Some of us are old enough to remember Bing Crosby crooning “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas...” Trouble is, those of us old enough to remember the song aren’t dreaming so much of a white Christmas, as perhaps a warm Christmas, or maybe a quite Christmas. Anything that doesn’t involve shoveling snow and moving at the staccato rate of the television commercials that first tell us to go there and buy that, and then tell us to buy that and go there.
Actually, what I’m dreaming of is a slow Christmas. I want my Christmas to be slow enough I can gaze into the beauty of Christmas, the beauty of God Incarnate, of God fused to humanity in a child -- Jesus, my Lord.
On second thought, maybe I do want a white Christmas. There is probably nothing as effective at slowing things down than a big, unexpected dumping of snow over everything. It really takes the whole commercial bit down a notch or two. No wild shopping frenzy. No compulsive socializing. Just quietly marveling at the splendor of a world drenched in white -- preferably seen through the window closest to a fireplace.
I suspect the problem of overdoing it at Christmas has been around for quite a long time. The folks visiting Bethlehem that first Christmas had the same problem. They had come into town from other villages to be registered in the census. Upon their arrival they had to scour the streets looking for a place to stay. Then they had to fight the crowds to get something to eat and find directions to the place where they would meet the government requirements.
The residents of Bethlehem were busy that first Christmas - renting rooms, cooking meals, making beds -- hoping to make a buck or two off the visitors. The feed store owner was working as hard as Boston snow plow drivers, taking care of all the donkeys who needed hay to eat. And more people just kept pouring into the little town of Bethlehem.
In Bethlehem there were a few people who stood apart from the busy crowds. Shepherds. Out doing their job on the hillsides, watching sheep. Not the most exciting thing, but it paid the rent. They weren’t to concerned about what was happening in town. They just huddled around a fire to keep warm and swapped stories. They led a quite life.
Then it changed. The sky -- the sky lit up. They heard the news about the most important thing going on in town -- most important thing in the world. Without questioning, without hesitating, they immediately went to Bethlehem to check it out. To see for themselves the incredible things they had just been told. They find the baby. His parents. Right there in the stable -- just like the angel had said.
Let me tell you, they weren’t worried about their clothes, or whether or not they had Christmas gifts. All they could hear were the words of the angel ringing in their hearts – "This very day in David’s town your Saviour is born – Christ the Lord."
We have just experienced a beautiful New England fall. The trees displayed God’s creativity with their vast array of colors - yellows, reds, and gold. Even the green that remains added to the splendor. Now the ground is covered with the fallen leaves. It was fun to see the leaves fall as the wind blew through the area. But now comes the hard work of raking and bagging all these leaves. Fortunately for us, we have adult children and grandchildren to help. Even the work of raking the leaves can be fun as the children enjoy jumping and scattering the giant piles of leaves. And some of the children are even big enough to help with the raking!
Years ago when we lived in Kansas, our house was located midway up a hill. When the leaves fell, the wind off the Kansas prairies would swirl them around in a joyful dance and carry them away into a neighbor’s yard. In fact, one nearby yard seemed to be the repository for all the leaves in the neighborhood. No one could cast blame because the wind was at fault.
Wind is alway present in the midwest. There are stories of pioneer life on the prairies that tell about people going mad from the constant sound of the wind howling across the plains. Wind plays a part in New England life, too. Nor’easters come with wind driven rain and snow. Mariners have to always be aware of what happens over the ocean when the wind takes control.
Jesus talked about the wind in John 3: 8. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You can hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the spirit.” Then on Pentecost, the birthday of the church, Luke tells us in Acts 2: 1 - 4 “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (NIV)
As Advent nears, may the powerful wind of the Holy Spirit blow through us individually and as a church and may we be invigorated to minister to a hurting world in the name of Jesus.
Sunday I preached on the age old problem of trusting God in the face of evil. I spoke about how bad things can suddenly appear out of nowhere, how awful stuff happens in our world. I looked at the “why did this happen to me?” question and how it cannot ever be answered satisfactorily. It’s more profitable for Christians to ask “what can I do now?” I preached my conviction that no matter what, we best trust that God will be with us however hard our life becomes.
After the service I went home and looked forward to a quiet time of recovery, capped by a well deserved Sunday afternoon nap. (I always told my kids that preaching was as hard as digging ditches all day. I’ve convinced myself, if not them, that it’s true.)
That’s when the phone call came. My daughter was speaking, her voice telegraphing desperateness. Tate, our three year old grandson was out hiking with his dad, when a stick rammed into his eye. They were on their way to Boston Children’s Hospital emergency room.
I was overcome with confusion and fear and helplessness. My prayers rapidly cycled between “Please, God, save his eye,” and “Why, God, did you do this?” From time to time my mind would go the the sermon I had just preached. I did serious soul searching. Was my message just hot air and pious cliches, or did I trust God even in the ugly events of the last hour? Did I trust God with my grandson?
Sometimes Christians are viewed as simplistic and naive. People think that when we are faced with difficult situations, we just avoid facing reality. We solve problems like an ostrich does — by sticking our head in the sand and hoping everything goes away. That unfortunately may be the way a few Christians act, but the Bible calls for us to trust God as capable, intelligent, and strong people who know God cares for us. Even more, we know that is true no matter the outcome. God promises that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from His love Christ Jesus our Lord, and that God will work it all together for good.
Trusting God when the bad stuff hits doesn’t come easy. It’s a lesson we’re always learning. I discovered more about God’s care Sunday afternoon than I ever did in the time I spent preparing and preaching my sermon.
Oh, and Tate’s eye is just fine. His reaction to the whole thing? On the way home he happily announced, “Next time I poke a stick in my eye I’m going to come to the same hospital and the same doctor!”
At First Baptist Arlington we are in a period of focusing anew on missions. The church has a long history of supporting missions. There have in the past been foreign missionaries who have gone out from this church. In fact, each of us are “missionaries” as we live out our Christian life in the world around us. Our mission emphasis is something that needs to be renewed as we consider our task as the body of Christ - in this time and in this place.
Our church mission statement reads “Growing together in faith. Sharing Christ’s love with our world.” That mission statement echoes the Great Commission given by Christ to his followers in Matt. 28:19, 20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
But what can we do? Let’s look at some concrete examples. We have a number of outreach programs in place. We collect food for the food pantry. We collect warm gloves and scarves for the homeless. We provide clothing and gifts for local families in need at Christmas. We support outreach programs for battered women and victims of human trafficking. We give money to Christian colleges. We support our denomination’s home and foreign mission offerings. We are having a special collection for international missions.
On a personal level we offer prayer support to those we know of who are ill. As an example, we often send cards signed by church members to those we know of who need our prayers. Recently we sent a card to Linda Barnett, sister of Joe Westberry. She was so touched by it that she took it to her church in Texas to see if they might do a similar thing.
These activities seem small individually. But collectively they surely have an impact. Let us continue to minister to others in the name of Jesus. That is our call and purpose as Christians. Let’s each ask ourselves - “What can I do?”