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.