Hatred will not Win!

Pitts Pic

John 11:32-44

I was as stunned and as saddened by last weekend’s senseless massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh as you were.

I don’t understand the hatred that led to the tragedy; and I don’t understand the racism, bigotry and narrow-minded thinking that led to the senseless killing of eleven innocent people. I spent some time with Jews and Muslims and Hindus and other Christians at Temple David in Monroeville, Pennsylvania last weekend because I needed to witness people coming together as a “community,” and because I wanted to be a part of a small gathering of people who are committed to the fact that hatred will not win.

Hatred descends upon us like a thick and suffocating blanket. Hatred isolates us from other people. Hatred turns off the lights and leaves us in darkness. Hatred makes our hearts cold and angry and bitter toward people that we don’t even know.

We celebrate the Festival of All Saints as a “holy time” in our journey of faith. We take time to remember people that we’ve loved and lost, and we tell stories about their lives (sometimes with a sense of heaviness in our hearts). We remember those whom we have loved and lost through the years and we stand beside people who have experienced the same kinds of loss that we have. And, just like in the short story of Lazarus’ death and raising, Jesus draws near to weep and to comfort us. Jesus brings the “living presence of God” near to us as He dries the tears in our eyes and bears testimony to the fact that even in times of sorrow and loss, God is at work to do something new. John of Patmos bears testimony to the God who is active and re-creating everything in our lives and in the entire Creation (Revelation 21:1-6a). John talks about God dwelling with us and wiping the tears from our eyes. John speaks of a day when death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. John of Patmos echoes the great promise of the prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “God will destroy on this mountain the suffocating shroud that’s spread over all people, and God will swallow-up death forever.” (Isaiah 25:7-8)

“Hatred will not Win!” Christians proclaim that God’s at work to re-create the world all around us; and God’s at work to bring an end to the types of racism, bigotry and narrow-minded thinking that can end the lives of innocent people. Christians stand together in the shadow of a Cross where God binds people together and welcomes everybody with a warm embrace. Christians understand that, when God’s at work, the world that we share can begin to change and people really can stop killing other people simply because they see them as people who are “different” in some way. Christians are called to stand beside our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community and to cry with them as they mourn – always carrying in our hearts the promise of the great peace that we crave in solidarity, and clinging to the fact that the great peace that we desire for ourselves and for those who come after us will come – and, as Julian of Norwich once said, “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”

I don’t understand the hatred that led to last weekend’s tragedy. I don’t understand the kinds of racism, bigotry and narrow-minded thinking that led to the deaths of Bernice, Sylvan, Melvin, Daniel, Irving, Rose, Jerry, Joyce, Richard, Cecil and David. But I do know that the powers of good will prevail as long as Jews and Muslims and Christians and Hindus continue to come together and promise each other that hatred will not be allowed to win. The powers of good and of God will prevail as long as we allow God to draw us together into a “community” where what binds us together is stronger than what tears us apart.

But, now is a time to stop – to weep with those who are weeping – and to offer our love and full support to those whose lives have been changed in an unspeakable way.

May God’s peace be with you!

Always remember that, even in the face of tragedy, God is at work to re-create what we see all around us as we stand beside each other and share each other’s pain, and as we open our lives to God’s healing power that continues to work in our lives and in the world.

Your Life and Your Money

Money Pic

Mark 10:35-45

Many people cringe when their pastor begins to talk about money.

The story of our faith tells us that, in the Beginning, God created everything that we see and that God created it all to be “good.” In his explanation of the 4th Petition in the Lord’s Prayer, Martin Luther reminds us that, when we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread,” God responds to our prayer by providing food, drink, shelter, shoes, clothing, our homes, faithful rulers, good weather, peace, good health, good neighbors, and even the gift of money. Signs of God’s faithfulness are all around us; in fact, God’s continuing love and faithfulness is what keeps us alive.
And so, a natural question emerges: “How do we respond to God’s faithfulness?”

In today’s reading (Mark 10:35-45), James and John ask an interesting question. They have been following Jesus for some time. They have seen Jesus perform miracles and heal the sick. They’ve heard Jesus talk about Heaven and they decide that they want special seats in Heaven; and so, they ask Jesus to give them those coveted places.
But Jesus surprises them.

Jesus describes being a Christ-ian as being a person who serves. Following Jesus is not about honor and prestige, and being great and visible. Following Jesus is not about power and authority and getting your own way. Christ-ians follow Jesus by living lives that are dedicated to loosing bonds and setting people free. Christ-ians untie bonds and help people move toward “wellness.” But, in a busy world, we don’t have enough hours in the day to support every good cause, do we? In a busy world filled is many obligations, we can’t set everyone free, untie all of the bonds that we want to untie, and help all of the people that we want to help move toward “wellness.” But, what we do have is a “vehicle” that we can use to do just that.
What would happen if you began to look at money as something that someone else gives to you in exchange for a part of your life that you can never get back?

That’s the truth that this week’s message, “Your Life and Your Money”, lifts-up. Our lives and our money are intimately connected. And our money is a “vehicle” that we can use to do things that we, otherwise, wouldn’t have the time or the physical ability to do.

We may not have time or the physical ability to visit the ill and the home-bound people in our community – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can offer a part of our lives to restore people who are suffering and lonely to wellness by supporting the ministry of a person who makes those life-changing visits. We may not have the time or the physical ability to feed hungry people in our community – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can give-up a part of our lives as Christ-ians to untie the bonds of hunger and place food on people’s tables by supporting the work of a local food bank. We may not have time or the physical ability to fight the raging battle against addictions in our communities – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can give-up a part of our lives as Christ-ians, so that people who are battling addictions have a safe place where they can gather in supportive communities to fight their battle with the help of other people. We may not have time or the physical ability to rebuild homes after a hurricane has destroyed them – but through the “vehicle” of money we can restore hope and rebuild homes, and we can provide help to those who are traveling through one of the most difficult times in their lives.
When we give money to the Church, we offer a gift-of-life that will be used as a “vehicle” to restore people, to untie bonds, and to bring God’s people to a better place in life that’s marked with both health and wellness.

Money that’s given to the Church isn’t just used to support an institution or social club. Money that’s given to the Church isn’t just used to pay ongoing expenses, so that the doors of an aging building can remain open for another week.

The money that you give is a “vehicle” that we use to share our lives with others. Money that we give to the Church in thanksgiving is a “vehicle” we use to share time and energy and life with folks who need to be restored and who need to be brought to a better place in life in the name of Jesus.

Looking at Life Through Clean Windows

dirty window

James 3:13-4:3

Clara was a woman who was never afraid to speak her mind.

She would rock back-and-forth in her rickety, old chair carefully observing things that were happening all around her. Clara’s grandchildren sometimes arrived at her home with spots of ketchup and mustard on their shirts. Clara always noticed when her grand-kids’ shoes weren’t tied, when Johnny had a hole in the knee of his pants, when the mug of hot coffee that her daughter brought to her didn’t have enough cream in it, and when there was dust on the piano. And that’s why Johnny wasn’t surprised when she got going.

“Hey, Johnny,” Clara said, “look at those sheets hanging on Esther’s clothes line! Aren’t those the dirtiest sheets you’ve ever seen?” “Just look at those filthy things! They just look like a bunch of dirty rags!”
And Johnny sat there as his grandma went on and on and on and on….

There wasn’t anything wrong with the sheets. And, after a few minutes of listening to his grandma’s newest complaint, Johnny got a little, quirky smile on his face and said, “Hey, Grandma, when was the last time you cleaned your windows?” “You’re seeing all of those dirty spots because you’re looking at Esther’s sheets through your own dirty windows.”
We’ve probably all had times when we looked at the world and at other people through our own set of dirty windows.

We’ve all been told to stay away from certain “kinds” of people and we do it. We’ve all had time when we’ve heard rumors about other people; and, suddenly, we discovered that we could never look at them in the same way. We’ve all been hurt or disappointed by others; and, when that happens, we decide that other people are “bad” and that they will never change. We usually believe that when people do things that are wrong they will always be people who do things that are wrong. And, that’s it. Period.

In this week’s message, “Looking at Life Through Clean Windows”, we take some time to explore the ways that we look at each other. St. James leaves us dangling between a “fractured” world filled with conflicts, disputes, greed and anger – and a world that is filled with Godly gentleness that’s born of wisdom. St. James tells us to “be doers of the word and not just hearers” (James 1:22) and to live lives that point others toward the Christ that we love and serve. But, sometimes, the ways that we “see” other people can stop us from doing that. Sometimes, the spots on our own dirty windows keeps us from seeing the goodness in others and causes us to interpret things in unhelpful ways.

Martin Luther, the 16th-century Church reformer once explained the 8th Commandment using these words: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything that they do in the best possible way.
How would our lives and our relationships change if we started to do that?

This week, try to find the good in other people. Try your hardest to interpret the things that other people do in the best possible way. Ask God to help you to clean your windows, so that you’re more able to see others in the ways that God does – knowing that when you are “Looking at Life Through Clean Windows”, you’re going to be happier – you’re going to have more friends and deeper relationships. You may even find that when you live your life seeing the goodness in others and accepting other people just as they are, other people will begin to see you and to treat you in the very same way.

You (and I mean YOU) Are Welcome!

pointing at you

Mark 7:24-37

What does it mean to be a “community of Jesus” that welcomes everyone?

In this week’s message, “You (and I mean YOU) Are Welcome!”, we explore one of the most unusual conversations in the Bible. It’s the story of a Syro-Phoenician woman – an outcast – a woman that we’re supposed to avoid. It’s the story of a unclean woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon and who came to Jesus asking for help. And, right after the woman asks Jesus to heal her little girl, Jesus responds: “It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs!” (Mark 7:27)

Many people travel through times in life when they don’t think that they’re worthy to receive the crumbs that drop from God’s table. We make mistakes and sometimes choose to do the wrong thing. We confess our sins to God; and, then, return to the world to just sin again. And, no matter how many times we promise God that we’re going to change our lives and live in a different way, we get off track – don’t we? And that can leave us with a lingering sense of guilt and make us think that we don’t deserve God’s blessings at all. I once talked with a man who told me that he knows that he’s nothing more than a worm in the eyes of God. And worms don’t deserve to eat the children’s food – do they?

But then, the woman responds to what Jesus has said saying: “But even the dogs eat the crumbs under the table.” (Mark 7:28) And Jesus responds to her words by giving her the blessing that she sought. Perhaps, even people who believe that they’re nothing more than worms can receive God’s blessings, too? Perhaps, even people that we consider to be outcasts and unclean can be embraced and welcomed by the same God who embraces and welcomes us? What a radical idea!

When we pray and come to worship, we sense that the stories of our lives are connected to what Jesus is doing in the world. When we pray and worship, we’re invited to share in a “sacred moment” when God stretches-out arms of welcome and embrace. And, when that happens, it’s a “holy moment” because it’s the moment of God’s presence. It’s a “holy moment” when we’re reminded that all of us are important to God – even in dark times when we make mistakes and bad choices – even in times when we believe in our hearts that we’re not worthy to receive God’s blessings.

“You (and I mean YOU) Are Welcome!”
In Christ, we become a community where everybody is welcome. There is nobody who’s unworthy to eat the crumbs that are left on the floor. There is nobody who needs to sit – or to stand – at a distance because of a mistake or bad choice that’s been made at some point in the past. Jesus calls us to eat the children’s food – no matter where we’ve been – no matter what we’ve done – and no matter what kind of “story” we’ve written. And, as we respond to the invitation of Jesus, God’s story of continuing forgiveness and embrace becomes a part of our story even in times when we don’t believe we deserve to eat the crumbs that are left on the floor.

Christ’s Church for ALL People has been created to be a “community of Jesus” that welcomes and embraces everyone – and that clearly proclaims to ALL people: “You (and I mean YOU) Are Welcome!”

Healing Can Take Time

healing blind

Mark 8:22-25

Let’s think about one of the craziest stories in the Bible….

Jesus was traveling through Bethsaida (“The House of the Fisherman”) one day when a group of people approached him and asked him to heal a man who was blind. Jesus, of course, was filled with compassion and wanted to help. And so, Jesus worked-up a bit of spit in his mouth, spit into the man’s eyes, and rubbed the saliva around a bit. And then, Jesus asked the man, “Do you see anything?” And the man responded, “Oh, yes! I can see the people who are standing all around me, but they look like walking trees.” And with that, Jesus decided to touch him again; and, after Jesus did that, the man was able to see clearly.

This has always been a little hidden gem in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 8:22-25) and I often just read through this crazy story without even thinking about it. And then, in the midst of my training to be a Discipleship Coach, I was introduced to a small book: “Dwelling in the Word”, that encouraged me to spend time with stories like this one and to unpack them over a long period of time (I’ve been reading and reflecting upon this unusual story in the Bible for almost four months!). And the process of unpacking this unusual story about the ministry of Jesus led to this week’s message: “Healing Can Take Time”.

Have you ever wanted to see God at work in your life in a deeper way? Have you ever wanted a relationship to be healed and to move in a better direction after you’ve been hurt by something that you’ve loved? Do you, sometimes, have trouble sensing God’s presence in the midst of the busyness of your daily life? Have you ever asked God to give you strength and courage to face a world that’s filled with constant and scary change?

When people brought the blind man to Jesus, Jesus spit into the man’s eyes, rubbed the saliva around a bit, and asked him if he could see. Jesus doesn’t always turn on a light switch and give us a deeper awareness of God’s presence in our lives in an instant. We, sometimes, need to travel through a rather confusing time when people who have hurt us still “look like trees” – even when Jesus is healing us. It’s not easy make changes in our lives that Jesus can use to bring renewal and spiritual growth. It’s not easy – even with the help of Jesus – to move from fear to faith when we’re scared by the things that are happening all around us and when we just want things to stop changing. And yet, Jesus continues to heal us. Jesus continues to touch us and to work in our lives. Jesus continues to help us to move from “wherever we are right now” to “where God wants us to move as we journey into the future” – both alone, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
And so, let me ask you a couple of questions:

  1. What do you need to be able to “see” more clearly, right now?
  2. How do you need to be touched and healed by Jesus at this point in your life?

Jesus has the power to bring incredible healing into our lives and our relationships. And Jesus wants to send us back into the world with a set of eyes that can “see” life – and even other people – in different ways again. But, that type of healing takes time. Spend time “Dwelling in the Word”, praying about things you learn as you immerse yourself in God’s Word, and be open to the ways that Jesus wants to heal you and to send you back into the world with eyes that can “see” the things all around you in different ways.

Christ’s Church for ALL People

Christ's Church

We live our lives with a lot of rules, don’t we?

Written and unwritten rules are just accepted as the “truth” and we often simply accept the things that we’ve been taught without questioning. The rules that we’ve been taught teach us to separate the “good people” from the “bad people” – and it’s, ultimately, these same written and unwritten rules that shape our thinking and our behavior.

And that’s why we’re still trying to figure-out what to do with folks who come to America from other countries. That’s why we’re still struggling to figure-out what to do with folks who fall  in love with people that they’re not “supposed” to fall in love with. That’s why many predominantly white denominations in the Christian Church are struggling to figure-out what they need to do to survive and flourish in a society where white people will very soon be the minority in America. That’s why we’re still trying to figure-out what to do with people who think and who choose to live their lives in ways that we don’t always understand or want to accept.

“Christ’s Church for ALL People” is a message that challenges us to think about the very nature of the Church. How do we make sense of Jesus – a man who touched people who were considered to be “unclean” by others? How do we make sense of Jesus – a man who ate in the homes of tax-collectors and sinners, and who wasn’t even afraid to touch the corpses of those who had died? How do we make sense of a God who loves white people and black people, people who live in the United States and people who want to come to America from other countries? Doesn’t the Sacred Story remind us that God has created ALL people to be both precious and valuable? Doesn’t the Sacred Story tell us about Jesus – a man who came into the world to welcome and embrace people, and to even die on the Cross for everyone?

People – even God’s people – are not always good at lifting-up the fact that everyone is precious and valuable in God’s sight. Even Christians can have a hard time accepting the fact that: there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And yet, that truth is fundamental to the Christian faith. “Christ’s Church for ALL People” is who we are even in a tumultuous time when many people are speaking a very different truth even inside the Church – the place where Jesus continues to challenge us to offer our welcome and embrace to ALL people and to help them to realize that the Church is a “home” where God’s love and care can be experienced by everyone.

 

Christ’s Healing of Creation

unity

It was the worst day in human history.

God had been at work since the “Beginning” (whenever that was). God had been at work transforming what was “formless and void” into a beautiful Creation filled with a sun and moon, water, land, trees, birds, and fish. And, at the high point of it all, God created ADAM and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

But, ADAM was alone; and so, God assembled a huge parade and God marched all of the animals in front of ADAM – but a suitable partner wasn’t found for him. And so, our God created ADAMAH – a woman – and ADAM was so excited that he exclaimed: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” And everything was very, very good.

But, the Sacred Story reminds us that there was a serpent in the Garden of Eden. And the serpent took ADAMAH aside and convinced her to eat fruit from the only tree that God had told her not to touch: The Tree of the Awareness of Duality and Separation. And, as soon as that happened, people began to notice that they’re somehow different than the people around them. You and me. Good and bad. Righteous and unrighteous. Black and White. Us and them. Republicans and Democrats. Americans, Russians, Mexicans, and Germans. Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Orthodox. I’m exhausted….

And shortly after ADAM and ADAMAH ate from the Tree of the Awareness of Duality the Creation changed. ADAM and ADAMAH noticed that they were different, and they sewed fig leaves together to hide parts of their bodies from each other. ADAM and ADAMAH began to sense a distinction between the “ordinary” and the “sacred”; and, for the first time, they felt shame as they stood in the presence of God. The deadly fruit from the Tree of the Awareness of Duality caused ADAM to blame ADAMAH when God asked him if he had eaten from the tree, and it caused ADAMAH to blame the serpent when she was asked the same question – because, when something goes wrong, it always has to be someone’s fault (and it’s almost always someone else’s fault, isn’t it?). The fruit from the Tree of the Awareness of Duality unraveled God’s creative intent, and the fruit continues to work in our lives and in the world today.

And that’s why Jesus came.

In this week’s message, “Christ’s Healing of Creation”, we’re reminded that Jesus came into the world to tear down the wall between God and God’s people – so that, we don’t have to live our lives sensing a separation between the “ordinary” and “sacred.” Jesus came into the world to tear down the walls that we build between ourselves and other people – reminding us that, “in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free” (Galatians 3:28). Jesus came into the world to bridge the separation that we sense between ourselves and God, so that we can live at peace with God. Jesus came into the world to share a love that unravels “duality” and “separation,” and to remind us that no matter what kinds of lines we try to draw between ourselves and others, God’s at work to erase those lines and to bind us together – because God has given us each other as a “gift,” so that none of us have to travel through life alone.

The Sacred Story reminds us that “duality” – our sense of separation between ourselves and God – and between ourselves and other people – was not God’s original intent in the Creation and it’s not God’s intent for our lives today. And that’s why God continues to draw us to a Table where we share a common Meal – and into a community, called the “Church,” where God binds us together as a visible sign of what God’s doing today.

 

When Doubt and Faith Collide

doubting thomas

I suspect that we’ve all faced doubts and fears.

I’ve talked with many parents who are are concerned about their children’s future. I’ve journeyed with many people who are coming to the end of their lives; and I have learned that even faith-filled Christians have some serious questions and doubts (and even some fears) about what’s going to happen to them after they die. The Sacred Story that we find in the pages of the Bible reminds us that Jesus’ disciples were devastated after Jesus was killed, and that Jesus’ disciples were filled with joy and faith after He was raised from the dead. The Sacred Story is a story where doubt and faith collide; and, perhaps, that’s why the Bible continues to help us to make sense out of life, and to help us to understand how we can continue to live and flourish as people of faith in a challenging world.

In this week’s message, “When Doubt and Faith Collide”, we encounter the story of a man named Thomas (perhaps, better known to you as “Doubting Thomas”).

Thomas was a follower of Jesus, and he spent three years of his life in the “inner circle” of Jesus’ closest companions. Thomas was at the wedding feast when Jesus turned water into wine, and Thomas watched Jesus heal many lepers and people who were ill. Thomas had listened to Jesus tells stories. Thomas had watched Jesus embarrass people. Thomas had listened to Jesus talk about the fact that He was going to be killed, and he had heard Jesus talk about being raised from the dead. And Thomas, like all of the other followers of Jesus, was absolutely devastated when Jesus was killed and was sealed in a tomb.

But, Thomas wasn’t in the room with the other disciples when the Risen Christ appeared. Thomas didn’t believe the other disciples when they told him that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Can you almost hear Thomas saying: “Seeing is believing”? Can you hear Thomas say, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true”? Maybe you live your life believing those very same words? Maybe, we shouldn’t be so hard on Thomas?

But the Sacred Story reminds us that the disciples continued to love Thomas.

When we’re going through tough times, we all need people who aren’t afraid to stand beside us, and who aren’t afraid to let us express our deepest doubts and fears.

When we’re going through tough times, we all need people who are willing to meet us wherever we are in life, and who won’t try to “make things better” by offering shallow platitudes.

When we’re going through tough times, we all need folks who will continue to look for creative ways to love and support us in a world where even our closest friends are going to tell us, “If you need anything, give me a call!” – as they return to their normal routines.

I’ll never forget the day when one of my closest friends told me, “What I need most of all right now is someone to simply remind me that the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ hasn’t been turned off.” Now, those are honest and authentic words, aren’t they?

The Sacred Story speaks about love and human embrace. It’s a story that reminds us that it’s “not good” for us to travel through life alone. And it’s a story that continues to remind us that the Risen Christ will always be found in places where God’s people reach-out to each other, embrace each other, shine light into each other’s lives, and honestly care and support each other. The Sacred Story reminds us that we need each other.

Doubts and fears are healed as people continue to live in “community” with each other, and as they listen to stories about the ways that God’s been acting in other people’s lives. And so, in it’s deepest sense, the Sacred Story reminds us, this week, of what it means to be the Church of the Risen Christ – a gathering where people love each other, encourage each other, build each other up, and stand beside each other through thick and thin – sharing the Sacred Story and speaking with each other about the ways that God’s been at work in their lives in a challenging world.

Your Power to Heal

Healing

Did you know that God has given you the power to bring healing into the lives of others?

We all experience times of joy and sorrow, triumph and loss. We all experience times of great strength and vitality, and times when we’re not sure that we have “enough” to last another day. And, as we move through life, we write a story.

A man who has just lost his wife after a long battle with cancer can speak to other men, who are going through the same thing, in ways that nobody else really can. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are successfully built upon the premise that people who have walked on a particular path in life can help others on the same path in ways that other people can’t. As we continue to live our lives and discover the bridges that exist between our daily lives and our “lives of faith,” we discover what it means to be human and find the key to connecting with others in life-giving ways.

“Your Power to Heal” is a message that’s based upon the story of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law and upon insights that we can glean from the writings of Henri Nouwen.

Simon’s mother-in-law was struck down by a debilitating fever; and, in the midst of her struggle, she learned what it feels like to be lift-up by the hand of Jesus. She became what Henri Nouwen would call a “wounded healer” when Jesus lifted her up and, immediately, she rose from her bed and began to serve other people.

How can the story of your life help others to experience Christ’s presence in their own times of joy and struggles? How can the story of your life help other people to see Jesus in the midst of the story that they’re writing, too?

The story of your life – your journey through times of joy and sorrow, triumph and loss – is something that God can use to stir-up the gift of faith in other people. The story of your life and the story of your faith-journey has the power to bring healing to others – and, as you share that story, others can be lifted-up by the same Christ who has lifted you.

Why bother with Advent?

advent-wreath

Many Christians experience a sense of angst during the Season of Advent.

We see Christmas lights adorning the houses in our neighborhoods, and familiar Holiday songs are bursting from the speakers in our cars. We’re baking cookies and wrapping the presents that we’ve bought for other people. Children are getting excited. Pine trees are being strapped to the roofs of automobiles and are being dragged into homes where they’ll be decorated with lights and tinsel and ornaments. We’re celebrating the Holiday Season at parties that are being hosted by our friends, and favorite recipes are being shared. And then, we come to worship and discover that Pastor Grinch won’t allow us to decorate the inside of the church building with things we’re seeing everywhere else.  And we just can’t understand why Pastor Grinch is such a curmudgeon.

Many people in the Church celebrate Advent during the days and weeks before Christmas. Advent is a time when we’re called to simply stop and reflect upon the “gap” between the things that we see and experience in our daily lives and what God intends for our lives and our world. The Bible tells us about a Day when lambs will rest peacefully beside wolves and when bears will graze beside cows (Isaiah 11:6-7). The Bible speaks about a glorious Day in human history when swords will be beaten into plowshares, and when spears will be used for pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4). God comforts His people with a great message of hope that is meant to encourage us and lift our spirits (Isaiah 40:1-2). And yet, we’re not there yet, are we? Our hearts and our souls yearn for better days in the midst of times that are not always easy to face. And in that yearning of the soul, we discover what it means to live our lives with faith and to look forward to something better.

The Holiday Season isn’t easy for everyone. Picture a woman, who’s being abused by the man that she once loved, desperately doing her best to tough-it-out because she doesn’t want to ruin her children’s Christmas by uprooting the family and moving into the local women’s shelter. People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder find the days that surround Christmas very difficult because the nights are so incredibly long. The Holiday Season can highlight the sense of brokenness that we experience when we’re trying to move through difficult times with our friends and, sometimes, with members of our own family. Even the well-known Christmas carol, “Silent Night,” sounds very different when you’re hearing it for the first time after you’ve lost your spouse – or a parent – or a child.

Advent is a Season that invites us to be real and authentic. Advent is a Season that invites us to acknowledge that our lives and our relationships aren’t perfect; and that reminds us that, even on the longest night of the entire year, the light of Christ still shines. God walks beside us and lifts us up in times when we need strength and courage. God reminds us that better days are surely coming – even when we’re ready to throw-in the towel. Wars and violence will cease. Families and relationships will be restored. Even the shadow of death, itself, will be overcome by the glorious light of the Prince of Peace. Our lives and our souls will be healed by the power of God. And when it’s all said and done, we will be lifted-up by the Christ that we meet on Christmas.

Radical authenticity isn’t easy. Our lives aren’t always what we want them to be, and our relationships and families are far more complex than what can be described by a Hallmark card. And we want to run away from that. And, perhaps, that’s why so many of us want to run toward Christmas as quickly as we can. We want to experience the joy again. We want that feeling of hope. We want the “peace on earth” that’s announced from pulpits around the world. But, Pastor Grinch wants us to slow down and to take some time to think about what’s happening in our lives and in the world. That dastardly, old curmudgeon wants us to look deeply into the parts of our lives that desperately need God’s healing presence. And, from that deep and profound sense of authenticity, he invites us to come to the Manger – and to stand face-to-face with the God who has the power to make us whole again.

It’s not always easy for us to move through Advent when the rest of the world is filled with people who are shouting, “Ho, Ho, Ho!” We’re always going to be tempted to flee from the radical kinds of authenticity that challenge us to openly admit what’s broken in our lives and in the world. We want to flee from what makes us feel uncomfortable, and run full-speed-ahead toward what’s both familiar and safe. And, perhaps, that’s why so many of us are tempted to push Advent out of the way on our way toward Christmas? Maybe our very human reluctance to embrace Advent is caused by the fact that we don’t want to fully embrace the parts of our lives and of our human experience that God wants to heal?