Jon Hevelone's blog
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."
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!”
People by nature have a need to reach beyond themselves. We wish, we dream, we hope, we aspire for something more. Often this aspiration focuses on our living situation. We want to be better off financially, have a happier home life, or learn how to achieve a more satisfying outlook on life. Often these are goals we long have cherished. Even when we don’t have these hopes for ourselves, we have them for our children or our friends.
People also have spirituals dreams. We want a sense of deep, inner contentment for ourselves and for those we love. We try to discover the meaning of life and to live our lives by that discovery. There are two problems, however, that often frustrate us in our attempt to claim an adequate spirituality.
First, what we discover as the purpose of life often has a nasty habit of not being “big” enough to base our lives upon. The obvious example of this for those of us with a church background is the way we all outgrow the idea of God we carried around with us as children. We all give up the picture of an old man in the sky with a long white beard. Some of us replace that picture with a more mature and complete understanding of the God who really is there. Others don’t replace it, and go through life feeling empty. They become angry at a silly and inadequate god they have created in their own mind, confusing their infantile picture with the real God. Often these people feel superior to those who have faith, and don’t bother to notice that Christian believers try to let the Bible inform them of what God is really like. And the God of the Bible doesn’t have a white beard!
The other thing that often frustrates people in their spiritual journey is the discovery that we do not live up to our expectations. We walk the pathway of faith only a short while before we are shocked at the gap between ourselves and the real God. Not only are we a long distance from our Creator, we even fail to match the day by day expectations we set for ourselves. This sense of shortcoming is especially vivid when we have a more mature, adult picture of God. In comparison with the God of the Bible we just do not measure up adequately. Most of us are just not too good at parting the Red Sea, turning water into wine, loving God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, or loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
The Christian faith helps us with these two problems. First, the real God isn’t some creation of our mind, and therefore will not fail us. God is so awesome that we never will be disappointed. We can stake our lives on the adequacy of God. Secondly, God already knows that we do not measure up to standards and loves us anyway. God is “big” enough and loves us so much that our shortcomings are overcome in Christ.
Reaching beyond ourselves is a natural part of life. The good news is that God has reached out to us, and that in Jesus Christ our spiritual hope, dreams, and aspirations can be realized.
Joe McKeever has worn many hats. He’s a pastor, a cartoonist, and a keen observer of the trials and tribulations of church life. He retired as Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of New Orleans, and has collected an ongoing list of things NOT to tell a pastor. He has given his ok to pass them on and even add to the “wisdom.” These are the ones I like — and have heard!
1. “I enjoyed your little talk.”
2. “Is what you said true, or was that just preacher talk?”
3. “The restroom is out of paper.”
4. “Someone–I’m not saying who–told me to tell you….”
5. “Can I come by your office in the morning? I might need a couple of hours of your time.”
6. “I miss our church when it was just our people.”
7. “I heard High Rock Church baptized 42 people. And Grace Chapel had a $100,000 offering last week.”
8. “Just because you’re the pastor doesn’t make you always right.”
9. “Hi Pastor! Bet you don’t remember my name.”
10. “You preach too long; our former pastor preached 20 minutes and people loved him.”
11. “We don’t want those kind of people in our church.”
12 “Are you aware of what your daughter posted on Facebook?”
13. “This is our church. My granddaddy started this church.”
14. “I don’t care what the Bible says. I know what I believe….”
15. “Would you tell the music director to sing some of the hymns I like?”
16. “I’m not being fed.”
17. “Oh, pastor–don’t you just love Joel Osteen!”