Monday, December 7, 2020

Welcome to Our World

I realize Welcome to Our World may not be sung as people carol physically distanced through neighborhoods this year. It is kind of a short song, but it is packed with meaning.

The gist of the song is God coming down from heaven as a child for us and how we welcome him to our world. Can we welcome him, even though we might be scared, worried, disappointed, distracted and distanced by COVID? Can we welcome him to our celebration and welcome him to our sadness?

This song reminds me that Christmas is tied to Easter. The baby’s birth we are celebrating is the savior’s death that saves us. He was born to live with us, to walk with us, to teach us and to die for us. It was all part of the plan. God celebrated the birth of Jesus on Christmas knowing the sacrifice of Jesus was down the road. So we can join God in celebrating as we welcome Jesus into our world. Into our joy and happiness and into our sadness. Into those relationships that are bringing us energy and into those relationships that cause us stress. We can welcome him into our sinfulness, asking for his forgiveness. BUT even as we celebrate the joy of Christmas, we can remember it will be followed by the pain of Good Friday AND the greater joy of the resurrection on Easter. The baby born and laid in the manger, grew up  and was killed on the cross. He came back to life and lives forever.

We can look forward to his welcoming us into his world.

What Child Is This?

Having a relationship with God is life changing and as we enter into that relationship we have to answer the question posed in the title of the song, “What Child is This?”

As a child there was something special about baby Jesus. There was a sacredness. The readings were about the "Word became flesh" and "Unto us a child is born". It was a very special time. It was obvious Jesus was a very special baby. I remember one Christmas our family was chosen to place Jesus, with his family and animals, in the large nativity display in church. That was a special year. At home, every year we would put up our nativity set in early December, but we didn't put baby Jesus in. He didn't come until Christmas. After church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, we would sing carols as we placed baby Jesus into the manger.

As I've grown up, the question has grown from "what child is this?" to "who is Jesus in my life?" According to the song, He is the King of Kings bringing salvation. Do I really believe that the King of Kings? Do I really believe He is fully God and fully man? Do I really believe this carpenter's son grew up to be a world changing teacher? Do I believe He died on the cross, was buried and rose again?  Do I believe He is my Savior. Do I trust Him with my family, my money, my life? AND does what I believe about Jesus make a difference in how I live my life? 

This Christmas may we all answer the question "what child is this?" with "this, this is Christ the King" as we allow him to make a difference in how we live our lives.

Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer

Yes, I'm going to pick on Rudolph today. I enjoy singing this song. I enjoy watching the cartoon--truly a classic song and classic show.  A classic story of the unwanted and different being picked on and driven away.  By leaving he learns about sacrifice. At one point in the cartoon, he tries to save his friends by going it alone. Yet in the end the thing that caused him to be shunned is the very thing everyone needed. Everyone has a change of heart and happiness abounds. So maybe I've seen the movie too many times and it blends in with the song...  Anyway.

As fun as the story is, I get bothered by the image of Rudolph being picked on and forced to the outside of  the group. Probably because I have never felt like an insider. Growing up I questioned where I belonged. I didn't seem to fit in. I experienced being bullied from third grade on through high school. Did it make me "stronger"? Did it "toughen me up" and "teach me life lessons"?  NO!--I felt powerless. I felt depressed.   felt like an outsider.  I was like Rudolph, but I couldn't run away to the island of misfit toys and not go to school. I was stuck. 

There is a lot of talk these days about bullying. Children are taught how to deal with bullies. There are a number of anti-bullying curriculums available. And what happens when the bullying is from the leaders? How do children feel when the adults in their lives turn a blind eye and give silent consent to bullying?  t's really cool in Rudolph that the other reindeer and Santa have a change of heart (possibly due to necessity).  But what if Rudolph chose not to save the day? Could anyone have blamed him? Were there any bad consequences to the poor reindeer and elfin behavior? Where were the adults to stand up for Rudolph?

Three last thoughts on Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. One--take a stand for those that are prone to be picked on.  Don't bully and don't let bullies win.  Two--don't discount someone because of their abilities or background.  At Christmas, I am reminded that the savior I follow was born in a stable surrounded by animals.  Instead of baby powder, he smelled of straw and dirt. Third--if you struggle with a blinking red nose, or maybe depression or acne or a differing ability, you can accomplish something that no-one else can? Trust me, you are loved and there is a plan for you. You matter!  Don't believe the bully reindeer. You do belong

Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful


This hymn is guaranteed to be sung in many, many churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  It is the call to come and worship on Christmas. "Come let us adore Him, Christ our Lord."

When I hear this son, the question I find myself asking is "what do I adore?" I adore my wife. She is fantastic, smart, beautiful, funny, real, caring and so much more. It is a very special adoration. 

I also adore my kids. They are unique, funny, caring, smart and helpful. I want the best for them. I want them to grow up to be able to totally live the life they are designed to live. I adore them in a very different way than I adore my wife.

Merriam Webster defines adoration as "feelings of strong love or affection."  In light of that definition, I can look back and see how many different things and people I have adored.  Most of them were not good ideas--like adoration of money, pleasure, drinking, you get the idea.  
I've learned not everything I have adored is worthy of adoration.

That is what makes the call to adore Jesus so life changing. God is worthy of our adoration. He created us in the image of himself. He created this world.
 He gives us the choice to adore him or not to adore him. We were made to have strong feelings of love or affection--sometimes those feelings get misdirected. We are called to adoration. Come let us adore Him.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen


Why was Christ born?  According to this song, one of the reasons was to free us from Satan's power when we go astray. I go astray at times. Quick lesson--Satan is a spiritual being who decided he wanted to be in charge. He gathered some followers and tried to take over from God. God won. Satan lost. Now Satan hates all things good and all things godly. Humans are made in the image of God. Therefore Satan hates humans and will do anything he can to make our lives never live up to our potential and will do anything he can to keep us from God.

But do we really believe in Satan's power? Is evil just an abstract concept brought about by mistakes and poor choices? Isn't evil just the absence of good? Isn't the idea of a devil a bit outdated? I believe in Satan and in evil, not just from my faith stand point, but from a personal stand point.

I look back at my active drinking days. I was not only dependent on alcohol, but truly felt in bondage. When I was hurting myself, I felt trapped and hated who I was. When I was suicidal, I very much believed the only way out of pain was death. Bondage, trapped, death. The presence of evil in my life was very real. I still struggle with doubt.  I still struggle with depression. Satan hasn't given up on keeping me from freedom and from God. He still tries on a daily basis to draw me away from the life I am meant to lead.

Maybe some of you feel trapped in some areas of your life. There may be self-destructive habits you can't seem to break or that you can't seem to want to break. Maybe you live in fear that someday, those you care about will see the real you and you will be left alone.  

This Christmas, listen to the message of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman. Let it remind you there is a love greater than the despair you feel. There is a savior who was born to free you. There is a God who offers hope, forgiveness, guidance, strength, peace and life. He will not be stopped. His love will not end. His strength will not fail. We can be free from the power of Satan. Have a Merry Christmas and receive the gift of freedom. 

The Grinch Theme Song


I’m sure you and I both know some people who don't enjoy Christmas. I’m reminded of them when I hear the Grinch theme song. I went to a church where the people love God and love others. They are trying to make a difference in their community. Part of the time together we heard of five local families or organizations that were going to receive a generous gift from this small church family. People came up with ideas. People voted on the ideas. Now people get to carry out the ideas. Cool stuff.

At another part of the night, the person teaching brought up Grinch and Scrooge. He talked about how some people just don't like Christmas.  It is not a season of joy for them.  He wondered if even in our own hearts there have been times or certain aspects of Christmas that we don't like. He then asked us what does Christmas have to say to people who don't like it. Great question.

I know of people who don't enjoy Christmas. 
For some they don’t enjoy Christmas because it is a time of loneliness, depression and loss. Sometimes memories associated with a previous Christmas continue to hold power over all future Christmases. Some people get stressed over family, gifts, cooking, time, travel.  Expectations can run high, only to lead to disappointment. 

We the church can help these people by reminding them they are not alone. We can tell the story of how Jesus came into the world in relative obscurity, understood our struggles, was betrayed, abandoned and killed. He understands our pain. He has dealt with emotions, loss, family, friends, misunderstandings, temptation--just like we have.

Christmas is a time of celebration. It can be enjoyed. It is for those at peace with themselves and the world around.  It is for those that love to give to others. It is also a time for those that feel lost, alone, misunderstood and abandoned.  Christmas says "I am here.  I have come to be closer to you. I will be with you when you celebrate and when you cry. I love you when you are full of joy and full of sorrow. Even when you don't believe-I will be here."  It is a time to be grateful we have a God who chooses to be with us. Even in our grinchiest moments.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Away in a Manger

"Away in a Manger"


I  do like this song. I find the melody soothing and the words tender. It speaks of love and a desire to be close to Jesus and for Jesus to be close to us. As much as I love the picture this song paints, I'm not sure I like the poetic license the writer takes when he talks about the animals making noise and baby Jesus waking up and not crying.

You see, the way I read the Bible Jesus was as much of a human being as you and me. Fully human. He cried as a baby. He needed to be fed by his teenage mom. He needed his diaper changed or whatever they did back then. He had gas. He burped. He spit up. He probably had some sleepless nights as did Mary and Joseph. Jesus was not just pretending to be a little baby. He was a little baby.  

He is the creator of the universe. The one who spoke everything into existence.  The imaginator that gave us reindeer and hippos. The artist that gives us sunsets and ice coated trees. The constructor who placed the stars and the planets. The conductor who orchestrates it all. That ONE came into our world needing everything! He humbled himself to be taken care of. It was not an act. It was not a fraud. He was a little baby boy.

God in the straw has a lot to teach me about humility. My self sufficiency needs to be challenged so I don't forget my need for God and others. If God can be humble enough to be a child, can I be humble enough to ask for and accept help?  If a simple manger was good enough for a king, maybe my house is good enough for me. If God can set aside his rightful place of authority and splendor and accept living with parents and family, maybe I don't have to be right, recognized and remembered all the time.

Simplicity.  Humility.  Acceptance.  Three gifts we all could use this Christmas.

Here Comes Santa Claus

"Here Comes Santa Claus"


So, this is a fun song about Christmas cheer and getting ready for Santa Claus and the anticipation of Christmas. All good things. Yet--there's this mixed up verse about Santa Claus loving the rich and poor the same because he knows we are all God's children and another about saying your prayers. But from what I’ve seen, the gifts under the tree are not stacked the same. Some have more, some have less.

Did you know, that in Christmases past, there have been volunteers from a number of different groups buying, sorting and packing gifts? There are giving trees and Shoeboxes and so much more. We are blessed to have so many chances to give to make a difference. I've seen first-hand, the joy when churches or organizations adopt a family, and provide for them beyond expectations. I've seen those tears of gratitude.

I was able to enjoy Christmases where a number of churches and individuals adopted young, single moms living in a maternity home. They provided food and necessities, but also gave according to the moms' wish lists. I've seen single moms come home with a toy from Toys for Tots, that they could never have bought for their child themselves.

Maybe I'm wrong to feel cynical about this song.  Maybe Santa Claus does love every child the same.  Maybe he counts on us helping him every Christmas.  Maybe he counts on us helping throughout the year so people who have been helped can turn around and help others--as so many of them do.  Maybe God is counting on us to do the same as well.  To be His hands and feet reaching out and giving--not so people can experience the spirit of Christmas, but so they can know the Spirit of God.  May we love all year round.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

 "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"


The story goes that there was a great nation founded by God and led by God.  But they wanted a king like other nations.  So God said yes.  This great nation went through many ups and downs.  They kept turning away from God, being conquered, turning back to God, being rescued, turning away from God. . . . and so on.  God sent them prophets and judges to lead them.  He promised he would bless the world through them.  Then God fell silent.  This nation no longer heard from prophets.  They were conquered and they stayed conquered.  But they had God's promises and they hung on to them with all the hope they had.  God promised to send a savior.  God promised to send a son born of a virgin.  God promised to send a light into their darkness.  God promised freedom.  So this conquered nation believed and waited and waited.  

They lived in anticipation of rescue.  Who would it be?  Would this savior be a great warrior and lead them to victory over their enemies?  Would their new king restore them to the land God promised them?  Would they be led in victory and again prosper? Who?  When?  How about now, God?  Now would be good!

But God surprised them.  He fulfilled his promises, but most people missed it.  Shepherds noticed, but scribes did not.  Astronomers noticed, but the priests did not.  Eventually fishermen, tax collectors, women, children, sick people and hurting people noticed; but the religious leaders could not or would not believe.  God sent a baby and they wanted a soldier.  God gave freedom from sin and they wanted freedom from the Romans.  God opens the way for us to know Him and be with Him and they wanted rules, not relationship.

In this song, I hear the longing of people who have hope and faith in a God who saves. This longing for a deeper relationship with God resonates in my heart as well.  I just want to cry out "Come God!  Be more with me.  Bring me deeper into you.  Be more real in my life.  Make my love more real to others.  Come Lord and light those dark areas of my soul.  Restore my broken spirit.  Lift my head so I can see your face.  Come Jesus and form me into the world changer that you have called me to be.  Come Rescuer and free me from my pettiness, my habits, my selfishness.  Come Lover of my Soul and help me to love my wife and children unconditionally.  Come Healer and make me whole from the inside out.  Come, come Emmanuel.  Come into my life and make me more like you."

We Three Kings of Orient Are

"We Three Kings of Orient Are"


"Star of wonder, star of night..."  There are so many parts of this song that come to mind.  The first thing to jump out is the fact that these three wise man travelled together.   They probably had servants and hanger-ons.  So--think community.  This Christmas-don't travel alone.  If you plan on a physical or spiritual or emotional journey--take a friend.  Personal note--I know the importance of community, but I am not very good at it.

Second thought--they were seeking. They saw a star, deduced its meaning and followed it. They wanted to see the King. They prepared to see the King. They prepared to worship Him. They weren't satisfied just knowing about this King, they wanted/needed to go see the King. I would rather meet a king than just know about a king. Plus, the person they were seeking was worth the time, money and effort.  Sometimes I seek things that are stupid. This Christmas I hope to seek a joy that is worth it, not just seek more stuff.

BUT--the thing that I really think about with this song is that the the wise men were anticipators.  (Probably not a word, but let's go with it.) They didn't just happen to see a star one night and wonder what it meant.  They studied what was available to them so they were ready and knew what the star meant.  When they went on the journey, they were prepared to see the King. They brought gifts.  They brought hearts open to the King. I can imagine the conversations on the long journey: "What will he look like? Will he be in the palace? Will we be welcome? Will we get to see him?" Or maybe they believed that with this birth, the world would be changed. They anticipated watching and experiencing history.

These weeks leading up to Christmas are celebrated as Advent in some Christian practices. It is seen as a time to anticipate and prepare for the coming of Christ as a baby. There are traditions such as the advent candle and the advent calendar. Ways to mark the passing of time and build the anticipation.  

I remember one Christmas growing up when times were kind of hard around our house. We anticipated not having a lot under our tree. But then, we were blessed by members of our church sharing gifts with us.  I was so excited. The gifts came wrapped and we gathered around on Christmas Eve when they were delivered.  Mom let us open them that night.  But when we opened them, they were second hand clothes and nothing we wanted or needed. Today, I can appreciate the desire to help, but back then (as a child) it was very disappointing and disheartening.  

God is not in the business of handing out second hand gifts. He wants his best for his children. He expects us to give our best to those in need. That Christmas has served as a reminder for me to take a part in the various opportunities I have to give this year. To give something new, fun, useful, wanted.  To give like God calls me to give. To give in hopes that when that child or family receives the gift, what they anticipated will not even come close to what they have received. That is what God did on Christmas. The wise men anticipated a new King, but what they and the world got is so much more.

Anticipate, participate and celebrate.  

Be like the wise men in the Book of Matthew.