Tuesday, December 25, 2007

safety and danger in Bethlehem

Since Sunday Dec 30 is the reading for the Holy Innocents, I'm sharing this recollection from an old sermon.

Probably the most moving event, for me, while I was in the Holy Land was my visit to the Church of the Nativity. We found out the night before I left that I was pregnant with The Entertainer. So as I stood in the place where they say Jesus was born and then laid in a manger, I was filled with awe and wonder. To be pregnant and stand in that holy and sacred place was incredible.

Like every other tourist that visits the Church of the Nativity with a tour group, a few brief moments at the church were followed by a visit to a souvenir shop. After a long time at the souvenir shop, we finally boarded the bus to return to Jerusalem. We noticed that the driver, a Palestinian, was quite agitated and as he talked to our tour guide. The Israeli tour guide also became agitated. Later, we discovered that the driver had heard on the radio the first report of the bombing of a major intersection in Jerusalem. It was March of 1996. Just days before we were scheduled to leave the United States, the bombings of the red city buses had begun. So as we left, we knew that there was some danger. What we didn't know was that we would travel through that intersection that was bombed just hours after we had passed through safely. We left Bethlehem on the way to Jerusalem not knowing why our driver and tour guide were upset because neither of them would tell us and none of us understood the radio. But the TVs in our rooms quickly filled us in on the details of the bombing that had happened only miles from us.

This year Bethlehem was on the news because there were more tourists and less violence. Someone said (and I had a similar experience), "When one is in Bethlehem, it is not hard to think "What a place for God to pick to be born in." What a place! The dust, the misery, the ugliness. Bethlehem."

But the glorious truth of the incarnation is just that. God comes to where we are; into the midst of evil; into the very spot where we are; into the struggles and the pain and the fear and the suffering. God comes to us where we are, in Bethlehem, or Boston, or Bangkok, or Brazil, or your home county. Emmanuel. God with us. God with us.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Light Bearers

Several years ago, I found this story on a preacher sermon email list in a sermon written by Jody Felton. I adapted it for my Christmas Even sermon that year. The Entertainer (at age 8) thought it was a perfect Christmas Eve story.

When we moved to another church, she told me I should preach the goat lady sermon on Christmas Eve. After I told her she would be gone to her dad's, she told me to wait and preach it the next year. So I've already told it at my current church and I share it, like it was shared with me, for anyone else who is looking for a great Christmas story.

"I am reminded of a true story I once read. It was written by a man who grew up in the woods of Minnesota during the Depression. His father was mentally ill, a shameful thing in those days, a thing to be hidden behind closed doors.

When his father was relatively well, life was not too bad for the family. But when "the darkness" as his father called it, descended, he became moody and violent. The father was terrified of "the darkness", both the darkness outside himself and the darkness within that tormented him so.

The only things that eased his torment were light and the potion brought by the Goat Lady. Some considered the Goat Lady a witch. She lived alone with her goats and had a knack for discerning when others were in pain. Somehow, the Goat Lady always knew when "the darkness"descended on the author's father. She would arrive at their doorstep with a pail of goat's milk sweetened with a little Karo syrup and laced with herbs known only to herself. Whatever was in the milk always calmed his father, eased his fears, and reduced his violent episodes.

The author especially remembers the Christmas Eve when he was nine years old. That year, it began snowing a few days before Christmas. As the days got shorter, the snow got deeper. The darkness grew both outside and within his father.

Because of the snow, the author's mother had been unable to go out to buy more kerosene for their lamps. By late afternoon on Christmas Eve, they only had one lamp left and the fuel in it was about gone. The father begged his wife to not let the lamp go out. She had to find more kerosene. If the lamp went out, the darkness would destroy him.

The family's only connection with the outside world in that fierce snowstorm was the party line they shared with 17 other families. By ringing the right number of longs and shorts, one could reach other members of the party line. Of course, you usually got the rest of the party line, too, as they listened in on the conversation.

Reluctantly, the mother finally gave in to her husband's pleading She called a neighbor and asked if he had any extra kerosene he could lend them. As it turned out, he had extra, but because of the ferocious snowstorm, he didn't know ow he could get it to them.

A little later, the author was sitting staring out the window into the darkness and the snowstorm. He dreaded the moment when kerosene would run out and his father would lose the battle with his own darkness.

Suddenly, he saw a light coming toward the house. He could just make out the Goat Lady carrying a pail of goat's milk in one hand and waving her other arm, as if to push back the storm.

Then the miracle happened. It was as if she really had pushed back the storm. The clouds parted, a full moon shone on the freshly fallen snow, and the stars twinkled like diamonds.

That was not all he saw. Coming through the woods from 17 different directions were more lights...the lanterns of their neighbors on the party line. The little house was soon filled with people and light. Not a single corner was left in the shadows.

Christmas cookies appeared out of nowhere accompanied by hot coffee. Fellowship and laughter rang out. Even his father's own personal darkness was dispelled by the light-bearers and the Goat Lady's pail of milk.

Before they left, someone brought in the family's kerosene barrel. Each one poured the kerosene from their lantern into the barrel, saving just enough to light their way home.

As the neighbors left, the boy once again sat at the window and watched as the lanterns went off in 17 different directions like the rays of a brilliant star. The light-bearers had done their work."

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Entertainer's favorite "Mom and nephew" story

The week before Thanksgiving, my brother in law had training at a location close to our house. So my sister decided that she would rather travel half a day to stay with us for 6 days instead of being home alone with a 3 1/2 yr old and a 5 week old. That was terrific even with the sleep deprivation that comes with a 5 week old in the house. I cleared my calendar as much as possible, went to the office occasionally, made hospital calls, but was mostly at the house. I told the secretary that I was holding a baby and to call if she needed me. When the Nephew whimpered, I held him and rocked him. I did everything but feed him. I stayed up late and stalled him when he thought he was hungry so my sister could get a few more minutes of sleep. We bonded. Then they went home.

Two days later, on the last day of school before Thanksgiving, after piano lessons, we traveled to their house for Thanksgiving/Christmas with the family. The grandparents (my mom and step-dad) arrived on Saturday. My Sister had just fed the Nephew and handed him over to Grandma to be burped and held so Sister could "get stuff done." After less than five minutes, the Nephew starts to fuss. Grandma cannot settle him and says, "Do you need your momma? Are you getting hungry?" Less than patient sister responds, "NO! I just fed him! That's why I gave him to you!" So I jumped in, "Here, give him to me."

I was sitting in a rocking chair just in reach of the couch where Grandma was sitting. I leaned over, she put him in my hands, he stopped crying immediately. Sister says, "What did you do?" With arms still stretched out, I held him up and said, "This."

She said, "He loves his Auntie Vicar." Meanwhile, the Entertainer and the SportsQueen fell on the floor laughing because Grandma couldn't calm him and all I did was get him in my hands, not even "tucked in," and he stopped.

The Entertainer continues to relive the moment by telling the story complete with arms held out saying, "This." Yes, we were all there. She tells us the story anyway. "This." giggle, giggle, giggle...

opposing parallels

I bought "WinterSong: Christmas Readings" by Madeleine L'Engle and Luci Shaw so I could participate in the RevGals book discussion. Well, then I didn't get it read in time to participate. I still haven't read all of it. I have read enough of it that the journal entry by Madeleine L'Engle titled "Opposing Parallels" caught my attention. With the sermon for Matthew 1:18-25 only partially formed, this will probably make the cut. Once again, Madeleine L'Engle gets quoted in a sermon

"A group of us from Regent and Vancouver School of Theology went to an excellent production of Much Ado about Nothing at Bard on the Beach. I've always loved the play because of Beatrice and Benedick, Beatrice being one of the best, funniest, and warmest of Shakespeare's women's roles.

Hero, Beatrice's cousin, and Claudio come off much less well. Hero is set up by the villain to look as though she is being unfaithful to her fiance on the eve of their wedding. Claudio believes the cruel hoax without question and then, with vicious cruelty, allows the wedding to take place as planned until the moment when the friar asks if anyone knows of any impediment, at which point he brutally and publicly denounces the innocent Hero.

It reminded me of another man whose fiancee seems to have betrayed him at the last minute. Instead of denouncing her, having her stoned -- the customary punishment for adultery -- he lovingly decides to send her away to some safe place.

And then he is willing to believe the angel who tells him not to be afraid to take the young girl for his wife, for the child within her is from God."

I wonder if Shakespeare was aware of the opposing parallels?"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

the nephew

My nephew was born in October with hydrocephalus (old school version: water on the brain). He had surgery to have a shunt implanted. Other than the shock and emotional distress, all that went well. Shunt is working, incisions healed well, etc. At that point, the main task is to wait for him to grow and develop to know if there is any brain damage.

On Monday, he was diagnosed with Cortical Visual Impairment. That means, his eyes work but his brain doesn't know what to do with the information the eyes are sending it. In other words, he is blind.

This is the first evidence that there is brain damage. Our prayers are that this is the only thing and that his brain is able to develop enough that the impairment is not complete. We covet your prayers, too.
Site Meter