Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lopsided Christmas Trees

The tree is lopsided this year. Despite my best efforts, it either leans, or the star bends one way or the other, and don't get me started on the ornaments. There are broken ornaments, ornaments that look like they came from garage sales or thrift stores, and even a few home-made ornaments. Some parts of the tree have two or three ornaments on a branch while other parts are as bare as Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. But what do you expect when you have four children age 10 and under that try to help decorate? Add to that two cats (one who thinks the branches are chew toys and the other who likes to use the upper boughs as her personal sleeping space). The tree has been nearly knocked over once, re-decorated twice and re-arranged more times than you will hear "White Christmas" on the Christmas music only radio station. Still, it's lopsided.

Yet, to my children, it is the most wonderful thing in the living room. When they see it, their eyes light up brighter than the tangled strands that adorn the limbs. It is their tree, and it is in their living room. And that makes it special to them. They can't see that it's lopsided.

I imagine God looks at us the same way. We have parts that are broken. We have areas of our lives that we try to cover up with superficial decorations while other areas remain unattended and bare. We are lopsided. Yet God sees us differently. We are His people; the objects of His affections. We are special to Him. It's not that He can't see we're lopsided, He chooses not to. That's why Christ came into the world... to set the lopsided things of this world straight.

So to all my lopsided friends out there, from one lopsided tree to another, I wish you a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

In The Liturgical Year, Joan Chittister explores the liturgy of the Catholic and more orthodox faiths. She begins by explaining what the liturgical year is and that it's purpose "is to bring to life in us and around us, little by little, one layer of insight after another until we grow to full stature in the spiritual life." She then moves into more specifics, like advent (the beginning of the liturgical year), and Christmas, and Lent, then Easter followed by the Saints days and Marian feasts. Not only does she describe the symbolism of each, but also what the spiritual implication is to the believer who observes them.

I picked up this book from a purely educational standpoint. I am not a Catholic and their practices have always seemed mysterious to me. Overall, I enjoyed the book. I greatly appreciated the emphasis on Christ's redemptive work on the cross that is weaved throughout the yearly observances. The chapters dealing with advent and Christmas helped me appreciate even more the Christmas season and the "coming" of Jesus. I did find the chapters on the Saint days and Marian observances a little at odds with my protestant beliefs, yet they were historically enlightening. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to walk closer with Jesus on a daily basis or for anyone trying to understand what their Catholic friends are doing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What Will You Give Jesus?

It must have been a long journey. Twenty-four months on camel back eating dust and sand. Two years following a star that pointed out not just the birth of a king, but the birth of THE King. Now these wise men, these magi, have arrived in the sleepy little town of Bethlehem. I wonder if they were taken aback by the humble surroundings. Were they dumbstruck by the fact that royalty did not dwell in the Herodian Palace, but in what was most likely a two room flat in an unimportant town? I bet they asked themselves, "Is this the right place?" Nevertheless they proceeded to the appointed destination.

Now put yourself in Mary's shoes. A caravan of perfect strangers arrive at your house asking if this where the King of the Jews live? That must have been an amazing conversation.

In the most humble of dwellings, a King receives His court. The king is a toddler and the court is a group of complete strangers from thousands of miles away. God loves to work through contradictions, and Jesus came to point out that God shows up in the most unlikely of places

But notice the wise men are truly wise, for they do not let doubt arrest their worship. They not only worship the God-child, they unveil the gifts they brought to Him. Expensive gifts. Thoughtful gifts. Gifts that not only proclaimed His royalty, but foretold His death. These were not only gifts of sacrifice, but gifts of worship.

As the Christmas season approaches, I have been consumed with what gifts to give to family and friends. After having a year of moving expenses, picking up two car payments, and going from two sources of income to one, I have been preoccupied with the fact that this Christmas may not be as nice as previous ones. But as I prepare my sermon this week God is pricking my heart. I have been convicted by the fact that my focus is on the wrong things. It's not about what I give, but about what God gave and continues to give. I've been reminded that most of those moving expenses were paid for by a loving congregation, that my job with it's benefits of parsonage and utilities pays nearly as much as the previous two incomes did. That while I have two car payments, I have one less college loan payment. God has given me so much this year, not to mention the bottomless well of grace that I drink from everyday.

So while the gifts under the tree may not be as numerous or expensive, my focus is elsewhere. It's on what can I give Jesus this year. He gives me so much, I feel compelled to give to Him. Not to earn grace, but because of my love for Him. What can I give Jesus? I can give Him the same things the Wise Men gave Him... worship and sacrifice. Worship as my God and Savior and sacrifice in the form of not living for me but living for Him.

I sacrifice my desires to His will.
I sacrifice my dreams to His plans.
I sacrifice my self-reliance to His care.
I sacrifice my family to His upbringing.

Now, what will you give Jesus this year?