Thursday, December 18, 2014

Oh Joy

As we circled the dining room table to light our family’s Advent wreath, the kids got into a fight over who would light the pink joy candle.
advent 3
I was not feeling very joyful after a full day of trying to keep them engaged and at peace along with working a few hours, attending an evening church service, and participating in our annual tradition of driving around to see the Christmas lights.
I was tired and frustrated, and wondered why the reality of our family traditions never matched the glowing image in my head of how it “should” be. I was ready to give up on the Advent candle-lighting entirely, but my son reminded me that we had skipped our Bible story reading the night before and had promised to do two tonight.
Should it really be this hard for us to have regular devotions in a family where both parents are ordained ministers? I often feel like I’m failing in the spiritual development of my children, a difficult irony as I have devoted my life to faith and ministry.

To read the rest, please go to the Ministry and Motherhood blog.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What are you waiting for?

I will be preaching the Sunday after Christmas.  As one who doesn't preach regularly, I look forward to the mental, spiritual, and exegetical challenge.  But as I sit and try to write, I struggle to find the words.  More than that, I'm not even sure what message to bring as Advent ends.  We have spent the season in waiting, but how will we feel when we get there?

I have two children that live for Christmas.  They have been making their gift lists since early fall and have been reminding us daily to open the Advent calendar boxes as we count down the days.  And every day, they sigh at how much longer they will have to wait (even though we're down to ten days).  Meanwhile, I'm counting down the days until my own holiday break from work.  There is so much to do, but I'm intentionally trying to let go of tasks so that I can actually enjoy this season.  Waiting, instead of rushing around, sounds like a terrific luxury.  I watch my kids and I can remember my own childhood anticipation of Christmas, along with the anxiety.  Would I get what I wanted?

I can also remember the letdown after Christmas, and continue to experience it.  Once the wrapping paper is no longer strewn around, the anticipation quickly turns into boredom.  It's about this time that my kids start fighting with one another since they have run out of other things to do.  I'm always surprised, although I shouldn't be.  It's the way of humankind.  We long for what we don't have, and once we receive it, it's no longer important to us.  The buildup can only last for so long, and then we crash into disappointment on our return to reality.

If getting the things we want doesn't make us happy, what happens when we don't receive that for which we had hoped?  I'm not talking about material gifts, but the promises of Advent that we share as we light candles on our wreaths: hope, peace, love, and joy.  Sure, we have been given these gifts, and can each point to examples of them in our lives.  But there remains an unfulfilled longing.  We continue to wait even as Advent ends and a new liturgical season begins.  We wonder if our waiting will last forever.

The holiday season brings grief to many; those who have lost loved ones and those who are lonely or overwhelmed.  For some people (especially ministers) the demands are too high for a time when we are called to remember peace and goodwill.  When the news is so hopeless, how can we find Christmas cheer?  And what is our hope in the New Year when our Christmas wishes have not been realized?  We are still waiting on the Messiah to bring us peace (even as we claim this gift of the Holy Spirit).  We are angry and saddened by the injustices of our world and we feel hopeless about how to right the wrongs.  We are tired and feel like the darkness might just win as we extinguish the candles on the Advent wreath.

We know that on this journey of faith, there is no arriving at a destination.  Like the Israelites wandering in their circuitous journey through the wilderness, we move in circles through the year from Advent to Lent and back again.  We never "get there", but we continue to become; we are continually transformed by our path.  We catch glimmers of hope in the light that guides us, like the stars and fire that guided the cloud of witnesses before us.  We see bits of the Divine in our neighbors and sometimes in our own hazy reflections.  We rise and fall and rise again.  We search for peace in our world, and not seeing it, realize that we must first find it within ourselves.  Faith is this continual holding on to hope even when all seems hopeless; it is the continued striving for peace when the act of seeking it seems like a war within us and between those outside of our community of similarity.

In this season, the only thing I know to do is to let go.  My own expectations often stand in the way of receiving what I truly need, so I will try to live in the faith that I will be gifted with what I need.  I will trust in the presence of God that is working in and through me, to bring redemption in the brokenness and to renew our hope.  I will believe what I shared in my Advent sermons that even when the Advent wreath candles are extinguished, the light of Christ lives on within us.  May we find the Light of the World that we seek so that we, too, can shine; helping others walking in darkness to see the bright light of hope.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

When hope seems small

We lit the candle for hope on our Advent wreath this week.  It seems a dark time for this little light as the news only provides increasing images of hopelessness.  It's cold and rainy outside and the inside is a mess as well.  We are struggling to make sense of the senseless: in this day and age, in a country that prizes democracy and freedom, how can we still have so much inequality and injustice?  I don't understand, and I fear adding my words to the mix of hatred and racism and misunderstanding that further divides us.

My life and work is grounded on the faith that we were all created equally by a loving God, and that we are made to live in community with one another.  But our holy scriptures and our lived experiences show us how difficult that journey really is.  In the Garden there was the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The first people chose poorly then, and we continue to do so time and time again.  Knowing good and evil, we choose evil.  We hide our fears in actions that instead bring hurt and pain to ourselves and others.  We have been exiled from the Garden and we separate ourselves from God and one another through our words and through our beliefs that our differences are insurmountable.  We have been told to "choose life, that you might live" but we have forgotten the One that is Life.  We have forgotten the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Jesus called himself the "Bread of Life" that is given so that we will never have to hunger again.  But we are hungry, and instead of bread we feast on gossip and slander and prejudice.  We gorge ourselves on being right and privilege and not listening to one another's perspective.  We try to satisfy ourselves with our own self-righteousness.  God knows I am guilty.  And hungry.  And empty.  Where is the hope in this?

But hope is a more powerful thing than we realize, and I need that reminder every Advent.  Things certainly looked hopeless in Jesus' time as well.  There was racism and classism and religious division.  There was oppression and slavery and imperial terror.  Into that unlikely time, a savior was born in the humblest of circumstances.  His birth was announced to the weakest members of society, the ones most in need of the good news.  And today we wait for the good news again.  It's not a passive sort of waiting, but a journey that takes us out of our comfort zone, into cold rain, seeking a light that the darkness cannot overcome.