Tuesday, December 26, 2006


We gather together this Sunday on the morning of New Year's Eve.

Many of us take a moment or more at the turn of the year to reflect on the year past and to project hopes on the year to come.

As Christians, we enter into these reflections in the aftermath of the joyous celebration of the birth of Jesus.

My question is this: What is our response to that gift of grace embodied in the birth of the infant Jesus and realized in his resurrection? What gifts can we share as our response to God's gift of grace to us?

Our scriptures this week offer some suggestions.

The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
that there is a time and place for everything and our response is to find joy in all things -- all things. Given the litany of things there is a time and place for, though, this is a bit of a challenge for me.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus
provides a description of discipleship: feed the hungry, provide drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned.

Often with New Year's resolutions, we set goals for ourselves that are hopeful but not necessarily realistic. However, we each have gifts that we can draw from as our response to the gift of grace we experienced in the arrival of Jesus. Realistically, what gifts can you resolve to share in the coming year as a response to God's gift of grace?

Monday, December 18, 2006

a nativity

The father of a dear friend helped install this nativity scene at his United Methodist Church in Claremont, CA.

Christ's birth may not be what we expect.

peace on earth

Ok...so a lot of things make me think of U2 songs: reading Mary's story, and her daring song of celebration in Luke's gospel strikes me as more than a bit like "Peace on Earth":

Jesus, in the song you wrote/the words are stick in my throat: Peace on Earth.
We hear it every Christmas time/but hope and history won't rhyme, so what's it worth: Peace on earth.

Her song is a wild promise--so complete that it may seem like pure fantasy. God's promise has been fulfilled.

And yet...

Mary dares to sing a song of celebration. She sings about the work already DONE in God--even as she's just pregnant with Jesus. An unwed mother, destined to be talked about by others, who's gonna have to lay in a manger after he's born, because there won't be any room in the inn--she sings about the work already DONE. (Past tense!)

I wonder what amazing sings of God's reality are all around us--promise as wild as incarnation--but unnoticed or not believed by the rest of us.

I wanna sing like Mary.

And then I wanna live like it's true.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

john the baptist's guide to christmas preparations

Surprisingly, there's nothing about trimming the tree or baking gingerbread in John the Baptist's advice about how to prepare for Christ's coming.

(There is some talk about an ax cutting a tree, but I think he's talking about something else...)

The juxtapositioning of wild, prophetic, going-to-be-beheaded John the Baptist and our sweet Christmas traditions seems downright twisted.

Of course, technically, this was already many years after that first Christmas when he gives the advice in today's scripture, since it's an adult John who talks here, and we know that he and Jesus were both in their mothers' wombs at the same time. Time complicates things...

NONETHELESS, we talk about John B as we get ready for Christmas. And, helpfully, he has some advice about how to get ready. (I wonder if Martha Stewart ever feels indebted to John for pioneering this field?)

He says some pretty smart things, things that may really, literally, help us. Even today:

If you have 2 coats, give one of them to someone who needs one.

Don't cheat other people, by taking more than is fair.

This is good stuff. He seems to be imagining a more-fair, more beautiful world.

His advice would lead us to live in a world very unlike the one the Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah, describes. There, things are so bad that God has to turn everything over--making the "lame and outcast" into the most powerful and celebrated.

I invite you to think about what that would look like today--who are the most outcast in our midst, or in our world? And what would it look like for them to be lifted up, exalted, celebrated?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Waiting or preparing?

Advent is often described as a time of waiting for the arrival of Christ in the manger on Christmas Eve, celebrated each year in Christ's Mass -- Christmas.

Last week on the first Sunday in Advent, we were told of signs of something yet to come, signs of something spectacular, signs of the bold presence of God among us.

Every second Sunday in Advent, like a crazy uncle (sorry, Mom) come early for the holidays, we get John the Baptist,
wild-eyed and intent on delivering the word of God that has come to him in the wilderness.

John tells us to prepare the way for the Lord. He even offers a few helpful tips: repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. He foretells of the one who will come to baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit.

But what is our response to that grace? How do we prepare ourselves not just for the arrival of Christ at Christmas but for the presence of Emmanuel -- God among us -- every day?

We'll also hear from the prophet Malachi and we may even spend some time with the prophetic song of Zechariah.

What are your thoughts?