Sunday, December 25, 2016

Why I Need Christmas

            “Let every heart prepare him room.”  This lyric from the famous Christmas hymn sums up the last nine months for me as Jamie, Mary Katherine, and I awaited the birth of baby John.  When Jamie and I had Mary Katherine over three and a half years ago, I didn’t know my heart was capable of holding so much love. 
            On Thursday, December 22 at 5:18 p.m., I was surprised again by how much love my heart was capable of holding.  John Bryars Alvey made room in my heart to love even more.  And in reality, there was nothing that could prepare me for the moment when he was born.  I was overjoyed with laughter and tears. 

            I also discovered that the love that filled my heart wasn’t exclusively reserved for John.  Rather, the love that John made room in my heart for is a love that extends to all people.  That love allows me to greet with joy every moment and every soul.  Isn’t it amazing what love can make room for?! 
            Now, I fully realize that this feeling of love will fade.  There will be times when I won’t be able to access this amazing feeling of joy.  There will be times when I won’t allow my heart to see the world through the lens of love and compassion.  And for this reason, I need Christmas.
            I need to go again to Bethlehem to witness again the birth of the newborn king.  I need to go again to Bethlehem and let the birth of our Savior make room in my heart for the great love of our Father in heaven.  I need to go again to Bethlehem and let the youth and children and choir tell the story of Christmas (as opposed to me preaching!). 
I need to go to Bethlehem to be reminded that I am not responsible for manufacturing the kind of love it takes to live a life full of joy and happiness.  Only the great love of God shared in mysterious and unexpected ways, like in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, can prepare room in my heart to love in the way that will not only get me through the changes and chances of this life but also make me see life as a gift not to be taken for granted.
            In the end, nothing can compare to the birth of a child.  No matter how bad things get in this often dark world, no matter how stressful things get in the hustle and bustle of this life, a baby quiets our hearts and makes room to experience life as God intends – a life filled with joy and love.  And for this reason, God chose the birth of his only Son to announce the good news of salvation. 

And the news gets better – even the hardest of hearts melt at the sight of the newborn king.  O, come let us adore him and may our hearts be filled with a love that overflows!   

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas Message

“And because Jesus particularly loves them, let us remember in his name the poor and helpless; the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick and those who mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; as well as those who do not know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This portion of the bidding prayer from the Episcopal service for Lessons and Carols is a strong reminder of the kind of news that the angels sing about at the Nativity of our Lord.  While Christmas today is celebrated around the world by rich and poor alike, the first Christmas was celebrated by the poor and lowly.
Our nativity scenes portray the shepherds as respectable men who we would trust with our lives.  Our Christmas Pageants depict shepherds as squeezable little boys who grin from ear to ear.  However, history tells us that shepherds are outcasts.  They find themselves on the bottom of the social ladder – looked down upon by most.
But in God’s infinite wisdom, he sends angels to proclaim the message of salvation first to these lowly shepherds.  These shepherds don’t have power enough to influence public opinion.  These shepherds don’t have a direct line to the editor of the Bethlehem Times-Journal.  Like David before he was made king, these shepherds aren’t taken seriously – at least not by human beings.
For those of us who are well versed in the story of scripture, the fact that shepherds are the first to hear of the good news of Jesus should come as no surprise.  In fact, scripture tells us that the story of salvation is carried through history by the unlikeliest of people.  
The genealogy of Jesus reminds us that the story of salvation continues because of people like Rehab the prostitute – the one who provided safe harbor to Joshua’s spies within the walls of Jericho.  The story of salvation moves along through King Solomon who was the product of a marriage that began in adultery – David and Bathsheba.
The point, of course, is that the good news of a Savior is first entrusted to those who our world is quick to dismiss – to day laborers, to prostitutes, to single mothers, to little children, to people who hold little to no credibility. 
Because, as we see time and time again in scripture and in our own lives, the message of salvation will not survive in the hands of those who hold the power.  For those with the most power, even the most righteous, will invariably use their power to the detriment of those with the least power.  Remember how King David’s “innocent” affair with Bathsheba destroyed the life of Uriah?   
The message of salvation only works because power is given to those who have no power.  Our story tells us that salvation comes from the One who came from his blessed throne to rule by being poor and lowly.  For this reason, the Mother of our Lord proclaims, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.”
So let us look to the poor and lowly to hear again the good news our Savior brings.  May we find the strength and courage to make room in our societies for the outcast and forgotten because when we do, we too, find a place to receive the good news.  May we find the grace to listen to those who have no voice because when we do, we too, can be hearers of a message that brings salvation to all the world.     

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hurry Up and Wait, It's Advent!

Hurry Up and Wait, It’s Advent!

            Slow down. Quiet. It’s Advent!  This phrase has been popularized in devotional materials in recent years as the Church gets ready for the Nativity of our Lord.  Many have noted the startling contrast between the liturgical season of Advent (the four weeks before Christmas) and the cultural season that spans the same length of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
            The day following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, officially kicks off this cultural season of chaos where we shop, shop, shop and go, go, go until December 25th.  Our secular responsibilities during this season leave little room to slow down and be quiet.
In order to compensate for the commercialism of this season, the Church spends much of her energy trying to remind people that Jesus is the reason for the season by hosting special programs and outreach projects.  So not only are we stretched thin by our secular world responsibilities but also by our duties as good church people. 
While we as a people would do well to slow down and be quiet, it seems that a more appropriate phrase for the season should read: Hurry Up and Wait, It’s Advent!  Yes, the season of Advent is marked by a very specific period of time, but the message of Advent tells us that the Lord will come in an unexpected place at an unexpected time.  Therefore, be ready at any moment.  
As Jamie and I await the nativity of our second child (any day now), every day is treated like it is the last day before the birth of baby John.  Every day we make sure our bags are packed and the house is cleaned.  Every day I make sure my office is in order before I head home.  Every day is a hurry up and wait kind of day.  Every day we wait in joyful anticipation that today could be the day we meet our new bundle of joy. 
Jesus tells his disciples, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”  Whether it be the Second Coming or the Nativity of our Lord, the point is, of course, that joy, hope, and love are born into our lives in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times – be alert so you don’t miss out. 
No matter how well we draw up the script for the Christmas Pageant, no matter how logical my predictions are on when exactly baby John will be born; joy, hope, and love will manifest itself in an unpredictable way.  The Christmas Pageant will inevitably go off script but we will grow in the mystery of God’s love for us.  Jamie and I will inevitably forget to do something before we have baby John but we will grow in the knowledge and love of God.
The gifts that God desires us to receive cannot be manufactured by the best of human plans.  So this year, hurry up and let go of the illusion that you will ever be fully prepared.  Hurry up and check off the last item on your list so you don’t miss the point of Christmas when it hits you square in the eyes.  Hurry up and finish your vain attempts to make this Christmas perfect and wait for the Lord to meet you in the humblest of places. 
Hurry up and wait, It’s Advent!