Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent - Come Lord, Jesus

In my faith tradition, Roman Catholicism, the weeks leading up to Christmas is called the season of Advent. It is a time we are to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ Child. The Church tries really hard to get us to focus on the true meaning of Christmas but I have a feeling that most of us aren't really getting it.

We are like most other people. We are focused on getting all of our shopping done, decorating our houses and baking cookies for our holiday get-togethers. And we're trying to fit all of this in our already too busy schedules of work, ball games, TV programs, etc. We begin to feel stressed over the fact that we have way too much to do and way too little time. We become cranky and short-tempered - and never quite settle ourselves down long enough to meditate on celebrating the birth of the Christ Child and what it means for us today. Christmas Day comes, we go to Church, open gifts, eat a big meal and secretly, we're glad it's over so we can get some rest.

I think most of us are operating under the assumption that we are celebrating a birth that happened 2000 years ago. What most of us don't realize is that we should use the weeks leading up to Christmas anticipating a birth that is still to come. For though Jesus was physically born into our world 2000 years ago, He is still waiting to be born in the 'hearts' of many of us. That's what Advent and the Christmas Season is really all about - preparing our 'hearts' to receive the Christ Child - to allow Him to be born in our own lives.

How ironic it is. As Christians we are offended when other faith traditions want to take Christ out of Christmas. We are offended when someone says 'Happy Holidays' rather than 'Merry Christmas'. But Christmas is more than a greeting.

I wonder how the world might become different, if, as Christians, we celebrated the birth of Christ, not by exchanging expensive gifts with our family and friends, but instead focusing our attention on the needs of the world around us. What if we showed God's love by giving of ourselves - all year long - to the hungry and the poor. What if we denied ourselves some luxuries - ate out less, drove less expensive cars, lived in smaller homes, had fewer electronic toys, a simpler cell phone plan, etc. and instead shared some of our blessings with those in need. You see, most of us are not opposed to sharing with those less fortunate -as long as we don't have to give up any of our own comforts. We will gladly share a little of our 'extras' but don't ask us to give till it hurts.

All these years I've been celebrating Christmas and I still haven't gotten it right. Not even close. It's hard to change traditions but I think I need to distance myself a little bit each year from the particular ways I've been taught to celebrate this seadon, for I truly want Christ to be born anew in my heart.

This is a time of WAITING and PREPARING for what's REALLY IMPORTANT. Come, Lord Jesus. Come, fill my heart with your love. Fill it until it overflows into the world around me - and then fill it some more. Amen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Great Debate

It's that time of year again. The FWD's are flooding my e-mail box. The Great Debate.

Is it a Christmas Tree - or a Holiday Tree? Should I say 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays'? And then there's the video I keep getting with the song "Christmas with a Capital C"

I don't see what the big deal is!! If I'm celebrating Christmas, I'm putting up a Christmas Tree. If somebody else is celebrating something other than Christmas, then I guess they're putting up a Holiday Tree. If I'm speaking to somebody who shares my belief system, I will wish them a Merry Christmas. If I'm speaking to someone who has a different belief system, then I will wish them 'Happy Holidays'. It's not about being 'politically correct.' It's about respect for others, peace and goodwill.

Does God care which words I use when I greet people during this special season? I doubt it. He probably cares about my attitude toward that person. He probably cares whether or not my greeting is motivated in love. But I can't see God being offended if I wish a Jewish person, a Muslim, a Hindu, or an atheist a Happy Holiday instead of a Merry Christmas.

"Glory to God in the Highest - and PEACE to men of good will"

Merry Christmas - and Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What is Faith?

What is Faith?

There was a time in my life when I thought 'faith' was believing that God exists. End of story. And so if someone had asked me if I was a person of faith, I would have answered 'yes.'

I've come to understand that believing that God exists is merely the starting point of a long and wondrous journey. All journeys have a starting point and the journey of faith begins with believing that God exists. At least for me that's where it began.

Is that enough to get you into heaven? Maybe. I'm not sure. Some people think so and so their journey ends there.

Some people believe the journey begins with baptism and I guess that could also be true. But I was baptized on somebody else's faith. I don't think I truly began to 'grow' until it became my faith. My parents planted the seed but eventually it took root in my own heart.

I believe that this particular journey can last a life time. It can take you as far as you want to go. For me, I look back and see how far I've come and I'm filled with wonder. I look ahead to see how far I can still go and I get excited.

My journey began with simple faith. I believed. Later I developed a love of scripture. Reading scripture helped me to learn 'about' Jesus. And then one day, knowing 'about' Him wasn't enough for me anymore. I wanted to know Him personally. I wanted a relationship. My faith began to come alive when I began to 'live' what I believe. Or maybe I should say 'try' to live what I believe. It's a struggle sometimes. It means rising above pettiness to embrace the bigger picture of love and forgiveness. It means trying to separate myself from this world and live for the kingdom of God which is hard to find amidst all the chaos of our physical world.

It means trusting God with my whole heart and soul. Trusting His wisdom and His love.
It means letting go of anger and forgiving someone - even when I still kind of hurt. It means 'doing' what Scripture says is right - even when I WANT to do it my way. It means not judging other people for their shortcomings - because God knows I have enough shortcomings of my own to overcome!

Faith is understanding that I do not live for this world but for the Kingdom of God. I do not have to be upset when somebody mistreats me - because GOD will hold them accountable. That doesn't mean they're going to hell necessarily. It just means that when God gets done with them they will have a clear understanding of how they hurt me by their selfishness or greed or whatever and they WILL receive justice at the hands of my Father. (Vengeance is MINE says the Lord) Yes, faith is giving my anger to GOD and KNOWING that HE will see that justice is done. Faith is understanding that if I insist on holding on to that anger, I am simply holding myself back on my walk with God. I hurt myself when I do not forgive - not the other person.

Faith is knowing that God loves me and wants me to grow to full maturity. He will never abandon me but He will not remove all trials from my life. He loves me so much that He allows me to grow THROUGH these trials. He will not permit any trial in my life that He cannot use to make me stronger in my walk with Him.

Faith is KNOWING that God is my Father. Faith is KNOWING that He loves ME even more than I love my OWN kids - and that's a lot! But I'm just a human and I can't possibly love as purely as He loves. Faith is KNOWING that He is REAL and ALIVE and ACTIVELY involved in my life. He knows ALL and He loves me anyway. He knows that I love Him and that I'm doing my best. And that's what counts. I'm trying. I don't have to be perfect - I just have to do my best. He will do the rest.