christmas is over, sort of. i mean, if you're in canada saturday was boxing day, and that's all part of the tradition. for you americans that's a day of a lot of shopping with deals and such similar to our black friday--not a day when people fight in the streets. or maybe if you are really unique you do that whole 12 days of christmas thing, and you're only on the 4th day of christmas. i hope you're loving your calling birds.
actually what that holiday corresponds to is an event in the church calendar called epiphany. we don't usually celebrate epiphany, or at least i've only once been a part of a church/community that did. and i don't know why we don't. it is the day to commemorate the revelation of God in human form. maybe we've tried to wrap all that up into christmas. but the problem there is that we have the conception of a little baby. easter reminds us of the cross and resurrection. but there is such a value in celebrating just the simple fact of God being made man and dwelling among us. it is a beautiful thing.
in the west epiphany is generally celebrated as the revelation of God given to the gentiles. this is represented symbolically through the coming of the three wise men to visit Jesus. this is something else that has gotten wrapped up in christmas, but it's pretty clear that the wise men were not there at the birth. they were even perhaps as much as two years after the fact. so christmas, no. epiphany, yes. and they were certainly not jews. in the east they celebrate the event drawing more on the baptism of Jesus to symbolize the meaning. this actually makes a little more sense to me. but you can celebrate it either way you like.
i believe the date this year is on january 6th. i think it always is, or a sunday close to that date. so celebrate it. and you can count these 12 days of christmas leading up to it (do the math: 25th plus 12 takes you to jan 5th--funny how it works like that eh? almost like they planned it).
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
a light will shine.
You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest
and like warriors dividing the plunder.
For you will break the yoke of their slavery
and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
You will break the oppressor’s rod,
just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.
"christmas in the room" by sufjan stevens"
(and yes, that is the real cover)
fortunately though there are some good musicians out there trying to create christmas music that is actually good, whether by redoing some of the old stuff or writing new classics. the problem it seems for most people is finding it!
well now you all are in luck! your christmas music santa is here! with this week leading up to christmas i will post a christmas song a day, something you can actually (hopefully) enjoy. nothing lame or cliche. sometimes unknown sometimes familiar. maybe some of you out there can even play the role of elf and send me some of your favorites--they might even get played!
so saddle up your ears and ride into christmas on a delightful joyous medley of holiday cheer!
"why can't it be christmas time all year?" by rosie thomas
(i posted this one last year too, but this is a good one to kick it off)
why should the holidays--the freaking holidays be something that leaves us worse than before they came? well if you look up "holiday" in the dictionary, depending on your dictionary, it will usually give the first several definitions of holiday as something that is merely a break from work. "a fixed day by law or custom..." ugh. that sounds wonderful. it's all just a bunch of cultural customs. go through the motions.
you could make this case for thanksgiving, fourth of july, mother's day, labor day, etc. but christmas? oh no. let's not lump christmas in with all the others. we have to take hold of christmas as not the same as just any other holiday. yes we do that through focusing on advent. we do that through fighting consumerism and materialism. we do that by focusing on Jesus more than santa. but is that enough? is that working for us? it's almost as if we need something more. it's all so pervasive that it's really hard to keep our heads above the surface.
never fear my dear readers--i have the solution! i have the thing that is going to push us all over the top so that we can finally find our christmas cheer and hold the holiday in goodness and truth.
Forget fire, forget winnowing forks, forget threshing floors: amid our daily lives, is there anything more unsettling than receiving a clear word about what it is that we’re meant to do in this world? Is there anything that risks taking us deeper into our insecurities, into our fears, into the dark unknown than when someone who sees and recognizes and knows us, then challenges us to be the person whom God has created and called us to be? And is there anything more full of wonder and hope?
I’ve always been an ideas person. And I think in many ways, it speaks to the numerous privileges and opportunities we all have in our lives. Having said that, I think it lends itself to this theory that I have that we are part of the most over-rated generation in human history – because we have access to so much data, info, resources, modes of communication…but end up doing so little. We tweet, blog, talk, preach, retweet, etc…and while I’m not diminishing that the aforementioned things aren’t actions per se but what are the “costs” behind our actions?
Or how does that verse go?
we walked inside to the sound of soft music and a gentle warmth very much welcomed. there were a few people walking around the church, a few in pews praying. the light was low, mostly spreading from the illumination of the icon sculptures. across the church a door was open with a sign outside it. it was in german but by now i could recognize the word "markt."
all around vienna and most eurpoean cities there are christmas markets. little stands are set up in several places around town and they are filled with christmas items--usually small handmade crafts or like items. others have food and crepes and apfelwein. they are really delightful. but they are also usually crowded and a little touristy.
but this little room was not at all. it was out of the way, no signs outside the church for it. through my very limited german i was able to learn that it was a fundraiser for the church. i'm a sucker for christmas stuff and for unique treasures, so this place was like the X that wasn't on the map. my favorite were the candles. they were white with christmas scenes painted the outside, all handcrafted by the little old lady sitting behind the decorated display table.
at this point it was late in my time abroad, and i was already wondering how i was going to be able to get all my stuff back. that and the candles weren't exactly the cheapest items. i searched through the various candles while sipping my cider. i tried to ask the lady about the candles but she didn't speak very much english at all. her smile said more than her words. after much deliberation i picked one out, and so did my companion. as she was wrapping up our candles she pulled out two little small candles with baby Jesus on them and wrapped them, putting them in our bag.
"oh how much?"
she shook her hand at me and smiled, handing me the bag. i thanked her profusely and she just smiled.
i don't know what it was about this interaction that has stuck with me so long. maybe she did this for all of her customers and it was nothing special. or maybe she saw us and understood. she knew that we were american visitors and that we had happened to stumble into their little church. i'm sure from my painful agonizing over several candles she realized we didn't have much money. and maybe since we couldn't communicate in any other way, she gave us a gift to try and say something more. and trying to put that gift into words now just wouldn't work.
i have these candles now in my room. i put them out because it's christmastime of course. but there they sit--they are a reminder of this encounter three years ago and of so much else. they have taken the place of the candles i wrote about a little while ago. and especially as i think back over what i wrote then, i'm left with the question, "do i burn these?"
what is a candle for if you will never light it? the object holds the memory and represents a lot, but then do i keep these candles forever and never burn them? are they just a display then? or would their burning in a way consummate the experience.
how do we hold the past? how do we accept our memories with gratefulness and not miss what they gave us at the time? i remember something like this and it makes me want to go back. it creates a longing in me. so then do i hold onto these candles for what they were, or for what they are now--the only piece of that experience that i can physically see and touch now?
i'm sure your answers may vary on whether or not you out there are packrats or purgers, nostalgics or anticipators, rememberers or adventurers. but what do you think? should i burn the candles or save them?
we've heard gunshots before down at our church. not infrequently actually. but none of them have ever been this close. they had to have come from less than a block away. i'm a pretty heavy sleeper and not much wakes me up, but this shot my eyes open rather quickly.
after the sirens i laid in my bed for a few minutes, my eyes still wide. i thought about how my car was parked on the edge of the lot and how it could have taken a shot. i thought about how a bullet could come through the window and hit the wall above me, though with the exterior stone and roof section off my room that is basically impossible. but truly it was the first time that i have felt a good amount of fear at the church. it took me awhile to fall back asleep.
admittedly most of my thoughts were about myself and others in the community. in fact just as i'm typing now it's the first time i've given any real thought to our neighbors or the people in the gun fight themselves. nothing was in the news so it seems as if no one was hurt. but my inability to consider others just shows how deep my own selfishness goes.
why do i tell this story? to share something interesting? to show everyone how dangerous our neighborhood is and how we are so badass for living there? i don't want people to worry. and actually i don't think that this story really shows things are any more dangerous than we already knew they were. and while it's something of a crazy story, i think it doesn't really show anything conclusive--except that maybe this is what you'd expect.
tuesday morning i was walking to my car and i pressed the button on my keypad to unlock the car, upon which instead my car locked. this simply means that i had somehow failed to lock my car the night before. i shook my head at myself and opened the door. everything was still there; nothing was missing. the car was still there, obviously. and unfortunately i have to say that this isn't the first time that i've done this since moving into the church.
and i guess i tell that story because maybe it isn't what you'd expect. maybe we should though--i mean, it's not as if people are lurking around our cars every night testing them to see if the doors are locked. and yet it seems like a shocking thing--or at least that's what some people have told me when i casually mentioned it to them.
i don't entirely know why but these two stories keep rolling around in my head. perhaps because of their seeming contradictions, for the way they somehow show very different things. perhaps the contradiction is obvious enough in itself and i don't need to explain it to you. in fact i really could have just put these two stories side by side without all the commentary, but for some reason my voice is coming out. i guess i must have something to say. let's see if i can find it.
yesterday in class we were talking about persecution. we talked about the church worldwide and how it is growing, though it is shrinking in america. and we talked about the persecution the church is facing worldwide and how in reality that tends to just make the faith grow even more. that is, when people live out of their faith despite persecution--because then people can actually see that it is something very real and very significant.
but in our society we don't really have the stomach for very much. we like our comfort and we get very upset when it is upset. we don't really know what it looks like to truly sacrifice. we like our security. we like our doors locked to keep out all the critters. we don't like bullets flying over our heads.
but when i hear and read stories of people suffering for the faith, when i read the scriptures talking about persecution, when i consider all that people have given and lost--then i see a few gunshots for what they really are. then i see my fears for the weakness they are. then i see that for all i look to and wish they were doing more, there are many who should say the same of us. i see faith. and i want it more myself.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:17
we like to quote verse 39, but not what comes before it.
"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
" 'a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -
a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
who can accept this teaching? who then can enter the kingdom of God? but where else will we go? you alone have the words of eternal life. may you help us listen.
oh and just in case some aspiring car thiefs happen to read this blog, my car is the black hyundai.