Musings from a Pastor, Educator, Wife, and Mother

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"You Have A Great Day, Mommy?"

Last week I wrote about how difficult it has been for my son to transition to a new classroom at school.  I mentioned how at the end of every day, after crocodile tears every morning, Kemper says, "I had a great day."  Last night, on the way home from church after a meeting, Kemper said, "Mommy, I had a great day.  You have a great day, mommy?"  "Well, yes I did have a pretty good day. Thank you for asking," I replied. 

I spend a good portion of my day at my desk reading emails, planning lessons, organizing programs, or working on worship.  These are things I like to do, things I like to think I do well.  And I always take joy in checking things off my 'to-do' list.  But that isn't what made my day great.  The thing that makes my job most enjoyable during the day in and day out tasks of ministry are the people I work with.  Collectively, we get a lot done in a day's time, but we are sure to have fun while we do it.  Sure, there are tough situations to work through, problem solving to be done.  But, in the midst of that, there is an undercurrent of friendship and support. 

I saw a question a few days ago asking, "what do you and your staff do for self-care?"  The biggest thing we do is support one another.  We listen to one another and offer support to each other as we can, whether the conversation is professional or personal, we are present for each other.  I cannot tell you what a gift that is when you are having a hard day and you just need someone to confide in (or vent to). 

Second, we like to laugh here!  If there was not some battle of wits taking place over sports teams or general sarcasm, I would really be concerned.  Lord help us if our new head of staff does not have a sense of humor (PNC, please read this is a must!).    I think that we work so well together because we are willing to share a joke and tease one another all in good fun.

Finally (although this is not an exhaustive list), we trust one another to do our jobs.  There is no need for any micromanaging in this church office.  We have a firm grasp on what our responsibilities are (which isn't easy because it has changed up quite a bit in the last year) and we trust one another to follow through on what needs to be done.  In addition, if one of us becomes overwhelmed and needs help, we know we can ask one another.  If someone is out for a personal matter, illness, or vacations, we all work together to fill in the gaps.  Because we know that health and family are important, in fact they come first. 

So, yes, because of the staff I am blessed to be a part of, I had a great day.  Most of my work days are great days.  Not everyone can say that they walk into work to do a job they love among people that they love, and for people that they love.  I know I am very fortunate.

What about you?  Do you have a healthy work environment? In what ways do you and your co-workers maintain a positive atmosphere? If you don't have that experience, how does your faith inform how you interact with your colleagues?  What could you do to enhance the experience to become more positive? 

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Hard Week

It has been a hard week to be a mother.  A hard week to be a wife.  A hard week to be a pastor. Just a hard week. Deadlines, responsibilities, fatigue and general grumpiness.  Ever have those?  I'm sure you do. 

The hardest part of our week at home has been the mornings.  You see, our son Kemper started a new class at his school last week. Every morning for the last week our little toddler has woken up crying because, in his words, "I don't wanna go to big classroom."  Our little one has left the familiar space of a class he has been in for eight months or so, and moved across the hall, leaving behind beloved teachers and close friends, for a new teacher and older children, some of whom are friends, and others who are "big kids" and seem a little scary.   Even though the schedule is basically the same, his routine is much the same, there is so much newness it overwhelms him.   The amazing part of it is that every afternoon when we've picked him up he has run to me and said, "Mommy, I had a great day!"  But somewhere between dinner and the next morning, the great day is forgotten and the anxiety sets in again. 

Transitions are hard.  We recognize that don't we, Covenant? Transitions are unfamiliar, and messy. Transitions are frightful and frustrating.  The unknown is agonizing. In 3 years Covenant has had 2 longtime pastors retire.  We've also had an adult ministries and volunteer coordinator and a youth and activities director retire. We have a new preschool director this year.  There has been a huge shift among both staff and laity in terms of ministry responsibilities.  We waited while we called an interim.  We waited while we hired a new youth director.  We wait, still, for a new Pastor/Head of Staff to be called.  God knows he/she is out there and will guide our dedicated PNC in God's time. There is a new class of elders and deacons and we are launching a new organization of leadership with five ministry teams comprised of elders, deacons, and laity.  I feel overwhelmed just typing it all.   Transitions are hard.

But you know what, at the end of each Sunday service I think, "Lord, we had a great day."  At the close of ministry team meetings and staff meetings I think, "Lord, we had a great day."  When we collected 3,324 cans of soup for our community, "Lord, we had a great day."  When I finish chapel time with the preschool children, "Lord, we had a great day."  When we send out college care packages in such abundance that we cannot pack it all into the boxes, "Lord, we had a great day."  When families and visitors return week after week to become involved in our Covenant community, "Lord, we had a great day."   

Somehow, we have to overcome the anxiety, the fear, the inertia, we feel in our transitional time and focus on the great day.  For Kemper, we've tried all sorts of things to encourage him this week.  We've taken him to the playground, we've gotten him special dinners, we've talked about how brave his new Ninja Turtle shoes at school can make him.  We've even let him carry a batman figurine in his pocket.    As a church, we have all the tools we need to come out on the other side of transition.  We each bring gifts and talents to the table, if we are willing to recognize and share them.  We have the Bible to guide us and Bible Studies, Classes, and committed teachers to help teach and interpret alongside us.  We have dedicated leaders who focus on the daily operations of our church, and members who have spent considerable time guiding us to discern who we are and where we are going.  We have the joy of small children and the inquiring minds of teenagers. Even more importantly, we have our Gracious God on our side! 

Next time you begin to feel overwhelmed by the changes or struggle with the difficulties of the past or the uncertainty of the future; ask yourself where the joy in your calling to love God, love people, and make disciples comes from.  Find something that inspires you to say, "Lord, we had a great day!" 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Camps & Conferences: Soul Food for Today's Youth

I've been reflecting a great deal this week on what my camp and conference experiences have meant to me in my faith journey over the years.  As a teenager, I attended presbytery-wide youth retreats, weekend conferences at Massanetta, and week-long conferences at Montreat, both for Youth and Worship & Music.  I was truly fortunate to be part of a congregation that supported these events financially, in their physical presence, and in their prayers.  As an adult I've served on the Presbytery Youth Council, been on planning teams for various retreats and conferences, and attended conferences with youth groups.  It never fails to amaze me how rejuvenating these experiences are for our youth.  I firmly believe that these experiences that are set apart from "regular" Sunday School, Youth Group, or Worship are vital for our teenagers to build stronger relationships within their peer group at church.  Today, more than ever, I find that these opportunities are essential to the faith formation of young Christians and I'd like to share my reasons with you, so that you can support your youth: in finances, in presence, in prayer. 

1)  Road Trip! Traveling or "going away" with your peers is important.  The bonding that can happen on a long car ride is life changing! Perhaps parents or youth have the illusion that youth leaders lock the van doors and force kids into painful discussions on faith and Bible quizzes--not unlike the threat of the uncomfortable "birds and bees" talk while driving down the highway.  In my experience that isn't the case.  However, some fun, ice-breaking discussions can be planned in a pinch if the ride gets boring.  The key is to get the youth engaging with each other and not just on their phones or listening to headphones on the trip.  Some of my favorite memories involve walkie-talkies and van driver code-names so we could all communicate even in separate cars. Some youth may be old hats at this, while others will be nervous to go away for the first time. A lot of times, bonding in the car helps calm the nerves.   Let's not dismiss the value of gas-station snack breaks and public rest stop stretches. There's nothing quite like setting out on an adventure together.

2) Covenant Check! There is value in coming together and building a covenant between all parties involved in the camp or conference.  Perhaps there are specific rules given by the conference that needs to be addressed.  But, in addition to this, the teens and adults who are in this thing together, can gather and build a covenant that everyone can abide.  It can be a time of great laughter if everyone is coming up with silly things to add to the list in jest. But even more important is the transformation that begins to occur when youth are reflecting on what is important to them when living in community together. The foundation of each covenant is respect.  A lot of times things like, "Don't talk over one another in back home group time" and "Don't go anywhere with out a buddy" and "no purpling" or "leave room for Jesus" make the list. Whether living in a house together, or being roommates in a dorm, mutual respect is taught.  Everyone has to agree on the terms and sign the covenant in commitment to work together and hold each other accountable.  I guarantee at some point in the week you'll hear a youth call someone out and say, "Covenant check (this may not always be serious)!"

3) Walking on Holy Ground.  These spaces of worship and learning that are set apart for God's people are sacred.  Sometimes they are described as "Thin Places" because the presence of God is more easily experienced there.  Oftentimes at camps or conferences, participants have what we might call,
"mountaintop experiences," which bring them into a more intimate relationship with God. 
I've said before, I believe that people are hardwired to long for the presence of God, to seek places in their lives where God’s presence is palpable; holy ground, thin places.  We learned this from Moses, who needed assurance from God that his presence would go with him; he wanted to meet God face to face. For me, Montreat is such a place and has been since the first time I went there.  While it is every pastors hope to create thin places in worship and all congregations want to have mountain top experiences in their own churches, there is something special about going to a place set apart, where all of the efforts and energies are focused on drawing closer to God and Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It gives you some momentum to return home to your every day reality with a renewed spark of the Spirit.

4) Being Affirmed in Faithfulness.  There are many extracurricular activities in which our youth can build community.  Sports teams, especially travel teams create community through both traveling together, participating in the sport, and creating collective covenants as a team.  Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts also create great spaces of community through fellowship and service.  There are many other valuable clubs and opportunities for our teens to experience.  But there is something deeply stirring about attending a camp or conference where you are surrounded by other people your age who are struggling to figure out what it is that they believe.  Suddenly you are in a place where it is safe to talk about what you believe, or ask questions about what you don't know.  In workshops, worship times, and small group gatherings, youth can focus on a particular theme that is relevant to their place in life, and supported by a Biblical foundation.  They can sing songs that reflect their faith, they can witness other youth in leadership, they can feel that there are adults around them who not only have some recollection of what they are going through, but deeply desire to listen and guide them on their faith journey.  Participants can draw closer together within their youth group, but they also get to meet teens from other churches, whether right down the road or several states away.  We all know that with modern technology, those relationships can continue for years to come.  I have a friend I met at Montreat in 2001.  We have remained connected through all these years, we ended up attending the same seminary and now have shared experiences in ministry.  Making friends with people who are not in your immediate community can be a huge blessing to a young person who may struggle with something too painful to share in their immediate context. 

5) Learning a language of faith.  Young people don't have many opportunities to be vocal about their faith in most cases.  Retreats, camps, conferences give them a chance not only to consider their faith but find ways to articulate that faith to others.  Maybe they see for the first time that worshipful music can be played with a wide variety of instruments.  Maybe they experience Communion in a large group where they can be served the elements and also serve someone else.  Maybe they find that art, dance, and theater can all be ways in which we talk about God.  If we adults are lucky, we will have a chance to have these youth return to church and reflect on their experiences.  We can be blessed by the messages that they bring back and also in the ways that they convey that message.  In the best of all circumstances, they will return changed, and if we are paying attention we will be able to see a stronger group at work, with a sense of belonging and purpose for the shared ministry of the church.   If we are smart, we will find ways to encourage their enthusiasm and channel their mountain top experiences into positive reinforcement for a lifelong journey of faith. 

So. Encourage your youth to attend.  Embolden them to take a leap of faith.  Equip them to express what they've found. Empower them with your encouragement and your prayers.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Morning After Reflection

This week's post is written by a guest blogger, my dear friend since middle school, Rev. Erin Gaston Morgan.  Erin is the Associate Pastor for Youth and Outreach at South Aiken Presbyterian Church in Aiken South Carolina where she lives with her husband Jeff.  Erin has degrees from Presbyterian College and Columbia Theological Seminary.   When I tell the story of being King Herod in the Christmas Play at Bedford Pres, in which I was interviewed by a "reporter a foot taller than me," this is her!  I am blessed to call her a friend and a sister in Christ.

Erin was involved in the planning and implementing of a special event in Aiken over MLK Day and here she shares her reflection. If you'd like to read more about the event, attached is an article from the Aiken Standard Race relations discussed at King Day event in Aiken.  Thank you, Erin, for your willingness to work toward reconciliation for all God's people.  And for your willingness to share your reflections and your heartfelt prayer with us in this way.

"It's only by God's grace that this King Day Dinner and Movie Selma event happened, all were fed (loaves and fishes), and conversations were had around the table. I am struck by how similar our gathering was to the many gatherings of the women, men, and young people in the 1950s and 1960s. These brave souls ignited the Civil Rights Movement and set a Holy Spirit fire throughout our nation that manifested in more equal rights in more lives through the love of God. Folks, the civil rights movement is not over. We still have a lot of work to do. We are stronger when we work together, regardless of background, color or creed.

I am in awe at the power of the Holy Spirit because what took place last night was true communion fellowship with sisters and brothers in Christ. It's what Jesus modeled with his own disciples time and again. It's the love that Jesus modeled with the Jews and Gentiles, yes even with those Pharisees. It's what Jesus modeled even to those folks (governmental folk and street folk alike) who killed him when he stood up for love, truth, justice, and peace. The promise of the Easter resurrection reigns true each and every moment of our lives. Death never wins, but God’s love conquers all. 

Christ’s own words from the gospels of Matthew and John echo in my ears and touch my heart: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’ 
Friends, we will continue to have these difficult and necessary conversations. We will not stop with words but will act with love toward one another until we are truly able to see one another as beloved children of God. Lord, bless our incoming president, Donald Trump, and his team, whether we voted for him or not, whether we agree with them as a leadership team or not. May God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be the lamp that lights our path as we build bridges of love and peace for all people. Christ is the bread of life. 

This is my hope and my prayer to the One who cries first at hatred, discord, hurt, pain, and injustice:
God of all ages, take away our fears and shed light in places void of love and hope. Now when our land is troubled, be near to lead and save, precious Creator. May leaders in our nation, community, religious bodies, neighborhoods, offices, homes, and streets be led by your wisdom; may they search your will and see it clearly. If we have turned from your way, help us to turn back and ask for forgiveness. Give us light and your truth to guide our steps & continue the conversation. 

We are a nation of immigrants. Heal this land and all lands across the globe that have been destroyed by warfare, power struggles, arrogance, rape, hurt, and fear. Giver of Life, we lift up our incoming leader and his team, whether we agree with them or not. When times are prosperous, let our hearts be thankful; and, in troubled times, do not let our hope fail. 

Continue to grant prophets, holy God, to cry out for justice and mercy, to say things that we don’t want to hear or admit about ourselves. Give prophetic, every-day people the fire and love of your Word. Grant, O Creator, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that the barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease, and that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace. Lord, Martin Luther King, Jr., fondly known as “King” was one such person. He once said in a sermon on courage, delivered on March 8, 1965, in Selma Alabama: "A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true." 

Giver of life, throughout the years, you have given women, men, children, youth, and adults the voices to stand up for that which is right, regardless of birth, station in life, economic status, political status, job or no job, likes or dislikes, belief or creed, origin of belief. May we not forget this call that has been given to us as human beings, seres humanos. Convict us that it is okay and right to stand up for those things that matter: for our neighbors that don’t talk like us, for our neighbors across the street, on the other side of the tracks. May we not be silent about things that matter, for we know that death comes with silence. Life follows in the footsteps of speaking the truth in love. May we all be instruments of peace who empower life-giving conversations and opportunities instead of death and destruction. 
This we ask in the name of your one and only Son who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When The Church Takes A Snow Day

When the church takes a snow day it means no one comes calling before worship.  Meetings and Classes are suspended until next week.  This gives people the extra hour or so to dig their cars out of the snow, add that one extra layer on before facing the frosty temps, or enjoying that extra cup of coffee. 

When the church takes a snow day it means meticulously crafted bulletins are set aside for next week because the service reflecting on the Baptism of the Lord is perfect for ordaining and installing new church officers.  And you want to have a good turnout for worship in light of such celebrations.  It means the date on the cover will be wrong. But it means the content of the service will be right.

When the church takes a snow day it means everyone sits up front.  No one left behind to sit lonely in a faraway pew. Nametags reflect the colors of the window-stained.  Choir members mingle with friends they do not often see.  Children wave as they enter the scene.

When the church takes a snow day it means the pastor has taken the time to create a new, simplified order of worship because attendance is sure to be light.  It means everyone from the staff to the ushers is surprised when more bulletins need to be made before church begins. More and more cold noses and warm smiles trickle in. 

When the church takes a snow day it means we have a substitute pianist, one who is known and loved in the church.  One who plays the simplest of hymns with joy and unknowingly selects one of my favorite songs for the offertory. 

When the church takes a snow day it means the pastors "shoot from the hip."  Robes are discarded in offices and liturgy is led from the Communion Table.  It means children and church members receive the message God intended for them. How to spread God's words from their own mouths.  "I love you. I forgive you." 

When the church takes a snow day it means no lemonade and cookies after church is over.  More importantly, it highlights the nature of friendly conversations enduring long after the sounds of the piano have ceased.  Regardless of whether there were snacks. 

There is a hint of magic in the air, in the quiet that lay with the white covered ground.  Community abounds.  When the church takes a snow day.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Attitude Is Half The Battle

Where are you on your New Year's Resolutions?  Did you make any? Do they typically stick?  Mine have been to drink more water and get exercise every day.  So far today I've had two cups of coffee and been sitting at my desk for three hours. 

I woke up this morning thinking to myself, "Attitude is half the battle."  I repeated that mantra as I wrangled my son into the car.  I repeated it again, aloud to him, as he whimpered that he didn't want to go to school today when I unhooked his car seat.  I told Pastor Carl about it at my desk this morning.  He laughed and said, "I don't know about half...."

I've been thinking about the upcoming holiday celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.  This year we will host our second Mini Vacation Bible School on this date.  Last year we talked about the good Samaritan and the charge to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  This year I am pondering the story of Ruth.  I love the story of Ruth and Naomi. I love Ruth's tenacity.   In Ruth's case, attitude was definitely half the battle, at least half.

When Ruth lost her husband, she was still quite young.  She could have returned home to her parents and married again, a person from Moab rather than the immigrant husband she married the first time. The narrative infers for us that Ruth still had prospects, as did her sister-in-law, and mother-in-law Naomi knew it.  Naomi, however, didn't have anyone else. She lost her husband and her sons.  She was a foreigner in a land that was not her own.  She had no choice but to return, a widow, to the land of Judah.  Naomi encouraged the two women to return to their homes.  But Ruth stood fast, she committed to traveling with Naomi, "Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die I will die and be buried."  Ruth was committing, whole-heartedly to Naomi, for life.  Had Ruth's attitude not been one of positivity, love, persistence, and faithfulness...well our story would end here, completely changing the course of our Scriptures.  Attitude is half the battle. 

When the women arrive in Bethlehem, Naomi sends Ruth, who is, by the way, now a foreigner in a strange land just as her husband was in Moab--to glean from the fields what has been left after the harvest.  When Boaz, owner of the fields hears that Ruth has returned with Naomi, he encourages her to take what she needs from his fields and drink water from his well.  He saw in her, the tenacity--the great love and kindness she took to travel so far with Naomi.  Had she not been faithful, humble in this way...what might have happened to Ruth and also to the aging and widowed Naomi?  Attitude is half the battle.   

In the end, Ruth finds a new husband, she is married to Naomi's kin, Boaz, the very same who was so kind to her in the fields.  It was a risk for Ruth to present herself to Boaz in the threshing room, she was demonstrating her serious intent at marriage, but what if Boaz had turned her down.  Ruth put herself in a position where she had no control and very easily could have been shamed and lost what little opportunities she had gained in Bethlehem.  Boaz accepts Ruth and promises that all those in the village will know her to be a woman of noble character.  Brave. Dedicated. Fierce.  Attitude is half the battle.

Ruth married Boaz.  She had a son, Obed. Obed had a son, Jesse. Jesse had a son, we know him as King David.  And so the line to the great king, our Savior, Jesus Christ. In the genealogy of Matthew, Ruth is even listed by name along with several other women.  Not a practice you'd see in genealogy records of the time. 

And so, in this short story from the Old Testament, we are witness to so much of what Christ would have us be and do.  Perhaps, in hearing the stories of his ancestors, Jesus himself learned what it meant to feed the hungry and give drink to those who thirst--as Boaz did for Ruth and Naomi.  Perhaps, from these stories, Jesus recognized the importance of welcoming the stranger--from Naomi's family entering Moab due to famine, and from Ruth the Moabite being welcomed into Judah by Naomi, Boaz, and the community.  Perhaps, from his ancestor Ruth, Jesus learned the art of tenacity and the importance of committing one's life entirely to God and to God's people. 

Maybe this is where our focus ought to be in 2017.  Forget the fad diets and the expensive gym memberships you never use.  Give yourself a break when it comes to organizing that closet or cleaning the house.  At least, let those goals be secondary to the lessons we glean from Ruth.  How do you show love to those around you?  Are you committed to giving your time, your talents, your very life to God and all of God's people?  Are you willing to stick your neck out for someone else, so that they might have the very necessities of life, the same opportunities you have each and every day?  Are your eyes open to the immigrant, the stranger, the naked, the hungry?  Are your ears open to the cries of the oppressed?  I'm not asking if you yourself are the one oppressing them( although check yourself on that too).... I am asking, do you hear them?  Do you see them? Can you help them?  My thinking is that with the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life, yes you can.  You see, attitude is half the battle. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Loren Tate Mitchell

Original text from 2012

Is 61:10-62:3, Lk 2:22-40


It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas


Our cultural celebration of Christmas has now come and gone.  And since we’ve been seeing commercials and hearing the music since Halloween, for some of us it is none to soon! Gifts are unwrapped and Santa is back home in the North Pole.  Soon the decorations will come down and be put away for next year.  You gave gifts and you received them—for some this was Christmas.  Others enjoyed a family get together.  Families came to share a meal, to laugh and talk.  For some this was Christmas.  Perhaps there were others for who Christmas was a depressing and painful time—maybe it was loneliness, shattered families or other health and financial problems.  Christmas means different things for different people. 

All of this is the cultural side but I wonder what Christmas meant for you spiritually?  Were you too busy entertaining and unwrapping gifts, or did you take time off to withdraw from the celebration for a moment and offer a gift to God? Was Jesus born in your heart again or is that something that you have put off until a later date? 

Did you know that the 12 days of Christmas are not actually the 12 days before December 25, but the 12 days after? We have largely forgotten the traditions of the 12 days of Christmas and confused them with the Christmas shopping season, which promptly ends Dec 25.  Widespread experience with the commercial calendar has encouraged a popular (but erroneous) assumption among consumers that the Twelve Days must end on Christmas Day and must therefore begin on 14 December. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which Christian tradition is followed. Twelfth Night is followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. In some traditions, the first day of Epiphany (6 January) and the twelfth day of Christmas overlap. These days are important because they give us a way of reflecting on what the Incarnation means in our lives. Christmas commemorates the most momentous event in human history—the entry of God into the world He made, in the form of a baby. The Logos through whom the worlds were made took up His dwelling among us. So you see Christmas is not over yet, it has just begun.  We have some time left! 

Today’s gospel tells us about a man called Simeon who waited a whole lifetime for Christ to be born.  Simon seemed only to have one goal in life and that was to see the Savior. Scripture tells us that he was waiting for the relief of Israel and it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. 

What a surprise it must have been for Simeon, as well as Anna, and all who saw this bundle of joy with their own eyes!  Here is a beautiful child, but still just a child, no different in appearances from sweet Lily Ridenour or little Carson Hamilton.   What’s more surprising is the message that he has come for all people, to deliver the Jews and the Gentiles alike.  Jesus was not—is not—just a symbol of hope and victory but he came to lead the people into a new self understanding and a new relationship with God. 

We’ve been waiting, all of this advent season we have been waiting and now he is here!  Do we recognize him?  If we don’t recognize him we go through life as if it is the land of Narnia… always winter and never Christmas!  You know how I am inspired by music when writing my sermons.  This time my help comes from Christian musicians Jars of Clay who have a song called Carry Me which says this:

January 1, I got a lot of things on my mind
Looking at my body through a new spy satellite
I try to lift a finger but I don't think I can make the call
So, tell me if I move 'cause I don't feel anything at all....
Carry Me, I'm just a dead man lying on the carpet can't find a heart beat
Make me breathe, I want to be a new man, tired of the old one, out with the old plan

It’s January 1, we’ve got a lot of things on our minds.  The world keeps spinning faster and faster and we have to keep up.  But as the lyrics of the song imply, if we simply go through these motions we become numb until we can’t feel anything at all.  Christmas comes into our lives to revive us, to remind us of the love of Jesus that comes to carry us, to rejuvenate in us a new person!

 Just like Simeon, we’ve been waiting to see Jesus and here he is.  Friends, Christmas isn’t over, this story is just beginning!  Are we ready to hear the truth of Christ and accept him?  The truth is that God is on the side of the poor, the sick, the lame, the mistreated—all those sometimes rejected by the affluent, the high achievers. God came to dwell among us for all people.  Joseph and Mary come to the temple as a poor couple with two doves and a pigeon to give as an offering to God. Their child was born in a donkey’s feedbox, they live on the margins of society cast out to the margins by a foreign power.  Here comes Jesus, who grew up to become a wandering preacher with no place to call his home, surrendered by his closest friends into the hand of vindictive powers.  Yet through this child who grew (as every other child does) into a man, Simeon’s prophesy was fulfilled, is a surprise that only God can bring, for God’s thoughts and ways are not our own.  Who could have possibly imagined that God would resolve Israel’s plight through a suffering Messiah?  It is still hard for us to wrap our minds around!  Is this the Messiah that you know?  Do you recognize him?  Is it beginning to look a lot like Christmas?

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the Messiah we have been waiting for!  Think about it, what kind of things do you typically wait for?  Getting a present, achieving a goal? Landing a job, finding a spouse? Winning the lottery?  Having a child, building a home?  Where does our desire to fill our lives with things end?  In truth, here in this child whom Simeon and Anna recognize, is a greater destiny and a fuller grace.  There is the consolation that your sins are forgiven, your future is assured.  And with our identification with this suffering servant, there is also the assurance that in our problems and our sorrows there is one who has been there before us and comforts us in a way that no one else can. 

There is a biblical parallel to Simeon in one of Jesus’ parables known as “the pearl of great price.”  It is found in the gospel of Matthew.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  The merchant finds a pearl which is so spectacular that he realizes that nothing else matters as long as he has the pearl and thus he sells everything else to obtain it.  Now in doing that he has gotten a real bargain.  He may have paid millions for the pearl but it was greatly undervalued since its worth was billions.  When the merchant has the pearl he desires nothing else.  In the same way, when Simeon sees with his own eyes the Messiah, he knows that this is the pearl of great price.  Nothing else matters anymore because he knows the Messiah, the Savior, has come. 

The lesson for us to day is that we should not be content to go through life without truly knowing Christ.  Knowing Jesus is a dream that is within our grasp.  Simeon’s dream can come true in each of our lives, we can know him personally.  We can have a relationship with Jesus as our friend, brother, savior, Lord and king.   There is nothing wrong with our dreams of success, of wanting to be comfortable in this world, to have a family or getting a good education, these are wonderful goals as long as they do not prevent us from experiencing the joy of recognizing Christ.    

Furthermore, if you do know Jesus then be content.  In other words, it makes no sense to be a Christian but to think that true joy and fulfillment are found elsewhere.  This isn’t to say that nothing else matters.  God has given us responsibilities in this world to work and home and school.  God wants us to be involved in the lives of our families and friends.  God desires for us to attend our grandchildren’s ball games and concerts.  True followers of Jesus do much more than sit around reading the Bible and singing hymns.  It is a way of life! But we must remember that nothing is more important than our relationship with God. 

The question is this: Are we finding joy in the great gift God has given?  Are we ready to be a new man, out with the old plan?  Do we understand Christmas as well as Simeon did?  Do we recognize that Christmas is not just one day a year? Do we realize that Jesus’ coming means more than anything else in our lives?  The best way to celebrate Christmas this year is to embrace Jesus as the Messiah, to give thanks to God for what he has done, and to find joy in the gift of our savior. 

When we think about New Year’s Day we think about resolutions!  I’m going to exercise more!  We’re going to eat out less!  I’m going to give up reality T.V.!  We’re going to stick to our budget!  And we will start… tomorrow!   As a week goes by you start to backslide, and then by Feb 1, you can’t remember what you set out to do in the first place.  I have another resolution for you. Replace your old one or add this one to your list. 

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and I want to encourage you today to be like Simeon: live in anticipation of Jesus.  Will tomorrow be that kind of day for you?  Amidst the cleaning up from festivities, on the early drive to work, will you be looking for Jesus?  Don’t live in the land of Narnia… the one that is all winter and no Christmas.  Amen.