As I write this article for the newsletter today, the weatherman has predicted that the temperature will reach 60 degrees. If that is not a record for this date, it comes near. My family in Louisiana confessed to have actually turned on their air conditioner this month when the temperature reached the mid seventies and there was heavy humidity. When I grew up in Louisiana, we didn’t have air conditioning. When it was hot, we were just hot. I have taught school in New Orleans when it was over 100 degrees in my classroom. Well, maybe it is a stretch to say I taught when in fact, we all just sat and waited for a cool breeze. People are thankful now to have air conditioning even if they have to turn it on in January.
We have had some bitterly cold days this month. During a recent week of bitterly cold days, a reporter interviewed some residents of the Pine Street Inn, a homeless shelter in Boston. Three different residents proclaimed loudly about how thankful they are to have a warm place to stay. It struck me as strange that these people who have very little testify to being thankful. I don’t know that I would feel thankful if I were in their place. We recently spent three days without heat in our upstairs. The heat went out on the Friday evening before a holiday, and we didn’t get help until the next Tuesday. It’s funny, because we could have gotten help earlier but didn’t want to pay the weekend and holiday rates to have a plumber come. So we choose to wait. And it was cold upstairs, but our downstairs was warm and we have an electric blanket so we made it fine. It did make me thankful that we usually have heat in the whole house.
My almost-three-year old grandson Eben told me that they had heat in their house but he couldn’t bring it over. He wanted to share his heat but couldn’t figure out how. Maybe that’s how we are sometimes. We want to share what we have but are not sure how. We collect hats and gloves for the homeless. We bring food for the food pantry on the first Sunday of the month. We seek God’s direction on what and how we are to share what He has given us.
Perhaps we should try to follow Jesus’ admonition in Matt. 25 when he said we are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, provide clothing to those who need it, and visit the sick and those in prison. And, of course, share that most valuable thing that we have, our knowledge of Jesus who died that we might be free of our sin, Then we and many others can celebrate Thanksgiving in January and every other month.
I won’t go into detail about the well intentioned resolutions I made for the new year and how successfully I’ve kept them. Let’s just say it’s a pretty sad story, since it’s still the beginning of the year and I’ve already messed up. At this point, I usually just forget the whole thing and wait until next year to begin loosing weight, exercising, witnessing, reading the Bible, etc.
Happily, I have come up with a brilliant new idea that should work even for someone like me. Instead of making resolutions I try to keep for a whole year, how about doing it in bite sized one hour bits? Welcome to the world of -- are you ready? -- One Hour Resolutions! As I go through the year, why not make a promise that can be kept for just one hour? That way, I can make the resolution, successfully do it, and be on my way to another One Hour Resolution before I have the chance to mess up. Anybody can keep a resolution for one hour, can’t they?
Do you want to join me as we test this new sure-fire way of keeping resolutions? Are you ready? Welcome to the world of One Hour Resolutions. Here’s a few I’m going to try over and over again in the coming year, and I offer them to you, also. Maybe you can come up with some inspiring ideas on your own to add to this list!
-- Do something that feeds your soul. Listen to music. Sing. Paint. Walk. Crochet. Work out. Read. Run. You know what to do. As you do it, know that God is right there with you.
-- Memorize a passage of scripture. Here’s where to start when you haven’t opened a Bible in -- oh well, never mind. Just pick it up now, find John 3:16 and get it memorized. Then try 1 John 3:16. (Yes, that’s a different book.) Then ask God what passage to memorize next. Do this now, and you’ll be glad when you’re old and can’t see to read the book. Having God’s Word memorized will make a difference in how you live right now, too.
-- List out the pros and cons of how you make First Baptist Arlington stronger. If you don’t like how the list turns out, you’ve got an hour to begin making a difference.
-- Do something kind for somebody. Don’t go out of your way, don’t make a big deal, just do it!
-- Do something kind for somebody. DO go out of your way, do something that stretches you, that is totally out of your comfort zone. Don’t make a big deal about it. Just do it!
-- Make and keep a new One Hour Resolution. Then plan on doing it again tomorrow.
-- Write a check to the church. Now I realize this won’t take a whole hour, unless you write a really big check. Spend the rest of the time thinking about how else you can support God’s work, either by financial arrangements or just rolling up your sleeves and putting in some sweat-equity.
-- Try praying for an hour. OK, that’s probably impossible. So set aside a reasonable time where you won’t be interrupted, take some of that time to quiet down mind and body, then tell the Lord you are ready to talk, and (if you’re like most of us) you don’t know how to do serious praying. Be quiet and listen. If all that ends up taking only 6 minutes, God understands. Tell him you’re not too good at this and that you need practice. Then do it again in a couple of days.
-- Visit someone you don’t really know. Before you go, pray for them. Tell them Jesus loves them. (Note: This is easier if you start with somebody who is lonely and not able to get around much. Don’t stop there. Work your way up until you call on the neighbor you’ve avoided, your boss, your teacher, that person you really admire from afar, and who knows? Bill Belichick?)
-- Tell your wife, husband, son, daughter, brother, sister, mom, dad, grandparent or 2nd cousin by marriage to your 1st spouse that you want to be more Christian in your relationship to them.
--Spend an hour figuring out some other good One Hour Resolutions you can make and keep -- God willing and the creek don’t rise. It’s a whole lot better than aiming for a whole year!
A couple of weeks ago I wrote "Grief Comes at Christmas" as one of my "This I believe..." notes to our church. Little did I realize that the evil unfolding in Newtown would make my comments so timely. Our hearts go out to the families shattered for not only this Christmas, but for all Christmases to come. God bless them, and God bless you as we long for peace in this broken world.
Surrounded by joy at Christmas, with carols proclaiming the glory of the angels and the wonder of the shepherds, with all the taunts of Santa and mistletoe and freshly baked goodies, with the beauty of a world white and glistening all around grief comes crashing through in ways both subtile and blatant.
Grief comes at Christmas because someone we love is gone. Perhaps we thought we had long adjusted to a new world without him, perhaps we are still in the first days of losing her, it makes no difference. Christmas with all its hope and promise compounds our loss and seems terribly, mockingly cruel. We want to escape all the mocking of the season, all the fuzzy expectations of going to grandmother’s house in a one horse open sleigh. No fa-la-las come to our lips, only the crushing load of broken dreams carried within a wounded heart. And when our hearts cry out in loss, all too often we are met only with a well meaning “Cheer up -- after all, it’s Christmas!”
Let me cut through all this that we identify with Christmas in our culture today. The real Christmas is rooted in a stable -- a dark, messy, smelly stable. It is centered in a young homeless couple, a father and mother whose son was born right in the midst of the the animals. That Son could have been born in any palace on earth, but God chose the manger, I believe, precisely to tell us that we are not alone even in the darkest places. God was in Christ Jesus the night he was born, he was with him in the hour of his death on the cross, and because Christ is alive today, he is with us even in our own worst circumstances.
There are dark stables everywhere. Life doesn’t always give us a five star hotel. Grief comes at Christmas and it seems all that is left is to just desperately hang on. You have faced the darkness. You have experienced severe, significant loss. Only you know how terribly hard it is. I believe the story of Christmas for you is that God is right there with you in the dark. The good news of the gospel is that even in the darkest of hours, God does not abandon us.
This Christmas season try to give God thanks for his faithful presence, even in the midst of your hurt. If you are not able to do that, God understands, and will not forget you. There will be a time coming when you will be able to thank him, and even to know once again the joy of Christmas. That joy will be deeper, more real and far more precious because it is focused more completely than ever on the everlasting presence of of the giver of life. Grief comes at Christmas, but so does God.