Monday, December 26, 2011

Jesus Got an iPhone for Christmas

Every year, something whimsical delights my soul during Christmas. It is as if something random and not-so-sacred becomes a window showing me the true light of the season.

This year, it happened at the Living Nativity at the church I serve. This was my maiden voyage with a Living Nativity. I was learning how to be the backstage manager, running lights and directing the cast into their places. A recording of the Christmas story played over the radio as the people came in drive-in theater style.

The youth and the children did a great job. It was one of the adults that gave me trouble! One was recruited to help out as a wise man. He got to the entrance door behind the manger, and suddenly looked at me in surprise. "I don't have a gift!" He asked if I had it. We joked that he came to the party empty handed. I explained that the gold, frankincense, and myrrh were back in the dressing room in the church building. "I'll go get it", he said.

"Um, I'm afraid you go in about 20 seconds from now, so there's no time." He puzzled for a moment and then his face lit up. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an iPhone. That would have to do. I said "hold it up like this," lifting my hands as if holding something quite precious.

So he went into the manger holding up his iPhone in reverence, knowing that its weight in gold would have been a valuable gift. When it came time to lay the gifts before the baby Jesus, he laid it down beautifully.

That's how Jesus got an iPhone for Christmas.

Christmas isn't about giving the "right" gift. It's not about "getting it right" at all. It's about doing what we can, as human as we are, and giving what we have anyway. It's about the little drummer boy.

We'll never "get it right." Thank God that Christmas is not about giving the right gift at all ... it's about God's GIFT of salvation.

If it were up to us, we could never fix the broken world. We tried to save ourselves for generations and it never worked. All of our great ideas to fix things just end up making a bigger mess. So a great miracle happened.

God didn't just "come up with a good idea". God CAME. He dwelt among us and the simplest things became sacred. The incarnation makes all the difference.

It's funny how an iPhone in the manger scene reminded me of the power of the incarnation.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nothing Can Take the Joy of Christmas Away

This is my devotional which appeared in the Upper Room Devotional Book today. May you and your family have a hopeful and expectant Advent.

To read it in the Upper Room, see the Upper Room Devotional Website.

Third Sunday of Advent
Read: Luke 1:46-55

A couple of weeks before her last Christmas, my mother announced during prayer time in worship, "Even though I have been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and the prognosis is not very good, I want everybody to know that nothing can take away the joy of my Christmas!" Her courageous words are etched in my memory.

Reading Mary's Magnificat each year reminds me that no matter what happens, our lives are part of a bigger picture. Pregnant and unmarried, Mary would have to make a long, uncomfortable trek to Bethlehem on a donkey's back and finally give birth to her son in a barn. Yet after the angel's words, Mary sang--because she knew God was doing something. In spite of her situation, she realized that she was privileged to be part of a larger movement of God's mercy from generation to generation.

Claiming Mary's spirituality as well as my mom's would mean that no matter what happens to us, we can sing. When we keep our eyes on God, nothing can steal the joy of Christmas.

Stephen P. West (Alabama, USA)

Prayer: Gracious Lord, even when we are aware of life's struggles during the holidays, may we find that they are indeed holy days. Let nothing distract us from the joy that the Incarnation brings. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Prayer focus: Those living with cancer

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Candle Lit Altar

Altar at "Candlelight" at a recent Walk to Emmaus at Sumatanga. The candlelight tradition of welcoming pilgrims by the communion of saints always feels like a glimpse of heaven to me. May the light of Christ touch each of you during this holy season. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Spirituality of Longing

Longing and waiting are difficult concepts for us in our culture. We are used to fast food, fast cars, and fast answers. We are accustomed to having a world of information at our fingertips with laptops and smart phones. We expect pills that will immediately take the pain away. Simply put, we don’t like to wait.

I love Advent for all sorts of reasons, and I’m thoroughly enjoying my first Advent at my new church. I love the music, I love the missions, and I love the families that work and play together as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ!

But one of the main reasons I love Advent is that it puts us in touch with a deep spiritual reality that we too often neglect. The things of the Holy Spirit take time. Feasting on the Word is not a fast food meal but an experience to be savored. Prayer is not a quick fix but an invitation to be changed from within over time. Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight but can be quite a journey. Feeling at home in a local church takes “making a home” there, building relationships that last. A deeper relationship with God is not something we can download instantaneously.

During Advent, we become people who get in touch with that part of ourselves that is empty for God. In a way, Advent is counter-cultural in a time when we expect instant results. I pray that this year, we prepare a manger of the heart for Christ to be born anew.

That’s the spirituality of longing. It can change your life.