Thursday, December 11, 2014
Letters from the Soul: This Month's Newsletter Column + Sermon Series Outline
December 2014: "Homes, not Mangers"
Every year, at some point during December, I get out my nativity set that was a gift from my family and place it on my desk. Carved of wood in the West Bank by ethically-supported artists, it sits in my office as a reminder of the scene in which the Christ first came bodily into this world. And I am willing to bet many of you have nativity sets yourselves that you use to decorate your own homes and desks during this time of year!
I have been thinking a lot about the manger scene lately, though, and to be honest, not all of it has been good. We all know *why* Jesus is born in a manger--there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn. But inns back then didn't necessarily operate on the first-come, first-served basis that hotels do today with their roms. The more likely scenario is that the innkeeper simply didn't see Mary and Joseph as important enough to shelter in his establishment, which is saddening for any family, but especially a family with a nine-months-pregnant wife.
The rest of the story is well-known to us: Jesus is born, wrapped in cloth, and laid in a manger, and He is visited by the shepherds and, according to Matthew's Gospel, the magi. And as He grows, He becomes homeless once more, as Joseph and Mary escape into Egypt from Israel, and as an adult, He is homeless yet again: "Jesus replied, 'Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.'" (Luke 9:58)
Just because we follow a homeless Savior, though, does not mean that we ourselves have to make one another homeless. To the contrary, we are called to save one another from it, to create homes for each other. It is something that many of you have yourselves done this year for Habitat for Humanity as a house has been built for our own Dave and Donna, but it is also something we called to do spiritually, to create and provide spiritual homes for each other.
Christmas is a season where, both in spite of and because of the nature of the season, people are apt to feel spiritually homeless. How can you work to invite them in out of the emotional and religious cold and into the warmth of acceptance and grace? How can you act to make sure that the people in your life have places to rest their heads? And what are you prepared to give of yourself to ensure that in the many Christmases to come that all of God's children have a spiritual and physical home--and not a manger--to bring themselves to when it is time to celebrate the birth of our Lord?
I cannot pretend that I have the answers to those questions. But they are questions we must ask ourselves nonetheless. The circumstances of Christ's birth demand that of us.
I wish you and yours a very safe, blessed, and merry Christmas, and a similarly joyous New Year!
Yours in Christ,
This Month in Worship: December 2014
About as soon as Thanksgiving ends, we usually enter the church season called Advent, which marks the beginning of a new year on the church calendar as well as the beginning of our awaiting of the baby Christ. Just as Lent is meant to be a time for repentance and preparation for Easter and the coming resurrection that we know is around the corner, so too is Advent meant to be a time of repentance and preparation for Christmas and the coming birth that we know is around the corner.
In describing the arrival of Christ, I especially love Paul's words in Philippians 2, where he writes, "(Jesus), though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and being born in human likeness." Christmas, as Paul puts it, is about Christ emptying Himself, and yet, we tend to make it about fortifying ourselves...if not on all of the presents, certainly on the egg nog!
So my sermon series will be about one family's quest to empty their own material lives by half: halving the size of the house they live in, going from two cars to one, the whole nine yards. They then gave away all of the proceeds! Kevin and Hannah Salwen, the father and daughter of this family, wrote a book about it, entitled "The Power of Half," and it will serve as the basis for our Advent sermon series as I take you through passages of one of the Old Testament prophets whose life was emptied out when his home country was conquered and he himself was sent into exile: Jeremiah.
We'll hear from Jeremiah as well as from Kevin and Hannah as we strive to empty ourselves in preparation to be fulfilled by the coming of the baby boy in Bethlehem, and I'm excited to share in that with you!
Advent 2014 sermon series: “The Power of Half: How Dividing Something Changed Everything”
November 30: “Realizing How Much You Have,” Jeremiah 22:11-17
December 7: “Experiencing the Lives of Others,” Jeremiah 8:8-11
December 14: “Tapping Into Anger,” Jeremiah 12:1-4
December 21: “Inspiring Others to Join You,” Jeremiah 40:1-6
December 24 (Christmas Eve, 7:00 pm): “Into Heaven,” Luke 2:1-20