Jesus’ Wish List

wish-list

 

Do you struggle each year to come up with the perfect gifts for friends and family at Christmas?

I know I do.

I wonder…what if we challenged the overarching focus of Christmas – one that is materialistic and self-indulgent – to one that is less about us and more about Jesus?  What do you think Jesus really wants?

Peace?

An end to hunger?

An end to poverty?

I think Jesus wants all those things.  But most of all, I think what Jesus wants for Christmas is…us.

Me.

You.

Our time, our talents, and our treasures.  And he wants them to be used in service to others.

As Christians, we are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.  We have the love of Christ inside of us.  And how is this love known?  Through serving others.  With action.  We show the love of Jesus.  Jesus says in Matthew that what you did for the least of these – sick, hungry, homeless, oppressed, imprisoned – you do to me.  When we meet someone who has a need – be it hunger, or thirst, or shelter, or clothes – we are supposed to meet that need.  To take care of them.  To help them.  We are to visit the sick and imprisoned.  We are supposed to help ease their suffering.  We know that there are people in our community suffering during this season of the year.  I wonder… who are “the least” in our community?  And what can we do to ease their suffering?

Jesus teaches us that our lives have more meaning and value than we can imagine.  And what we do with them and choices we make really do matter.  It says in 1 John that “this is how we know love; that Jesus laid his life down for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”  Now…not every Christian is called to literally lay down their life for another.  That truly is something special.  But every believer is called to respond to people in need and to help as best as they can.  It also says in 1 John, let us love with actions.  Sometimes all that is needed is something simple, like something to eat or drink.

Thinking about the needy can seem pretty overwhelming.  There are a lot of people in the world who are in need.  There are a lot of people in our community who are in need.  Now before we get too distraught, let me just say that I don’t think the heart of these verses is to make us feel guilty for what we haven’t done.  I see them as more of a “wellness check” that encourages us to do the right thing.  These verses are supposed to inspire us to be faithful, to serve the least in our community.  To encourage us to stop being so self-centered.  To help us gauge how we are – or are not – growing into the likeness of Jesus.  That serving others becomes so much a part of us that we do it before we realize we are doing it.  Before we know it, we are making time for others. We are getting out into the community and giving our time and our talents.  And when we get to this point, we are laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters. My seminary professor said that, “when we lay down the completely normal human desire to live for ourselves and instead allow the love of God to reorient us toward the needs of others, we are laying down our lives.”

When we serve, we lay aside claim to our own lives and put others first.  Because we love.  When we believe in Jesus, we believe in love.  And we cannot have love without action.  And when we let that love act, through things like giving clothes to the needy or food to the hungry, we can be sure that the love of God is what is pulsing through our hearts and our hands and our feet. [1]

Love has spurred us to action a lot this fall at Faith.  We have reached out into our community and painted a house for an elderly couple, given our time at elementary school carnivals, and given of our treasure when we filled up shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child and took ornaments from the Gift Tree*.

Hands for Housing with iACT, October 2012

Hands for Housing with iACT, October 2012

Gift Tree gifts for Joslin Elementary
Gift Tree gifts for Joslin Elementary

Gift Tree gifts for Zilker Elementary

Gift Tree gifts for Zilker Elementary

 

Love…. The Beatles had it right all along.

All you need is LOVE.

 

 

What does Jesus want for Christmas?

For us to love.  And how do we do that?  We serve.  Any and every way we can.

The Cotton Patch Bible says it best:  Let’s not talk about love.  Let’s not sing about love. Let’s put love into action and make it real.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

*The Gift Tree was an outreach that Faith did this Christmas to help needy families at Joslin and Zilker Elementary schools.


[1] Ron Cole-Turner, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Volume 2, 1 John 3:16-24: Theological Perspective, 2008,

The Scandal in Christmas

scandalousCan you think of anyone you do not or cannot love; people you believe belong on God’s naughty list?  I can.  Bullies.  Liars.  Racists.  Child abusers. Spouse abusers.  People who judge people.  Oops.  People who gossip.

The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Roman Christians because he’d heard they were fighting, arguing, and judging each another.  Some folks were certain that they were the strong Christians while those other people (you know who, right?) were weak.  Those people belonged on God’s naughty list.

I try to imagine the day Paul’s letter was read out loud to the congregation, feel the tension in the room.  After a pleasant and encouraging introduction Paul launched into the meat of his message.  He started by naming names, listing people who belong on God’s naughty list: murderers and slnderers.  Someone in the back shouted “Amen!”  Paul went on: people who envy what other people have; people who hate; people who lie; those who are haughty and arrogant.  Can I get an amen!  Paul continued: people who boast; children who rebel against their parents; people who gossip.  Oops.  People who practice such things deserve to die, Paul said.  The Amen Corner has become strangely silent.

But then in Romans 3 Paul gets to his first major point: “Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous by God’s free grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus.”  When it comes to God’s naughty list, we’re all there.  We’ve all fallen short; we can’t expect God to play favorites on that score.  But then—and don’t miss this—Paul goes on to say we’re all on God’s love list.  When it comes to God’s grace, God’s mercy, and God’s love, Paul concluded, God shows no partiality.

Do you realize how scandalous God’s love is?  God loves all of us.  God goes first in loving us, even if we have been naughty.  Christmas celebrates THAT love, THAT God who became one of us in order to be with us.  God, who is love through and through, became incarnate in a baby, born of a Virgin, God’s scandalous love affair with humankind.

What is a scandal?  A scandal is anything that violates our expectations about how people ought to behave: a 5-star general cheats on his wife; a politician takes a bribe, and so on.  God doesn’t want them to do bad things.  God wants them stop; but still God loves them, just as God loves you and me.  And God wants our love in return, no matter what kind of mess our lives have been in?  God’s ways are not our ways.  God works miracles in unexpected places, in unexpected ways.  From a human point of view, God’s love is a scandalous love.

How about us?  Can we respond by loving others in that way?  What kind of scandal would it create this Christmas if you went out of your way to demonstrate love toward someone who’s not supposed to be loved?   Is your presence making God’s love more visible in the lives of the people that you come into contact with?  Who’re you not supposed to love?  Might you love them anyway?

Merry Christmas.

Giving Up on Perfect

What’s your vision of the perfect Christmas?  Is it this?

Merry Christmas Grandma...We Came in Our New Plymouth!, Norman Rockwell, for a 1949 advertisement

Or maybe this?  Ok, this one is actually Thanksgiving, but you get the idea.

From Freedom to Want, Norman Rockwelll, 1943

From Freedom to Want, Norman Rockwelll, 1943

For me, it’s having the tree decorated with ornaments and twinkle lights.  With presents underneath.  The family is gathered around the table eating our traditional Christmas Eve meal of my mom’s famous broccoli soup and steamed shrimp.  Then we all go to a late church service complete with Christmas carols and the singing of “Silent Night” by the light of the little candles they hand you when you walk through the door.  Then we all go home to sit in the living room and sip a glass of wine by the light of the Christmas tree as snow quietly falls on the ground outside the window.

Ahhh…Perfection.

But when is life really like this?  When is life ever really perfect?  Will we get our perfect Christmases this year?  I know I won’t.  My mom and her husband are visiting us this year, but the rest of my family will be 1500 miles away.  We might make the broccoli soup, but will probably be too tired to stay up for a late service on Christmas Eve.  We might sip wine, but there will most definitely NOT be snow falling quietly anywhere near me.  I do live in Texas, after all!

Life is full of imperfections.  And messiness.  And challenges.  But do these things keep us from celebrating Christmas fully?  Do they keep us from pondering the wonder of the virgin birth or the amazement of the Incarnation?

The first Christmas was pretty messy.  I mean, think about it.  Neither Mary nor Joseph – or either of their families – had planned to have a new baby join the family so soon.

But God showed up.

Lying in the manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths.

Immanuel.

Born in a stable.

Bringing with him a message of hope.  God will be with us.

Our lives today are pretty messy.  But again, God shows up.  Right in the middle of our mess.  And brings us a message of hope…that God is with us.

Immanuel.

Before the angel appeared to Mary in the beginning of Luke she was walking along an arranged path for her life.  Her father had chosen a man for her to marry, a carpenter named Joseph and they were engaged.  She was probably looking forward to being a wife.  Weren’t you when you were engaged?  Life was going swimmingly, right according to plan.  And then the angel showed up and everything got messy real fast.  Devastating, even.  Pregnancy out of wedlock was a terrible crime in those days.  And she knew that.  And you can understand why her response to the angel was cautious.  I can just imagine her saying to this glowing being in the middle of the night, “Um…How can this be?  I’m a virgin,” she says.  If it were me, I don’t think I would have been as polite…

The Annuciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

The Annuciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

Are we like Mary?

Are we willing to give up the safe and comfortable path of life for a messy one?  Will we let the Holy One burst into our world, into our midst?  Will we let God bring us the message of hope to us?  Will we allow God to say to us that we don’t have to be perfect – to have it all together – to be able to receive the message of hope?  We have the opportunity to open ourselves up to the unexpected and unimaginable.  Will we let it happen?  Will we give up on perfect?

What happens if that’s ok?

If life isn’t perfect?

Isn’t going to be perfect?

That perfection isn’t what we’re striving for anymore?  Now what?

Do we keep on going?  Keep trudging along?

No.

We give up.

GIVE UP.

Let it go.

Give up on perfect and dive headlong into the messiness that is faith and hope and love and grace.  Humble ourselves in front of the manger and at the foot of the cross.

Thankfully, God doesn’t want us to go it alone.  God wants us to do it together – in community.  Churches really are made up of messy people with messy lives who are clinging to the truth that God will show up.

We expect God to show up.

And God will show up.

Immanuel.

 

Mandi Richey, Community Minister, Faith United Methodist Church, Austin