Tag Archives: love

Love is the only Torch We carry

Love is the only Torch we carry

By Nathan Decker

O, Virginia… watching the events of this weekend in Charlottesville brought me pain.   To see torches again used as beacons of hatred in my lifetime, Lord, have mercy on us.  When a group of white nationalists with anti-immigrant beliefs rapes the torch of Lady Liberty, the irony should not be lost.  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” has once again been trampled on by members of the Know-Nothing party of the 1800’s.  We shouldn’t be afraid of the light.  The flame of torches usually represents people coming together.  In the past, I have proudly watched the torch represent efforts for peace at the Olympics, hope for new discovery in Education, and the eternal flame of Wisdom guiding us.  Shame on us for making it symbol of division and fear!

Much of what transpired this weekend was based in fear and grief.  The city of Chartlottesville’s decision to take down a statue ripped off the band-aid on the surgical wound our nation has been dealing with ever since the Constitution told African-Americans they were 3/5 human.  Our nation’s history is complex and up for interpretation and retelling.  Each generation takes up the momentous task of looking back with guilt and pride in an effort to plow a new path into the future.  There are always attempts at shouting the loudest to diminish the voices of others.

As we stand up against the evil of white supremacy, we have to acknowledge the grief that is being expressed.  The way history is told in this nation has mostly been from a white perspective as if whites were the only leaders and contributors.  In recent years this wrong is being righted.  Those who were silenced and oppressed have had the opportunity to add their story to the history of our nation.  White nationalists and supremacists see this as diminishing white history.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Adding missing slices to the pie only makes the pie more full and does not require us to make other slices smaller.  Yet, this is the fear I see in the eyes of those carrying torches of darkness and yelling hate.  They believe they are losing their part of the story.

We can bravely shine brighter than the faces of fear.  We can learn to build relationships with those carrying torches of hate so that we might show them light, love, and the Christ who welcomes all tribes and nations together.  We can, as friends of mine did in Charlottesville, have peaceful conversations with those with whom we disagree.  We can listen to their concerns as well as make our concerns heard.  Through the conversations that lead to relationships, we can admit that all lives matter to Christ, we are one nation made up of many, and love shines brighter.  Love is the only torch we are called to carry into the dark night of hatred and apathy.  We shall overcome by letting peace on earth begin with each of us lifting up love.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

 

Goodness is stronger than evil;

                Love is stronger than hate;

                Light is stronger than darkness;

                Life is stronger than death;

                Victory is ours through Him who loves us.”

                                -Bp. Desmond Tutu

Let’s be Honest, some folks aren’t going to make it!

From Matthew 13:1-9

Mrs. Smith was one helluva teacher sent from Heaven.  I know because I had her for English.  I know because I watched her put up with Ed.  Ed didn’t want to be in school, Ed didn’t want to learn the puns of Shakespeare or the alliteration of Blake, and Ed didn’t want to be told what to do.

Through it all, Mrs. Smith never gave up.  She’d offer extra time on tests he had no intention of completing.  She’d push him to enter rap lyrics into a poetry contest, but Ed didn’t do extra work.  She’d encourage him to redo the homework he turned in before she graded it, but all this was casting pearls before swine.  Ed didn’t care.  His apathy, a black hole, sucked the energy and impetus around him.  Ed didn’t care.  But Mrs. Smith cared, and she never gave up on him.

Today’s world has joined what some psychologists call the ‘cult of self.’  At the expense of self-awareness and self-limitations, we boost self-esteem eclipsing reality in exaggerated egocentric effigies of us.  We know the education system is failing, yet more students get A’s and Honors than ever before.  If a C is the average, how come so few kids get them?  Ivy League Students were surveyed and 80% of them claimed to be in the top 5% of their class.  And everyone gets a trophy.

But it’s not just kids… Social Media enables us to tell the world about us and to live in a world that revolves around us.  We Instagram what we’re eating, tweet the songs we’re singing, and post “Best Vacation Ever” every time we slip away.  Narcissism rises as we can literally count how many likes, shares, comments, friends, and followers we have.  We create monsters who no longer can be told they are incorrect and will not admit that they made a mistake all in the name of the god called self-esteem.

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells us a parable about farming.  We show up clutching to our report cards, trophies, awards and affirmations; Jesus ruins it.  God loves us, but some of us just aren’t going to get it.  The parable of the sower casting out his seeds is pretty familiar to all of us.  We know about the different types of soils: the path, the rocks, the thorns, and of course the good soil.  And each time we hear this parable, we tell ourselves the same things:  “I’m so glad I’m the good soil,” or “I used to be like that soil, but now I’m the good soil,” or “here’s a list of things I have to do to make sure I’m the good soil.”  We are so focused on ME! ME! ME! we’ve retitled this parable.  No longer is it the parable of the sower but the parable of the soil.

Jesus tells us about God.  Jesus lets us know God doesn’t give up on us.  Jesus is tells us about God’s wasteful generosity.  A farmer goes out to plant.  How many farmers do you know cast seed out on Highway 58?  How many farmers do you know throw seed on rocks or among thorns on purpose?  How many farmers do you know who are tighter than spandex on an 800 lbs gorilla?  Farmers I know count their fingers after they shake your hand.

God is not your average farmer.  Our Lord is so generous every soil gets seed.  God loves the road.  God loves us when we are hard and mean as asphalt.  God loves the rocky soil.  God loves us when we are shallow, undisciplined, and unwilling to let his love affect us deeply.  God loves the soil with thorns and thistles.  God loves us when we let money, worry, friends, and family come before what really matters.  God loves the good soil.  God loves us when we are ready to receive his Word, take it into our lives, and bear fruit.

This is not a story about us.  This is a story about God’s wasteful generosity.  God is willing to love even when there is little chance the love will be returned.  Our part in the story is to love like God loves.

Jesus sat down by the sea and told us a story about God: the most generous, loving, wasteful farmer the world has ever known.  Let’s be honest, some folks are just not going to get it, but that doesn’t stop God from loving them.  It shouldn’t stop us from loving as well.  God gives so much grace in the world that some of the grace is going to waste.  Some folks just aren’t going to follow Jesus.  Yet, God doesn’t give up on them… and neither should we.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

Dramatic Reading for Matthew 28

Dramatic Reading for Matthew 28

Needs four readers, one off-stage, three on.  One has luggage, one has a hammer, and one has a camera.

Voice off stage:                                As you Go-

Reader 1:                             “Yes!  We’re going on a trip!  I wonder where God is sending us.  I can’t wait!”

Reader 2:                             “I hope it’s exotic!  I’ve always wanted to travel overseas!”

Reader 3:                             “I’ll bring my camera and some dough, you know souvenirs will be so cheap there!”

Voice:                                   <Clears throat until they listen>  As you are going, Make-

R2:                                          “YES!  It’s a construction trip!  I wonder what God will have us build!

R1:                                          “I bet it’s a church or a school or maybe even a hospital!”

R3:                                          “I’ll bring my old shirts from college!  We can hand them out to the poor children!  We can even get the kids in church to collect happy meal toys to hand out!  Those kids will be so blessed by our presence!”

Voice:                                   <Clears throat again>  As you are going, make Disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow everything I’ve taught you.

R3:                                          “What’s that mean?”

R2:                                          “Disciples?  How do you build those?”

R1:                                          “All nations… including this one?  Does that mean we’re not going anywhere?”

Voice:                                   As you go about your life where ever you happen to be, share what you have been given.  Invite people to see my love in you.  Bring them to me to experience my love in the baptismal waters.  Teach them to follow the my path of peace.

R1:                                          “This isn’t going to be easy.”

R2:                                          “Yeah, I mean, folks around here already know me.”

R3:                                          “But they don’t all know Jesus.”

R1:                                          “Do you think we can share Christ here, in our homes and at our jobs?

R2:                                          “Do you think they will see Jesus in me?”

R3:                                          “Do you think I can still get a souvenir?”

Voice:                                   You don’t have to go anywhere to share the Gospel.  God has already placed you where you are an expert on the culture, language, and people.

Make disciples, immerse them in Christ’s love, and teach them the way of peace.  Amen.

Temptations

Lord, we hunger.
“Turn the stones into bread”
Lord, we want easy answers.
“Isn’t it written…”
Lord, we want power.
“I will give you all of this if you bow down to me…”
God calls us to care for creation
not to reshape it for our own purpose.
God calls us to follow Christ
even when we don’t understand everything.
God calls us to lay down our desire for power
and take up the Cross.
 
Then we will be filled.
No more hunger.
Then we will find peace.
No more searching.
Then we will bow before the one true God.  Amen.
Nathan Decker, Worshipswake.wordpress.com

I can’t do Good on my Own from James 2:8-17

Photo Credit to Robert Lentz “Christ of Maryknoll”

There once was a man who sought the answers to his life’s questions.  The Western life pursuit of Success didn’t satisfy his longing.  Traditional practice of worship sitting in a pew left him cold.  He cashed in his 401k and went searching.  He followed gurus in India in “Eat, Pray, Love” fashion.  He spent time cross legged with Monks in Thailand humming “Om.”  He even climbed a mountain and spent a year in solitude.  Everything helped, but it was as if this itch wouldn’t go away no matter how much he scratched, it all seemed like it was just the surface.  He wanted to go deeper.  He wanted his spirituality to be real, felt, whole.

 

Finally, the man heard of an old wise man who lived in Mexico City.  The man was immediately skeptical.  Weren’t the holy men supposed to live life in monasteries, temples or impeccably high cliffs?  The address that he had been given led him to a busy corner in a rough part of the city.  He arrived in the late morning.  He looked around, surrounded by abandoned buildings where squatters were just waking up and beginning to gather at the only business in sight – a 7 Eleven.  He watched as the homeless entered the establishment, each got a cup of coffee, and then came back out into the parking lot where they gathered in a circle.  Together they seemed to be sharing personal issues and struggles.  He then watched as they held hands in prayer, sang a song, and then with a collective “amen” they parted.

 

The man saw what was happening.  “This must be the group the man leads.”

He chose one of the homeless men that he assumed was the leader and began following him.  This man went two blocks down the street to a dilapidated apartment complex.  Walking into one of the apartments as if he owned it, he began working on the plumbing using tools he pulled from his pockets.  All the while a small group of children and a mother holding a baby watched on.  They all smiled at the man who had followed the homeless plumber into their abode.  They even offered him something to eat and drink.

 

After many hours work, when the plumber was finished, he looked at the man.  “What are you doing here?”

 

“Are you the wise one I seek?”  The man asked.

 

The plumber stood up smiling.  “I am not the one you seek, but I know him.”

 

“Will you take me to him?”

 

“Come tomorrow morning, get a coffee at the 7 Eleven, and he may show up for you.”

 

The man did exactly that.  He arrived, followed the homeless men into the 7 Eleven, got his cup of coffee, and joined them in the circle.   Again, they shared from their hearts about the struggles they were going through.  They shared tools of their trades so that each had what everyone needed that day.  Every time for each instance, those gathered offered support and encouragement.  Again, they prayed, sang a song.  And again, they parted to go off to work.

 

Confused, the man followed a different man, one he felt sure was the leader.  This one turned out to be a carpenter working on a nursery for a day care.  The next day he followed another – who was a retired teacher who volunteered time at the local school as a tutor.

 

He followed each of them.  The lawyer who did pro bono.  The elderly man who read books at the library all day to kids who gathered.  The brick mason who was re-pointing the bricks at the post office.  There were all kinds of workers, each using what he had in his pockets to help the community around them.

 

After he had followed each of them, none of which admitted to being the leader, he grew frustrated.  “Exactly who in God’s name is the leader here!”  He exclaimed. 

The plumber, the first man he had followed, walked over to him and frowned.  Then he slapped the man in the face.  The man was shocked.  “God is our leader.  Everything we do is in his name.  After all this time, if you don’t see, you can’t possibly be shown.”

 

Though no one told him to leave, the man left the circle.  He went to one of the abandoned buildings and wept.  The next morning, the sun beamed through the windows and warmed his face, awakening him.  He got up, went into the 7 Eleven, and gathered as if he always had in the circle.  There, he expressed his love for God.  There he sang his heart out to God.  There he said Amen.  And then he left, to find need in the community that he could provide for.

 

God called us to be Holy as God is Holy.  Like today, the early church struggled with what it meant to be holy.  Did it mean avoiding sin?  Did it mean spending time in prayer, meditation, worship?  What about good deeds?  In the conversation of grace, where do good deeds come into play?  A conservative branch of the church has always emphasized God’s forgiveness as and repentance as all that is necessary for salvation.  A liberal branch of the church has always emphasized social action, missions to help save not just the soul, but the physical body as necessary for salvation.  In the early Church, the book of James already answered the question.  Both are required.

 

I can’t do good on my own… I’m just a vessel for God’s love to flow to the world. 

 

Personal Holiness is showing our Love for God.  More precisely, it’s sharing the love of God with God.

  • Worship and prayer – not just asking but spending time with God!
  • Forgiving yourself
  • Devotions and Fasting – limiting actions so that what you do matters more
  • Not posting that obnoxious post on Facebook that you know is going to be controversial just to be controversial
  • Giving money to support the ministry
  • Reading the Bible
  • In general, not being a jerk about faith, but enjoying the compassion and love that Christ pours out upon us all freely.

 

Social Holiness is showing our Love for Neighbor, sharing the love of God with others. 

  • Sharing mercy in missions
    • backpack ministry to feed kids in poverty on the weekend
    • Mission Garden to provide fresh veggies
    • Impact 757 and going to Waverly on UMVIM trips
    • forgiving others especially when they don’t deserve it
    • visiting or writing notes to someone who’s world has shrunk to the size of their home
  • Sharing God’s vision of justice and kingdom in a broken world
    • Does God desire freedom for those enslaved to drugs, debt, or a system that is broken? Yes!
    • Does God want us concerned for refugees and immigrants? Yes!

 

In the Super Bowl of life, God has a bias, it is always for the underdog.  To be holy as God is holy requires us not just to have faith, but to do faith.  Our faith must have action attached to it.

 

Here’s the thing, though, “No Social Holiness, No Personal Holiness.”  James, “Someone might claim, you have faith and I have action.  But how can I see your faith apart from your actions?”  Truly loving God causes God to love through us to our neighbors.  Truly loving our neighbors causes us to truly love God.  If all we do is get our cup of coffee and join the circle for songs and prayers – we have personal holiness.  If all we do is go out into the world and be good people helping others – we have social holiness.  Faith without Works is dead.  Works without Faith is turning grace into a merit badge or a brownie point. 

 

Be holy as God is holy.  Love God.  Love neighbor.  This is the Gospel.  Amen.

Here I am…forever yours

Vows for a Wedding


Here I stand. 

I stand behind you in support.

I stand beside you in the toughest moments you will ever face. 

I stand in front of you to defend you from harm. 

Here I sit. 

I sit by the phone waiting for you to call. 

I sit at the table sharing a meal and sharing life. 

I sit in your cheering section, with your family grieving, and at hospital bedside, waiting. 

Here I kneel. 

I kneel to pick you up when you fall down. 

I kneel to pray in your behalf to God.

I kneel to ask you to marry me.

Here I am… forever yours.

When will We Shine?

from Isaiah 60:1-6

Harry was terrified of the light.  It wasn’t the light itself, but rather what if the lamp went out.  Harry worked in an old lighthouse, the kind that ran on oil.  The great light came from an Argand Lamp.  The oil was put in the reservoir at the top, and then it came down through a sleeve to the wick in the glass cylinder.  That meant to light it you had to lift up the glass.  All the fumes from the oil mixed with the air.  When you lit it, “WHOSH,” it came alive with light reflected through the lens and out to sea.

Harry’s job was to keep the light lit. To keep the light lit, you had to refill the reservoir every four to five hours.   Harry rarely missed a refill, in fact, he was usually early.  He hated relighting the lamp.  The whosh always scared him.  Harry was scared of the light.

A lot of us are scared of the light.  We don’t mind basking in it, feeling the warmth and the comfort.  But don’t ask us to reflect it into the world.  Don’t ask us to allow the light to shine in the dark places in our lives.  Don’t ask us to have the light shine bright enough that we stand out.  And many of us are afraid of sharing the light with friends, neighbors, and coworkers.   

In our passage from Isaiah, that was the issue with the city of Jerusalem.  She had been so long in the darkness that she was now afraid of the light.  She had seen good times.  Remember back in King David’s and Solomon’s day the city had been a jewel for all Judah.  The temple had been built alongside the palace.  Trade was booming, everyone was filled with good feelings

She had seen bad times.  She had seen times without gold and frankincense.  Times that were as dark as they had ever been.  Exiled from their land, the temple had been destroyed, and the dynasty of King David had come to a disastrous end.

She had seen ugly times of darkness.  It felt as though God’s light no longer shined.  Adrift at sea.  Alone.  I don’t have to tell you, in today’s world, the darkness is real.  In the midst of all of this, God commands Jerusalem to reflect his light, his glory, his grace.

God created us to reflect God’s light into the world of darkness.  That means we feel the warmth and the comfort of Emmanuel.  But that also means we have to “Arise or Get Up and Shine.”   It means we have to allow the darkness within our own lives to be found out by the light.  It means we have to be brave enough to stand out in our spirituality.  It means we shine the light for others.   

Harry was terrified of the light.  One night during a storm, Harry found himself snuggled so deep in sleep that he slept through the time to refuel the lamp.  He awoke with a start to the sound of a ship’s bell.  Over the waves, the wind carried it’s clanging sound.  As Harry ran up the spiral staircase, he could almost hear the worried yelling of the captain to his men on board the ship.  “Find the light! Search the horizon!  The shore must be near!”

Harry shook and quivered as he quickly refilled the reservoir.  He took the glass cylinder off of the wick. The smell of oil mixed into the air. Harry looked beyond the lens out into the darkness. There was a world of darkness counting on him to share his light.  Counting on him to be brave, to have courage.   What was it the preacher had told him when he confessed of his fear. “There is a world of darkness out there, arise and shine!  You will see and you will be radiant, filled with joy!”

Harry lit the light. Whosh!  He carefully put the cylinder back onto the wick.  He bravely walked out onto the catwalk from where he could see the light piercing the darkness and reaching out to warn the ship of the shore rocks.  In spite of the cold rain and chill of the wind, Harry found himself warm and comforted. The light was shining.  The boat was safe.   

Arise and Shine is God’s call on us.  God shines light upon us all, just as the Star of Bethlehem shined upon all humanity.  Bringing together the multitudes, bringing together the diversity that is our nation and people.  It would be so easy to bask in the warmth of that light and continue about our business as usual.

The Wisemen did no such thing. They saw the light.  They reflected it back into the world through their actions.  They couldn’t remain where they were (they had to find the Christ child).  The light caused them to worship and the light caused them to share (they brought gifts, offerings, generosity).

Church, it is too easy to be a dim wit Christian or a low watt disciple.  When we lay down on the beach of our spirituality and simply absorb all the rays of sunshine God is sending us, we are not fulfilling our calling.  God called us to be mirrors: to reflect his love, to reflect his grace, to reflect God’s light to the world in darkness.

For a mirror to do what it’s intended to do… it has to let the light shine on all of it – no dark hiding places.  It has to let the light be reflected – it doesn’t keep it for itself.  The mirror has to be willing to be a bright spot in a crowd of dark spaces.

For us as Disciples of Jesus Christ, it is very much the same.  We have to be willing for the light to shine on our own darkness.  We have to be willing to let the light be reflected.  We have to be willing to stand out in the crowd.  We have to be willing to welcome the multitudes.

We’re called to be like the Wise Men… to see God’s light, to be changed by God’s light (we can’t stay where we are), to worship and share God’s light.  Don’t be afraid of the light.  “Arise, Shine!” Isaiah says.  “God’s light is on you.  See it and be radiant!”  Amen.

“Traditions that won’t die – Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve” from Luke 2:1-20

There are some Christmas Traditions that won’t die – like going to church on Christmas Eve.  The tradition I grew up in didn’t go to church on Christmas Eve. Midnight Mass sounded too Catholic for them.  Instead, my family’s tradition was to open our gifts from ma and pa on Christmas Eve knowing on Christmas Day we would go to the extended family Christmas. The one where you got all these gifts you didn’t want from Aunts and Uncles you wouldn’t see again until the next family gathering.

The irony is the first Christmas Eve service I ever went to was in a Catholic Church.  I was at college in Danville.  Two of my good friends were Catholic, so when they invited me, I went.  The priest was very open and joyful. He didn’t care that I wasn’t Catholic.  So when the time came for me to receive communion, I went forward with everyone else.  And that’s when I encountered the wafer.

I’m not sure what brand of dissolvable cardboard the priest gave me, but it wasn’t bread.  Bread has flavor.  Bread has texture.  Bread travels down to your stomach with a sensation that is real, sensual, and gratifying.  Not so with the wafer.  It had no flavor.  It had no texture save the distinct realization by my tongue something had been placed on it with a micro-measure of weight.  And after it dissolved in my mouth, I’m not sure any remnant made it any further down the pipe.

I’m not trying to poke fun at our Catholic sisters and brothers.  I respect their understanding and practice of the Lord’s Supper.  Yet it occurs to me that many times that wafer represents my own experience in spirituality.  It lacks flavor. There are times that I can’t tell you the last time I tasted the joy of the Lord’s presence.  It lacks texture. There are long places in my own life where I don’t feel as if God is with me; quite the opposite of Emmanuel.  It leaves me hungry.

At the first church I served as pastor, I was reminded of this by a 4 year old boy named Cody.  It was an ordinary Sunday with ordinary hymns.  You might say we were going through the motions.  I’m sure it was the first Sunday of the month, because we were having communion.  Folks were coming up to the rail in groups as was tradition. They knelt and received a torn bit of bread which they were invited to dip into the cup.  But the ordinary disappeared when little Cody received his bread.

“Is that all I get?”  He had said it as any 4 year old would have said it.  Quiet enough that the entire congregation heard him.  Loud enough to embarrass his mother and father.  But what struck me was his honesty about the hunger.  He didn’t come here for wafers or crumbs.  Cody wanted the flavor, the texture, the fulfillment.  Cody wanted the feast, all that God would give him.  Cody wanted to experience God at the table.

You may be asking what does this have to do with Jesus, the Stable, the Manger, etc.  God didn’t offer us fast food solutions, but instead offered us a full multi-course feast in this babe, in this birth, in this life, in this death, and in this resurrection.  He could have been born in a palace, yet he chose a stable.  He could have had Angels announcing his coming to all humanity, yet he chose shepherds in a field.  He could have picked any town – Rome, New York, Washington DC, yet he chose Bethlehem, a Hebrew word that translates as “House of Bread.”  He could have had the best Tempurpedic, double down, plush bed for his crib, yet mother Mary laid him in a manger – fancy word for a “feeding trough” for animals.

We didn’t come here for a little snack or a bit of fast food.  We came here for the whole experience of who Jesus is.  Tonight we celebrate his coming to us.  Tonight we are invited to experience the whole of who God is in a little child laid in a manger.  Tonight we are invited to experience the whole of who God is in a candle light dinner of a little bread and a little wine.  Thank God some traditions won’t die.  Amen.

Advent Candle Readings (intended for a single service)

Advent Candle Readings

Note:  I’ll be using these at my Midnight Mass service for 2016.  They could be used in separate services, however, for future years.  Please feel free to edit the places of conflict mentioned under the Candle of Peace.  

 

We light this candle in hope.

Hope for salvation from apathy and hatred.

Hope for change in our hearts and minds.

Hope for holding hands instead of holding wounds.

Hope to warm us in the dark of night.

 

We light this candle for peace.

Peace for hearts shell-shocked with grief.

Peace for places like Aleppo, Mosel, and Yemen.

Peace for Police and Protester.

Peace to shine in the dark of night.

 

We light this candle for joy.

Joy for a family finding a place for the birth.

Joy for a baby born in a stable.

Joy for shepherds sharing good news.

Joy to comfort in the dark of night.

 

We light this candle in love.

Love for Emmanuel, God with us.

Love for Jesus, Savior born this night.

Love from God; Love come down.

Love to bring light in the dark of night.

 

 

 

Light this candle for Christ.

Christ, the Child who gives us Hope.

Christ, the Promised Prince of Peace.

Christ to whom the Angels sing – “Joy unspeakable!”

Christ, God’s Love.  Emmanuel.  God with us.

Jesus, Love divine that came down from heaven.

Jesus, Joy that awakens each heart this night.

Jesus, Peace to quell the fears and wars of humanity.

Jesus, Hope in this darkness.

God lights this Candle for you and me.

God lights this Candle giving us the best gift possible.

God lights this candle to comfort us in the warmth of hope and joy.

God lights this candle to shine peace and guide us to love in the dark of night.

God light this Candle for Christmas, and may its flame never extinguish.

Amen.

 

(CC) 2016.  Worship’s Wake, Nathan Decker

“Traditions that won’t die – Christmas Trees” from Luke 1:76-80

There are some traditions that just won’t die – like decorating the Christmas Tree.  Some of my favorite Christmas memories revolve around the Christmas tree.  I’d watch impatiently as my father cussed and fussed with the artificial tree we had growing up. He’d be kneeling on the floor in front of the beaten up box that still had the Sears Roebucks sticker on the side.  He looked like he was paying homage to a giant green monster that was about to devour him in one colossal bite.  In the dim light he’d look for colors that had long worn off on the ends of branches, trying to decipher them like an archaeologist staring at the Rosetta stone. Reds and oranges looked like twins as did blacks and grays.

Meanwhile, mom would be sitting in the couch entrapped by miles of lights. She’d go light by light checking to make each strand work and blink at just the right rhythm.  Replacing bulbs and fuses in monotonous fashion.  She would giggle at my father’s frustration, humming songs about Rudolph, St. Nick, and Frosty.  Finally, when the tree was up and all the lights were on it. Mom would look at it once more.  She’d go up to each bubble light and encourage it with a tap.  She’d bend branches and add green fluffs to places where time had taken toll.  Then she’d turn my sister and I loose.

To say that we decorated the tree was to say that two midgets had the ability to slam dunk on the basketball court.  We decorated the tree from about midway down.  We were little after all.  With Burl Ives singing about mistletoe kisses in the background, we decorated the tree with those shiny balls (breaking two or three in the process).  We decorated the tree with arts and crafts that we had made at school and at church. Mom would smile when we hung our clothespin reindeer, our paper Santa with cotton ball beards, and of course our latest arts and crafts projects from school.  Then she’d politely ask, “Do we have to put your clay Freddie Kruegar on the Christmas tree?” Yes, even though I had never seen the movies, I had made a clay man with a claw for a hand and painted him bright bloody red.  “Mom, Freddie needs Christmas too!”

I never understood why ma and pa would let us decorate the tree.  She knew we were going to break some of the ornaments.  She knew we couldn’t reach all the way to the top.  After Sis and I went to bed we knew she was going to re-decorate the tree to her specifications.  And yet, she invited us to participate in this sacred moment, creating memories and experiencing love.

Christmas Trees are so much a part of our Christmas these days.  It’s no surprise I think that Christmas trees weren’t always a part of the Christmas holiday.  While people have been gathering around trees and decorating them for centuries, the first record of a decorated Christmas tree is not in Bethlehem. It happened in Riga, Latvia, in 1510.

Christmas Trees give life.  An acre of Christmas Trees provides enough oxygen for 18 people daily.

Christmas trees are a part of our nation’s story.  Christmas trees have been a part of the American Experience for a long time. In 1856, President Franklin Pierce was the first to place a Christmas Tree on the White House Lawn.  This tradition has been carried out since then with the exception of Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, who banned the National Christmas tree for religious and environmental reasons.

Christmas trees are a part of our faith story.  I can still remember sitting in the dark with my mother, watching the bubble lights glow and the twinkling reflections.  In the darkness, in the waiting, in the cold and bitter winter, Christmas trees remind us of God’s eternal love and the Light of Christ’s birth.  As Luke states, “God’s deep compassion, the dawn of heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.”

Times are dark.  Most of the trees have lost their leaves.  The world of nature is stark with dying colors – Fall’s parade of reds, yellows, and orange have given to bland browns.  Our community weeps as Suntrust bank closes down in town.  Life in winter struggles and slows down.  Sometimes the cold infects our hearts and our behaviors reflect selfish desires and sinful intent rather than generous giving or self-sacrifice.

Into this picture, Luke’s gospel introduces John  the Baptizer.  His Father, Zechariah, preaches in song about his life.  (Remember Zechariah, the old guy whose old wife suddenly has a baby?)  Now as a proud father, he preaches in song about his Son, John.  “You child will be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.”  For Zechariah, John’s message is one of hope, love, peace, and joy.  John brings a message that the light is coming.  John brings a message that forgiveness is coming.  John opens the gate to the way, the truth, and the life in Christ Jesus.  In this Gospel he wears his faith for all the world to see, and it is more than long hair and camel skin!

In a winter season, John is the Christmas Tree getting decorated for Christ’s birth.  He reminds us of God’s eternal love.  He shows us the way to Christ’s light being born in the darkness.  What’s more is that we are called to be like John.

We are called to be the Christmas Trees in the world today.  Like John, we are to remind the world that there is still life in these branches of green.  Like John, we are to point to the Christ light being born in the darkness.  Like John, we are called to come and prepare the way. Like my mother and father, God is trusting us with decorating the tree.

I never understood why ma and pa would let us decorate the tree.  She knew we were going to break some of the ornaments.  She knew we couldn’t reach all the way to the top.  After Sis and I went to bed we knew she was going to re-decorate the tree to her specifications.  And yet, she invited us to participate in this sacred moment, creating memories and experiencing love.

I don’t understand why God would trust us with sharing the news about Jesus.  God knows we’re going to break some of the commandments and be called hypocrites.  God knows we can’t reach heaven on our own let alone bring God’s kingdom here through our efforts.  After we’ve made a mess and failed, God is going to have to rework all the bad to recreate this world new, resurrected, reformed.  And yet, the Lord invites us to participate here, at this table, in this sacred moment, remembering, observing, creating new and experiencing love.  

There are some traditions that won’t die.  God’s love is one of them.