A Receiving Spirit

So how do you foster a receiving spirit in this Season of Giving? By nature, our consumer-driven society are not ordinarily givers–at least not in the true sense. Oh, don’t get me wrong…all of us give to that small number of carefully-picked non-profits (including our church) each year. And this is definitely the season that our charitable giving jumps way up. Perhaps it’s the little bit of Santa in all of us; perhaps it’s the colder weather that makes us realize how fortunate we are to be warm and dry and comfortable and nested in the midst of those who love us when there are those that are cold and alone living right there with us; and (let’s face it) perhaps it’s part of our year-end tax planning–whatever it is that drives us to give, we’ll take it!

So, once again, how do you foster a receiving spirit in this Season of Giving? If you’re really honest with yourself, giving is easier than receiving. Giving means that you are the one in control. Giving means that you are the one choosing what, how much, and even whether or not to give at all. But how well do we receive? How well do we let someone else choose the wrong style of decorative item for our home, spend way too much (or way too little) for our taste, or give a gift that we were not expecting and for which we had no reciprocating item to give. I’ve gotten better at that. I give what I can. Others do too! Things don’t have to even out. Give them that–that is a gift too!

Truthfully, this is the most incredible gift of this season–the lesson of receiving. Bishop William Willimon says that “This strange story tells us how to be receivers. The first word of the church, a people born out of so odd a nativity is that we are receivers before we are givers. Discipleship teaches us the art of seeing our lives as gifts. That’s tough, because I would rather see myself as a giver. I want power–to stand on my own, take charge, set things to right, perhaps to help those who have nothing. I don’t like picturing myself as dependent, needy, empty-handed.”[i] But, once again, wasn’t that how God came that night–dependent, needy, empty-handed? God came as a helpless, vulnerable baby to show us how to receive what the world offers and when we enter that paradoxical mystery, we will find and receive what God offers.

So go forth and receive in humility and vulnerability and immense grace! That is the greatest gift you can give!

Grace and Peace,
Shelli

[i] William Willimon, “The God We Hardly Knew”, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, (Plough Publishing, 2001), Dec. 14.

Children Do Christmas Well

Children do Christmas well. Maybe it’s the toys; maybe it’s Santa; maybe it’s the fantastical images of sugarplums, eight tiny reindeer, and a little drummer boy dancing in their heads. But I think it’s something more. I think it has more to do with receiving. By that, I don’t mean WHAT they get, but rather HOW they get.

I remember going to my Grandmother and Granddaddy’s on Christmas Eve. It was wonderful–lots of food, lots of people, and LOTS of gifts. But my favorite (believe it or not) was leaving–getting in the car with new gifts in tow and setting out from home. It was always late at night, usually freezing cold, and the short 7-mile drive was magical. There was the radio tower that we passed with the red light on top. Surely, I thought, that was Rudolph. There was the prospect of lots of neat gifts. But, more than anything, there was an expectancy that hung in the air. It was all but palpable, as if the cool, fog settling over the Texas prairie somehow shrouded what was to come until Christmas morning. I think as a child I somehow juxtaposed the stories of Baby Jesus and Santa and let my mind wander into visions of a manger awash in starlight surrounded by gifts from the jolly man in the red suit. That’s OK. The point was that I was expecting something. I KNEW something wonderful was going to happen. And I was ready for whatever it was. I was ready to receive whatever I was given.

Children carry no baggage or lists. They have no pre-conceived notions of what Christmas should be. They’re not worried about whether or not they have all the groceries or all the right gifts for everyone. They’re not worried about wrapping the gifts. Children KNOW that you will love what they give you, because that is the way they receive things. Maybe that’s why God burst forth into humanity in the rather unlikely guise of a child. God didn’t come as a prince or a king with set ways of being addressed and set rules of being received. God came as a child, offering nothing but Godself and, as a child, showed us how to receive what is given. In this case, it was a child who needed help in a helpless situation. And in that God showed us how to receive from others. Because, after all, children do Christmas well!

Go forth with the heart of a child and receive the child!

Grace and Peace,
Shelli

This Season of Receiving

Wait, that’s not right…this is the season of Giving! This is the season when our consumer-driven society steps back if only for a moment and gives to someone else–family members, those less-fortunate, or a carefully chosen charity with whose principles and actions we agree. There…that feels good, doesn’t it? Tis the season! But the Season of Receiving? After all, this season is not supposed to be about us, is it?

Well, my friends, what do you think this season is about, then? “…And they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'” Advent is the Season of Receiving, the season of opening ourselves enough to see what God’s coming into our lives means. God is with US! God is not standing on the threshold of our lives waiting for the timing to be right. God is not “up there” waiting for us to get it right. And God is not restricted to a lowly manger waiting for us to find our way there. In God’s wisdom, the bursting forth of the Divine into humanity did not wait for an invitation, did not question whether or not there was perhaps a more appropriate time, and did not wait for us to get ourselves together. God came and comes and comes and comes. God is here! God is WITH us! God is with US! This is our Season of Receiving. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

So go forth and receive!

Grace and Peace,
Shelli

ADVENT 4B: God-Bearer

Ramblings on this week’s Lectionary readings…

During Advent, the Lectionary invites us to read some familiar texts, texts that many of us could almost recite from memory. But if we think that it is just a repetition of the same things as last year, we are very mistaken. We are different; the world is different. And God calls us to walk a little bit farther in the journey, even if it’s only a tiny step closer than last year. God calls us to open our lives to receive. God calls us to open our lives to become God-bearers.

2 Samuel 7: 1-16
In the early nomadic times of the Hebrew people, the tent and the tabernacle was that place where, according to the Faith, the Lord resided. It was the appointed place of the Lord. This was the way that God reminded the people that they were not alone. Even though the Lord’s people, as they lived through exile and their nomadic beginnings, moved about, they knew that God was with them–residing in a place of honor, a place specifically appointed for the Presence of the Lord, a special place that bore God. This was the place that held the mystery that was God. And now the Lord is speaking of a new time to come. Finally, the people will be settled, planted by the Lord in a new place and, still, the Lord will reside with them, making a house, a place of permanence, a place of glory, a new place of God-bearing.

Romans 16: 25-27
So many Christmases ago, God burst forth into humanity just as God promised. The mystery of God so long shrouded in tabernacles and temples was finally made known in a way that the only response one can make, the only way one can understand is through faith. God is still mystery but where before the mystery was cloaked in secrecy, now the mystery is clothed in faith.

Luke 1: 26-38
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” The announcement has been made and heard. The Lord is coming. The Lord who has always been with the people, whether borne in a traveling tabernacle or a house of glory, is now making Godself known in a new way. A humble and uncomplicated young girl will conceive. Her womb will become the tabernacle of God. Alfred Delp said “that God became a mother’s son; that there could be a woman walking the earth whose womb was consecrated to be the holy temple and tabernacle of God–that is actually earth’s perfection and the fulfillment of its expectations.”(i)

God came not to reside in a tabernacle or a temple but, finally, in humanity itself. We are all called to become that womb, that bearer of God. We are all called to be God’s sanctuary here on earth. There is still wonder and awe and mystery when it comes to God’s Presence. But the mystery is now ours to bear and through which to journey.

So go forth and receive the One that you will bear!

Grace and Peace,
Shelli

(i) Alfred Delp, “The Shaking Reality of Advent”, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, (Plough Publishing)

Prepare to Be Surprised

I am a planner. I am a planner of the worst possible kind. Not only do I make lists; I have lists that I should make on my lists! And this season is one of the worst when it comes to planning. There is so much that needs to be done! Will I get it all done? You know as well as I do that part of the reason that we make lists is so that we won’t be surprised. We won’t be surprised by forgetting to purchase a gift for someone. We won’t be surprised by not having the necessary ingredients for that special holiday dish. (Yes, last year, I left the croissants that I needed for my holiday bread pudding at my house in the freezer. Have you ever tried to make bread pudding without the bread? I just wasn’t fully prepared so I spent Christmas afternoon running from store to store trying to find someone that was open–and found the store AND the croissants. Whew!) Being surprised is never a good thing, right?

Unless it’s Advent! Isn’t that what we’re working up toward–being surpised? The coming of Christ was planned and anticipated–for centuries. The plan was this: God in all of God’s mighty power would burst forth into the world laying all of our enemies to waste, subduing the powers that be as the winner of a mighty struggle, and taking over the rule of the major cities. Those who followed God would finally be on the winning side. And those who opposed God would be left in ruins. God would be in charge, finally!

And then God surprised us all, sneaking in the back door of a stable or through the darkness and dampness of a grotto, coming quietly in the midst of the great count of citizens, politics and earthly powers in their finest hour, and then…in case we had other plans…coming as a helpless, vulnerable baby born to unknown parents who were only in Bethlehem to be counted. And the surprise of all surprises: those who opposed God were given yet another invitation to God’s promises and God’s hope. You see, God surprised us on that first Christmas. Isn’t that enough for you to prepare to be surpised this year. Things do not go according to our well-laid plans. Thanks be to God!

So go forth and prepare to be surprised!

Grace and Peace,
Shelli

Embracing This Act of Preparation

Our culture tells us to “be prepared” from the time we are children. Even the Gospels hold stories and parables warning against unpreparedness. And in this season, in particular, the threat of being “unprepared” on Christmas morning–without the required number of gifts perfectly wrapped and under the tree, without all of the groceries to make what is certainly an over-abundance of food and treats, and without the house filled with tasteful decorations worthy of a spread in Martha Stewart’s Living–drives most of us who are level-headed throughout the other eleven months of the year into a certain frenzy of fearful shopping and wrapping, as if the Christ Child will not come if we do not trim that last hearth.

But think about what the Gospel is trying to say to us. Jesus never claims that perfection must be met to enter the Kingdom of God. God does not call us to be perfect; God calls us to “go on toward perfection” in a never-ending journey of pursuit that brings us nearer and nearer to the heart of God. It is not an “either-or” phenomenon that leaves us “in” or “out” but rather a walk of preparation throughout one’s life. Jesus’ admonitions to us to “be prepared” did not imply that we would not enter the Kingdom if we were not fully prepared but, rather, that journeying through the preparation itself would enable us to encounter the holy, the sacred, a glimpse of the incredible things to come even now. It does not have to be perfectly in order; it is the journey toward it that brings us closer to God. That is what Advent is about.

So go forth and prepare just for the act of preparing!

Grace and Peace,
Shelli

Preparation as Imagination

This Advent season is full of talk about preparations. So, for what are you preparing? For what are you spending these 32 days making ready?
We 21st century journeyers struggle with the unknown, with just leaving things to chance, with admitting that perhaps there are those aspects of our journey that are not for us to know now. That is what Advent does for us…it points us toward mystery. Some would equate that to nothingness or, perhaps, even to darkness–unknown, foreboding, maybe even a little dangerous. But God came and comes over and over again. I think that God’s coming does not, much to some of our chagrin, bring with it the surety that we might like. God’s coming instead opens the door to our imagination.

God says…walk with me awhile my child and look…look far beyond where you can see…listen far beyond where you can hear…journey far beyond where you think belong…and there, there I will be, and there will be the Creation that I have created for you. Imagination is not some childhood phenonemon that we are meant to lose as we mature. It is part of us and it mature with us. A mature imagination has no limits to what it can envision; it has no boundaries to what it can do. A mature imagination steps beyond reason and intellect, not leaving them behind, but sweeping them up into a new image, a new Creation, the place to which God leads us. Envision it…and then as you are preparing to meet the Christ child once again, imagine what that new world looks like and begin sowing the seeds that it hands you. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:11)

So go forth and imagine!

Grace and Peace,
Shelli