Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Even Jesus turned 3 eventually

OK - - so I actually have my Christmas Eve stuff ready for tomorrow. In fact, I even had it ready YESTERDAY. I know none of my sisters in the 11th Hour Preacher Party will believe me, but all I have left to do is to minorly tweak up my meditation for the 2nd service on Christmas Eve. I guess I need to put together the Lessons and Carols for the 27th, too, but that's going to be VERY easy. I'll do that here shortly.

First I've got to write up my story from Christmas Eve last year. I don't remember ever blogging it after it happened, and if I did it was long enough ago that I'm pretty sure it's been forgotten. Here it goes.

We had just one Christmas Eve service at our church last year and no nursery. It was Lessons & Carols with a short homily at the end of the L & C. It also helps to know that my husband plays in the bell choir, and I didn't have a lay reader. Selfishly, I just like to read the birth narrative myself. So, the kids, 18 months and 3 1/2 at the time, are usually fantastic in church. I don't sit up on the chancel during worship, but our family sits together in the front row. I just pop up and down when it's my turn. There were one or two times that there was some overlap of time when both my husband and I needed to be "up" during that service, him for the bells and me for a reading.

The kids hardly seemed to notice. They were engrossed in whatever toys they had in their worship bags. At one point Karoline (the elder of the two) wandered across the aisle to sit with a friend and her family, and that was fine, too. Right at the time I needed to go up for my last reading and homily, and my wonderful husband was finishing his last bell piece William decided it was time to wander to the back of the sanctuary. I alerted my husband to this with my eyes and mouthed words as we passed in the chancel, and he headed down the aisle to chase the monster while the princess remained with her friends...momentarily.

I think because she noticed she had no direct parental supervision she decided to follow me up to the pulpit (an open-legged podium really). She just stood there with me for a little bit while I started the reading; I placed my hand on her head to let her know I knew she was there, and hopefully to convey my need for her to just stay still next to me. Apparently that was not conveyed, because then she dropped to the floor and started to crawl into her favorite hiding spot - - my robe. Lifting the hem she popped under there and started poking around. Discreetly (I hope) and not too roughly, I gave her a little kick to try to get her to stop moving. There were no screams, so I considered it a success. All the while I kept reading and began preaching.

Next she crawled out of the robe and under the podium portion of the pulpit so it looked like she was sitting in this little box, looking out at the congregation. I could only imagine (or really I couldn't) what she was doing, but since there were folks rolling in the aisles of laughter or running out in terror, I still just kept going.

Where was your husband you may be asking? I sure as heck was! Well, he thought he had smelled something less than sweet coming from our son's pants so he had taken him to the nursery to investigate. I was later told someone else offered to do that so that he didn't have to leave LadyPrincess unattended, but he turned that offer down. Anything to skip one of my sermons, I think.

When she got bored of SHOOTING THE FRONT ROW WITH HER CANDLE-TURNED-GUN-OF-CHRISTMAS-JOY (I found out later what she was doing down there), LadyPrincess crawled out of the pulpit and too the chancel-stange front and center. There she did was every 3 1/2 year old girl loves to do - - twirled her red velvet dress around and around and around. And Mommy preached on.

About this time my husband came back from his adventure of changing a COMPLETELY DRY DIAPER and saw what was happening up front. He threw the boy with the Director of Christian Education and bolted down the aisle to the chancel. By now there were more than a few snickers from the pews and LadyPrincess looked up to see what was so funny (no clue that it was her). She saw Daddy coming running toward her and began to scream, "NO DADDY NO NO NO!" as if he was going to beat her right there in public or something (Disclaimer: He has never beat her or hit her or hurt her in anyway in public OR private).

In one quick movement he swept her up under his arm and tore out of the sanctuary. Now we were all laughing. I just looked out at the congregation and said, "Even Jesus turned 3 eventually."

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

One of Peace

Micah 5:2-5a
Luke 1:46-55
Not all Christmas gift stories get remembered years later, but the year my friend didn’t get a bike that was a year to remember. She had been wishing for it for ages, or what seemed like ages to a 10 year old. It was a bright pink Beach Cruiser – a popular bike with thick framing and fat tires, all the kids were wishing for them in the late 1980’s Florida beach town where we lived.

My friend was pretty certain she was getting one. She had been to the store to be fitted with her parents. They wrote down all the measurements and made note of her favorite color paint. It seemed a done deal. Maybe she even spoke like it was certain to others, especially as she rounded out her Christmas list to other family members with all the matching accessories. The bike would be there Christmas morning; she was sure of it.

But maybe she shouldn’t have been. Christmas morning came, and she was ready to feign great surprise upon seeing the bike there in the living room, but it wasn’t. Old enough to know that she shouldn’t be disappointed about a present not received, but young enough to still be disappointed, she went through the rest of the morning with a little less enthusiasm than it might usually stir up. Things got a little harder, though, when she opened the present from her grandmother. It would have been the IDEAL present….

Inside the box was the perfect bike basket – white woven reeds were decorated with those absolutely, completely 1987 vinyl fluorescent flowers – neon green, neon pink, neon yellow. It would have been AWESOME on the front of her bright pink Beach Cruiser if she had, in fact, gotten that bright pink Beach Cruiser. But without the bike, the basket was, well, incomplete.

Up to this point in our Advent worship series the Scriptures we have shared have pointed out a gift of God at Christmas that I think is in contradiction to what we often ask for from God at Christmas, or anytime really. We wish for instant gratification and immediate solutions, but God gives hope, promises to be fulfilled in the future. We wish for nonjudgmental approval of all our actions, but God gives tough love, the refiner’s fire, a call to repentance. We wish for momentary happiness that hides our fears, but God gives lasting joy that comes from Christ’s presence in the midst of struggles.

This week, though, I don’t think our Christmas lists are in the same kind of contrast from God’s gift list. I think instead what we tend to mean by what is on our list is incomplete compared to what God promises to give. It’s like we’re asking for the bike basket, but have nothing to hang it on. How many Christmas cards have you received this year with some version of the message “Peace on earth” embossed inside or out in gilded script? It’s a message fit for the angels to sing, and I would be surprised to hear that any of us DON’T wish for it. Peace. It’s our wish for our lives, our wish for the world, and according to Micah, it’s definitely on God’s list to give.

Micah is the prophet toward whom the chief priests and scribes in Matthew’s gospel turn when telling King Herod that Bethlehem will be the birthplace of the Messiah. Bethlehem, Micah prophesies, will be the source of the new David as it was the birth place of the first David, the beloved king of Israel. Bethlehem, Micah prophesies will be the place from which God calls the new king, the Messiah, who will shepherd God’s people as David shepherded sheep, who will finish gathering them into one people, as David held the kingdom together united. Bethlehem will be the source of the Messiah, the new David, the new king, a new kind of king, who will bring them together, feed them and make them strong. He will make them secure against all their enemies. He will be the one of peace. It’s what God promises. It’s the gift God delights in giving. It is peace.

War was at hand. The horrors of battle and cities under siege were the common knowledge of the people of Bethlehem and throughout Israel. The thought of a king coming out of this battered land, and a king of peace, was absurd. Peace is not how you build a nation. Peace is not how you find strength against your enemies, how you display majesty to the kingdoms of the world, how you make a home for your people surrounded by nations that are different. Peace, the absence of fighting, the absence of aggression and destruction and devastation, won’t get you too far in rebuilding the glory days of old. Or so the common theory holds.

And I think that’s because the common theory holds a pretty limited view of peace – an incomplete view, you might say. “Peace on earth” - - what is it we’re asking for when we pray this along with the angels. What are wishing for when we send it in our greeting cards? What does it mean when we celebrate it’s coming in Jesus who was born in Bethlehem?

I had this similar conversation at a meeting in September, not at our church. The group I was with was trying to make a decision about a grant request for funds to be spent from a Peacemaking Offering. It was to be a challenge grant for an emergency shelter in a small town in central Nebraska. The shelter is operated by an ecumenical alliance in this small town and ministers to women and children who are fleeing homes where domestic violence is present. The request was not to completely bail the shelter out of its financial pit, but to offer funds that would only be given when matched by the other participating denominations.

In the course of our discussions the question was asked, “What does any of this have to do with Peacemaking?” At first our committee was silent. The one who asked the question wasn’t against the shelter. He didn’t desire for the women and children to have no place to go. His question was a legitimate one as one of the stewards of the gifts given by faithful Christians. What does this have to do with Peacemaking, the cause behind the offering?

His question was a legitimate one, but I think it also highlights our common thinking about peace. Peace, we tend to think, is the absence of war. Peace is a lack of fighting. That’s what we tend to think. That’s what we tend to be asking for when we ask for peace on earth, world peace, peace in our cities. But I think our definition, I think our hopes for what peace will look like, I think what we are used to asking for, is incomplete. Micah declares that the one of peace is coming, but Mary in singing her beautiful song of praise, tells us what that really means. She’s tells us what God’s complete gift of peace really looks like.

Now she never says the word “peace,” but the ability to sing that song in the midst of the life she’s living? Certainly, Mary knows what peace is as much as she knows what it means to need it. There have probably been more than a few battles for her to face in the last several months. A young girl, betrothed to be married, Mary has turned up pregnant, and even in a time and culture that was more open than ours to supernatural explanations for earthly affairs, the story of being visited by angel and conceiving a child by the spirit of God is more than just a little unbelievable. It could not have been a peaceful life for her, those early months of pregnancy – strife with her parents, the worry over what Joseph would think and do, the ridicule and shame from the neighbors, literally fearing for her life in a town where it was legal to KILL her because of the child she carried. Nothing in there sounds like peace even in the absence of an outright war.

Yet, even in the midst of all of that and more, Mary can sing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Even in the midst of the most traumatic time of her still short life, Mary can sing praises to God. In fact, over and over again, she seems to be the one in the birth narrative most at peace. She seems to know what peace, real peace, complete peace, is all about.

A young girl, from an unimportant backwater town, lifted up to be a blessed servant of God. As insignificant a girl in a world dominated by Roman occupation as Bethlehem had become in the time of Micah after a string of miserable kings had allowed foreign nations to rule the land, and she was the one being lifted up into service to God. She sings of a time coming with the gift of her child when the proud and arrogant are toppled down from the pedestals they occupy while the oppressed and the forgotten, the lowly in the eyes of the world, are raised to new importance. Those hungry for food are filled with what is usually only good enough for the wealthy, who hoard it away for themselves. The rich find out what it means to worry for a little bit. The world is reversed, but most importantly, the playing field is leveled. Everyone has a chance.

War is never mentioned in Mary’s beautiful song, but the conditions that lead to war, the conditions that lead to anxiety and violence, the conditions that lead to both offensive and defensive stances, they are all over her song, and ultimately, she sings they are eliminated by God who comes in the child she carries, by the one of peace. Pride and power abused, hunger and oppression, all these are promised to be removed by the one who is coming, the one of peace. Battlefields aren’t a part of the picture she paints, but the need for them is lost when peace comes completely.

The peace that is promised in the gift of God’s Son, complete peace – it’s about more than just the absence of war; it’s about the presence of justice. It’s the world that God displayed in choosing Mary to carry this gift. It’s the world that Jesus demonstrated by including the outcast, sharing meals with sinners, healing the broken and brokenhearted, loving the unlovable. It’s the world we’re called to bring about as his people, his disciples, the ones bearing his name, Christ, the Messiah – not just a world where fighting is silent, but a world where fighting isn’t even necessary.

May God’s gift of the peace of Christ be with us this Christmas. May the complete peace of Christ be with us and in us and showing through us this Christmas and always.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Traditions Friday Five

Jan gave us this Friday Five at RevGals. The gist of it is:

"So for this Friday Five, tell us five things about the traditions in your family. Think of

traditions you always do
traditions you always cook or eat
traditions you would like to start
traditions you would like to discard
anything about your family Christmases"

Ahhh...I've been doing a lot of thinking about traditions since this is actually the first Christmas my husband and I are in charge of. It's just going to be us and the two kids, no other extended family. I'm a little nervous about what from our families we're going to make ours, and what we're going to invent for ourselves. I just finished making our family stockings tonight, so I won't miss the opportunity to share them here!

Up until now when we're with my family we do my family's traditions, when we're with his we do his family's traditions with just one exception. No matter where we have been my mom has always sent me my traditional Christmas Eve jammies. That will be #1, so let the list begin.

1. Christmas Eve jammies - - For as long as I can remember my sister and I have always been allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve. It's always pajamas. I'm almost 33 years old, and my mom still sends me my Christmas Even jammies wherever I am. I'm a little nervous this year because there wasn't a Christmas Eve present in the box she sent this year. I did get word from a colleague that another box from Florida showed up at church today, so I'm still hanging on to a little hope that my jammies are in there. I've passed this one and and get my kids Christmas Eve jammies, too. I've even picked up my husband some pajama pants most years.

2. Growing up we always made Pillsbury orange rolls on Christmas morning. After the kids (my sister and I) finished the "Santa pile" we all took a break to eat orange rolls before conquering the family pile.

3. I think we'll toss this tradition. No offense to my mother, but my husband and I are a bit more into cooking and will probably find something a little more complex to throw in. I might do an egg bake. Love those. Not crazy difficult or anything, but a small step up from the tube of breakfast rolls, not that I don't love those darn things. Egg bake has way more protein which helps this pregnant momma through the day!

4. Growing up we also always went to a movie the afternoon of Christmas. I doubt we'll continue that one since it's way less tempting to get out of the house on a holiday when the temp is likely to hover near zero. I like it, though. It was our thing (and the Jewish families in town).

5. I think I'd like to continue my mom's cheese soup for dinner on Christmas. I NEVER at it as a kid, but finally tried it a few years ago and realize I was really missing out. I don't know if my kids will eat it, but we'll figure something out for them.

I made my own bonus. The song that ALWAYS got us singing as a kid while decorating the Christmas tree:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lasting Joy

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Have you caught your favorite Christmas special on TV yet? I noticed “It’s a Wonderful Life” was on last night, but I didn’t watch it. In fact, I flipped through the channels last night and counted at least 6 or 7 different “classic” Christmas specials on at the same time. They’ve been going all week, and I know there are still more to come. We’ve watched some with our family as a last treat before bed. Recently we caught one of my favorites, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I just love that pathetic little tree!!

I realized as we watched this week that it had been a while since I had seen it, and I saw things I hadn’t seen before. I saw some very Advent things in the middle of that Christmas special – waiting, preparing, searching, discovering. I brought the opening scene for us to watch together.

Poor Charlie Brown! It’s one of the best times of year, and he just can’t get what he really wants – happiness. So much of Christmas is built around happiness, isn’t it? It’s what we’re spending all this time and energy and especially money on – happiness. We go shopping for the perfect presents so we can make our friends and family happy. Seeing them happy makes us happy, too. We throw parties or attend them, surrounding ourselves with friends, family, and acquaintances, dressing gaily, baking up a storm, pouring wine, singing the songs we love, so that together we can be happy! We decorate our houses and our town with lights and moving wire animals and inflatable snowmen, so that we can drive around or even just stay in at home on the couch and feel the happiness that comes from this special celebration.

There’s so much around us that fights against us, so much that seems to rob us of the big and little things that bring us good feelings that just trying to grab on to a little happiness doesn’t seem like too much to ask. What do you want for Christmas? What do I want? Like Charlie Brown, I want all of this, all that we do, the presents, the parties, the perfectly trimmed tree, to bring some happiness to my life, to the world.

For years I have wondered why some churches have gone to using blue for the liturgical color at Advent. Traditionally, the season is a purple one - one of penitence, spiritual discipline, preparation of our hearts and our lives to receive the good news of the coming of our Savior. This year I finally learned that some churches have taken up blue for the season, still a color of darkness into which light will break, but not quite as intense and repentence focused as Lent. But for me a mini-Lent is OK. We have the traditional break on the third Sunday of Advent, today, for Gaudate Sunday, or Rejoice Sunday. The colors adorning sanctuaries in churches more liturgical than ours are rose this day, like our rose colored Advent Candle.

However, the color of purple for preparation is, I believe, appropriate. It signifies a time of honest introspection, of clearing away the cobwebs of our spiritual lives. You wouldn’t receive an important guest in your home without a thorough dusting, so turning Advent into a spiritual clean-up? That sounds to me like the perfect preparation for the impending arrival of Jesus, who is, as the angels say, Christ the Lord.

The song of rejoicing in Zephaniah is a wonderful aid on a Gaudate Sunday, leading us in singing and rejoicing and exulting. But it might be a little misleading to just read this section from Zephaniah and think we have a taste of the whole book. Zephaniah is a short little prophecy, just those three chapters long, and the portion we heard wraps it all up in triumphant and thankful song. But the rest of the book sounds completely different; it is all doom and gloom. It’s one of those books of prophecies that might lead some to doubt that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. It starts with a declaration from God that everything will be swept away from the face of the earth. “I will cut off humanity from the face of the earth,” says the Lord. The day of the Lord is described as a “day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of cloud and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry.”

All of that (and more) and then, “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion….Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O Jerusalem!” It hardly sounds like the same book; it hardly sounds like the latter can come out of the former. The bulk of Zephaniah sounds like the “Charlie Brownest” of prophecies. It’s a picture of life in ruins, people torn from what they know and love, livelihoods lost, communities and families not just disintegrating, but violently being ripped apart by forces beyond their control. It’s the world not as it should be, a depressed and fearful world.

Fear is a hard feeling to shake. It’s a pretty natural feeling. Survival is sometimes based on fear. Fear brings out our instincts for “fight or flight.” It’s what drives us to make decisions about whether to stay and battle for life and what we believe in or run and save ourselves as best we can. It’s normal. Maybe it’s even helpful at times, but living in fear is no way to live all the time. It isn’t peaceful. It isn’t comfortable.

It might also be the source of our search for happiness, happiness that seems just out of reach sometimes even in the middle of Christmas. Happiness that we try to create with all the usual trappings of the season may be something we’re reaching for out of the fears we don’t want to face in our lives – the fear of being alone, the fear of having no one to love, the fear of being unnecessary, the fear of no one loving back. The celebrations of the season can certainly come from pure and uplifting impulses in our lives, but if we find ourselves feeling like Charlie Brown, “Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy,” than maybe just maybe in shooting for happiness we’re missing the real gift of Christmas.

Zephaniah, for all his doom and gloom, tells us the answer to our fear. It isn’t about creating happiness. It isn’t about making lists and giving gifts. It isn’t about decorating and baking and getting dressed up and staying out too late at one more party. It might, though, be about singing. No, even singing is the result of this answer, not necessarily the cause of it. The answer to our fear, from the Charlie Brownest prophet, is the gracious and power presence of God. “You shall fear disaster no more….Do not fear, O Zion….The Lord, your God, is in your midst.” That is what removes all fear.

Happiness just tries to cover it up. Momentarily delights and instant gratifications just try to ignore the fears a little longer, but the presence of God that has come among us, the presence of the one who CAN destroy and distress and devastate, but who chooses instead to come among us remove all disaster, take away all judgments and turn away our enemies, THAT’S what will shatter our fears! That’s what will cause us to rejoice! Gaudate! Rejoice!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! O Church of Christ! Rejoice and exult as God rejoices and exults over us. The happiness we seek is just a fleeting feeling, but a life of rejoicing, a life of delight in the presence of God is lasting joy, a gift from God. Joy is more than a feeling we conjure up with nostalgia and traditions; it’s a way of life, a transforming reality that has come upon us because God has broken into this desperate situation. God is right here in the middle of our worries and our fears. And God’s very presence is cause to wipe them away, because God’s presence can’t go unnoticed. In Zephaniah we are called to sing and rejoice and celebrate with God who is already rejoicing. God is already singing and rejoicing and celebrating, and God invites us to this divine and lasting joyful party.

In Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Lucy advises Charlie Brown to get involved in the children’s Christmas play as a way to overcome his fears and unhappiness about Christmas. He does, but it only leads to more frustration. In another attempt to find meaning for the season beyond the “commercial racket”, Charlie Brown decides to get a Christmas tree for the show. He brings back, of course, the most pitiful, droopy, sad looking tree at the lot. The cast of children mock him and laugh at him, leaving him more discouraged than he was before until Linus steps in again.

That’s what God gives us at Christmas – good tidings of great joy, joy that will last, joy that will conquer our fears, joy that comes from God who is rejoicing and singing over us and in our presence. God’s gift of joy is God’s gift of presence. The happiness we spend too much time seeking at Christmas isn’t what it’s all about. Christmas isn’t about what we can buy or give or eat or decorate. Christmas is about God’s presence, God-with-us, God who comes to live right in the middle of us, just as one of us, but with love that will renew our love, and joy that can rid us of our fears. We are waiting and preparing and hoping for THAT joy, lasting joy, so that together we may sing and exult and give praise to God who comes to share it with us.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tough Love

Luke 3:1-6
Malachi 3:1-4

Before he began his current career in national politics, most if not all of us know, Al Franken had a career in comedy. One of his best known characters originated in a recurring skit on Saturday Night Live, Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley. Stuart’s character, as described in the voice-over introduction of his mock TV show, “is a caring nurture, but not a licensed therapist.” Each episode of his show begins and ends with Stuart looking into a mirror and affirming himself, most famously with these words (feel free to join me if you know them), “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

Affirmations are a funny sort of thing. They are a popular and effective tool in therapy and counseling. Positive affirmations can give us the self-confidence to continue in tough times. They can give us the change of attitude we need to look at difficult situations in a new way, to believe in ourselves and work with the strengths and gifts we have been given.

But they can also walk a little on the dangerous side. During the introduction for one of Stuart’s fictitious TV shows, he once prepped himself with this affirmation, “I deserve good things. I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up.” Really? “Deserve?” “Entitled?” Are these helpful affirmations?

Of course, this is a skit, a television show for entertainment, but I’m not so sure that affirmation is too far off what the culture around us tries to tell us all the time. It’s a message we hear in commercials and read in advertisements. “You deserve a break today… a luxurious car… an indulgent vacation. You are entitled to your share (and another’s) of the pie. You’re entitled to feel cheated and victimized. And your entitlement gives you good reason to ignore the rest of the world.” These are the messages we hear over and over again until we somehow, in some way find ourselves looking into a mirror, affirming ourselves with them. That’s when the power of affirmation becomes dangerous.

We’re asking ourselves this year in Advent, “What do we want for Christmas?” This tendency toward affirmations and growing senses of entitlement leads me to one answer to that question, one gift on our spiritual list for God. We want affirmation from God that the way we are right now, right this minute is “good enough.” We want to be able to look in the mirror and not only say for ourselves, but hear the voice of God confirm what we believe, “My life is OK. It’s on track. It’s exactly what God is looking for.” What do we want from God for Christmas? We want to be affirmed in everything we’re doing.

Malachi’s ministry takes place about 450 years before Jesus was born. The Israelites had returned to their and a period of great exuberance and joy as they rebuilt their homeland and temple has sort of worn off. A feeling of ambivalence has settled in. There is a diminishing regard for the law, a sense that they can go it alone, without the guidance and direction of the Lord. Even the priests in the temple have become corrupt in their religious practices. God prepares and sends Malachi to deliver a message of warning, a message of changes that need to be made.

It probably isn’t the message the people were looking for. That kind of message rarely is. They, like us, were looking not for correction, but for affirmation. Encouragement that what we’re doing is alright, good enough, smart enough, and doggone, just what God wants from us. Change? Preparation for a completely new way? That’s not really at the top of our Christmas lists most years.

But it’s what the prophets promise that God will bring. It’s what the prophets promise is part of the coming of Jesus to the world – dramatic change. Malachi’s image of God’s gift is frightening if we take it literally – a fire that burns to remove impurities, a soap so strong it bleaches dirty wool white. John the Baptist’s isn’t too much more comforting. The geography of the world will be turned upside down. They aren’t comforting, anyway, for people who like their comfort, for people who are looking for God’s divine pat on the back.

These images of preparing for Jesus in our lives aren’t images that affirm our hope for carte blanche authority. They aren’t images that give us permission to continue on familiar and possibly destructive paths. They tell us the exact opposite, actually. What you’re doing right now, in Malachi’s case corrupt and heartless worship, in John’s case set deeply and deliberately in the context of the oppressive Roman occupation, ignoring and harming the lives of others, what you’re doing right now is not OK.

What would that be for us? For what do we seek affirmation that God instead asks for us to change? It’s going to be different for each of us, so I hesitate to guess for us all, but what I am sure of is that there is something. There is something in each our lives and in our life together that just isn’t OK, that God just won’t affirm; that God wants to refine, to purify, to make straight. It’s why we begin our worship each week with prayers of confession; it’s an acknowledgement that each and every time we gather (and more often!) we need to make a turn back to God’s way, and be affirmed not in our misguided intentions, but of God’s faithfulness and forgiveness in Christ.

God loves us too much to just affirm without question or correction all aspects of our lives. God loves us too much to let our destructive habits continue unchecked. God loves us too much to just pat us on the back and say, “Keep up the…work.” God loves us too much to just sit back and watch as we continue to walk further and further away from the kind of relationships intended at our creation. God loves us too much!

In fact, God loves so much that God calls us to change, because love is not equal to uncritical affirmation. Love is not equal to co-dependency. Love is not equal to enabling. The love of God for the world, the love of a parent for a child is tough love. It’s love that seeks to correct mistakes, to improve what is struggling, even perfect what is already good, so that the beloved children can grow into all they have been created to bed.

Tough love means that God calls us out of our disobedience, our self-centeredness, our greed, our violence, our acts and decisions of injustice toward others, the environment, and ourselves. God of love isn’t going to repeat back to us the same lies we tell ourselves in the mirror – “Hurting others to save myself is understandable. Really, it’s OK.” “I deserve this more than they do.” “I can make it on my own.” “I am in control.” God doesn’t let us get away everything we want. God doesn’t just affirm us in everything we think and call that love.

Real love, God’s love, it’s TOUGH love. It is about calling us to repentance, refinement, a better and purer life according to God’s will. And tough love is God’s gift in Jesus at Christmas, because in Jesus we are called to make changes, DRASTIC changes in our lives. God’s gift of tough love in Jesus will completely disrupt our lives. It will change the very landscape of our being. The crooked paths will be made straight. The valleys will be filled. The mountains will be made low. The rough ways will be smoothed. In Jesus our sinfulness will not be affirmed. LOVINGLY, but not without disruption it will be confronted, refined, purified, and we shall see the salvation of God.

In the classic C. S Lewis book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe four children make their way through a wardrobe into the magical and mystical land of Narnia. When the children arrive, Narnia is stuck in the middle of an endless winter, gripped tightly by the spells of the evil White Witch. However, the children learn of prophecies about Aslan, the great king, a lion, who will defeat the witch and free Narnia from her power. The children learn from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver of THEIR part in the prophecy, the battle they must fight with Aslan. Susan and Lucy the second oldest and youngest, respectively, worry about fighting a battle in general and alongside such a ferocious creature as a lion specifically.

Susan asks their hosts,
“Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

God’s love is most certainly good, but it isn’t necessarily safe. It asks us to change our behavior, our attitudes, our priorities. It asks us to turn away, to repent, from the harmful paths we’re on. It asks us to turn away from the habits that hurt ourselves, hurt others, hurt God most of all. It asks us to turn back to God who is coming to us in love, not to affirm all our behaviors, but to forgive us, and mold us and shape us into who we have been created to be – loving and righteous children of God.

God’s love is most certainly good, but it isn’t necessarily safe. It asks us to prepare a way in the wilderness of our lives so the Lord, so Jesus can come right in and dwell within us, dwell among us, showing us and the world the salvation of God. And with great love, with tough love, and mercy and grace, the refiner works with those who offer themselves, the refiner works even with us, until we present the offering of our lives in righteousness.

May we prepare the way of the Lord, and may God’s refining and purifying love be the gift we receive this year.

Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Collier Books: 1970, p. 75.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Five Do Nothing Edition

Sally at RevGals posted this Friday Five:

I am reading a wonderful little book for Advent it's title: "Do nothing Christmas is Coming!" So this weeks Friday Five is simple. List Five things you won't be doing to prepare for Christmas. And while you are doing nothing play the bonus, put your feet up and listen to your favourite Advent Carol, and post it or a link to it.... Simple!

This year at Christmas I will not:
1. be putting lights up outside. I don't care that much. It's cold, and we live at the dead end of a street so no one sees them anyway.

2. make a gingerbread houses. I don't usually anyway, but I have on occasion when visiting my sister at the holidays. I greatly dislike that activity.

3. pack or travel. Yea!!! We have declared this our first stay-at-home Christmas. My husband and I have travelled to one set of parents or the other every year since we have been married, but this year we put our collective foot down and decided to stay at home and do Christmas with our kids in our house. I'm very excited.

4. taking the Sunday after Christmas off.

5. setting out all my nativities. I couldn't last year either, and won't for a while. Our "new" house just doesn't have the space for displaying my collection, so this one I'm kind of sad about. I can only put out one, MAYbe two, and I have a BUNCH.

For my favorite Christmas hymn, "O Come All Ye Faithful." I've never heard that 2nd stanza before and kind of a cheesy staging, but I like the pretty solidly traditional performance here. (My 2 1/2 year old son, Godzilla, just joined me during the screening and said, "Those are princesses!")

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My poor neglected blog

It's so sad. I've actually had very bloggable ideas lately, but just haven't had the discipline to sit down and blog them. I need a routine.

Advent is here. I love it. I love the music, the Scripture, the PURPLE, the excitement, but not yet. I don't know why. I love Advent.

I was fired up last year to preach my first full Advent, but then was highly disappointed to discover I didn't get a full Advent. The first two weeks were mine, but then the next week was the adult choir cantata and the week after was the kids' Christmas program. Bah humbug. Fortunately or unfortunately (they always said that when I was in Ghana years ago) neither of those things are happening this year. I get 4 full preaching Sundays. Woo hoo!

I put together a theme that is based mostly on the lectionary prophets. It kind of stinks because these Lukan songs are stories are fun, too. But I'm enjoying playing around in the prophets after a LOT of gospel this summer and fall. The over all theme is "What do you want for Christmas?", and I'm using the traditional Advent themes of hope, love, joy, and peace (in that not as traditional order). I contrast something we want for Christmas, or something we want Jesus to be for us with what we really get. We want instant gratification; we get hope for the future. We want constant affirmation; we get a call to repent, tough love. We want momentary happiness, immediate experiences (oooohhhh---might go with the state dinner crashers as we see how that story unfolds); we get lasting joy in God's presence. We want to know where our week 4 notes are; we hopefully get a clue before week 4 arrives. Ha! Gotta find that sheet.

Anyway, that's Advent.

I need a liturgical new year's resolution, I think. Or really I need to make a change, so I'm calling in that. Time to figure out how to get more done before Saturday so I can get better sleep consistently. Those short nights are not going to do my health well through a pregnancy.

Oh yeah - - did I mention that? (BTW - NOT my belly pic there. Not that big yet and it'll never be that cute.) I'm pregnant for the third, and likely final, time.

I'm 15 weeks along now, but I haven't made many (OK any) changes to my writing habits. I think it might finally be time for that to happen if not forever than at least for 18 months or so. I need to get better sleep to stay healthy. Those super-short Saturday nights aren't going to cut it for a while. And I totally remember almost not making it to church with a completed sermon a couple of times when Karoline was itty bitty and still nursing at night. It never failed that she would make her most needy nights on the nights when I happened to be preaching. This time around every Saturday night will be a preaching night, so I'm going to need to do something different. Hopefully it'll happen. This week, though, it's not just for those noble reasons. This week there is some SERIOUS football going on! I want to watch it all guilt-free!

On the pregnancy front, things are going well. I felt way more nauseous in the first trimester with this one than I did with either of the other two, and it lasted way longer. It's dying down now, but the heartburn is remaining. Poo. We started Bradley Method natural childbirth classes last night. They are weekly for 10 weeks. I tell folks and myself that it's because my last labor was so short, I don't think I'll have time for the drugs anyway, so I should go in prepared, but it's more than that. I think deep down inside I sort of want to be one of those granola-mom's with this crazy, emotionally-charged birth experience. I mean, I do want to know what it's like to do it all myself, or myself with husband support, but to really know what it FEELS like. I know it doesn't feel pretty, but I want to know that, too. I'm curious and excited about the whole prospect.

I'm also very proud that I am letting myself do this. I have never before in my ministry at either church allowed myself to sign up for any sort of weekly (or regular in any other way) class. It always seemed impossible because it meant possibly not being available for some meeting or another, whether it was on the calendar already or not. These classes are weekly on Tuesday nights for 2 months. Taking the class meant we had to move 2 session meetings for me and skipping 2 deacon meetings. Huge for me. I didn't even really ask. Not in a rude way, but in an assertive way. I just said this is what I needed to do, so we would have to move the meetings to make that happen. There was no obvious fall-out, and I haven't heard any feedback yet. It felt good to do that. It felt good to go to the class last night and start that journey. It felt good to get away with my husband and do something together, even if it is a childbirth class. We haven't ever had weekly "dates." I'll take what I can get. Saturday his parents will be in town so we're ditching the kids with them so we can go Christmas shopping on our own. Two times in one week. Lord, I won't know what to do with myself!!!

OK - this is getting a little out of hand. Time to get back to work. A few random things - -
Godzilla (who is now our 2 1/2 year old boy) likes to say there is a girl baby in Mommy's tummy and a boy baby in Daddy's tummy. He wants to name our baby Axel.

LadyPrincess (who is now our 4 1/2 year old girl) is fired up about the baby. She wants a sister almost as bad as her dad wants another son. I don't know whose disappointment will be stronger. I worry about that. She's also quite the church mouse, and is never happier than when she's here. Oh my.