How are you all doing during this Advent? Are you, like me, struggling to remember the spirit of this season amidst all of our culture’s hustle and bustle and expectations that we create the perfect holiday gatherings, joyful Christmas letters, and amazing gift-giving experiences? As much as I know that this season is so much more than this, I get caught up in all of it – and this year somehow seems far more challenging with news of Aleppo and Mosul, the Dakota Access Pipeline, concerns about refugee welcome, and the appointments to the president-elect’s cabinet. I keep looking for Jesus in unexpected places but I am having trouble focusing.
Last night, my congregation held a Blue Christmas Service. The weather was “frightful” so not many were there but the words that the Rev. Diana Walworth shared speak to my heart. She reminded us that the first nativity was no Norman Rockwell snow globe:
Mary was incredibly young, a mere child herself. She was unmarried – in the pangs of labor – in a town far from home where no one would even give her a room in which to give birth. She ended up in a stable – not scented with pine or cinnamon – but with animal manure! She wrapped her baby, not in a baby powder scented soft blue blanket, but in bands of cloth, possibly a feed sack made of itchy burlap. She laid him down in a pile of prickly, lice and flea-infested hay and straw in a less than hygienic feeding trough. There was no beautiful music playing – only the noises from the animals mulling about. There were no sparkling colored lights hanging around the stable – only the light from the moon and the stars, and possibly a candle.
She reminded us that, no matter how lovely the snow globe or custom nativity we place on our mantles, they are not the reality of that night – nor of the years that followed. Diana continued:
In sanitizing the Christmas scene, they have removed the comfort from the Good News! The comfort comes in the smelly pile of manure! Manure is real! Manure is life giving! Manure encourages growth! A manure-scented stable is where our VERY real God chose to enter our human world….
We find comfort in the fact that God didn’t just enter the human world in a smelly, dirty situation and then move on to something better. Jesus lived, and worked, and spread the love of God, and experienced the same real, manure-filled situations that bring all of us here tonight!
Jesus lived in a world with leaders like Herod, Pilate and Caiaphas, a world full of as much political corruption and terror as we have with our government and Putin and ISIS.
The Holy Family fled their own country and became refugees, not unlike the families from the Middle East or the Mexican immigrants Judith passionately writes about in her blog.
Jesus may have not suffered from mental illness but his family and friends were often convinced he did! Jesus suffered the wrongful imprisonment and murder of his cousin John… the death of his friend Lazarus… and the betrayal and suicide of his friend Judas.
Society ridiculed and belittled him for choosing friends who were looked down upon… children, women, the sick, the poor – much in the same way people are bullied for being black or gay or Muslim or whatever way in which they are different.
When things got tough for Jesus, his own close-knit band of brothers deserted him, some even denying they ever knew him.
Jesus was tortured, convicted unjustly, and killed in front of his mother and friends, very much like the people we hear about on the news each night.
God, in and through Jesus, has truly experienced humanity, in all its joy and sadness, and beauty and darkness, and well, manure. God knows EXACTLY what we are going through and is ready and willing to share our burden and offer us the comfort we so desperately need.
I wanted to share that with you, my friends, because I take great comfort in remembering that God came to us knowing exactly what was happening and how messy and smelly our world would be. But that’s not the end of the story. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Christmas message provides the ending:
From Isaiah Chapter 9:
For unto us a child is born,
unto us a Son is given;
and the government shall be upon His shoulder;
and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
These words of Isaiah are often seen as words that foretell and foreshadow the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary. The truth is, these words befit Him because this child changed the world. This child changes lives. This child changes us.
I remember when our oldest daughter was a baby. My wife and I were young. We were footloose and fancy-free. It was just the two of us newlyweds, so if we wanted to go out to eat dinner, we went out to eat dinner. If we decided to go to a movie at the last minute, we just went. We actually felt like we had money back then. And we did have a little bit of discretionary income. We could pretty much do what we wanted to do, within reason, and we didn’t have to think too much about the consequences or impact of a spontaneous decision and what we had to do to make that happen.
And then, all of a sudden, this little, innocent human being, a little child, came into our lives, and literally gained control over our entire world. Before we could do anything else we had to think about, “Who’s going to keep the baby?” or “Is this a good time for us to go without the baby?” We soon learned that we were not in control of our lives anymore. Even our sleeping patterns became very different. We would stay awake when the baby was awake and we went to sleep when the baby went to sleep. Literally this child began to control our lives and the child didn’t even know she was doing it. And then we had a second one she did the exact same thing. And I’ve since learned that that’s what babies do. When they arrive they take over! And their parents begin to develop their lives around this child. To mold their entire lives around this precious needy baby.
Isaiah wrote, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” This child who was born of Mary changes everything. This child born in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes changes how we live. This child born to the sound of angels singing Gloria in excelcis Deo — this child to whom the wise ones came from afar bearing gifts — this child, changed the way the entire world works.
And this Jesus, born into a world torn by strife and hatred and division and pain and poverty, this child is born anew wherever men and women say, “I’ll follow Him. I’ll follow Him as my Savior. I’ll follow Him as my Lord.”
When this child grew up, He said His reason for coming, again quoting Isaiah, from the 61st chapter, he said,
The spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach Good News to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty all those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
This child, when He grew up, came to show us the way to live lives of love, lives of compassion, lives of goodness, lives of kindness, lives of justice. This child came to show us how to change the world. So this Christmas, make room for him to change us. This Christmas help us change the world. And make a new commitment, to go out from this day, to let this Christmas Day, be the first day of a new world.
God bless you. God keep you. Have a blessed Christmas. A Happy New Year. And go on out and change the world!
God came. And God comes still. God comes to change us and to change the world. That’s the purpose behind this blog – hopefully to give all of us tools and resources to go out and make the changes. To stand with those who stand alone. To speak for those who have no voice. To work for those who have no power or authority.
In light of Advent – and my need for some de-stressing and self-care – I wanted to give you those words this week and, because I am passionate about the many needs around us, let me share a recent request from Standing Rock. This message came Wednesday, December 14th to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church Facebook page, from John Floberg, Episcopal priest to the people on the North Dakota side of Standing Rock:
Many people are asking me what they can do next on behalf of Standing Rock. While the DAPL Pipeline may be particular to Standing Rock, the issues of Tribal Sovereignty and the respect for Treaty Obligations are not unique. What has begun on Standing Rock, that seems to have swept through our Church, needs to find its incarnation in all of our dioceses/congregations.
This forum is maybe the broadest forum available to get to our Dioceses and possibly then to our congregations. I am asking that each of our congregations recognize the Indigenous Nation and their Tribal Territory in the Christmas Bulletin.
That recognition that could be worded something like this: “St. John’s Episcopal, worshipping within the Territorial Lands of the ____________ Tribal Nation.” Remember, some of the Nations were removed from their Territorial Land and may not reside there any longer.
If your congregation is near one that was relocated you might write: “St. John’s Episcopal, neighbors of the _______________ Nation whose Territorial Lands are in the State of ________________.”
There is a high likelihood that the Doxology has been translated into their language. If you are able to print that Doxology in that bulletin (many languages use the common English alphabet). Send Christmas Greetings to the Tribal Chair/Council and Faith Communities in those Nations. To honor a Tribe by recognizing that you are in their ancestral territory and to acknowledge their language is likely the very next best thing that can be done by Episcopalians.
I went to my local resource – a good friend at the college – and learned that the Potawatomi were relocated from the region where St Michael’s and All Angels, Cambridge Junction is now located. I was unable to find the doxology in Potawatomi but my friend shared a link where I could find the Gospel of Matthew. I think this verse might be appropriate in a Christmas bulletin:
1:23 PInI! she’shksi kIncuko ku’okwIsIcI otI okishInkanawan Ime’niun; i ie’i KshmIne’to kuwice’okonan e’kItok.
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
It’s a little thing, for sure, but it is something we can do that might change our focus and serve as a reminder that most of us, in fact, were like Mary and Joseph – refugees to a land not our own. Maybe even a little change of focus will help us to see Jesus more clearly at his coming!
Let us pray as our Savior taught us –
|6:9. OtIsI ktashI matumawa; Nosnan e’in shpumuk kishkok, ke’cne’ntakwuk ktIshnukaswun,||9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.|
|6:10 Kto kumau’wun kupie’mkIt. Nocma kte’ne’ntumwun knomkIt shotI kik, ke’cwa shpumuk kishkok.||10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.|
|6:11. MishInak otI nkom e’kishkiwuk e’tso kishkuk, e’shwisIniak.||11 Give us this day our daily bread.|
|6:12 Ipi pone’ntumwIshnak mIsnukInanIn ninanke’ e’shpone’nmukIt me’citotmoiImIt, mIsnumoiumke’shiIk.||12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.|
|6:13 Ipi ke’ko shonIshikak ke’tshI kwcItipe’nmukoiak, otapInIshnak caye’k me’anuk; kin ktupe’ntan okumauwun, ipi kshke’ e’wsuwun, ipi iw kcIne’ntakwsuwIn kakuk. E’me’n.||13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.|
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council