Advent Continues – December 12

In my reading today I came across this quote from William Sloan Coffin.  While probably not written for Advent, it carries an Advent message.

“Jesus is both mirror to our humanity and a window to divinity, a window revealing as much of God as any mortal eyes can see.  When Christians see Christ empowering the weak, scorning the powerful, healing the wounded, and judging their tormentors, we are seeing transparently the power of God at work.  What is finally important is not that Christ is God-like, but that God is Christ-like.” 

Maybe what all that means is as I/we do our best to be Christ-like, then maybe I/we will begin to recognize the Holy within us and among us.

Advent Continues – December 11

Christmas Card 2Last night I was listening to a sports program while trying to entertain our new puppy who had more energy at that moment than I did.  For some reason the broadcasters began talking about Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest hockey player of all time.  ”He was the not the most talented or the fastest player on the ice,” they said, “but he was able to make the game around him slow down while it continued at breakneck speed for everyone else.”  I have heard that same description used about other athletes who excel in their particular sport.  A great hitter in baseball being able to slow down the speed of the ball in order to hit it.  An outstanding quarterback in football being able to slow down the rush of other players around him in order to complete a pass.

I wonder if that is what is needed for those of us who pay attention to Advent as we move through the days that lead to Christmas?  Can we find ways, even if for a moment, to slow life down even as it continues on around us at full speed and so pay attention to the moment we have and to those who share life with us in that moment?  Slow it down and so remember who we are and where we are going?

That is the key, I think…
Not to getting to Christmas
Because Christmas comes regardless of what we do or don’t do (thank God!),
But of arriving at Christmas with a sense of openness and expectation and hope and peace.

Advent Continues – December 10

I grew up being taught that God was up there somewhere.
In heaven…wherever that was.
That way of thinking and talking about God worked for me for a long time, but it doesn’t anymore.  I now think and talk about God as that which binds life together.  My life to your life to her life to his life; to both those who I know and to those I will never meet.  And, in recent years our understanding of what is alive has even changed.  We now understand that we are bound to/inter-related with what used to be labeled as inanimate – water, air, earth, sand. All of which has now become wrapped up in that which I know and name as God.

Maybe that is why I like the Christmas story in the Bible so much.
It is about God right here.  Right now.
Human and holy wrapped up together;
Mixed up in life…my life and your life…just as it is.
God suddenly present and made real;
Or, at least with the possibility of being present and made real;
In the flesh and blood encounters that happen each and every day.

These days of Advent which continue to lead me…
And sometimes push me…
Towards Christmas,
Serve as a reminder not to look up, but to look around;
And to do my best to look for God in those places where God might really be found.

Advent Continues – December 9

An Advent Prayer

In these Advent Days, O God, may our hearts lead the way;
Because despite all the pressure to the contrary:
The tinsel;
The glitter;
The relentless pressure to buy, buy, buy;
Our hearts long for something more.
For something deeper.
For something much more real.
For that which we often cannot quite name, but somehow we know.
And, so we pray, God…
Turn us around.
Point us in the right direction.
Turn us in the direction of the One who comes to be the Prince of Peace.
Turn us in the direction of a star that still might lead the way.
Turn us in the direction of unexpected angels who meet us on the street or in the store.
Turn us, we pray, in the direction of Christmas.

Advent Continues – December 8

crecheLast night we put up our Christmas tree.
Today, we will decorate it with colored lights and ornaments collected over a lifetime and, finally, with an angel carefully placed on top.  You might say all these externals don’t matter, and maybe even that they take away from the true meaning of Christmas.
But I think they do matter.
For me, at least…
The Advent wreath;
The tree;
The lights;
The creche;
Serve as the everyday reminders which I need.
The carol playing on my computer;
The glimpse of the creche on the corner of my desk;
Pull me up from the busyness and the distractions of the day;
And turn me, again, towards the meaning of Christmas.

Advent Continues – December 7

peace

Yesterday, as a Christmas greeting, a friend sent me this video…
http://bit.ly/Xzik3z

Peacemaking happens each day in a million and one small ways.
Person to person.
Household to household.
Building bridges.
Bending that long arc of history in the direction of justice and peace.
Relentlessly pushing towards God’s promised day.

In Advent, Christians often turn to these words from the prophet Isaiah as a reminder of the promises of the season, and of who we are called to be and what we are called to do.
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares;
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation;
Neither shall they learn war any more. 

Today, may we all find our unique way to be peacemakers and not just peace lovers.

Advent Continues – December 6

In the rush of these days, O God,
To get to Bethlehem
Or to wherever it is I might be headed;
Slow me down, just enough
That I might lift my head and open my eyes
To see the faces of those I pass by;
And, for a moment, to pay attention to whatever it is I see in their eyes.
And, in doing so, to allow something of the Holy
To wrap itself around our
Very ordinary;
Very human;
Most blessed lives.

Advent Continues – December 5

Years ago I played on a town softball team made up mostly of young men who were town employees.  More blue collar workers than the white collar folks who make up the congregation where I am the pastor.  Following each game the team would go to the local bar for a beer or two either to celebrate our victory or to lick our wounds.  When possible I went with them.  On more than one occasion, sitting around that table in the bar, one of my teammates who probably would never walk in the doors of a church or into my office, would lean over and ask me a question or ask if I would pray for a family member who was sick or struggling.  30 seconds and then we were back to the conversation that had continued around the table.

Something of the same thing happened this afternoon.
Today was our annual Senior Citizen Christmas luncheon.
Sixty of us gathered around tables to laugh and to talk and to remember and to share a wonderful meal.  Each year, as I wander around the room someone pulls me aside to ask a question or to share a concern or to ask for a prayer.

All of that is pretty normal, right?
After all, I am a pastor and that is what pastors do.
But, as I thought about it later I wonder if something more is not happening in moments like that.  At times like that, does God come close?  Not because I am a pastor or have some special contact with or relationship to God, but because for an instant two human beings turn towards each other and towards that which is most important in that moment.  Care. Concern. Hope. Sorrow. Dreams.

Incarnation, I think, all over again.
When and how does that happen in your life?

Advent Continues – December 4

This morning I came across this line in a poem by Ann Weems:
Watch…
For you know not when God comes.
Watch that you might be found…
Whenever
Wherever
God comes. 

I had to stop and read the line twice to be sure that I read it correctly.
In religious circles we usually think and speak about our finding God and what we need to do or what you need to do or what others need to do in order to find God, but rarely do we speak about God finding us.
But as I think about it, in reality, we are more lost than we are searching.
Lost in our list of things to do.
Lost in our sense of privilege and importance.
Lost in busyness that blinds us to those whose lives intersect ours.
Lost in a confusion between what we think is important and what is REALLY important.
I don’t know about you…
Sometimes I hardly know about myself,
But the truth is I am often lost in all those places and more.
And, the good news may be…
The promise of Christmas may be…
That it is into the midst of that craziness that God comes to find me…
Again.

Advent Continues – December 3

I will take my stand to watch and station myself on the tower,
And look forth to see what God will say to me concerning my complaint.
And the LORD answered me:
“Write the vision.
Make it plain upon tablets,
So the runner passing by in the valley below can read it,
For the vision awaits its time;
It hastens to the end – it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
It will surely come, it will not delay.
      –          Habakkuk 2: 1-2

This passage always makes me stop and think.
Here is the scene.
The watchman is positioned in the tower built on top of the hill.
Built high enough so he can see who is approaching in any and every direction.
A messenger appears, running down the length of the valley, looking up to see if there is any sign or message from the tower.
“Right the vision,” the prophet says.
“Write it large enough…
Write it billboard size…
So the runner can see it and read it without stopping or breaking stride.”

Rereading these words always makes me stop and wonder what vision, if any, I am writing with the daily actions of my own life.
If I believe in peace is peace written large across the my daily life?
If I believe in equality do my everyday actions reflect my words?
If I believe that all should have enough and all should have a place, do I practice what I preach?
I wonder…

As I move through these Advent days which lead to Christmas my prayer is this:
May I be brave enough and faithful enough to write the vision of God’s Grand Dream, meant for us and for all, large enough and bold enough across my life that another, even in or especially in their busyness and haste, might catch a glimpse and so be reminded of values other than the ones splashed across our televisions and daily news. Reminded again of meaning and purpose and providence and hope.