Tag Archives: Christmas

Delivery Time

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Santa’s Helpers (also known as my grandchildren)

Here’s a Christmas Day offering from my book, Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke, available from Amazon or here.

While Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, she gave birth to her first son and wrapped him in strips of cloth. She laid him in a feed trough because there wasn’t any room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)

Luke gives no details about Mary’s labor. We don’t know whether it was quick and easy or a struggle that lasted for hours. Other details are lacking as well. How much did Jesus weigh? What did he measure from head to toe? Was he born with thick dark hair? Were there any features of Joseph—any at all—found in Jesus’ face? Luke gives us only the delivery basics: she gives birth, wraps him in strips of cloths (just like his Hebrew ancestors Samson and Samuel), and places him in a feed trough.

Though none of the gospel writers includes the presence of animals at Jesus’ birth, Christmas cards and nativity scenes seem incomplete without them. If indeed Jesus was born in a stable, it’s not a stretch to imagine a variety of animals present, along with swarming fleas and dung piles. Animals or not, this delivery is anything but the antiseptically clean experience of first-world, modern-day births. No gowns or gloves, no mouth-covering masks, no sterilized instruments.

Nobody of importance is there either. No political attaché standing outside. Not a staff aide from Quirinius’s office checking on things. No reporter from the Bethlehem bureau writing copy. If God wanted the world’s attention, you’d think there would have been a thousand better places than in this poverty-stricken region for Jesus to be born. Nevertheless, here it is, somewhere outside an unnamed inn, in a cattle shed, in an all but unnoticed corner of the Roman Empire. Maybe this is just the beginning of how Jesus shatters our expectations.

When did you last experience holiness in an unexpected place?

 

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Building a Christmas Wall

Mother&Child Jaipur Train

Jaipur, India

Photography by D. Plasman

The story of Christmas in essence is the story of a middle eastern family seeking refuge in a hostile world. What I heard in the most recent presidential debate is that we’d better close our borders, send the illegals home, and protect ourselves by building a wall that will dwarf all walls. The two narratives don’t match. Here’s my take on the Christmas story, an excerpt from my book available at Amazon: Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke.

“God’s arm is strong and has scattered the proud who trust in themselves. God has brought down the powerful from important places, and lifted up the humble. God has filled the stomachs of the hungry, and sent away the rich with nothing. God has been merciful to the people of Israel, just as God promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.” After three months, Mary returned to her home. (Luke 1:51-56)

The second half of Mary’s prayer has endured a variety of labels: a war cry, a political platform, a revolutionary’s manifesto, even a subversive tract. Mary’s prayer moves beyond the personal and private into the reality of God’s great reversals. What starts as a lullaby is now laced with landmines.

Borrowing again from her ancestors, Mary uses imagery uttered by Moses (Exodus 15:1-18) and Deborah (Judges 5:1-31) and David (Psalms 33, 47, 136). The great deeds of God are declared in the past tense as works already accomplished in the life and history of Israel. However, as past actions, they are experienced in the present and will continue in the future. What God has done, God is doing, and God will continue to do.

If we find ourselves among the world’s humble, hungry, and poor, Mary’s Magnificat is powerful assurance of a God who sides with the oppressed and one day will turn the tables. However, if a proactive God troubles our status quo sensibilities, then we tend to spiritualize Mary’s radical message and fashion to our liking a domesticated God.

No doubt, it is from their parents—especially their mothers—that John the Baptist and Jesus learn the radical nature of living into God’s ongoing transformation of the world. From their parents, they learn of God’s deep connection with those who suffer disconnect. From their parents, they learn that God won’t let things sway forever in favor of the rich and powerful. From their parents, they learn of the God who stands in solidarity with the weakest and most vulnerable.

Where have you seen the great reversals of God?

 

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The Joseph Option

 

Nativity1Photography by D. Plasman

I share a selection from a forthcoming book of mine to be published in 2015 entitled: Jesus, a Life – Daily Meditations on the Gospel of Luke. The 365 meditations cover the entire third gospel.

This meditation, THE JOSEPH OPTION, is based on Luke 2:4-5 which reads: “Complying with the census, Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was a descendant of David. He traveled with Mary, to whom he was betrothed. She was pregnant.”

With no introduction, Joseph suddenly appears in the biblical narrative. A minor character playing a supportive role, Joseph speaks no words. We could easily conclude that Joseph’s only purpose in the story of Jesus’ birth is to get a very pregnant Mary to Bethlehem on time.

However, a more complete character sketch of Joseph emerges in the opening chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Joseph and Mary were betrothed to each other—engaged, but with legal implications. Jewish law contractually bound them together, though they still lived in the homes of their respective parents. When Mary tells Joseph she’s pregnant and he’s not the father, Joseph takes the high road and is prepared to go back to the rabbi and void the betrothal contract, sparing Mary public humiliation and possible punishment, including stoning.

Then comes a dream, and in it an angel explains to Joseph that God is at work in this messy situation. By taking Mary as his wife, Joseph will acknowledge this Divine activity. What happens next is one of the most amazing miracles recorded in the Bible. Joseph agrees. Going against conventional wisdom, laying aside his wounded manhood, re-evaluating his sense of right and wrong, throwing out the rule book, refusing to punish the one he loves, Joseph opts for the twofold responsibility of husbandhood and fatherhood. He fully commits himself to his pregnant fiancée.

Nowhere in the Bible does Joseph speak, at least not with words. He doesn’t have to. His actions tell all. Joseph reminds us that religious legalism has its limits. Doing what we have a right to do, and doing it to others when they are guilty of one thing or another, often puts us in conflict with the power of love.

Faced with more than one option, Joseph redefines what it means to be a moral person, where love is at the center and religious customs, certainties, and legalities lie on the periphery. No doubt, Joseph will end up modeling and teaching this option to Jesus every chance he gets.

When did someone act like a Joseph to you?

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The Work of Christmas

Wood Carving in the Pantheon, Rome, Italy 

It takes more than a half-hearted effort these days to swat away the cynicism and fear.  Washington politicians can’t seem to get along or get anything passed, proving once again the need for kindergarten teachers to instruct them on how to play well in the sandbox.

The National Rifle Association’s VP spelled out his solution for avoiding another Sandy Hook massacre: a well-armed security guard in every American school.  Not fewer guns.  Not tighter gun laws.  Not a ban on semi-automatic killing machines.  The answer is more good guys with more fire power.

Apparently, people are heeding the call.  The Silver Bullet Firearms dealer a few miles from my house had its best year ever, spurred on by a record number of gun sales in the last ten days.  It’s no wonder the owners signed their recent Facebook letter of appreciation with a sincere “God bless.”  I don’t think I’m paranoid, but I’ve caught myself wondering as I pass people on the sidewalk: Who’s carrying a concealed gun and having a bad day?

Maybe it was the dark clouds of cynicism and fear that caused me to longingly stare at the article promoting cheap land in Europe in my recent copy of the AARP magazine.  “The value of cottages on some Greek islands is heading toward zero,” according to one real estate expert.  “Property prices have fallen as much as 75 percent in Ireland.”  I can live in an Asian country like Thailand on $500 a month.  The added bonus is that all three of these countries are safer.

Cynicism and fear have been around a long time.  We read in Matthew’s gospel that when King Herod heard of a child born king of the Jews, he was frightened and all Jerusalem with him.  Herod then tried to trick the wise travelers from the East into telling him the whereabouts of this potential rival.  Getting no response from the Magi who were eventually tipped off to his plan in a dream, Herod, as the story goes, killed all the male children under the age of two in the region.

As death lingers in the air, as grieving parents stand over the graves of their slain children, as Syrian citizens are killed by their government, as the unemployed wonder how much longer they can hang on, as folks on the east coast rebuild their homes, as another 30,000 children around the world die today because of hunger-related causes, the hard work of keeping the message of Christmas alive doesn’t get any easier.

I’m reminded of an encouragement from Dr. Howard Thurman, the first African-American to serve as Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University from 1953-1965.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among [all],
To make music in the heart.

The work of Christmas is worth doing.

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Advent

Though retailers do a good job convincing people that the Christmas season is already here, the church calendar reminds us that the four-week season preceding Christmas, called Advent, begins this Sunday.  If we observe Advent, we fight off the urge to rush Christmas.  When we’re serious about this, we resist the commercialism, crassism, materialism, and overall hectic pace that characterizes the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Advent helps us to go deeper, deeper into our interior lives, into the psalms and biblical prophets, into the needs of the world around us.  About a dozen Advents ago, a member of a congregation I served handed me a paperback book and said, “I think you’ll like this.”  I did.  The book is called Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, by Catholic priest Edward Hays.  I recommend it.

On his website (www.edwardhays.com) Hays describes himself as “walking the razor’s edge between madness and magic.”  These days he resides in a retirement community where he stays busy writing and satisfying his curiosity about all things.  He writes:  “After graduating from Eldergarden, rumors are that [I] will depart following another star to explore intriguing extraterrestrial destinations.”  No doubt, he will.

From the fertile mind of Edward Hays, AN ADVENT PSALM.

Awaken, my heart, God’s reign is near; the Peaceable Kingdom is in my hands.  If the wolf can be the guest of the lamb, and the bear and cow be friends, then no injury or hate can be a guest within the kingdom of my heart.  Eden’s peace and harmony will only return when first, in my heart, there hides no harm or ruin, for the Peaceable Kingdom is in my hands.

Isaiah’s dream became Jesus’ vision: “Come, follow me,” Emmanuel’s echo rings.  “Reform your life, recover Eden’s peace,” for only then will salvation appear.  For Advent’s dream is the healing of earth, when the eagle and bear become friends, the child and the serpent playmates.

Arise, awaken, my heart, the Peaceable Kingdom is in your hands.

I wish you Advent blessings on your way toward Christmas.  I intend to light a candle every day to collect my thoughts, on some days to let go of them.

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