Thanksgiving with its time of reflecting on our many blessings has come and gone. Now we have entered into Advent. We come with anticipation as we prepare ourselves to welcome the Christ Child. Last Sunday we lit the first candle on our Advent wreath. Christmas is coming. As I reflect on what gifts will be given this Christmas, I remember some interesting ones from Christmases past. When Suzanne was about the age of our grandson Eben (almost two) Jon asked her what she wanted to get me for Christmas. Without hesitation, she replied, “Orange juice!” So off they went to the grocery store to get a special gift for the momma. Her delight was only slightly dampened when she realized that her gift could not be put under the Christmas tree until Christmas morning but had to be kept in the refrigerator. It was strange to find a brightly wrapped gift when I opened the refrigerator door.
Another interesting gift we received in Christmases past was a very large container of peanut butter. For several years someone left a box on Jon's desk with the peanut butter and other food items in it. We finally found out that it was given by an elderly farmer who explained that when his children were young and money was tight, it was a relief to know that they had plenty of peanut butter to feed their family. Jon was not well paid at the time by that small church, and the peanut butter was certainly enjoyed by our young children.
But no matter how thoughtful or expensive the gifts we give or receive,
none can compare to the amazing gift of the God who loved us so much
that he gave his only son to die for our sins. That is what Christmas is
really about after all. Come Lord Jesus, we welcome you this Christmas!
Can the summer really be coming to an end? It seems like it just started.
It has been a real summer of contrasts for my family. For example, Hurricane Irene is bringing rain to a saturated New England while my family in Louisiana is thankful for whatever little rain comes their way.
We spent a quiet peaceful week in Maine enjoying the coolness and beauty of Winter Harbor. And we spent a wonderful week in Louisiana visiting with family and enjoying the rolling farm lands which included a farm pond with an alligator in it. Jon nicknamed him "Cousin Al." The heat was well over 100 degrees while we were there. But the warmth and love of family is what we came away with. It's what brings us to family reunions year after year.
This summer has been a time of "Hello" and "Goodbye" as our family has welcomed a new member, five-year-old Angelina, daughter of our niece Monica. But on a sad note, we have lost two beloved pets, our gentle white cat, Leo, who moved here with us from Kansas, and our son Nathanael's beautiful red and white Husky, Maija, who did suddenly leaving a big void in our lives.
All this reminds me of the scripture that tells us that everything has a season. And a new season is upon us. The kids are returning to school. Some here in Arlington will be wearing back packs that the church has provided them. Our new fall programming is taking shape. What will this season bring us? Certainly both good and bad will happen, but over all we have the assurance that our God will be with us through whatever happens.
Irene was supposed to come to church Sunday, but she didn’t show up. Reminds me of some other people I know, but I’ll not embarrass anyone and say more about that today.
While I don’t discount the terrible impact Irene did have, I confess, I was disappointed with it by the time it reached Arlington. I have loved hurricanes for a long time. Two weeks after I settled in to attend New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Hurricane Betsy aimed for the city. As a newcomer to New Orleans, I did what everybody else did when we found out Betsy was coming -- we all prepared for a hurricane party. In the hours before she hit, the standard cheery greeting among the old timers: “Have a Happy Hurricane”!
Christians are experts at having happy hurricanes. The scriptures in Mark 4 tell the story of one hurricane party Jesus and his friends experienced. They were sailing a boat across Galilee when an intense storm hit. Read the passage for yourself -- you’ll enjoy it.
Mark has some good ideas for helping us get through our own storms. First, make sure you are in the right boat. There are lots of boats floating around today wanting to take us for a ride -- and it’s pretty easy to get in the wrong boat. The right one has Jesus as captain!
Hurricanes themselves come to us in many ways. Christians are not exempt from being caught in the downpours of life. Family, health, and economics can all kick up squalls without warning. The Bible plainly says that the rain will fall on the just and the unjust alike.
One of the storms that our generation is confronted with is the problem of speed and saturation.
We live in a Twitter communication cycle where we are reminded repeatedly of what Bill Belichek thinks about the Lions game or what Lady Gaga looks like in drag at the MTV Video Awards. And the speed we get all this information is approaching the ridiculous. There is no time for reflection, for truth-checking, for thinking about the results this constant jabber will provoke. Instead, many of us succumb and join the storm, tweeting about the cold pancake we ate at breakfast. We can’t hear God speak if we are in a constant frenzy of hurried shallowness.
Want to have a happy hurricane? Be sure you get in the right boat -- the one with Jesus as your captain. And then, be sure you push off from the dock.
Setting sail -- that’s the only way to get where you want to go. Some people get into the boat with Jesus, but then never leave the dock. No shove off, no sailing. No involvement, no Christian growth. Too many church folk want their churches to be quiet little dockside cafes where they can sip lattes and never have to put energy into sailing the rough seas of a sinful world that needs the sunlight of God’s grace.
Real Christians are not afraid of being caught in the storms of life. They trust their captain. So push off -- there is a boat to sail, Irene or not. And don’t forget -- have a happy hurricane.
This I Believe... MEMORIES
Lee and I love to walk through Mt. Feake cemetery in Waltham. It’s a
serene place with beautiful trees, and some of the paths wander along
the Charles. But truthfully, what draws us there are the tombstones.
While we were waiting for Isaac to be born, we used to pour over the
names on the graves. Would our son be a Henry or a Nehemiah or a
Alastair? It is a bit mind-boggling to think that all the dead lying
there had also once been hidden inside their mother, that they had
been born to prosper and suffer, to love and lose, and ultimately to
die. And little Isaac Dale of all our hopes and dreams and prayers
will die too.
The stories of the dead buried in Waltham are largely lost. Lee and I
can tell from their gravestones that Alice was married to John or that
Margaret and Richard lost a baby girl, but the signifiers on the
markers are so limited: names, dates, sometimes familial connections,
a military marking, a Bible verse, a cross or a beautifully carved
flower. That is all the casual observer in the graveyard knows of a
life with all its complexity and depth. The sorrows and triumphs are
lost. We don’t know who was kind or cruel or thoughtful or
thoughtless. History records only the smallest fraction, and that from
a limited perspective, of human experiences.
This Memorial Day we honor the men and women who have died while in the service of the United States. Their graves are there too. Rows of
people who died in the World Wars, Korea or Vietnam sometimes have
American flags flying next to their tombstones. We haven’t seen graves
there from Iraq or Afghanistan, but perhaps they’re hiding in some yet
unexplored corner. But the crux of all of this for Christians is that the dead are not dead and gone. Not only are the most private, hidden components of their lives while on earth known by God, but he has also called home those who belong to him. And in the most unimaginable turn of events, they are alive in Christ. They are living as full and complete people in relationship with him. We can’t even understand what that means totally, but we claim it.
We claim a loving God, who cared about every Henry, Nehemiah or
Alastair ever born, anywhere. We claim a God who will not forget the
details of our lives, be they significant or insignificant. We claim a
God who calls us to himself and makes us whole. A God who wants to
live with us and love us and be known to us.
And that is our prayer too for Isaac. Much more important than who his
mother or father are or the day he was born is his relationship with
God. One day strangers may wander by his grave and maybe even briefly consider his name for their unborn child. And perhaps one day, they too will glorify God alongside him. May we be there too by God’s
Suzanne is the daughter of Pastor Jon and Nell Hevelone. She holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from Boston College, and she and her husband Lee are parents of a much loved and very active baby boy.