Saturday, December 31, 2011

On the Seventh Day of Christmas 2011-2012

At Christmas time we celebrate the Incarnation—in Jesus Christ God was among us in the flesh.

At Christmas time we embrace the Re-Incarnation—the Church is the Body of Christ enlivened by the Spirit of Christ in the world today and thus bears witness to the world of the continuing fact of “God with us.”

At this Christmas time let us also acknowledge another kind of Re-Incarnation, a difficult, strange, and wonderful one.

Jesus told us about it when he spoke of the nations being gathered before him when he comes in his glory; he said,

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:34-40)

Somehow, then, Christ is present in those who are hurting, who are destitute, who are in trouble, and who are in need.

Somehow, then, when we touch and help them, it is Christ touching and helping Christ.

It is a wonderful mystery.

And yet it is clear what we must do if Jesus Christ is who the Bible says he is, if the Church is what the Bible says we are, and if hurting people are who Jesus says they are.

On this Seventh Day of Christmas, may God give us the eyes of Christ to see Christ in hurting people…

Friday, December 30, 2011

On the Sixth Day of Christmas 2011-2012

Christians believe in reincarnation.

Now that I have your attention, let me explain what I mean.

Christmas is all about the Incarnation, about the gracious mystery of God in the flesh, about the great truth that in Jesus of Nazareth the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

Pentecost, which will be here before we know it, is all about the empowering of the Church by the Spirit of God to be the people of God; through the presence of the Spirit of Christ in and among us we become the Body of Christ in the world.

The Church is, therefore, the continuing Incarnation; we are the continuing presence of Christ in the world.

Thus, we not only believe in reincarnation—we experience it and live it!

How are we experiencing and living out our reincarnation? How are people experiencing Christ in us?

On this Sixth Day of Christmas, may God show us how to be the Body of Christ in the world…

Thursday, December 29, 2011

On the Fifth Day of Christmas 2011-2012

“Incarnation” is a big and important word.

We use it to name the coming of the Son of God in the flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It thus names the central truth of Christmas: God was with us (the meaning of “Emmanuel,” another of our big and important words) in Jesus Christ.

When we join the big and important word “Incarnation” with the big and important words “Emmanuel” and “Crucifixion” and “Resurrection” and “Ascension” and “Pentecost” we can move toward understanding that God is still with us through Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

Even more important than growing in our understanding of the great truth of “God with Us”, though, is growing in our experience of the great truth of “God with Us.”

How can we move toward an always growing experience with God in our spirit? In our world? In each other? In every circumstance?

On this Fifth Day of Christmas, may God cause us to grow in experiencing God at all times, in all things, in all people, and in every circumstance…

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On the Fourth Day of Christmas 2011-2012

[I am offering a brief devotion for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas.]

The Church has on the Fourth Day of Christmas traditionally remembered the death of the Holy Innocents, those male children two years old and younger who were killed by order of Herod in his effort to destroy the recently born “King of the Jews” about whom the Magi had told him.

The Bible’s description of those events is, needless to say, a horribly brutal picture in the midst of what we usually think of as an otherwise beautiful narrative.

The biblical account of the slaughter of those children and the Church’s insistence on remembering them just three days after Christmas Day reminds us of some important if difficult truths.

First, Jesus was born into the real world with its real tragedies and its real cruelties. When he is born in us today, he continues to be born into such circumstances. All we have to do to know that is to open our eyes—at risk to our hearts.

Second, God’s ways always threaten those in power and when those in power are threatened they will sometimes strike back with fury. The Prince of Peace once said that he came not to bring peace but a sword; while conflict and destruction is not his way it is all too often the way of the world. Sometimes the innocent—such as those children in Bethlehem who had nothing to do with anything—will get caught up in that conflict.

On this day on which we remember the children who died in Bethlehem, let us remember the children and other innocents who are dying all around us. Let us also ponder whether and, if so, how, our witness to Christ challenges the powers that be—and if we are ready to pay the price such challenges can precipitate.

On this Fourth Day of Christmas, may God show us the high price that is paid for grace…

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On the Third Day of Christmas 2011-2012

The Church has for centuries on the Third Day of Christmas remembered St. John; tradition identifies John, who along with his brother James was numbered among the Twelve Apostles, as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” of the Fourth Gospel and as the author of that Gospel as well as of the three Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation.

It is John’s Gospel that tells us that in Jesus Christ “the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth” (1:14) and that reports that Jesus said to his followers, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love that this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:12-13).

Tradition also says that John was the only one of the original Apostles who did not die a violent death as a martyr for the Faith but that he did suffer exile to the Island of Patmos where he received the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

There is more than one way, then, to lay down one’s life for the Lord and for one’s friends.

How are we laying down our lives?

Are we laying down our lives?

Are we making good use of the time regardless of the circumstances?

On this Third Day of Christmas, may God show us how to lay down our lives for each other!

Monday, December 26, 2011

On the Second Day of Christmas 2011-2012

[Note: I am offering a brief devotion for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. I hope you find them meaningful.]

The Church has traditionally on the day following Christmas Day remembered St. Stephen, the first Christian to give his life for his faith of whom we know. As Stephen was being stoned to death for his faithful Christian witness, he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

It is far too easy for American Christians to forget that there are still martyrs, that there are still people who give up their lives for their faith in Christ. Lest we forget, I remind us that on this Christmas Day a series of bombings of churches in Nigeria cost over thirty believers their lives.

Perhaps that reminder will also serve as a caution not to regard as “persecution” the small slights and rejections that we might on very rare occasions encounter because of our Christian witness.

Still, it is important to remember that the base meaning of the word “martyr” is “witness” and it is worthwhile to ponder how—and if—we bear true witness to Jesus Christ in the ways that we live, and especially in the ways that we respond to those who would and do hurt us.

Are we giving our lives up?

Are we giving our lives away?

Are we turning the other cheek?

Are we praying “Father, forgive them” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them?”

May God show us how to live as true martyrs on this Second Day of Christmas!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

On the First Day of Christmas 2011-2012

[Note: I will be offering a brief devotion for each of the 12 Days of Christmas. I hope you find them meaningful.]

On this First Day of Christmas, let’s stop for a moment to reflect on the great truths that in Jesus Christ the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, full of grace and truth, and that in Christ the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

Let us reflect further on the fact that we, the Church, are the Body of Christ in the world today; the life of the resurrected Christ dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. How do people see Jesus in us? How do people encounter the love and grace of Jesus in us?

Let us reflect on the related facts that God was in Christ and that Christ is in us and that we are Christ in the world!

May God’s blessings be with you on this First Day of Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Things I’ve Been Pondering During Advent 2011

Since December 1 I have been posting each day on Facebook a "thing I'm pondering during Advent." Here is the entire list:

1. How only God could make me capable of containing all the grace I've received in my life.

2. The great distance--still--between who I am and who God is calling and forming me to be.

3. How, because Jesus comes to us, our love should always be expanding and never contracting.

4. How Jesus comes to us in the interruptions.

5. How the flame of the Advent candles reminds us that Christ is the Light that dispels the darkness--and how we who follow him are to reflect that light.

6. The opportunities we have to live, to love, and to serve while we wait.

7. How being ready is an every moment, every thought, every motive, every word, every action thing.

8. How waiting should inspire doing something rather than doing nothing.

9. How Christians should replace "shop 'til you drop" with "give 'til you live.”

10. If we're not careful we'll be so focused on what God is going to do one day that we miss what God is doing on this day.

11. How the Lord comes to our world, to the Church, and to individuals in the most unexpected, surprising, and challenging ways.

12. How we need to practice quietness so that we can develop a perpetually quiet place in our spirit where we can hear God when God comes to us in the still small voice.

13. The miracle of God's coming to us in the proclamation of the Word.

14. How our Lord graciously comes to us in the Eucharist.

15. The ways in which I am and am not willing to say, when Christ comes to me, "I am the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

16. Beginnings, endings, and all the living in between.

17. How, if we're not careful, we'll spend so much time and energy looking back to the day when Jesus quietly entered the world's door and forward to the day when Jesus will knock down the world's door we'll fail to notice how he patiently on this day stands at the world's door and knocks.

18. How unfortunate it is that one can get so busy during Advent that he falls two days behind on posting his daily "Things I'm pondering this Advent" Facebook status update series to which he committed himself at the beginning of the Advent season.

19. All of those who once waited with me who are now waiting for me.

20. How every day is a new opportunity to live in light of the reality that God is with us.

21. How dangerously misguided it is, considering the surprising and unexpected way in which Jesus came the first time, to assume that we know much at all about the way he will come the second time.

22. How, given that the first coming of Jesus Christ upset the status quo, challenged the prevailing power structures, and upset religious convention, his comings to us in these days should bring about more of the same than they seem to do.

23. If Jesus Christ has truly come to even most of the 2.1 billion professing Christians in the world, then how can there still be in this world in which we Christians live 925 million hungry people, 3 billion people in poverty, 22,000 children dying each day because of poverty, a billion illiterate people, 1.1 billion people having inadequate access to water, 2.6 billion lacking basic sanitation, and 1.5 billion people living in countries affected by violent conflicts?

24. The wonderful mystery and mysterious wonder of it all…

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Christmas Miracle—by the Numbers

Last summer Dr. Ali Binazir wrote a blog post in which he posed the question, “What are your chances of coming into being?”

He considered such questions as (1) the odds of your parents meeting, which he estimates at 1 in 20,000, (2) the odds of that meeting leading to a relationship that produces a child, which he estimates to be 1 in 2000, (3) the odds of the right sperm from your father joining with the right egg from your mother to form you, which he puts at 1 in 400 quadrillion, and (4) the odds of every one of your ancestors living to the age at which they could reproduce, which Binazir estimates at 1 in 10 to the 45,000th power [“That number,” Binazir observed, “is not just larger than all of the particles in the universe – it’s larger than all the particles in the universe if each particle were itself a universe."].

When you put all of that together, Binazir said, the probability that you could exist is 1 in 10 to the 2,685,000th power. Here’s how Binazir described the enormity of that number:

As a comparison, the number of atoms in the body of an average male (80kg, 175 lb) is 10 to the 27th power. The number of atoms making up the earth is about 10 to the 50th power. The number of atoms in the known universe is estimated at 10 to the 80th power.

So what’s the probability of your existing? It’s the probability of 2 million people getting together – about the population of San Diego – each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice. They each roll the dice, and they all come up the exact same number – say, 550,343,279,001.

Therefore, according to Binazir’s calculations, the chances that you could exist are so infinitesimal as to amount to zero; there is virtually no probability that you could exist.

National Public Radio blogger Robert Krulwich, in his intriguingly titled post Are You Totally Improbable or Totally Inevitable?, summarized Binazir’s article and then observed, “On the other hand…there are poets who argue exactly the opposite: that each of us is fated to exist, that there is a plan, and that all of us are expected.”

The poets of the Bible, I think, would come down mainly on the “there is a plan” side; we at least have strong intimations of such. For example, the Lord said to the young Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). For another example, the Psalmist sang, “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed” (Psalm 139:16b).

Had the biblical writers been confronted with the speculations of modern thinkers, would they have admitted to the presence of randomness and chance in our world and in our lives? Some certainly would. Have you read Qoheleth lately?

For the most part, though, I suspect that they would have looked at Binazir’s conclusion—“A miracle is an event so unlikely as to be almost impossible. By that definition, I’ve just shown that you are a miracle. Now go forth and feel and act like the miracle that you are”—said “Amen,” and done a little praising, a little thinking, and a little writing about how God works God’s purposes out even through random selection, chaotic human behavior, chance, coincidence, and happenstance.

I suspect that, as usual, the philosopher Forrest Gump was on track when he said, “I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both (are) happening at the same time.”

Jesus Christ, whose birth we are preparing to celebrate, was, the Bible says, the Church teaches, and the Creeds affirm, both divine and human, fully God and fully man. Jesus was the Christ, the Anointed One of God who came to inaugurate God’s Kingdom, to take away the sin of the world, and to conquer death.

Given the divine nature of the Son of God and the teachings of the Bible regarding him, such as “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1) and “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created…” (Colossians 1:15-16a), we can use our imaginations to at least move toward saying something about the mystery of the eternal Son of God who came into the world in the Incarnation.

But given the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth—he was fully human, remember—should we think in terms of his birth as being at least partly the result of the same kind of process—randomness, chaos and chance somehow worked with by God to accomplish God’s purposes—as are the births of the rest of us?

A thousand years before Jesus was born, God told King David of Israel that God would give David a dynasty and God promised David that David’s kingdom would never end (2 Samuel 7:11-16). The historical dynasty of David in fact came to an end with the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in the early Sixth Century BCE. But the ongoing partnership between God’s Spirit and the Hebrew theologians led to the expectation that God’s promise to David would be fulfilled in the coming of an ideal Ruler, the Messiah.

Think back to Binazir’s numbers, though, and try to imagine the seemingly insurmountable probability of all the generations of people in David's lineage who had to meet, who had to marry and who had to reproduce in order for Jesus the son of Mary to be Jesus the son of Mary actually meeting, marrying, and reproducing.

The mystery of how Mary came to be with child of the Holy Spirit is almost matched by the mystery of how Jesus of Nazareth—or any other human being, for that matter—could be born at all.

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

When Jesus Comes: We Are Gathered Home—to Rejoice!

(A sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent based on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; John 1:6-8, 19-28; and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24)

Put yourself in their place.

Decades ago their nation had been devastated by an invading army and many of their people had been carried off to live in a foreign land where many of their descendants yet remained. A few years ago some of those exiles began to return which led to problems between them and the people who had remained behind. Now, seventy or so years after their towns and cities had been destroyed, most of them still lay in ruins. Their economy was virtually non-existent; they were under pressure from surrounding rival groups. It was not a situation that bred much joy.

Into that depressed and depressing reality came a prophet who, speaking in the tradition of Isaiah, said that the Lord had anointed him “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1) and “to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” (v. 3). The prophet went on to say, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” (v. 10abc).

Picture the prophet—standing in the ruins—looking into the eyes of the depressed people—proclaiming the joy of the Lord. From where does such joy come? It comes from knowing that God can be trusted to bring about justice and salvation, even when it looks impossible.

But still…they had to wonder—when would it come? When would God fulfill God’s promise?

Let’s move forward about 500 years. Once again, put yourself in their place. They have been living under the thumb of an occupying imperial army for decades. They have no say-so over the way their country will be run. Taxation is burdensome and enforced by crooks. Some of their religious leaders set impossibly high standards while others cooperate with the occupying force.

One day a young teacher went to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth and answered that question of “When?” He read from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Then he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21).

The young teacher was Jesus; he affirmed that in his coming into the world the promise of God to bring about freedom from oppression and to bring the blessings of God to human life had been fulfilled.

As followers of Jesus and as people of the Book we affirm our faith that Jesus was of course correct about who he was and about what he came to do. The angel had said on the night he was born, after all, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.”

But still, we can understand if the people listening to him that day, even as Jesus said that very day was the day of the prophecy’s fulfillment, wondered when it would all come to pass—when would people be free; when would they be free? When would they have real joy?

Now let’s move forward about 2000 years; this time we don’t have to use our imaginations. We live in world in which many nations are war-torn, many groups are oppressed, and many people are impoverished. We live in a nation in which the economy is tottering, divisions are deepening, and humanity is lessening. People wonder—perhaps we wonder—when will God keep God’s promises? When will joy be found?

Well, we know that God will ultimately and finally keep God’s promises when Jesus returns. But Jesus said that the promises had already been fulfilled in him. How is that so? How can that be so? Let’s think about how we can know joy now and how we can spread joy now. After all, as much as we trust in what God is going to do, if we aren’t careful we’ll fail to see what God is doing now and what God wants us to do now.

I ask you to remember that the Church is the Body of Christ in the world today. In Jesus Christ joy became embodied; the joy of the Lord was enfleshed in Jesus. The joy of the Lord is in us; we spread the joy of the Lord when that joy becomes embodied in us.

Do we reflect the joy of the Lord?

Do we reflect it in our attitudes? Don’t we sometimes wonder, “If Christianity is true, why on earth don’t we act like it?” [A paraphrase of Annie Dillard in Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church (New York: Doubleday, 2001), p. 239]. Well, why don’t we? Annie Dillard has noted the practices of Benedictine monks who worship seven times a day; she observed that “in between the monks spend an inordinate amount of time laughing. They laugh at anything. They don’t talk much, but they do laugh” [Yancey again paraphrasing Dillard, p. 239].

The Apostle Paul offered valuable guidance when he said, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17). It is no accident that he joins “rejoice always” to “pray without ceasing.”

But we have to learn to pray that way. How can we do that?

We can follow the guidance of Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk who lived in a monastery in France where he was assigned to work in the kitchen. Brother Lawrence said that he practiced every day turning his thoughts toward God. When he failed he asked for forgiveness and tried again. He said, “Thus by rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, I am come to a state wherein it would be as difficult for me not to think of God as it was at first to accustom myself to it” [Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims (Grand Rapids: Spire, 1958), p. 30]. We can work at making it our practice to turn to God and to think of God at all times and in all things.

From such practice, from such prayer, will come great joy.

It is good to remember, though, so as to avoid frustration, that great joy is not necessarily full joy. But that full joy will come, brothers and sisters, it will come—some day.

Do we reflect joy in our actions? John’s Gospel teaches us that Jesus came as the Light of the world and that John the Baptist was a witness to that Light even before it arrived. We are to reflect the light of Jesus as well; we are to spread the joy of Jesus in the world. We do that by becoming, by grace and the Holy Spirit, the people that we are in Christ meant to be.

To reflect joy the joy of Christ is to spread the joy of Christ; it is to care about what he cares about and especially to care about those about whom he cares. Our joy can never be full until all know joy any more than his joy can ever be full until all know joy.

So this Advent season, as we move toward Christmas, with whom are we sharing the joy of Christ? Are we giving our attention mainly to what we want and to how much we can give to our loved ones who already have more than they need? Or are we giving our attention and sharing our blessings with those who have little or nothing?

Let’s drop money—and not just pocket change—in those Salvation Army buckets. Let’s give to Toys for Tots and the Christian Kitchen and our International Missions offerings and others who are trying to share some joy with hurting people. Let’s commit during this Advent season to volunteer beginning in January through Communities in Schools to read once a week with a child.

Let’s change the holiday motto of “Shop ‘til you drop” to one that befits followers of Jesus Christ, namely, “Give ‘til you live!”

Let’s spread the joy!

There is more to spreading the joy than giving money and time, however. Let’s take some times this Advent to consider how we contribute to the problem or to the solution. In our nation and in our world there is a growing disparity between those who have and those who don’t. We who are Christians need to conduct our business in ways that reflect Jesus Christ and that show that our priorities are his priorities.

A friend of mine told me of how during the Great Depression she and other children in her Sunday School class took some food and clothing to a poor family in Macon. She was deeply moved by the deplorable conditions in which that family was living. But, she said, she was upset even more when she later discovered that the sorry housing in which that family was living was owned and supposedly maintained by one of the leading members of her church. Christian landlords should reflect the love and joy of Christ in the ways they function as landlords; Christian businesspeople should reflect the love of Christ in the ways they function as businesspeople; Christian teachers should reflect the love of Christ in the ways they function as teachers; Christian pastors should reflect the love of Christ in the ways they function as pastors—and so on.

It’s dangerous to talk that way and it’s dangerous to live that way, but so be it.

It is as the prophet Jackson Browne put it in his song The Rebel Jesus:

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus.

Jesus came as the Light of the world. Do we as his followers bear witness to the light or to the darkness? Jesus came as the Joy of the world. Do we as his followers share the joy or contribute to the sorrow?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Of Gray Roses and Instamatic Cameras

Most Christmas memories from my childhood are, I must admit, most excellent.

A few aren’t. Two in particular come to mind.

The first involves my acting debut—unless you count my dynamic recitation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem The Swing at the graduation ceremony for Miss Sylvia’s Kindergarten Class of 1964 (“Riveting—almost like you were at that park across the street from the swimming pool” was how the review in the Barnesville Gazette put it)—in a Christmas play at the legendary Midway Baptist Church, located four miles outside of Barnesville, Georgia on City Pond Road.

The play, which was performed in the sanctuary on a Sunday night after a series of two to three grueling half-hour rehearsals, was set in a department store. In my one and only scene (“Easily the stellarest among a host of stellar performances” was how the review in the Flint River Baptist News put it) I portrayed an eight year old boy—which required tremendous acting skills since I was actually nine at the time—who wanted to purchase an artificial rose for his sick mother (you know, like the plot in that song “The Christmas Shoes” but without the cheap emotional manipulation).

When I walked up to the sales counter and delivered the first of my two lines—“I’d like to buy this rose for my mother”—there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including the ones in the head of Preacher Bill, who was rolling around on the front pew laughing so hard he was crying, thus demonstrating the existence of the fine line between high drama and low comedy.

The nice church member/thespian/saleslady responded, “But dear, do you really want to buy your mother a gray rose?”

“I only have a quarter,” I answered, “it’s all I can afford.”

Preacher Bill was now rolling around on the floor.

“But dear, they’re all the same price. You can get a pretty pink one or a lovely red one for the same price. Don’t you want to get her a red one?”

I walked off, nodding, wondering what kind of idiot kid would even think about getting an artificial gray rose for his sick mother, which thought apparently painted a stricken look on my face that was taken by the audience as serious emoting.

(“This reviewer, for one, would have liked to see young Mr. Ruffin march triumphantly back onto the stage with his red rose; the failure to have him do so was a glaring plot omission, as was acknowledged by the audience’s chants of ‘Where’s the red rose?’ and ‘We want that skinny buck-toothed kid with the glasses!’ as the final curtain fell,” was how the Christian Index put it.)

They were putting an oxygen mask on Preacher Bill.

My second painful memory comes from an otherwise most excellent day. My mother and I joined another family on the 55-mile trek from Barnesville to the Rich’s department store in downtown Atlanta. There we witnessed the Great Tree (the biggest Christmas tree I had ever seen), rode a monorail that for some reason was painted pink and had a pig’s head on the front car (yep, it was called the Pink Pig), and visited Santa Claus (somewhere I still have the picture of me sitting on his knee).

So far so good.

The trouble started when I went into the little store that the big store had set up into which innocent children like me were lured on the hopes of getting their mother a nice Christmas present only to be taught the harsh truth about capitalism and corporate greed.

My mother gave me 50¢ and into the shop I went. My eyes immediately fell on a beautiful Kodak Instamatic Camera and I scooped it up, marched over to the cashier, and plopped the camera and my 50¢ down, grinning happily. The cashier smiled sweetly at me and said, “Dear, the camera costs $15.95 plus tax.”

I began to cry.

A pretty young saleslady took me by the hand (which makes a crying male of any age instantly feel better) and led me around the shop looking for something I could buy for 50¢ as a Christmas gift for the woman who had brought me into the world.

I kept a sharp lookout for gray roses.

Seeing none, I settled on some lovely plastic bracelets which the pretty young saleslady wrapped in pretty Christmas paper before sending my red eyes and me on our way.

I’m sure that my mother gushed over them on Christmas morning, whether or not she ever actually wore them.

It occurs to me that as the boy in the Christmas play, I was willing to settle for doing less for my mother than I was in fact able to do.

It also occurs to me that as the boy in the kids’ Christmas shop, I wanted to do far more for my mother than I was in fact able to do.

We often behave in both of those ways, I think, in the ways that we relate to other individuals and to our various communities.

Sometimes we give a gray rose when we could give a red one; that is, sometimes we give less of ourselves than we should or could, whether out of willfulness or out of ignorance.

Sometimes we want to give an Instamatic camera when all we can afford is some cheap plastic bracelets; that is, we really would like to give more of ourselves to someone but we simply don’t have it in us to do so for reasons that are beyond our control.

Like most things, it all comes down to grace—the grace to give of ourselves as best we can at any given moment and the grace to receive whatever another offers to us at any given moment.

If we’ll at least try to act out of love, maybe it’s never enough…but then again maybe it’s always enough…

Monday, December 5, 2011

Another New Advent Hymn

I've penned words to another Advent hymn. This one is called "Come, Lord Jesus, Come" and is sung to the tune IN DULCI JUBILO ("Good Christian Men, Rejoice"). If you'd like the words, provide me with an email address and I'll send them along...