(Always) Entering Bethlehem (Again)

Luke 2:41-52 (and Luke 2:1-20 & even a measure of Matthew) – 1st Sunday after Christmas (but during Christmas, too) – for Sunday, December 30, 2012)

“…Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”  (Luke 2:41-52)

MaryJosephWe entered the town, cold and hungry. And so very dark, maybe even darker than the open road a few miles before, when the stars slicked the horizon and the moon, fat in the hard winter sky, cast light across fields and created shadows on the undulating hills.

Our donkey kicked loose stones along the well-used Bethlehem streets. At first, when rock and hoof met, the clattering seemed the only noise. People slept, doors were shuttered, candles extinguished. Then at one place movement, a face briefly peering out the window, a hint that someone watched and also a hope that a room or even a protected corner might be available for rent or barter. We knocked there. No answer. We tried another place. And another. In the distance, beyond the village, sheep baaed, wind stirred, and we turned the corner to search the next street for . . .

“Hey, Larry, how ya doing?”

Shocked and disoriented, I slowed my running pace and looked at the fellow runner alongside me. In a split-second I’d shifted centuries, from lonely Bethlehem to the paved roads of southwestern Wisconsin.

My interrupted thoughts on that frigid wintry morning in Wisconsin are one of my many vivid memories of Christmas. It was 1989 and the Christmas Eve service loomed mere days away. In those days, years ago and before four knee surgeries, I ran. I served three small country churches, like a good old Methodist circuit rider, in the middle of Wisconsin’s prime dairy country. When I ran, even on the icy and snowy days, I loped along rutted county routes kept open for the deliveries of milk from farm to the local processor. And when I ran, with a Sunday always in front of me, I thought of upcoming sermons or classes or counseling sessions.

On that morning, with a Christmas Eve sermon to soon be delivered, I’d left the twentieth century. I’d forgotten the parsonage where I lived and ignored the entrance to a church member’s farm. I wandered through Bethlehem, imagining Joseph and Mary and a soon-to-be event that would transform the world and reveal the power of God’s unfailing tenderness and . . . Continue reading →

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I Believe…

Luke 1:39-45 – The 4th Sunday of Advent – for December 23, 2012

“And blessed is she who believed…” (Luke 1:45)

I am “skirting” Bethlehem this year. Click here for why.

Used cleverly, words disguise our inner self. Used honestly, words reveal our inner self.

What do you believe?

What do you think?

What do you know?

Which of the above questions—and its answer—would influence you the most when seeking a deeper relationship with another?

Since you’re a clever human bean, you might hedge your response by claiming it depends on the subject of the question and the asker of the query. True enough, but in general are you more interested in what another believes or thinks or knows about . . .

 Abortion. Abstinence. Allah. Birth control. Boxers or briefs. Cats or dogs. Christmas. Death penalty. Disarming a bomb. Gay rights. Global warming. God. Good guys finishing last. Heaven. Hell. Jesus. Love at first sight. Mindfulness. Opposites attract. Premarital sex. Reincarnation. Resurrection. Santa Claus. Sexual orientation. Shaken or stirred. Virgin birth. YHWH*

Of course, specifically . . . if two good guys (and let’s say I’m one of those good guys) were trapped in a room with a ticking bomb during Christmas, I’d prefer to know the other person can disarm bombs and really don’t care what he or she thinks about boxers vs. briefs or believes about abstinence.

What we believe/think/know about something, or what another person believes/thinks/knows about something, is always situational. Which is to say, are you planning to marry the other person or are you sharing an elevator ride to the tenth floor?

And yet I’m mostly a firm believer in belief.

During Advent and Christmas, I suspect many suspend knowing or thinking to enthusiastically (or reluctantly) embrace belief. What do we know about Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem? What do you think about those three wise men? Oops, sorry, we have no idea if there were three or thirty magi, though we know three gifts were mentioned in one insignificant (or magnificent) passage in a single Gospel. What do you KNOW about Jesus’ birth? I mean the real birth. The date. The place. The witnesses. What do you THINK about Jesus’ birth? Was Mary a virgin, did angels sing and how much fretting and scheming did Herod do? How much of a chasm exists between what you know/think and your BELIEFS? Is the difference a gap as modest as a manger or bigger than a barn?

What do I believe about Christmas? (And you can ask yourself the same question . . . what are your deepest, most real and revealing beliefs about this holy, peculiar season?)

Do you want to know what I believe? Continue reading →

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In Between Times

I wonder . . . what Christmas do you remember?

No, no, no – I’m not talking about when you were a kid and there was that special toy or the year you were ten and skated in New York’s Rockefeller Center and the night was magical or when you surprised “Santa” near the tree as he (er, your father, brother, uncle) munched on the peanut butter cookies you left while putting a pony under the tree.

No childhood memories, please.

Be a card-carrying adult about it, long past the so-called magic time. After cynicism and weariness arrived . . . and enthusiasm and innocence left the building a decade or more ago. And yet, you still felt Christmas’ deepest meanings…

This is one for me . . . as I started working at my last church, I was leaving a job as a hospice chaplain. The congregation had an early and late Christmas Eve service. But I promised one hospice patient I’d visit her that night . . . and so I drove to her home between the two celebrations. Joy to the World echoed for me. Laughter still resonated from a Christmas Eve children’s sermon. And there was the exhaustion of the season. However, for a few moments, with a mother who was dying and a daughter who cared for her, I sat in a quiet dark house. We prayed. We swapped long ago family memories. I became, in the season of wonderment, I silent holder of hands and whisperer of God’s forever good news. Unto us a child is born, but there is still dying and death. And, with dying and death, there is still a silent night, a holy night, a time and place of embracing others.

I’ll always remember that night. And what of you . . .?

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