Monday, December 21, 2015

Joy to the World!
Christmas is not the Distractions

In Dr. Seuss' beloved Christmas Tale - The Grinch exclaims, "Oh the Noise, Noise, Noise...the one thing I simply can't stand is all the noise"!  Sometimes the Holidays can feel just like that.  It's easy to be overwhelmed by all the "noise" surrounding the Christmas season and the sensory overload that goes with it - Pictures with Santa, decorations, presents to buy, meals to plan, gatherings to attend.  For some this can be overwhelming to say the least.

As we see throughout the Bible God is not in the noise.  When God comes to the prophet Elijah he comes as a whisper in the silence.  Although Elijah first looks for him in the earthquake and fire - God is not there!  It's easy to look for God in these places because the loudest noises grab our immediate's human nature (survival mechanism) to tend to the fires first...and when there are many fires  to put out there is certainly no time to see or hear God in our busy lives.  This is life as we know it - the commercial version of Christmas just seems to magnify this fact.

I attended a talk given by Rob Bell where he mentioned that to truly see God one must slow way down.  There are burning bushes all around us but most of us are moving way too fast to see them.  God is in our lives and God is speaking to us.  So what are we to do about this dilemma?  God knows we live in the "real" world and for many of us we are firefighting day-to-day.  Our lives are filled with noise!  Even during the creation of the world God stops and rests... a way to gain perspective, a chance to step back from it all and see that it is indeed all good! 

That's why one of the greatest gifts God has bestowed to us is the gift of Sabbath...a day of rest.  A day to stop the routines; and for some of us a day to stop the madness so we can see and hear God all around us.  Sabbath is not designed for God - it's for us.  A chance to reboot and become grounded once again in what's most important in our lives: our relationships (with God and those closest to us).

There's a song "I Need A Silent Night" by Amy Grant that goes like this

I've made the same mistake before
Too many malls, too many stores
December traffic, Christmas rush
It breaks me till I push and shove

Children are crying while mothers are trying
To photograph Santa and sleigh
The shopping and buying and standing forever in line
What can I say?

I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here
To end this crazy day with a silent night

December comes then disappears
Faster and faster every year
Did my own mother keep this pace
Or was the world a different place?

Where people stayed home wishing for snow
Watching three channels on their TV
Look at us now rushing around
Trying to buy Christmas peace

I need a silent night...

              May you come to find God in the silence and see God in all the burning bushes that are right there besides you.  This Advent season challenge yourself to slow down and prepare to receive the gift of Christ in your life.  Open the gift of Sabbath for you and your family this Christmas Season - for it brings true peace in you and true peace on earth as we prepare to receive God’s greatest gift to us – God’s love coming into the world in the form of Jesus.

Merry Christmas & Shalom!
your faithful servant,


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas – The gift is in the giving!

Much of the Holidays are surrounded with the giving and receiving of gifts.  Giving and Receiving are ingrained into the very way of our existence.  You can’t just breathe in for instance.  You can’t just receive without giving.  When I was in Israel the locals would say that the Dead Sea is “dead” because it only receives from the rivers around it.  It gives nothing back!  Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury.  Many rich people put in large sums.  A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins.  Then he called his disciples and said to them, “truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  For all of them have given from their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had.”  Jesus had no interest in judging the people, only in observing this women’s heart.  She was giving from a certain mindset, not just a way of thinking but more importantly a way of being!  She gave from a different reality - that of the kingdom of God.

The Biblical way of generosity goes something like this:  EVERYTHING we have is a gift; even the means to earn a living is a gift!  Every breath we take and every talent we have are all gifts from the grace of God.  So giving is the natural act of sharing these gifts with our community in the kingdom of God.  Jesus actually talks more on the subject of possessions vs. anything else – WHY; because Jesus knows our hearts.  He knows we often serve our “stuff”.  He wants us to put God first in our lives and to live from that reality.  Paul tells us that it is better to give than to receive.  In the Greco - Roman culture giving was seen in a reciprocal way.  One gives with the expectation of later receiving something in return – an if/then mindset!  Our culture operates in much the same way.  At Christmas many of us give a gift expecting one in return.  Some of us even look at God as a kind of vending machine: we put in our time, money or prayers and we want something from God in return.

In order to be a giving person we must first live into that reality.  It is in the very act of giving that we become generous - not in thinking about it or by looking at our finances.  Our Rituals: like stewardship, advent, Christmas…and every Sunday are opportunities for us to enter into a practice which shapes our hearts and conversely shapes our reality!  When our hearts reveal that everything we have is a gift, then giving becomes natural.  It’s not ours to hold but ours to share.  This is how we connect with one another - this is how we connect with God!  Generosity comes from the heart - It is never about money!  Emerson said “Jewels and Rings are not gifts but apologies for gifts.  The only true gift is giving a portion of thyself!”  God wants the same thing.  God wants us, our hearts, even as He reaches out with all that God has in the person of Jesus.  God’s being lives into the reality that it is more blessed to give than to receive!

There is more than money involved in this story of Jesus and the woman in the Temple.  It is a principle of life, it’s the kingdom of God made manifest – it is the face of God’s Grace.  All I am is His.  God owns it all. There is nothing in my life that does not first belong to Him.  When we give to others in selfless acts and when we share communal love with one another we come to see that the kingdom of God is within reach - within us.  This is where God is - Emmanuel - God with us.

Jesus models this heart of giving by giving all of himself for us.  Each Sunday when we enter the church and we give of ourselves - to each other and to God.  We offer presents upon the altar.  We share in the sacrificial feast - given in love to a community of love.  When experienced this way, each Sunday too becomes the act of giving and receiving – as natural as breathing in and out.

Here we come to realize that God is, was, and will be with us always in the giving of oneself!  We remember each Sunday and we remember each Christmastime.  This peace...this stillness...this feeling of being at One with all of creation.  This is the real gift we give to our children and to one another.  Just as this is the gift that God gives to each one of us.  This is Christmas!  Right here is Emmanuel - Right here God is truly with us.

Merry Christmas!
Your faithful servant,


Monday, December 7, 2015

Image result for mary on a donkey clipart

Christmastime is Love

Christmastime is that beautiful time of the year where many of our strongest memories reside.  As children, December is remembered as an almost magical time when our deepest desires have the potential to become reality.  As children everything seems larger than life...the world seems to stand still.  There is excitement in the air, there is peace, there is love.  As families and communities we re-create this experience for one another at Christmastime - Trees, Lights, Presents, Food, Family, A Baby - Hope!

Many of us prepare all month (if not sooner) for this Holiday.  As Christians we also prepare all month for this Holyday.  During Advent we prepare our hearts, minds and bodies for the coming of the Lord - We look for that day when God will be with us - Emmanuel!  The goal is that the Holiday and Holyday become entwined somewhere along the way.  It's easy for us to get so caught up in the preparations that we lose the real miracle of this Holy Day Season.

The decorations are there to distract us from our day to day existence - our routines, our jobs, our labels and the day to day stresses that seem to endlessly bombard us at times.  These are the things we believe our lives are about.  The decorations are there to snap us out of the hypnotic quality of the world.  The presents we share reminds us that it's not about us, but about giving and sharing what we have with others.  We focus on others by giving of our time, our resources and our selves - our love, God's love, poured out into the world.  The family feast shared becomes a sacred and communal act of love that is shared.  During this time we share our love with those we love and those who love us, and perhaps even with those outside our own families.

These elements combine to bring families and people together at a much deeper level than we see in our day-to-day way of life.   They also bring us in communion with God...through Christ being with us in Spirit.  When Christmas is experienced this way, it becomes magical and otherworldly - sacred and holy.  Being in communion with God and each other we receive a glimpse of heaven, the kingdom of God here and now!   Our children, without the filters of our daily burdens and routines, immediately grasp the "spirit" of this season and at once feel connected to their loved ones and to the unseen parent who is reflected in the joy of those around them.  Our children inherently connect to the Christmas Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) made manifest in the world at this time.

We come to realize that the overwhelming love of God is experienced when we see our lives as the real illusion.  When we give to others in selfless acts and when we share communal love with one another we come to see that the kingdom of God is within reach...within us.  This is where God is - Emmanuel - God with us...always!

Each Sunday when we enter the church - the decorations distract us from our daily routines.  We leave our earthly ties outside.  Here we give of ourselves - to each other and to God.  We offer presents upon the altar.  We share in the sacrificial feast given in love to a community of love.  When experienced this way, each Sunday too becomes holy and sacred.  This is when we see God in the mass, in our neighbors and in ourselves.

Here we come to realize that God is, was, and will be with us always - Emmanuel!  We remember each Sunday and we remember each Christmastime.  This is why people who spend Christmas alone sometimes feel disconnected and deeply troubled.  They see themselves as apart from this communal love that's all around them.  They fail to realize that God is with them too.  At Christmas we must reach out and reconnect with those who seem alone at this time. 

This peace...this stillness...this feeling of being at One in love with all of creation...this feeling of unconditional love and giving to one another - this shalom is the real gift we give to our children and to one another.  Just as this is the real gift God gives to each of his children.  This is Christmastime!  Right here is Emmanuel - Right here is God with us - his children.   Shalom!

your faithful servant,