Christmas Secret

Fall is always spectacular in New England. But now the leaves have turned brown and have fallen to the ground. And we brace ourselves, knowing what comes next. The winter will descend upon us. However, the bright spot of winter is the coming of Advent when we wait expectantly for the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child.

In our own family we are expecting the arrival of two new grandchildren. We anticipate their coming in the spring. I try to imagine their tiny faces and the joy my children will have when they hold those precious gifts in their arms. And I wonder if Mary felt the same as she awaited the coming of her holy child. I ponder that she had no help at Jesus’ birth. The scriptures don’t tell us whether or not another woman was there that Holy Night. Surely Joseph knew little about childbirth. Perhaps he sought help from the innkeeper or a local midwife. My grandchildren will be born in modern hospitals with the best possible medical care. No smelly barns or straw filled mangers to welcome them.

The story of Jesus’ birth is a strange one indeed. Joseph was there and did know how to offer love and support to Mary. After all, he was in on one the greatest secrets ever known. He knew well his roll in the miracle of Jesus’ birth.

Others were in on that first secret, too. Remember the shepherds on the hillside outside Bethlehem. The secret was given to them, not whispered, but in loud songs of praise by a large heavenly host of angels. The Wise Men in a far off land were in on the secret, too. It was given to them in prophecies, charts, and observation of the stars. Strange that a secret could be spelled out in the heavens. Of course, everyone knows the secret now. God has become man and dwelt among us. It is both our joy and our responsibility to share this marvelous secret with everyone we know!

According to the gospel of Luke, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people, to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Christ the Lord!” It’s not a secret any more.

The Reformation

It happened over a period of years, but the day it caught people’s attention, the day it went viral in the social media of the times and began a landslide of change in how people thought, lived and believed happened exactly 500 years ago this week.

The Reformation was sparked by a young German monk who didn’t even have Twitter or Facebook, but posted a note calling out corruption in the church and government on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. The Reformation (and unfortunately, the corruption) is still going on today. I invite you to join me in a new Christian Reformation as together we discover what it takes to follow Jesus Christ in the 21st century.

Martin Luther asked the church to give up certain practices and traditions that had become corrupt and managed to become barriers to God. It was hard to face the need to clean house then, and it is hard for us now. We all have ways of doing church that we cling to and love, and sometimes giving up our bad practices can be worse than pulling teeth.

We live in a world filled with multiplied choices, possibilities and temptations. That’s why we need to keep our eyes on what is central, what is vital, what is the heart of our faith. That’s why we need to be firmly anchored in Jesus.

A large portion of the church in the United States has failed to remain centered in Christ and as a result has become stagnant, or so removed from Christian teachings it resembles either a political convention or the booster rally for a high school football team. As a result even the very memory of Christian faith is disappearing in our younger generations.

Think about some of the things religion says is important. It says the more money you give to the church the richer you will become. It says you need to be a fundamentalist — or a liberal — to really get Jesus right, and to know how to live and what to believe. Much of religion today tells us that true Christians always vote Republican. Or is it Democrat?

The funny thing is, I can’t remember how Jesus voted, or even what he said about the “hot button” items we make into main issues today. I do remember he said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Then he said:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And he spent his life showing us what that looked like.

Love God. Love neighbor. That’s the foundation a new reformation can be built upon, a reformation bringing the good news of Jesus Christ into our broken, divided, lost world. Salvation is not going to come from our politics. It’s not found in the the false hopes of those who preach a corrupted and modified gospel. A new Christian Reformation takes real faith, it takes commitment, it takes Jesus in our lives. And you know, that’s just where he wants to be!

Giving Thanks

It is Halloween as I write this column.  I have a love/hate relationship with Halloween. I have always enjoyed my children and grandchildren as they have worked diligently to creature elaborate costumes.  With my own children, I remember that my small son always wanted to be a fireman, and one of my daughters saying, “Why would anyone want to have a scary costume when they could be a princess!”  This year my grandchildren are superheroes and astronauts.  The thing I don’t like about Halloween are the scary costumes complete with lots of blood and gore.  I don’t like the focus on death and evil.  Some of the houses in our neighborhood have gone to the extreme to create gruesome settings.  I’ll be glad when these are taken down.

But tomorrow is a special day, too.  It is All Saints day.  It is a time to remember the saints of God – those who have gone before us and those who still walk among us.  We remember those who have brought us up in the faith.  I think of Pastor Jon’s grandmother who died when he was five but insisted that he learned the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm before she died.  She was passing her faith on to him.  What a precious gift far above any money or possessions that she might have given him.

We also remember others in our lives who have guided us along in our faith journey, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, and Christian friends. They have stood by us and prayed for us.  They have walked with us and shared our burdens.  Some have believed for us when we did not have faith enough to believe for ourselves.  It is these saints we remember with joy and thanksgiving.  We give thanks for those who continue to walk among us and for those who have gone on before us.

As we give thanks for the saints in our lives, may we think about how God might use us to bless the lives and faith journeys of others.  May we provide love and care for those whom God loves and who are our brothers and sisters.

The whole month of November is a time of year when we focus on our blessings and give thanks. Several communities in Massachusetts lost power in the storm we had over the weekend. Relatives scrambled to find someone with refrigerator and freezer space to rescue their food.  How blessed we are to have food in abundance.  Our missionary friends in Africa have told us how the people there hustle day to day to have food for that one day.  I once asked what happens when they are sick and aren’t able to work on any given day.  She said quite simply that they just don’t eat that day.  Surely they understand better than we do the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

So whether we are giving thanks for spiritual food or physical food, we acknowledge the source of both and give praises to our generous and loving God.

Tree

Spring is a beautiful time in New England. Right now we have rhododendrons climbing up the corner of our house. There are also irises just coming into bloom. Add to that the hibiscus my husband bought me and two gorgeous lupine plants that I received for Motherʼs Day, and I could go on and on. I love the flowers and plants as they show off the colors our God painted them.

One of the favorite things that I have always loved about our yard was a beautiful Japanese Maple tree. It had suffered over the last couple of years with Gypsy Moths and drought conditions. And this year and last it did not leaf out. We had the tree company do deep root fertilization twice and held our breaths, but the bark began to peel off and we knew it was gone. So yesterday we had it taken down. And as beautiful as the other plants are, the tree will be missed. I remember my grandchildren climbing in it and swinging from itʼs branches. I remember its vivid red leaves and its beautiful snow covered branches. I asked myself if itʼs okay to grieve over losing a tree. Somehow I think it is. At least the loss is real to me.

I think about losses in the church. Much more significant than a tree. I think of David Gray often. I miss his presence as he often visited with us in the office. I miss having him in Bible Study. He had much to add, filling us in on historical background. I miss Shirley Donaldson with her kind, sweet spirit and perpetually positive outlook. I miss Dottie Burke whose Memorial Service was last Saturday, and her enjoyment of her friends at church. Additionally, people join us in worship and then move away. We get to know and love them, and then they are gone. We miss them.

I think this just points out the importance of each member of the body of Christ. No one is insignificant. We are all joined together as the church of Jesus Christ. And not just the people who are living now. We join with others who have proclaimed the name of Jesus through the ages. May we continue to serve him as long as we can. Then we must trust the job to those who will come after us, the ones we are teaching now. For as CS Lewis said in Screwtape Letters, we are a part of the church of Jesus Christ marching through the ages.