Thursday, December 16, 2010

Keeping Christmas Alive

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." Luke 2:15.

Well, I guess I won’t go to the stable in Bethlehem as the shepherds did, mainly because Bethlehem is a distance away, and I don’t want a stray bullet in my back. Besides, the stable is long gone, and the ornate structure that replaces it, or where they think it was, is totally out of character with the original.

Mind you, we can visit it regularly at children’s portrayals in myriad locations, at crèches in front yards and on mantle shelves. We can’t hear the angels sing, but we can hear their song in malls, shopping centres and on radio. And we can see and hear it in the comfort of heated homes and public places, not the windswept winter hills of Bethlehem.

Trouble is, yearly repetition and a barrage of the Babe’s birth every Christmas dulls the message behind the excess. Even I find it hard to reflect on the wonder of the Christmas message when constant use devalues its impact. I cling to the mental knowledge that for me, for many of us, it is the greatest wonder of the world, but I have little emotional attachment.

How do you keep the freshness of Christmas alive?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Like Us, Mary Faced Adversity

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Luke 2:1.

Of course, this text reminds me of the hype over Canada’s recent decision to make the long form census voluntary and remove jail time for those who refused to fill it out. Opposition complained this would undermine accuracy, as though coercion ensured it. In our time when convenience or just plain cussedness trumps truth, census accuracy can’t be guaranteed.

Joseph and Mary didn’t have the choice. The self-styled god Caesar could exact dire penalties for refusal to co-operate. Thousands probably travelled to their ancestral homes to register; the edict was for all the Roman world. So Joseph with Mary, now his wife and close to delivery of her firstborn, made the arduous journey to Bethlehem.

How did Mary cope with this? With some difficulty, I am sure. Did she really have a donkey as many pictures suggest, or did she walk all the way? And when she arrived, no place to sleep and bear her child but a stable? Beyond the physical endurance necessary, did she wonder if she was mistaken in believing God was orchestrating all this?

After all, if this was God’s Messiah in her womb, surely He could have arranged for a smoother pregnancy. Perhaps move the census to later, and leave them at home for more comfort; or some other easier alternative. From what we know of Mary, I’m sure she bore the hardships with great patience. Besides which, in her devotion to God she would have known the Scriptures.

If Herod could find Messiah’s birthplace, Mary would have known it. She would recognize this exhausting trip to Bethlehem as part of God’s plan. Knowing He traveled with her, she would have strength for it. In addition, sufficient Scriptures pointed to His coming as one who would be “despised and rejected”; the stable was an appropriate entry point.

Of course, we do not have Mary’s detailed map for our lives. Without precise reasons for our adversity it’s difficult to find meaning in it, and even if I’d had Mary’s assurance, I would still have doubted along the way. Bumps in the road regularly occur that can make us doubt our sanity, if not the Scriptures.

But when all else seems awry, the promises of God stand secure. We may not know the details, but we can be sure of the outcome. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28), and “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Sometimes, we simply have to cling to His promises in raw faith as beneath it all we know we can trust Him. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wasted Time?

This week has not been a good one. Oh! Not that anything particularly bad happened, or that nothing good occurred; it just didn’t go the way I wanted. Of course, that last phrase should raise the question of why it seemed so unprofitable.

Distractions are the first problem. Not necessarily frivolous pastimes, but needful things. Health requires visits to the clinic, doctors, check-ups, massages or chiropractic care, and, while we are out, why not some needful shopping?

Home by noon, lunch and a rest—Ann and I sleep for an hour or more!—and the day is shot.

Now it’s Christmas. Let’s get the tree and decorations up. Have to do it this morning, we have a visit planned this afternoon. Can I write in some Christmas cards?

Another day requires a trip to Calgary; the day is gone and no time for a sleep either! Then a day spent in our daughter’s house looking after some visitors, and most of the week has gone also.

The second setback is tiredness. A day or two of the common round seems to sap both our energy and resolve.

I recall starting my first pastorate. Why not tackle some basic research for next Sunday’s sermon on Monday morning? I soon learned that the emotional energy spent at several services on Sunday left me exhausted on Monday.

No wonder many pastors take Mondays off. One wise pastor told me never to resign on a Monday. I’d probably regret it Tuesday!

These distractions sap my creativeness. After all, I write best in the morning. Worse still, the two or three mornings I had available, I couldn’t put two words together. I deleted most of what I wrote in desperation and annoyance.

So far the tyranny of the urgent has left tired gaps for the important. Can you guess how I felt by the end of the week, and who bore the brunt of it?

I’m not sure God was glorified in my efforts or attitudes this week. So how do we process times like this when all is supposed to be done to the glory of God.

In the grand scheme of things, I doubt one unproductive week adds up to much. And perhaps, those times are part of the process of accomplishment—some needed recuperation, or outside inspiration—certainly the week inspired this piece!

I guess winning the war is far more important than losing a few battles. In this vein, let’s hope this coming week is as good as the last.