As the end of the year nears, and I think about kings from the east bearing gifts, here's three gifts I am challenging my congregation to give to Jesus this coming year.
Gift #1: Find Yourself In The Scriptures
For thousands of years now, people have been scanning the Bible, trying to understand how they fit into the covenant God made with Abraham. Some have decided the way they fit is by rising up with a sword, a gun, or some other weapon, believing that in their willingness to take life in the name of new life, that the God of the Old Testament will rise with them, blessing their efforts. Others have chosen to disappear into the wilderness either alone, or with a few friends, turning their back on the world hoping and praying that their little community will be redeemed. Still others have taken it upon themselves to let others know how their sins are destroying the chances for our corporate redemption. And many, maybe most, have decided that the world is going to go they way it appears to be going, and they've decided to just go with its flow. And yet Jesus emerged out of humanity's interaction with God, choosing to show us how to live as people not called to violence, or withdrwal, or condemnation, or resigned indifference, or cest la vie hedonism, but out of a higher calling to love God and others. May you find in the words of and about Jesus, the journey of Moses, the hymns of David, the anger of Jeremiah, the faithfulness of Job, and the advice of Paul, enough to inspire and convict you to find your place in the work of God's ongoing redemption of you, this community, and the world. To not feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the task, and yet find purpose and meaning within it.
Gift #2: Be Dispensers of Grace
Richard Dawkins, in his book "The God Delusion", posits the idea that the reason humanity is moral, and in his opinion, growing more moral as time passes by, is because we are genetically programmed to look out for our own best interests. In other words, because we are born selfish, we treat others well so that we might be preserved. Of course, while Dawkins claims that social cancers like racism are waning, simultaneously in his native England, the general populace is more convinced than ever that racial tension is growing into the most destructive problem they face. While I am sympethetic to Dawkins desire for peace, enlightened self-interest will not be the path that will enable us to discover that which eludes us. If Jesus' life teaches us anything, its that grace is a choice that must be chosen every day because what it costs goes against our natural tendancy toward self-preservation. Grace calls us to expend and extend ourselves. Grace beacons us toward sacrificial giving - giving our life away not for own benefit but for others - as the only way the world will become closer to the ideal for all. As the year emerges, let the daily struggle of denying yourself in significant ways become more your objective as we seek to leave God's fingerprints of grace on a world yearning for rest.
Gift #3: Let Love Cover the Multitude of Sins
I will remember the 2006 as the year our son Xavier, at the age of 4, developed a will of his own. Up until this year, whatever his big brother Max wanted, largely defined what he wanted. Then one day he woke up and realized that Max liked some things (like grilled cheese sandwiches), he just didn't care for. As he began acting out in a multitude of unacceptable ways to let us know that he was his own person, I found myself mired in a number of confrontations with Xavi where I was resorting to "do this or else" kinds of language to force him to do what we wanted him to do. While you can't stand by and let a child do whatever they want, you can't crush them into submission either. Somehow, we had to find new ways to listen to Xavier to understand what we wants, while he had to learn new ways to communicate with us so we could understand what his motivations were. This is messy and difficult, but its the price you pay if want children to discover that delecate balance we all must find between being independent and interdependent. Each of us must somehow, together, share one another's burdens, and in the messiness of the real world, where some sins are winked at and others are not, approach one another as sinners on a journey of sanctification who offer one another a great deal of love as fuel for the journey. Not condemnation, or rejection, but love and acceptance that gives space to let people learn from mistakes, and move forward. This is a harder journey to make, but it's the only one we must make if we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
I hope you all have a happy and safe New Year. Let's make it one where we give something of significance to the one who gave all to us.