Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas 2014

Audio Christmas 2014

Last Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Advent, we wondered what incarnation looks like. We told stories about how we see God-with-us. God-in-the-flesh. Jesus. We wondered how hope, and joy, and peace, and love, takes on flesh and blood. Because, that's what incarnation is, flesh and blood. We celebrate the birth of a baby. God, who is the baby born in a barn, the King on a bed of straw, Jesus, enters our world, our lives, our hearts, because God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, loves us. God, the creator of the universe, breaks into human history, God shows up to show us the way to mercy and compassion and justice. In this night/morning, all of creation, the sheep and shepherds, the angels, Mary and Joseph, join together singing the love song of the ages, Holy, Holy, Holy. 

We prepare for this birth each year, we wait in the quiet, we are illuminated by the increasing light, and we come to this night/morning, so that we remember who we are. We remember we are God's beloved, we remember Emmanuel, God with us. We look ahead with hope, trusting that our brokenness will be healed. 

Life breaks through, love will not be contained, sometimes painfully, sometimes dangerously. This night/day changes things. This birth changes the world. Jesus, born in the muck and the mess of a stable walks with us, not to rescue us from our humanity, but to fulfill our humanity. Jesus, born to ordinary people, Mary and Joseph, walks with us, not to rescue us from the pain and suffering of this life, but to be with us in the midst of the messiness. Jesus, born in an obscure corner of the earth, walks with us so that the fragments of our lives may be made whole. Jesus, born to set us free.

Incarnation. Inconceivable, incarnation. Unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation. This birth means no more business as usual, signified by the events of that night and the circumstances of this birth. They were waiting for a King and all those kingly things, and here was a child born in a barn with shepherds in attendance. They were looking for the Messiah, the one who would rescue them, and they received a boy, who brought his father's message, Love one another, as you have been loved first.

For us that means that even our lives, sometimes filled by regret and disappointment, sometimes colored by cynicism, sometimes fueled by revenge, are transformed by this birth. It means that God even comes into our deepest sadness and pain and bears it for us, so that we may begin again.

Love breaks in, Love bursts through. Love shows up. We are here, we waited, ever patiently, ever watchfully. And love is born. The Divine Love Story begins again. God so loves the world, that God breaks into our world to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us. No matter how many times I come to this place, this celebration, each time I am awestruck at the Love that wins. 

This birth calls us to change, to transformation. And change can be scary, but thrilling at the same time. This birth, this life that will not be contained, speaks to a place deep down inside each of us that wants something more, something more than a better job or higher income, something more than a more comfortable home or enjoyable retirement. These things may all be good, but they don't satisfy for long. We desperately want a sense of meaning and purpose, we desire to believe that there is more to this life than meets the eye, we need to hold onto the hope that despite all appearances we are worthy of love. This birth is about that love, this birth shows us that Love wins, every time. This birth calls us to show up, to say yes with Mary, to the love that changes us.

And so God comes into the muck and the mess that is this barn, and that is our lives, to speak quietly but firmly through the blood, sweat, and tears of the labor pains of a young mother and cry of her infant that God is absolutely for us, joined to our ups and down, our hopes and fears, and committed to giving us not just more of the same, but something more. Christ comes, that is, not just to give us more of the life we know, but new and abundant life altogether. For in Christ we have the promise that God will not stop until each and all of us have been embraced and caught up in God's tremendous love.

This incarnation, this unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation, this birth, is about this God who creates us, who loves us so very much, this God comes be with us, delivered into our world more than 2000 years ago as a baby just like us, crashing into our world as the miracle of birth. This God comes to us as a still small voice that we may only be able to hear at the most desperate times in our lives, when we fall to our knees and give it all over. This God comes to us in the indescribable words of prayer. This God comes to us crying in the voice of those who continue to be hungry and thirsty and cold and mistreated. This God comes to us singing in the voice of the child. This God comes to us in the multitude of voices calling for reason as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This God comes to us in the unfamiliar voice of the immigrant, looking for a better way. This God comes to us in the howling voice of the wind and the rain, redrawing the landscape of our lives. This God comes to us in the voice of the one who cries, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. 

This is the God who loves you so very much, unreasonably so, not because of what you've done or not done, not because of who you are or what you're worth. Not because of anything, other than you are a wonderfully and fearfully created child. And it is this love that wins, it is this love that transforms your heart, and your mind and your soul. It is this love that grows in you, that gives you reason to live fully and completely alive. It is this love that doesn't judge whether you have enough, are enough, or even give enough. Indeed, it is this love that makes dead people alive.

And in the person of Jesus, God calls each of us to show up. Incarnation is showing up in a way that brings hope, and peace, and love, and joy into the messiness of our lives, so that we may show up and bring hope, and peace, and love, and joy into the lives of others. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

4 Advent Yr B Dec 21 2014

Audio 12.21.2014

So, this Advent I have been thinking a lot about incarnation, God-with-us. God-in-the-flesh. Jesus. And the question that has been rolling around for me is what does incarnation look like? In this time when we wish each other hope, and joy, and peace, how does that take on flesh and blood? That's what incarnation is, flesh and blood.  

And then my mother dies. Right in the middle of Advent. And I remember what incarnation looks like, it looks like they flesh and blood of her life, it looks like the flesh and blood of our lives. Incarnation is showing up for life, incarnation is showing up for the important things and the not so important things. 

Incarnation is showing up to feed people. My mom showed up to feed people. She was known as the donut lady at church. She coordinated the funeral luncheons for years. I heard stories from neighborhood kids that she gave them loaves of freshly baked bread. They would stop in for cookies whether or not we were home. 

Incarnation is showing up unconditionally. I heard from girls in her scout troops that my mom, by her words and actions, encouraged them them to be anything they could be. Girls camped who had never been in a tent, girls cooked who had never used a pot or a pan, all of us had equal opportunity. We had pancake breakfasts in the back yard, we provided Christmas for families who had none, we had picnics with girl scouts who were from the "inner city" as we called it then.
Incarnation is showing up whether you agree or disagree with the way people lived. Mom spent years going out to the Shakopee Women's prison, and spent time with the inmates there, they did craft projects together, but she really was bringing an unconditional presence to them. 

Incarnation is showing up in a way that brings hope, and peace, and love, and joy into the very ordinariness of our lives, and incarnation makes them extraordinary. Incarnation is saying yes, like Mary says yes.

What does incarnation look like? How have you seen incarnation this Advent? Where have you seen God-with-us, God-in-our-midst?
So now, I want you to turn to your neighbor, and help each other identify  incarnation.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

2 Advent Yr B Dec 7 2014

Audio 12.7.2014

Are you ready for Christmas? If that means do I have my Christmas tree up, my cookies baked, my presents purchased and wrapped, I do not. If that means dressing like John the baptizer in clothes made of camel's hair and eating locusts and wild honey, again, I do not. Are you ready for Christmas? Are you ready to show up for the nativity? Are you ready to be present for incarnation? Well, I'm getting there, but I'm not there yet. I still have some time.

In the church we tell time differently than the world tells time. In the church, the beginning of the new year is the first Sunday of Advent. One of my favorite stories to tell with children is the story about how the church tells time. The church tells time differently than the way the calendar tells time. Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the morning with about ten children listening to the story and wondering about the church's way of telling time. The mystery of Incarnation is so broad, and wide, and deep, we need some time and some space to prepare for it. It's not something we can jump into right away.

When we tell time the church’s way and our year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, our year begins in quiet waiting rather than loud revelry. Telling time the church’s way causes us to stay awake and to prepare for this amazing thing that God does in Jesus Christ. Telling time the church’s way helps us to take time to be present to ourselves, to one another, and to God. Telling time the church’s way helps us to live fully alive, fully engaged. 

In Isaiah we hear that all of creation is getting ready, even the wilderness prepares the way of the Lord, every valley is lifted up, every mountain and hill are made low, everything is being rearranged for the day when we raise our voices and shout, Here is your God! And in second Peter,  we are presented with another experience of time, one day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day.

Advent not only marks the beginning of time, it also marks the beginning of the end of time. We begin the year again, we wait patiently for and prepare for birth, the coming of God into our world, and at the very same time, we wait patiently for and prepare for our Lord coming into our world again, the fulfillment of all things, as God promises. So our waiting and preparing and anticipating are for incarnation, for God with us, for Christmas, and all of that waiting and preparing and anticipating are also for all that God promises. And that, perhaps, is the key message of Advent. That in the stable at Bethlehem God is not only keeping promises God made to Israel but also making promises to us. That in Jesus, God hears our cries of fear and concern and doubt at our lowest points and responds. God hears our praises and thanksgivings and rejoices. 

And, my goodness, but the headlines seem full of low points. Whether about the spread of Ebola, unrest in the Middle East, delayed – or perhaps deferred – justice in Ferguson. And even closer to home. Yesterday at Breakfast club we listened to Pat Zant tell us about feeding and clothing people right here who are homeless, people who we see but do not see. And to these cries for deliverance, God responds with promises of healing, peace, and justice in and through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

What if God’s promises are not all something we wait patiently for until the end of time? Or, maybe more accurately, what if we are invited to participate here and now in the end of time promises of God by contributing to them in the present? What if part of how God keeps 
God’s promises is through our efforts to heal, comfort, help, and bring justice? I believe that is true. I believe that is true because of what God does in Jesus Christ. I believe that is true because of this inconceivable incarnation, this mystery of faith.

I think John the baptizer knows something of these things. John's call to prepare the way for the Lord; to make his paths straight, is a call to us to recognize the impediments that are in the way to realizing God's promise, God's promise of love and mercy, compassion and justice. It is a call for us to get on with the work that God calls us to do. 

I'm not sure what all of the impediments are that are in our way to God's promise of love and mercy, compassion and justice. But I think they may be big huge things like racism and bigotry and lack of concern for the environment and this planet we live on. But I also think those impediments may be removed when we look into the eyes of the one who is across from us and acknowledge their humanity. 

So what kind of waiting do you want to do? How can you spend your time, energy, wealth, and lives making a difference right now. Because we are all called to cry out and prepare the way. It’s all of us. Right here, right now, waiting actively, if you will, by making a difference in the lives of the people God has put all around us. God is continuing the story of the good news of Jesus in and through our words and actions and each of us will have a hundred and one opportunities this very week to contribute to that sacred story, to make it come alive, to help God keep God’s promises here and now.

Not that can bring ultimate healing or comfort or peace or justice. That’s God’s job, and God will keep God’s promises to the fullest in the fullness of time. But we don’t have to wait for that passively but are invited to throw ourselves into that venture both trusting God’s promises and living them right here, right now. This is the kind of active, involved, participatory waiting Advent invites.

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places -- and there are so many -- where people behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

~ Howard Zinn

And why not get started now. There is no time like the present. Show the world that love indeed wins.

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