Nothing Artificial Here*

Christmas Ponderings - devotions for the Christmas seasonThere has always been something about Charlie Brown from the Peanuts comic strip that each of us can connect with. He opens his mailbox and it is always empty. He never can kick that football. He never could find the courage to talk to the little red-headed girl.

Poor, Charlie Brown.

And poor us. We all have days when no matter what we try to do, it never quite comes out right. But there are a few things we can learn from Charlie Brown. Even though that mailbox was empty, he keeps looking. Even though he never kicks that football, he keeps trying.  And even though he never could find the courage to talk to the little red-headed girl, he keeps planning to.

In 1965 A Charlie Brown Christmas aired for the first time on CBS. It has sense become a Christmas classic. In it Charlie Brown searches for the meaning of Christmas. What he sees around him does not feel like Christmas to him. “Does anybody know the meaning of Christmas?!?” he inquires.

The answer is you do, Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown is sent to choose the Christmas tree for the nativity play. The lot is filled with beautiful, sparkling, artificial trees. He chooses the only “real” tree in the lot, that happens to be the wimpiest, littlest, tree.

There is nothing artificial about Christmas or the meaning of Christmas. Charlie Brown’s decision to choose the tiniest and the weakest of the trees symbolizes how Christ chose each of us, the tiniest and the weakest.

So this Christmas season, go and love as Charlie Brown loved, never giving up and loving on the tiniest and the weakest. Go and love as Jesus has loves you.

*This first appeared as a From the Deacon column at Peakland United Methodist. 

Repost: The Greatest Gift of All

Christmas Ponderings - devotions for the Christmas season

This post was first posted on December 24, 2012. 

In the A Charlie Brown Christmas special, Linus recites from Luke 2:8-14:

Sometimes, we can feel like Charlie Brown. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas and wonder, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus, much like the angels on that first Christmas, remind us what Christmas is all about.

“Peace and goodwill toward men.”

Peace and goodwill is hard to come by these days, as it was that first Christmas.  Charles Campbell reminds us, “The political powers, in both Jesus’ day and our own, play on fear to get their way – whether it be the fear of the emperor, the fear of terrorists, the fear of the ‘other’ (the immigrant), or the fear of death.”

Government mandated oppression.

Discrimination against those were different than them.

The poor were kept poor.

People suffered from hunger.

Violence was evident on the streets daily.

But, that was in “those days.”

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7, NRSV).

The arrival of Jesus brought with it a “new day.” There is no longer need for fear, only joy. There is no longer need for corruption, only freedom. There is no longer need for hunger, only feasting. There is no longer need for occupation, only liberation. There is no longer need for war, only peace.

And yet, we struggle to see this “new day.”

Political parties inspire fear of the other party.

Hatred and bullying of someone, anyone, who is different from us is rampant.

The great divide between the have’s and the have-not’s gets wider and wider.

People suffer from hunger.

Violence is evident on our streets and in our schools.

Charlie Brown - Linus - Christmas PonderingsAnd there is something deep inside of us that wants to cry out like Charlie Brown, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is about?” Sure, we get all these warm fuzzies at this time of year that make us feel so good. It’s great giving and receiving gifts. It’s great going to parties. It’s great having family and friends around.

But, at least for me, there is something hard to swallow about Christmas. That is with all the joy, there is grieving and hopelessness. And I don’t mean to put a damper on things. From Central America and back, I have seen suffering at the hands of poverty, addictions, and violence. And while we try to not think about these things at Christmas, we have to remember this is why the baby boy was born. This poverty, these addictions, and this violence is the reason God became man. This suffering is the reason that Jesus was born.

Jesus is not just the reason for the season. Jesus is the greatest gift of all. In that lowly manger sits hands of grace that bring healing and hope into our hopelessness.

John’s gospel talks about Jesus’ birth as a great Light that penetrates  the darkness of the world. Matthew quotes Jesus telling the disciples that “You are the Light of the World.” This is just one of the many commissioning sayings of Jesus. God sent Jesus as the Light, we are the light-bearers. It is now our responsibility to carry that Light into the dark crevices of the world. Because we claim Jesus Christ, we now become a gift to the word.

Taking the Light to the oppressed.

Taking the Light to the poor and the hungry.

Taking the Light to the bullied and the bullies.

Taking the Light into the violent streets.

It is us who must act. It is us who must bring peace and goodwill to all. It is our gift to give.

On His Little Shoulders

Read Luke 2:1-20.

Christmas Ponderings - devotions for the Christmas seasonThe waiting is over. The Child has been born. And we rejoice. A silent night has become a holy night. All is calm as all becomes bright with hope.

As we peek over the side of the cradle, and look at the Peace Child, we feel peace. God’s great kingdom begins with this child. And this child will have authority over that kingdom. For it is as Isaiah wrote, “Authority rests upon his shoulders.” (Isaiah 9:6)

It is the authority to heal the blind and the lame.

It is the authority to raise the dead.

It is the authority to forgive sins.

It is the authority that welcomes the poor and the oppressed. The outcast and the “other.”

It is this authority that will cause those in authority to question him and plot against him. It is this authority that will create tension in the religious and political realms. It is this authority that will be the cause of the greatest weight on his shoulders – that of the cross.

And it starts here, in this cradle, with these little, infant shoulders. It begins with God putting on flesh. It begins with the welcoming of the shepherds – the poorest and often despised in their day. It begins here in the lowliest of places. It begins in the stillness of the night. It begins in a most unexpected way.

This little infant has the authority to bring peace on earth.

And when we look around the world and see the places (read: the hearts) where Jesus reigns, we find peace. The abusive father who turns to Jesus’ authority instead of that of the bottle, finds peace. The sister who turns to Jesus’ authority instead of her own stubbornness, finds peace. The hateful speech of a neighbor who turns to Jesus’ authority instead of that of the tradition he claims, finds peace.

photo by K. Byrne

photo by K. Byrne

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of our greatest theologians of the 20th century, told a German-speaking congregation in Havana, Cuba on December 21, 1930 in a sermon:

But now it is true that in three days, Christmas will come once again. The great transformation will once again happen. God would have it so. Out of the waiting, hoping, longing world, a world will come in which the promise is given. All crying will be stilled. No tears shall flow. No lonely sorrow shall afflict us anymore, or threaten.

The great transformation will bring peace. And it starts at the cradle.

As we peek over the cradle this Christmas at the infant Christ, let us remember that the weight of the world with all of its brokenness and sin is on his little shoulders. As we peek into the cradle, and look into his eyes of love, remember that Jesus does not bring peace by force, but by invitation. When we invite Christ into the dark places (read: hearts), peace will follow.

Guest Post: Rejoice!

Kara Byrne blogs at Byrnelove.
Christmas PonderingsRejoice as the poor shepherds, who were doing their jobs, minding their sheepish business  when glory surprised them.
Rejoice as the wise men who had ‘more money than God’ to travel halfway around their world to bow in reverent adoration.
Rejoice as Simeon and Anna, the forever faithful, who had seen a lifetime of events, but held on to the hope that they would see the most desired event of their lifetime.
Rejoice as the oblivious Bethlehem visitors, who rested from their taxing journey and awoke to find a new visitor amongst them.
Rejoice as the single innkeeper who offered what he had, instead of thinking of what he had not.
Rejoice as the angels, who knew it was coming, who had heard the preparations being made within the chambers of heaven, who couldn’t keep in it any longer and who had to wake up the neighborhood with their songs of celebration.
Rejoice as Joseph, who was the frightened and uncertain father, the earthly surrogate of a holy son.
Rejoice as Mary, the humble mother, who was road weary and child-birth worn. The simplest, purest mother of the purest, royalest son.
Rejoice, whoever you are…it’s old joy, it’s new joy. It’s His joy… it’s our joy.
Rejoice.

Guest Post: The Greatest Gift

Brock Weigel is a student at Randolph-Macon College. There he is a Bailey Scholar, discerning a call to ordained ministry. 

Read Matthew 1:18-25

Christmas PonderingsThings I Would Like for Christmas:

  • A New Bike
  • Video Games
  • Comic Books
  • Drumsticks

It would feel almost too cliche to say “Jesus is the best gift ever received on Christmas.” However, the statement is true. Matthew 1:18-25 tells the story of how Joseph was convinced that he was to raise the Son of God. He literally received THE Christmas present, right into his arms.

As a drummer, I often feel like I need certain things to be happy. I think I need new sticks after I break my old ones; new heads when they become dented; and a sound system to hear a guitarist over all my noise. When Christmas comes around, I selfishly hope to receive such things, as though I earned them for surviving until December yet again. I even convince myself that these things are necessary in order for me to praise the Lord by playing at Church.

As great as it feels on the occasions that I do get new drumsticks, one Christmas I received a gift that truly surprised me. I was given an entire, brand new drum set. A complete overhaul! I hadn’t asked for a drum set. I had asked for sticks or other equipment. My parents knew me well enough that they were able to buy me something they knew I would really enjoy, without me having to ask.

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” -Matthew 7:11

I did not include that verse to say that my parents are anything less than incredible. Matthew 7 contrasts the earthly gifts that we as Creation give to each other against the heavenly gifts our Father bestows upon us. My parents were able to give me a drum set. My God was able to give me loving parents. How much greater then was God’s gift?

I have a laundry list of things I desire, and I have needs to fulfill, such as eating. But we know that “man cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (from Matthew 4:4) What we truly need always comes from our thirst for God. Having created us, he already knows what we like and require, even before we ourselves do so. Though I have a list of things I would be happy to receive for Christmas, God knows even better.

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