Saturday, December 29, 2007
During the Christmas season I was asked and asked my friends and family that all time material based question, "What do you want for Christmas?" While it is a joy to receive thoughtful gifts from friends, loved ones and family during this time of year, the number of times that this question is asked makes me wonder, " What are we all searching for?"
Saturday afternoon I had the time and opportunity to go to the movies with my family to see, "National Treasure: Book of Secrets." The premise of the film centers on a family's worldwide treasure hunt to find the historical evidence to clear their recently marred name. The story is filled with adventure, excitement, mystery and a great story line that pulls you in. You join in on the adventure, the mystery and search for the treasure that will make everything good again.
Movies have a way of taking us out of real life, as do holidays – but the scripture in Matthew 2 remind us of the harsh reality of life for Jesus and his family.
Days before - three mysterious Kings come to witness, give gifts, worship and ultimately to warn Jesus' parents of Kings Herod's desire to kill the infant. After the king's visit, an Angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to "Get up and take the child to Egypt", in order to avoid the coming wrath of the jealous King Herod. Joseph, Mary and Jesus leave in the middle of the night and stay in Egypt until they hear further directions from God.
King Herod reacts in anger and violence when he realizes that he was tricked by the Magi and orders all boys two years old and younger to be killed in order to keep the new king from taking over Herod's throne. A great wave of grief and horror fill the mother's hearts in Israel whose children have been killed. It is only after Herod's death that the angel of the Lord gives Joseph the word to return to Israel, where they finally settle in a small town called Nazareth.
The gospel reading in Matthew 2 reminds me of an adventure film with it's travels in the middle of the night, mysterious visiting Kings, Angel messages in dreams and the terrible actions of a power hungry king. However, the reality of loss and death bring this story into the reality and an imperfect and dark world.
The world of Joseph and Mary isn't unlike the world that we live in today. Examples of darkness in our world crowd into our Christmas week like the shooting of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the bombing that caused the death of 22 others in Pakistan. The news reports of her death came with scenes of mourning and loss on the faces of people in Pakistan. In the midst of this terrible situation, we can connect to the emotion and feeling of loss over people unjustly robbed of their lives. The actions of Herod in Matthew 2 echo the senseless results of violence that we have all witnessed in the past week. In this time where innocents are lost the treasure of the world – Jesus – remains waiting for the right time to make himself known.
While the world waited, Mary and Joseph remained thankfully open to the direction and leading of God. They too must have felt the loss and grief of Israel when they looked at their safe toddler, but they held on to the promise and waited for direction.
In all of the details of this dramatic story, I find myself drawn to the thankful openness of Joseph and Mary. In their hearts Mary and Joseph probably dreamed of going home, settling down and creating a stable home for their new family and return to "normal" life. Being chosen as the parents of God's only son required that they put aside their plans for the future and wait upon God for direction. It was their dependence upon God that kept them in the most challenging, but most secure place they could live. Their lives depended upon the thankful openness that they maintained with God. This kind of openness was evidence in their willingness to listen to angels, pick up in the middle of the night and travel to unfamiliar lands and carry on even in the midst of great grief over Israel's loss. God entrusted his son to a couple that truly understood what was needed: thankful openness and relationship with himself, God.
Ultimately, we all will move past the holiday season and put away our decorations, eat all our cookies and treats, and begin the process of moving back to the day to day reality of real life. So in the midst of every day life, what is it that you truly need? The question that we all need to ask is not, " What do I want for Christmas", but "What do I need from God in my daily life?"
God is with us on the treasure hunt and is willing to give us the clues to take the next step on our journey with Him. We find what we are truly looking for when we live a life in thankful openness to God. The true adventure begins when we invite God into our real life.
Real life logo
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Maybe it's the fact that I'm wrapping up my final assignments for my BA program, maybe it's the fact that New Years is only a few days away, or maybe its the fact that another birthday is swiftly coming to the surface; but I keep pondering the direction of the year to come.
So many things that I've always wanted to accomplish will be wrapped up in 2007: My BA, writing and performing music, working in a ministry that I love and get excited about. But I find myself uncomfortable with the idea of officially no longer being a student.
I keep thinking about Pittsburgh Seminary's distance program, NNU's online Master's in Missional Leadership degree and possibly the Commissioned Lay Pastor's program though the Presbytery.
Again then there is the additional cost of going back again. Anyone have a grant in their pocket that they'd like to give me?
Can I swing the pressure of a more dictated study program? Should I jump into the M-div, or take the baby step of the Lay pastor program - or the MA at NNU. I have this sense of urgency about taking this on, but any one program is at least two more years of work - five at the most.
I love to learn. One time someone called me a lifetime student. I think if I'm enrolled or not that is who I am and who I want to be.
I have so much to learn.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Christmas Eve holds many picture memories: toddlers wearing brand new footed pajamas staring with excitement at the sparkling tree on Christmas Eve, family and friends sitting close over a holiday meal, baking cookies to place on a special visitor's plate later in the night, gazing out the windows of a cozy Christmas tree lighted living room at the fluffy snowflakes gracefully falling to the cold ground.
The pictures in our memories are the lenses that we look though and see the holiday season. These memories help to frame the heart and mind and the perspective that this year's holiday experience will hold. Some of the pictures memories may not be the warm, fuzzy examples of a Currier and Ives Christmas card or a thirty-minute Christmas television special. But our minds hold these internal pictures, both light and dark, as our eyes look to see and capture this advent's addition to our memory banks. So in the perspective of both the light and darkness, what will become our picture memory of this Christmas?
In Luke 2:1-20, the picture of Jesus arrival provides a dramatic contrast of the angelic and humble characters placed together in a earthly setting, Bethlehem's manger. Multitudes of angels announce their message of the long awaited savior to a meek audience of shepherds. In this account of Jesus' birth there is a biblical picture of Christmas, a snapshot of what is available to the world and to the church – if only we have the eyes to see it.
Imagine Michelangelo's painting of God reaching down from heaven and touching the hand of his creation Adam. God is in pursuit of mankind and has been so from the beginning of time. In the moment of the birth of the long awaited Savior the light of heaven and the darkness of earth make a joyful and miraculous connection. God again is reaching to make contact with His creation.
Shepherding was not considered to be an esteemed occupation in the eyes of the community. It was a position that would only be held by "shiftless, dishonest people that grazed their flocks on other's lands." (Commentary Luke 2:1-20) How is it possible that God would choose to send the message of his son's birth to a group of people so lonely and outcast?
God has a way of operating in a way and means quite opposite to our expectation. Throughout his life, Jesus spent much time with the poor, outcast, and overlooked people of the community. It is only right that his birth announcement was heard first by the people that he had come to serve. The Angels had come to announce the good news, defined as the proclamation of the gospel, to be joy for all the people. Not a select of privileged group - but to all of humanity.
1 Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
Psalm 96 reflects the joy and unity of all people in the prompting to acknowledge the fact that God who, "was, is and will be king (Exodus 15:1-21), is interested in working in and among "all peoples".
God desired to reach out flawed humanity through giving Jesus his son. God took the risk to entrust his infant son to human hands, in a world full of darkness. As the Church, it is our responsibility to continue to reach out to the world, to hearts, and people who are filled with darkness. The Bethlehem touch of God is the good news that will help us connect and make contact.
God isn't afraid to reach out to us, even in the most unexpected and humble ways. Our calling and new song this Christmas is to personally know the joy of reaching back to the God that is always reaching out to us, and then sharing it with others.
So what picture do you have in mind for this Christmas? May our picture of Christmas become clearly focused on each one of us becoming an extension of God's hand and good news in a world looking to see His true light shining out into darkness.