Treasures

Recently a museum was cleaning out some closets and came across an old blanket of some sort.  They were about to throw it away when someone stopped them and asked to see it because something looked interesting about it.  He ran some tests and discovered it was an old burial cloth from an ancient mummy.  It had been disgarded as trash but was in fact a priceless artifact.

I wonder if we do that in our own lives.  We disregard our abilities and skills because we think what we have to offer is not worth much or we cannot do something.  More often than not I hear people claim they cannot pray in public but when forced to do it, their prayers are as beautiful as any prayer uttered.  It is common for people to talk down about their abilities in the area of faith.  Many claim they do not know what to say when someone is hurting but your mere presence means everything.  The drummer boy in the famous song did not know what to give to Christ at His birth but could play the drums so offered that little skill and it was everything.  What will you offer Christ this year?  What do you have to give?  If you do, it may just be that priceless gift that could have gone to waste but instead will make a big difference.  One of my favorite Christmas Hymns is IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER and the last verse is stunning and beautiful.  It offers the reader/singer to give our heart to Christ even if we have nothing more.   I offer this history of the hymn from umcdiscipleship.org:

“In the Bleak Midwinter”
Christina Rossetti
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 221

Christina Rossetti

In the bleak midwinter,
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Christina Georgiana Rossetti (1830-1894) gives us one of the most beloved Christmas hymns. The author of three collections of mostly religious poetry and four devotional books, she came from a family steeped in the arts. Her deep faith is thought to be partially the result of the solace that she found in writing as a result of her poor health from age sixteen.

Christina’s father, Gabriele Rossetti, was a professor of Italian at King’s College, London, living in exile in England. Her brothers Dante Gabriel and William Michael gave birth to a nineteenth-century art movement, the Pre-Raphaelites, for which the beautiful Christina often served as a model (see the photo), especially for portraits of the Madonna. Among the family friends was Charles Dodgson, who, under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, authored the famous Alice in Wonderland. An ardent Anglican, Christina rejected one suitor because he was Roman Catholic.

Her most famous hymns are the Christmas texts, “Love Came Down at Christmas” composed in 1885 (UM Hymnal No. 242) and “In the Bleak Midwinter,” the latter first published as the poem “A Christmas Carol” in Scribner’s Monthly in January 1872. It first appeared as a hymn in The English Hymnal (1906), where it was paired to a tune by the famous English composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934). Now, over 100 years later, we sing this hymn in virtually the same form as it appeared in 1906.

In the first memorable stanza, Rossetti creates a dreary and desolate image of the world into which the infant Jesus appeared by drawing on the experience of a British winter. She is not suggesting that it literally snowed in Bethlehem, but is drawing on a long-established literary idea of associating snow with Christ’s birth. The famous seventeenth-century poet, John Milton, used the winter imagery in his poem, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” as a pure covering to hide the sin of the world.

 It was the Winter wilde,
While the Heav’n-born-childe,
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature in aw to him
Had doff’t her gawdy trim . . .

Rossetti exploits this metaphor in the opposite way in her opening stanza. The Incarnate One, the Light of the World, brought warmth into the most forlorn and dreary of sinful situations.

The second stanza uses the device of antithesis to make the point that the eternal One whom “heaven could not hold” nor “earth sustain” appeared during the “bleak winter” of human existence where “a stable place sufficed.” This paradox of the eternal One born in a humble setting is a primary theme of many hymns of this season.

An omitted third stanza explores the intimacy of the manger scene.

 Enough for him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

The fourth stanza once again contrasts the heavenly glory of gathered “Angels and archangels” and “cherubim and seraphim” with the mother who alone “worshiped the beloved with a kiss.”

The final stanza is perhaps one of the most endearing to singers of Christmas hymns. Yet, as British hymnologist J. R. Watson observes, “The final verse is strangely interesting.”

 What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him;
Give my heart.

Watson cites an article by British hymn writer Elizabeth Cosnett (b. 1936) who provides a social commentary that may shed light on this stanza. She notes that, “when a woman wrote these words women were largely excluded from the professions and from higher education.” Like the shepherds, she was not employed; like the wise men, Rossetti held no degree. Watson concludes that this reading of the final stanza “does not invalidate the more general reading of the verse; but it gives a special sharpness and poignancy to the last verse for those who wish to find it.”

The writer invites us to offer our own gift to the Christ Child just as the shepherds and wise men did. Rather than the present of a lamb or expensive gifts, however, we offer the most important gift — our hearts.

Dr. Hawn is distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary’s sacred music program.

Daily Devotion -Let the World Rejoice

When the children helped with worship during Advent, we had many of them dress up in costumes and come forward to worship Baby Jesus.  Jack, one of our young children, asked to wear his shark costume and his brother wanted to wear his narwhal costume.  Jack suggested that the sharks would certainly go and worship Jesus.  He is right.  All of creation praises!

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!” – Revelation 5:13

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every living thing
    and the breath of every human being. – Job 12:7-10

The wild animals will honor me,
    the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
    rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people, – Isaiah 43:20

40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” – Luke 19:40

So how does a stone shout out praises to God?  I have never really heard a rock say anything.  I really see two possibilities.  First, there is a voice we cannot hear in our limited human hearing or maybe God would give voice at some point in history.  The other possibility is God created a world in perfect order and harmony and the best way we can praise is to act as God has created us.  The skies proclaim God’s authority when the brilliant sunsets sweep across the sky or rains fall to replenish the thirsty land.  The dolphins praise when they leap and jump in the seas.  The land praises when it produces food to sustain all of creation.  People praise when we act as though we were created in God’s image, loving, peaceful and kind, generous and understanding and forgiving.  My simple words of praise are often hollow, but when I am living as God created me, I am indeed showing my love of my Creator.

All creation praise the name of our God!

Hell and Cold

For many we understand hell to be a fiery inferno where the flames of satan burn us in eternal torment.  After a few days of cold, I wonder if hell is really just one big ball of ice where all we have to wear is a bathing suit.  While many of us might be suffering in the frigid temperatures, we see an end to the suffering.  By the weekend, we should be back up to the balmy 20s or 30s.  Then it is not much longer before the warm spring will reclaim its dominance over the cold.  Let the last few days of cold remind us that as much as we might suffer here in this world, there is an end to all suffering.   Christ promises hope and peace, love and joy.  Our times of chaos or pain, loss or despair can and will end.  However, we are asked to accept the gifts of grace and mercy and respond to it.  Like putting on a winter coat or adding a space heater in a cold room to counter the cold, God asks that we trust in God and do our due diligence of prayer, Scripture reading and being in community.  When we put on a coat we find warmth in the cold.  When we pray, we find comfort in our pain.  The source of all good is God and we just need to turn to that source.

I peter 4:12-13

(NRSV) 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.

(Message) 12-13 Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.

Merry Christmas

One of my quirks is to say “Merry Christmas” to people all year round.  I have done this for years now and enjoy the responses.  I started doing it because I always wanted the feeling of Christmas to remain in our hearts all year.  The following quote is from Lynn who agrees with me.  She sent me this email after Wednesday’s devotion.  I asked her permission to share with you.

“As I was reading your devotion this a.m., I thought of something I said last night.  We were watching TV and noticed how all the commercials now around Christmas time are so loving and heartfelt –(I’ll admit some have even brought a tear to my eye).  But I said, “Why can’t they be like this all year?  Why are commercials about home and love for just these two weeks and then bam –back to annoying loud whatever!  Why can’t we have bell ringers all year and singing and doing nice things for each other and –why can’t we DO CHRISTMAS all year long- I am not talking all the gifts and food; I am talking about the Spirit of Christmas, the way everyone feels just better and full of faith and hope and wanting to do good deeds – why just for these few weeks?”

May Christmas for you not just be something that ends on December 26 but may the hope, peace, love and joy of the season remain in your hearts forever.

Merry Christmas!

P.S.  This will be the last devotion until after the New Year.  I need to rest, reflect and prepare for 2018.  If you would like to continue receiving devotions, I suggest you to go www.upperroom.org for their daily devotion.

Love in Small Ways

This Christmas is about the greatest love ever.  This Christmas, like every Christmas before and every one to come, is about the love of God that comes to us incarnate in Jesus Christ.  As an imperfect receiver of such love, I am tasked with a response, but often I am overwhelmed with my own deficiencies or how much is needed and not sure I have enough to give.  Yet, I can stand assured that God just asks me to try to respond, to give what I can and love to the best of my abilities.  I am not called to be Jesus.  I am called to reflect Jesus and that can come in big dramatic ways or small almost invisible ways.

“Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” -Mother Theresa

May this Christmas you find the capacity to love a little more and share it with your friends, neighbors and enemies.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

I was playing Christmas songs the other day on my computer and “White Christmas” came on. As I listened to it, I glanced out the window at the brown and green grass, the barron trees and cloudy sky.  No snow, not even dirty piles on the sides of the road.  The forecast for Christmas is similar and we probably will not have a white Christmas again this season.  I thought about days gone by, the large snow forts made over Christmas break, the trips to the local ski hills or sledding hills.  I thought about snow balls smacking into my back as I ran from my sister.  I remember my black lab and he bound to and fro in the drifts of snow, thrusting his nose deep into the bank to sniff out a hiding rabbit or other critter.  I thought about the quiet evenings as the snowfalls driftly gently and aimlessly to the ground.

BIG SIGH!

Of course, as often happens, my thoughts drifted to faith.  Is our current culture of faith in our area similar to the weather patterns?  Are we dry and barren in our spiritual walk?  Even if I personally stand strong in my faith, what about our church, our community, our world?  Is there hope for a rebirth of faith and hope, love and peace?

Christmas is a season not only to rejoice and celebrate families, it is a season to be reminded that in the midst of all things, Christ has come.  Christ brings peace.  Christ shows love.  Christ offers joy.  In all of this, we can have hope.  We may not have a white Christmas, but the promises that Christ offers will never be lacking and we do not have to dream about it because it is a reality this Christmas and every Christmas to come.

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Prayer and Peace

The egg drop is a science experiment.  Each team gets an egg and can use all kinds of materials, from foam to bubble wrap to straws to build a capsule to protect the egg when it is dropped.  The teams cannot change the egg in any way but they can get creative how to protect the egg from the impact of the fall.  The fragile eggs often crack upon impact of the fall, but a good team can safely surround the egg to protect it from high falls.

Prayer is one way that we can protect ourselves from the impact of the world.  We become surrounded and guarded with the peace of Christ when we enter into REGULAR and ONGOING prayer.  I believe simple and individual prayers work but those who dedicate their lives to disciplined prayer time and connection to God find the peace deeper and stronger than those who only pray at times of great need or convenience.

This Advent season, drop to a knee and pray!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  – Philippians 4:6-7

Daily Devotions – Peace, Be Still.

“Peace, be still.”  With these simple words, Jesus calmed the storm.  The reality of storms’ disasters seems very real to us.  Fires in California, hurricanes on the east coast, drought in Africa and so much more.  We know, however, that there is a power that is even greater.  Christ wasn’t offering us a life free of trouble, instead we are given the gift of peace in the midst of danger and trials.  He has overcome the world and with that we might tap into that power.  We can face death, chaos, disorder and fear with calm assurance and rest in the knowledge of the power of Christ to bring order and peace.  Take heart this Advent season, Jesus is coming!

I have told you these things, so that you in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  – John 16:33

Advent – Peace

My father was a United Methodist Pastor for many years and really still is in his retirement.  I followed in his footsteps.  It seems like many of us end up being like our parents.  The gift that our parents possess often is passed down from generation to generation.  My sister often credits my mother for her creativity and teaching skills.  While we still have to work at our abilities, we are all naturally gifted with certains skills.  In our Christian life, we are also gifted with the fruits of the Spirit.  As we live in this Advent season, search your heart for these gifts and nuture them.  The closer we live in relationship with God, the more these gifts will be developed and shared in our lives.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” -Gal. 5:22-23

What are the gifts that you have received from your family?

How will you nurture the gifts of the Spirit in your life this Advent season?

Peace to You and to Yours

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” – Luke 2:13-14

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” – John 14:27

Spend one minute in silence, listening to the peace of Christ.  You might offer this prayer:

“Lord, in your mercy, give me peace.

Lord, in your mercy give my family peace.

Lord, in your mercy give my neighbors peace.

Lord, in your mercy give my country peace.

Lord, in your mercy, give the world peace.

Lord, in your mercy, give me peace.”

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.  The Lord be with all of you.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:16