Blog Number Forty-Five
Baby Jesus has a home!
Eight years ago I was a little astonished when I came to Bergenfield. We did not have an outside nativity. Instead we had two lighted angels holding trumpets. Now I have nothing against angels but they are hardly a substitute for Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Several years ago a congregational family contributed an outdoor nativity to us. Since then, the Holy Family has sat outside to let the neighbors know that there is more to Christmas than Santa and the elves. The nativity has been a very good witness. I was always a little disappointed that although we had the nativity characters we did not have a stable for them.
This year another family in the church contributed a stable. The Momma of the family supervised as she got her boys to build one. Momma dropped it off today and she and I assembled it, arranged the figures and even highlighted it with a spotlight! It is a wonderful addition to the outside of our property. Jesus now has a home.
How about our homes and hearts? Does Jesus have enough of a place in them? Is our Christmas different from people of the world? Do we act more Christ-like than our secular neighbors? Do we think, feel and act differently than the neighbors for whom Christmas is only Santa?
As Jesus’ people let us make sure that we really act so that people can tell the difference between us and the people of the world.
I had a dream last night. In this dream I was the painter in a resort. The resort looked like it might be on an island near an ocean. I was busy painting walls when I was told that a major storm was coming and that we needed to “shelter in place.” I continued to paint as employees scrambled to prepare the resort for the storm that was coming.
Finally the furniture was stowed and the people in the shelter waiting for the storm to arrive. I continued to paint under a sunny sky. Managers were telling me to stop painting and to shelter. I was telling them that I would shelter when the storm came. Until then I was there to paint and I would continue to paint.
They told me to shelter but I continued to paint. We had a major disagreement as to what our mission was. They felt that the mission was to huddle for fear of a storm that had not yet arrived and my belief was that the mission was to paint.
What does this mean? I think a few things:
- Let us not forget what our mission is. In this dream mine was to paint. What is our goal as congregations? Is it missions and discipleship? Let us no loose focus on our mission.
- There is a time when we face real storms but there are times when there really isn’t a storm but we think there is. We need to discern what storms are real and which ones exist only in our minds.
- Is painting really what needs doing? It is nice to keep focused but with a storm coming is painting really a priority?
The worries we have. Are they real or invented? The priorities we set. Are they the correct ones? Let us be persistent as we work but let us make sure that the work we do is the correct work.
Three wonderful Millennials rescued me from my ignorance. My cell phone has been dying. Recently people have been complaining that they “had trouble” hearing me on the phone. This annoyed me. My phone was only one year old. Surely a fourteen-dollar phone should last longer than a year. This reminded me that one year ago my last fourteen-dollar phone stopped working after only one year. Maybe fourteen-dollar phone only last one year. Planned obsolescence perhaps?
What I needed was a phone that I could place my old SIM card into and continue with my current plan on a new phone. I carefully did my web research as to what phone would fit my desires. I became completely confused. Finally I decided to go to the big box electronics store and look the phone over myself.
After a bit of time facing Jersey traffic and navigating a crowded parking lot I was in the store and looking over what seemed like millions of phone options. I was more confused than ever. The employees in the department were all busy. I flagged down another employee and was told that it wasn’t his department. I was ready to leave for home with my old phone in despair when three young men arrived to look over the latest “smart” phones. They appeared to be high school aged.
In desperation I asked them for help and explained what I was trying to do. In an instant they led me to an aisle (not the one that I had been looking at) and began to explore options. They held up one phone (the same fourteen dollar phone that I now had) and told me never to buy that brand. They called it a word that I won’t repeat. I felt stupid.
Within a minute or two they handed me a phone whose specs they had examined and told me that this phone should last “a lifetime.” I wondered whether it was their lifetime or mine. I thanked them and they walked away. This phone cost me thirty dollars. I guess that is not a lot for a “lifetime.”
Life’s lesson: don’t ignore our youth for a moment. The moment we ignore a generation, we take the first step toward extinction. Thank you, boys. I owe you.
Never in all my life was I on Santa’s bad list. I received presents under the Christmas tree each and every Christmas. I feel sorry for those who got on the bad kids list and got no presents. I like the system of the good kids getting rewarded and the bad kids getting nothing. There is a certain justice to it.
Jesus confuses me. At times he seems to be the opposite of Santa Clause. Do you notice some of the contrasts?
Santa lives in a mansion and leaves it for one day each year. Jesus lived in a mansion and left it for all thirty-three years of his life. Magical animals transport Santa and Jesus had to walk. Santa comes to nice warm houses and Jesus came to a really cold stable.
I believe that the two most significant contrasts are:
- Santa brings material things that will break and be forgotten while Jesus brings us the offer of relationship that can last forever.
- Santa comes to the good kids (no matter how we define good and to promise of tomorrow’s actions) while Jesus comes to the bad kids to help them become better. Santa is concerned about yesterday’s behavior and Jesus looks to the future.
If you want something that lasts forever that will make you a better person, choose the gift of Jesus, not Santa. Jesus is the gift that lasts forever.
A friend of mine recently told me the philosophy that she learned from years of working in the corporate world: “You are only as good as your last mistake.” If this were true, I wouldn’t last long in the corporate world. I average about three mistakes in every fifteen-second cycle.
I’m grateful that God treats us a bit differently. God is constantly working not to view us by our mistakes but to transform us from broken people of mistakes into whole people walking the road toward purity. We who strive to obey God are not as good as our mistakes. We are as good as God declares us to be. In response we strive to grow to be better. In short, we find redemption.
One of the classic Christmas stories that we grew up with is the “Grinch who stole Christmas.” In this story, the Grinch is not judged by the horrible deeds that he has done. Instead he finds redemption through the joyous Christmas music of the Who’s from Who Ville. He is transformed by Christmas and responds.
The world might view you by your mistakes but God judges us by redemption. As redeemed people we have the power to sing our songs of love that others might hear the songs and be redeemed. Who knows what Grinches might hear our songs, be redeemed, and join us in celebrating Christmas with “Roast Beast.”
My mother died one year ago yesterday. This was our first Thanksgiving since her death although she was unable to attend last year’s festivities as she was in hospice. People are now checking in with me and asking me how I am doing. I’ll try to answer that question.
I’m doing OK. It is sad that my Mom died but she lived into her 80’s and the Bible tells us that a lifespan is 70 years and if you are strong, 80 years. She lived a full life.
I’m doing OK. One of our jobs is to bury our parents. It is sad when we do that but it is part of life. The tragedy is when parents bury children. That is not right. Children burying parents is expected.
I’m doing OK. My mother was sick for 18 months. During that time we had plenty of conversations. When she died we had no “unfinished business” and no “I wish had said” moments. We had time to finish up our business.
I’m doing OK. It was hard to see my mother in such pain that cancer brings. I am relieved that for her pain is over.
I’m doing OK. In her later weeks and days I got to care for her and feed her soup. I got to do for her what she did for me when I was a child. I’m glad that I was able to return the favor.
I’m really doing OK. Cooker is now in heaven. She was related to, and served Jesus the Lord. Her place in heaven is secure. She now rests in the peace of the Lord Jesus. I couldn’t want anything else for her.
I miss her but I’m doing OK and she is doing great.
I can’t take credit for this story as it was told to me by a twenty-something friend on the day after Thanksgiving. To protect confidentiality I am changing names and a few circumstances. My twenty-something friend will be known as “John” and John’s friend will be known as “Jim.”
John told me the following story:
Jim asked me to help him at his church on Thanksgiving morning. His church does a community Thanksgiving dinner. Sometimes they get up to 100 guests at this dinner. Everything is home-cooked. A fair amount of homeless come to this, and the marginally poor. The church wants these people to get a least one good home-cooked meal each year. I was more than willing to help and Jim invited me home to his house for his family Thanksgiving afterward. I was grateful to be invited and baked a pie to bring along.
The church program went well. Everyone was well feed with homemade food and people sat around tables talking to one another. We had good food and even better community. When at last it was completed we drove the short distance to Jim’s house. His large family would be gathering. I carried in my pie and waited to smell the wonderful smell of roasting Turkey.
We walked in and I was surprised to see a store-bought meal. No home-cooking here. No smell of roasting Turkey. No one attempted to sit together as we had at church. People gathered in small groups spread out, each doing his own desire. People ignored my homemade pie to feast on store bought pie. No one, especially me, seemed to enjoy the day.
I wonder if this family would have enjoyed Thanksgiving better had they treated themselves to a home cooked meal as they had done to the neighbors of the church. Why did they treat themselves less well than others?
Next year I will help at the church meal but celebrate Thanksgiving elsewhere where people love themselves as much as they love others.
What do you call people getting up early to cook for people who are not relatives? How do you define people who go out of their way in snow to pick up people who have difficulty traveling? What do you call people contributing food to feed people when they are unable to partake in the food themselves? What do you call twenty people pooling time, talents, and treasures to feed non-relatives? In Bergenfield we call this “the church.”
We were “the church” today as we gathered to celebrate a congregational Thanksgiving dinner. We didn’t hold worship, but we did pray. We didn’t have communion, but we did share a loving meal. We didn’t sing hymns but we listened to the joyous sounds of Christmas music as we feasted, talked and laughed.
Several people could not come by their own means and they were supplied rides. Others were unable to come, even with assistance, and they had take out dinners delivered to them. It was the church both within the walls and outside the walls; God’s people nurturing one another.
Governor Christie, upon seeing the slight bit of weather that we had, declared a “state of emergency” for our state. At Clinton Avenue Reformed Church we saw no “state of emergency.” Instead we saw a “state of grace.” Maybe the governor should have joined us. We celebrated being the church and were blessed by it.
It is sad that Michael Brown was killed and his family now faces the holidays with their son now dead. I am grateful that I did not have to sit on the grand jury that would examine all manner of evidence and listen to contradictory witnesses. I don’t know what happened on the day that he was killed but it is sad no matter what.
Instead of honoring his memory, why do angry people dishonor his memory by behaving badly? Ferguson, which has an unemployment rate almost double the national average now has more people unemployed because the businesses they worked in have been burned down. Innocent neighbors are now trapped in their homes and will have to eventually find other places to shop because stores are burned or closed. New businesses will be reluctant to open in Ferguson after what happened to these businesses. The rioters have hurt their innocent neighbors.
The people who act badly do not honor Michael Brown’s memory. They leave a horrible legacy that will always be attached to him. Rioters, if you care about Michael, stop acting so stupidly. You are hurting yourselves and your innocent neighbors. Nothing good can come from this. Instead, put your energy into something that might honor the memory of Michael in a positive way.
Each Saturday our informal worship group gathers at the River Edge Diner for a book study. It is rather fun and at times proves to be intriguing for people at adjacent tables who are leaning in to hear what we are talking about. It is a good way for us to let those who don’t know God that some of God’s people are around.
The group has gotten a rather friendly relationship with our usual waitress and I often have a friendly conversation with the hostess/cashier. They seem to enjoy our business and we certainly enjoy the friendly service and meals. The relationship seems to work for all of us. So what do I need your prayers for?
Last Saturday our group invited these two ladies to our Thanksgiving Dinner that will be held this Wednesday at noon. They seemed touched that we invited them, and interested but somewhat hesitant. It is not easy to accept an invitation to a church event when you are not an active church participant. I solicit your prayers in getting these two kindly ladies to accept our invitation and hospitality. Only the spirit of God can bring people into our fellowship and I covet your prayers that God’s spirit will do that for these two ladies.
Will you pray for them to accept? Please?