The Time to Make Room

 

traveling-to-bethlehem2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2: 1-5)

And I remember that long journey to Bethlehem.  It was uncomfortable.  It was scary.  It was lonely.  We were traveling with others but it seemed to be just Joseph and me.  Perhaps it was because we were the only ones there that knew.  And, yet, we didn’t know.  We thought we would find appropriate lodging.  We thought that perhaps there would be a lovely older woman there that could talk me through the birth.  We imagined that we would have a place that was warm and comfortable.  But that was not to be.  The city had filled to capacity.  There was just no room.

I have always thought of that night and wondered if it was the way God intended.  Did God mean to come in virtually unnoticed through a back door of the world in the darkest of alleys?  What was the point if no one noticed?  Or was this God’s way of testing us to see if the world was open enough to receive the Christ?  I’m not usually in to believing that God tests us.  I think God came into the world just like we all do—as an innocent baby who needed to be held and loved and welcomed into the world.  But the world was moving much too fast as it often does.  The world was not prepared.  The world was not ready to change.

I now understand that God did not come because the world was ready.  God came because the world needed God.  God came because it was time.  The world needed to be saved not just from the evils surrounding it but from itself.  The world needed to be awakened.  The world needed to be reminded who it was.  So, into the darkest and most foreboding part of the world, God came.  And the baby that I held was indeed the very Saving Grace of the world.  The baby that I held that day was not the One who would make our lives easier or clean up our world.  He would not stop wars or stamp out poverty.  He would not bring us together as one world.  The baby that I held that night was the One that would show us the way to God and that on that journey, we would be called to bring Light into the darkness over and over again.

Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates; behold, the King of glory waits; the King of Kings is drawing near; the Savior of the world is here!

Fling wide the portals of your heart; make it a temple, set apart from earthly use for heaven’s employ, adorned with prayer and love and joy.

Redeemer come, with us abide; our hearts to thee we open wide; let us thy inner presence feel; thy grace and love in us reveal.

Thy Holy Spirit lead us on until our glorious goal is won; eternal praise, eternal fame be offered, Savior, to thy name! (George Weissel, 17th century; trans. By Catherine Winkworth, 1855)

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And not that [this] story is told, what does it mean?  How can I tell?  What does life mean?  If the meaning could be put into a sentence there would be no need of telling the story. (Henry Van Dyke)

FOR TODAY:  What do you need to change or re-arrange to make room for God coming into your life? (And given the hour, this is an EXCELLENT time to figure that out!)

Peace to you as we begin to see the Light coming into the world,

Shelli

The Journey Beyond Ourselves

Water13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17: 1-9)

I remember when John baptized him.  Jesus, dressed in white, got into the water and John pushed his head under.  As he emerged, the heavens seemed to open as if God was pleased.  It was special, sort of an affirmation of who he was, who I had known he was all along.  In that moment, I began to understand that his role was bigger than our family, bigger than my son, even bigger than these that he had gathered around him.  I knew that but in that moment I began to understand it.  I was here to walk with him as he prepared not only to be a rabbi, a teacher, but to take on the ministry to which God called him.  And in that moment in the waters of re-creation, his ministry began.  This is the moment when God claims this child of God as the One who God calls.  This was the becoming and the beginning that he needed.  I had to begin to let go of what I knew.

I thought back to that time in Jerusalem when we found him in the temple with the rabbis.  My first reaction was relief that he was found.  I wanted to take him and hold him and never let him loose again.  My next reaction was anger that he had worried us so.  But the scene of him sitting there listening to the rabbis, understanding more than most adults will ever understand, made up for it all.  I knew then that he was beyond me, that I was here only for a time to help lead him to what he was called to do.  I knew that he was meant to be something more even than what I had thought.

So many of us get so wrapped up in those things that we can control or those that make us at least feel in control.  We want to be safe and comfortable.  So in this Christmas season, we often tend to wrap ourselves in our shopping, our plans for meals, and our family gatherings, our traditions of the way we do things and the expectations that they will be like they’ve been before.  These memories remind us all that we are continuously called beyond ourselves.  God calls us to newness, even in the midst of the familiar traditions that are so much a part of us.  That is the way God transforms us.  That is the way God moves us beyond ourselves.  That is the way God loves us.

God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God.  God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.   (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

FOR TODAY:  How is God moving you beyond yourself?  How is God bringing newness even to the traditions that you hold so closely?

Peace to you as we come closer to that holiest of nights,

Shelli

With the Turn of a Page

book-pages-16-12-22Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17: 1-9)

I am thinking about all of the ministry, all of the good that he did in those short years.  He was so good to those that had believed in him and had followed him through so much. And they were so devoted.  And, slowly, slowly they began to understand what I did—that this man was the very essence of God, that this man was the Word made flesh.  It was hard for me to understand and I had actually had that incredible encounter with the angel.  But for those who followed him, these were men and women of faith, men and women who chose to put themselves aside and do God’s work.  They had not had a dream with an angel or one where God spoke to them.  They had not seen the brilliance of that star that shone over Bethlehem and seemed to point to what had happened.  These were ordinary people who had families and lives but who believed that they were a part of something beyond themselves.

I was not there that day when Jesus led some of them up to that mountain top.  I was not there when he was changed into light right before their eyes.  I was not there when God intervened.  I was not there when all of the Law and all of the Prophets and all of history came spilling into our ordinary lives on that mountain.  But to hear Peter and James and John describe it, it was amazing.  I was not there but it was still my story.  And I realized in that moment that God’s coming did not begin with me.  I realized that I was blessed to be a part of it, an instrument that God called to be a page in a story.  It was a story that had begun to be written long before I was born and one that will continue far beyond me.  But I think that it was there on that mountaintop that it all came together.  And the brilliance of it all was more than any of us could take for very long.  Sometimes we have to look away and begin writing to grasp it at all.

And then Jesus descended the mountain with the faithful at his side and headed into Jerusalem.  I would have liked to stop it there.  I would have liked to find a way to freeze the frame of the story, to close the book and protect the pages that were already there.  But the story had to go on.  I understand that so well now.  And the faithful understand that.  The faith-filled men and women since the beginning have understood that they are not the story but that the story is incomplete without them.  So they find their voice and they find their faith and they walk down the mountain with our Lord.  We all have a page to write.  The story would go on without it, but God would rather have them all.

But whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of  life, the call brings up the curtain, always, on a miracle of transfiguration-a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth.  The familiar life horizon has been outgrown, the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand. (Joseph Campbell)

FOR TODAY:  What is on your page?

Peace to you as we come closer to that holiest of nights,

Shelli

When You Come to the Gate

710px-Golden_Gate_Jerusalem_2009
The Eastern Gate (or Golden Gate), Jerusalem (sealed in 1541)

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11: 1-11)

I remember that day that he entered Jerusalem.  Was that only a week ago?  It seems like a lifetime ago.  It was celebratory and wonderful.  The crowds were at ease, laughing, having a good time.  The young colt was almost comic relief as Jesus’ feet hung down and almost dragged the stones beneath.  After the long trip through the desert, this was the entrance into the city.  No one knew what would happen.  No one knew whether he would be accepted as a leader the way he finally began to be in Galilee or whether it would turn terribly wrong.  We know how it turned out now, but at the time we were holding onto hope that it might go smoothly.

I also remember that by the time we reached the gate to the city, our crowd had dwindled considerably.  Where did everyone go?  I supposed back to their lives.  How many times do we choose to return to our lives rather than stepping forward through the gate?  For me, I am so grateful that I did not do that years ago when the angel came to me.  Perhaps my life would have been easier, more predictable, certainly safer.  But it would not have been the right life for me.  This, this was the life that God envisioned for me.  That’s why it feels so right.  Sometimes it is painful.  Sometimes it is downright scary. But more often it is filled with the glorious blessings I’ve had.

I wonder where most of us would have been that day had we known.  It would have been so easy to turn back, so tempting to try to convince him to turn back, to go elsewhere with his ministry where he would be accepted and even welcomed.  But I understand now that God calls us to walk through the wilderness, to traverse the unknown, to step forward through the gates that life presents in faith.  God doesn’t call us to walk roads that have been paved over and over by others but rather to embark on the rough-hewed roads that need our work.  It is only then that we can become who God intends us to be.  It is only then that it feels right.  For me, it has been the difference between an easy life and one that is truly blessed.  I pray that the generations that follow me will grasp that and have the courage to go through the gate.

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, Give me a light that I might go safely out into the darkness. And he replied, Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be more to you than a light, and safer than a known way. (M. L. Haskins)

FOR TODAY:  What gate are you being called to enter?

Peace to you as we come closer to that holiest of nights,

Shelli

Do This

 

jesus-in-the-garden-of-gethsemane-16-12-203Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13: 3-17)

I thought of that last night that we were together.  It was wonderful.  It was a cool evening and the breeze was blowing into the room through the open windows.  All of our family was there and all of Jesus’ friends were all together at a table near the door.  It was the Passover festival and we so enjoyed ourselves.  Jesus sat next to me.  He had been unusually pensive, almost as if he were grieving.  Several times he looked around the room with a faraway look in his eyes.  He put his hand on my shoulder and then he got up and went over and joined his friends.  They had all been through so much and they finally seemed to be enjoying themselves.  I turned back to the table to talk to the family and when I looked again, Jesus was kneeling down and washing the disciples’ feet.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.  Most had seen him as a leader of those men that could at times be almost over-zealous.  But the one I knew was kneeling there—compassionate, loving, almost a servant.  I realize now that he was showing us who we should be.  He was showing us how to love one another, how to put others first, how to see God in others’ eyes.  I feel so blessed to be able to say how much I learned from him.  Many parents cannot say that.  I learned to love; I learned to be gentle and compassionate; I learned to serve.  I am certain that future generations will picture this night and see only Jesus and his disciples.  But it was Passover.  We were all there.  We were all watching, although we were careful not to disturb the certain intimacy that was in that moment.  We did not understand in the moment what the next day would hold but we knew that this was a special time and a special place.

I didn’t go with them when they left and walked down to the Garden.  I wish I had.  I know that I couldn’t have done anything, but maybe I could have comforted him or something.  There in the garden, Jesus was arrested.  It was said that one of the disciples had betrayed him, pointing him out to the guards.  I didn’t concentrate too much on that.  All I know is that they took him away that night and I would never be able to hold him again.  Now I know that what happened that evening would spark the change in the world.  What happened that evening to that baby that I held, the baby that I lifted out of that hay-filled stall so many years ago, would begin a sequence of events that I know now was God’s way of leading us all through the story, leading us all home.

In that Garden, Jesus surrendered not his innocence but his control.  And only in surrendering will we know what God intends for our life.  I see now that if Joseph and I had not surrendered so long ago, giving ourselves to whatever it was God had in store, that I would not have been blessed with this life that I’ve known.  But, more importantly, the story would have been different.  Each of us has a chance not to write our own chapter but to be a part of a story that is already beautifully written.  What Jesus taught me was that each of us has to do this.  God did not create us as robotic characters following the one in front of us.  Instead, God placed a tiny piece of the Godself in each of us.  It’s called free will.  God created us to choose.  And then on our journey of faith, we are asked to choose to surrender it back to God so that we will finally understand what it means to be loved by God.

It’s not what you do for God; it’s what God does for you.  Instead of trying to love God, just let God love you. (Richard Rohr)

FOR TODAY:  What is God asking you to surrender so that you can be a part of the story?

Peace to you in this often-hectic week,

Shelli

The Day That Hope Was Born

cross-and-manger-16-12-19Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19: 25b-30)

Those midday hours on that day were merciless.  I stood there feeling so helpless, wanting to hold him to cradle him like I did when he was a baby.  At that point, I didn’t know what the outcome would be.  I just knew that he was in pain.  And I needed to get to him.  But the guards were holding us back.  There was nothing that I could do but pray, pray that this would end, pray that God would release him, pray that this would all turn out for some good. Little did I know how good it would be.

In that moment, the memories flooded back.  I thought about that night when the angel came to me.  At first I did not understand. I was afraid.  But something in me compelled me to say yes, to say yes to something that I had no idea how to do.  I thought about that long trip to Bethlehem.  And then when we arrived, the city was packed with people and we had nowhere to go.  It was so scary.  But I never felt like we were alone.  Someone traveled with Joseph and I.  Now I understand.  We were never alone.  And I knew that I was not alone now.  There, there on the cross was God.  But in that moment, I prayed that it still all had a purpose.

None of it seemed real.  At that point, I was questioning why.  Why did all this happen?  Why was I allowed to love him, to look into his eyes and love him if this was how it was going to end?  I wondered if these people standing here with me even thought about the manger, even thought about that holy night.  In hindsight, I know that God was holding ME—when I was holding him and even now.

I wondered if the world would ever understand what it did.  And it began to rain and the wind began to blow.  The skies turned appropriately dark and angry.  And the world began to shake.  Rocks and debris began to slide down the mountain behind us and the wind blew the temple curtain that separated the holy and the ordinary.  In that moment, I thought hope was dying there on the cross.  I realize now that that child I held that Bethlehem night so long ago was hope, a hope that would never die, a hope that would literally spill into the ordinary parts of our lives.  At that point, I thought it had ended.  I know now that our eternity itself was spilling in to our lives.  I know now that that birth so long ago was never for naught.  It was for this—to give hope to a world that could never give it to itself, to give hope to a world that sadly over and over destroys itself, to give hope to a world that doesn’t really understand that it has never been alone.  I know now that hope was born in that manger.  But hope came to be on that cross.  I know now that I was pulled into a story that would have no end, that would birth newness and hope at every turn.  How blessed I truly am!

At the center of the Christian faith is the history of Christ’s passion.  At the center of this passion is the experience of God endured by the godforsaken, God-cursed Christ.  Is this the end of all human and religious hope?  Or is it the beginning of the true hope, which has been born again and can no longer be shaken?  For me it is the beginning of true hope, because it is the beginning of a life which has death behind it and for which hell is no longer to be feared…Beneath the cross of Christ hope is born again out of the depths. (Jurgen Moltmann)

FOR TODAY:  Dare to hope…in spite of everything else.  Dare to hope for that which you cannot know.  Dare to hope beyond what you can see.

Peace to you in this often-hectic week,

Shelli

How Can This Be?

AnnunciationScripture Text:  Luke 1:28b-35

“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

 

How can this be?  It is the most profound question; it is the question of faith.  It is the question that we ask when life makes no sense, when what we have planned and what we have imagined is suddenly crumbling around us and life doesn’t look like anything that we know.  We Protestants don’t often give much credence to this story, choosing instead to whisk past it to stories of mangers in the days of Caesar Augustus.  But it is so very important.  After all, as I’ve said before, God did not just drop out of the sky in the form of Jesus.  The Divine did not come into our midst in the form of a cloud, or a storm, or even, this time, a burning bush.  All of those were indeed incarnations of the Divine.  But THIS time, THIS time, God chose to come in human form, as one of us.  God chose to cross all the boundaries and be one of us.  And that takes time.  About nine months to be exact.  It also means that someone, a woman, a young woman, a woman that had her life planned, has to say “yes”.  Believe it or not, God chose not to do this alone.

 

So, this angel comes to this young woman.  “Mary,” the angel says, “I know this may be a little out of the box, a little hard to believe, but God has a plan for you.  Now, it’s not the plan that you imagined.  Basically, God is asking you to agree to become pregnant even though you have yet to celebrate your wedding feast.  Now, we all know that your husband, your family, and your community (not to mention generations of those who will follow you) will find this hard to believe.  The trip to have the child will be difficult.  And then when you get there, it will be as if no one has made plans at all.  (I mean, really, God asks Mary to do this.  Why did someone not think to make a reservation at the local inn?)  But, somehow, we will make it work.  And then, the child will be born into a world that will struggle to accept him.  He will live his life on the edge of society and will endure pain and suffering at the end.  You will grieve his life and you will grieve his death.  In all probability, you will never fully understand this child that you bring into the world.  And, oh yeah, you will be birthing the salvation of the world.  So, what do you think? Are we on?”

 

I don’t know if God planned to ask Mary.  Was she destined from birth?  Or was she the second, or the 46th, or the 8,729th person that God approached?  None of that matters.  Because God has given a part of the Godself to us.  It’s called free will.  God doesn’t push us into things.  God draws us toward the Divine, desiring that each and every child that God created and loved will choose, will choose to return to God in their own special way, will choose to respond to what God envisions he or she can do.  And so the world waits, hanging in suspended motion, eager to hear Mary’s answer.  Salvation is waiting to be.  She hesitates, not really knowing what to do or say or even think.  How can this be?  It makes no sense.  I mean, this is REALLY going to mess up my life.  But the dawn was beginning to form and Mary saw a light that she had never seen before.  For the first time, Mary knew who she was.  How can this be?  Let it be…Let it be according to thy word.

 

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

 

We are no different.  God approaches…over and over and over again, inviting us to dance, inviting us to live.  How can this be?  Let it be…let it be according to thy word.

 

The glad hosannas are no longer heard.  The shouting is over, the palms are gathered; the shadows lengthen; the plotting begins in earnest. Knowing the outcome, we come with heavy hearts.  And what do we hear?  An unchanged and unchanging message of love; God’s love, a poet’s love, a woman’s love.  God’s love, foretold by Isaiah, in the shape of a servant.  (Moira B. Laidlaw)

 

FOR TODAY:  Where is God calling you to go?  Who is God calling you to be?  Let it be according to thy word.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli