Saturday, December 30, 2006

Christmas Presents

On Christmas morning, my daughter asked me a haunting question. "Why do we give gifts to each other on Jesus' birthday?" Clearly, she is onto something here. My four year old understands birthdays... and in her experience, the person whose birthday we are celebrating is the one who receives presents.

I fumbled with a lame answer about the Magi. I don't think she even remembers my feeble attempt at an answer. She was quickly moving onto her next gift.

But it has kept me thinking. As I have been preparing for my sermon for Sunday, I have been thinking about the gifts the Magi brought (this is the text for Sunday). Gold for a King, Frankincense for a Priest, Myrrh for One preparing to die. The point of the gifts, of course, was to reveal who Christ really is.

I have searched the internet for the history of gift giving. There really is no well thought out theological significance to exchanging gifts... just a history of how it evolved out of ancient traditions, or when the first advertisement for Christmas gifts was published (first half of 19th Century in this country)

So here is my stab at it: What if our Christmas gift giving was done with the express intent of honoring who we really are in God? If gifts were given with the intent of honoring the image of Christ within each one of us?

Saturday, December 23, 2006


I can remember exactly one year since 1989 when I have not been sick either during or immediately following Christmas. It was last year. It seems my body has returned to its usual pattern. Although I have to admit, it tricked me yesterday be feeling good most of the day, and then sent me to bed with a sore throat and sleepless night.

Being sick always means I spend A LOT more time praying. This is what I do as I lie in bed and try not to dwell on how lousy I feel. I give thanks for my amazing family... my husband has spent the better part of three days now herding the kids so that I can get some rest. My kids have been remarkably good, especially considering Christmas is in a few days. (I think Christmas "excitement" is what parents make of it when kids are 2 and 4... we keep it a bit on the low key side.) I have prayed for our Christmas worship services and for each person God has brought to my mind as I lie there. That is one of my favorite prayer simply see who God brings to mind. I never cease to be amazed by the ways God brings someone to mind, and when I mention it later, they had a specific need for prayer.

And I have said to God many times, as I think about all of the worship services in my future: it's up to you Lord. Cleary, I am not up to the task.

This is of course always true, but every time I get sick, this truth sinks a bit more deeply into my being... it's up to you Lord....clearly, I am not up to the task. The best part of reaffirming this truth is that I have experienced the Spirit carry me through so many times, I have no doubt worship will be well cared for.

Now if I can just ride the wave of the Spirit all through Christmas dinner preparations....

Friday, December 22, 2006


I have been thinking about buildings, church buildings in particular, this week. I listened to a piece on NPR about how Mormonism is going mainstream in our country, as evidenced in Boston. Among the proofs of this process is the fact that a congregation is in the midst of constructing a cathedral like building.

I spoke with a colleague this week about the space they use for worship, and listened to him talk about their dream to someday have their own space.

I think about our own church family, in which we are spread across three spaces: two churches and one high school. I remember the stories that have been shared with about the days in the 1980s and 1990s when Town Point was building their new church building, and how much energy and excitement there was among church folks and community members in building the new space. People get energized about building a church building together.

It occurs to me that church is not supposed to have very much to do with buildings. It is supposed to be about relationship... relationship with God in Jesus Christ, relationship with others, reaching out in relationship with more hurting, broken people. We sing a song that says "I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes we're the church together. The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is a people..."

Here is what I think: buildings are much easier to control and manage than relationships. Relationships with God and everyone else...they're messy, unpredictable, and have great capactiy for the full range of emotions from joy to sorrow from solidarity to loneliness. Being in relationships is like riding a roller coaster. Or as Forest Gump says, "life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get." That is true of relationships.

This all feels especially relevant to me as I prepare to celebrate Jesus' birth.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


This week, one of my daughter's preschool teachers (Pam) shared a story with me about Shannon. They were talking this week about Jesus' birth. The teacher (Donna) asked "does anyone know where Jesus was born?"

Pam said you could just see it on Shannon's face that she was searching her mind, thinking she should know the answer to this question. Apparently, the the pastor's kid is already starting to feel the pressure.

Finally, Donna prompted them by saying "Beth..." and Shannon yelled out with great excitment "Bethany Beach!"

Someday, I'll be able to explain to her that she was actually correct on one level. Jesus' birth was for all times in all places for all people. For now, I'll just smile every time I think of Bethelehem, for it will remind me of my sweet child in an even more special way now (I did get to be pregnant over Christmas with her). And I will enjoy telling the story again this summer when we go back to Bethany Beach for vacation.

Friday, December 15, 2006


This week, I called the home of a church staff member, and her son jokingly called for his mom by saying "Mom, your boss is on the phone!" I laughed with her that it was certainly me, but I was not so sure about the "boss" part.

On Wednesday, I was a part of a panel discussion. Along with two clergy colleagues about my age, we sat before a cohort of United Methodist District Superintendents convened by the Lewis Cener for Church Leadership. The topic was young clergy specifically and church renewal generally. One of the many things we raised and discussed is the reality that younger clergy generally prefer a collaborative, team based approach to ministry.

I know this is an essentail truth for me. I understand my role as pastor to be like Eph. 4:12 says it: "equipping the saints for the work of ministry, building up the body of Christ." The way I see things, serving Christ (as pastor or in any other role) is really not about status, hierarchy, or being out in front. If God can be born in Jesus as a human baby, eat with sinners, wash feet, and die on a criminal's cross, then following Jesus must have something to do with this way of living.

I have about 30 years of ordained ministry ahead of me. I hope that by the time I retire, our church will have learned to stop putting clergy on pedestals, and accepted that we are all sinners, in need of God's grace...and that together, the Holy Spirit finds ways to use for amazing and wonderful things.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Two Christmases

I have been thinking about Christmas celebrations and their meaning over the past few weeks. I read a clip somewhere reminding me about how Christmas celebrations are relatively recent in our nation's history becuase the first settlers shunned such celebrations as too worldly.

I have been thinking about the debate over whether stores should put up signs that say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. As far as I can tell, they put those signs up in an effort to sell stuff, not because they care about the birth of Jesus Christ. I would actually prefer they say something other than Merry Christmas in their efforts to sell stuff. After all, Christmas is not about commercialism or materialism.

I listened to a woman who serves in the after school ministry for at risk youth (The Generation Station) tell a story about taking 17 kids to see The Nativity. After the movie, one of them commented to her "Ms. Anita lied to us. She said we were going to see a Christmas movie!" Obvioulsy, Christmas movies are things like Elf and Santa Claus 3. We had a good laugh.

Then on the radio yesterday, I heard an NPR open call in show about the airport out west that removed its two Christmas trees rather than put in a menorah. A man called in to say that he does not call himself a Christian, he was not raised in the Church...but he does celebrate Christmas. He elaborated by saying he decorates, puts up a tree, and exchanges gifts with his family. Christmas for him is really a secular holiday.

That just confirmed things for me. There are actually two kinds of Christmases in our country (world?). One is the secular Christmas, which is about Santa Claus, elves, trees, office parties, family dinners, and presents. The Christmas celebrated by the Church and by those committed to following Jesus is about the birth of God's Son, Jesus, in human form, Emmanuel (which means God with us). All of the tinsel, trees, gifts, egg nog, and advertisements don't really have much to do with this deep reality, except that they are tools for celebrating. The birth of Jesus is certainly worth celebrating... I guess the question we have to ponder is what we are actually celebrating, why, and how our celebrations point to this in genuine ways.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Waiting in Faith

Last year, my husband and I found a great Advent book. It is a collection of writings by many spiritual authors. This morning I was reading Henri Nouwen, who is one of my all time favorites. He was writing about waiting, and how we don't know how to wait. There is more than one reason for this. We think our time must be occupied, that we must be productive. We are afraid; he notes that many innovations in war techniques happen while waiting in fear.

Waiting in faith is not a fear filled experience. Zachariah and Elizabeth were waiting. Zachariah was visited by an angel who announced that John would be born. Mary was waiting when the angel Gabriel announced she would bear Jesus. They were waiting in faith, in hope, not fear.

I had the privilege of visiting a saint in the hospital this week. When the doctor and nurse asked how he was doing, he sounded perfectly calm as he confessed "well, I'm nervous, but other than that I feel ok." He commented to me that of course he was ready to go if it was his time, but he does enjoy this life. I asked about how he came to be a part of this church family. He talked about how he had been away from the church for a long time, but that he finally returned when he was going through a particularly difficult time in life. He thought that if perhaps he become "good" again by going to church, perhaps God would get him out if his situation. Then he said something profound: "God did not take away the hardship. I found that I learned how to live through it." What a testimony to faith, and to waiting.

This is a person with strong faith, because he has waited out many a storm, and discovered God in the midst of the good times and the hard times.

This Advent, I hope God teaches me more about waiting. Advent is, after all, a season which literally means "coming." It is by definition about watching and waiting. I don't want to be distracted, overscheduled, fearful, or otherwise occupied. I want to be open, watchful, and wide eyed to be able to see what God is doing. Come Lord Jesus.