God Moves In

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“Before the creation of the world,” Ephesians tells us, God had a plan.

Before you made plans to join us here in worship at Immanuel.
Before the star in the sky led the Magi to Bethlehem.
Before the prophets first heard the voice of God.
Before the moon and the stars were set in the sky.
Before everything!
While “the earth was without shape or form” as the first words of the Bible tell us…
And while “the Word was with God and the Word was God” as John proclaims…
There. Was. A. Plan.

What kind of a plan was this?
If we look to the root of the word used here in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, oikonomia, we find that it describes the administration of a household or an estate.
It’s the same word we find at the root of ecology and economy.
It describes how something is held together… the rules that govern how it functions, what sustains it, how it thrives.
So Paul is telling us that from the very beginning, God had a plan for how all of creation, God’s household, was going to work.
God wanted to bring everything – from the highest heights of heaven to the deepest crevices of the earth – together and to make a home among us.
And God’s plan was made known to us in Jesus Christ.
Immanuel.
God-with-us.

In these weeks leading up to Christmas here at Immanuel, we have been exploring God’s love for all of creation.
When we open up our bibles to the very first chapters, we discover this plan of God’s was already set in motion.
For six days, God was building, creating, and giving life to all things in the heavens and on earth.
And God looked around and saw that it was all very good.
And then God rested.

Now, I have to admit to you. Typically, when I think about God resting, I imagine that God goes back to wherever God has come from… leaving earth to go and take a day off.
After all, that is how we treat Sabbath, isn’t it?
The day we get away from everything?
Turn off the work email… veg out in front of the television and watch Netflix… get away from everyone and go fishing or golfing?

But, what if we have it all wrong?
What if the Sabbath is part of God’s plan?
What if in that moment of rest, God is with us?

The theologian Jurgen Moltmann describes Sabbath as a time when God “begins to ‘experience’ the beings he has created… He adopts the community of creation… He allows them to exist in his presence. And he is present in their existence.” (God In Creation, page 279)
God-with-us. Immanuel.
God creates us and on the Sabbath day of rest and presence, heaven and earth are one.
That’s why we are called to honor the Sabbath and make it holy.
Because whenever we truly stop to rest and worship and simply be in God’s presence, we are participating in that amazing plan set in motion before the stars were put in the sky.
We remember that God has already moved into the neighborhood.

If we are honest with ourselves, however, we know that is not how we usually keep the Sabbath.
In fact, throughout human history, the people of God have often forgotten the presence of God in their midst.
We turn our backs on God.
We seek our own will.
We make mistakes and fail in our humble striving.
But God is not content to be driven out of our lives.
God refuses to be turned away.
God has a plan, remember, and so God acts over, and over again, in ways that bring heaven and earth together.
After all, as John’s gospel tells us, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.” (John 1:5)
And so God heard the cries of the oppressed and rescued them and brought them into the land of milk and honey.
And so God called the people of faith over and over again through the words and actions of the prophets.
And then God acts by coming in really close… diving in deep to all of the mess and the struggle, the pain and sorrow of our human worldly lives.
As we moved away from God, God moves towards us.
The Word became flesh.
Immanuel.
God-with-us.

And it happened in a particular life, in a particular time, in a particular place.

Now… I don’t want to ruin the Christmas story for you… but I’ve come to realize that we’ve been telling it wrong.
And I think when we hear this story again, put back into its context and place, in many ways the story of Christmas becomes all the sweeter and more meaningful.

You see, as we read in Luke’s gospel, Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem to parents who really weren’t anyone important. And Mary “wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.”
When you look back to the original koine Greek, it says katalyma. This was a place where travelers spent a night… and while it could have referred to an inn, it was used to describe “the sleeping area in a single-room Palestinian peasant home” or a guest space in such a house.
The homes in Bethlehem would have had one large living space and if they were lucky, they might have had a smaller private room set aside for guests.
There would have been an area by the entrance where animals were brought in at night to keep them safe and warm.
And that large multi-purpose room would have not only had places to sit and eat and cook… but also mangers, built out of wood or hollowed out of the ground, where straw for those animals were kept.

The scene reminds me a lot of Christmas celebrations among either sets of my grandparents. You see, my dad was one of five kids and my mom was one of seven kids and the holidays were always a big deal. Everyone would come back home and the grown-ups would get the bedrooms that they slept in as children, but the grandkids would all pile together in the living room with sleeping bags and pillows. If you had to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you had to take care not to step on one of your relatives!

If we peered back into Bethlehem on that night long ago, instead of a cold and lonely couple huddled in a shed, we probably would have discovered Mary and Jospeh surrounded by family… in fact, maybe a bit too crowded by family – remember, Luke says there wasn’t room in the guest room. Everyone had come to town to be registered in the census so aunties and uncles and cousins galore would have been packed into the room together.
And right there in the midst of it all – in a normal home, in an everyday life, in the midst of community and the animals, Christ was born.
God moved into the neighborhood.
Immanuel.
God-with-us.

I think the most powerful statement of the incarnation is the reminder that right here… on this earth, among all of creation, surrounded by our community, is where we are redeemed.
God’s plan is not that this earth will waste away and we will be whisked away to some far off heaven.
No… in Jesus Christ all things in heaven and on earth will be brought together.
Right here is where salvations shows up.

As we have been leading up to this day, this time of worship, when we remember the birth of Christ, we have also been looking ahead to a moment that is yet to come.
For, we are still waiting.
This morning, I prayed for two colleagues who lost their mothers yesterday.
This world is still filled with disease and struggle and this might be the last Christmas we celebrate with certain loved ones.
We even remember that places like Bethlehem are today places of conflict and strife.
God’s plan isn’t complete yet.

So as people of faith, we are also looking ahead to that day of new creation when the kingdom of God is made known.
John tells us that the light shines in the darkness and has not been overcome by it… and when we keep reading to the Revelation, we find hope in the words that “death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying or pain anymore… There will no longer be any curse… Night will be no more. They won’t need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shine on them.” (21:4, 22:3,5)
At the climax of all times, when the plan is fully complete, the heavens and earth will be brought together and God will make a home among us.

The Letter to the Ephesians may seem like a strange text to share together on Christmas Eve, but for me it is a reminder that the promises we hope for can already be experienced right now. Paul’s words here remind us that while the plan isn’t quite yet complete… it has already become a reality within the church.
You see, from the moment the heavens opened and the angels began to proclaim the birth of our Messiah, we have been invited to participate and respond to the kingdom of Glory.
Shepherds left their flocks to search out the baby in the manger.
Magi traveled great distances to greet the newborn King.
Fishermen would leave their boats to follow the Messiah.
Rich men like Zacchaeus gave away their wealth.
Scholars like Paul set aside everything they thought they knew about God to discover the message all over again and then carried it across the world.
The ripples from the birth of that one moment built the church, the Body of Christ alive in this world today.
Friends, you and I are that body of Christ right here and right now.
And as Ephesians 2 tells us, “we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.”
We have been adopted into God’s household, filled up with the Spirit of God, and called to imitate Christ wherever we go.
So fall on your knees in this time of worship.
Remember that God set the stars in the sky and the ground beneath our feet.
Imagine the birth of that child in Bethlehem.
And ask how God is inviting you today to love one another and to bring peace and joy to all who struggle.
Because it is through you… and you… and you… that the presence of God can be known in this neighborhood today, and tomorrow, and the day after that.
YOU are also God’s plan for this world.

Can’t Keep Silent!

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While the Advent journey takes us through an emotional rollercoaster of joy, fear, humility, and anticipation, there is no other emotion to guide the days after Christmas than pure celebration.

 Each of the readings for this time of Christmas call us to take a deep breath of relief, to look around at the beauty of what God has done, and to simply enjoy it.

We have waited patiently for four weeks in this season of Advent and in these fast paced days, a month may seem like an eternity. 

 But our scriptures from Luke for this Sunday tell us of two people who had been waiting their whole lifetimes for the birth of Christ and then who absolutely couldn’t keep silent when they encountered the Christ-child.

  

First of all, a little background about why Mary and Joseph and the newly born Jesus find themselves in Jerusalem in our gospel reading this morning. 

 This probably would have been the second trip that the trio would have made into the holy city – first in order to name their child and to have him circumcised eight days after his birth, and then this second trip – in order for Mary to be purified after the birth according to the law. 

 In the book of Leviticus, the law proclaims that any woman who has given birth would be ceremonially unclean – or unable to worship at the temple or to touch holy things, for 33 days if the child born was a boy, or 66 days if the newly born baby was a girl. 

 While this may seem to be strange – it was actually probably a welcome time of rest and a chance for the new mother and child to bond in peace and quiet.

 But then after that time, the family would come to the temple to make the required offering. 

 Families who could afford to do so would bring a lamb, but there were allowances made for those who were less fortunate.  Scripture tells us that Mary and Joseph were only able to bring a pair of small birds as their gift to God.

 

These trips back and forth, all of this pomp and ceremony, were actually very normal, really, expected parts of what it meant to have a baby.  Mothers and fathers and infants would have been a common sight around the temple as they marked this important time of their lives in God’s presence.

 But in the midst of other mothers and fathers and babies – Luke tells us that two wise old saints- Anna and Simeon – picked this particular trio out of the crowd and knew that they were something special.

 Perhaps it was the fact that Anna and Simeon had been waiting for such a long time to see the Messiah.

 Perhaps they were just more in tune with the power of the Holy Spirit after lifetimes of faithful service to God.

Or maybe they just allowed themselves to be overcome by the joy of the moment and couldn’t help but be silent.

 In any case, both Anna and Simeon rushed to the new parents and their infant son, God-in-the-flesh, and gave praise to God.

  

Who are these people?  And why does Luke record their reactions?

  

Simeon was a man who was filled with the Holy Spirit, and long ago a promise was made to him that he would not see death until the Messiah had come. 

Most people were looking for a leader to rise above the people – a powerful and spiritual figure.  But Simeon was led by God to see that this infant child that crossed his path was something more… and he knew that his promise had been fulfilled.  

 He understood that this child would grow to become not just a light of revelation to his Jewish brothers and sisters, but would be the light of salvation to the entire world.  And the Holy Spirit helped him to understand that this path to salvation would be a heart-breaking journey for Mary and Joseph, but also for God.  

 Now that he had seen the Messiah, he could pass from this world in peace. 

 

 Anna was a prophetess, a woman of God who spent her life worshipping God through fasting and prayer in the temple. 

 It is likely that she had served God in this capacity for nearly sixty years of her lifetime!   

 In those sixty years, surely many babies had passed before her eyes. 

 And while we don’t know of anything particularly special about the way the infant Christ looked, something about this month old child caught Anna’s eye. 

 Her heart was filled with joy and Luke writes that she began to tell the story of this amazing child to everyone that was looking for redemption and hope in the city of Jerusalem.

 Hope has come! Light has entered our midst! was likely her cry.

She may have been eighty-four years old, but she wasn’t going to let anything stop her from sharing what she had experienced.

 Maybe she thought in the back of her mind of our text from Isaiah today: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest.”

 Her years of prayerful anticipation had been answered, and now she simply couldn’t keep her mouth shut.

  

My question for all of you this afternoon is simple. If an eighty-four year old woman and a dying old man can share the joy of this birth with all of those around her—why shouldn’t we?

 I want to encourage each and every single one of you to go out from this time of worship and to share! To announce! To celebrate!  How God has entered our midst in this Christmas season.

 At dinner, tell a story of something that happened to you or your family this Christmas. 

 Find your neighbor later today and share the joy of Christmas with a hug or a word of encouragement.

 Call your children and tell them about something you are thankful for.

 Talk with the staff here at Wesley Acres and let them know you are still praying for them this Christmas season. 

 God has entered our midst!!!   And as we continue to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, let each one of us continue to proclaim good tidings of great joy…

Winter is Over!

Before our Christmas traditions took hold, there were other festivals in the northern hemisphere among folks who were tucked in for winter.  The crops had been harvested and stored, the work was done, and they celebrated…  But in one of the pieces I read this advent from a writer named Gayle Boss,  I was a reminded about a truth in those celebrations: “No matter how glad the party, they couldn’t keep from glancing at the sky… Each day throughout the fall they watched the light dwindle, felt the warmth weaken.  It made them anxious, edgy… When they had eaten up the crop they were fasting on, how would another crop grow?  Throughout December, as the sun sank and sank to its lowest point on their horizon, they felt the shadow of primal fear – fear for survival – crouching over them.”

I don’t know if there are any Game of Thrones fans here this morning, but one of the mottos of one of these houses is “Winter is Coming.” 

It is a reminder that dark and difficult times are ahead.  It is an echo of that primal fear of a long winter.  It is the sentiment that says nothing good happens after midnight.

It is the dread that overcame the people of Narnia as the White Witch took over power.  Her cold power overwhelmed the land and even her touch would turn people to ice and stone. 

The land of Narnia came to be known as the place where it was always winter, but never Christmas. 

And in that place, hope can be hard to find.  Anxiety grows.  Fears are plenty. 

 

The people of Narnia thought that winter might last forever.  Many thought they would never see Christmas. 

And yet some clung to the promises, the hopes, the prophecies to sustain them through the long, dark, cold nights. 

Folks like Mr. and Mrs. Beaver waited, they longed, they believed that Aslan would return to Narnia and that four children would sit on the throne and bring a reign of peace.

 

What I love about the “Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” is that there are glimpses of the end of the witches power… the end of winter… long before Aslan ever appears in the story.

 The hospitality of even enemies like Mr. Tumnus.

The snow begins to thaw. 

Flowers start to bloom.

Father Christmas shows up to equip the children with the tools they will need in the upcoming battle.  

Aslan is near and winter is already disappearing.

 

A few days ago, the season of winter technically began in our part of the world.  The winter solstice marks the turning of the seasons and on that longest night, that darkest day, winter began.

And you know,  it was in the dark… At about midnight last night… or this morning… whichever you want to call it, that our Christmas Eve service wrapped up. 

And in the darkness, in the quiet stillness, in the bleak midwinter, something amazing happened. 

We welcomed Jesus into our lives. 

We proclaimed Hallelujah and celebrated the good news of Jesus birth. 

In that hour and season that represents the height of our fears, where nothing good is supposed to happen.  

 

My colleague Melissa Meyers wrote last night about that phrase, but then she went on to list all sorts of blessings of midnight: 

“Midnight is pregnant with possibilities… just waiting to be birthed…

Midnight gives you a chance to start over …

Midnight gives you an opportunity to forgive that person who has wronged you…

Midnight gives you the opportunity to ask for forgiveness…

Midnight gives you the possibility of something new…

Midnight is not the darkness, but a reminder that the dark doesn’t last forever”

 

Midnight is not the darkness, but a reminder that the dark doesn’t last forever. 

 

And it’s not only midnight… it is right now, in this cold, dark, time when everything else is stripped away and seems lost and full of fear that we actual glimpse the most profound sign of hope .

That longest night of the year… this season of cold and reflection and barren earth… it is not the darkness either, but a reminder that the dark will not last forever.

It is in that amazing moment when all seems the darkest, the coldest, the loneliest, that God creeps into our lives, our world, our hearts. 

The beginning of the winter season is actually the moment when the light begins to return to the sky.

It is the moment the days grow longer.

 

Gayle Boss reflects upon this, she notes that “to their and our abiding fear of a dark ending, the Church spoke of an advents: a coming.  Faith proclaimed, When life as we know it goes, this year and at the end of all years, One comes, and comes bringing a new beginning.”

Every midnight is a new beginning.

Every year end is a new beginning.

Every time winter begins with the solstice and the longest night, the reality is that the days are already growing longer. 

Winter is not coming. 

Winter is already over.

The power of cold and death and barrenness cannot remain. 

The White Witch is defeated before the battle has even begun in the land of Narnia.

 

Heidi Haverkamp writes in the reflections we have been reading this Advent and Christmas season that the power of the White Witch was “foiled by the faith and perseverance of a group of otherwise small and humble creatures who have been surviving under her tyranny… Their watching and waiting have prepared the way for Aslan’s coming.”

 

Today, we proclaim that God has come near. 

We celebrate that the Christ Child has entered our human lives to wipe away the despair and fear, the hatred and sin. 

But like those people of Narnia… although we know that winter is already over… although we know that in God’s time the powers of this world have already been defeated… still the final battle has yet to be fought.

We wait… still.

We hope… still.

We long… still.

Waiting for the final victory of Jesus.  Waiting for the second coming of our Lord. 

And living every single day as if the powers of this world cannot hold our hearts. 

 

As Melissa Meyers wrote in the wee hours of the night:

“Midnight is not the end of the story, but only the beginning…

Midnight invites you into the story of resistance, subversion, radical inclusion, and peace…

Midnight brings us a thrill of hope as the weary world rejoices…

Midnight births a King of Kings that changes the world in ways that we continue to discover…

Midnight brings to us the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Emmanuel… “

 

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve

In the beginning…

 

Most years when we get to the season of Advent, we dive deep into the gospel texts.  We want to hear about the shepherds and angels, about Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the magi and the star.

Yet, as Heidi Haverkamp will share with us in this week’s reflections in her book “Advent in Narnia”, the medieval church also focused on Adam and Eve. 

They went all the way back to the beginning to remember who we are and why God needed to come to redeem us. December 24th was the feast day of Adam and Eve… a time to rehearse once again the story of the creation and the fall. 

And that tradition continued in the seasonal Lessons and Carols of Kings College… which will be presented next Sunday at Simpson College.  There, too, the story of love and light begins where it should… in the beginning. 

 

In the first chapters of the book of Genesis, we find out who we are.    We were created by God.  We were created for relationship and to care for this world.  And having been given the world, we want more, we desire more, we test our boundaries and more often than not… we cross them. 

This is the human condition.  It is our story. 

And so maybe it is not so surprising that when the Pevensie children stumble into Narnia and the magical creatures of the land discover these humans, they are called the “Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve”. 

They, and we, are full of goodness and knowledge and love.  

Last week, we met Lucy, the youngest child whose heart is full of longing and hope.  Her love was so strong that it cut through the fear of Mr. Tumnus and helped to transform his life.

The prophecies of Narnia talk about how these four children will bring hope to the land and break the power of the White Witch…

 

But they, and we, are also full of temptation, mistakes, and sin.  

The next child who makes his way into the wardrobe has a much different experience.  

Edmund is the next youngest and he often feels left out and unappreciated.  He is jealous and hurt and when he finds himself in Narnia the first to cross his path is the White Witch.

 

We find in their encounter a parallel to our story in Genesis chapter 3 this morning.  

First, there is this figure that is on the edges of our main characters story… a figure that at first seems completely neutral.  

On the one hand, we have the serpent, the craftiest and most intelligent of all the creatures who strikes up a conversation with Eve.  The serpent asks questions, raises intrigue, and starts Eve wandering about that tree in the middle of the garden.

The White Witch is beautiful, arrives on a sleigh and plies Edmund with warm beverages and questions.  She invites him up onto her sleigh and tempts him with his favorite treat:  Turkish Delight.  

Both are lured in by what is pleasing to the eye and good to eat…

 

But even more than that, they are both lured by the possibility of what might away it they say yes.  

Eve is told by the serpent that she will not die as she supposes, but she will become like God – knowing good and evil.  All of creation is at her fingertips, and yet she longs for the one thing that has not been given to her.  She is not satisfied with the blessings that surround her.

Edmund is likewise tempted by power… and a life apart from his siblings.  “It is a lovely place, my house,” said the Queen.  “I’m sure you would like it.  There are whole rooms of Turkish Delight…. I want a nice boy whom I could bring up as a Prince and who would be King of Narnia when I’m gone.” As the youngest son, he glimpses in this offer approval and power, love and prestige… to finally have the chance to lord it over his brothers and sisters.  

Overcome by the temptation, he agrees to lure his siblings to the palace.  

And like Adam and Eve, as soon as Edmund is away from the witch and realizes what he has done, he begins to be filled with shame.  

He encounters Lucy in the woods, who tells him the truth about the White Witch and he begins to feel sick to his stomach…  That, and he ate too much Turkish Delight.

 

As we continue our story over the coming weeks, we will experience Edmund’s journey.  He will make more mistakes. 

Like any good Christmas movie, there has to be a bad guy… a Scrooge, a spinster, a grouch…

But eventually Edmund will experience mercy and forgiveness, life and love.  The delight of a Hallmark Christmas move is to watch that characters life turn around.  Scrooge finds his generosity.  The Grinch’s heart grows.  A  prodigal son returns home.  

 

We are the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.  We have an infinite capacity for good and for evil residing in our souls.  

Maybe that is why some of our most popular Christmas songs ask us to reflect upon the state of our souls.

“He’s making a list and checking it twice, Gonna find out whose naughty and nice….

He sees you when you’re sleepin’  He knows when you’re awake.

He knows if you’ve been bad or good… so be good for goodness sake.”

 

The truth is, we are both.  

We are simultaneously sinners and saints.

Our lives are full of mistakes and missteps, but also acts of kindness and generosity.  

We are tempted by the glitz and glam and our comfort zones, but occasionally find our way out to be in real relationship with people who are struggling.

The reality of our souls is not as simple as making a list of who is good and who is bad.  

 

And the good news is that while we were yet sinners… while we were still weak… while we are this complicated jumble of goodness and evil… God entered our lives to redeem all of the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve

 

As we sing in “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” we yearn for the Christ Child to be born in our midst to cast out the sin of our lives.  We yearn for new life, for joy, for an end to the tears and the loneliness and the pain.

This season is about transformation and embracing what is good and holy and pure… letting go of the past that has haunted us.

God has come to offer us mercy and forgiveness and life abundant.

Thanks be to God.

Batteries

I hopped in my car last night to go get some chinese food for our quiet little new year’s eve.  We had movies and the first season of Spartacus to keep us company until the ball dropped and it was a new year.

I turned the key in the ignition….

Change-Car-BatteryNothing.

No little sputters.

No noises.

Just my car radio reading “ERR” and then flickering off.

My battery was dead.  Past dead.  Kaput.

Which… in all actuality… was kind of good news.

It meant that when I said I wasn’t going to work over the holiday break, that I kept my promise.

It meant that my car had not been driven for 5 days.

I wasn’t driving all across the state. I wasn’t in meetings.  I wasn’t commuting to Des Moines for a day in my cubical.

Instead, that dead battery means days full of time with my husband and family, days when we were home instead of out and about in the crazy rush of the season.  Nights of carpooling with my brother-in-law to dinner with the rest of the family.    I was baking and playing Guild Wars 2 and singing Christmas carols very loudly.

Now, I should have probably gone and started my car a few times.  We have a bit of a headache on our hands today, because it is not taking a charge and needs to be replaced.  But I’m going to look at the bright side.

I was home, recharging my batteries while my car’s was draining.

Christmas, The Grinch, and a Heart

My step-mother-in-law, Sue, is a nurse.  Not a floor nurse, but someone who works with cardiac cases to determine and support best practices for the hospital… if I’m explaining that right.

In any case, she noticed when her husband was starting to get pale while working out.  She pushed him to get a stress test.  And her colleagues saw that the test was abnormal and scheduled the heart cath on Thursday morning that led to an urgent need for open heart surgery.

Bill hasn’t had any symptoms of heart disease that he (and we) weren’t explaining away.  He didn’t have a heart attack or even a severe episode of anything that would have pushed him to get the tests done. As I talked with him on Friday, he was fully aware that either of the two 90% blockages could have closed at anytime and he would have been gone.

Today, he is on the other side of a triple bypass, he is doing excellent, and everything went as good as expected.

 

It is weird to be on the family side of a hospital visit when I have been there so many times as a pastor and as a chaplain in Clinical Pastoral Education.  I know the right things to say, but also the things not to say… the times to just keep my mouth shut.  I’m okay with simply being there, not saying anything, and know that presence is a gift.

And yet, I also have a very different relationship with these guys.  We share meals. We exchange gifts. We boat on the weekends in the summer and play cards and laugh and drink together and make inappropriate jokes.  I’m rarely wearing my “pastor hat” with the family… I can be myself.  Figuring out how to be in a familiar place with very familiar people and in a very different role was hard.  I brought along a deck of cards, stuffed some snacks in my bag, and prepared to settle in and “be present” for the long haul.  It was easy before surgery while we waited.  Bill kicked my butt in cribbage and I made sure Sue got some decent food and I felt like I could wear both my daughter-in-law hat and pastor hat at the same time.

But last night in the ICU, with my husband and brother-in-law, we were all in a different place.  It is hard seeing someone you love in pain… even if we knew it was healing pain. We started trying to crack the jokes and little playful verbal jabs we are used to and Bill tried to send them back in return… but it quickly stopped.  It wasn’t that we felt awkward – it was that the laughing brought pain, so the very thing we knew how to do, the way that we as kids (and daughter-in-law) knew how to relate, was physically painful.  So we stood there, by the bed, talking quietly, listening to Bill’s gruff voice (from the breathing tube), and simply being present…

 

Grinchsmall%20heartA week or two ago, I shared in worship at the Conference Center and our preacher reminded us the story of the Grinch who stole Christmas.  The grinch’s heart was two times to small.  And he didn’t want Christmas to happen at all.  Everything he could think of, he did, to ruin that day.  But what the grinch didn’t realize is that it’s not the glitter and presents and food that makes Christmas what it is – it is simply the spirit of the people.

In many ways, this is a really awful time of year for this to have happened.  One family member joked in response “does this mean Bill’s not bringing the turkey for our Christmas Day meal?”  My neice thinks it is just so sad that “Bumpa” will be in the hospital on Christmas Day.  And even at the hospital, you can see how the surgeries slow down and the beds empty because people do not way to be away from their families if they don’t have to for Christmas.  And it kind of feels like the Grinch stole Christmas.

But on the other hand, we can only be grateful.  Grateful he has good care.  Grateful they caught it in time.  Grateful that we can still spend time with one another and especially with him.

Instead of stressing about who is bringing what to the table and if we got enough gifts or the right gifts, Christmas will be different for all of us this year. The priorities change.  We are growing as people and in relationship to one another. And maybe like the Grinch, all of our hearts will be bigger and better this year.

Especially Bill’s.

Thank God.

Best Buy Lines or the best buy you could ever make… #GivingTuesday

My family has often splurged on Black Friday.  I remember vividly one Black Friday back in 2000 when my brothers, boyfriend and mom all got up super early and stood in line in the cold at Best Buy.  Brandon and I were both building new computers and there was a large hard drive (probably only 40 GB back then) for sale for an amazing price.  My brothers thought they could get one also to save for when they headed off to college.  We weren’t at the front of the line, but we were there crazy early.  We were huddled with layers of clothing and had a thermos of hot cocoa we kept passing around.  It was fun and exciting and the best part was that we actually were spending time together as a family.

The doors opened at 6am and we rushed in to the store.  Of course, there were no directions or maps, just a general sense of where things might be in the store.  We headed to the computer accessories aisles and scoured the shelves for what we wanted. It was no where to be seen.  But we were young and smart and had way too much caffeine for that early in the morning.  One of us spotted on the super high top shelf a small little stockpile of these coveted hard drives.  We called an associate over and he had to drag out one of those step ladder things.  And then one by one, he started handing them down.

We made quite a commotion and so others came by to see what we had found.  Soon a crowd had formed, but I was right there at the front.  With people pressing in, the sales guy handed me one, and I would quickly pass it behind me to a waiting sibling.  I’d grab another and pass them back.  One by one, we each got the hard drives we had so coveted.

Ten years ago, a forty gig drive was stupendous.  Today, my husband is investing in terabyte drives for his work computer.  What we thought was so amazing is not worth anything today.  We spent all of that money, probably loaded the drive with songs downloaded from Napster, and have nothing to show for it today.

On Thursday night, we started going through what has become a routine.  The newspaper was purchased and the ads were laid out on the dining room table.  I saw lots of things I wanted, but I realized nothing that I really needed.  There was nothing there I could live without.  There was nothing that I needed to spend my money on.

As parents and siblings have begun requesting Christmas lists, I have nothing to put on them.

In my new position with Imagine No Malaria, I have spent a lot of time listening to stories.  Stories of people who have experienced malaria personally and stories of families who have sacrificed everything to try to save the life of a loved one.

Last week, Paul Wilcox shared with me this story:

12 years ago I visited El Salvador, a small country nestled away in the heart of Central America.  I met there a young woman, named Carmen.  She had lost 3 of her 4 children to phosphorescent bombs during El Salvador’s brutal civil war.  Her remaining child survived only because Carmen carried him in her arms as she ran.  She showed me the burns on her arms from that terrible night.  Despite her heart-breaking loss, Carmen was a strong and resilient woman who was quick to smile and loved to dance!  Her only son was the delight and joy of her life.  Several days later my group returned to Carmen’s village and I was shocked to find Carmen sitting outside her hut, looking completely spent.  She was sweating and weak and literally waiting to die!  “What’s wrong with you?” I asked.  “Paradismo” she answered—the Spanish word for malaria.  Carmen was fully expecting to die.  She had already “given” her son to her sister to raise.  I asked her if she had been to a doctor.  At that, she pulled from her pocket a doctor’s prescriptions for quinine.  She was preparing to die because she lacked the $20 to fill the prescription.  It took exactly 30 seconds to raise that much money from our group to save Carmen’s life, but how many others like Carmen; strong, resilient, and ready to rebuild their families and their communities, are reduced to shadows of themselves, weak and dying by this thief called malaria.  When I returned home from this place where $20 can mean the difference between life and death, I realized to my shame that I spend that much on coffee in a week.  It underscores for me what incredible power even a small gift can have in a world haunted by malaria.

Damiba Dorcas, 3, smiles at her mother, Djelita Noali, as she emerges from beneath the new insecticide-treated mosquito net at her home in Samo, Cote d’Ivoire. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

I have a roof over my head.  I have family that loves me.  I stuffed by belly with turkey and ham and stuffing and potatoes this week.  There is nothing in this world that I need.  But there are people out there who are in such need.  With such a little bit of money, I can help to provide life and opportunity and health and joy to not only a child, but all of the people whom that child will one day impact as they grow and thrive and learn and share their life with others.

As I looked through those ads, I started to circle things and think about what I wanted to buy… but my heart wasn’t quite in it.  Tradition was all that really kept me looking.  But you know what, my hard drive has long since been recycled.  And I was already spending time with my family.  If instead of buying more stuff I don’t need, I give today to make a difference in the life of a family struggling to overcome a battle with malaria – that money is going to have an impact far beyond ten years… it is going to transform communities and countries and an entire continent. That is what I call a best buy.

If you are looking for something to buy me for Christmas, start here: http://nc.iaumc.org/inm . This is our conference donation portal for Imagine No Malaria and you can not only make donations, but also give gifts in honor of people that you love.   Spend a little less this year… and give a whole lot more.

Making Room

Funeral Meditation based on Luke 2:1-7

As Christmas approaches, we are reminded that a very pregnant young woman and her patient fiancé were once left out in the cold. They made their way to the town ofBethlehemhoping and praying that someone would have a place for them to stay… but there was no room.

As Luke tells us:

Joseph went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

There was no place for them in the guestroom.

Notice… it doesn’t say that they were full. It doesn’t say that there wasn’t room. It says that there was no place for them.

Your mother and grandmother was someone who always had a place in her heart for others.  She took great care to make sure that everything was just right for people and that they knew how loved they were.

Wilma was born in 1925 here in Marengo to John and Carrie Ehrman, she graduated from the Marengo High School.  She worked in the office of Byron Goldthwaite and also as a Deputy Clergy for the county… but you know best that her true love and her true vocation was to be a homemaker.  She greatly enjoyed cooking for her family and you enjoyed eating her fried chicken and other wonderful meals.  She made many of her own clothes with her skills as a seamstress… and some for you too, although Jean, you would have preferred to wear the store bought clothes =)  She kept an exceptionally clean house and cared about the details.  And she did it all for you.

She made a place for each of you in her lives and made sure that you were taken care of and that you were loved.  She made a place for you.

Luke reminds us as we approach Christmas that the Lord of Lords crept into this world on a quiet evening and that there was no place for him. There was no place for his unmarried mother. There was no place for the man who would be his earthly father. There was no place.

I hear in that statement that there was no welcome for them.

Who wants to take in a pregnant girl in the middle of the night?

Who wants to deal with these strangers who didn’t have enough sense to plan ahead?

Who wants to give up their spot?

In some Mexican and Latin American communities, the tradition of Las Posadas reminds folks of the absence of hospitality Mary and Joseph recieved.  In the days before Christmas, processions go from house to house and request lodging.  The host for each evening turns the people away… until the final night, Christmas Eve, when Mary and Joseph are finally allowed to enter and the people gather around the nativity to pray.

So many times in our actions, we too, can tell other people: There is no place for you here.

But I imagine your mother and your grandmother would have loved being the host for the last night of LasPosadas… That she would have opened up her home and said – yes, there is a place for you.  I will make room.

The God that your mother and grandmother believed in, crept into this world to make sure that we all had a place. He came as a child to make us children of God. He came and was rejected so that we might never be rejected again. He died so that we might live.

Before he died, Christ reminded his disciples and reminded us:

Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too.

There is a place for you. That is what Christ tells us. That is what Christ shows us. That is what Christ gives us.

Wilma knew that her job was to make a place for you in this world.  May you let her life and her memory live on by carrying in your hearts the desire to serve others… to love others… more than yourself.

Amen. And Amen.