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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Festival Focus: Merry Christmas!

The Nativity of the Lord, Proper I, Year B - Luke 2: 1 - 14

Merry Christmas! We all say it. But do we really know what it means? Or has it become an innocuous, seasonal version of: Have a nice day? Let’s take a closer look. The “Merry” part is easy. Who doesn’t want to be merry, particularly as winter sets in? Christmas… that’s where the meaning gets trickier. It’s obviously a reference to Christ. But it has a deeper meaning. The Old English origin is Cristemaesse… a reference to the mass. So a Merry Christmas was a wish for a joyful Eucharistic celebration as the focal point of the day. Going a step further, the word mass has its origins in the Latin… missa… the same root as the word “mission.” And that is Christ’s constant charge to us… to go forth… to be on a mission… his mission… to join our lips and our lives in the prayer of the angels: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!

So with our focus on the origins and meaning of the day… and with due respects to Cindy Lou Who and all the fine folks down in Who-Ville… the Grinch did them a great big favor swiping all that Christmas loot. Only he probably should have kept it. Christians have to wonder: What transformed the Nativity… our remembrance of Christ’s birth… into an occasion to spend too much, eat too much and drink too much? How has God’s initial act of our redemption come to be celebrated by retail riots on Black Friday? I blame it on the pagans… both the contemporary ones and the ancient ones. Like so many of our traditions, the timing of the yule season was originally a pagan festival borrowed by the early Christians. So you might say that it’s only going back to its origins.

At the risk of joining the Grinch and Scrooge and all the other seasonal sour-pusses, I’m tempted to say: So what! Has all the Christmas brouhaha added to the glory of God? Is Christ honored by the commercial orgy that surrounds Christmas? If the pagans have reemerged to take back their own, who cares? It’s no great loss. So this Christmas, let’s refocus our attention on where it belongs… on the birth of Christ… the incarnate God. And let the tinsel fall where it may.

Luke’s beautiful narrative is so familiar and so straightforward that our time here is better spent probing the significance of the event rather than embellishing on its details. Of all the wonders recorded by scripture, the singular significance of the Nativity is that in those unlikely circumstances God chose to become man… while remaining God. Let that sink in for a moment.

The God, so awesome that the ancient Hebrews would not even whisper his name, is suddenly among us. Emanuel has come… and he’s so much more than anyone could have expected. To save us… to shake us of our self-indulgence… to atone for every sin that ever was or will be… the love of God was made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. And through him we are reconciled with God. We have a unique window into his purpose… an open channel for his love… and a perfect model of holiness to guide us in all things.

Even before the Infant could speak, the circumstance of his birth was his first sermon to us. Laid in a manger, surrounded by shepherds, God is telling us that his New Covenant will not be based on power and hierarchy. It will be based on service and sacrifice. The new paradigm will be love and humility, rather than micro-management of human behavior.

In this context, our challenge is not to keep Christ in Christmas. He’s not a seasonal ornament that we want included along with all the others. Christ isn’t “in” Christmas. Christ is Christmas. And his Nativity is integral to who he is. In the person of Jesus, God became like us, so that we could become more like him. Christmas is not an end in itself. It is a beginning… an initial event in the continuum of our redemption. Stripped of its Christian context, you might as well call it “The Holidays,” or more accurately: “The Year-End Door-Buster Sale and Over-Indulgence Festival.”

With all that said, nothing is bigger than the heart of Jesus. He wants us to be happy. So let’s deck the halls. Let’s trim the tree. Let’s hang the stockings.  Let’s sing “White Christmas” right along with the carols. But first last and always… let’s remember the reason for the season… the joy of Christmas is in the miracle, not in the material… it’s in the mystery, not in the myths. The love of God is alive and among us… so that every year we can celebrate anew… Jesus Christ is born today.

And that is the Merry Christmas I wish you… a blessed and a joyful Christmas wrapped in the saving love of the new-born Christ.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Spotlight: Called to Greatness

Advent 4B - Luke 1: 26 - 38

How many girls do you know have been painted by DaVinci and sculpted by Michelangelo...who've been serenaded by Bach and Schubert... who've been praised by Augustine and Aquinas… who’ve been venerated over the ages by a constant stream of devotions? Or more to the point, can we ever hope to know anyone after they have been so endlessly exalted? This Sunday let's try. And let's see what we can learn from Christ's earliest and closest earthly companion.

In the first chapter of Luke, we meet Mary before all that, long before she becomes swathed in centuries of sentimentality. We meet her as a kid...a very, very good kid ... but still only a kid. She's scared. She's stunned. But she is not overwhelmed. This is her first encounter with an angel. But it is obviously not her first encounter with God. He is not an abstraction to her. He is a constant presence in her life. Even as a teen, she defines herself as God's servant. Pastor Rick Warren would say: She has “A Purpose Driven Life.” She knows we are here to serve God… even if that means becoming the mother of the Messiah: Let it be with me according to your word.

Scripture gives us this stark portrait of a resolute Mary in the moment, not a mushy Mary of myth. In the most mind-boggling circumstances, she stands her ground… momentarily confused by the message and the messenger… but confident in the goodness of God, giving herself reflexively to his service. She was called to greatness. And she was equal to the task.

For all our maturity, how many of us have such a clear grasp of life's ultimate reality? We are here to serve God. That is our own personal call to greatness… not greatness as the world sees it, but greatness as God wills it to be… and not in response to a sudden call from angels, but to a constant inner call from God's grace.

We get to answer that call everyday in countless ways --- in our respect for others, in our kindness, in our generosity, in our forgiveness, in our family responsibilities, in our professional ethics, in our fearless, unrelenting witness to Christ's love. Doubtless, none of us will be sculpted or painted by masters. Choirs will not sing our praises. But God will. He rejoices in the goodness we give back to him. He knows the obstacles we must overcome. He knows the sea of secular cynicism that surrounds us. He knows we can be confused and distracted. That is why scripture gives us the wisdom of Mary, the kid who was surprised, but then quickly focused… the kid who knew she was God's servant and knew that God would see her through.

This gospel also teaches us that God’s gifts are not predictable. They don’t come in neat little packages. Sometimes, right from the first, they are a pure joy. But more often they come as trials. They are opportunities wrapped in disappointment. They are confusing… frightening… even overwhelming. That’s the time to trust in Jesus. That’s the time to remember Mary.

In putting these thoughts together, I was reminded of our family friend, Fern Hill, whose young son Timothy was run down and killed delivering newspapers. In her torment, the grieving mother remembered that she was God’s servant… first, last and always, come what may. She and her husband Jerry went on to found
The Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch which for over forty years has given new life to hundreds and hundreds of abused, abandoned and troubled children. In crushing pain, she answered God’s call to greatness. .. just as she is answering his call today… protecting, caring, nurturing…witnessing Christ’s love wherever it is needed most.

When blessings come disguised as challenges… when the call to love is shrouded in pain and distorted by doubts… I pray that we share the serenity of Mary… I pray we embrace her willingness to serve. I pray we join in her song: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

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