Lent does not begin until next Wednesday but I feel that I have been living in the presence of it for the last month as I have developed the materials that we are making available through Mustard Seed Associates. As I worked on the booklet I found myself becoming more and more angry at the trivial ways in which most people treat this season. If I speak to one more person who intends to give up chocolate, alcohol, TV or internet surfing I will probably react in a very unChristian way. And the ads for diet aids that flood our TV screens at this time of year (at least in the Northern hemisphere) don’t really help. Though I realize these can be very real addictions for some people in Western cultures, they also seem incredibly trivial when compared to the suffering of so many in our world.
The scary thing about developing these materials is that I now feel responsible to carry through on everything I have suggested to others and that is probably as difficult for me to do as it is for anyone else. I too like to take shortcuts and not follow Christ’s teachings seriously – especially when it means giving up my comforts even for a day or two. It is amazing our easily I make excuses & trivialize the commitment that God asks of us. One of the reasons I have started making the videos for reflection that are appearing on this blog is because I find that having visual images like these helps me to enter more deeply into the gospel story and enables me to grab hold of my responsibility.
I started by uploading some of my photos from refugee camps and images of poverty as a screen saver but as my photo banks grew that didn’t seem as important. Then I started to write liturgies – not like we read in church (though sometimes they do look a little like a church service) but more as responsive readings that help me (and hopefully others) to connect their faith to their everyday life and to the world around them. The videos seemed like a logical next step melding together my love of photography with my liturgies. These videos help me to remember why I do what I do. As I work on them for different seasons of the year they also draw me back to a profound comment by Robert Webber who says that for Christians the rhythm of the year is meant to be governed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus not by the civil and national holidays of our countries or by the dictates of the consumer culture in which we live. Life with Jesus is life with a very different rhythm.
As we move towards Lent, God invites into a journey of discovery, a journey beyond the Cross into a new world of love and compassion. As you watch this video consider – what is the journey God is asking you to go on?
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