Monday, December 19, 2011

Asking the Right Christmas Question

Many years ago when I was the pastor of Soldotna UMC I was asked to come to Soldotna Middle School and read my stories about conflict to the students.  It was an invitation I gladly accepted.  In my other life I was a middle school teacher before becoming a pastor. 

We were discussing one of the stories when one of the students shared the frustration she felt when her parents would ask her every day after school, “Well, how was school today?”  The student felt that such a question was almost an invasion into her privacy. 

Many of the other students echoed her feelings.  But one young lady spoke out, “How would you like it if no one ever asked you how your day went?  You guys should be grateful for what you have.”  It was a powerful moment. 

As a parent of four students I heard again the need for parents to ask good questions.  Instead of “How was school today,” I have learned to ask, “What did you do in math class today?” or “What was the most fun thing you did today?”

It is the art of asking questions that many of us need to learn.  Perhaps it applies in our relationship with God.  For many the most basic question is “Do you believe in God?”  I propose a more fundamental question.  “God, do you love me?” 

This is a question humanity needs to ask this Advent and Christmas.  Sometimes we view God as distant and far off.  Life is hard and we feel that God is a million miles away.  At Christmas God answers our question with a baby in a manger, God’s own Self.  He is Emmanuel, “God with us.”

“Do you believe in God?” is a question most of us ask from our minds.  “God, do you love me?” is much more personal.  It has to do with the deep places in our hearts. 

This Christmas will once again answer this question with a resounding, “YES!  I DO LOVE YOU!”  The answer will be proclaimed from the heights of heaven to our earthly reality no matter how dark. 

The pastors and laity of all our Alaska UM churches are in my thoughts and prayers this Christmas.  And may the Christ Child be the answer to the question we are asking this year.

Grace Always,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Is a Time to Wake Up

Father Alfred Delp, a German priest who was imprisoned and executed by the Naziis in WW II wrote this from his prison cell.  “Advent is a time for rousing.  Human beings are shaken to the very depths, so that they may wake up to the truth of themselves.  The primary condition for a fruitful and rewarding Advent is renunciation, surrender ... a shattering awakening; that is the necessary preliminary.  Life begins only when the whole framework is shaken.”[1]
Advent can be a time for the framework of our lives to be shaken and stirred.  It can be a time to be roused from sleep into wakefulness.  If nothing in life has awakened us then we have a need to waken ourselves.
            There are several tests out there that offer Christians a chance to show how much they really know about Christmas.  It’s easy to get tripped up and think there were three wise men standing next to the manger, or that the Little Drummer Boy was there, too.  But these tests are challenges of the details of the story, and do not speak to the spirit of it.  Mastery of the facts isn’t what Christmas is about; the Advent season is one where the mystery of God’s love is opened to us as we progress toward Jesus’ birth.  
           That wonderful line of Kierkegaard comes to mind: “It is so much easier to become a Christian when you aren’t one than to become one when you assume you already are.”  Advent is a time to shake loose of all the assumptions we make about Christmas, ourselves, the world, and the Christ child.  When we assume we already are awake and alive to Christ we may discover that our soul has been asleep. 

Grace Always,

[1] Alfred Delp, S.J., The Prison Meditations of Father Delp, 1960 MacMillan, p. 40.