Today’s daily readings:
Psalms 2; 150, Zechariah 2:10-13, 1 John 4:7-16, John 3:31-36

Christmas readings:
Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 98, Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12), John 1:1-14

Many powerful words have been written about the coming of Christ into the world, also known as The Incarnation. According to Luke, angels appeared to announce the Christ child to the world and wise men traveled far to honor him. Every year the truths and traditions and myths and merriment surrounding that event remind us of its wonder. We celebrate it on Christmas with song, light, food, and gifts. 

Imagine being Mary or Joseph, and knowing you were responsible for raising the Son of God. Most new parents only feel like the fate of the world rests on their decisions. Imagine being in awe of the holiness of this child.

How many dirty diapers did it take to dull that shine?

The gospels say little of the childhood of Jesus. There was his Home Alone moment when his parents lost him for three days, but that turned out all right. Childhood and adolescence probably didn’t add much to his messianic reputation. Potty-training and nose-picking. Tantrums. Hormone-fueled moodiness.  Acne. By the time the adult Jesus attended that now-famous wedding in Cana with his mother, she certainly didn’t treat him like an ethereal, holy snowflake: “They’re out of wine. Do something already.”

And that’s the beauty of The Incarnation. It frees us to see the holy in the every day – in the muck and mire. Our solidarity with the poor, the ill, and the grieving doesn’t exist so we can bring holiness into their lives: our job is to see the holiness already there and join hands with it. We create beautiful physical sanctuaries to represent our love for our God, but they are incomplete without the grimy, sweat-stained, tear-streaked spiritual sanctuaries we build around each other. We are incomplete if we never share in the holy, stinking mess of each other’s lives.

A wise person once told me children are cute so parents don’t kill them as teenagers. Enjoy this Christmas, this newborn Christ. Let these memories and feelings sustain you when Christ is more demanding, even unpleasant. Maybe then when you search for the face of Christ in others, the holy will be easier to see.

Comfort: God is everywhere.

Challenge: Examine whether there are situations your faith leads you, but you avoid because they are impractical or messy.

Prayer: Glorious Creator, may I see Your face in all of creation. Amen.

Discussion: What parts of Christianity do you find difficult?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Line by Line


Today’s readings:

Psalms 33; 146, Isaiah 28:9-22, Revelation 20:11-21:8, Luke 1:5-25

Not everyone loves the Christmas story. After forty, fifty, or more years of listening to it, some people feel it has nothing new to say to them. There’s never a twist, and while it speaks to children, adults – especially those who have moved on to a contemplation of theology more sophisticated than The Baby Jesus – are dealing with weightier issues. Where you are on your own journey is your business, but if you’re at a point where the Christmas story is little more than nostalgic, maybe think about the words of Isaiah – or more specifically, his critics.

When Isaiah and other prophets warned religious leaders they had strayed from God’s teachings, the reply of many of them was essentially: “We get it. You repeat it over and over. But we’re not children; we’re experienced leaders. You have nothing to teach us.” Or as Isaiah put it:

Therefore the word of the LORD will be to them,

Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,

line upon line, line upon line,

here a little, there a little.

They were insulted by the repetition, but the truth was they had corrupted the Law by turning it into something so complicated and burdensome that the widows, orphans, ailing, and aliens it was meant to protect were now its victims.

There’s a lot of theology out there, and those of us  who enjoy studying it can bury ourselves in denominational nuance and doctrinal detail … but those things can distract us from actually living our faith. Theory is not more important than reality. Talking about grace is not the same as receiving it.

So when we hear the Christmas story, let’s focus on whether we’ve actually listened to the messages it has for us today:

Finding God in humble places.

Making room for desperate strangers.

Looking beyond social stigma.

Mourning children sacrificed to political expediency.

Trusting God to see us through.

If these are merely theory to us, and not daily practice, we have yet to really master the basics. So at Advent and soon Christmas, as the story unfolds before us again, we are blessed precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little.

Comfort: It’s OK to still be mastering the basics of faith; simple is not the same as easy.

Challenge: This holiday season, make time to read the Nativity story from Matthew or Luke.

Prayer: Glorious and merciful God, I humble myself before Your wisdom. Amen.

Discussion: This year, what will you have to learn from the story of Christmas?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

The war on… Advent?

WarOnAdventWhen do you think the “Christmas Season” starts? Is it the (ever earlier) day when stores begin displaying Christmas merchandise? When the radio starts playing carols? Right after Thanksgiving? When the television starts showing Christmas movies? Are we heading into a state of perpetual holiday preparation, or is there an official beginning to the Christmas season?

According to the church calendar, there certainly is: December 25.

Christmas begins on Christmas day and lasts until Epiphany, or January 6 (by which time traditionalists are pawning those five gold rings to board drummers, pipers, partridges, and the rest). Our culture tells us the four Sundays preceding Christmas are for kicking our holiday preparation into high gear, but they mark the beginning of the church year and the season of Advent.

Anyone wishing you “Merry Christmas” before that date is part of the media’s War On Advent.

Haven’t heard of that particular war? It’s the one that tells us to begin our materialistic holiday sprint in October and not stop until we collapse from exhaustion on January 2nd. Who has time to think about the first Sunday of Advent when we’re focused on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday? Or about the next three Sundays while we’re wrapping, baking, decorating, shopping, mailing, and partying?

Ironically, Advent is a season of reflection – a time intended for us to slow down to consider what it meant that Christ came into the world and why we long for his return. The season focuses on hope, love, joy, and peace. These themes are certainly cause for celebration, but they also remind us the world is desperately in need of each. Can we possibly reconcile Advent with the frenzy of “the holidays?” Some hard-core Advent fans will tell you a tree decorated before Christmas Eve is almost a sacrilege.

But maybe we can. Trees, presents, decorations – these are all secular aspects layered onto the traditions of our faith. Each of us can be intentionally reflective during this season, no matter what we are doing. Stringing up lights in the cold is a fine metaphor and opportunity for contemplating the coming of Christ into the world. Bargain hunting with the throngs at your local big box store is a challenge to honor the dignity of others under less than dignified circumstances. While we prepare holiday dinners, we can think of ways to reach those who lack food and loved ones. The important things we are meant to contemplate during Advent don’t stop being important after Christmas, New Year’s Day, or Epiphany. Our challenge is not simply to be solemn during Advent: it is to allow ourselves to be transformed by the presence of God in our meditations and celebrations, and in such transformation to find newer and better ways of living into the love of Christ through serving our neighbors. Be merry, but also be Mary.