Category Archives: Christmas

Musing: Beyond Christmas

Christms Elf with Book. Photo: TLCLark, 12/2019.

Christmas has come and gone. Except for Orthodox Christians who are celebrating today. As I get ready to pack up decorations two memories and a poem come to mind.

My favorite new memory: the cheering of a child at the end of every Christmas carol at the family friendly Christmas Eve service we attended. It felt like a celebration of the music. But could easily have been a cheering of the lyrics. Joyful and absolutely appropriate.

Another lingering memory: the Peace Candles at both Urbandale United Church of Christ and Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart Catholic Church (Ankeny). Each had been lit from a flame that began in Bethlehem and was carried to Austria and across Europe, flown to New York City and passed throughout the United States. So many, many prayers for peace.

Peace Candle on Communion Table along with a Menorah used during the Time with Children as the pastor read the book The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate. Photo: TLClark, 12/24/19.

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

by Howard Thurman

Photo Challenge: Holidays

Christmas Eve 2019, Urbandale United Church of Christ. Photo: TLClark, 12/24/19.

Christmas, for my husband and me, means gathering with other Christians to hear the old, old story of Jesus’ birth and to sing the old familiar Christmas carols.

When serving as a pastor in a church, Christmas Eve worship is a holy celebration I’ve considered skipping (not that that was an option!). Too many expectations. Too many traditions to be kept. So many memories held by the community. So many stories that could be told – some bittersweet, some heart warming, some simply silly or fun. So much love and joy. And always, always, a moment of wonder and of hope (which is why I’d never skip it!).

Candles on Christmas Eve are part of the tradition. The top photo shows the Advent candles – symbolizing hope, peace, joy, and love – with the Christ candle in the center; they were lit at the beginning of the service. The bottom photo shows a much cherished traditional end of Christmas Eve worship: holding a lit candle and singing “Silent Night.”

Singing “Silent Night” by Candlelight. Photo: TLClark, 12/24/19.

Tuesday Photo Challenge – Holidays

Christmas: Home by Another Way

We’re home.  And we came by another way:  Highway 20 instead of Interstates 90 or 80.  As we crossed Iowa, I remembered travelers near the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew.

MagiMagi from the east journeyed to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem to honor “the newborn king of the Jews.”  There may or may not have been three of them.  They may or may not have ridden camels.  They were not exactly welcomed by King Herod – though Herod pretended otherwise.  When they found the newborn they presented three gifts.  Warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they headed home another way.

Joseph heeded a dream to avoid Herod’s wrath by taking the family to Egypt.  This is the first trip for Joseph and Mary as Matthew tells the story; there is no mention that they had to travel to Bethlehem.  So, I wonder, did they call Bethlehem “home” for awhile?  Eventually Joseph took the family from Egypt to the land of Israel but it didn’t feel safe there so they settled in Nazareth.  In both instances, they made their way to another home.

Life is like that.  Sometimes it is a journey of going from and returning to the same address.  The house itself remains the same.  The travelers themselves may be changed by the trip – what they saw or who they met or an experience they shared.

Other times life is a matter of leaving – even fleeing – what is no longer healthy, life giving, life affirming.  Sometimes you have to move to a new place, begin again, create a new home.  Like it or not, travelers are changed by this kind of journey.

The good news is that no matter where we are or where we go, we are never alone.

Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live.   Psalm 23:6 CEB

Jesus:  “Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”  Matthew 28:20b CEB

Childhood Home

My childhood home. Photo taken when I went back there to help my parents pack to move.  Though they lived there for more than 45 years, it is no longer home.  Photo: TLClark, May 2017.

Christmas: Shepherds

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I’ve been thinking about Shepherds since Christmas Eve.

Shepherds.  Providing for every need:  clean water, good food, safe shelter.

Not just the men (and women?) who seemed to simply leave their flocks in the fields to rush off in search of a baby in a manger.

Shepherds.  The men and the women who shepherd congregations.  Through the high holy days and the mundane every days, through great joy and deep sorrow – providing water and food and shelter.  Offering rest and healing, play and opportunities to learn.  Sharing story and art and music and movement and so much more.

Shepherds.  The women and men who care for our children – at home, in day care, at school and more – providing water and food and shelter.  Offering rest and healing, play and opportunities to learn.  Leading and teaching with story and art and music and movement and so much more.

Shepherds.  The women and men who care for our elders – at home, at care centers, in hospice and more – providing water and food and shelter.  Offering rest and healing, play and opportunities to learn.  Using story and art and music and movement and so much more.

Shepherds.  Feeding and sheltering and caring for others.  And being fed and sheltered and cared for by others (including the Great Shepherd)!

Thanks be to God.

 

Christmas Countdown: Travelers

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“Wind Gusts 40+ MPH” – The wind did blow and there were 40+ mph gusts.  Thankfully the roads were clear and dry!  (And we drive a low-profile vehicle.)   Photo:  TLClark.

We arrived safely at our Christmas destination.  Wind gusts over 40 mph for the last 250 miles were the only unpleasant surprises along our way.  Upon arrival we were greeted with big smiles and open arms, given a room to call our own while we are here, and invited to help ourselves to whatever we wanted.

As we traveled, my mind wandered to other journeys and other people.

First, travelers from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1 and 2:

  • Zechariah went to serve in the temple.  I’m guessing he left his wife at home.  Since they had no children and were in advanced in years, she may have been alone.
  • Mary “hurried” to visit Elizabeth.  It seems she went by herself.  Walking or riding a beast of burden?  Was it far or dangerous?  Why did she go?  How did she expect to be received?  Elizabeth loudly blurted out a blessing as she greeted Mary with open arms; it was indeed an “extravagant welcome” (as noted this morning by the pastor at Mayflower UCC, Billings).
  • Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem, as ordered by Caesar Augustus.  An uncomfortable journey, I imagine, for Mary and her betrothed.  Often pictured today with a donkey, but there is no such creature mentioned in the text.  When they arrived, there was no space for them in the “inn” – probably not so much a place to rent a room (i.e., not a hotel or a B&B) but rather the guestroom in the family home (perhaps occupied by earlier arriving extended family).  They made do in the space – likely attached to the home – where the animals were kept.  Perhaps they were not quite the outcasts that I have often imagined!
  • Shepherds, after hearing astonishing news from an angel, rushed off to visit the newborn child.
  • Mary and Jesus took the baby Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord as prescribed in the law of Moses.  They were joyfully greeted by Simeon and then by Anna.

That’s it.  Those are the journeys connected to Jesus’ birth as recorded by Luke.

Next, travelers associated with the birth of Jesus as noted in the Gospel of Matthew:

  • Magi from the east journeyed to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem to honor “the newborn king of the Jews.”
  • Joseph heeded a dream to avoid Herod’s wrath and so he took the child and his mother to Egypt – a family fleeing for their child’s safety.
  • Eventually, Joseph took the family from Egypt to the land of Israel but it didn’t feel safe so they settled in Nazareth.

Finally, I think of travelers today and the people who will greet them along the way and at the end of the journey.  I think of

  • those traveling with happy, hope-filled anticipation – to share a holiday, to meet a new baby, to gather with loved ones, to connect with friends old and new;
  • those who travel with heavy hearts for a final visit with one in Hospice care or for a memorial service to celebrate the life of one who has died;
  • those fleeing because home is no longer is safe – refugees, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, persons who identify as LGBTQ;
  • those working to help travelers long the way – staff at hotels, gas stations, restaurants, airports and train stations including security personnel, maintenance crews, janitors,  highway patrols, pilots, taxi drivers, conductors, stewards, hosts/hostesses, and so many we take for granted;
  • those welcoming the road-weary with a refreshing beverage, a good meal, a shower or bath, and a safe place to sleep.

May all travelers be protected on their journeys and be extravagantly welcomed at each stop along the way.

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Road construction / maintenance safety equipment along I-90 in Wyoming.  Photo: TLClark.

Christmas Countdown: Message

I was so focused on the messengers (aka angels) in my last post, I paid scant attention to their messages.  I know the message in each case was just as surprising as the appearance of the messenger and that there was a subversive tone to the text.  But I can’t recall the details.

This is what I remember:

  • Zechariah was told Elizabeth (his wife) would bear son despite their old age, they would name him John, and he would “prepare the way” of the Lord.
  • Mary was told she would bear a child despite her youth and ‘not quite married’ status.  Was she told they would name him Jesus?
  • The shepherds heard “for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a child who is Christ the Lord.”

Between the Charlie Brown Christmas television special, theological education, dozens of Christmas pageants and who knows how many Christmas Eve services, I should remember more.  But not at the moment.

(Pause here to get a Bible and reread the passages from Luke 1 and 2.)

“Fear not.”

Every time an angel appears we hear “don’t be afraid.”  Of course I knew that; I just didn’t think of it a few minutes ago!

“Fear not” is an oft-repeated phrase throughout scripture.  Yet we fear.  We are afraid for all kinds of reasons – real and imagined, large and small, for ourselves and for others.

Maybe we don’t admit it.  At least I don’t often admit the fear.  But I will worry.  My husband could testify that I am quite good at imaging the worst.  Being anxious is second nature to me.  A daily dose of an anti-anxiety prescription helps.  Remembering the birds and the lilies helps (“so do not worry about tomorrow” – Matthew 6:34).  Having people who love and encourage me helps.  A walk outdoors helps.  Reading the Psalms helps (Psalm 91 is my favorite).  Piecing a quilt helps.  Humming a song helps.

Holy One, sender of messengers and messages, quell today’s fears and tomorrow’s worries that we might know the hope, joy, love and peace of your presence among us.  Amen.

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