Thursday, November 29, 2012

What does Jesus want for Christmas? #2

Let every heart prepare him room.  But my heart is cluttered, jammed to over- flowing, and it’s not all pretty.  I’m booked, slammed, juggling because two hands won’t hold it all.  I have commitments, activities, responsibilities, possessions.  I suspect that when Jesus knocks on my door, he hears me holler, Uh, hang on a minute… and while he waits his mind drifts to the story his mother told him about the inn in Bethlehem having no vacancy.

   What Jesus wants for Christmas is a vacancy, an opening, some room.  He can’t be crammed into my heart if I keep everything I’ve accumulated.  I have to do some letting go, I have to get on my Spring cleaning here in late November. 

   What Jesus wants from me for Christmas isn’t so much some ability I might have – although he gave me whatever ability I have so I could use it for him.  What Jesus wants isn’t my ability but my availability.  I may have ability, but frankly I’m just not available to God, or to the people God loves – and thus I am a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal.  No wonder I wonder what the point of it all might be.

   Can my prayer be listening more than talking?  Dare I pray Speak, Lord, your servant is listening?

   Can I divest myself of a few things this Christmas?  Santa Claus wants to haul more things down the chimney and into my cluttered world.  Maybe in my imagination I reverse that chimney function and toss my busyness, my over-commitments, my divided loyalties, my frenetic pace, into the fire, and let the holy smoke waft up toward Jesus, who will then know I’m here, I’m available, there’s room in the inn.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What does Jesus want for Christmas - #1

O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. O little life of mine, how hard it is to be still. Twenty nine days until Christmas, so much to do. I feel like a victim of the calendar, the clock, the to-do list.
But am I really a victim? I have a choice, it's my decision, nobody else's. I know that what Jesus wants for Christmas, from me, from you during the 29 days left, is some time, some being still, behind a closed door, out under the stars, in the sanctuary, every day, more than once a day, time to be, to be quiet, to pray, to reflect.

I had best book it in right now, in ink, even in stone. I will be quiet, and prayerful, for ten minutes, or maybe thirty. In the morning; maybe when I get home; or turn the TV off in the evening.
Maybe I ask a friend, or somebody who's kin, to do it with me, not to chat but to be still together. That might give me not just good company, but some accountability.

I plan now: if someone asks me to do something during that time, I quite truthfully say I can't, I'm busy. Busy being not busy for a change. Like an old grandmother in a nursing home, what Jesus wants this Christmas is for you to visit, and just sit for a while.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

The earliest date in November upon which Thanksgiving can fall is the 22nd – as is the case here in 2012. November 22 is a date of tragic resonance, as people my age and older recall precisely where they were and how they felt when they heard the news of the assassination of President Kennedy.

A few weeks ago I read Stephen King’s intriguing novel, 11/22/63, which imagines a time traveler going back to try to prevent JFK’s killing. Without giving the plot away, the outcome is theologically interesting, and profound. We might wish to rewind our lives and change a few things, and divert the plot of our life in a different direction. But who can know then how things would really turn out?

Johannes Tauler, a 14th century German mystic, wrote that when we think we could have changed things for the better in our lives, we foolishly fantasize that we are in control of our own lives – and show we do not trust God. More importantly, if we are fixated on regrets, and what-ifs, then we can never be grateful.

The posture of thanks is the liberating gift God offer us when we look into the past. We could bemoan hurts we’ve endured or missteps we’ve made, or we can choose gratitude, to see the goodness of God, the mercy and continuing care of God through every circumstance. Then, if we can get the hang of gratitude instead of regret when looking back, we can look forward, not with anxiety or fear, but in hope and joyful anticipation.

Certainly we have made a mess of things, and fallen woefully short of what God dreams for us. Mae West, the sultry actress (who incidentally also died on November 22!), once wryly said “I was pure as the driven snow until I drifted.” We have drifted.

Or more optimistically, we might say we have shrunk God’s magnificent vision for our lives down to something we can manage – but how sad! C.S. Lewis, whose death on November 22, 1963, went unnoticed in the wake of JFK’s shooting in Dallas, wrote that our problem is not that our desires are too strong; instead our desires are too weak. God wants us to desire very much indeed, to crave things like fulfillment, ultimate purpose, loving belonging, and eternal glory; sadly we settle for less, for cheap wares like money, pleasure, and attention.

The Thanksgiving God dreams for us is not being glad we have money, comfort, much food or HDTV. God wants us to be grateful for far more: life, the breath you just took, eyesight, God’s merciful forgiveness, the colors of Autumn, the wisdom of God, the glory of Jesus crucified and risen, the tenacity of the Church and the stirring of the Holy Spirit, love wherever it appears, and hope for a future no matter what we may suffer in this life.

So this week, let us look back, and look up, and thank God in expansive ways, for the really grand things – even as unspeakably all-enveloping as God’s presence, and unquenchable love for all of us.