[Advent 2011 Synchroblog] Remember Our Story

Our world is unraveling. We are seeing the deterioration of civil society in many ways. This holiday week alone has been an embarrassment of aggressive consumerism with shoppers resorting to pepper spray and robbing each other at gunpoint. Black Friday is extending back into Thursday, threatening to diminish the one day we have set aside to pause our frantic lives and give thanks that some of us actually have money to spend. And that’s just the news on the small scale.

I just had a long conversation with a friend over the meaning of Christmas. It began around her assertion that Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus. When you look at Walmart at midnight on Thanksgiving, you can see that that has become very true. But the conversation was more about how many choose to celebrate Christmas either in a secular fashion or with more ancient ties to the pagan rituals that were the inspiration for the choice of December for this observance. I agreed, the holiday was birthed from engagement with other traditions and has taken on many more dimensions, much of which have nothing to do with the remembering of Jesus and the Christian story. I also agreed with her that people should be allowed to celebrate how they wish without harassment. In her insistence that Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus, I assume she wanted to show support for the millions who celebrate Christmas in various ways but have no Christian affiliation.

Even so, it’s important to remember that the shaping of the Christmas celebration (long before secular commercialization) was intentional and beautiful. Early Christians brought their story to the celebrations that they had already been observing such as pagan solstice rituals, or more likely, the Roman solar celebration. Since the beginning of time people had observed that light returns to the world as the world revolves around the sun, renewing and enlivening as it comes. The Christian story, the gospel story, is about the Light coming into the world, bringing life and healing to hurting souls. What was already observed and celebrated in rhythm with creation was then seen to hold a deeper meaning in the minds of these early Christians. As a result, the season of waiting (Advent) and the celebration of the Incarnation of God, Emmanuel, was born. Eventually, the season became known as the Feast of the Nativity or Christ’s Mass. So on the level of tradition and history, the evolution of Christmas as a holiday (holy day) is indeed about Jesus. The whole point of the discussion was that there’s no need to diminish Christian tradition to make room for other traditions, just as there’s no need to diminish other traditions to make space for the Christian.

But that discussion isn’t the true issue. I understand that there is a lot of anger towards Christians who have been offering judgment instead of the Good News. I understand that people would then choose to diminish the Christian Story as a result. That’s what people do. That’s why the world is hurting. We all diminish and deny the traditions, beliefs, needs and feelings of the other in order to make space for ourselves. However, in doing so, any empathy for the other is also lost. Lack of empathy for the other is the human heart in its most desolate state. The particular case above was about diminishing Christianity. But the way of thinking that essentially diminishes or eliminates the other, any other, has become the norm worldwide as each of our hearts shrink and pull back into self-protective bunkers. This is what our broken and hard-hearted system of justice does.

So, we live in a world in which empathy is a rare gem. More than ever, this has become a world of every man or woman for themselves, whether it be about grabbing the last waffle maker at Walmart or blocking job creating bills because you don’t like the politics of the party in power, or insisting that every conservative Christian is hate-filled and every liberal one is immoral, or that every Muslim is a terrorist. We no longer seek to listen, to know, to honor and respect each other. We no longer see the Image in one another. The idea of being our brothers’ keeper has become laughable, even amongst Jesus followers. We cannot compromise and work together because whatever the other represents is simply too offensive, too threatening, too inconvenient, too irrelevant to our personal lives. In this sense, we indeed have truly lost Jesus.

We do not need to create a “let’s take Christmas back” mentality. That is not what this post is about and it’s only another way to diminish those with whom we disagree. We do acknowledge that millions of people who are not Christians celebrate “Christmas” in various ways around the world and can remain unthreatened by that. However, the most important thing we can do is to reflect to the world the Light that has come to us. The incarnation of God-as-human is an act of ultimate empathy. God, who is Wholly Other became the other in order to love fully and to reconcile, to heal, to save. This is what love does! Love enters the story of the other. This world that has become more cold and hard and cynical than ever is desperate for a love that enters in.

Remember the Story. May we remember and act accordingly and thus bring true empathy back into the world, whether it’s at Walmart or in congress or towards Wall Street protestors or in trying to be politically correct (or not).  The world says, “Your needs and pain don’t matter to me” as it steps on the heads of the weaker brother to move upward towards bigger and better. Jesus calls us back down to our senses, back down to being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, back down to a life of love. And when we listen to his Story, we find that he has shown us how.

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. John 1:9 RSV

Definitions of Empathy:

1. The imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it (perhaps incarnates it? – my addition)

2. The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this.

More Synchroblogs posts will be added as they come in:

ron cole at the weary pilgrim –  advent: reimagining everything

liz dyer at grace rules –  expect the unexpected

sarah styles bessey at emerging mummy –  in which i’m expecting something from advent

miz melly at perchance to dream –  parousia

kathy escobar at the carnival in my head –  present, humble, vulnerable

David Perry at Visual Theology –  Advent As A Mirror of Possibility

Christine Sine at Godspace –  Jesus Is Coming What Do We Expect?

Liz VerHage –  Living Theology

Glenn Hager –  Antithetical Advent

Sally Coleman at Sally’s Journey –  Come Spirit of Advent

Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes –  Jesus Is Returning Today

Tammy Carter-  His Gift: The Way of Escape

Wendy McCaig-  Re-expecting a baby

Jon Reid-  Undiscovered Advent: The Second Coming of Christ

Advent Reflection: The Ache for Justice (week 3)

The Ache for Justice and the Compassion of God
Pomegranate Place – December 16, 2010
by Ellen Haroutunian

Each week, we’ve begun with the lighting of the advent wreath. The first week we lit the shepherds’ candle, recalling the ache for acceptance in us all and the astonishing welcome of God to these folks who were considered unclean due to the nature of their work and who were cast out from polite society and from temple life. They were considered a seedy bunch. Yet they were the first to be invited to worship God-with-us, the infant Jesus. The unclean were invited to a Holy place.

Week two brought us the story of the Magi. They were astronomers and dabbled in magic. Yet their divinations showed them an amazing message from the stars and legend has it that they traveled long distances to seek this newborn King, bringing gifts that prophetically reflected who this baby was and the path His life would take. They represented the ache in the human heart for meaning, and God’s answer in Himself. And here at this coming of God into the world, in the circle of this little Jewish family, strangers with their strange ways and strange worldviews were also welcomed to worship this baby.

We are now in week three of the Advent season, when we light the pink candle. The pink candle represents joy, and it brings a beautiful irony to the story we will engage tonight. The advent candles were originally borrowed from the observance of Lent. Purple represents the idea of repentance and suffering but Lent is also tempered by hint of the coming joy of Easter and resurrection. Tradition says that the Pope used to hand out pink roses during the 3rd week of Lent as a reminder of the coming joy.  That’s where we got the pink candle. The purple of advent also is a call to repentance, that is to change direction and prepare for the coming of God, but there is great joy in the anticipation of His coming.

Read Matthew 2: 13-23 (The Massacre of the Holy Innocents)

That is an intense story, full of mystery and prophecies that would fill dozens of sermons. But there are these couple of verses that describe a horrific crime. This feels like a disconnect, almost a spiritual whiplash – weren’t we just talking about joy? How does this fit? We love the story of the Magi mentioned at the beginning of this Matthew text, who, as Dave mentioned last week, are colorful and intriguing and make it into every Christmas pageant. We love that God drew them from afar and spoke to them through means that they would understand to bring them to the Christ child. We love the story of the humble shepherds and the chorus of angels whose song echoed across the hills in the night. Many of us have a nativity set that contains such characters and many of these sets are quite pretty. Here’s one (see illustration below): it is painted with nice folk art design just like the original one, I’m sure. The stable is clean and the robes of the Magi are tidy and beautiful after their long journey, as are the robes of the new mother and father. There’s no manure and the shepherd doesn’t have B.O. Our quaint nativity scenes don’t often portray the humble reality of poverty and powerless faced by this young couple and their newborn. They don’t show the grit and the dirt, the reality into which God chose to be born as one of us.

I confess that I like the pretty setting. It makes it easier to distance myself from the harsh realities of life faced by the majority of people in this world. Isn’t that our tendency? But then comes the gospel writer Matthew who brings us a part of the story that is almost too much to bear: the slaughter of little ones, baby boys, by the swords and spears of Roman soldiers. In church history this has come to be known as the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.

What is that horrific story doing in the midst of this pretty one?

These children were not outcasts, not strangers from afar. They were the children of the local villages, your neighbors’ kids and mine. Some doubt that this story actually happened because the 1st century historian Josephus who chronicled so much of Herod’s works didn’t mention this, but others say so many of Herod’s crimes were so horrible that it might not have seemed worth mentioning in comparison. These innocent ones, powerless and voiceless, would have been lost to history. Often, this is still the case, as it is for so many from Darfur or the Congo. The sound of Rachel’s weeping still echoes around this world.

Yet the gospel writer remembers them, right here in the midst of the Christmas story. And they are remembered on December 28th in the Church calendar each year. They are a reminder that there is no easy comfort for those who have suffered violence or violent loss, whether it be the loss of a child, or the experience of war, or even a wounded place deep within yourself. The coming of the infant Christ into a world that was far too dangerous for babies, and a world that is full of unspeakable sorrows is all that can begin to touch the depth of healing that is needed in the human heart.

We live in a world enslaved to fear. Violence is the response. The frightened human heart is enslaved by the constant drive to win, have enough, have more, to own, to grasp, to be justified in who we are. We are in a struggle that goes back to the days of Cain and Abel; where being threatened by the approval received by another brought the will to murder into a brother’s heart. There is an inherent belief in us that for you to have more (wealth, power, affirmation, beauty), means I will have less. We measure ourselves against each other and live by these comparisons as if they tell us who we truly are. The fear and pride in us creates little room for the other to flourish. That has created a world in which the helpless, the voiceless, the meek, the poor, the powerless, the loser, anyone with any weakness, is not safe.

Herod, a King of great power and influence, was afraid of a baby. He quaked at the thought of what this baby could mean to his might and success and beliefs about himself, so he crushed the helpless and innocent to keep his own life intact. I believe that here, he is a picture, even a type, of the nature of the sinful human heart. Sin is the opposite of love. Sin says, I will take from or use you or even destroy you, to protect or elevate me. We know that the powers that be would continue to fear Jesus for his message of love that brought the mountains low and filled the valleys as John the Baptist and Isaiah foretold.  He stood against the power structures of this world in a way that brought even the most pious to frustration. This would eventually bring Jesus to crucifixion.

My husband and I have had a tradition in which the Christmas tree is stripped of its limbs, broken in two and the pieces are nailed together to form a cross for Good Friday. This action foretold that Jesus is God’s response to the cruelest, coldest parts of this world. He meets us in the places of our worst rejections, where we have also been hated unto death. [Lutheran Pastor Pam Fickenscher says that] “Matthew invokes the matriarch Rachel in the midst of this story of God-with-us, the birth of a child whose name is a verb: save. God’s salvation may seem far off and inadequate to the mothers who mourn, and to people who hurt, but the promise is deeper than this moment in time. As the scripture told us, the threat of this Herod passes for a time, only to be replaced by another Herod, yet another ruler without scruples. But when this child of Rachel, Jesus, returns to Jerusalem as an adult, God enters into the fate of every doomed child, and every bereft parent” and I would add, every frightened and hurting soul.

I once heard the only answer to a theodicy, which is just a fancy word for the attempt to reconcile the problem of so much evil and suffering in this world with belief in a good God, is a theophany, that is, a manifestation or appearance of God Himself. Here in the Christmas story is our theophany. God coming into the world as a human, born of a woman, born into poverty, into an unclean place, touched by unclean people, who will eventually become the one, the Innocent One, who will also die at the hands of Roman soldiers. He’s God-with-us in every imaginable way.

The Franciscans say that if all that ever happened in the gospel story was the incarnation (God become man), it would have been enough. The coming of God into this world as one of us was enough to change everything because it sang loudly of God’s love and acceptance for humankind. But there is more. At the cross God became the sinner, the Roman soldier, the tax collector, the leper, me, you. And now heaven and earth are forever joined, the veil between the holy and the profane is forever torn open, God and man are supping at the Table together. God overwhelmed the overwhelming powers of the earth with love. And Easter tells us, love wins.

The candle for this week is pink, representing joy. The passage that the gospel writer Matthew quotes about Rachel’s grief is from the prophet Jeremiah. It is significant that in his writing, after Rachel’s lament, Jeremiah goes onto offer words of hope of restoration by God. A promise of joy.  Rachel’s heart will be healed.

Yet we still wait, though the Light has come. Our swords are not bent into plowshares yet. The government that lies upon the shoulders of the Christ is not present yet. We ache for the restorative justice of God, when all will be set right and all sorrow and crying and pain will be no more. We have waited and we now wait again. But, the Light that has come into the world has remained. The Apostle John, who is known as the Apostle of Love said, we are like Him in this world. We can seek to overwhelm the world with love.

The Quakers say, 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 flocks,
then 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 the people,
 to make music in the heart.

Advent reflection #2: The Ache for Meaning (guest blogger)

This year we at Urban Skye are presenting a Liturgy of Peace in Denver at Pomegranate Place every Thursday evening during the month of December. Advent is a waiting time during which we may focus on the ache of our hearts and the longing for the coming of God into this hurting world. The first evening focused on the ache for meaning and the hope of God. The reflection is written by guest blogger, Urban Skye director Dave Meserve.

The Magi:  Strangers (The Ache for Meaning and the hope of God)
Pomegranate Place – December 9, 2010
by Dave Meserve

They blow into the Nativity Story somewhere “from the East,” enjoy their 12 verse cameo and then disappear into legend. All the while the Church asks, “Who are those guys?” They are The Magi and few characters in all Holy Scripture capture our imagination quite like them.

At our second week of Advent Liturgy, we consider our “ache for meaning” with these mysterious Magi as our guides.  If the response to our “ache for acceptance” (our first week’s liturgy) was The welcome of God, our ache for meaning is met in the Hope of  Faith. The beautiful irony is that this path is most clearly revealed through strange, pagan astrologers.  Not your typical models of faith, especially if you grew up a first century Jew with stories of “Daniel vs. The Magi” embedded into your earliest memories.

Our best guess of their origin is Persia (modern day Iran).  In AD 614, a Persian army swept through Palestine destroying church and synagogue but sparred The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem when they saw a mosaic of the Magi in Persian garb.  Other than that, we know little.  We refer to “We Three Kings” because of the John Henry Hopkins verse (1857) reflecting the sentiment of the day where three gifts equals three kings.  The idea of them being “kings” comes from Isaiah 60:3,

Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

The wise men, as we rightly call them, have become archetypal symbols of faith for all who seek and particularly for those who are outside the mainstream of religious faith.  For our liturgy, we will follow their hope of faith through three well known archetypal symbols found in Matthew 2:1-12.

I. The Star.

Apparently, the heavens really do reveal the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-4). Historians debate what celestial anomaly actually transpired to lead these astrologers. Some think a conjunction of planets in 7 BC or a lunar eclipse in 5BC.  Regardless, these star gazers where watching ones (see our “consecration of space” prayer).  Their “pagan” practice of astrology revealed to them the birth of king that was to change the course of history.  How they knew the meaning of the star is a mystery, but they recognized in its glow that a Voice not their own was beckoning to them.

Our Disney version of “the voice” does not come from the heavens but from within us.  My cynical daughters (who grew up loving Disney) now mock their ubiquitous message of “just follow your heart” as the path of all modern princesses.  In fact, they toss me that line when I question their actions with a sarcastic, “Pops, I’m just following my heart!”

The Magi and their ancient wisdom did not seek within as much as without.  They watched for a Voice not their own to guide them on their path and found it in The Star.  It was this hope in faith that animated their lives supplying a meaning they could not muster on their own.

Meaning comes through seeing God’s stars and following the Voice that is not your own.

Where do you see “stars” that speak to you?  When have you found yourself in a “thin place” (as the Celts called it) where the distance between you and The Divine is small? What leads you to perceive the wonder of Christ in a fresh way?

Lend us the eyes to see

And the courage to act

On Your revealing of the Peace Child.

May Your stars grant us meaning this Advent.

II. The Journey.

Sadly, the “journey” has become something of a tired metaphor.  Everyone seems to use it to describe the path of faith (it now finds its way into Church names) but this is all for good reason; it is an enduring, archetypal image for life and symbolic of Magi’s story.

In America, one of our strongest symbols is that of “home,” especially at this season of the year.  We are routinely asked if we are going home for the holidays, or who is coming home to join you and then we sing of that sentiment.  Yet, our model of meaning from the Magi is to leave home on a journey.  All journeys of meaning involve leaving what is familiar and homey in order to experience something beyond.

Like Abraham before them who left country, people and home (Genesis 12:1-4), the Magi left the East and traveled West in search of meaning. That’s where the star led them and that cross-cultural journey seems to be important.

Professor Peter Kreeft writes of this in his article, “The Meaning of Christmas.” He articulates the need we have to mimic the Magi in their pilgrimage as Oriental wisdom must turn West to find Christ, and the West—Rome—must go East. For Christ is born at the center.

The East’s mentality is mystical and mythical. The Eastern mind has no trouble believing in the supernatural. It needs to make a pilgrimage to the material and the natural, to the Christ in whom all truths in myths become historical fact. He is the dying and rising God myths point to like a star.

The West, on the other hand, has a practical, materialistic mentality. This was  true of Rome and it’s still true of the modern West. It must make a pilgrimage to the East, to the spiritual and the supernatural. Christ is everything: Each culture  can become whole only in Him.

Whatever our journey of faith, it moves us beyond what we know in the trust that God will reveal more.  The Magi needed Jewish wisdom to complete their quest (though their trust in Herod was tragically misplaced).

Meaning comes by living faith as a journey and especially a journey with others.

We may be home for the holidays yet we can still experience a journey of faith during Advent.  Are you on a pilgrimage?  Are you on with others?  What words do you use to describe the journey you are on?  Can you trust that God is leading you?

Though our destinations lack clarity

And our roads bend and twist,

Help us lean into our journeys

With Your peaceful confidence.

May our journey grant us meaning this Advent.

III. The Gifts.

We all know of these gifts and remember nostalgically, “The Gifts of the Magi” (whether or not we’ve actually read it!)  Beyond their sentimental quality, the gifts have long held symbolic meaning for the church:

Gold Reveals that the Christ child is a King in fulfillment of all prophecies and worthy of such obedience.

Frankincense Used in worship (Jewish and pagan) and reveals the Christ  child as one worthy of worship and will be a priest for the nation.

Myrrh Valuable for its medicinal qualities and widely used for embalming, it reveals the Christ child as fully human and one  born to die for the world.

If you have a church background, you’ve likely heard these theological connections.  They do have a deep meaning.  Yet, this Advent, I’m caught by something else: these are very impractical gifts!  This is not your typical baby-shower.  Like an ancient version of the “gift card”, the Holy Family would have likely cashed these in over the next few years while they were living as refugees in Egypt.  Where’s the fun in that?

We’ve all been taught that giving is meaningful in and of itself.  True enough.  And we’ve been schooled in the “it’s the thought not the gift that counts” mentality (but try telling that to an 8-year old).   Yet, the meaning of the gift is not completely in its “usability” for the receiver.  Gifts have meaning for us because we value them.

The wise men brought gifts that were deeply meaningful to them.  They represented what they wanted to bring into the relationship with the receiver, the Christ child.  They gave to the Holy Family what they most cherished. And that speaks of a different kind of meaning.

Meaning comes in the giving of what gifts you find meaningful to share.

In the humility that “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above” (James 1:16-17), we offer our gifts this Advent.  This is in contrast to the false humility of being hesitant to know and to show the beautiful gifts we bear.  What gifts do you have?  What do you uniquely bring to the party?  Can you own your gifts and then offer them wherever your journey takes you?

May we remember from where our gifts come

And see for whom they are most needed.

May we be generous in ways beyond us

To bring peace to others as we find peace within ourselves.

May our giving grant us meaning this Advent.

We ache for meaning in our lives and may have lost hope that this season leading up to Christmas will provide anything more than busyness.  Advent offers a way to be counter-cultural, to live in the ache rather than numb it, and to renew our hope that there is a God who gives us stars to follow.  There is a God who invites us on a beautiful (and risky) journey toward the Peace Child.  There is a God who has granted you gifts needed for others you meet along the way.

This is the God of the watching ones, the waiting ones, the slow and suffering ones.  The God who gives us a good word for our souls.


December 2010 Advent Synchroblog

I will be posting a series of Advent reflections from our Liturgy of Peace for December. The first is up at:  Liturgy of Peace from our liturgy in the city by the Urban Skye ministers at Pomegranate Place.  Though Pomegranate Place is an “oasis for women” ALL are welcome at the Liturgy of Peace. Each reflection will be posted on Fridays.

Enjoy our other wonderful synchro-bloggers:

John C. O’Keefe ” The Season of Adventure

George at The Love Revolution The Weak Ghosts of Advent

Peter at Emerging Christian Expanding Our Experience of the Advent Journey

Beth at Beth Stedman.com Experiencing Advent With A Toddler

Alan at The Assembling Of The Church Walking Through Advent Today

Steve at Emergent Kiwi Am I Traveling Well?

Wendy at View From The Bridge Yearning For a Lived Theology

Annie at Marginal Theology Limping Along

Christen at Greener Grass Advent – Expecting and Un-Expecting

Jeff at My Adventures  Journeys and Destinations

kathy at carnival in my head making room for the unexpected

Sonja at Calacirian Road To Nowhere

Steve at Khanya Advent Synchroblog

Beth at The Virtual Teahouse Clear-Eyed Gaze of a Stranger

Phil at Square No More O Antiphon #1This is the first of nine antiphones.  Please check Phil’s blog Square No More regularly for additional updates with the additional 8 antiphones

Peggy at Abisomeone Wandering With The Waiting Abbess

Cathryn at Love Fiercely An Advent Prayer

HeySonnie at A Piece of My Mind Christmas WILL Happen

Liz at Grace Rules Advent – A Journey of Awakening

Advent reflection #1: The Ache for Acceptance (guest blogger)

This year we at Urban Skye are presenting a Liturgy of Peace in Denver at Pomegranate Place every Thursday evening during the month of December. Advent is a waiting time during which we may focus on the ache of our hearts and the longing for the coming of God into this hurting world. The first evening focused on the ache for acceptance and the welcome of God. The reflection is written by guest blogger, the one and only Aram Haroutunian.


An Advent Reflection
The Shepherds:  Outcasts (The ache for acceptance and the welcome of God)
Pomegranate Place – December 2, 2010

by guest blogger Aram Haroutunian

How many of you are old enough to know and remember “the garbage man”? Back in the day, there were two kinds of trash:  common, non-perishable trash, which you threw into your wastebaskets, and perishable trash – “garbage” – which you put in a metal cylinder, sunk into the ground, usually just outside the back door, covered by an iron lid.   And once a week, the garbage man would come by, and collect your garbage.  And his coming was heralded by the unmistakable stench of his truck . . . and of his clothes, along with the processional of flies;  especially during the hot summer months, when the garbage had opportunity to sit . . . and ferment.    When the garbage man arrived, it was time to scatter.

Today’s equivalent would probably be “port-o-potty man” – you know, the guy that drives around in the tanker truck with that long, hose which . . . well, you know . . .

Not exactly someone you’d invite in for lunch.

“Now there were in the same country shepherds, living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Possessing only the wrong kind of reputation, shepherds were simple men with simple needs: a dry bed, strong drink, good stories, and enough open space between them and “the camp” of the religious culture.  Simple people maybe, but certainly not accepted.  Shepherds were known in those days as liars and thieves.  In court, their testimony was considered worthless.  “Who would believe a shepherd?” They were not welcome in the local synagogue, much less the temple in Jerusalem.  Being unclean, not only were they not welcome in the temple, but any contact with them would make you unclean.  They were to be avoided.   No wonder they kept to themselves.

“And behold (that’s code for “hey everybody, check this out!), an angel of the LORD stood before them, and the glory (the shekinah, the beauty, the weight, the very substance) of the LORD shone around them . . . and they were greatly afraid.”

Or, as the old King James version beautifully puts it, they were sore afraid.

Why were they afraid?   They had been taught all their life that God wanted nothing to do with the likes of them.  Perhaps even believing that God hated them.   So they kept to themselves, out in the fields . . . the untouchables.  Segregated from the rest of community.   And now an Angel of the Lord shows up in the middle of their night.   You know what they were probably thinking:  Busted!   We’re get’n ours!   He is coming to judge the earth – and he’s gonna separate the sheep from the goats. They certainly understood that metaphor . . . and they certainly knew who the goats were.

And so, shirking back in anticipation of the ultimate “come to Jesus meeting”, they are thrown a curve:

Fear not. For behold (check THIS out), I bring you good tidings . . .  of great joy . . .  which will be for all the people.”

All the people?

“For there is born to you this day in the City of David a savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”   City of David – that’d be Bethlehem – a little, po-dunk town, 5 miles outside of Jerusalem . . . Jerusalem’s back door, if you will.

At this point the shepherds are probably thinking, “Oh no.  Here it comes.  We gotta somehow clean up our lives, and you’re going to make us march into church . . . errr . .. I mean the synagogue . . . to see this guy who’s going to “save us.”

“And this will be the sign to you:  You will find an infant . . . wrapped up in swaddling cloths . . . lying in a feeding trough.”

Feeding trough?  You mean he’s going to be outside? Among the animals? In a trough filled with hay and grain and drool and spit?  With manure all around on the ground?   Wow . . . that’s our kind of people.

And not only this, but “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace; goodwill toward men!”

So, when God needed heralds to announce the First Advent to the camp, God chose them.  The largest gathering of angels ever assembled, sang for them.  They sang of a peace which would now be available to all people – even those outside the camp.  The irony is not lost:  the liars became the star witnesses.   And isn’t this just like God, who loves to flip everything on it’s head:  who makes the first last and the last first, where you’re blessed if you’re poor, and where you’re blessed if you’re meek?

And irony is added upon irony:  Instead of goats being separated from sheep, this “good news” was to be for all the people.  Maybe we’re all goats? Or maybe we’re all sheep?  Or maybe . . . every one of us is both:  goat and sheep.   And Jesus comes in the form of a vulnerable babe, lowering our defenses, so that perhaps we might open our hearts for just a moment – and let God into those places in us . . . . where there is stench . . . where we feel untouchable . . . unlovable . . . where if people came to see and know those parts of us – they’d avoid us, repulsed by  the stench of our “garbage”.

And yet into those very places, Jesus comes, mild and meek.  Into the spit, and the drool, and the manure.    St. Paul wrote:

“For God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.  That no flesh should glory in His presence.” (I Cor. 1:27-28)

“And the Word became flesh, and pitched his tent among us.  And we behold His glory.”

Lo, in the silent night
A child to God is born;
And all is brought again,
That ere was lost or lorn.

Could but thy soul, O man
Become a silent night!
God would be born in thee,
And set all things aright.
~ 15th century

three things on Christmas Eve

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program. (Once again, I am postponing finishing up my “seeing” post.) As our church moved into the last part of our Advent preparing and waiting this weekend, we heard about the idea of disruptions through the story of Mary, whose life would be turned upside down by a mysterious pregnancy and a new identity. The theme was carried further by the stories of my friends Ryan and Amanda Phillips, who once again amaze me through their devotion to the poor of northern India as they stand in resistance to the poverty of spirit that robs women and children of their dignity and too often, their very lives. The point was that God’s coming into our lives often drastically changes our course and shatters our dreams – even the ones we are sure are good – so that God’s dreams might be birthed in us.

So I am sharing three stories – two are beautifully disruptive, one is disturbing but good cause for reflection. (I’ll let you decide which are which!)

The first is a stunning book, The Trouble With The Alphabet. This is not your typical coffee table book. It combines beautiful art done by one of our church members, Caryn West, with compelling stories of struggle and practical means of getting involved for the sake of children around the globe (also researched and compiled by Caryn.) She has labored for the last three years for this project. It stirs dreams for the world that stretch us far beyond our small imaginations! Let this be part of your Advent Conspiracy.



Secondly, there is a story from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from Iran. You can read the full article here (click). In it he challenges the West this Christmas by saying without a trace of irony: “If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly He would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over.” Well, yes. I have often used words like that myself. But what Ahmadinejad doesn’t get is that while Jesus does indeed stand against the oppressors of this world, He also redeems them as freely as He redeems the oppressed. And that fact shows that God is an equal opportunity offender – reminding us that our small hearts love His grace and forgiveness, but we remain sure that there are those who don’t “deserve” it. May our hearts be truly open to the dream of forgiveness and reconciliation for all.



The third is the tear-jerking story of  Christmas in the Trenches retold by Jim Wallis at his  blog. It is the true story of enemy soldiers during WWI who drop their weapons and fellowship together on Christmas Eve. It’s like they were awoken from a terrible spell for a short while. He quotes a song written about this story:

“The next they sang was “Stille Nacht,” “Tis ‘Silent Night’,” says I.

And in two tongues one song filled up that sky

“There’s someone coming towards us!” the front line sentry cried

All sights were fixed on one lone figure coming from their side

His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright

As he bravely strode unarmed into the night.

Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s land

With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand

We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well

And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ‘em hell.

We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home

These sons and fathers far away from families of their own

Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin

This curious and unlikely band of men.

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more

With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war

But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night

“Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”

‘Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung

The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung

For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war

Had been crumbled and were gone for evermore.”


Whose family have we fixed within our sights? Not for destruction of course, but salvation and gathering and oneness? May we dare to dream wild dreams of healing and unity and love that are big enough for all of us. As we head into an uncertain future in 2009, let this be part of our prayer for the whole of the human family.

Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.
Merry Christmas!

EDIT: One more awesome article! (I didn’t want to change my title, LOL.) But check this out, love is winning! I think this is both beautiful and miraculous! (sent to me by my sweet friend Lindy)
Rick Warren and Melissa Etheridge



you gotta see this

I will continue the “seeing” post soon – but you gotta see this: Amnesty International transparent billboards. I came across this through my friends Jenny’s blog. These billboards speak harsh truth: these things may not be happening here (not visibly anyway) but they are happening NOW. They depict abuses going on  in the Sudan, Iraq, China and other places. I can almost hear the people crying out for creation to be made new! And we are all in the birth pangs. May be learn to offer ourselves to each other in new and surprising ways this season – with eyes wide open and with presence and sacrificial love. May we never be the same.

Grace and Peace


This is one example of the abuses happening right now around the world. Made by Amnesty International

This is one example of the abuses happening right now around the world. Made by Amnesty International