing, of remembering birth and looking toward a second-coming, of the messiness of our day-to-day and the hope and fulfillment of Kingdom promises. 

 So we acknowledge pain and we laugh.  We hope for the absurd (like Hippos) and pray for peace and an end to hunger and homelessness.  We embrace the wonder-filled ALL of life.

 “His the doom, ours the mirth;

when he came down to earth,

Bethlehem saw his birth;

ox and ass beside him

from the cold would hide him.”

 

“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas

Only a hippopotamus will do

No crocodiles or rhinoceroses

I only like hippopotamuses

And hippopotamuses like me too!”