Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Big Bang

Then she gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him snugly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn. -- Luke 2:7
Some Christian groups love to wrap themselves in "tussling over trifles."  They will fight to their dying breaths over whether scientists' so-called Big Bang theory is how life began on this planet.  They much prefer the Biblical story of the universe popping into place in seven days, and that's that.  As I browsed through the news headlines this morning there was a story that a long dormant "super volcano" in Italy is stirring to life.  They credit this volcano with "wiping out the neanderthals."  The implied point of the story by the masters of click-bait news was, of course, this thing could blow and we're all going to be extinct.  So, now whether we want to freak out over a super volcano or climate change we know we have two pretty catastrophic methods for getting wiped out of existence.  If the super volcano does blow, I don't expect many of us will be tussling over whether the earth was formed in seven days or evolved from a big bang millions of years ago.  However, instead of Creationism/evolution and an epic end on par with the Great Flood, there is a more pertinent Big Bang that happens in scripture that has had life-changing impact, and will continue having an impact into the future. That impact is something incredibly insignificant on its surface: a manger filled with straw.

How much more possibly insignificant is an animal's feeding trough?  There are millions of them in the world.  Nobody thinks much about them.  And yet... a Big Bang occurred in one.

From that tiny Palestinian speck on earth, Infinite God, Extraordinary Creativity, Super Divine Intelligence, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace chose to come forth as one of us self-important, loud, arrogant human beings.  He didn't come in a grand Hollywood entrance with thundering earthquakes and searing lightning bolts, nor as a white privileged son with a silver spoon dangling from his mouth.  God chose the littlest, most common, poorest, humble stable to embark from an animal feeding trough.

From this no-place on a gigantic planet, where oceans had not yet been navigated and the earth was still believed to be flat and communication was still done mouth directly to ear, a firstborn son was born who would change the world.  He changed the world to such a degree that everything we know today would have happened differently.  Without God in a manger it's not hard to trace how nothing at all would be what it is.  Few of us would know we never happened.  

But, even this realization would not mean a thing if millions upon millions of individuals through time - individuals no different than you and me - had not captured this extraordinary moment in their hearts and allowed their lives to be different because of this one birth.  Our lives can be different, better, creating a world with a different ending based on redeeming love and heartfelt peace to all based on us embracing this One who came to us in a manger.

It's a scary world and growing more so daily.  Violence as a solution to all problems, hatred, idolatry of country/race/ethnicity, and humans who place their egos above God dominate the news and the political structures.  We aren't going to realize or be able to embrace God-with-us by following the establishing trends or hiding ourselves in bunkers with weapons drawn.  We also aren't going to know the power love has sitting through a couple hours of sweetly singing children in candlelight at beautified Christmas Eve services.  The manger will win as we each do the hard work of talking to, listening to, and showing compassion and grace and manners to everyone who shares this planet with us. We all have to learn we can turn to each other and know we can rely on each other to hold a real Christ candle burning in our hearts day by day by day. 

Let 2017 be your year to enter the stable and witness the Big Bang that truly changes the world.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Let It Be This Year

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us, and the government shall be upon his shoulders.  He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  -- Isaiah 9:6
For almost 3,000 years this passage has been a part of holy scripture.  When it was written, the Assyrians were knocking on Israel's and Judah's doors.  Isaiah was warning them that their wicked ways of mistreating the poor, kicking around the oppressed, and reveling in their extravagant, supposed God-favored-ness was coming to a screeching halt. With the Advent of Christ, a new spin was placed on the meaning.  Suddenly, all Old Testament (Hebrew scripture) was turned into a Christian realized moment.  The Jewish faith had goofed up, but the Christians got it!  Our special-ness by self acclamation made Christians better. This served it's theological purposes in their time.  Today, in attempting to be more sensitive and accurate in our scriptural interpretation we can see both strands and discern (perhaps) better meanings.

The four names Isaiah supplies were probably his favorite names for the Messiah.  Social order was in a downward spiral.  It is obvious from the surrounding text that soldiers and military occupation were common place realities.  Hope was slipping through their fingers.  The word translated as "government" here is a word that in both Hebrew and Greek is only used one time, here in this passage.  The believed meaning of this particular word referred to a more spiritualized ruling authority, rather than secular.  The verb tenses are all future, as they are for us today.

Two thousand years of Christendom places us in a much more "old religion" frame of mind, with the same gathered baggage, self-righteous assumptions, established religion, and arrogant certainties about belief as those ancient Jews had in 760 BCE.  We may not believe that God rains down wrath for our misdeeds, but our misdeeds and self-serving calculations are just as much at the ready to send us down wrong forks in the road. Little has changed on the human world stage.  Country is still at the throats of other countries.  The oppressed are still being oppressed.  The poor are still with us.  We're still building war machines; swords are still swords; the aim is still dominating others in order to feel "great again."  We are just as much in need of this child, this Messiah, today as humanity has ever needed.

Perhaps the question we need to be pondering in our hearts this Christmas is how long?  How many times must we hear this Christmas message before we give up our DIY projects at a human-constructed world order that serves only me and my kind best?  How long are we going to fear the other, feel threatened, lash out, and compete violently to get our share of everything far more than we need?  Why does the Christmas message only ring partway true for only 24 hours out of a year?

This year, please let it be this year, that we'll take into all our hearts the leading of a child.  Perhaps the child can be from Aleppo, or from the back seat of a car that serves as someone's home, or from the Sudan, or ??  Our God can come to us from so many different places.  Which one will you open your heart to?  Which will cause you to embrace our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace?  When will you feel the Touch of Divine Love and surrender all your fears, worries, and head-strong beliefs, and just step forward in naked trusting faith? Let it be this year, O God, our long-suffering One who waits for us to return home.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Prophet's View

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall com forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.  And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.  And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.  -- Micah 5:2, 4
The political climate in the United States has gone from somewhat sunny to very threatening. Millions of people are in a forced wait-and-see position while accusations, recriminations, and imagined cataclysmic thoughts swirl.  Perhaps it's a piece of God-timing that it's unleashed itself this way at this time of year -- during Advent.  Advent is the church season for looking ahead, anticipating, the coming of a Savior.  Which savior are you anticipating?

I want to point you to the promise Micah was proclaiming.  Each and everyone of us, in our lowliness, in our insignificance, and our lack of control to affect the machinations of worldly power need Micah's promise.  Micah was speaking to a lowly people feeling the crushing weight of a foreign power moving inexorably toward them.  The Assyrian army had made their powerful presence known, destroying villages and cities throughout the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.  The people were no strangers to bloodshed, grief and loss.  But, the promise Micah brings is one of a lowly Messiah, taking on the role of a shepherd, to feed, strengthen, and protect.

This Messiah is the one Christians point to as Jesus, the Incarnate God, who is born.  He dwells among us and shows us the stances to take even in the midst of grueling hardship.  It is not a stance bearing swords, name-calling, and revenge.  It is one of prayer, doing kindness, and keeping our eyes on what is positive.

In the light of a political claimant proclaiming greatness to the ends of the earth, it is a healing and peace-restoring moment to pause and embrace the real Messiah.  Breathe in real security and affirm where greatness to the ends of the earth truly rests.

Dearest God, Emmanuel, you are with us.  Let us be fed by your hand, be strengthened by your guidance, and have our anxieties put soundly to rest.  Amen.