December 21, 2007

Homecoming Joy

One of the great joys of the Christmas season is going home. Many will leave big cities and travel to small hamlets scattered across this great land; some finding their way back to home places that have been in the family for generations. There are a few of us who will find ourselves celebrating the home going of loved ones. I am one such person this season.

Just this morning I stood by the bedside of a sainted lady in our church mere moments after she had taken her last breath. She was 5 days shy of spending 94 years on this earth and had consistently wondered for the last several years why God had left her here so long. Widowed for 60+ years, no children, and little other family remaining she had not outlived she felt quite lonely. However she never felt alone. This dear woman always shared about the nearness of God in her life. I often listened with rapt attention to her accounts of God's nearness longing for that same, irrefutable sense of His presence. Her words to me were, "But you are so busy, and I have nothing to do." I knew then, and I certainly know now, who was the one more blessed.

Several years ago my youngest son accompanied my wife and I to a funeral. He was 4 1/2 and intensely interested in the solemn proceedings of the day. As the graveside "Amen" was said and others were hugging family and sharing some final words of kindness Clayton was insistent that we move to the graveside. I obliged and took him to where the casket was about to be lowered into the ground. He very studiously peered into the hole in the ground for several moments. His curiosity satisfied he took my hand and we began to walk away. After a moment he said, "Dad, I don't think I like heaven." I sank to one knee looking into his intelligent eyes and said, "Oh, son, heaven is not a hole in the ground!" Taking him into my arms I shared with him what a wonderful place heaven is for those who know and love the Lord. It is a moment, with my son, which I cherish.

In the midst of this Christmas celebration there will be those who go home. Some to houses full of laughter and joy. Some to homes prepared for them by the hands of the Maker Himself. "I go to prepare a place for you, if it were not so I would have told you." (John 14:2) Joy shall reign.

For more advent reading check these blogs...

December 18, 2007

An Artful Dodge

Browsing the morning on-line news ran across this Q&A concerning Mormonism. Interesting that the LDS church took a pass on seriously coming to grips with some of its most nagging questions. Funny reading their responses. Sounds like they've been listening to Collin Raye's "That's my story (and I'm stickin' to it)".

Let's face it, Mormonism, no matter what kind of socially acceptable dress you put it in, is still a very different theological animal than biblically orthodox Christianity. I've posted on this topic before and will likely post again because it will continue to come up with Mr. Romney's run for the Oval Office. (For the record, I have ZERO problem with him as a candidate for president because of his Mormon beliefs. "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." (The Constitution of the United States of America) Still exploring the field to see who I like.)

Mormonism is like a birthday cake I once had the pleasure of eating. A "friend" baked a pone of cornbread and then covered it in wonderful butter cream icing and completed it with candles and birthday wishes. To all outward appearances it looked like a birthday cake but one bite quickly dispelled any notion that this was birthday cake. Mormonism looks like a Christian religion, but alas, it is not.

One question I would enjoy hearing the Mormon church come to grips with is the absence of archaeological evidence for this grand civilization which they purport existed in the western hemisphere. To my knowledge not one of the cities mentioned in the Book of Mormon has ever been discovered.

December 14, 2007

He Came Like This?: A Consideration of "The Adoration of the Magi in Snow" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Adoration of the Magi in Snow
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
(~ 1525/1530-1569)
1567 - oil on wood

If you, like me, are new to this great work of art, stop here and open this piece full screen. You need to first react to this piece without a lot of commentary.

I showed this piece to our church family at a Wednesday night gathering and simply asked, "What do you see?" I did this without telling them the title of this painting and their observations were intriguing. Here are some of their comments....
"Lots of snow!"
"Looks like people are struggling just to walk."
"Is that a church on the right hand side? Are they building it, repairing it, or tearing it down?"
"All the people are dark."
"It's bleak."

After a few minutes of hearing their comments I shared the title, "The Adoration of the Magi in Snow" with them. Here's what they said then...
"Jesus wasn't born in the snow!"
"Where are they?"
"I'm pretty sure Bethlehem doesn't look anything like that."
"I don't see any manger scene in this painting."
"Are you sure there are magi in this painting?"
"If this painting is about worshiping the baby Jesus, why is everybody running around doing other stuff?"

Shortly after pointing out the enlightened magi all of their other observations began to coalesce into a firm understanding. Bruegel got the birth of Christ right and the message is inescapably powerful.

John 1:14 states, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." For Christ to come to Bruegel's world that meant a world of cold and darkness; a world of self-absorbed survival. Into the business of drawing water and gathering wood Christ came. In the middle of a busy afternoon Christ arrived. Not in the middle of town but in a stable. Off the beaten path and out of sight. Only those who were looking for Him found Him. This truth speaks to us. We are intimately acquainted with this condition.

After viewing this work by Bruegel I have found myself wondering what he would have painted if he were from Alabama instead of Northern Europe. I'm pretty certain there would be a train passing through town in the background with a couple of log trucks waiting at the crossing gate. There would be some old timers smoking cigarettes outside the auto parts store, a few teenagers oblivious to all but themselves and their cell phones, the trustee's from the local prison cleaning the curbs, and the stop light dutifully changing from red to green. Somewhere on the edge, maybe at the flop house that passes for a hotel in our town, would be the marvelous event. Sure, a few would notice the strangers in town and wonder what was going on but wouldn't be concerned about their presence so long as they didn't hang around too long.

That pretty well sums up our experience with this marvelous event. Whether it's trudging through a relentless snow or through an uninspiring life we're not likely to look up and discover the marvel among us. The very thing that could bring hope to this hopelessness will likely, yet again, pass unnoticed by the vast majority of us as we fight the crowd at the mall or spend unnecessary energy on cleaning the curtains for the company that's coming. He is Immanuel. God with us. Right here. Right now. Oh for the grace to see Him.

(Be sure to read Carol's review of this work and check here for more advent reading.)

December 13, 2007

Saints with Dirty Feet

Carol has posted her side of our continuing conversation of art, history, and religion. She writes from the perspective of one "in the know" and I write from the perspective of a pastor viewing art for the first time (in most cases). Don't miss the comment posted by Toby. I fear his insight and keen pen (or is it keyboard in this digitized era?) will far exceed my small ability. It is worth your time to read and consider. Please check in tomorrow for my comments on this marvelous and relevant message.


December 11, 2007

Merry Tossmas!

Thanks to Mike over at The Upper Room for posting this at his place. I enjoyed it so much that I too wanted to get in on the "holiday" fun. I think my family will be participating in this new "holiday" tradition! Take a look for yourself here and let me know what you think about the idea of Merry Tossmas!

December 7, 2007

Hope Comes Softly

Harsh reality can knock the shine right off the tinsel. There won't be enough money to buy everything we want to buy. $3/gallon gas will keep some from making a journey to be with family. Airport delays and cancellations will frustrate the travels of many, unmercifully stranding them with thousands of other disgruntled strangers in airports across our fair land. An unexpected death will cast an inescapable chill over an otherwise warm home. Notices of foreclosure or garnishment will reach mailboxes just in time to be placed under the Christmas tree with all the other gifts.

These are only the headlines on page 1 of the daily paper. Dig deeper and discover the student struggling through finals wondering if this single test grade is enough to salvage a semester or open the door to the next step. Find also the family entertaining the visitor from the Department of Human Relations questioning whether the kids should stay or go. There on page 3 is the man undergoing triple by-pass surgery the week before Christmas and the 97 year old lady who has outlived her family spending another lonely holiday with other forgotten people. I could go on but it seems this imagined paper is better suited for fire starting than enlightenment.

Most of us will pass through this season with a dim recognition that not all is well. Most will seek to push back the ugliness with a few extra ornaments. Others will seek to stifle the stench with another sprig of evergreen. Still others will drown the sorrow in glass after glass of Christmas cheer, only to discover that it is anything but cheer-filled. The pursuit of the perfect gift will preoccupy the thoughts of some, allowing them to ignore the dull ache behind the heart. However, there will be moments of quiet when the anything-but-lovely pokes its head through our consciousness to disturb us yet again.

And hope comes softly. As unmistakable and unobtrusively as Christmas lights shining from a front porch on a dark night, it comes. Made welcome by its absence, hope comes breathing life into our lifelessness, light into our darkness. It doesn't erase our burdens, it merely makes them bearable as we remember we are not abandoned to the darkness nor enslaved to despair. "In Him was life and that life was the light of men" (John 1:4). It comes softly, almost imperceptibly. Nevertheless it comes. Will we recognize it when it comes or will we rush by it in our pursuit of peace and joy?

Hope comes softly. A child. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory... full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

(For further Advent reading start here.)