- Saturday, December 26, 2015
Merry Christmas to us! Unto us a child is born! Unto us guests are presented. Taking a cue from the Original Story, we do not assign them to the garage, but instead find beds and pillows and blankets. We welcome them into the sacredness of a family Christmas celebration, complete with Christmas Eve Worship, viewing Christmas lights, emptying stockings, breakfasting on Malt-o-Meal Blueberry muffins, presents for all, shrimp with cocktail sauce, Lagomarcino truffles, meatballs in Alfredo sauce, chipped beef dip with triscuits, smoked oysters, and sarsaparilla. And Christmas movies, some on the small screen, at least one on the big screen. Afternoon naps for all.
- The Lladro Mary, Joseph & Babe are guarded by the plastic barn animals from Ben Franklin. The dining room table bears no centerpiece because it would be destroyed during Farkle or Phase 10 games.
- Today, we are packing up to go to the Farm. Great-Grandpa will have a new audience for his stories about the history of the farm or a short homily on practical theology; eventually, he will ask personal questions of those he does not yet know well. Great-Grandma will have the chili steaming on the stove and, at just the right moment, will blend oysters, butter and cream into an ambrosia that can only be tasted at Christmas. The less appreciative will dine on chili. Great-Grandma will also have baked cookies and candies that both highlight and belie her 91 years of life.
- Because there is once again a real child among us, that is, one few in years, we will delight in his every move and exclaim at his every word.
- For the first time, the tree will not take up half the room, but Great-Grandma will still have packed as many treasured ornaments on the limited branches of this half-pint replacement tree. It has been many years since a “real” tree has lent its special fragrance to the display. For many years, the tree was a red cedar that had been unobtrusively watched for a couple years as it grew in the pasture. Then, so close to Christmas Day that we doubted we’d even have a Christmas tree, Dad would take a break from his chores, cut it down, carry it to the house, and set it up. It was challenging, if not painful to decorate, because a red cedar has very sharp needles. The fragrance made up for the pain. In later years, he discovered that the local schools threw their trees out with the trash on the last day before Christmas vacation, so, some years, we had various spruces salvaged from an alley, still in their glory, adopted to be our tree. Eventually, my Mother, who perfectly balances a delicate tension between antique and modern, chose a giant artificial tree, about half again as high as she. As my mother became frailer, it became my sister’s job to decorate the tree, and eventually, the other rooms. Christmas shopping with my mom and my sister still includes purchasing some beautiful new ornament or figurine, just because it is beautiful and there is a spot for it. To their credit, they do not feel compelled to get out every doodad every year. If they did, you would think you were touring a church bazaar.
- I’m writing these words as we drive in the rain, not the snow, to the Farm. We have Brent and Ben with us, our “Jesus Incarnated Guests,” so there will be 14 instead of the 12 we’ve been accustomed to since Charlie’s birth.
- When we arrive, my sister will be hovering between the two founders of the feast, protecting them like a cow her calf. At the same time, the illusion remains that Mom has once again, for the 69th time, done it all…and truth be told….she has done more than most hostesses of any age. I cannot wait to eat slice after slice of her fruitcake. This will be the first year that she has declined making peanut brittle, even though Miriam has been her partner in that strenuous task for several years. That may be the most significant symbol of Mom’s giving in to her age and its accompanying frailty: not only a lack of physical strength, but a lack of mental and emotional strength for the task. That is good. She is, in all things, graceful, grateful, and uncomplaining.
- Monday, December 28, 2015
- It is winter’s version of hell: rain, sleet, ice. Many are condemned to travel these hellish roads, to work, to appointments that can’t be rescheduled. Our Christmas Gift Guest is required to drive two and one half hours to support his boss, Governor Martin O’Malley. His adopted family have all encouraged him to stay safe here on Hickory Bend, but he has a job. So, even though I’ve known him for only two weeks (and only bothered to learn his last name two day ago), I am going to worry all day.
- He has become a part of our family, even though we share no geographical or ethnic roots. We are German/Welsh. He is French/Hungarian. We are Midwesterners. He is an Easterner.
But he can play all the language games my kids use as conversation, and he has the same balance of passion and intelligence and sarcasm and popular culture as my kids. We will miss him next Christmas, we tell him. He tells us he thinks we must be related.
So, someone knocked on the door of our inn. We learned the lesson from Mary and Joseph; don’t turn the stranger away.
He came to us via one of the two political parties subscribed to in this household. Bim is a practical Republican. I am a generous Democrat. He holds down the fort; I open the doors to the fort.
- Tuesday, December 29, 2015
- The barn animals have drawn closer to the baby Jesus. No one takes credit for moving them, so it must have been one of those Christmas Eve Barn Miracles. It is a kindness on the part of the animals; their breath must warm him in that cold stable which sits in the bay window of the dining room.
- Thursday, December 31, 2015
- Six more days to Epiphany. Will the wise men bring gifts?
- Friday, January 1, 2016
- Resolutions will serve as restraints this year.
Buy no plants or seeds until northwest bed is tamed.
Go to no more auctions until the “it might come in handy” shelf is cleared.
Frankly, if I can just follow the Ten Commandments, I’ll be doing great.
- Monday, January 4, 2016
- An opportunity to sit in the pew during worship is rare for us pastors. However, the plague of ice on our parking lot at Immanuel freed me to worship in the congregation that nurtured me from conception to adulthood.
- I sat in the pew with my parents, drinking in, sucking in every detail of the sanctuary, from the color of the walls (pale peach) to the gold leaf trim around the windows and arches to the candelabra (two with seven candles each). I recalled Christmas programs, organ lessons, and my first big theological disappointment: Holy Communion. I expected to be transfigured in some way the first time the bread and the wine touched my lips. Nothing happened. My views on transubstantiation, consubstantiation, impanation, memorialism, etc., remain in flux, but I no longer expect magic. If there is any magic for me, it is when I offer, as pastor, each person a sliver of bread and a sip of juice. As with any shared meal, connections are made; often, the connections made at the table of the Supper are not only social, but spiritual as well. We are gathered into one group, one body, that body being a corpus that has diverse members, but that acts and thinks, on various levels, as one. The one-ness may flee, immediately or gradually, but it is always available to be reclaimed.
- Yesterday, I shared that communion (the really “real” word for it) with the saints at Zion. Next Sunday, if the crick don’t rise–or the parking lot don’t freeze—I’ll share it with the members and guests of Immanuel.
- The frailty and dangers of old age were again impressed on me. I arrived at the Farm about two hours before worship time. Mom and Dad were getting dressed. No big deal. Everybody gets dressed. But as I observed, and then helped, them, I discovered how labor intensive getting dressed, and by extension, every other activity, is for an aging body.
To button a button, to adjust suspenders, to put on a sweater, requires thought and balance and strength. To find a pocket, to comb hair, requires dexterity and agility–skills no longer taken for granted. Every move is deliberate instead of intuitive.
Again, I am moved to gratefulness and thanksgiving that these two very alive, very able bodies remain a pleasant and natural part of my life. I am grateful that they recognize me, look forward to seeing me, welcome me, worry about me. They are still interested in everything I do, in my family.
- My father is ready to give up his sheep, even though they are “so good” to him, as he relates it. I doubt whether the sheep are good to him on purpose, but they do most certainly appreciate him. They come at his call, they do not knock him over, they eat what he offers, and they take shelter in the barn he provides.
John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–” That metaphor is nearly meaningless in the 21st century, but it still resonates with a few of us who know the press of muscled woolliness against our legs as we pour oats into a trough or lay slices of hay around a pen. It’s be an advantage for me as a preacher, because I can tell sheep stories whenever a shepherd reference appears in the RCL. I’ve read and written about both the wisdom and the stupidity of sheep.
- One other visit from yesterday: my baptismal sponsor and youngest uncle is in ICU at the hospital. Alarming reports of his health were coming in, so I stopped to see him. By the time I arrived, he was in great spirits, fairly comfortable, and very talkative. As a pastor, I’m inclined to pray with those I visit, especially those who are ill and who are hovering near or have barely escaped death’s door. Uncle Ray was not too keen on the idea. He’d just been visited by his own pastor, then the vicar, then my cousin the minister, and, in a gesture of overkill, me. I prayed with him, but I didn’t put much effort in to it. What he really wanted was fun. So my challenge is to write some fun prayers, some prayers that are jokes and jokes that are prayers.
- A new year is an artificial construct, a nod to the constellations, a hope for better times. The calendar year is a mystery to me…the new year on our calendars comes several days after the shortest day of the year, several months before the longest day of the year, and we’ve used New Year’s and Christmas to bookend a week that holds more meaning than the individual holidays, one secular, one sacred, themselves. Perhaps this is the greatest Sabbath of them all–not just a break in the weekly routine, but a cosmic call to renaissance and renewal of the beauty and miracle of our individual human lives. Between the bookends of hope—the hope that a Messiah brings and the hope a new calendar promises–we are redeemed and regenerated into a shining new mass of potential.