The Lord has comforted his people…

From the pastor…

If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

“Uncle!” pleaded the nephew.

“Nephew!” returned the uncle, sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

Isaiah 49:13

All of us have a little bit of Ebenezer Scrooge in us.  By the time we are finished with Christmas, many of us are exhausted and don’t want to hear another Christmas carol or another well-wisher’s “Merry Christmas.”  The problem is not new.  Dickens’ book was published in 1843 and the problem was, even then, well-entrenched in both church and society.  Scrooge takes it to the extreme to help make Dickens’ point.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

“Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”  

Stave 4

We will be using Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” as the foundation for our Advent worship.  Some question might be raised as to why we are using a secular story as the foundation for worship services.  There are several places in the story where Dickens recognizes the need for church attendance and clearly understands the theology of a God who has a heart for the poor and suffering.  But this story is, ultimately, a story of redemption.  It is the story of a man who has slowly veered from the path of joy and righteousness onto a path that leads him deeper and deeper into greed, cynicism and loneliness.  Christmas Eve becomes the focal point and the turning point.

With the help of four ghosts, Scrooge is given the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of God.  He transcends time and is able to move backward and forward catching glimpses of his own past, present and future which he has tried to hide from himself.  The ghosts bring his inner, spiritual self slowly to the surface until Scrooge finally cries out, “Spirit! hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope!” (Stave 4)

The God who came to earth so many centuries ago is the God of persistent hope.  Jesus Christ is the manifestation of the always hopeful God who is always with us. We find this to be a joyful occasion because nothing else is able to bring us persistent hope.  It is God through Christ who shows us the things that really matter, the things that are most important.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

How does God do that?

Certainly there have been times in my life, and probably yours, when you have suddenly felt a sense of calm amidst the chaos, or when you have had a sudden enlightenment, an “aha!” moment when the path became clear.  I am sure you have had moments when, for unexplainable reasons you suddenly felt courage or strength.  All those are gifts from God – the God who comforts.

But I am equally sure that you have had other moments when you have been surrounded by friends, family co-workers, neighbors and through them you have felt uplifted, cared for, strengthened, nurtured.  This also is a gift from God – the God who is with us, Emmanuel.

These are the gifts that Scrooge consistently missed.  There were people all around him who were truly concerned for him.  His nephew, Peter, and his employee, Bob Cratchit.  They really did care for him and they always tried to show him that.  His other family and acquaintances tolerated him at best, but even they welcomed him in without a sign of skepticism when he was redeemed.

So, we will be looking at “A Christmas Carol”, stanza (or stave) by stanza through December.

It is my hope that you will be truly blessed this Christmas, joyfully surrounded by family and friends.  It is my hope that you will find time to simply breathe and allow the wonderful mystery of God become flesh to envelop you and rejuvenate you.

Peace,

 

Your pastor,

Rick

Make Your Bed!

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’
Luke 17:20-21

“The gospel is about the Kingdom of God breaking in to our world, even as this world races toward destruction – destruction caused by the very creatures God made in God’s image. To do nothing about this collision course, to choose entropy, is to deny God’s goodness and Christ’s resurrection. To live as resurrection people is to say: ‘I will speak up, I will stand against the evil we inflict on one another, I will sacrifice my privilege for the sake of others, and I will acknowledge God’s image in the face of every human, even those who anger or baffle me. Things are getting worse, but I partner with God to make things better. And even if things continue to get worse, I will still choose hope by working for good.'”
– Rachel Young “Hope as Self-care

“If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person, a Washington, a Lincoln, a King, a Mandela, and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala, one person can change the world by giving people hope. So, if you want to change the world start each day with a task completed (making your bed). Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when the times are the toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the down-trodden and never, ever give up. If you do these things, the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.”
Make Your Bed” Former US Navy Admiral, William H. McRaven

One of the primary purposes of the church is to give people hope. All day long we are told that the world is a mess and getting worse. We see it all around us. We are frustrated by the perpetual chaos, hatred, fear, and despair. Jesus confronted people who were in similar situations with a message of hope: “the kingdom of God is among you.” The kingdom is still among us and it is our calling to live our lives with that as the foundation.
It is my life goal to leave this world a little better than it was when I entered. That may seem like a tall order considering the billions of people who seem mired in complacency or, as Ms. Young calls it , “entropy.”

There are times when I get bogged down, overwhelmed by negativity and failure. I get up every morning and make my bed. Admiral McRaven says that’s a good way to start your day. I have known that it was, but I never knew why. He says that it is because it is one thing accomplished. And, if your day has been filled with failure, you come home to a neatly made bed. It really is a good feeling and it gives me hope to get up tomorrow and try it all over again – after I have made my bed.

I believe strongly that the Kingdom of God is among us. And we have every responsibility to live our lives in such a way that it is demonstrated. We don’t always succeed (“Know that life is not fair and you will fail often.”) but that is part of the beauty of the Kingdom of God. When we fail the Kingdom is still here. It is the power of God to overcome all obstacles. It is the power of God to resurrect.

“And even if things continue to get worse, I will still choose hope by working for good.”
Peace,
Your pastor,
Rick