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Would it be fair to say that this past year has been a year of interruptions? Whether it has a pandemic, working from home, learning new ways to communicate, connecting with people, experimenting with worship, or an email from your district superintendent, this has been one year full of interruptions. 

Just as you think you have a plan of action and a routine that works, there comes another “knock on the door” in the form of a change, an additional request, or an extra task. You feel a passing tinge of irritation and think to yourself, “Why this? Why now?”  

The Ministry of Interruption

The disruptive “knock on the door” presents itself relentlessly throughout the day, in the form of Zoom meetings, emails, text messages, questions to answer, problems to solve, fires to put out. It seems the information age has morphed into the interruption age. So how do you respond? 

It’s a matter of perspective. What if you were to change your view of these interruptions? What if you began to see them as opportunities that didn’t interrupt your work but became your work? What if they became opportunities for you to be the leader God created you to be? It is tempting to lock the door, hold the calls, ignore the emails, and miss the meetings. But what if you stepped up and made these interruptions a crucial part of your work?

What’s Your Role?

Years ago, I read a story about a boy named Wally. He was seven years old, big for his age, considered to be a slow learner, and always eager to be in the middle of what was happening. That’s why everyone wondered what role the teacher would give him in the annual Christmas play. He was hyper and didn’t pay attention. Perhaps she would let him pull the curtain to open and close the play.  To everyone’s surprise the teacher gave Wally the role of the innkeeper. He was delighted. All he had to do was to learn one line, “There is no room in the inn.”

He practiced in the mornings and in the evenings.  He had the line down.  His timing was perfect in rehearsals.  He was ready and eager to play his part.

On the night of the program, parents and guests took their places.  Every seat in the auditorium was filled. The children entered singing “Oh come all ye faithful.” The lights dimmed. A hush moved over the audience. The curtain opened on the scene. Mary and Joseph entered the stage and walked up to the inn. Joseph said to the Innkeeper, “Please sir, my wife is not well. Could we have a room for the night?”

Wally was ready for his line. He knew it. He had rehearsed it. But at that moment, his mind went blank. He began, “There is…” and he hesitated. He started over again, “There is…” and again his mind went blank. The audience began to laugh nervously. Some people were embarrassed for him. A prompter, just off the stage, whispered, “There is no room in the inn,” but Wally couldn’t hear what was being said. At that moment, neither Wally nor Joseph knew what to do. So, Joseph started to walk away toward the stable on the left side of the stage. Seeing him walk away, Wally in desperation called out, “Look, there’s plenty of room at my house. Come and go home with me.”

Over the years the characters in the Christmas story have become clearly defined for us. The issues all seem clear cut. Herod is a villain, the shepherds and the wise men are heroes. And the Innkeeper has become one of the people who turns Mary, Joseph, and baby away. In our imagination, we envision him as a bearded old man, sticking his head out a window, and shouting, “There is no room in the inn. There might be something in the stable out back. Check there.”

Who is Central to the Story?

I think the innkeeper might be a key figure in this story. Although preachers and storytellers have presented him in a negative way, I think his action is a symbol for Luke. Throughout Luke’s story of Jesus, he tells of how there was room made for people who had been left out and forgotten.

He takes this one line, “There is no room in the inn,” and illustrates how it is a theme throughout the ministry of Jesus. He shows us how Jesus and the church have responded to unexpected interruptions.

He tells us that John, one of the disciples, tried to stop someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The person was not part of their group. But Jesus says, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.” Jesus makes room for those who are not part of the group.

He tells us that people were bringing their babies to Jesus so that he might bless them. When the disciples saw the parents bringing their children, they ordered them to stop. But Jesus called for the parents and the children and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them…” Even though the parents and children were an interruption, Jesus made room for them.

What’s Holding You Back?

He also tells us of Philip, when filled with God’s spirit, went to Samaria to tell people about God’s love and acceptance in Jesus.  The Samaritans had been excluded from the main part of the Jewish religion. They were considered outcasts and unworthy to be part of the Jewish community. Yet, the Spirit interrupts what Philip had been taught and leads him to these outcasts. Luke reports that the crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said. There was great joy in that city. The Samaritans had been considered unworthy in the past. Although they were considered an interruption to the main community, the church found room for them.

Philip, on his way back to Jerusalem from Samaria, met an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the queen of Ethiopia. He was a Gentile and unable to father children. In Deuteronomy 23 it states that any man who cannot father children is not admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Yet, Philip befriends him and shares the story of Jesus with him. The eunuch asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” In other words, what prevents me from being a part of the group, the community, the church? Although Philip is interrupted by this Ethiopian eunuch, he baptized him. The church found room for those who had been excluded in the past.

Another Interruption 

Luke tells us of Simon Peter and his conversation with Cornelius. Cornelius was a commander in the Italian Cohort. Directed by God’s spirit, Simon Peter and Cornelius meet at Cornelius’ house. There is a large group waiting to hear from Peter. Now, because Cornelius is a Gentile, Simon Peter says, “You yourselves know that is it unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”

Peter continues, “I truly understand that God shows not partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…” Peter shares with Cornelius, his family, and friends about Jesus. By the end of the meeting the Holy Spirit is poured out even on the Gentiles. Peter baptizes them in the name of Jesus Christ. Another interruption that became an opportunity to share the love and acceptance of God.  

Not The Room You Expected

For Luke, the innkeeper is a key figure in his story, because he did find room for Mary and Joseph. It just was not the room expected. In the midst of all he was facing, he was ready for the interruption. Every Christmas season, we rehearse the story of God’ saving and healing work coming to be with us in Jesus. The question is, do you and I have room for such an interruption?  

Jesus comes knocking at the door of our hearts in various ways, through various people, in various events, providing us an opportunity to be who God created us to be. Often, we dismiss the knock by saying, “I’m tired of all these interruptions” or “I’m just a layperson” or “I’m not a preacher” or “I’m not a pastor or theologian or…” 

The Innkeeper’s Response

The innkeeper was an ordinary person, doing his job. He was overworked because of the census. He was on the frontline. I imagine that Mary and Joseph were not the only ones seeking a room that night. Although there was not room in the expected place of the inn, he did have a place for them.

He responded with compassion. Even though it was an interruption, he made room. Just as Mary and Joseph came to the innkeeper that night, Jesus comes to you, not in the form of a king but in the lives of people, like Mary and Joseph, who need a place. 

He comes in the lives of people outside our groups, our clubs, our churches, looking for a place. He comes as those who have nothing to offer but themselves, who need a place.  He comes as outcasts, those pushed aside, those excluded, who need a place. He comes as those who are seeking healing and hope. We all need a place.

God Makes a Place for You

The Christmas good news is, God has made a place for you and for me. Whether we are insiders or outsiders, whether we are good or not so good, whether we feel we belong or feel left out, whether we think we deserve it or feel that we are unworthy of any goodness, God has already made a place for you. Because of God’s love in Jesus, you have a place.

Now, we can look at the innkeeper and say that he claimed there was no room in the inn. I suppose we could say the crowded inn is like our lives so cluttered with things that there is just no time, no energy, no money, no room left. We could say that Mary and Joseph were an unexpected interruption to a long and tiresome day.

Or you can say, as full as my life is, I still have room. 

Jesus Comes When Least Expected

Just as in Bethlehem, Jesus comes when you seem to least expect him. Mary and Joseph came late at night when the innkeeper was tired. Again, I’m guessing they were an interruption to his evening. Although there was no room in the expected place of the inn, the innkeeper had room for them. 

So, what if you were to change your view of these interruptions? What if you began to see them as opportunities that didn’t interrupt your work but became your work? What if you responded to these interruptions as opportunities for you to be the leader God created you to be? Try the following: 

Focus upon the person or persons involved

Look for Jesus in each person. With every encounter take advantage of the opportunity to make a positive and lasting connection.

Adapt to each person and context

Remember that “one size does not fit all” persons or contexts. Be alert to the fact that behavior that works remarkably well with one person may turn another person off completely. It’s important to be able to adapt in each unique circumstance.

Respond authentically

Your genuine response will add a little “magic” to the moment. Lead out of who are and not out of your title or position. Listen carefully, understand the issue, and respond with compassion, care, and confidence.

Intentionally develop care and compassion in others

As you address the most pressing issue in a way that helps now, intentionally empower those you are assisting. Help them develop the skills of compassion and care. Assist them in becoming who they have been created to be.  

Don’t Dismiss the Interruptions

This coming year don’t dismiss all interruptions as barriers to work. Begin to view these moments as an important part of your work. Open yourself to a more fulfilling expression of your leadership. Even a single interruption is an opportunity to help people think differently about themselves and their future.

It is almost Christmas. Keep your mind and your heart open for an interruption. For the hour approaches when Jesus will come to you and to me. And like the innkeeper, you and I will have to decide. The knock at the door will come.  Will it be another knock in a long series of knocks of interruption and inconvenience? Or will the knock be the next opportunity to love in the name of Jesus?

Merry Christmas

Even though this Christmas might be different in its gatherings and celebrations, Jesus still comes, and he still brings all his interrupting friends with him.

Remember, Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to give insights and resources to assist you in becoming a courageous leader.

From Diana, Sara, and Tim, in your Capitol Area South District office, we interrupt you with this blessing, “May the joy of Jesus be yours this Christmas! May you have a blessed Christmas!”

Are you ready for a little hope?

Who isn’t?

2020 has been a tough year.

More than any other time in recent history, people are looking for any morsel of hope. It is the one thing that lifts our spirits and keeps us going despite our difficulties. It looks beyond life’s hardships to a better and brighter tomorrow. It keeps us believing and expecting that out of today’s darkness, tomorrow’s light will shine.  It is seeing a future that we can live into if we keep moving forward adjusting and adapting as we go. We are all looking for a little hope and all we need leaders like you to dispense that hope.   

What is Hope?

The word “hope” comes from an old English word that means to “leap forward with expectation.” It is more than a wish or an optimistic thought. It is a real genuine feeling of possibility. It has substance when there is a clear vision and a defined direction.  Maintaining and dispensing hope has to do with being able to evaluate and understand the present context, recover from discouragement, and hold onto the vision of what can be. 

From that perspective, hope is essential to leadership. To imagine and present a better future requires hope. To recognize the potential in people and processes and work to develop that potential requires hope.  If you feel hopeless about the future, there is no reason to change your behavior in the present. But when you believe your actions matter and that you can change or influence the future, you interact and engage with people differently. That difference in behavior and belief is experienced in and through effective leadership.

Hope is Essential to Leadership

That is why hope is essential to leadership. Hope and leadership are in an interdependent relationship. This relationship shows up in a couple of ways. We either see a preferred outcome and sit back waiting for things to happen or we see a preferred outcome and we work to make it become a reality. We either wish things were different or we do something to make things different.

Joseph, Mary, and Hope

Let me illustrate by using a story from Matthew 1:18-25. Joseph was engaged to Mary. The engagement was like a marriage.  It was serious business, legal and binding in nature. It could only be broken by going to the courts. So, the families of Joseph and Mary came together, signed the papers, and the engagement began. Only when they became of age, would they marry. So, to say that Joseph was engaged to Mary is significant.  

It is during their engagement that Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant.  Now, what is he going to do? He is a good man, a righteous man, a man who wants to do the right thing. That’s great, but what is the right thing? 

1. He could proceed with a passive hope.

This is called “wishful thinking.” With passive hope you can still see a better future, you just don’t believe you can influence people or processes that make that future a reality. Joseph could have proceeded by:

Seeking Approval

He could go to the coffee shop and ask, “What do you think I ought to do?” He could get on the phone, go to work, sit in a Sabbath school class, and tell everyone who will listen, “Did you hear about Mary? What do you think I ought to do?” 

Could you blame him? We elect people to public office and remove people from positions based upon their approval ratings. What do the polls say?  Joseph could have sought out the approval of his friends.  

Making it About Himself

He could tell his side of the story and expose Mary for being unfaithful. He could disgrace her and humiliate her. “Did you hear about Mary? Can you believe what she did to me? She seemed like such a nice girl.” 

In fact, Matthew tells us that, “Joseph, her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement  quietly.” He didn’t want to humiliate her. But, quietly calling off the engagement would also mean he was saving himself from being embarrassed.

Quoting Scripture

He could do what the Bible says to do.  You can’t go wrong by following the Bible, because the Bible makes everything clear.   You can quote the Bible before killing a person to justify the killing. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Men, you can quote the Bible before divorcing your wife, “If a man finds something displeasing in his wife, let him give her a divorce and send her out of the house.” It’s in the Bible. Women, do you know what the Bible says? “Let the women keep their heads covered and their mouths shut.” Joseph could do just what the Bible says, “She is to be taken out and stoned to death in front of the people.” (Deuteronomy 22) 

That is passive hope. It is when you desire something to happen but feel you don’t have any control over making it happen. So, you wait for someone or something else to make things better. Passive hope ignores current reality. You just wish things were different and hope for them to go back to normal. There is little or no courageous leadership, because you seek out programs or people as quick fixes to problems. There is a lot of activity with passive hope but very little action to change things or to make them better.  

2. He could proceed with active hope.  

He could become an active participant in his future. He didn’t wait for someone else to act. He knew who he was and where he was going, so he began to navigate the obstacles in the way so he could reach his goal.  He had a clear view and understanding of reality

He and Mary were engaged to be married. They are legally bound to one another and Mary is pregnant.

Active hope is anchored in reality.

It knows its context. It understands the current situation. It is able to face reality, name it, and acknowledge what is happening.

He had a clear vision of a goal

He decides to be who God created him to be. He has experienced God’s presence in his life.  He has been blessed through his study of the scriptures. He has read his Bible through the lens of the character and nature of a God who is loving and kind. So, he decides to be a person of grace. He will be loving and kind. He says, “I will not harm her, abuse her, expose her, shame her, ridicule her, or demean her value, her dignity, or her worth. I will protect her.” So, instead of calling off the engagement, he takes responsibility for the situation and sets his sight on being Mary’s husband. 

This active hope pictures a better and preferred future and begins to move toward that vision. So, a second aspect of active hope is to fix your eyes on a goal and move toward that goal.  

He set out to achieve his goal.

Not knowing exactly what is going to happen, instead of passively trying to get out of the agreed relationship, he actively steps into it. He marries Mary and together they raise the baby. I can only imagine that there were obstacles and barriers with his decision. But Joseph moved forward.   

Active hope is aligned with the future it wants to happen. It does not require optimism or positive thinking. But it does require a desire to navigate the obstacles when there is a gap between reality and the desired future. Active hope chooses to move toward the goal even in the midst of uncertainty, chaos, and fear. This is often called courageous leadership.

He takes the initiative to make decisions and to act

He becomes vulnerable.  He steps out in courage. He decides to care for Mary and the baby. He feeds the baby and cares for Mary. He decides to be who God created him to be, a person of grace.

Active hope adapts to the changing contexts and makes necessary adjustments along the way.  With eyes upon the goal, active hope moves forward in courage. 

Aligned with the future, active hope produces energy to make things happen. It invites you to act and to make something happen, even if it doesn’t exist today. 

Active Hope and Leadership

That is why active hope and leadership are so tightly related. If you lead without a firm grip on reality, or without a sharp vision of what you want the future to look like, then your actions won’t matter. Your behaviors won’t align with a better future. Leadership is about showing up and behaving as if what you do matters. When you align your actions with your goal, you not only practice leadership, you dispense hope. 

Today, you can choose your response to your current situation. You can choose to be who God created you to be and lead the people entrusted to your care into a better future. That is what active hope is.

So, what do you want your future or the future of your church to look like? What is one thing you will do to step into the future you see for yourself and for your congregation? What obstacles are in the way? What will you do to keep yourself focused as you navigate the obstacles? To address these questions is to lead with hope.

Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to give insights and resources to assist you in becoming a courageous leader.

Are you ready for a little hope? Decide to take another step in becoming the leader God has created you to be!

When it comes to Christmas, you want everything to be perfect. Whether it is the tree, the decorations around the house, the food prepared for the family dinner, or the music heard only at this time of year, the Christmas preparations must be perfect.

So, you schedule your time and plan your activities. You have your lists.  Lists for gifts and menus. Lists of names of all who will be present for dinner. You remind yourself that you will not forget the “reason for the season.” So, you hum the carols and you recite the readings. Besides, you know the story so well you can tell it by heart. You have everything planned and perfectly in place.

Read more

It is the first week of Advent.

Time to reread the Christmas story and become familiar again with Gabriel visiting Mary, of Elizabeth becoming pregnant well past her childbearing years, of Zechariah being silenced because of his lack of faith, of Jesus being born in a stable manger, of the choir of angels singing to shepherds in the fields, of visitors bringing gifts from the East, of the dreams of Joseph, and of Mary pondering all these things in her heart.  Wow! What a story! It is Advent. Time to anticipate and prepare for Emmanuel, “God with us.”  

As Christmas approaches, we yearn to experience again the excitement, the joy, and the wonder of the baby born to humble parents, Mary and Joseph. The story of Christmas tells us of God’s dramatic way of coming to be with us, at the time and in the way, we need God the most. 

When you read the story, you recognize that courage makes this season possible.  The theme of courage comes to the surface over and over again. Over these few short days before Christmas, let’s explore the courage of the persons in the story.  This week, through LeaderCast, we looked at the Courage of Mary. Today, let’s look at the courage of Joseph. Remember the story?

Engagement

Joseph was engaged to Mary. Engagement back then was like a marriage.  It was serious business, legal and binding in nature. It could only be broken by going to the courts. So, the families of Joseph and Mary came together, signed the papers, and the engagement began. Only when they became of age, would they marry. So, to say that Joseph was engaged to Mary is significant.  

While they are engaged, Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant.  Now, what is he going to do? He is a good man, a righteous man, a man who wants to do the right thing. That’s great, but what is the right thing? How do you know? Here is a businessman in the community and his fiancée is pregnant. What is he to do?

Joseph’s Options

There are several options available to Joseph. 

Seeking Approval

  • He could seek out the approval of his friends. Joseph could go to the coffee shop and ask, “What do you think I ought to do?” He could get on the phone, go to work, sit in a Sabbath school class, and tell everyone who will listen, “Did you hear about Mary? What do you think I ought to do?” 

Could you blame him for seeking approval?  We elect people to public office and remove people from positions based upon their approval ratings. What do the polls say?  Joseph could have sought out the approval of his friends. 

Making it About Himself

  • He could make it about himself. Joseph could tell his side of the story and expose Mary for being unfaithful. He could disgrace her and humiliate her. “Did you hear about Mary? Can you believe what she did to me? She seemed like such a nice girl.” 

In fact, Matthew tells us that, “Joseph, her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly.” He didn’t want to humiliate her. But, quietly calling off the engagement could also mean he was saving himself from being embarrassed.

Quoting Scripture

  • He could do what the Bible says to do.  You can’t go wrong by following the Bible, because the Bible makes very clear.    

You can quote the Bible before killing a person to justify the killing. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Men, you can quote the Bible before divorcing your wife, “If a man finds something displeasing in his wife, let him give her a divorce and send her out of the house.” It’s in the Bible. Women, do you know what the Bible says? “Let the women keep their heads covered and their mouths shut.” Joseph could do just what the Bible says, “She is to be taken out and stoned to death in front of the people.” (Deuteronomy 22)

The Above are Not Viable Options

Now, let me be clear.  For me, these are not viable options. I mention them, not only because they were available to Joseph, but because each of them is used when you lack the courage to become vulnerable. You engage in them when you are unclear of your purpose and when you are not looking for God in the midst of your everyday living and relationships. 

Respond as a Person of Grace, Goodness, Love

  • Joseph could be who God created him to be. He has experienced God’s presence in his life.  God’s messenger visited him in a dream. He has been blessed through his study of the scriptures. He has read his Bible through the lens of the character and nature of a God who is loving and kind. So, he says, “I will not harm her, abuse her, expose her, shame her, ridicule her, or demean her value, her dignity, or her worth. I will protect her.” 

I am amazed at the courage of Joseph.  He is the first person in the New Testament who learned how to read the Bible. He lives into who God created him to be by responding as a person of grace, goodness, and love.

Again, let me be clear. When reading the Bible, you find justification for abusing, humiliating, disgracing, harming, or hurting, especially when it makes you feel better about yourself, you are absolutely wrong. That is not courage. It’s manipulation. 

Advent and the Courage of Joseph

Reading Through the Lens of Grace

The Bible is to be read in light of the character of God.  It is to be read through the lens of the grace, the goodness, and the love of God when you are deciding how you will respond to the people around you. 

So, what does Joseph do? He becomes vulnerable.  He steps out in courage and listens to God’s messenger.  In a dream, God says, “Go ahead and marry her. I want you to take care of her. I have chosen you to raise her boy.” God says, “Joseph, I want you to raise the baby. You feed the baby. Joseph, care for the mother. You care for the baby.” He becomes who God intends for him to be.

Every Christmas, I marvel at how this story hits the world with the force of a hint.  We want God to be God, but God wants to be a human baby in a manger. We want God to be strong so that we can be weak, but God wants to be weak so that we can be strong. 

God, in Jesus, came to earth, not to overpower, but to empower. William Sloan Coffin wrote, “He (Christ) came to provide maximum support but minimum protection. It is precisely his support that should help you stop sheltering yourself between the covers of the Bible…” 

Your Turn

So, here is what I hope you will do this Advent Season:

  1. Read the Advent/Christmas Story – Every day read part of the story.
    • Download the Advent Bible Reading Guide
    • Become familiar with each character. Put yourself in the story.
    • After reading the story or stories, ask God to help you identify those characters in your everyday life, work, and play.
  2. Reflect upon the story.
    • Throughout the day or at the end of the day, ask yourself:
      • Where do I see God in the story?  Where do I see God in my life? Do you see God in my family, my work, and/or in my community?
      • Where did the story become real for me today? Make a note to share your reflection with someone you trust, then share it.
  3. Respond in the following ways:
    • Become vulnerable.  Let God’s Word become flesh in you.  What is one thing you will do today or tomorrow that will reflect the nature of God’s grace, goodness, and love? 
    • Be courageous. Express your gratitude by specifically reaching out in some form of kindness, care, or compassion. What one thing will you do to be who God created you to be?

The Courage of Joseph

It is Advent.  The baby is not born yet; Mary is not even in labor, but it is already Christmas because of the vulnerability and the courage of Joseph. Because Joseph decided to be who God created him to be, I know that when Jesus is born, the man who will teach him, raise him, care for him, show him how to be a carpenter, take him to the synagogue, and teach him his Bible, is a good man. He is a man of God’s grace, goodness, and love. 

When you have somebody with that kind of courage, it is already Christmas. 

If God can find someone in every family, in every community, in every church who says, “I will do what is right,” it is Christmas. 

What is right?

To read the Scripture and to read the human condition in the light of the love, grace, and kindness of God. As long as there is one person in every situation, it will be Christmas. The question is whether or not you have the heart to be that person.

It is the first week of Advent.  Do you have the courage to be who God created you to be?

Advent Bible Reading Guide

Part of the good news of Christmas is God is with us.  I like the idea of God being with me in every situation and circumstance of my life.  But, as I have reflected upon God being with me, I confess that my thinking has been one dimensional.

As Emmanuel, God has disrupted my living. Yet, it is in the disruption that I experience the good news.

Advent Bible Reading Guide

 

God is With Us

I’ve been thinking of it this way.  God is with us in the midst of all the chaos and crisis of our time.  God is with us in the midst of the violence and pain we continue to endure.  God is with us in the midst of the joys and celebrations we experience with family and friends.  God is with us, embracing with a love that will never let us go.  God is with us offering us peace, even in the midst of the disruption.

So, I’m thinking about Christmas in a different way this year. I have received and read invitations, from several local churches to Christmas Eve worship. All of them invite anyone who reads them, to join that local congregation, to experience holy communion, candle lighting, special music, and God’s love with them at their place. It is wonderful to have such invitations. But, it is Christmas.  God is with us.  The good news is that God left God’s place and came to our place.Emmanuel God is With Us Transforming Mission

Going into the Community

I’ve been thinking, what would happen if we disrupted the community by leaving our places and going into the community to be with the people? What would happen if we took the love of God, the special music, the light of the world and became holy communion in the communities in which we live? God did not say “come to my place and I will give you peace.” God came to us with peace and love.

I will attend Christmas Eve worship, and I’ll be thinking of how over the next year you and I might disrupt our communities by bringing love and peace into every situation and circumstance we find ourselves. I’ll sing the carols and listen to the music, but I will be thinking about how you and I can bring a kind, caring, encouraging word into our communities by being God’s Word in the places we live, work, and play.

I look forward to celebrating holy communion with God’s people. But, I will be thinking of how you and I might enter our communities, come alongside our neighbors, both friends and strangers, to include all people in God’s love in Jesus. I’ll light a candle with all who gather to worship. I look forward to the symbolism of being a light in the darkness. But I will be thinking of how you and I might become part of the light of God’s love that brings peace to our communities and goodwill to all people whether we like them or not.

An Invitation

Emmanuel God is With Us Transforming Mission

I hope you will make Christmas Eve worship part of your Christmas practice. I will be praying that your worship will be a true celebration of disrupting the world so that we might become more the presence of God in the midst of the chaos and crisis, the violence and pain, and the joy and celebrations of our communities. I’ll be praying that your worship will lead you into the community with God’s peace and love. So, let it be!

O God, disrupt our peace so that we may experience your peace. By your grace fill us with so much of your presence that we have to disrupt the world in which we live to share your love and peace in all places with all people. O come, thou long expected Jesus!  Come and set us free! Amen.

One of the songs I like at this time year is “The Best Gift of All.

Candles glow from frosted windows
Rooms are filled with twinkling lights,
There’s a manger scene, boughs of evergreen,
Someone is singing ‘Silent Night’…
And every gift my heart remembers, of easy laughter, dear old friends
Precious faces and smiles, the dancing eyes of a child,
All remind me once again:
The Best Gift of All is JESUS
His love knows no season or place
You can see Him in the firelight
Reflected on each face…
And though we cherish the blessings of Christmas, When his love seems especially near…
The Best Gift of All is Jesus – ALL THROUGH THE YEAR!

In a world of hidden motives and questionable agendas, there is still hope in what God offers. Because of our brokenness and the world’s chaos, Jesus is the message of God’s goodness. In Jesus there is something pure, something right, something true, Someone good.  The best gift of all is Jesus. He is with us all through the year.

All Through the Year

This week I was reminded of a family that celebrates Christmas all through the year. Through a small white envelope stuck among the branches of a Christmas tree, there is no name, no identification, no inscription. The envelope just peeks through the branches of the tree.

The tradition began 17 years ago when Nancy’s husband Mike stated, “I hate Christmas. Not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it. I can’t stand the overspending, the frantic running, the gifts given in desperation because you can’t think of anything else.”

Knowing how her husband felt, Nancy decided one year to bypass the usual gifts of “shirts and ties.” She wanted to do something special for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Their 12-year-old son, Kevin, was a junior wrestler at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, Kevin had a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. Most of the wrestlers on the team were boys of little financial means. They were dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together. There was a sharp contrast between Kevin’s team in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and new wrestling shoes. As the match began, Nancy was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without protective headgear. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Kevin’s team won easily. Although Mike was happy for Kevin, he was sad in his heart. He said, “I wish just one of them could have won. And I wish something could be done with their uniforms.”

A White Envelope

That’s when Nancy had the idea for Mike’s gift. That afternoon, she went to a local sporting goods store, bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, Nancy placed a simple white envelope on the tree. Inside was a note telling Mike what she had done and that this was his gift from her.

His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. The next year Nancy sent a group of Special Olympics children to a hockey game, and another year she sent a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned the week before Christmas.

The envelope became the highlight of their Christmas celebrations. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning. Their children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, Nancy lost Mike six years ago to cancer. When that first Christmas after his death came, she was still so wrapped in grief that she barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found Nancy placing an envelope on the tree. And an amazing thing happened. On Christmas morning, there were four white envelopes. Each of Mike’s children had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown for that family, and now Mike’s grandchildren stand wide-eyed around the tree as their fathers take down the envelope.

One Last Gift

Now, what happened in that family?  They experienced God’s incredible gift of love. That love is our hope and it is rooted in God’s gift of Jesus.

So before you pick the paper off the floor, or serve your Christmas meal, or start the thank you notes, be sure to look in the tree one final time. There’s one last gift there. It’s a message waiting just for you.  It won’t be in an envelope.

It will be wrapped in swaddling clothes…

God so loved…God gave…The best gift of all is Jesus…all through the year!

I pray that you do not miss the joy of Jesus this Christmas!

 

According to the account in the New York Times, it was just before Christmas several years ago that David Storch, a music teacher, borrowed a copy of the score of Handel’s “Messiah” from the Brooklyn Public Library. Through a clerical error, however, the transaction was not recorded. There were several other requests for the score, and the library staff, unaware that it had been checked out, spent many hours searching in vain for it through the stacks.

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A farmer and his family up north were preparing to head out to the Christmas Eve service.  They’d have to navigate their way to church through a snowstorm.  The snow had been falling since morning.  Now, with night falling, the snow was deep and the air colder.

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“O Holy child of Bethlehem, descend on us we pray Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angel, the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel. -From “O Little Town of Bethlehem”