Oh, how we have longed for Christmas this year. Personally, I don’t think I have been as excited for Christmas to come since I was a child. It isn’t just the celebration we need. We need the vision that we are blessed in our humanness, for we spend so much time cursing one another. We don’t just need the peace. We need to hear of peace on earth, goodwill to all because we spend so much in confusion, fury, and fear. Angels appear in the stories about the birth of Jesus with a consistent message. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to take your part in the birth of God into the world. That message comes to us eternally and ever new. Even when times are anxious, we are to be fearless. We have our part to play in God being born into this world. GK Chesterton wrote that when he was a child he was delighted on Christmas morning to find a gift so big only half of it went into a stocking. As a grown man, he said he was delighted every morning to find a present so big takes two stocking to hold it and then leaves a great deal outside. It is, he said, “the large and preposterous present of myself.” Christ was born at Christmas. And so are we. By the gift of the incarnation, we walk on earth as a present of good news. Live with the joy of a well-loved child. Be at peace even in disagreement. Offer shelter to those who wander. Care for those who lives are intertwined...
Do Not Be Afraid

Do Not Be Afraid

When God comes knocking at our door, offering joy, our first reaction just might be fear. That was the experience of the casual theologian and excellent novelist Annie Dillard.   In an essay, entitled God in the Doorway, Dillard writes about a Christmas Eve in her childhood that she has never forgotten. Dillard was a small child when her family came home unusually late from a festive dinner out.  Coming in from the cold, everyone was happy to arrive in their warm living room.  Stockings dropped from the mantel. There was a special table holding a bottle of ginger ale and a plate of cookies. Suddenly, there was a commotion. The front door flew open and cold wind blew around little Annie’s legs. It was Santa Claus looming in the doorway, looking around for Annie.  Everyone started calling for Annie to welcome Santa.  Annie’s mother was thrilled. Look who’s here! Look who’s here! she kept exclaiming. It was Santa Claus, whom Annie never – ever – wanted to meet. Annie Dillard ran upstairs. Dillard writes: Like everyone in his right mind, I feared Santa Claus, thinking he was God. I was still thoughtless and brute, reactive. I knew right from wrong, but had barely tested the possibility of shaping my own behavior, and then only from fear, and not yet from love. santa Claus was an old man whom you never saw, but who nevertheless saw you; he knew when you’d been bad or good. he knew when you’d been bad or good! and I had been bad. Her parents and Santa Claus pleaded, yet she refused.  Annie Dillard would...

Serving is a tough way to make a living. Hauling around heavy trays. On your feet all day. Trying to avoid spills, burns, and co-workers. Getting poked, grabbed, harassed and yelled at. And smiling! No matter how rude the customer. Suzy Hansen, who has studied the restaurant business, argues that you can divide the world into two kinds of people: those on the customer side of the tray and those on the waitress side of the tray. On the customer side are the proud and the powerful. On the other side are the humble and harassed. Dependent on the attitudes of others as much as their own skill. Vulnerable to the strength of someone else’s business, capricious customers and often with a precarious perch on security. The other side of the tray is where Mary, the mother, of Jesus, lived. Along with other women of first-century Galilee, Mary was a second class non-citizen, deemed not worthy of education, compensation, conversation or consideration. From the other side of the tray, servers have been present in the midst of chaos and confusion and have tried to remain good and faithful servants. Even when that seems impossible. It’s what Mary does. A messenger of the Lord appears to Mary and asks her to take on an impossible task – conceiving a child, whose origin will be misunderstood and conjectured about, even as she prepares to marry. Mary is invited not just to bear the child and to bear up under the challenge of living on the tough side of the tray. She is invited to be at peace there. The gospel of...
Make Ready a People

Make Ready a People

One of my mentors in ministry was a baby whisperer. John Fuhrmeister loved babies, and they loved him in return. John had a distinctive way of handling babies. He would jostle them around lightly in his arms, turning them so that he could look fully into their faces and then commune with them. If they were happy and cooing when he got them, they relaxed into concentrated bliss in his arms. If was handed a screaming mass of fury, in his hands, they settled and became composed. The first time John attempted to pass me a newly baptized infant, you would have thought someone had asked me to accept a hand grenade that had the pin pulled out. I suspect I recoiled. I could count on one hand the number of babies I had held until that day. Babies seemed outrageously fragile and demanding creatures. I didn’t even know how to put my arms in place to hold a wobbly head and expected that at any moment a baby could leap out of my untutored grasp. But, under John’s tutelage, I held that infant child and – as we are – I was transfixed with awe. I looked into that tiny face and wondered “Who will this child be?” To look into the newly forming expression of an infant and to hold their little bodies seems to be the very definition of hope. Look into the faces of mothers and fathers as they look into the face of their newborn infant and you see people filled with hope. Hope and fear. Fear of what might go wrong, what might...