Saturday, December 26, 2009

Finding Christmas – An Epiphany

It is December 26th. All is calm and all is bright. I suppose everyone is mostly resting. Some are traveling. Some have not had enough shopping and have returned to the stores to find more of whatever it is they are looking for. But I was drawn to my desk in the quiet and picked up a quote written on a note from a friend:

"He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree." (Roy L. Smith)

This morning I am wondering if you found Christmas. Did it meet your expectations? Do you feel full of joy and hope as you participated in your traditions? I was reminded early in the season when we idly watched the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. There was a conversation between Charlie and Lucy that went something like this:

Charlie Brown:”I just don't understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I'm still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed. “

Lucy : “Charlie Brown, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.”

And so this morning, the day after Christmas, when the tree all of a sudden looks a little tired, the beautiful wrapping paper is crumpled in the trash, the dog has already destroyed his new toy, and the refrigerator is bulging with too many leftovers, we could suddenly feel depressed. Part of us thinks, “It’s over. Just clean it up and put it all away.”

But is it over? Do we have to “put it away”? If Christmas resides in our hearts, couldn’t it simply continue through the year? Could Christmas be the hope of things to come? Could Christmas Day be a day of new beginnings and fresh starts? I can look at the calendar and find my answer. Our Christian calendar moves now into this time of Epiphany. It means "to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal." The word itself most often means that “ah-ha” moment when we “get it”. Sometimes it is like a lightning bolt – like the shepherds being scared out of their wits with the message of the angels. Other times it slowly comes – like the Magi who traveled for a few years, seeking the star that led them. And because our epitaph has not yet been written, we can all experience epiphany.

I have never given much thought to Epiphany until today, but as I learn and reflect on it, I love the way it continues our Christmas season – the twelve days of Christmas starts today and goes until January 6. Remember the song The Twelve Days of Christmas? It has been debated whether the song is secular or religious. Some say it was developed in the 16th century to help children learn the catechism with the “true love” being God himself and the “me” representing every believer who is part of the Christian faith, and the “days” representing some aspect of the faith to learn. I like that. Others would argue it is purely secular and created just for frivolity.

I love what Dennis Bratcher of the Christian Resource Institute/Voice wrote about Epiphany and his explanation of the 12 days of Christmas.
“Perhaps, when all is said and done, historical accuracy is not really the point. Perhaps more important is that Christians can celebrate their rich heritage, and God's grace, through one more avenue this Christmas. Now, when they hear what they once thought was only a secular "nonsense song," they will be reminded in one more way of the grace of God working in transforming ways in their lives and in our world. After all, is that not the meaning of Christmas anyway?”
The Twelve Days of Christmas
A Partridge in a Pear Tree
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so . . . ." (Luke 13:34)

Two Turtle Doves
The Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God's self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.

Three French Hens
The Three Theological Virtues: 1) Faith, 2) Hope, and 3) Love (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Four Calling Birds
The Four Gospels: 1) Matthew, 2) Mark, 3) Luke, and 4) John, which proclaim the Good News of God's reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.

Five Gold Rings
The first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch: 1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers, and 5) Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity's sinful failure and God's response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.

Six Geese A-laying
The six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world (Genesis 1).

Seven Swans A-swimming
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1) prophecy, 2) ministry, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leading, and 7) compassion (Romans 12:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11)

Eight Maids A-milking
The eight Beatitudes: 1) Blessed are the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8) those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. (Matthew 5:3-10)

Nine Ladies Dancing
The nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit: 1) love, 2) joy, 3) peace, 4) patience, 5) kindness,
6) generosity, 7) faithfulness, 8) gentleness, and 9) self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

Ten Lords A-leaping
The ten commandments: 1) You shall have no other gods before me; 2) Do not make an idol; 3) Do not take God's name in vain; 4) Remember the Sabbath Day; 5) Honor your father and mother; 6) Do not murder; 7) Do not commit adultery; 8) Do not steal; 9) Do not bear false witness; 10) Do not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17)

Eleven Pipers Piping
The eleven Faithful Apostles: 1) Simon Peter, 2) Andrew, 3) James, 4) John, 5) Philip, 6) Bartholomew, 7) Matthew, 8) Thomas, 9) James bar Alphaeus, 10) Simon the Zealot, 11) Judas bar James. (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.

Twelve Drummers Drumming
The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles' Creed: 1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8) the holy catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pondering The Path of Peace

They say we might have some snow on Christmas Day! And I say “Let it snow!” The magic of quiet snow falling on Christmas morning - oh, just the thought of it takes me back remembering Christmases in Kentucky on my snow-covered hill-top home – the wonder, the beauty, the silence. It can happen anywhere that the heart makes room.
In January of 2008 Atlanta was covered in a beautiful blanket of snow. I couldn’t resist but to take a few pictures in the garden that now looked so fresh and new even in the bleak of our winter of great sadness. St. Francis looked especially peaceful and content with a white cap warming his head. His presence standing strong there in the garden offered me a new appreciation for the man who gave up all of his worldly goods to be an instrument of peace during his life.
After visiting his birthplace and the city for which he is named, I came home and disciplined myself to memorize one of his prayers – maybe the one for which he is most remembered. Let’s see if I can say it for you:
Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

What strikes me today is that in the first line, the prayer asks the Lord to make me an instrument of HIS peace. I may not ever find my own peace and that is what we ponder so much, trying to make sense of life and its ups and downs. But I can, in the midst of pondering offer to be used – to be an instrument of God’s peace – the peace that we seldom understand, but that we have been freely given through the one who comes again at Christmas.
Jesus said in John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you: my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Maybe I should return to Target and purchase what caught my eye - the gray T-shirt with the huge peace symbol on the front to remind me to live as an instrument of peace. I confess that I am not always the peacemaker. I do not always sow love, or pardon, or faith, or hope. Sometimes I am dark and sometimes I am sad and lonely even though my home is filled with abundance. That’s why I have memorized the prayer and it is amazing the times during the day when the words come to remind me “sow hope, sow love, understand, pardon, give”. Peace.

I know that Christ wants to infuse peace into all of us. He said so. His peace. Not the peace of a quiet snowfall. Not the peace of singing Silent Night holding a candle. But the opening of our souls to receive Him in our hearts – to take on his characteristics of love and forgiveness, of gentleness and hope and of purpose. But in this age of “it’s all about me” we find it hard to acknowledge our utter neediness and we simply just don’t need Jesus – or very much of him.

This Christmas, open yourself to receive the peace that Jesus brings –now, from eternity past, and forevermore. And in return, offer yourself as an instrument of that kind of peace. Knowing peace is the gift above all gifts.