Sometimes the daily news is more disturbing to us than usual. This is especially true during the holiday season, when the unfortunate events that happen to others seem to strike an especially responsive and sensitive cord in our hearts.
It seems like we have been in a season of bad news, and I find it easy to grieve with and for others I do not even know. It really makes no sense, but I find myself caring as if they were personal friends, rather than names in a newspaper.
Of course the tragedy that has wiped out a whole family in Arlington is enough to make most people at least wince, if not burst into tears. For those of you reading this from a distance and do not know, a husband and father apparently killed his wife and twin boys, and then himself. The twins would have been one year old this week.
I find myself raging. How could anyone do this? How could it be done just before a milestone birthday party? Just before Thanksgiving, a time we are to draw close to our families and thank God for the blessings of life? And just before Advent and Christmas, the time we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace? How can this be? How can I feel the loss so personally, when all involved were strangers?
The answer, or at least a partial step toward an understanding, comes when we realize our yearning for things as we wish them to be during the holidays. As a young boy I lived in a small town that celebrated the 4th of July with a fireworks display. I remember lying on my back in the grass with friends watching the bombs bursting in air, the glorious colors exploding across the night sky, the smell of gunpowder drifting down and settling over the enthralled crowd. As an adult, I realize the fireworks display was probably quite limited and meager, given the financial resources of the community and the fact that so many years ago it didn’t take as much to impress us. Yet there is still something within me that says the colossal fireworks spectaculars here in Boston aren’t nearly as awesome as those of yesteryear in small town Kansas.
Likewise, we want our Thanksgiving and our Christmas to be as we wish them to be, and not as they are. We yearn for the magical spark of delight and perfection that is buried deep within our memories. Unfortunately, as we age, our memories tend to expand and become exaggerated. The Christmas tree we decorate today will never match the ones of our youth.
I can not remember a family squabble marring the holidays of my youth. I do not recall the hard work of preparing, serving, and cleaning up after a Thanksgiving feast. I am certain my mother was never disappointed in whatever homemade Christmas present I took such delight in giving to her. And I am sure there were no tragedies in my home town like the one here in Arlington, nor were there problems anywhere else in the world. Everything was perfect.
Unfortunately, Normal Rockwell is no longer painting Saturday Evening Post covers this holiday season. If you come to our house at Christmas, you see a Christmas tree thrown thrown together minus the ornaments we could’t find, presents that may or may not be adored, and family members who occasionally fuss with one another. We live as real people in a real world that is a far cry from the dream world of our childhood. We can wish and wish, but yearning for perfection doesn’t change the actuality of our world.
The bittersweetness of living in a world that is full of incredible goodness, yet is at the same time so broken and marred comes to the front during the holidays, and especially at Christmas. We sense this, we live this, still tantalized by our memories and expectations, and find ourselves jarred when reality doesn’t match our hopes. When reality is especially harsh, such as the Arlington family murdered by who knows what evil forces, we immediately tie the loss into those countless other losses we have personally experienced over the years. It joins right in there with my always yearning for a perfect Christmas like those of my childhood. Unfortunately, there are times when we do not have a white Christmas, and people sometimes do bad things.
Different situations in our lives can cast deep shadows. We can choose to be overcome by the darkness, or to be a light in the shadows. We can continue to trust Jesus Christ’s heart, even when we can not feel his hand upon us. We can choose to believe, trust and follow our God, even if his plan does not live up to our expectations. God does not need our approval for his will to be done.
We do not always get the Christmas we wish. We do not always get life as we wish it to be. Sometimes, from our perspective, life is worse. Sometimes it is better. Always, we can trust that God works through all things to bring good to those who love him. Stay close to him and see how that good will be worked out in your life. That could be the best gift of Christmas you will ever receive.
Isn't Thanksgiving a wonderful holiday? There are wonderful aromas in the house as an abundance of good foods are prepared. Family and friends gather to enjoy each other's company. Football is on TV as people relax and digest their feasts. At our house some people go for a walk or run to work off a few of the many calories ingested. Some volunteer to rake leaves that have fallen yet again after the fall yard clean up. There is no worry about giving or receiving the right gift. Overall, there is a profound sense of being thankful to God for his many blessings.
But somewhere in the back of our minds, we realize that for some people, all is not so well. We remember the people in the Philippines who lost everything when the worst storm in recorded history struck their homes. We remember the tornadoes which struck in the midwest last week. Champaign County in Illinois where my sister and her son and grandson live was declared a disaster area.
Thankfully, they were not hurt, but many in their community lost everything as homes were blown away and people were injured and killed. We remember with sadness the tragedy that struck in Arlington last week when the lives of a young family ended abruptly in such a senseless manner.
So while we thank God for our own blessings, we remember and reach out to help those less fortunate. Jesus told us that when we help other in his name, it is as if we do it for him. American Baptist sent financial aid to the Philippines within days of typhoon from our One Great Hour of Sharing Offering. Baptist men's groups from all over the country were dispatched to the midwest where they served food and brought in supplies to help the victims and their families. They were financed in part by the America for Christ offering. And Christians from all over our city have prayed for the families and friends of the family slain here in Arlington.
We are blessed and want to bless others. We know Christ and the difference he makes in our own lives, and we want others to know him. Knowing Jesus is the most wonderful blessing anyone can have.
Tuesdays - 6:30 pm
We have started a Bible Study for teens, young adults, and adults, on the Letter of Paul to the Romans. Come early and join us for pizza. All Are Welcome!
Over the past year we have done a lot of thinking about prayer. We started with a study of Philip Yancey’s book Prayer, Does it Make Any Difference?. He probes such questions as: Is God listening? Why should God care about me? If God knows everything, what’s the point of prayer? Why does God seem to answer some prayers and not others? He describes prayer as the intimate place where God and humans meet.
Then we moved on to a study of the Lord’s Prayer by Walter Wangerin. This is the model prayer that Jesus gave us in response to the disciples asking Him to teach them to pray. We are in the middle of that study now as we meet on Saturday mornings. We are looking at it phrase by phrase hoping to gain insight on how to keep it from being just a remote saying that we recite every Sunday. Dr Wangerin sheds light about what the Lord’s Prayer reveals about God’s nature and our own nature, and how we should live in relationship with God and one another.
But last Saturday evening, I received a real lesson in prayer. I was with a group of people from church who gathered at the Museum of Science to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was an amazing exhibit. Tiny bits of Scripture that have been preserved over centuries were on display. If you have an opportunity to see it I strongly encourage you to do so. At the exit was a duplication of the wall of the ancient temple at Jerusalem. The wall was constructed like the wailing wall, and we were invited to write prayers down and put them in the cracks in the wall. We were told that the prayers would then actually be sent to Jerusalem.
So I looked deeply into my heart and wrote down my most common prayer and my greatest concern. It was a prayer that I have prayed many times over the years. It is one that has never been completely answered. I have attempted to bargain with God to answer this prayer. I have offered to do this or that or give up something important to me is God would only answer it. That answer has not yet come. But somehow the act of physically writing the words down and putting it in the wall helped me. I can’t explain it. I don’t understand what happened. But I am sure that my prayer reached heaven. I am expecting a response from God any day.