Saturday, December 10, 2011

Two Voices

Millions of people celebrate the Holiday season, but not all of them are Christians. They shop and decorate. They attend the politically correct "Holiday" Party and participate in the music of the season. Some will say they are Christian, but just have trouble with a virgin birth and a resurrection - the two, really big mysteries. They say they believe in God and sometimes they go to church. They think there might be something after death - possibly a Heaven, but surely not a place called Hell. How could a loving God send someone to Hell? That's not very Christmas-y.
And then Advent comes and asks us to look again at the message proclaimed. The time is here when prophets warn, stars move in the sky  and angels proclaim and those who are unsure in their faith find themselves in another Christmas quandary. They find themselves on the bridge between the sacred and the secular and the choice becomes one of confusion and distraction. Back and forth they go - we go. The immediate often reigns over the important. Sometimes it is the good over the best.
I heard a speaker who made a strong point about this division. She said there are two voices inside of us. Deep inside each of us there is God's Spirit calling. Outside, there is the world calling - usually in the opposite direction. Somehow those voices vie for our attention during the time of Advent. The world pulls us to material pleasures and God's Spirit pulls to one, holy silent night. It becomes a battle and Advent can leave us feeling sad and depressed.
The conversation between Charlie and Lucy in the movie A Charlie Brown Christmas explains our frustrations:
Charlie Brown: I just don't understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating threes 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."
Christmas is not the problem. Christmas is the solution. Christmas is the voice that calls to us throughout the year. Maybe it's because during this beautiful season for celebrating, we find ourselves still on that bridge of indecisiveness, still wondering, still watching for some small sign of God.
God whose infant cries 
          calls me to your holy night,
             Guide my steps to your sacred manger,
                   For You are the solution.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Friday, December 9, 2011

Small Signs of God - The Part that I Play

When I was in 2nd grade, I was chosen to play the part of Mary in the Nativity Play. It was not because I was a budding actress, but simply because I was very tall like David Herrington who played the part of Joseph and the audience could see us better from a distance. I remember being excited that I got to bring my favorite doll to wrap and hold while the story unfolded on stage. I also liked the pale blue gown and the way it draped over my head and fell in folds to the floor. I had to hold my head very still though for fear of it falling off. I hope you're laughing because I am.  Most of us have acted out the scene at some point in our lives. My youngest daughter was a sheep one year and the way her ears flopped when she baa-ed made my sides burst when I REALLY wasn't supposed to be laughing. Oh, and one year six children in our home donned bathrobes  and acted out the scene to four proud parents. That one got a little out of hand when the two shepherds got in a fight with their broom-staffs.
Today I am asking myself: which part do I play in the Nativity? If I am the angels, well, then, I am already in Heaven and have the privilege of telling others not to worry. I can fly around and sing joyfully. If I am Joseph, I am dazed and confused, thinking about the newly defined family I have been asked to support and must find a hotel quickly because a baby is about to be born that is not even mine. If I am Mary, I am tired and weary, bearing the weight of the world, facing an uncertain future. If I am the innkeeper, I am busy making money and  knowing these people from Nazareth can't pay. I should send them on their way - or on second thought,  offer them the shed. If I am the shepherds, I am looking for a little action - something in the sky is different and tending sheep can be such a drag. If I am the Wise Men, well, I will come later, but I do see something happening different in the  stars and I start shopping. If I am the animals, I can sense that something is different and I simply stand very still.
Here is the point of this rundown of the cast of characters: all of creation plays a part in this mystery and wonder of the birth of Jesus. No one is exempt from the reality of the divine child in the stable. All Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of that night - when God became flesh. It is how we "play our part" in the story.  And in the end, scripture plainly tells us that every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. (Romans 14:11)

God who becomes flesh among us,
              I want to be the angel, glorifying you
                                  or the lowly donkey, simply standing very still,
                          but you have made me the human with a choice for the part I will play in your story.
                                                                                                                   Help me learn my lines well.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Train's Whistle

I've been listening for it - the early morning whistle of the train in the distance. If the wind is just right and I am very still to listen, I can hear the faint " woo-woo" above the rumbling on the tracks. Faint, nostalgic, mysterious, but on schedule and moving through to its destination.
In 1963, Curtis Mayfield wrote the song "People Get Ready" after the March on Washington. Forty years later he was interviewed  by  NPR's Terry Gross. He said the song was a subconscious product of "the preachings of my grandmothers and most ministers when they reflect from the Bible."
Those reflections are still happening. And they are still coming from the Bible. Those reflections transcend all barriers and welcome a world to "get on board." The whistle of a train announces its arrival like John in scripture, who announced the arrival of Jesus.  Do you hear the Advent whistle calling? Do you hear the sounds of Christmas coming? Or maybe you prefer the rumblings on the tracks of this world? All you need is faith and you will hear.
People get ready, there's a train a comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord

People get ready for the train to Jordan
It's picking up passengers from coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board 'em
There's hope for all among those loved the most.

There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there's no hiding place against the Kingdom's throne

So people get ready, there's a train a comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord

Great Conductor of the Universe,
                               as you come on your schedule,
                                                                               I wait and I listen to give you  my ticket of thanks.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Small Signs of God - Angel With The Cross

Looking back to Advent of 2007, I now believe it was a visit from an angel:
'I am waking in the night, not from worry, but from dreams and songs I learned as a child. One night I woke to these words, “Jesus doeth all things well.”  I wasn’t sure about the song, but I knew the tune and the next morning I went to the hymnal and found these words:
All the way my Savior leads me; What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy, who through life has been my Guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’re befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.
The conversation in the dream went something like me saying, “I cannot do this.  I do not want to do this.”  And someone else saying, “You have to do this.  You can do this.  Do not let temptation or self-pity get in your way and do not be afraid.” 
2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “we walk by faith, not by sight.”  When we can see clearly, it is not faith, but reasoning of our mind.  I have learned to rely less on reasoning and to trust my conversations in the wee hours and rely on faith to see me through.
Jesus does “doeth” all things well – he comes to us again this Christmas as Immanuel – God with us - in the middle of the night, during the day through our family and friends, and before our eyes each and every minute." 
Two years later in Rome I would take a picture of each angel on the Bridge of Angels (Ponte Sant'Angelo) that spans the Tiber River. Just a few steps away from St. Peter's Basilica, the bridge reflects the psychological shift from secular to sacred that occurs when pilgrims crossed from the busy streets of Rome over to the churches of the Vatican. The Angel with the Cross's inscription reads: "Cuius principatus super humerum eius," or, "Dominion rests on his shoulders." (Isaiah 9:6) Just a few verses before this, the prophet announced that "a child is born to us, a son is given us."
Wonderful Counselor, who  carries  the cross for me this Advent, guide me on the bridge from secular to sacred.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Small Signs of God - Weeping

The headlines tear to shreds my peaceful Advent journey.
 A small child is senselessly murdered in my city.
God, where were you on that playground? God, you whose eyes are on the sparrow, who sees and knows everything, where were you when she cried out, was beaten, tormented and thrown into a garbage dumpster?
It is unthinkable and my heart bleeds for the brokenhearted mother who is reeling in pain and torment and whose life will never be the same. I look for the "small sign" and can't seem to find it through my weeping.
I return to the writing of Ann Weems who gives voice to anguish.
"Anger and alleluias careen around within me, sometimes colliding. Lamenting and laughter sit side by side in a heart that yearns for the peace that passes understanding. Those who believe in the midst of their weeping will know where I stand.
In the quiet times this image comes to me: Jesus weeping.
Jesus wept,
and in his weeping,
he joined himself forever
to those who mourn.
He stands now throughout all time,
this Jesus weeping
with his arms about the weeping ones:
'Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.'
He stands with the mourners,
for his name is God-with-us.
Jesus wept.
'Blessed are those who weep, for they shall be comforted.' Someday. Someday God will wipe the tears from their eyes.
In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life,
there is a deafening alleluia
rising from the souls
of those who weep,
and of those who weep with those who weep.
If you watch, you will see
the hand of God
putting the stars back in their skies
one by one."(Psalms of Lament)
Holy Infant Jesus, your tears are joined to mine. I hear the alleluias.