Saturday, December 24, 2005

Advent: Shipwrecked at the Stable

Brennan Manning (Watch for the Light) uses the metaphor of shipwreck survivors who find the stable and worship Jesus. He says that it is these people, people who have experienced the humbling of a pain-filled life, that can appreciate the true meaning of Christmas. Let me quote from him extensively because I can't do him justice with a summary...

The shipwrecked at the stable are the poor in spirit who feel lost in the cosmos, adrift on an open sea, clinging with a life-and-death desperation to the one solitary plank. Finally they are washed ashore and make their way to the stable, stripped of the old spirit of possessiveness in regard to anything.

The shipwrecked find it not only tacky but utterly absurd to be caught up either in tinsel trees or in religious experiences ("Doesn't going to church on Christmas make you feel good!"). They are not concerned with their own emotional security or any of the trinkets of creation. They have been saved, rescued, delivered from the waters of death, set free for a new shot at life. At the stable in a blinding moment of truth, they make the stunning discovery that Jesus is the plan of salvation they have been clinging to without knowing it!

All the time they were battered by wind and rain, buffeted by raging seas, they were being held even when they didn't know who was holding them. Their exposure to spiritual, emotional and physical deprivation has weaned them from themselves and made them re-examine all they once thought important. The shipwrecked come to the stable seeking not to possess but to be possessed, wanting not peace or a religious high, but Jesus Christ.

On this Christmas Eve, I hope we can all come to the stable with this same purity of heart. It's not a purity that comes from a perfect life but a purity that comes from being solely focused on the Source of perfect Life. Might we not use Him but might we offer ourselves to be used by HIm to bring the good news of his coming to others. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Advent: Finding Jesus Today

Dorothy Day (Watch for the Light) challenges those of us who have said, "If Mary were looking for a room today to give birth to Jesus, I would have given her a room. Too bad I was born 2000 years too late!" Day says that Jesus is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts, and doing it through other people.

The early church was so profoundly aware of blessing Jesus through others that it was common practice to keep a "stranger's room" ready to offer shelter to those passing through town. Today, we have "guest rooms" for our close friends and family. How quick would we be to offer that to a stranger? The hosts didn't do this in memory of Jesus but, to them, the stranger was Jesus.

Day mentions how various people blessed Jesus; whether that was the shepherds and the wise men at his birth or those who prepared Jesus for the tomb after his death. Then she says...

We can do it too, exactly as they did. We are not born too late. We do it by seeing Christ and serving Christ in friends and strangers, in everyone we come in contact with.

Day says that Jesus will ask of us...

Did you give me food when I was hungry?
Did you give me drink when I was thirsty?
Did you give me clothes when my own were rags?
Did you come to see me when I was sick, or in prison or in trouble?

And to those who say, aghast, that they never had a chance to do such a thing, that they lived two thousand years too late, he will say again what they had the chance of knowing all their lives, that if these were done for the very least of his brethren they were done to him.

Day closes by saying that there is only one motivation for helping others...

Not for the sake of humanity. Not because it might be Christ who stays with us, comes to see us, takes up our time. Not because these people remind us of Christ...but because they are Christ, asking us to find room for him, exactly as he did at the first Christmas.

Take another look around and see if Jesus is asking for room in your heart today through someone you least expect.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Advent: A Checkered Geneology

Gail Goodwin, in Watch for the LIght, looks at the potentially boring geneology of Jesus (see Matthew 1:1-17). It takes over three minutes to read and mentions names that you've never heard of in the Bible. Most of us skip right over it. But the Jews of Jesus' day knew their Bible and every name meant something. Strung together, the names each told a story and made a powerful point.

Abraham was a reformed pagan. Isaac was the second try after a bastard child. Jacob was that shifty guy who stole the birthright from his brother. Judah was one of the brothers who sold Joseph into slavery. And Tamar, now that's an interesting story! She was a Canaanite who disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law Judah to get a son out of him. Or how about Rahab, the prostitute that was saved from Jericho for helping the spies escape. She ended up as a great, great, great grandmother of Jesus.

As long as we are discussing the women, there's also Ruth and Bathsheba. Ruth was an outsider from Moab. I'm sure it was a disappointment to Boaz's parents that their son looked to someone other than a Jew for a wife. And we all know about Bathsheba. The wife of Uriah whom David slept with and conceived a child. To cover up the scandal he had her husband sent to the front lines of battle to be killed.

I bet your family tree is looking pretty good by now! David's "problem" with Bathsheba was just one of a long list of sin. Then his son Solomon worshipped gods that required child sacrifice. Rehoboam, his son, split the kingdom in two. It's a sad list for sure. There's more names but I don't have the space and you don't have the time!

So what's the point? There were plenty of good people to highlight in Jesus' past. Why go out of your way to mention the shady characters? Because Mary was potentially a "shady" character and Matthew was sensitive to these kinds of accusations. He was saying right from the beginning, "Jesus comes from questionable stock and therefore every person who is questionable is welcome, including Mary."

Maybe you are of "questionable stock" yourself. Maybe you have felt like you don't deserve to be named as a follower of Jesus. You don't think you are worthy. Hey...join the crowd. No one is, but the beauty of Jesus is that he seems to revel in being associated with us low-lifes! He's not ashamed of us. I'm sure he'd be quick to tell us that "some of my 'best relatives' were low-lifes!"

So this Christmas, gather around the manger along with everyone else. There's a place waiting for you. You'll fit right in!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Get Your Site Feed Link

I've added some links to your right. The newest one is the "Blog Site Feed". If you have a browser home page with Yahoo! or whomever, there are usually places for you to add site feeds to your favorite blog. That way you don't have to save them to your favorites and go visit them. They are all right on your home page.

If you want "Thinking Out Loud" on your homepage, click on the link to the right and copy/paste the URL address to where it asks for the site feed address on your browser. Yahoo!'s new email now has site feeds built right into the mailbox area (by the files). I hope this all makes sense! Good luck.

Advent: Overcoming Our Fears

In Watch for the Light (see "Currently Reading" link), Johann Arnold focuses on the words of the angel to Mary when he said "Fear not!" He concludes that this exhortation means that the fear that grips human hearts will have to give way to the far greater power of love.

We don't fear the plagues of death that used to ravage the land (at least in the USA) but there is still plenty of fear to go around. We fear addiction, divorce, abortion, violence, racisim, poverty and war. As Pope John Paul II said, we live in a "culture of death".

Plus we fear the old, hiding them in nursing homes. We fear crime, buying guns and fleeing the urban areas. We fear anyone who doesn't look like us, choosing to live in gated communities. And of course we fear terrorism.

For those of us that seek to follow Jesus, there is plenty of reason to fear because Jesus often walks in vulnerable places. Born in a manger? That doesn't sound safe. Challenging the religious? Not wise. Entrusting his ministry to teenage dropouts? Petrifying! Claiming to be God? Well, we know where that got him. Arnold said...

But by overcoming death he took away all our reasons for fear, forever. Of course, it does no good to recognize this in a merely intellectual way. Knowing that Christ loves us may not save us from fear, nor will it save us from death. And so it comes down to this: the only way to truly overcome our fear of death is to live life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death.

Arnold admits that this sounds simplistic and grandiose but he insists that it is very practical.

It means fighting the impulse to live for ourselves, instead of for others. It means choosing generosity over greed. It also means living humbly, rather than seeking influence and power. Finally, it means being ready to die again and again - to ourselves, and to every self-serving opinion or agenda.

Arnold says that this kind of lifestyle is what true love is all about. It's not about a fuzzy emotion.

Love is a tangible reality...But when we live for love, we will be able to meet any challenge that comes our way - even the final one, death.

And when you can look death in the eye, any other fear that we may confront pales in comparison.