Posts Tagged ‘Christmas

24
Dec
21

Why Give?

It’s Christmas… the season of giving.

But why? 

I mean, why do we give? I am not ONLY talking about Christmas giving. I’m talking about any kind of giving.

I puzzled on this one for a while and came up with a few answers. To wit:

  • Sometimes we give because it’s a tradition. It’s expected.
  • Sometimes we give because someone needs something, and we have the means to provide it.
  • Sometimes we give because we feel the need to TANGIBLY express our love and affection to someone.
  • Sometimes we give because we feel insecure about the status of a relationship and believe that giving will help strengthen and shore it up with “stuff.”
  • Sometimes we give because we just have too damned much money and we don’t know what to do with it. [I cannot personally relate to this one].
  • Sometimes we give because we want another person to feel they are in our debt.

And so on.

It didn’t take a lot of sweat to come up with this list because every one of these reasons (except for the “too much money” one) has motivated my own giving in the past.

But what if I asked you to look through this list – including any others you might add to it – and choose which Giving Motivator best describes the true spirit of CHRISTMAS giving?

Honestly, I think every gift you’ll find under your tree might well be wrapped in one of these motivators. But I am not sure anything listed here actually lines up with the motivation that was behind the Original Christmas Gift

And by Original Christmas Gift (OCG), of course I mean JESUS!

And so, the two questions I am wrestling with here at Christmas Eve Eve 2021 are: #1 – What was God’s motivation in giving us God’s Own Self, in the flesh, as the OCG? And #2 – How might MY giving (Christmas and otherwise) more closely reflect that same motivation?

What do you think?

Right off the bat I am going to have to rule against “To show us God’s love” as a possible answer to the first question. Regular readers of the Bible will know that God was in the business of showing love to humans from page 1 onward. 

Heck, the very act of creation was an act of love. 

Similarly, I am going to go ahead and pre-emptively rule against the answer, “Because God was bored and needed something to do.”

I believe that “the Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:14, NRSV) for one basic reason; to demonstrate the life-and-world changing power of self-giving, sacrificial love

It didn’t just cost God something to stoop down and pitch a tent here with you and me. It cost God EVERYTHING! It was a gift of epic proportions… given with no expectation of receiving anything in return. 

The OCG was a gift that was supposed to say to us, “Hey! THIS is what giving is all about. This giving is willful self-emptying. This giving lies at the very heart of Who I Am and who I call YOU to be also.” 

“Oh, and by the way… THIS giving is what changes the world.”

And it did, too.

As far as any kind of answer to the second question I posed (I.e., “How might MY giving (Christmas and otherwise) more closely reflect that same motivation?”), I am still chewing on that one. But I think it has something to do with trying to make sure that any giving I do in the future is an authentic GIVING OF MYSELF rather than any of those other reasons. 

That’s all for now. I am not sure I have even come close to the right answers to those questions, but I would LOVE to hear what you think. 

In the meantime, Merry Christmas to you and yours. This year, give someone the gift of YOU!

Abundant blessings;

13
Dec
21

Jesus and Santa

An image of Jesus thought to be more realistic, based on archaeological records of the people from that
place and time.

On our morning walk today, I saw a sign in a neighbor’s front yard that read: “JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON.”

And being the eager Jesus follower I am, I responded with a hearty, “Heck yeah! That’s right, brother/sister/non-binary ally, whoever you are! You’re telling some serious truth right there.”

In that moment, I was caught up in that perennial Yuletide fervor that requires Christians to moan and wail about the gross commercialization of “our” sacred season. “Fie on Santa and his elves and all of their heathen merry-making! People need to focus a lot MORE on the story of God’s miraculous, world-changing incarnation and a lot LESS on finding the best recipe for homemade EGGNOG!”

And of course, that is all true.

But what if… what if it turned out that there was a way for Jesus and Santa to peacefully coexist at this time of year? What if really IS a place for Santa and tinsel and cookies and all those other “trappings” of the Christmas season alongside the manger of Bethlehem? I mean, what if ONE face of the Christmas season did not necessarily have to negate the OTHER?

Pictures of Real Santa Claus

How would that work, exactly?

I think it just might start with the recognition of all the ways that COMMERCIAL Christmas and HOLY Christmas overlap. For example, both celebrate the spirit of GIVING. Both accentuate LIGHT overcoming DARKNESS. And both of them make the FAMILY the center of attention, right?

I am sure this list goes on and on, but the point I am trying to make is: Jesus and Santa might not be quite the adversaries we usually depict them to be. In fact, with Santa’s eternally jolly nature and Jesus’ inclination to love his neighbor as himself, they might even get along quite famously!

However… in spite of the considerable areas of “missional overlap,” there really is one area where Jesus and Santa drastically diverge. And that is the area of THE GIFTS THEY COME TO BRING US. 

In this area, the differences between the two could not be starker.

That’s because Santa comes to fulfill temporal wishes.

 Jesus comes to bring eternal hope.

Temporal wishes are the things you write down on the list that you give to your loved ones (sorry… I mean that you send to the North Pole). They include things like a new FitBit, a new power saw, warm socks, a KC Chiefs stocking hat, and a kayak.

These things may or may not come. If they do, you feel kind of, “joyful and triumphant,” don’t you? 

… for about three days.

If they don’t come (like the new basketball I asked for when I was ten), you feel left out… ignored… forgotten.

Eternal hope, on the other hand, is a totally different kind of gift. The word “eternal” is probably an obvious clue about the nature of this gift. It is the gift that REALLY keeps on giving! It is good NOW, TOMORROW and keeps on being good for your entire life (and beyond!).

It is also available to EVERYONE. Not just those who have a rich benefactor. 

And finally, it is the gift that is perfect for all who receive it. It isn’t made for just one size, shape, or color person. 

I am glad there is a time of year set aside for us to give one another little trinkets and gewgaws that come wrapped with pretty paper and bows. If not for Christmas, I might never get the cool clothes Joan likes to buy me.

But I will be forever grateful that God loved me enough to send the one thing that He knew I really needed…

HOPE eternal.

HOPE incarnate. 

HOPE beyond HOPE…

In other words, his only begotten son.

Abundant blessings;

23
Dec
20

Put Some Meat On It

What has Christmas cost you… so far?

Close up Christmas gift box. Christmas presents in red and brown boxes on Christmas Tree background in loft interior copy space.

And no, I am not talking about the money you have spent on presents… or decorations… or food… or postage for all of those cards… or gas for your car.

In fact, I am not talking about the financial cost of Christmas at all. 

I’m talking about the cost of Christmas…

… To YOU. Personally.

I ask this because – for Christians at least – Christmas is supposed to be about INCARNATION… the word that derives from the Latin carne, meaning meat. Fittingly, the central event of Christmas – the birth of the infant Jesus of Nazareth – was all about God putting MEAT on God’s divine, unconditional, infinite, sacrificial, life-giving, all-affirming LOVE. 

It was history’s ultimate gift. And so we choose to memorialize that act by our own giving. 

But the point of the season is still INCARNATION… that is, putting MEAT on our aspirations. And anytime we do that, there is a cost;

  • It means instead of wishing there wasn’t such a thing as racial injustice in the world, we actually invest our own flesh and blood in helping to end it.
  • It means instead of wishing people didn’t live in poverty, we invest our own flesh and blood in helping relieve poverty for a specific person or group of people.
  • It means instead of wishing we weren’t such a polarized country, we invest our own flesh and blood in helping to bridge that fissure.

However, like most of us, I would rather ASPIRE than PERSPIRE.

I love hoisting the flag of the causes I believe in, or opining passionately on social media, or bending my neighbor’s ear about all the rotten cruelty and injustice there is in the world. 

But when it comes right down to investing my precious blood, sweat, and tears, well, let’s not get too carried away here, shall we? Let’s slow our roll and take it EASY, mmmK?

Except that’s not the actual spirit of Christmas. 

Giving gifts to friends and family is a good start. It symbolizes God’s supreme act of giving that inspired John the Evangelist to write, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NRSV).

But I believe Christmas is meant to spur us to live as GIVERS even after all the wrapping paper has been thrown into the trash. 

In order to fully celebrate Christmas, I believe we are called to “put meat on” the things we say we care about… for each of the other 364 days of the year, too. 

I believe authentically honoring the spirit of Christmas should cost us something.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. May this holiday season mark the beginning of a new life of costly giving.

Abundant blessings;

21
Dec
20

My Christmas of Shame

As the Christmas of my 12th year approached, I wanted a Sting-Ray bike so badly I could taste it.

Everybody has one,” I told my parents, although I’m not sure that was technically true. There were probably one or two 12-year-olds in Bangaladesh who did not have Sting-Ray bicycles.

The bike I did have was functional, but a little clunky. It certainly did NOT have a banana seat or cool, high-rise handlebars, or a sparkly candy apple red paint job. Those deficiencies caused me to be seriously ill-prepared in the “popping wheelies” department. 

Sting-Rays, as I’m sure you are aware, are PERFECT for popping wheelies.

My solution was to beg and beg and whine and moan and complain to my parents, beginning sometime in August. I assured them my life would be ruined if I did not soon possess a Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycle. The shame, I assured them, would redound to them as the parents of The Kid Without a Sting-Ray. 

Of course, it did not enter my childish brain that I was talking about a very major purchase here. We were not what you would call poor, but with five kids and a stay-at-home mother, there was not a lot of room for extravagance at Christmas time. In all likelihood, my heart’s desire might have eaten up 50 percent of the family Christmas present-buying budget.    

Fast forward to Christmas morning. The kids all woke up early – as usual – and ran downstairs to see what Santa had brought us. We impatiently waited as mom and dad took their sweet time coming downstairs, making coffee, and pretending not to know what we were so excited about. 

Stockings were first, by law. Then came the distribution of all of the other wrapped gifts. My eyes kept scanning for a large present in the shape of a Sting-Ray bicycle, to no avail. 

When everything had been passed out, ooo’d and ahhh’d over, squealed with delight for, or grudgingly thanked for (when the gift was a six-pack of new underwear), there was still no Sting-Ray bicycle in sight. Suddenly my dad looked over and said, “Well, I guess that’s it, kids!” and then with a wink my mother chimed in, “Wait a minute, George… what is that I see out there on the front porch?”

“I don’t know,” my father implishly replied. “Why don’t we go out and look!”

We all trooped out to the porch to see what they could possibly be talking about and there – in all its glory – sat a shiny Quasi-Sting-Ray bicycle.

“Oh look, Rusty!” my father proudly proclaimed. “I guess there was one more thing left after all. And I think it is for YOU!”

My father had taken my old bike – the clunky one described above – painted the frame with some metallic, candy-apple red and green paint, and then replaced the original handlebars with high-rise handlebars and the original seat with a Sting-Ray-like banana seat. 

My father had undertaken a labor of love. He had assessed the wants and needs of his five children, weighed them against the available budget, and come up with a creative solution. He spent hours and hours in a secret place in the garage modifying my bike and turning it into the thing I wanted most in the world.

And in return for his love, hard work, and creativity, what did I do? 

I moped. I sulked. I looked down at the ground and tried to hide my deep disappointment.

I think I managed to mumble out a strained, “Thank you,” but my heart wasn’t in it. 

I knew that all of my Sting-Ray owning friends were going to point and laugh at me when I rode my homemade Sting-Ray down the street. It would be just like wearing a placard around my neck that read, “Hi there! We’re poor.” 

I was ashamed of my parents’ gift.

Today though, I am ashamed of me and the way I reacted. 

I look back on that moment with the hard-won knowledge of what it takes to raise a family. I now know that nothing matters more to a parent than lighting up a child’s face with joy. I know parents are hardwired to do whatever it takes to provide for and protect their children and that the only reward any parent ever wants for all of the work and sacrifice is a smile and hearing a heartfelt, “Thank you, dad,” from that child. 

That Christmas I gave my parents none of those gifts. 

Today, as we approach this COVID Christmas, I hope we can look past the PRESENTS and give thanks for the PRESENCE; the presence of love, the presence of family, and the presence of God incarnate, as the real gifts of this season. 

Merry Christmas and abundant blessings;

03
Jan
20

Back to the Grind

fireworksAll I can say today is a loud, “Whew!”

Another Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year/Hannaukah/Kwaanza/Festivus season has come and gone and has successfully wrung me out like a wet dishrag.

And just to make things extra merry and bright, this year Joan and I decided to add “uprooting and moving to a different city and state” to our list of holiday festivities. Based on our experience, I can safely offer you this hard-won advice: DON’T DO IT!

I am reluctant to do so, but I will go ahead and admit it; for all of the stress and strain at this time of year, it is also kind of fun. True, there is a lot of work involved in “making spirits bright,” even with our family’s low-key approach.

Even so, there is something attractive to me about the event-centered life: you know, the one that involves regular cycles of visualizing, planning, preparing, anticipating, implementing, cleaning up, and then starting all over again.

But now, here I sit, gazing out the window… with all the holiday commotion behind and not much merrymaking ahead on the horizon.

Today is just a regular old routine Friday in early January… with regular old daily routine stuff to do.

Isn’t it glorious?

As much a fan as I am of Special Events, Holidays, Mass Celebrations (such as Independence Day, etc.), and other such hi-jinks, I also realize they can easily distract us from a simple, but important truth about life: the truth that reminds us that most of the time, life happens in the “in-between times.”

You know what I mean. I am talking about those times when we aren’t popping champagne corks or lighting the fuses of firecrackers, or ripping some beautifully-wrapped paper from a lovely gift.

Life happens when we are sweeping the kitchen floor.

Life happens when we are paying the bills.

Life happens when we are chopping onions for Taco Tuesday.

Life happens when we are shaving, or bathing, or dressing, or doing the laundry, or mowing the lawn, or feeding the dogs, or taking out the garbage.

Life happens on the plains and in the valleys… not just on the mountain tops.

That is an essential part of the message of the Christmas season we just came through. The Eternal Word did not decide to become flesh in a palace surrounded by attendants, gold lampstands, and chariots.

Incarnation happened instead in a dull, uninspiring, routine place to a couple of dull, uninspiring, routine people… as if to tell us all, “See! The miraculous has a home in the mundane! Do not overlook anything or anyone in life. EVERYTHING is pregnant with possibility! Every moment can be a holy moment! The wonder of life is not confined to the moments of special celebration! Wake up and smell the roses, people! It is all right there at your fingertips!”

… or words to that effect.

The challenge for me this year – as it is every year – will be to actually practice what I preach and to recognize the daily blessings that rain down upon me.

Excuse me while I put on another pot of coffee and just soak in the moment…

25
Dec
19

Christmas Blessings to YOU!

Christmas blessings

24
Dec
19

Special Delivery

amazon-package-on-sorting-belt“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:6, NRSV

The doorbell rang. I hopped up from my place on the couch, headed over to the front door to open it.

No one was there, of course. I say “of course” because this is the Christmas season after all.

Our unknown visitor approached the house, dropped off a cardboard box emblazoned with the familiar Amazon smile logo, and departed to continue on with his (or her) endless list of package deliveries.

Suddenly reassured that we were not about to be visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses, a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, or a nefarious prankster, my attention turned completely to the box o’ Christmas goodies.

I immediately forgot all of the invisible people – ending with that delivery driver – who made this moment of Christmas magic happen. I no longer saw the person who studied all of the options and carefully chose THIS ONE from the website. I overlooked the person in the warehouse who printed the order, the one who retrieved it from the shelf, the one who packed it, labeled it, put it in the shipping queue, and that certain someone who loaded it on the truck.

As I sat there, gleefully tearing open my box, I became voluntarily blind to the long list of people who made that moment possible.

And I am not at all proud to admit it, but that is the way it is most of the time for me. I hungrily receive the gifts God pours at my feet without a moment’s thought about the litany of collaborators involved in bringing them to me.

Today Joan and I prepare to enjoy a quiet, low-key version of Christmas at our new home in Colorado. There will be some food, there will be carols, there will be cookies, presents under the tree, and a time of worship where we remember what this season is really all about.

And for every element of that celebration – even in its most unassuming form – there is a long supporting cast of characters who helped make it all happen.

So today I want to pause a moment and say, “Thank you. I see you…” to:

  • Delivery drivers
  • Police officers
  • City utility workers
  • Hospital staff
  • Maintenance workers
  • Pastors
  • Church secretaries
  • Church musicians
  • Pilots
  • Air traffic controllers
  • Radio and TV announcers
  • Highway crews
  • Retail clerks
  • Website designers

… and countless other people working unnoticed and largely unacknowledged to make sure the rest of us have a chance to experience the joy of this holiday season.

I also want to pray a prayer of hope for those who agonize over the absence of departed loved ones during the Christmas season. May you experience a spark of healing today… even if it is tiny.

16
Dec
19

Christmas Difference

Christmas PlaceChristmas 2019 is going to be very different for me from most Christmases in my recent memory.

For one thing, Joan and I will celebrate this Christmas in a whole different part of the country. That is because on November 21 we moved from Overland Park, Kansas to Fort Collins, Colorado… as fortune would have it, just two days before the skies opened and dropped fifteen and one-half inches of snow on Fort Collins, Colorado.

Timing is indeed everything.

Christmas in a new town with new neighbors and new community traditions will probably bring an engaging hybrid of emotions of disorientation and intrigue. I am sure there is a lot of similarity in the way Coloradans and Kansans celebrate the Yuletide, but you never know…

This is also going to be our first Christmas in the past 10 years we have not been part of the Christmas Place experience. For the uninitiated, Christmas Place is the name our former neighborhood adopts between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. It is the time when all 22 homes on those two perpendicular cul-de-sacs try to outdo one another in sheer electrical voltage drawdown. If you ever saw the movie, Christmas with the Cranks, you know exactly the scene I am describing.

If I sound a little jaded and grinchy about the whole thing, it is probably because I am… a little bit. Putting the lights and displays up in November and taking them back down again in January (or whenever) is a gigantic pain in the butt. On the other hand, the delight our efforts bring to the wider community never fails to dissolve that pain completely away. Tour buses from nearby senior citizen homes and lines of cars stream through Christmas Place every evening just to “OOOO!!” and “AHHHH!!” our handiwork.

This year, however, will be a very different scene at ChezBrown. Our new Fort Collins home will have, A.) a giant wreath hung on the front of the garage, and B.) our large nativity scene in the yard.

That’s it!! (Please don’t tell the folks back in Kansas!)

But the thing that might be the most different about Christmas 2019 will be that for the first time in a really long time, I will not be leading Advent and Christmas Eve worship services anywhere! I will instead be there sitting there in a pew, holding my lovely bride’s hand, participating in a service that someone else has designed and is fretting over the details of.

And I know I will be smiling the whole time.

My heart really goes out to those clergy families who experience the entire Advent and Christmas season as a non-stop flurry of activities, deadlines, obligations, projects, and expectations. It is the usual stress of the holy season times three for these folks.

That is why, knowing that stress and turmoil as intimately as I do, I am really looking forward to experiencing Christmas from the peanut gallery, as it were. This will be a time to see whether I am actually capable of slowing down, breathing deeply, opening my eyes, and soaking in the spirit of the moment instead of feeling the need to frenetically stage-manage a hundred different projects, all building to a climactic crescendo at 12:01 a.m. Christmas morning.

But with all that will be different about Christmas 2019 at our house, I am sure many other things will be exactly the same… foremost among those the time of celebrating God’s greatest gift to the world.

So how about you? What kind of Christmas will Christmas 2019 be for you? Will it be a time of change?… a time of cherished tradition?… a time of epic busyness?… or maybe a time of deep sadness and grief?

And maybe more importantly, how will we each make it a time to recommit our hearts to giving and receiving God’s gift of unconditional, sacrificial love?

11
Nov
19

No magic wand

The-Roman-Destruction-and-Rebuilding-of-Jerusalem-A14Have you ever played the “magic wand” game?

That’s the game where someone says to you, “If you could wave a magic wand and change ONE THING about your life, what would it be?”

If you are anything like me, you have a really tough time answering that question.

The list of things I would like to change about myself is at least as long as my arm. Would it be the bags under my eyes? Or my gimpy left knee? Maybe I should go with my dismal level of self-discipline at the dinner table, or the erratic nature of my prayer life.

I find the idea of choosing just one thing to be an exercise in utter futility.

If I were a citizen of Israel in the time of Jesus, my answer to the magic wand question would have sprung from my lips even before the person finished asking the question. I would probably have said something like, “I would wave that magic wand and ask that the Messiah would arrive and liberate us from these loathsome Roman oppressors.”

In just a few short weeks, the Christian part of the world will formally (and in some places EXTRAVAGANTLY) celebrate the granting of the first part of that magic wand wish. God’s Anointed Messiah did indeed arrive in Bethlehem of Judea. He came disguised as a tiny, helpless baby born in a barn to a frightened teenage mother and an older, forgiving, earthly father.

Poor people (in the guise of shepherds), rich people (in the guise of Magi from the East), and heavenly hosts stopped everything and celebrated this breaking news, headline event.

The problem was, Jesus’ birth did not accomplish the SECOND part of the magic wand wish. Meaning this Messiah’s arrival did NOT succeed in liberating Israel from Rome’s harsh political yoke.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

The historical record shows us that things actually got much worse for Israel in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. The ultimate defeat for Israel came in Rome’s annihilation of hundreds of Jews and the total destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in the year 70 AD, as depicted above.

For Israel – and for the world – the birth of the Messiah was indeed Good News. But it was certainly no magic wand. Jesus’ birth and ministry did absolutely nothing to change the circumstances of his world. What it DID do, however, was to absolutely transform the way his followers were able to relate to those circumstances.

I know, I know… this is really an inappropriately early time to start thinking Christmas and Advent thoughts, and so I will beg your forgiveness on that score. I suppose I have been prompted in this direction by looking around and observing a world that seems to be increasingly enamored of “magic wand solutions.” We buy fistfuls of lottery tickets, hoping that the magic wand of MONEY will help… we change jobs, spouses, hairstyles, homes, and sometimes even bodies hoping one of these magic wands will save us.

I think the Christmas story is meant to be a reminder that the “glad tidings of great joy” was not a magic wand when it first arrived on the scene.

Maybe a better idea for all of us this season would be to quiet ourselves at the side of the manger and remember that the real work of salvation was always intended to work from the inside out instead of the other way around.

Abundant blessings;

“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”(Matthew 1:21, NRSV)

24
Jan
19

Tree of Light

christmas treeYes, it’s true.

Today is January 24 and our Christmas tree is still up.

Fully decorated and lighted.

Know what else?

It will probably be up for another two days.

Every other scrap of indoor and outdoor Christmas décor has been carefully returned to its off-season storage place… waiting patiently for next year’s winter pageant.

But somehow we felt the need to hang on to the tree… for just a little while longer.

It might be because it has been a rougher-than-usual winter this year.

Part of that roughness is because it is snowier and colder here this year than the past six years combined. The childlike wonder with which I once greeted a snowstorm evaporated about the time I stopped celebrating school’s cancellation for a SNOW DAY.

For the past week, we have also been trying to cope with a sudden and heartbreaking end to the professional football season here in our hometown. I mean, sure… in the grand scheme of things, it is a trifling concern. But sometimes football fans forget to focus on “the grand scheme of things.”

I suspect there might be another reason we feel the need to hang on to the lights and shiny ornaments a little longer than usual.

I suspect it might have something to do with a shadow that fell onto our house about four months ago; a shadow that first showed up on a routine CAT scan that led to nine weeks of chemotherapy, a major surgery, and nine more weeks of chemotherapy; a shadow that caused both silent and out loud tears to be shed, but which also brought forth amazing outpourings of prayer, love, support, and hope.

So yes, we still kind of feel the need to have the tree here to twinkle and blink and light up the room.

But we are just about ready to pack it up and then try and see if we can find another source of light and joy.

I think I just might have an idea…




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