Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: christmas eve

Book Review: Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus

Last Call CoverLast Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus, Jerry Herships, Westminster John Knox Press, 2015.

Jerry Herships is unlike any minister you have met before. His experiences alone before receiving his call to ministry are enough to fill a book. But add to that what he is doing in Denver and it makes this memoir even more compelling.

A former altar boy who had vast dreams of being the next Johnny Carson, Herships tended bar as he worked to make ends meet with his various comedy and game show gigs. These aren’t the usual experiences that one who is called to ministry is expected to have. But Jerry isn’t your typical pastor. His book tells his story of moving to LA to chase his dream of becoming the Carson for a new generation to forming a new faith community – a bar church – known as AfterHours Denver.

AfterHours is more than just a church that meets in a bar, it has decided to focus on the homeless in Denver by gathering in community and fixing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to give out to the homeless. This affirms that traditional church and traditional worship is not for everyone. Herships found a way to be in ministry with those who otherwise would not darken a church sanctuary. In addition to handing out food and water, this church shares in communion with 700+ people a week in Civic Center Park.

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The Greatest Gift of All

Linus recites Luke 2:

Linus recites from Luke 2

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.

And 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 be 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.

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