Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Toast . . .

The Spirits had shown Ebenezer that it was wrong to cheat and steal. But I say the Spirits were mistaken!

We must cheat!
We must steal!
We must drink!

We must cheat death!
We must steal time to be with our loved ones!
And we must drink in the happiness and warmth of this holiday season!

Friday, December 23, 2011

In a One Horse Open Sleigh

It was a cold, wintry Wednesday afternoon in December, 1980. After class at William Jewell in Liberty, I headed my old Dodge north to Nettleton, Missouri, to the little country church where a handful of kindly folks first called me "Pastor". This was to be a very special evening, taking a break from the normal routine of a little Bible study and a long prayer list. This was a night for Christmas caroling, hot chocolate, and family fellowship.

As I pulled off the interstate and headed east on Highway 36, the gray skies seem to open and big flakes began to fall. By the time I pulled off the old highway on the gravel road, a fresh blanket of white had brightened the bleak December landscape. I wondered if my people would still want to get out in this sudden winter storm, but I soon learned that these were not soft city dwellers, quick to cancel any plans at the first sign of snow. The good people of Nettleton Baptist Church were hale and hearty country folks who faced nature's surprises without hesitation or fear. Snow and slick roads never put them off.

As we gathered and huddled in the warmth of the church, I learned that a new plan was already in place. Our neighbors just across the road from the church raised a few horses and were also the proud owners of a large antique sleigh. Sure enough, in just a little while we were skimming along the snowy roads, stopping to sing all the songs of the season on frigid front porches and around warm wood stoves. I remember the almost mystical quiet of the countryside, just the sound of the horse's hooves plodding through the snow. What a beautiful, magical evening it was. I stayed over that night with Bill and Linda, sleeping on the couch near the fireplace. The folks were not willing to send me off in the snowstorm alone.

As I reflect on that wonderful Wednesday evening, it occurs to me that our Nettleton folks fit into the Christmas story rather well - common, country folks out in the weather going from place to place celebrating the birth of the Savior. Those original shepherds had nothing on us. The Good News of great joy is for all people. Go tell it on the mountain and in the valley, in the factory and on the farm, in the city streets and across the countryside, in the sunshine and in the snow storm - Jesus Christ is born.           

Friday, December 9, 2011

My "Immanuel" Moments

This Advent season I've been thinking about those very special, even sacred moments of my life - call them "Immanuel" moments - when God came near to me. When in the midst of crisis or pain or on a wave of great joy or in times of surprising epiphany, God shows up. Immanuel - God with me. Of course, God's always around, everywhere, all the time, but sometimes, much to our amazement the dark night suddenly lights up, angels sing, shepherds watch, kings bow. God shows up, unmistakable and unforgettable. May I share a few of my "Immanuel" moments with you?
  • As a little boy and the youngest of eight kids, it was a big moment for me when on Christmas Eve as we gathered around our tree, it was finally my turn to read the Christmas story from Luke's Gospel. As I read the words I could imagine the Christ Child smiling at me.
  • Once on the back porch of our home, as a sixteen year old boy I sat under a starlit sky and heard Him whisper my name. My life would never be the same.
  • Late at night lying awake on my bunk at college after my first date with Suzanne. I was just beginning to learn how to love from the Original Lover who seemed to be whispering, "Don't blow this, you dope."
  • In my little blue VW, stuck in a snowstorm and in a storm of heart-breaking circumstances, I suddenly realized I was not alone. Bethlehem's Boy was there in the bucket seat beside me.
  • The nurse in labor and delivery just said, "Here, hold your daughter," and introduced me to my new owner, a baby girl who along with her brothers, staked a claim on my heart and would teach me more about God's love than all of the colleges and seminaries put together. 
  • I remember a rental house just a few blocks from our church, as I was delivering all of the Christmas that we had collected for a struggling family. A young nursing student and mother of three thanked me as I carried in each load and assured her, "There's more, there's more." I'm pretty sure that Christ came with me, but He decided to stay awhile after I moved on.
  • It was an intensive care unit, as I held tightly to the hand of a precious friend and partner in ministry and assured her of our love and God's care. Someone with scars of His own came near and in a little while He took her home.
I call them "Immanuel" moments, when the God who came near long ago comes near to us, right in the middle of our lives. Tis the season to remember and reflect on your own "Immanuel" moments. How about telling your story? Maybe that's part of your "Good news of great joy" that is just too good to keep yourself.

And whether we laugh or cry, sing or sob, we know the Gift has been given, the Promise has been kept, a Savior has been born to us. Call His name Immanuel.