Friday, December 20, 2013

This Story Makes a Difference

Like many of you, I enjoyed a Christmas pageant in church on Sunday.  We had shepherds and sheep, angels and wisemen, Mary and Joseph, and a baby Jesus played by a plastic doll.  I witnessed the well-known story full of familiar characters, a story I could recite from memory by the time I started kindergarten.  Yet I loved hearing it anew, even if the sheep forgot to “baaah” on cue most of the time.  Why is something so familiar still so powerful?

It dawned on me why this story matters so much as a woman sang the haunting Christmas piece:
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters? 
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered will soon deliver you?
(Lyrics by Mark Lowry & Buddy Greene)
If this were not a true story—in other words, if it were just another ancient fable that warms the heart and gives some wisdom for living—everything in my life would be deflated, and washed out.  The brilliance of the sun would become for me a dirty fluorescent bulb.  Without the coming of this child, what would be left for us who believe?  Not much I’m afraid.

Long ago a child was born to a Hebrew peasant girl.  He grew to be a man totally dedicated to God.  He showed us what God is like in an unprecedented way.  He was “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. [Heb.1:3].”  As what he said and did sank into those around him, they realized there was something unprecedented going on here.  In amazement they concluded:  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth [John 1:14].”  But I get ahead of the story here.  At the moment of birth, the child is all potential, a future just beginning to unfold.  This child is a package generously received yet unopened.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God

For now, let us simply hear again about the shepherds and the angels and the parents and the baby.  Let us realize anew the difference this story makes for us who believe.  Without it, our lives would be lost in triviality and tedium and emptiness.  With it, our lives are found in purpose and wonder and hope.  This story matters.

May you experience the incredible power of the story as we make our way toward Christmas,

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Where is the Peace?

This time of year we talk a lot about peace.  Zechariah told us that the coming Christ would “guide our feet into the path of peace [Luke 1:79].”  The angels sang at Christ’s birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom he favors [Luke 2:14].”  Yet each morning the news tells us of new conflicts, of refugees displaced by war desperately seeking a safe haven, and of senseless random violence.  In our own country people suffer under the violence of crime, poverty, and injustice.  Violence seems to be the pervasive currency of power in our world.  So where is the peace?

In a beautiful poetry of history, this past weekend when congregations were celebrating “Peace Sunday” as part of their Advent observance we were also mourning the death of Nelson Mandela.  Mandela fought for a just peace and against a social system that was the very epitome of systematized violence trying to pass itself off as civil society.  During his trial, with the certainty of imprisonment before him, he said:
I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.  I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.  But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. 
Mandela realized that the peace that Zechariah and the angels spoke of must be waged; it must be sacrificed for; it must be grasped fragment by fragment.  Mandela seized upon his moment and won some peace for his nation.

The war for peace is already won through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but there are still some battles to be fought.  Oscar Cullman put it in this way.  When the allied troops made it off the beaches of Normandy and into the hedgerows and villages of France, the outcome of the Second World War was essentially decided.  As their boots moved from sand to dirt, the thing was settled.  The Allied armies would ultimately prevail.  There were still battles to be fought, blood to be shed, people to be displaced, and loss to be endured.  There was still a lot of “mopping up” to do, and that would be messy.  The Allies, however, would win the war.  Peace would come.

Our situation is a bit like that.  This coming Christ through his faithfulness to God has won the peace.  God’s campaign for peace is “off the beaches” and into the “hedgerows and villages.”  We are now in the “mopping up” stage.  It is still dangerous and costly.  Nelson Mandela faithfully fought his battle and moved the peace forward.  He made a place for some new light in the darkness that lingers yet.

The author Robert Louis Stevenson had a difficult childhood, due to poor health. One night his nurse found him out of bed, his nose pressed against the window. “Come back to bed” she said to him. “You’ll catch your death of cold.” But he didn’t move. Instead, he sat, motionless, watching a lamplighter slowly working his way through the black night, lighting the gas street lamps along his route. Pointing to him, Robert said, “See, look there; there’s a man poking holes in the darkness!”

 This is our task for now, to poke holes in the darkness wherever and whenever we can.  The light has won; the fullness of the promised peace is coming.  There are still battles to be fought and losses to be endured.  Mandela fought the battle that was his.  We are to fight the battles that are ours, to poke some holes in the darkness.  This gives to our lives purpose, and this purpose brings with it its own sense of peace.

May you experience the peace of Christ in your heart and your family and your communities this Christmas season and commit anew to poking holes in the darkness.

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister