Monday, December 18, 2017

The Fulfillment of Longing

Lectionary Reading: Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)

Within the United States, we have continued along the political polarization that has widened in the last two decades.  It seems that many Americans were dreading Thanksgiving because they didn't want to get into political discussions with relatives where a diversity of opinion was expected.  At one point, it was considered rude to discuss religion or politics at the dinner table.  The pew research center suggests that religion is hardly discussed at all anymore.  So that just leaves politics.

The difficulty people have with a difference of opinion is astounding.  Both Democrats and Republicans view the opposing party very unfavorably at around 45% which may not be surprising.  What is interesting is that in 1994, this figure was only at 20%.  Our distrust of those who differ in belief or philosophy has increased.

As we approach Christmas, our Advent time of waiting comes to an end.  Our longing for God's presence or comfort or justice is fulfilled in the quiet reverence found in the simplicity of the nativity.  It may be that we can put aside our differences around the Communion table.  Jesus does represent a juxtaposition even in his birth.

As we read Luke's narrative, we see that angels and shepherds become the first messengers of the Good News.  These two groups could not have been considered more opposite in terms of societal respect.  Angels are seen as higher than mortals and the direct messengers of the divine.  Shepherds were not always trusted as they might easily stray onto your land in a time when fences were not as prevalent.  However, these too became messengers of the incarnation.

There is something important not only in the declaration but also in the heralds selected to share the message.  It seems that both prominence and obscurity go by the wayside when something this monumental occurs.

And so for Christmas, we set aside our differences and bow before the Lord.  As we share the Eucharist together, we may remember the parable of Jesus where the tax collector and the Pharisee both kneel to pray in the temple.  Both would have been on the opposite sides of what was considered respectable and yet the tax collector is praised.  Jesus seems to turn expectation on its head.  If this is the case, maybe our celebration of his birth can do the same.  Our faith may allow us to reexamine our own views and even if we don't come to a new conclusion, maybe we can grant a little dignity to our brothers and sisters across the aisle. 
The irony of the blue and red at opposite ends in this photo are not lost on me.
If we are honest, most people are interested in the same things: love, peace, joy and hope.  It is interesting that these are the four traditional themes of Advent.  Maybe Christmas allows us to recognize what we have in common rather than what separates us.

In Christ,


Photo by Rosanne Haaland via  Used under the Creative Commons license.  

Monday, December 11, 2017

Longing for Justice

Lectionary Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 (NRSV)

When I was in elementary school, a bully got the best of me.  It lasted for over a year until we moved to a different town.  The kind of humiliation that comes with being bullied by someone else impacts people in different ways.

For me, I vowed never to let anyone bully me again even if it meant getting beat up.  This meant for some close calls later in school but I never felt that same kind of antagonism.

What it left in me was a sense of embarrassment over my past.  I thought about getting even.  I thought about going back to the old neighborhood and challenging him to a fight.
There seemed to be some wrong that was done to me that needed to be righted.  I wanted justice.  I wanted him to hurt just like I had been hurt.  An eye for an eye after all.

As I matured, I realized that these fantasies about revenge were not helping me.  I was not growing as an individual.  In fact, they were holding me back.
I realized that I needed to forgive the bully whether I ever spoke to him in person or not.
Batman remains a popular figure due to
an ideal of vigilante justice.  Most people are under
the illusion that vengeance will make them feel better.
It was difficult but I asked God’s help and I was able to forgive.  My guess is that I had thought a lot more about him than he ever thought about me.  But after I forgave him in my heart, I quit thinking about him.  It became less embarrassing as I recognized that I was just a child.  I realized the pain that he must be going through in order to inflict pain upon others.
Certainly, if this was behavior that was continuing rather than in the past, this would be a different situation.  But it was something that had ceased.  It was only continuing in my mind.  It’s a terrible thing to let someone have that kind of influence over you.
And so as I consider God’s justice, I think that this means something different than human justice.  We try to even things out but God deals in mercy and forgiveness.  We experience the forgiveness of God more fully when we have dealt with truly forgiving another for a wrong done to us.  Isaiah reminds us that God’s covenant is everlasting.  As we look toward the nativity once more, we see that God is willing to be vulnerable so that we might know divine love.  Even though this seems maybe one-sided or unfair, because of the love God has for us, God may feel that we are getting what we deserve.


And so Christmas gives us a glimpse of God’s justice.

In Christ,


"Batman" by Ed Merritt via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Longing for Comfort

Lectionary Reading: Isaiah 40:1-11 (NRSV)

There have been times in my life that I have needed comfort from painful situations.

As a very small child, I remember getting an earache that seemed as if it was tearing a hole in my head.  My mother prepared warm sweet oil and poured it into my ear and it alleviated my pain.  She held me after applying it and the combination of pain relief, warmth, and her rocking sent me back into a deep, comforting sleep.

When I was a little older, I had a splitting sinus headache.  I was already in bed and my father came and held my forehead with his strong hands in a way that gave some relief.  He held me like that in silence until I fell asleep again.

As a young man, I experienced surgery extracting kidney stones.   When I awoke, my wife Sheryl was there in the room and her presence was reassuring knowing that she was watching out for me.  She later told me that right before surgery, the nurse brought something for her to sign.  She began to read it over and the nurse seemed a little put out.  Then Sheryl discovered that the papers indicated someone else's surgery!  The nurse apologized profusely and didn't rush Sheryl when she returned with the appropriate chart.  That story made me doubly glad that Sheryl was there for me.

There are some things that technology
may never effectively replace.
Pain is easier to manage when we experience it within the bounds of others helping us to cope.  Studies have shown that human touch actually speeds up the healing process.  Seeing a loved one often causes the brain to release natural painkillers which helps with endurance.

How are we comforted by our faith?  This Sunday's lectionary text immediately calls to mind for me Handel's Messiah.  This important work declares the love of God for us through Jesus Christ.  It opens with the Isaiah passage with a tenor soloist holding out an elongated "Comfort Ye."  It is the desire of God for the prophet to bring comfort to a people in exile.  This speaks to us of who God is.  It speaks to us of what God comes to do in Jesus Christ.  It is one of my favorite passages and it prepares us for Christmas.

In Christ,


Picture by Katy Tresedder via  Used under the Creative Commons license.