December 19 – Advent Continues

Last night I made my first batch of Christmas bread.

A Christmas tradition that began 25 years ago when I first made bread with my oldest son for him to give to his teachers in school.  Every year since, I have made bread to give to teachers and to family and friends and to co-workers.
10 loaves baked last night.
Another 10 loaves sometime this weekend.

So much of our celebration of Christmas – both our preparations and how we celebrate the day – is about remembering.
Ornaments that our children made years ago hung again on the tree.
The Christmas when everyone made it home.
Lighting candles in church and singing Silent Night.
A part of my making bread is remembering standing next to my sons while they stood on the stool to knead the bread and to shape the loaves.  I remembered them as I made bread last night.

But, beyond our decorations and family traditions, can we remember one more thing? Can we remember that time in our life when God came close?
When we were stopped in our tracks by beauty?
When we were overcome by love?
When awe took our breath away?
When forgiveness healed guilt we had carried with us for too long?
When we stood face to face with another and, despite all the seeming differences between you, you knew you stood face to face with your sister or brother?

Maybe there is something about Christmas about that is about remembering this as well.

Advent Continues – December 17

Imagine

Part of the message of Advent and Christmas is not about how life and world actually are.  The past several days have shown, again, how brutal and heart breaking life can be.  But, instead, the message of Advent and Christmas is about how we imagine life and world could be.  The language of the parts of the Bible that Christians read at this time of year is symbolic and hopeful and pointing to a someday beyond the horizon of today.
Weapons of war transformed into tools that nurture and sustain.
Those in need provided for.
Nations refusing to train citizens for war.
No one living in fear.
Peace…known by one and by all.
Imagine.
The imagery here is not all pie in the sky, but taps into our deepest longings and our bravest hopes which is a part of the reason, I think, of the appeal of Christmas to so many, even to those who do not buy into the traditional Christian  understanding and practice.

The challenge we face is not our lack of imagination.
The challenge is taking those steps…
Sometimes baby steps…
From where we find ourselves today towards that which our imagination tells us just might be.  I think, too often, we get side tracked by thinking we have to have how we get from here to there all figured out before we begin.  And, because that is impossible or just too overwhelming we just mark time where we are.
But, the time for just marking time is past.

With the slaughter of the innocents last Friday in Newtown, CT the time is past for just talking about gun control and mental illness.  We may not be able to take all the steps needed at one time, but we can take one step.
And, so, too, with peace.
And, so, too, with hunger.
And, so, too, with…
You fill in the blank.

Imagine if we all took one step today…
And another one tomorrow.

Advent Continues – December 15

yes
“In the fullness of time…”
The Bible says in talking about the birth of Jesus.
Maybe for us that fullness of time is our time right now;
With God waiting for us to add our Yes
To the Yes spoken before by Mary and Joseph and even by Jesus.
Maybe God is waiting right now for us;
In order to be present again in this time and place:
In our time and place:
To be, once again, God with us;
To be present in the lives of all those who need God most.

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.

Advent 1

We call this season Advent;
Which means coming;
Marked by the four Sundays which precede Christmas.
As the days around us rush by too quickly;
And become filled with heightened expectations;
For those of us here these Advent days are makes by words like…
Waiting.
Watching.
Pondering.
Expectation.
May these be the words which guide us towards Christmas.

A New Saint???

Maybe we are all a bit schizophrenic.
Split personalities that lean in opposite directions.
But given the headlines in the news, bishops in the Roman Catholic Church certainly seem to be just that. At their annual meeting yesterday, by voice vote, they endorsed Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Workers Movement, for sainthood.  To tell the truth, given the recent pronouncements of the Catholic bishops, I wonder if they know what they are doing.  Or, better yet I HOPE they know what they are doing.

I wish I knew more about Dorothy Day, but what I know I like.
She was very human in all the ways we don’t usually associate with those who are endorsed to be saints.  And yet she possessed both a vision of what God’s Kingdom come might look like here on earth, and a commitment to do her part to help bring it about.
She was looked up to by some.
Reviled by others.
But those whose lives were touched by her compassion and kindness and vision, I wonder if they did not walk away from that encounter having the sense of brushing up against that which we know and name as God.

“No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless. 
There is too much work to do.” she said.
I agree.
And, I take encouragement and find courage in her words and in her witness.

To tell the truth, in recent years my faith and my positions have moved in a very different direction from that of the Roman Catholic bishops.
But, we need more saints like Dorothy and so today all I can do is to say…
Amen.

A Prayer for Today

O God, this morning we ask that You help push our prayers deeper.
Past those every day prayers we whisper over the headlines in the news or as we rush from one moment to the next.  Far past those prayers for what we want or think we need.  Instead we ask that You push us beyond what is safe and plunge us deep into our hearts and minds and souls so that, for a moment at least, we pray from that place of our deepest longings which touch on the best of who we are and the best of who we are called to be and the best of what we can imagine for ourselves and for each other and for the entire human family.

The words we use today may be the same ones we use at other moments, but our yearning is more. And so we pray…
Surrounded still by brokenness, we pray for hope and wholeness.
Surrounded still by divisiveness, we pray for wisdom to find a way forward and the courage to build bridges.
Surrounded still by heartbreak and heartache, we pray for healing arms.
Surrounded still…
And so we would pray, O God, not just upwards, but outwards with our words and with our lives into the world You continue to love so very, very much.

And, we pray, too, for all those whom we know and for those circles upon circles stretching towards all who fall within the circle of Your grace.
We pray adding our strength to their need and our joy to their joy and our gratitude to theirs knowing and trusting and believing…that it makes a difference.

And so, our prayers this day, O God…
From the best of who we are the best of who we are called to be.
And, may our lives follow where our prayers first lead.

Amen.