Shining

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 I love Advent. I love that every year the Christian lectionary calendar celebrates the coming of Christ for four weeks before Christmas. We celebrate the coming of Christ through his birth into the world, we celebrate the coming of Christ into believer’s lives throughout history, and we celebrate that Christ will return one day in divine glory. thTraditional Advent liturgies involve the weekly lighting of candles on an Advent wreath. The four candles around the wreath represent hope, peace, joy and love. The candle in the center is the Christ candle, representing Jesus, the Light of the world.

Isn’t it fascinating that we light these inspirational candles as winter approaches, when daylight gives way to night? As days get shorter, the candles remind us that Jesus is the source of our hope, peace, joy and love. Christmas comes soon after the winter solstice on December 21, the shortest day of the year. On Christmas we light the Christ candle, acknowledging that the Light of the world has pushed back the darkness.

Have you ever noticed how people are inspired when they see someone say or do the right thing? People are encouraged by others’ examples to do good, or at least to try to do better. This came home to me when I was standing on a crowded subway train one morning, next to a very pregnant woman who was struggling. She was very pail, holding unsteadily onto the seat rail with her head down. There were several people sitting reading newspapers or staring out the windows, none paying attention to her. I was afraid she might faint and said, “Won’t somebody give this woman a seat? Can’t you see she’s sick?” A couple of the men looked up and immediately stood up. Then, to my surprise, a young person got up and offered me a seat, too. They just needed a little encouragement to pay attention to others around them. They were willing to do the right thing, they just needed a spark, a little light to help them to see the right thing to do–the better way to behave.

In Matthew 5:14 Jesus tells his followers: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” The Light of the world came to teach and to show us the right things to do. Then he told us we are to be shining lights, leading the world to a better way.

Advent reminds us that our job–all year long–is to shine our lights. Lights don’t shine unless they’re brighter than the darkness around them. We’re not to follow the world, we are to lead it to a better way. Let’s make sure that we do things, often small things, that shine hope, peace, joy and love to others. th-1Let’s shine by giving a pregnant woman or an old man a seat when we can, by smiling more often, by helping someone carry a heavy load. Let’s shine by offering a ride to somebody who needs it, even if it means going out of our way. Let’s speak peace and hope when everyone else is arguing. Let’s shine by standing up for justice when needed, and let’s not be afraid to speak truth to power no matter the consequences. Instead of just fussing about the rampant materialism that retailers have made into Christmas tradition, let’s show the world a better way by giving more money on “giving Tuesday” than we spend on “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday.”

To spark the world into becoming a better place, let’s just be the best “goody two-shoes” we can be! That’s how we confuse the darkness. I’ll share more about this next time, as I continue to discuss what it means to be followers of the Light. I do appreciate your comments.

God’s Christmas Gift

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As prophesied by Isaiah and pronounced by John the Baptist, when Jesus came into the womb of the unwed teenager Mary, the valleys that separate time from eternity were ever so briefly filled in. The mountains that divide the all-powerful God from weak and lowly flesh were crushed down. The crooked paths that keep the unlimited presence of God apart from those who are limited by 3-dimensional space and time were straightened out.  The highways were opened up and smoothed out in order for God who knows all and sees all to become present and dwell in the world among those of us who can only see through a glass darkly.

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Love was born into the world on that first Christmas day, from a God who is love. Love came to walk with us and talk with us and to show us the way to truly love God and to truly love each other. Jesus is the Love of God whose life just shouts at us about how much God loves us. What a blessing God gave to the world! Jesus, the reason for the season, is Love himself, born into human form.

Love was born into the world to die for us. For God so loved the world. The truth about God’s love proven to us by Jesus is that love simply is. God is love. Jesus is love. There is no question about whether God loves or not.  God’s love is a permanent, fixed truth about who God is and there is no more or less about it. The truth about love is that if it was quantifiable, Jesus might not have stayed up on that cross.  He might have said, I love them a lot, but not that much.

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The truth about love that Jesus proved on the cross is that if you love, you simply love–there is no more or less about it. The way we increase love in this world is not by having more love, but by helping more people learn how to truly love.

Jesus proved to us up on that cross that God loves all us, including our enemies, unconditionally. It doesn’t matter how many tragedies happen in this world. It doesn’t matter how many bad experiences happen in our lives. God’s love can never be taken away from us. We don’t understand why bad things happen–we are not privileged to have that knowledge. But we must understand that God is love. That’s what Jesus came to show us.  God loves us with a love so true that He wouldn’t come down from that cross. That’s the truth about real love—it never fails.

The truth about love is that God is love. Jesus is love. The Holy Spirit is love.  Love is pouring out in unlimited abundance by all three persons of God, ours for the taking. Because Love was born into the world we are given hope even in the middle of chaos, peace that the world doesn’t understand even in the middle of fear and confusion, and such amazing joy that we have to sing, to shout, to jump about it, even though tragedies take place around us.

When we begin to understand the unlimited, unconditional permanence of God’s love for us, we’ll want to share it; we’ll want to go tell it on the mountain, that love has been born into the world. God’s love, when we open ourselves to share it, will overflow all across the world.

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May your Christmas celebrations be filled with the warm, comforting glow of love, awe and wonder that surrounded the birth of Christ–God’s gift to us–God’s amazing love for all of us, wrapped up in a little baby boy who was born in a manger.

Gifts of Presence

nw_1659_lowresI don’t think Jesus would approve the rampant commercialism that has become entrenched in how we celebrate his birth, do you? All you have to do is look at how the advertisers interpret the holiday season to see how far removed they are from the real “reason for the season.”  I mean, do you think Christ really intended for us to run out and buy a car or two in order to celebrate his birth? Jesus is not the reason for buying a new Mercedes Benz–or diamonds and jewelry, furs and expensive perfumes–or for that matter, anything that we can’t afford to buy.

I suggested to my husband Bill that we ought to propose that no one should spend money buying gifts for Christmas.  Instead people should show their love by sharing their time and presence with others, like doing fun things with the children, helping a friend with a project, spending time with someone who is ill or sharing a meal with our elders. Or we could make   things that require using our time and imagination, or cook something special. The idea is that we should give the gift of our presence as a blessing to others.

Bill’s response is that we’d probably be assassinated for inciting such a radical idea that would wreck the economy of our country.

In spite of all of the commercialism, materialism and consumerism, I love Christmas.  I love Advent, the four weeks preceding Christmas when the church anticipates both the birth and the return of Christ. And I love that the traditional lighting of the Advent candles begins with the candle of hope, which is what I think Christ’s coming was all about.

Wouldn’t it be great if we did away with the materialism that has become entrenched around the celebration of the birth of Christ and focused instead on how to live out God’s hope for the world?

Next week, I’ll share some information about real hope that I see happening, and some ways we can be a part of it.

My prayer for all of you reading this is that you will feel the presence of God’s hope in you and that you will share that hope with others during the Advent season.