Thursday, January 5, 2012

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas 2011-2012

It is the Twelfth and Last Day of Christmas.

I hope and trust that we have reflected well on the miracle of “God with Us” during these Twelve Days.

I hope and trust that these devotions have prompted us toward and aided us in such reflection.

I hope and trust that we will continue to reflect on the wonder of God’s act of Incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth and on the wonder of God’s ongoing act of Incarnation in God’s Church.

It is the Twelfth and Last Day of Christmas.

The Wonder never ceases.

May our awareness of and participation in the Wonder never cease, either.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas 2011-2012

“What did you get this Christmas?” is a question we often ask and answer in the days following Christmas Day.

We reach a nice level of maturity when the question in which we are more interested is “What did I give this Christmas?” It is, after all, more blessed to give than to receive.

The most important question of all, though, is “Whom did we receive this Christmas?”

The right answer, of course, is “Jesus.”

Still, here near the end of the Christmas season is a good time to ask ourselves just how open we have been to his coming to us with his challenges to our motives, our choices, our priorities, and our actions; it’s also a good time to start thinking about and working on how we’re going to respond to those challenges as we move past Christmas and into the “ordinary” time between Epiphany and Lent; indeed, it’s a good time to start thinking about and working on how we’re going to respond to those challenges one day, one hour, one minute, one second at a time for the rest of our lives.

On this Eleventh Day of Christmas, may God help us to face up to the challenges that come to us when Jesus comes to us…

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

On the Tenth Day of Christmas

“For God so loved the world that he gave,” that most well-known summary of the Good News tells us.

What God gave, of course, was God’s Son, which is a way of saying that God gave a big part of God’s self.

Christmas—the Nativity—the Incarnation—that First Act in the Drama of Salvation that was the life of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Son of God, Jesus the Son of Man, was all about the love of God, and what that First Act and that entire Drama teach us is that the love of God is about the giving of God.

“For God so loved the world that he gave”—to love with God’s love is to give like God gives.

On this Tenth Day of Christmas, may God so fill us with God’s love that we give and give and give…

Monday, January 2, 2012

In Praise of the Sears Store at the Macon Mall

By the end of my Winter Quarter at Mercer University in 1977 I knew that I would marry Debra Kay Johnson if she would have me and she had given me some indication that she would; by the beginning of the Spring Quarter I had begun to ponder the reality that I had no money and no job (except for the $60.00 that I got for my one Sunday a month gig as Pastor of the Fairmount Baptist Church somewhere outside of Sparta, Georgia) and decided to take steps to rectify the situation.

So one day I got in my 1974 Mercury Comet, drove out to the Macon Mall,
and filled out employment applications at all the major department stores there. I figured that, given my collection of two suits, two sport coats, and five clip-on ties, not to mention the winning smile and pleasing personality required of any Baptist ministerial student, I’d be ideally suited for a sales job. Besides, I also had three years of experience at Burnette’s Thriftown Grocery in my hometown of Barnesville, Georgia, where, had they given such a thing, I had no doubt I would have won the Most Popular Sack Boy Award all three years of my employment.

One Sunday night soon thereafter, I returned from an exotic weekend in my intended’s hometown of Leary, Georgia, where I had spent considerable time and energy using my winning smile and pleasing personality trying to impress her parents, to find a note on my door saying that a Mr. Montford from the Sears, Roebuck, and Co. branch at the Mall had called the pay phone on my dorm hall (the number that I had put on the application because it was the only number I had) on Friday afternoon and requested that I return his call.

I called him on Monday and he requested that I come see him.

So that afternoon I put on the best of my two suits (it was a three-piece beige number) and classiest clip-on tie and went to see Mr. Montford, who turned out to be the Manager of the Sears Display Department. He needed someone, he told me, to work part-time in the Display Department’s Sign Shop, because Jeannie Brown, the woman who ran it full-time, was out indefinitely on sick leave due to receiving cancer treatments and the part-time guy, a high school student named Wally, needed help.

I had no idea that the Sears store had a Sign Shop.

It did, though, and Mr. Montford took me back to meet Wally, who turned out to be a nice guy with whom I would work until he left to attend the University of Georgia, around which time Jeannie came back to work as much as she could.

It turned out that, while some signs describing the quality items for sale at Sears came pre-printed from Illinois or some other foreign country, many signs were produced in-house at the local store. My assignment, should I decide to accept it, said Mr. Montford, was to print those signs.

Here’s the way it worked: (1) Department Managers or Department Manager wannabees would turn in requests for signs each of which had to have a heading and at least three descriptive points (we had covered similar territory in Preaching class at Mercer so I was well-prepared to handle that aspect of the job); (2) I would produce the sign using either a primitive wood-block and ink roller system or a state-of-the-art machine called a Sign-O-Graph that involved pulling a handle to print letters on card stock; and (3) I would place the sign in the appropriate slot from which the Department Managers or Department Manager wannabee would retrieve it.

It was a good job with a good schedule; I worked 1:30-5:30 Monday-Friday and never on nights or weekends. I could clock in as much as seven minutes late and still be considered on time. I got a fifteen-minute break every afternoon. I didn’t have to dress up so I could wear the same clothes to work that I wore to class. The ink stains on my hands that took considerable scrubbing with Lava brand soap (with pumice!) to remove constituted the one downside; my sensitive skin took quite a beating.

Over the eighteen months that I worked in the Sign Shop in the Display Department at the Macon Mall I made enough money to buy Debra’s engagement and wedding rings and to save a little bit for our life together.

My main memories, though, are of the people with whom I worked.

There were Mr. Montford and his Assistant Manager Larry Falls who left while I was there to take a job at an outdoor advertising company and who came over to our apartment one night to watch the Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks rematch on TV.

There was Foy Stevenson, who fascinated me with his first name and his free spirit.

There was a guy whose last name was Hutchinson whose nickname was Hutch but whom everyone called Gooch.

There were Kenny Thompson and Len Strozier, both of whom joined me in going into the ministry and in attending the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and both of whom I count as friends to this day.

And then there was Michelle Falduti, a young woman of olive skin and black hair who was absolutely gorgeous. I met her brother Michael, a chef who owns the Red Tomato CafĂ© in Bolingbroke, Georgia, at a fund-raiser organized by my daughter Sara for the March of Dimes in Macon for whom she was interning a few years ago. I said to him, “I’ve known one other Falduti in my life; I worked with a Michelle Falduti at Sears thirty years ago and she was beautiful.” “She still is,” Michael said, “and she’s my sister. In fact,” he went on to say, “she’s at my restaurant right now. Let me give her a call.” He did and as I stood there he said, “Michelle, I just met a guy who worked with you at Sears a long time ago.” She asked my name. He told her. She didn’t remember me. Clearly, and not surprisingly, I was not as memorable as she.

I’m remembering my time at the Sears store in the Macon Mall because it is one of the stores that the Sears Corporation has just announced they will be closing.

Soon the store will be no more but it will exist in my memory because I am and always will be grateful for the experience, the money, and—especially—the people with which it blessed me.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas 2011-2012

Circumcision has no religious significance for a Gentile family such as mine; our male babies are circumcised by the doctor back in the nursery before we take them home from the hospital—if my family’s experience is typical, parents are not even present for the procedure.

Once we get home, we do, however, tend to the wound and watch over the healing.

On the day after Jesus’ eighth day Mary and Joseph—I guess mainly Mary, given the culture—would have been tending to his wound and watching over his healing.

It occurs to me that more often than not the first wound inflicted on our male children is inflicted by our choice and is dictated by our standards of what constitutes good hygiene and acceptable appearance. It occurs to me also that that first wound is the first of many that our children will experience because of the imposition of someone else’s choices, standards, and judgments.

Jesus’ circumcision was certainly the first of many wounds that would be imposed on him by other people for their own purposes and for what they no doubt thought were good reasons.

I wonder if, as his mother Mary saw him hanging on his cross, she thought back to that first wound, if she thought back over his many wounds. I wonder if she wished that she could tend to the wounds he was then experiencing even as she had tended to his first one.

Jesus and we share some wounds in common.

Jesus bore some wounds that only he could bear.

By our wounds we are humbled; by his wounds we are healed.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

On the Eighth Day of Christmas 2010-2011

On the eighth day of his life, the boy child of Mary and Joseph was circumcised and given the name Jesus.

His circumcision was something he shared with all other Jewish males and his name (Hebrew “Joshua”) was one he shared with many other Jewish males; both his circumcision and his name, therefore, underscored his commonality with other people.

They also underscored his uniqueness among people, though. He was not only one of the children of God; he was the unique Son of God. He was not only a member of the people of God; he was the Suffering Servant who perfectly embodied the kind of life to which the people of God are called. He was not only a person whose name meant “Savior”; he was the person who actually was the Savior.

On this Eighth Day of Christmas, may God help us to learn better of the meaning of Jesus’ common identity with humanity and of his unique role within humanity.