In my family, the viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas is a mandatory Advent/Christmas experience. I admit that I do not often sit down to watch it with them as I once did but this year as it was broadcast, I heard it as I sat in the kitchen.
This time I really pondered the story line, still deeply ingrained after watching it for many years, and I was drawn to the segment where Linus, in that calm, measured, and hopeful voice, calls for the lights on the school stage to be brought up and then starts reciting portions of Luke 2.
What caught my attention is the timing of Linus’ actions and words which come after Charlie Brown is humiliated for his choice of a Christmas tree. His angst causes him to ask, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” And Linus tells the story of Christ’s birth with a simple clarity.
And then I realized just how this nearly half-century classic is still very relevant for today.
The chaos of the Christmas program rehearsal reminds me of the chaotic schedules that seem to be unavoidable this time of year even though I hear many people proclaim their desire to simplify their Christmas schedules.
Sally’s letter to Santa asking for cash reminds me of the unabashed commercialism that continues today with Black Friday increasingly encroaching on Thanksgiving Day and family time around the table is once again squeezed in favor of profit and sales.
The sarcasm of Lucy which I think highlights unfulfilled relational hopes and dreams that are dashed again and again throughout the year but brought out again during the Christmas season with the hope that “this season, this season, I will find love and be loved.”
And Linus brings all of this chaotic holiday hodge-podge to a fine point:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
I don’t think that his audience were wanting (or maybe expecting) to hear this. They have heard it all before and it is familiar.
Or is it?
But he tells it anyway because it is a story within a Story – A story of spiritual significance; a story about Love. It is a story about human meaning away from December 25th – about how life can make sense, be hopeful, and laced with love the other 364 days of the year.
It is a story about others and not me and my wants.
It is a story about service – about a Good Samaritan who takes a risk and help in times of trouble;
it is a story about searching for hope and finding it – about a Zacchaeus who is desperate for love in spite of all his wealth and finds himself hosting Jesus at his home and resolving to live better;
it is a story about conflict resolution- about a Jacob who wrestles with his past and his God and lives the rest of his life with a limp and a new name and hope and at peace with his brother;
it is a story about being faithful for a long, long time – about a Sarah who in old, old, OLD age becomes a mother because God said it would happen;
it is a story about faithfulness and finding that faithfulness rewarded – about a Ruth who leaves her own home and culture to stay with her widowed mother-in-law and unexpectedly finds love and hope in a new home and culture;
it is about an overwhelming experience and a simple faith response to it- about a Mary, young, vulnerable, yet full of faith who finds herself incredibly pregnant and says “be it unto me according to thy word.”
We are the cast of A Charlie Brown Christmas- the despairing Charlie; the sad and sarcastic Lucy; the irritated Schroeder; the gift focused Sally, and the beauty conscious Freda with her “naturally curly hair.” We too, seek to find the true meaning of Christmas because trees, money, beauty, and their cohorts do NOT satisfy the need for love and acceptance.
And it is Linus – the prophet/preacher who tells his peers that the story of Christmas goes far deeper than money, trees, busyness and gifts. It goes to the heart and soul of humanity and its need for faith, hope, and love.
I am again grateful for the opportunity to respond to Suzanne Burden’s opportunity to express Thanksgiving each week and for this final segment of 30 days of Thanksgiving I am expressing gratitude for God’s grace and its attendant sanity in the midst of chaos.
There is no break from illness or ailing family and friends and accidents of all kinds happen on June 25th as well as December 25th (and November 27th as well as July 27th). Over 18 months ago I began a journey with my mom who experienced major cardiac surgery and rehab over a four month period.
One of the major results of the surgery was the need for her to be near my family and I. So after being apart for nearly, nearly 4 decades after leaving for college, from 2 to 6 hours away, we moved her 5 minutes from us.
It has been a good move. But it is a sometimes uncertain and chaotic journey.
Falls, unfortunately, have become part of her life from time to time and have occurred when we have been close (or fairly close) by but were in the midst of other things which required a quick adjustment of the schedule. But every time one has occurred we have been able to get to her even though two of the trips have required a visit to the local ER.
And so I am very thankful the peace AND sanity which the Lord has given to me during these times and I am grateful that I still have my mom here and are able to see her on a daily basis instead of a 3 to 6 hour drive several times a year. And I am grateful for how she was able to get the medical attention she has needed over the past now 19 months.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.
Again this week my friend and pastoral colleague Suzanne Burden has shared in her 30 days of Thanksgiving series something she is thankful for and it is something for which I am also very thankful!
And to express thanksgiving for books she has asked her readers and a few of us on Twitter, to share some favorite quotes from the books we have read. “Well,” I said in reply to her on Twitter, “that may take a while!”
So here are quotes from three books which have stuck with me over the years.
“The minute I found myself in the privacy of the car, a wave of intense emotion came over me. It was like a dam had broken, a flood of pent-up pressure released behind it in the form of sobbing and hysterical crying. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the pain in my chest lifted and there I was – generally a model of rigid self-control and modern accomplishment- crying ugly and repeating over and over again, “It is all true, all of it, it is all true.” In that moment I knew I was not having a heart attack. Instead, despite lifelong skepticism and outright animosity toward traditional religion, without asking or seeking, this skeptical atheist turned churchgoing agnostic had somehow been struck Christian.”
Joan Ball, Flirting With Faith
Biographies and memoirs are popular genres for me in my reading. When I got to know Joan Ball a few years ago through social media, she asked me to read a galley copy of this book. I was moved by what I read. Since then, I was able to read a published copy and this particular segment of her coming to faith, especially the line “…It is all true, all of it, it is all true.,” has stayed with me since I first read it.
First, prayer is, by nature, more than conversation. To limit its concept to dialogue is to allow some of the most important expressions of prayer to escape our notice. Second, our “conversation” may, in practice, be less a dialogue than a monologue that borders on talking at God. Some of our prayers resemble, “a spiritual shopping list, launched heavenward on the wings of pious words.” But God is not, as one author wryly notes, our “cosmic bellhop…” Communication is a two-way street… One of the key things we must consider, then, is how we listen to God.”
Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast
I recently read the newly revised version of this wonderful book on the Christian Spiritual Disciplines and I was again struck by the insights Thompson has on the “two-wayness” of prayer. (The quote is from the first edition and she quotes, John Mogabgab and Richard J. Foster, respectively.) Her thoughts on prayer remind me that I am still learning to pray.
“That’s the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. People change the subject when they see you coming. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things. There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn’t really expect to find it, either.”
Marilynne Robinson Gilead
I think those anticipating the ministry; those who are in seminary; those who are in ministry, need to read Gilead and Home. (I am planning to get Lila as soon as possible.) Robinson has well captured the souls of pastors in these two novels. This quote is representative of these two wonderful and awarding winning novels and how she captures the dynamic of ministry in a wonderfully narrative way.
Thanks Suzanne for the prompt!
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)
My last two sermons have been based out of some observations in Psalm 86 that I made several years ago as I read through the Psalms and Proverbs. In my sermon on the 16th (this past Sunday) I pointed out Psalm 86:3
Be merciful to me, O Lord,
for I am calling on you constantly
I noted in my sermon that mercy was one of the first qualities Jesus noted to the twelve as noted in Matthew 5:7
God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
and I pointed out that in the question and answer session which followed Jesus’ telling of the Good Samaritan that mercy was the point He wanted to make with the smug (as I see him) questioner who asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
I am grateful for the mercy of God and that is why the lead off verse in this post from Hebrews 4 is one of my valued scripture verses. When I think of mercy, I think of being passed by two math teachers in back to back school years even though I passed very few tests.
The first time is was out of the sheer goodness… and mercy… of her heart. The second time in a different class and teacher, it was from a “mercy rule” of “all homework submitted keeps you from flunking.”
How often I have I flippantly disregarded God’s grace and mercy through my intentional disobedience and a spiteful spirit. And yet He has continued to show me grace and mercy even though I have not deserved it.
So I am grateful and thankful for God’s mercy. A mercy that is available to all who choose to accept Jesus’ offer of it.
Good afternoon Father
We are not in a good mood this Wednesday!!!!
We are angry…
with our work
with our schools
with our communities
with our families
with our world
We are angry…
because we are tired. We are tired of inaction, we are tired of slogans that are just that, we are tired of all the demands being squeezed out of us at work, in school, at home, even in our places of worship!
We are angry and tired…
because we are afraid. We are afraid of hearing “thank you for your work, your services are no longer needed;” we are afraid of hearing, “what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you do well in math like your sister did;” we are afraid of hearing, “you and your views don’t count because ________;” and as a result we are being discarded and disregarded
We are angry and tired and afraid…
because we have been going and going and going and our batteries are totally discharged.
We fear letting go of something – a volunteer position, a sport, chasing our kids all across the county for a sport they will never play professionally
We fear of being left behind -because we say ‘no’ in order to have some sanity – spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, and relational sanity
So Lord we are angry and tired and afraid…
We cannot keep it together at home, in the community, in the classroom,
We shout, hit, scream, withdraw
we are frayed, we are fraying, and we are getting more frayed in our souls, relationships, and lives
So we yell at you ….DO SOMETHING LORD!
But is even this the right prayer?
Or is it “Lord help us to do something?”
But what is that something Lord…
Is our fear of becoming insignificant because we are not staying up with the times driving us nuts?
My One Word for 2013 was empower.
I am still learning how to empower and to empower others. It is an ongoing practice and necessarily so.
My One Word for 2014 is/was listen.
As with my 2013 word, I am still learning how to listen. It too, is an ongoing and necessary practice.
But I have experienced, not just learned, but experienced a great deal by focusing on listening.
But there have been many moments, deep moments when the willingness of listening…
to my body (too much sugar, Jim; too much carb, Jim: uh Jim, you have a bad tooth (that was a recent one)
to my soul (you’re angry Jim, why?: why Jim are you so envious?; Jim you are too full of yourself, stop it!)
to people in pain – physical and otherwise
to God – “God will make a way, when there seems to be no way”
has been an experience of grace and peace
the peace, the serenity, the hope, the calm which listening has brought has been truly priceless.
In my listening I have
discovered ugly and black places in my heart and soul that the finger of God has been put on causing my ego and pride to scream out and resist until Grace comes in…
discovered the presence of God in a fresh affirming way as the song by Don Moen, God Will Make A Way has lodged in my mind as I have prayed about/for personal and family issues. He IS making a way and I am beginning to see that in some small, yet significant ways, which bring peace to me,
So I will continue to listen (and empower) because these words have been practices that I must continue to practice.
And I will also continue to listen because as I have prayed and reflected on My One Word for 2015 one has clearly been placed front and center in which the practices and of listen and empower are both a result of and embedded in this ancient spiritual practice.
I will write about this new word sometimes next month.
“So many words get lost. They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves. On rainy days, you can hear their chorus rushing past: IwasabeautifulgirlPleasedon’tgoItoobelievemybodyismadeofglass-I’veneverlovedanyoneIthinkofmyselfasfunnyForgiveme…
There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to use a piece of string to guide words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations…
When the world grew bigger, and there wasn’t enough string to keep the things people wanted to say from disappearing into the vastness, the telephone was invented.
Sometimes no length of string is long enough to say the thing that needs to be said. In such cases all the string can do, in whatever its form, is conduct a person’s silence.”
Nicole Strauss The History of Love