Friday, December 27, 2019

The Wonder of Christmas

As with every Christmas season, the word “wonder” is used a lot. Kathie Lee Gifford sings, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” and countless cards use the word to describe everything from sleigh bells to scenes of little churches set in the middle of snowy villages. All these “wonders” can cause us to overlook the real wonder of Christmas. Think about this – we Christians actually claim (and hopefully believe) that the God of all creation (infinite space, innumerable galaxies, protons, electrons, quarks, and on and on beyond all comprehension) became an individual human and lived as one of us. The ultimate Being took the form of a dependent infant! When we really think about this, that is truly a wonder.
I believe this incredible reality is what the Apostle John was emphasizing when he wrote in 1 John 1:1, “...what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life....” Only the Christian faith dares to make such an astounding claim, yet we who name ourselves as believers in this faith sometimes take it for granted, and we exchange the amazing mystery of Christmas for a ho-hum attitude or a saccharine sweet idea of a quiet, clean baby in a sanitized manger filled with fragrant well-behaved animals. No, the pure holy God of all becomes totally involved in the messiness of living a real human life – completely and totally!
This truth should overwhelm our hearts and minds as we consider God’s amazing love for us, that the God who is totally beyond anything we can possibly imagine becomes a person who we can relate to, who gives himself for us in his death on a cross, and who is risen from the grave. As we turn the page to a new year in 2020, this is what we celebrate, this is what gives us strength, and this is what gives us hope. Indeed, this is the wonder of Christmas!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sabbath Keeping

Last week I decided that I would take two weeks in August for “vacation” time.  I hadn’t really planned on doing this, and as a “temporary pastor,” I tend to avoid taking a lot of time away since I will have plenty of “time off” after the congregation calls a new pastor. However, it is looking like it will be at least several more months before that happens, and this means I need to be ready to serve well in the remaining time. So, it seemed good to take a little “vacation” to recharge my pastoral batteries.
This led me to think about the practice the Bible calls “keeping the Sabbath” (Exodus 20:8). I think most of us view it as a break from our weekly routine and a time of rest so we can regain some energy.  We may feel a little tired and in need of a break before we get back to regular life again.  This is certainly part of what keeping the Sabbath is about.  We humans do not have unlimited reservoirs of energy and patience, so a weekly break enables us to rest and ready ourselves for the week ahead.
However, was God tired and energy depleted after creation was finished? As Genesis 2:3 reports, “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”  It is hard to imagine that God would be saying, “Thank God it’s Friday!” like we do. (Of course, God would have to say, “Thank Myself it’s Friday!”)  No, God wasn’t exhausted from a tough week of creating everything.  So perhaps there is more to “keeping the Sabbath” than just recharging ourselves for the coming week.
As we read the account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, there is a recurring statement: “And God saw that it was good!”  These all lead up to the end of the sixth day of creation when it says, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good!”  When God “rests” on the seventh day, God isn’t tired or needing to sleep in on Saturday.  God is celebrating what has been done.  God is enjoying what God has accomplished.  God delights in the work of creation and takes a moment to admire it all.
We need to enter our vacations, days of rest, and breaks for our routines not simply as flights from toil and trouble, but as times to reflect on what we have accomplished.  We can look back on the good and worthwhile things of our lives, and “rest” in a sense of accomplishment.  Of course, for us frail humans there is always some regret and disappointment to deal with as well, but even these less than positive experiences can help us appreciate the good things in our lives even more.
Someone recently questioned my judgement and sanity because I said how much I enjoy serving as pastor at Our Savior Church.  They pointed out the absurdity of preaching, which they view as a foolish waste of time (didn’t the Apostle Paul say something about “the foolishness of preaching?), the difficulties of dealing with people’s personal problems, and, in my case, the long 90 minute drives from my home to the church.  But I don’t see it this way at all!  I love preaching the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus.  I love having gotten to know many of the wonderful people in this fellowship.  I love being able to be of some help in the challenges that people are facing.  And I even have come to enjoy (sort of) the drive to the Quad Cities three or so times a week. 
Sure, since I’m not God (and we can all be very thankful for that), a couple of weeks away will help renew my energy for the months ahead.  But I also enter this time with a sense of how good the last two years has been with this little congregation near the Mississippi River.  I urge all of you reading this to include looking at the good things in your life when you take a time of “rest,” whether that be a Sunday, a day off from work, a vacation, or just a break from your routine.  A sense of what has been accomplished can be the best refreshment for facing your tasks in the days ahead.