Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hope, in Spite of Everything Else

Luke 2:22-35
        The aftermath of the birth of Jesus is followed by two incredible stories. In our homogenization of Christmas, once the shepherds leave in Luke’s gospel, we switch over to Matthew’s dangerous tale about King Herod. This story includes the wise men worshipping the future king as Joseph and Mary prepare to flee with the child into Egypt to escape the wrath of the present king. But in Luke’s version, we find an entirely different version of those first eight days in the life of the newborn.
When Mary was able to travel, instead of making their way directly back to Nazareth, the parents decide to take their child to the Temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised. There they met Simeon, a devout believer who had been promised by God he would not die until he saw the Messiah. As the parents were preparing the child for the ceremony, Simeon approached the couple, took the child in his arms, and said, “O God, now you can take my life for I have seen your salvation. This child will be a light to all people.” Then he turned to Mary and gently offered these words, “And he will be a sword that will pierce your heart.”
  Imagine what would happen if in the midst of a baptism, I would turn to you, the congregation, and say, “We will be blessed by this gift from God,” and then whisper to the mother, “But he will break your heart.” I know one thing for sure; I wouldn’t be invited to the post baptism pictures. 
I am 64 years old. It is hard to believe that I have never observed a Christmas with a broken heart, but many of you have.  I’m not talking about the disappointment we experienced as a child when we had our heart set on one gift and something we never imagined, or for that matter really wished for, was revealed when the Christmas box was opened. I’m not talking about the disappointment of spending Christmas morning without a son or daughter because they are miles away celebrating with their new family. I am referring to that empty feeling that unexpectedly returns during the holidays when one looks at the empty chair once occupied for so many years by a loved one.
My grandfather Andrews died when I was in college. I can’t remember the year. But I will never forget that Christmas. We traveled to Georgia for the funeral. Once there, it was almost a reunion as relatives caught up on old times. The funeral was performed in typical Presbyterian fashion as we were reminded that while this was a sad day, we were to celebrate that my grandfather had begun his eternal life in one of the rooms God had prepared for him. After the service, my family returned to Virginia, and I headed back to college.
When I returned home after exams that December, it was obvious that something was missing in the Andrews’ household.  It didn’t smell like Christmas. Each year a lot of time was spent in the kitchen where mom baked cookies and dad made unbelievable candies on his marble slab. These delicacies were shared on Christmas Eve with friends throughout the neighborhood and with strangers who were stuck behind cash registers at the local mall. On any given day one could gain 5 pounds by just waltzing through the Andrews’ kitchen. But this Christmas, no peppermints, chocolates or caramels were created on dad’s marble slab. No trips were planned to the local merchants offering our brand of Christmas cheer. My father had not been able to grieve over the death of his father until the Christmas season arrived. His grief darkened the holiday for all those around him. I knew he was neither the first person nor the last to suffer from this pain. But I also know he was neither the first person nor the last who needed to be reminded Christ trumps our darkness through the glory of his light.
Forty plus years ago, I did not know what to say to my father. I discovered for the first time that not all of the emotions of Christmas are pleasant. But with age comes a little wisdom, and perhaps with that knowledge comes the responsibility to say to you what I wish I had been able to say to my father in his time of despair.
Christmas began with the cry of a newborn. Into the cold of the winter night a child was born just like millions of children had been born before him. He cried out, gasping for the air that brought precious life into his lungs. But Jesus wasn’t the only one who cried that night.  Muffled by the exotic songs of angels and the ecstatic shouting of shepherds was the crying of God.  For God knew the whole story. This birth would lead to death.  This death would break God’s heart. Much too soon, a mother’s joy would be stunned by an ancient prophet who knows God’s plan for salvation. Too soon Mary learned she had little control over the path her son was destined to walk.
The reality of life is that every day we will hear the cry of a mother who has lost her child. Every day we will hear the cry of a son who has lost his father. Every day we will hear the cry of a worker who has lost his job. Everyday we will hear the cry of a loved one who is in the last stages of cancer or heart disease.  Every day we will hear the cry of a human heart that is suffering.  All of these memories will come back to haunt us during Christmas, that joyous day when it seems everyone else is in the midst of the most glorious celebration of the year.
But the tears of God were more than tears of grief. In this remarkable gift of a father sacrificing a son, we are promised all that has been lost will be restored. God, the grieving father, through the words of Simeon, revives our broken hearts with these words. “My eyes have seen your salvation which has been prepared in the presence of all people.  He shall be a light in the midst of darkness.”
Sometimes, with all the bustle, noise and artificial lights of the holiday, we need to be reminded that the eternal light of God is never extinguished, and neither are God’s promises. The original Christmas is about hope, which is fulfilled.  The original Christmas is about love, which is eternal.  It is about joy, which lingers beyond a day. It is about peace that is everlasting. For some of you, this Christmas is about remembering and grieving over the ones who are no longer with us. It is normal; in fact, it is necessary to shed those tears. But we don’t shed them alone. God knows our pain, sees our tears, and hears our cries.  Eventually, when the time is right, the God of hope will lift us up and remind us that our loved ones are resting safely in God’s eternal arms. 
At some point, in each of our lives, Christmas will be the longest night of the year. For some of you it was this year.  Remember, you did not cry alone.  Each year God and Mary shed a tear of sorrow as they remember that first Christmas night. But they also shed a tear of joy. For Christmas remains the night when the word became flesh and dwelt among us. It remains the night when a candle of hope was lit that can never be extinguished. It remains the night when the love of God trumped the darkness in our lives.
Shed your tears of joy and grief.
Shed your tears and know that God cries with you.
Shed your tears, and then when you are ready, sing a song of joy to the one who is our light and our salvation.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Reflections of Mary

Christmas Eve – 2014

Concept – Five readings based on the Celebration of the Birthday of Jesus throughout the life of Mary. Each reflection centers on scriptures from Luke 1 and 2 as well as the candles in our Advent Wreath.


Candle of Hope

Jesus’ First Birthday

Luke 1:46-54

The Promise


Candle of Peace

Jesus at Thirteen

Luke 2:1-7

Becoming a Man


Candle of Love

Jesus at Thirty

Luke 2:8-20

Vocationally Driven


Candle of Joy

Jesus would have been Forty

Luke 2:25-35

A Sword/Revelation


Christ Candle

Jesus would have been Sixty

Luke 2:36-38


The Promise



My sweet Jesus,

How you have grown this past year.

So many sleepless nights,

        So many hours in my arms,

                It has been a lifetime

Since I first knew you were within me.

Every girl,

        Every woman,

                Prays for the chance to sing Hannah’s song.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

        My spirit rejoices in my savior.

                God has looked with favor upon me.”

Every girl,

        Every woman,

                Dreams of who her child might become.

“Will you scatter the proud?

        Will you bring down the powerful?

                Will you lift up the lowly?”

That is a pretty tall order for one who just took his first step.


        My sweet Jesus,

                Tomorrow comes much too soon.

Take a year,

        Perhaps two,

                In the arms of one who loves you.

Take a year,

        Perhaps two,

                Before rushing into the world.

Rest, my sweet Jesus, rest.

Becoming a Man



        My sweet Jesus,

                Today you are no longer my little boy.

                        With your Bar Mitzvah

You will become a man.

Just yesterday your father and I traveled to Bethlehem.

        Just yesterday we searched for a place to stay.

                Just yesterday you were born in that stable.

                        Just yesterday you were my child.

I love to tell your story.

        Everything went wrong,

Yet everything went right.

You should have been born in Nazareth.

        Your name should have been Joseph.

                It is a miracle you were born at all.

Here you are thirteen years later.

Joshua son of Joseph,

                The name by which you are known.

But in that stable thirteen years ago,

Jesus son of David

                Was the name to which you were born.


        My sweet Jesus,

                I dare not imagine what God has in mind.


        My sweet son,

                You have brought light into my darkness.


        My Holy One,

                May the Lord guide your feet in the way of peace.

Vocationally Driven



        My sweet Jesus,

                You cringe when I call you, “My baby”,

                        But even at 30 you are still my little boy.

All the neighbors figured you would take over the shop.

They marveled at your handiwork,

Compared it to your dad’s,

But Joseph and I both knew

This day would come.

        You love the Holy Word.

                You embrace the wounded soul.                                                Craft your stories well.

From the moment you were born,

        Your people came.

I remember them knocking on the stable door,

        Afraid to enter

                Yet equally afraid to miss the moment.

They spoke of encountering the angel of the Lord;

        They spoke of a choir of heavenly host;

                They spoke as men possessed,

                        Yet their crazed tale was no more bizarre

                                Than my own holy encounter.

That night we sang,

“Glory to God in the Highest,


                        Goodwill among all people.”      

Today I sing,


                My sweet Jesus,

                        Your time has come.”

A Sword/Revelation



        My sweet Jesus,

                Today you would have been forty.

Has it been seven years since that God forsaken day?

        I try,

                I try harder than anyone might imagine

                        To forget,

                                Or reflect,

                                        Or understand

                                                Your Father’s mysterious ways.

All I feel is the sword

As it pierced your side……

                As it still pierces my heart.

That old man told me this would happen,

        But I couldn’t,

                I wouldn’t believe his words.

It was your eighth day.

        Joseph and I took you to the temple for the holy rite.

                Simeon stood before us,

                        So righteous,

                                So devout.

                                        He took you in his arms,

                                                So joyous,

                                                        So transformed.

“My eyes have seen God’s salvation.”

        “You will be a revelation to the Gentiles.”

                “You will break your mother’s heart.”


        My sweet Jesus………..

                You did.



        My sweet Jesus,

                Today you would have been sixty.

                        I feel so old…..

                                Yet so blessed.

I still remember that ancient woman at the temple.

        Her name was Anna.

Her face reflected the map of an experienced explorer.

        Her heart revealed the joy of a child.

That is how I feel these days,



I wasn’t sure I could survive the death of Joseph,

        But I did.

Most days I still struggle with your absence,

        Most days I still remember holding your lifeless frame,

                But not this day.

Today I tell anyone who will listen about that first night.

        Today I remember holding you safely from all harm.

Our friend John has written about you.

        He calls it, “Good News”.

I like the part where you have gone to prepare us a room.

        Remember your first room,

                That drafty old stable.

                        Love was all that protected you

                                From the darkness of this world.

Now you are building a whole new community,

        Now your love shelters the world from darkness.


        My sweet savior,

                Bring me home.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

To God Who is Able

Romans 16:25-27


        “At the very center of the Christian faith is the conviction that in the universe there is a God who is able to do exceedingly abundant things in nature and history. This conviction is stressed over and over in the Old and New Testament. Theologically this affirmation is the doctrine of the Omnipotence of God. The God whom we worship is not a weak and incompetent God. The God we worship is able to beat back gigantic waves of opposition and bring low prodigious mountains of evil. The ringing testimony of the Christian faith is that God is able to make a way out of no way. God is able to transform dark yesterdays into a bright tomorrow. This is our hope. This is our mandate for seeking to make a better world.”

        I wish I could preach like that. The words I just read were proclaimed by Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Alabama on the first Sunday of February in 1956. Three days earlier his house had been fire bombed while King and his family were attending a local rally.

        It is one thing for me to stand here and say, “God is able.” Truth is if I couldn’t proclaim those words found in the 16th chapter of Romans, I probably should be doing something else for a living. But imagine proclaiming those words just after your family has been threatened and your home destroyed. Imagine wondering what might happen the next time you speak in public. Imagine speaking the words, “God is able,” while wondering if the stranger sitting in the front pew might be your next assailant. Imagine walking into that pulpit, with every eye watching and every ear listening, and having the courage to remind folks that:

Our God created the universe,

        Our God rescued the Hebrews from bondage,

        Our God designed a dynasty and made a poet its king,

        Our God brought the Jewish people back from Babylon,

        Our God rebuilt Jerusalem and adorned it with a temple,

        Our God is able to do whatever our God wants to do.


        I must confess I do not have the moral fiber or the religious conviction of Dr. King. I certainly would question appearing in public days after an attack had been made on my life. Furthermore, the absolutes offered by Dr. King resonate when proclaimed as a poetic litany, but those stories, those signature moments of Israel carry with it the mustiness of ancient history. Some folks could care less what is written in our sacred text. Some folks might remind us it has been a long time since the Red Sea. Others might suggest what God did yesterday hardly gives God a pass for what God seems to have failed to do today.

        It is these questions, these confusions, and these confessions that make the Christmas story so vital. If everyone lived their life in full compliance with the wishes of God, I could make a great argument that Christmas would not have been necessary. We would still exchange gifts. We would still come together for a traditional meal. We would still decorate a tree and even write holiday greetings to friends and family. Trust me, with or without Jesus, Wal-Mart and Target cannot afford for Christmas to disappear.

        But the real Christmas, the actual appearance of God among us was not some something dreamed up by a Madison Avenue ad agency. It was a Holy response to an unholy situation. It was the God of Creation, the God of the Exodus, the God of David and the God of Isaiah reminding anyone with ears to hear that God is able.

        Christ did not come when the stock market was up, Christ did not come when there was no political crises. Christ did not come when the hospitals were empty. While we soft peddle Christmas with Rudolph and Frosty, the darkness that surrounded the original event swallowed the courage of most anyone who dared to hope for light.

 Within this context, Luke gives us the story of a girl who finds the strength to believe God is able. What makes the story entirely plausible is that her faith is neither blind nor without question.

        When told she was to be the mother of God’s son, the first words out of Mary’s mouth were, “How is this possible?”  Her response was so authentic, so real. What was she suppose to say? I would suggest anyone made privy to the plans God introduced to reconcile the world from sin probably responded, “Are you kidding me?”

        Unaffected, the angel of the Lord sang, “Fear Not! With God, all things are possible.”

        Some weeks those words are a lot more believable.  But after this week I can fully appreciate Mary’s hesitation.  Even in this season of miracles I find my courage failing. Bonnie Jefferson fell and had to have her second hip replacement on the same leg in less than a month. Mike Fisher had a knee replaced. Stu Armstrong had surgery on his wrist. Bobby Rose’s shoulder replacement was rescheduled, because Annie Mae is recovering from bronchitis. And that is the good news. Early this week Jimmy McGann died. His services were Friday. Pat Humphrey is with her daughter for what she fears is the last time. Ralph Frink is preparing for a bout with radiation and chemo while Barbara, Perry, and Rocky have decided enough is enough. How can we be expected to simply pick up our hymnbooks and sing, “Joy to the World”?

        I would suggest we begin by embracing the complexities of Mary’s reaction. Mary response reminds us that questions have always formulated the very essence of what we believe. If there are no questions, there is a questionable foundation that promises to erode at the first sign of crisis. The question, “How can this be”, reminds us how much of God is hidden. Yet the Christmas event, unlike Creation, confirms how close God is willing to come. 

        To claim “God is able” opens our lives to possibilities beyond our limited imaginations. We are allowed to question while still believing. Perhaps more importantly, we can believe without needing all the answers. 

        Yesterday Deb and I dropped by to visit Elizabeth and Perry. As we were leaving, Elizabeth whispered, “Louie, this is the season when the angel said, ‘Fear Not’.” It was not necessary for Elizabeth to qualify or explain her incredible confession of faith. All I could do was thank her for reminding me of the very heart of the Christmas message.

        O God who is able,

Open unto me light for my darkness;

        Open unto me hope for my despair;

        Open unto me joy for my sorrow;

        Open unto me peace for my turmoil.

        O God who is able,

        Open unto me courage for my fears.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent 2014

A New Thing


Our God,

Our Great God,

Thought blowing life into creation

                        Should have been enough!

                                But it wasn’t.

Stories were told,

        Storms raged,

                Kingdoms were toppled,

                        Heroes emerged,

                                With little or no results.

Time after time

 Creation fell deeper,

                And deeper,  

                        In love with itself. 

Our God,

Our Great God,

                Considered doing a New Thing.

That thought,

        That hope,

                Begins our story.      


Living in Fear



        Absence of Light:

                No Stars,

                        No Moon,

                                No Hope.

Nothing but darkness filled the soul of Israel.




One single word

        Illumines the abyss.

                One single word   

                        Trumps our reality.

                                One single word

                                        Conquers our fear.


        God with us.


                        God in us.


                                        One single spark

of light.




It’s 3:00 in the morning!

        The only thing awake is me.

                I wish I could exchange the stillness of the night

                        For the restlessness in my soul,

                                But like the whole of creation

                                        I shall have to wait for the dawn.

I know the sun will rise,

        But what proof do I have that

God will rise to the occasion?

Waiting for God

Often seems as pointless

As waiting for Godot.

I wait for the dawn of the same day,

        With its similar problems,

                And fruitless solutions.

I wait,

        Blinded by a darkness

                Untransformed by light.

I wait,

        Hoping for justice,

                 Longing for righteousness,

                        Yet expecting neither.

I wait for the voice of a prophet;

I wait for the song of a poet;

I wait in the darkness of my own despair.

Come, O Come, Emmanuel.


                        Not Like It was Supposed to Be


There is the accepted way,

        There is the expected way,

                And then there is God.

Who could have seen Moses coming?

Who pays any attention to a guy who talks to bushes?

No one placed their bets on David.

David was,

        Too small,

                Too young,

                        Too poetic.

Elijah had visions,

        But only one disciple.

Elisha had miracles,

        But only a few followers.

Jeremiah had……………

        Pathos…… distress……angst.

Everyone knows to make it in this world one needs,





Somebody make a note to God!

Next time,

        No unknown from a backwater town.

                For God’s sake,

                        Let’s do it like it’s supposed to be done.

An Odd Pair

Isn’t he a bit old?

        Isn’t she a bit young?

                What will the neighbors say!

He appears so ordinary.

        She seems just a little too perfect.

                Not exactly a match made in heaven.


Fragile One


No Birthing Room,

        No attending physician,

                No nurses,

                        No drugs,








Jesus was born with a huge cross to bear,

        Where did we get the idea

                        Jesus was so fragile?


A Not So Final Amen

Christmas doesn’t end,

        It begins.

We might clean up the clutter in the living room,

        But there is still a mess outside our door.

Christmas focuses our vision,

Christmas opens our ears,

                Christmas challenges our hearts,

To see,

                                To hear,

                        To remember why Jesus came.

People who walk in darkness

Still need a great light.

People whose lives have been shattered

        Still need to be comforted.

God’s new thing does not excuse our old ways.

There was a time for all flesh to remain silent,

        But no longer.

Christ was born…………        Amen.

                Christ spoke the holy words……..       Amen.

                                Christ died and was resurrected:

That we might be reborn to the darkness around us,

That we might act on the holy words we have heard,

That we might live as if Christ mattered.

Christmas begins when we sing a new song.

Christmas begins when we listen to a wounded heart.

Christmas begins when we become a prince of peace.

Let there be no ending to what Christmas becomes.  AMEN.