Last week it snowed in Seattle almost bringing the city to a standstill. Schools closed, people stayed home from work and Greenlake almost froze over. For many of us, it was a great excuse to slow down the pace of our lives for a few days and enjoy the simple things of life. Most evenings the Rosarios who live in our basement apartment came upstairs and we sat around the fire in the evenings to keeping warm, reading, laughing and talking. It was a great time of community closeness.
The sad thing is that we think we need an excuse to slow down like this. The pace of all our lives is so hectic and our focus is so much on work that many of us no longer have time to enjoy the simple things of life. Many of us don’t even have time for friendships and we feel guilty if we do take the time. Jesus placed tremendous emphasis on community building. In fact from what I have read this was as high if not a higher priority for him than healing and preaching were. Our God is a god of relationship and if we don’t have time for relationships then I think we probably are not really aligning our lives to God’s priorities. I think that it is good for all of us to use times like this when we are forced to slow down to think about God’s priorities for our lives. Where does God want us to be spending our time? Are we too busy and if so what can we do about it?
I just found this great quote from Henri Nouwen in Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith. I think that it is the best definition of discipline that I have ever heard. Rather than emphasizing the rigors of repetitive action that many of us struggle with it focuses on the result – time & space for God
Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond to God’s guidance. Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God – a time and place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.
Tom & I just returned from Urbana – the huge IVCF missions conference that was just held in St Louis. It was quite an experience to worship together with 22,000 others in a huge stadium but what I particularly enjoyed was the opportunity to get together with friends we have not seen for a long time. Friendship is an amazing thing. It often endures across both time & space in ways that really defy understanding. Even when we don’t see people for years we still seem to be able to pick up as though we had been together with them just a couple of days before. When we have opportunities like this I often think of that line from one of the Narnia books – something like “There’s nothing like a good joke that has not been used in 400 years”. The stories we share may not quite be as old as that but reminiscing & sharing together is very special. It not only strengthens our friendships and builds community but often seems to build our faith as well. What does friendship mean to you? I would love to hear from others who have also had the opportunity to get together with old friends this Christmas season.
Now that Christmas Day is over many of us feel let down because the day we have been anticipating for so long is over. The malls strip their elaborate decorations and junk their remaining Christmas stocks with huge 50-70% off sales. The Christmas wreaths and trees are thrown out for the garbage collectors and our frenzied activities give way to a low-grade depression. But Christmas isn’t really over. In the sixth century, it was decided that celebrating Christmas just for a day didn’t provide time to celebrate all the joy that Christ’s birth brought into the world. They made Christmas into a twelve-day festival that ended with a feast on the Eve of Epiphany on January 5th to celebrate the coming of the wise men. Yep, that’s right the 12 days of Christmas begin with Christmas Day they don’t end there as many malls would have us believe. In countries where this understanding of Christmas has not been co-opted by the commercialism of our society Christmas trees are not decorated until Christmas Eve and remain in the house sparkling with light and life until the Eve of Epiphany.
This is the season when we are meant to celebrate with joy and gratitude the wonder of a God whose love is so great that he sent his son to dwell amongst us. How incredible! How wonderful! Let’s take advantage of every day of the Christmas season
Sit down with your family now that Christmas day is over – read the story of the angels appearing to the shepherds in the fields. To me, this is one of the most incredible stories in the Bible. Imagine it. This event was so incredible that even the angels were excited. In fact, they were so excited that they could not contain themselves. They had to break into the earthly realm with shouts of joy proclaiming that the promised Messiah had come to live amongst us.
Discuss your reactions to this story and to the whole account of the birth of Christ. When you read through the gospel account how do you feel? What is your earliest memory of when Christ first appeared to you? Share how you felt at that time and talk about the difference that Christ’s presence has made in your life. Then ask yourselves: What most excites you today about the presence of Christ in your life? How does his presence impact your life? Next, discuss ways that you could share the joy of Christmas with others during the following days. You might like to write down one suggestion for each of the 12 days of Christmas that could extend the joy of the season to others.
Here are some suggestions. Do you know people that are alone at this season? Take them out for a meal or invite them to go skiing or if you are in the southern hemisphere, swimming with you. Share with them your reasons for continuing to celebrate the joy of Christmas beyond December 25th. Do you know people who are disabled? Take them for a drive around your neighborhood to enjoy the Christmas lights. Do you have friends, acquaintances or family your rarely speak to? Phone one person each evening during Christmas to share your joy with them.
Here is a short Christmas prayer you might like to use during this season to remind you of the reason for the season.
Next year I hope I will have time to put this into another music video.
A Christmas Prayer
God of love and peace
Ruler of all worlds and shepherd of creation
Your majesty breaks forth in power and might
Yet you come to us in the gentleness of love
The promise of life hidden in a mother’s womb
This is the time we believe once more
That your perfect love casts our fear
And your presence transforms hate into peace
This is the time we are assured
That your light has come into the world
And the darkness will not overcome it
God of joy and celebration
We gather to sing your praises
We shout aloud Hallelujah!
In this season of God with us
We are graced with your presence
We are filled with your love
In this season of God with us
May we be transformed
Into vessels of love and peace
May we become bearers of your light
And proclaim your life to a troubled world
The music for this litugy is O Come, O Come Emmanuel from A Quiet Knowing Christmas by Jeff Johnson – www.ArkMusic.com
Check out the new 2008 Advent Meditation
And the Advent meditation for 2009
It has been snowing in Seattle over the last few days. Not quite what we expect in this part of the world. What has fascinated me is to see how the world around us has slowed down in response to the weather. Schools and businesses were closed and the malls were not swamped by the crowds they normally expect. People stayed at home just relaxing and enjoying themselves.
As we move towards Advent and Christmas we are meant to slow down. This is a time to watch, to reflect and refocus as we wait and prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ our Saviour and Redeemer into the world. During this season we need to set aside time to reflect on our faith. We need to put down deep roots that will provide a solid foundation for our lives and anchor us against the storms and droughts that may lie ahead.
I love the tradition of the Advent wreath during this season. We set up ours on the dining room table and light the appropriate candles before breakfast. After we eat we read the scriptures from the Book of Common Prayer. It is a wonderful way to help us focus on the true meaning of the season. As a result, I find I have very little desire to get out amongst the consumer hype around me.
This week I have been reflecting a lot on what it means to be filled with the Spirit. As a young Christian (more years ago than I care to remember) I was involved in the charismatic movement in Australia and back then thought that being filled with the spirit meant to have an experience of speaking in tongues. Now I have a very different idea. To be filled with the Spirit to me now means that I intentionally choose a way of life that is integrated with God and God’s purposes. Might sound a little pompous I know but I am struggling to realize that what being filled with the spirit means is that I deliberately choose each day to lay down my own self-centered life and consciously live each moment in God’s presence and doing God’s will. Some days I do better than others.
I also struggle to recognize that God has gifted me not for my own satisfaction but so that I am better equipped to play my part in God’s family and work towards God’s goal of restoration of all creation, living towards that day when Christ returns and all are made whole.
I am seeing more and more that God’s spirit is constantly working within us to break down the barriers that distort our ability to lead a life that is fully integrated with God and there are lots of barriers. There are barriers within ourselves that resist God’s life – selfishness, greed, fear, covetousness, the inability to believe God really loves us all separate us from the life God wants us to live. There are also barriers that separate us from an ideal relationship with God – busyness, self-centeredness, independence and the desire to “do it my way”. Then there are barriers that separate us from others – lack of forgiveness, the desire to control and a lack of willingness to listen to people who think very differently than we do all separate us from God’s people.
Lastly, there are barriers that separate us from God’s creation – a lack of the sense of the sacredness of creation through which God’s glory shines, lack of proper stewardship and a lack of understanding of the interrelatedness of all created things. The list of barriers that separate us from God seems endless. Thank goodness we do not need to break them down alone but can rely on the Spirit to keep working within us to change us.