While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Luke 2:6-7, CEB
Just as Mary and Joseph cared for Jesus in his humble birthplace, may we too care for Jesus by caring for those closest to us. I pray as well that our reflections on the Nativity story will open our hearts, and our guestrooms, for Jesus to be borne into our daily life experiences.
This reminds me of the last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
The smile of a child and the laughter of children as they play make the world go around day after day.
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” Matthew 21:16, NIV
Happy Valentine’s Day! Here is a little free-verse for you.
Whatever the origins of this holiday are
and no matter what culture and society
have done to monetize it,
this holiday celebrates
the love we have for one another,
which can quite rightly include
God’s love for us,
and ours for God.
May we be known as a people
who love God best
by loving others well,
and that everyday for us
would be Valentine’s Day.
As I read this, my religious self wants to say, “What must I do to be good enough to see God?” This type of thinking fails on two levels, doing and seeing. Purity of heart is not something we do, but something we are. Purity of heart has more to do with relationship than it does righteousness. Throughout the Bible, the condition of our heart is shown by how we relate to one another. Jesus taught, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:35) When we speak, we speak to those around us. What is our heart communicating through our words?
How does the condition of our heart help us to see God? We first need to define what it means to see God. I believe that God’s self revelation comes in ways we don’t immediately expect. No one expected Israel’s messiah to come in the form of a peasant child, born to an unwed mother in a stable in Bethlehem. We may not expect to see God in our family members, neighbors, friends, or co-workers. If we do, we might hope to see God in the people we like and love, but we might not expect God to be revealed in the people we don’t know or even care for. I believe that God’s self revelation comes through the people and situations we find ourselves in, with them.
We can know the purity of our heart by how we treat one another. What if we feel that our heart is not that pure? This is actually a continuation of Jesus’ previous saying in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” There we found that mercy comes from empathy. To be pure of heart is to love God by loving others the way we would love ourselves. Living in love is both a work of the Holy Spirit and a choice we make. I find that I am more loving when I set myself aside to meet someone where he is at. It is in being present with those we are with that we find we can love them as they are. It is also a work of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit begin with love. (Galatians 5:22) When we commit our lives to follow the indwelling Spirit of God, we commit ourselves to live a life of love as Jesus loves. Jesus said that the role of the Holy Spirit is to reveal the Father and the Son, which is the purest relationship ever. God is love. We love God when we love others. When we love others as Jesus does, we live out of the purity of our heart, which is the outworking of the Holy Spirit within us.
Religion wants to complicate what Jesus simply calls love.
May we grow in love as we seek to honor God in the face of those we find ourselves with, and may we see the face of God in the face of our neighbor!
I am a task oriented person, and a bit perfectionistic at times as well. It is easy for me to pay more attention to getting something done or getting somewhere than it is being present with those I’m working or traveling with. I’m sure most of you have no idea what I’m talking about!
For about the last month, I’ve been meditating on Jesus’ third statement in the Beatitudes.
Meekness is not weakness. It invokes a spirit of humility, but that’s not all. A definition I’ve been working with lately is “strength that embraces it’s limitations.” At first I approached this definition with the attitude that meekness was the ability to say, “I can’t do everything, but what I can do, I’ll do it well.” But, I began to realize that meekness is also the presence of mind to say, “I don’t need to do everything that I can do well.”
An example that came to mind is that my family and I went on a hike last Saturday. We were at a place that had quite a few trails that led to different points of interest. We didn’t have a map and thought we were going to a specific place, but ended up somewhere else. Since we weren’t exactly sure where we were, we just went back the way we came.
One of my kids said, “Well, this is kind of pointless!” And, he was right. We lacked a spirit of adventure. Our hike turned into a trek from point A to B and then back, instead of enjoying the scenery and the people we were with (our family). It would have been so much more enjoyable if we hiked until we felt we had gone far enough and said, “Let’s see what we can find on the way back!”
Meekness is a complex ideal in regards to wisdom, learning, caring, and being. Meekness can also be simple in its application. It is being true to yourself and those you are with, and enjoying the moments you have together. From there, the potential for fruitful outcomes is endless.
I’ve always wondered why Jesus said that the meek would inherit the earth. I’m realizing that we possess our experiences. We can receive them as an inheritance, not only for ourselves, but also as something we can pass along. Meekness informs how we live our lives so that we can be a blessing to others.
My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will lead us into ways of meekness, so that we will inherit an earth that honors God and those we love and that we would be proud to hand down to those who follow us.
This last Monday was Columbus Day, and I got the day off. My family and I decided to take a little drive and enjoy the day in Pacific Grove. The weather was perfect. The traffic was easy. It seemed like everything was poised to be a banner day of relaxing, reconnecting, and recreating. There was just one little problem, which had the potential of becoming something much bigger. I hadn’t prepared myself to be present with my family as we enjoyed one of our favorite places in the world.
Asilomar State Beach, Pacific Grove, CA
I had believed that if I just get there, everything will be different, everything will change. I was looking for a magical fix.
Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:5)
Joshua gave this direction to the people of Israel just before they crossed the Jordan river, leaving the wilderness and entering the promised land. The “amazing thing” was that the Jordan river would temporarily stop flowing so they could cross on dry ground like they did crossing the Red Sea. Joshua wanted the people to prepare themselves for this day, dedicating themselves to the Lord, so that their expectation would be in God and that they could full experience the wonder that was about to happen.
In my lack of preparation I ended up bringing all my distractions with my, both internal and external. I could have left them behind. I could have said that I will deal with this thing or that thing later. I could have said that Facebook can wait. I could have worn clothes that were less nice so as to not worry about getting wet or sandy or dirty. And the list goes on…
My saving grace is an understanding wife. I don’t remember what she said or how she said it, but in a moment we came together and realized that the only time to experience this moment is now. Everything else can wait.
The preparation only took a moment, and the rest of the day was fantastic. The most important part of the preparation was realizing that I had to practice at being present. It’s not automatic or magical, but a deliberate choosing to focus on who I was with and the beauty of the place I was at. In the end we did find relaxation, reconnection with one another, and recreation.
Disaster narrowly averted. Lessoned learned. Thanks for listening.
One evening this last week I was listening to the radio on my way home. I caught the last few minutes of an interview. I don’t remember the program or the person being interviewed, but I remember what she said.
She was talking about an exercise in simplicity with the purpose of becoming more present to the situation at hand. The exercise was to take a measure of rice or sesame seeds, let’s say one cup, and count the grains. After a few minutes, most people will become completely overwhelmed with the task because of our inability to focus on one thing at a time.
Her contention is that technology is outpacing our brains’ ability to cope with its advancement. If we allow, we can be inundated with stimuli in the form of information, media, and competing goals and expectations. She was giving an exhortation toward presence, which is staying attentive to the person or task before us.
This has many implications, but the three that immediately came to my mind were family, community, and church. All three require us to be simply present. Presence, especially in the family and church, is expansive. It can be said that it is the presence of God being collectively expressed in the present. This is the basis of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23.
I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.
May the grace of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit empower us to become present to those who are near and dear to us.