Saturday, December 28, 2013
So the shepherds hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds said to them. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Mary pondered these things. And what is this?
To ponder is to throw things together in one’s mind to compare, to see what fits, to notice what sticks together to create meaning and significance.
Mary might have pondered the angelic messenger who told her she would bear a special child, the child of God. She might have relived her fear, her uncertainty, her incredulity that this could happen at all, let alone to her.
She might have savored her prayer of thanksgiving to God for choosing her, for blessing her, as well as the stares of those who shamed her for this out-of-wedlock child.
The discomfort and uncertainty of the long trip to Bethlehem would have come to mind, the night search for a place to lie down and labor to birth this child, feeling alone and afraid of what birthing would mean for her.
A thousand thoughts could well have raced through her heart and mind, awakening conflicting feelings and confusion, so much that it was impossible to sort it all out, pain, joy, promise, anxiety, relief, elation, apprehension
All this washed over her as a few smelly shepherds, fresh from their sheep, arrived with an unbelievable story and the voices of angelic song still ringing in their ears.
What was she to think, to feel, to know … from all that came together in her mind?
But maybe this moment was much simpler.
Maybe as she gazed into her infant’s face, maybe as she played with his tender fingers the torrent of feelings disappeared and all that remained was the wonder of the precious life in her hands--and the awareness that somehow, beyond her knowing, this child was a holy blessing to the world.
Maybe all that mattered was loving and caring for this child. Maybe the love this child awakened in her overwhelmed all the thoughts, questions, fears, uncertainty, shame, elation, pain and anxiety that had filled her for the past nine months.
Maybe if you add it all up, that is all that really matters much to God … or to Mary.
Maybe that’s the crystal clear message of this night for every new day.
Pr. David L. Miller
Friday, December 27, 2013
Now it happened that when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us.' So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds said to them.
I wonder what the Shepherds thought about what they were seeing. What did they make of it?
Tell them the child is the “incarnation” of God in the flesh, and they would have scratched their heads and walked off.
Dumbfounded stares would have been their reaction to discussion of the two natures of Christ, God and human. They knew no creeds or doctrine. This was beyond them.
Their actions are concrete and plain: They hurried. They saw. They told their story. Simple.
They make me realize how I--and most of the Western church--have made Christian faith unnecessarily complicated and difficult.
I like knowing complicated words and concepts. They give understanding of the faith in depth and help me know what I believe, the God I trust, stripping away false and foolish notions.
But such knowledge can also puff up the ego, distracting the heart and the mind from what we most need, from what I most need
Like the shepherds, I need to see Jesus--and seeing, I need to tell what I see.
See and share: In seeing I receive precious knowledge, not of mind but heart, but of a Heart so great it has room for me and everyone.
In telling, this awareness fills me with the joy of being part of this Great Heart that embraces all creation, all humanity in all its need, joy and brokenness, an embrace of infinite love and red-hot passion for the healing of all things.
Near the end of Jesus ministry, before his crucifixion, out of town strangers came to Jesus’ disciples with a simple request, “We want to see Jesus.”
Here at the start of Jesus journey, shepherds come out of the cold with the same request, “Where is the child? We were told he is here. We want to see him.”
Seeing Jesus, hurrying to see Jesus should be the first order of life and of each day for us.
Seeing him transforms our minds and opens our hearts to see and share the beauty and grace he is. It gives purpose, hope and direction to daily life
Far more than complex words and ideas, we need to follow the shepherds. Their feet lead to the place of knowing what is most needed.
Pr. David L. Miller
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Now it happened that when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us.' So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.
What did the shepherds expect to see? What were they looking for?
Angels had promised something glorious and life changing. This part of the story is enough to stop most moderns from taking any of it seriously.
Angels are hard to imagine today, except for those messengers of grace in our lives who lift our hearts by the light of their presence.
But a peasant child in a manager, his parents huddled near to keep him and themselves warm? This sight is easier to imagine. Shepherds and the shivering poor are down to earth, as common as the evening news.
Even 20 centuries later we can understand the shepherds leaving the loneliness of the night watches to come out of the cold to see a child--or most anything that would warm their hearts and give a moment of happiness.
After all, that is why they came to the manger. They wanted to get out of the cold. And the manger where Jesus laid was the warmest place in Bethlehem.
No, it was and remains the warmest place on earth, which is why we come there, too.
We return each year to the stable to see the child because some messenger of grace has told or shown us that there is warmth there that penetrates that chilled soul. There is a love that comes from an Eternal Source to warm us through and make us truly alive.
We will never comprehend this love no matter how far we go or how long we live. It’s a mystery. You can describe it but never explain it.
Neither can you deny the warmth of the love or the beauty of the grace that emanates from this peasant’s child lying in a bed of straw at Bethlehem. It streams through the centuries and the souls of billions.
Drawing near to him--and to the angels of grace in which he lives--one is warmed by the heart of God become flesh in human form.
What ever the shepherds expected to see in Bethlehem there is no doubt in my mind that they tripped over the Judean hills hoping to come out of the cold, hoping to find and know the warmth of truest life and love.
It’s why I still come, too. And I am not disappointed.
Pr. David L. Miller
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
It is with relief and joy that we come to this blessed day once more.
We are relieved that the season of searching and shopping has passed. The rush is hushed … or mostly so.
We are relieved that our preparations are done or near an end. And what is not done will have to stay that way … and it will be okay.
Relief comes from deeper places, too.
The bright day for which we long has come, the day of Love’s dawning has appeared amid bows and wrapping paper and shared smiles—maybe tears, too—as packages are opened and love is given. Our hearts feel the affection of givers who again try to express in material terms what mere words can’t convey.
But each we gift open awakens our awareness of another Giver, the Giver of life who comes to shed light on our cold faces and make us feel alive and glad once more.
On Christmas Day there is little more to do than to feel the heart of the Great Giver, who has only one thing to give … himself, light and love, eternal blessing, grace and a warmth that awakens our chilled hearts amid winter’s cold.
We come to this day to feel the relief, once more, of being touched by the everlasting longing of God for each one of us.
What good is it that Christ is born in Bethlehem, in poverty and plainness, if I do not know and feel that it is for me that he comes?
For if all the world held but one soul, my soul, the God of heaven and earth would be pleased to come … for me, and to give me God’s own heart and life.
The Word becomes flesh … for me.
The light shines in the darkness that I might see and know that Christmas begins in the heart of an everlasting longing for me … and for you, a passion we can only begin to understand.
Created in the image of God, the image of infinite love, we live out our lives seeking to satisfy an inner ache for this love, which we know is our home.
Our hunger is fanned by unfulfilled dreams, unhealed wounds and our need for release from all that weighs on our souls and steals our joy. Our hearts are restless until we know life unlimited and love unbounded.
Such is the nature of the human heart … and the heart of God.
God longs to fill us so thoroughly that every fear evaporates and all that remains in us is the delight of being alive and the joy of holding within ourselves the light and love no darkness can destroy.
Christmas begins before the dawn of time, before the first gentle fall of snow, before winter’s frost made brilliant art, silver and blue, on barren limbs and car windows; before the red cardinal’s flight excited human hearts at the miracle of color, before it all … was the Word, the heart, the passion, the hunger of the One who is Love and nothing but Love.
Christmas was already there in the divine heart. The Word was ready even then to be planted in our earth-bound souls and give us life.
From all eternity, the Great Giver was hungry to be born and joined as one with us.
After all, Love wants only one thing … to give itself away.
There was never a moment when Christmas was not on the way, never a moment when God did not plan to become flesh in a peasants’ child to reveal his beauty, never a moment when the Holy One did not hunger to share all that he is with us.
Christmas comes on the wings of Love’s everlasting desire … for you.
So let Christ come and fill you. His light seeks every lost corner of creation and every cold place in your heart that you may shine with the beauty … of Christmas morning.
Pr. David L. Miller
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
and everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. So Jospeh set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee for Judea, to David's town called Bethlehem, since he was of David's House and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. Now it happened that, while they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living-space.
What difference does it make if Christ is born at Bethlehem, if he is not born also in me?
My Mexican friends have a wonderful tradition at Christmas, Las Posadas. It is play, a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph arriving at Bethlehem and knocking on doors, seeking a place where they may enter and stay that the Christ might be born in warmth and safety.
But each place they go the door is locked or harsh voices refuse to open and let them in. So they continue on their way, lonely hearts seeking shelter, until someone opens the door and welcomes them that Mary might give birth to the God-child who brings the blessing of God to earth.
The tradition follows the pattern of Joseph and Mary coming to Bethlehem and being refused hospitality until someone gives them shelter in a stable where Christ is born.
But it holds deeper meaning. It is a parable of the heart of God hungry to born in this world, longing to be born in human hearts and mortal flesh that the world might be blessed, forgiven and made warmed by the light of the world shining in a human life.
We come to this night hungry for something to happen, eager to feel something.
Like Charlie Brown in the 1960s cartoon, A Charlie Brown Christmas, we want to know Christmas as more than something to believe in. We want to feel it happening in us. We want to feel Christmas happening in our all-too-human lives that we might know the love that came in the Christ, born in a Bethlehem manger long ago.
We want to taste and touch Christmas now. We want to feel Christ not out there somewhere, not way back in time, but deep within, making us feel fresh and new, washed and clean, hope-filled and love adorned.
But much as we might want this there is One who wants it more. This is the message of Christmas.
The Love who was born in Bethlehem is a lonely and constant hunter, who goes from door to door, knocking and being refused, again and again, until someone gives him entry, until he can be born again in human flesh and shine grace and beauty on our troubled world.
He stands at the door … and knocks.
But we live in a time of no room, when everyone is obsessed with the lack of time and space for matters of heart and meaning.
There is no room for quiet, no room for solitude, no room for thought, no room for awareness of what we most need, no time to notice what waits in our hearts, ready and eager to be born.
Little wonder so many feel so alone or wonder who they are and what they need.
But the Love who shines from the manger in Bethlehem refuses to go away. He stands and knocks …on your door. His voice is always there.
“I hunger to be born again in you, to fill you with the light and love of the eternal God.
“Look at how far I have searched. I come from the wonders of eternal heaven in dimensions beyond all your science. I come in humility to a manger of poverty to be laid in straw that you may know my heart. I come that you may know … there is no place from which I turn, no soul so dark or troubled which I refuse.
“Even these, even you … are a proper home for me to be born and live.
“I come to this world hunting and hungry for a home for the Love I am. I seek to fill all creation, one end to the other, with the beauty of my presence.
“I come that my holy image may be seen in every place and creature, every life, every land.
“I come to mangers in the dark of night, to the arms of Mary in her poverty and shame, to silent Joseph wondering what will come next, and I come to you, to the dark inner-center of your heart, that place only love can touch.
I come to be born in you, to fill you with the light and the warmth of an everlasting love that you may shine with the glory of God, just like the child in Mary’s arms.
I come that you may know … Christmas is not a long ago event, but a miracle that happens every moment, every time Christ is born in us again with great joy and endless love.
Merry Christmas, my brothers and sisters. Merry Christmas.
Pr. David L. Miller
Monday, December 23, 2013
We don’t know much about Joseph. He never speaks in the Bible. We never hear this voice, his thoughts.
Mary’s voice rings with joy and faith through the stories of Jesus birth, but Joseph is silent. We know him only through his deeds.
If we imagine him at all, we might see him trudging along, rope in hand, leading a donkey on which Mary rides as they make their way south, to Bethlehem. None of this is in the Bible, but popular images long ago created this picture in our minds.
We have no way of knowing what ran though Joseph’s mind as they made their way among the rocky Judean hills. But there must have been voices and questions.
There was the voice of reason that said, “Joseph, be smart. This child of Mary’s is not yours. Break the engagement and get yourself out of this mess. Nothing good can come from it.”
There was the voice of law and tradition that said, “Joseph, you are not required to take her or have anything to do with this child of questionable origin. This is not a new situation. Listen to the law, and let it guide you out of this embarrassment.”
Then there was that other voice, the one that came at night in the middle of his sleep … with an amazing message: “Do not be afraid, Joseph. Take Mary. Care for the child. The child within her is holy, from the Holy Spirit. He will save his people. They will call him Immanuel, God is with us.
“Joseph, the child is a sign. Every time you look at him, you will know … God is with you. This is Immanuel. Just look at him … and know.
Now, I ask you, who believes voices that come in the night? Who does what the voices tell them to do?
Crazy people? Foolish people? People who believe that God really does speak to us through our hearts?
Joseph has a decision. What voice should he listen to? What should he do?
Shall he do what rational, thoughtful people do? Or should he ignore the voice of reason and follow the voice that says there is something more important, something deeper and more compelling than reason or law … or even wisdom?
He listens … and follows the deeper voice, the messenger of God who comes to him at night and tells him that is better, more real and faithful to take a risk for the sake of loving God, for the sake of loving Mary, for the sake of trusting God will yet be with him.
He steps into the unknown as if stepping off a cliff, trusting that the Love who speaks in his dreams will be there to catch him no matter what.
He clings to the words, “Do not fear. I am sending Immanuel, God with us. Wait, watch, trust this … no matter what happens, no matter where your journey takes you. This child is a sign that you are never alone and never will be.”
Immanuel means God is fully immersed into human life. Our ordinary life is fully embraced by God, our highs and lows, our challenges amid the messiness of daily living.
I am here, God says. Where ever your path takes you I will meet you on the way. I am there at the start of the day and its ending.
We never hear Joseph’s voice, but we see his faith. There is nothing showy or dramatic about it. It is the faith of one who listens to the voice of God that moves him beyond an ordinary life to a life of extraordinary love.
Have you ever known someone to do that? Have you ever done that?
There is nothing more beautiful.
The people and that surrender themselves to extraordinary love are those that most move and fill our hearts. They are the ones who fill us with the awareness of Immanuel, God with us.
Joseph may be silent in Bible, but he invites us to listen to our souls, to pay heed to the voice of God, calling us beyond ourselves and what we think right and reasonable that our lives might become extraordinary, filled with light and love, a sign of Immanuel … even when we don’t say a word.
Pr. David L.Miller