A Very Merry (or not) Christmas
Christmas Prayer Podcast and 1 YEAR ANNIVERSARY!
Hi Friends - So I’ve been at this (off and on) for a year now!
Thank you for those of you still with me. I’m actually shocked when I don’t see hordes of people unsubcribing each time I send another newsletter. From someone who has thousands of unopened emails, I understand email overwhelm and I appreciate your willingness to read my attempts at “wise” ramblings.
So over the last month of Advent I’ve been writing and creating a weekly prayer podcast for my church. I’ll be continuing it for the next five months. So my attention to the newsletter has been stretched. But as the next podcast is on Christmas and will come out on Christmas morning, I thought I’d preview it here for you. It’s raw and without the cool music stylings of my producer Jeff, but I think you’ll dig it.
Today is a Prayer for Christmas Incarnation:
As a theater teacher one of the notes I’m constantly giving young actors is resist playing the end at the beginning. Play the moment you’re in now, don’t telescope the end of the story into this present moment.
In the same way, it frustrates me when people layer Easter on top of Christmas. I mean, can we not play the end at the beginning please? To say that Jesus was born to die for our sins is telescoping the whole story. Truncating it into a quid pro quo algorithm. Jesus was born to live. And to teach us how to live.
That might even be jumping too far.. Let’s just say Jesus was born. And here’s what’s amazing about that. As Ronald Rolheiser, OMI says “at Christmas we celebrate the incarnation where we are fundamentally changed from being Theists, or people who believe in God, to Christians, or people who believe in a God who was made flesh in Christ.”
Why is that a big deal?
Once the word is made flesh, God is no longer separate, hidden but is now Emmanuel, god-with-us. I love the way Rolheiser talks about Incarnation so I’m going to share a bit of his teaching with you.
Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of Zorba the Greek, once told this parable:
A man came up to Jesus frustrated about the hiddenness of God. “Rabbi,” he said, “I am an old man. During my whole life, I have always kept the commandments.
“Every night of my life, I have not retired to my bed without first saying my prayers. But . . . I look at stars and wait, wait for God to come so that I might see him. I have waited for years and years, but in vain. Why doesn’t God reveal himself?
Jesus, in response, smiled gently and said: “Once upon a time there was a marble throne at the eastern gate of a great city. On this throne sat 3,000 kings. All of them called upon God to appear so that they might see him, but all of them went to their graves with their wishes unfulfilled.
“Then, when these kings had died, a pauper, barefooted and hungry, came and sat upon that throne. ‘God,’ he whispered, ‘the eyes of a human being cannot look directly at the sun, for they would be blinded. How then, can they look directly at you?
“Have pity, Lord, temper your strength, turn down your splendor so that I, who am poor and afflicted, may see you! “God heard his prayer and became a piece of bread, a cup of cool water, a warm tunic, a hut and, in the front of the hut, a woman giving suck to an infant.
“Thank you, Lord,’ he whispered. ‘You humbled yourself for my sake. You became bread, water, a warm tunic and my wife and son in order that I might see you. And I did see you. I bow down and worship your beloved many-faced face!’”
As poet John Shea says, through Jesus’ birth, through incarnation - Jesus made God as accessible as the village well. We celebrate many things at Christmas, but the birth of Emmanuel, God-with-us - is the incarnational reality of a God who makes himself known to us in the smallest, most ordinary of things.
And here’s the good news.. Jesus wasn’t just a 30 year experiment in incarnation.. No Jesus is the invitation for us all to be the embodiment of love and grace and joy and peace and kindness and patience. To live the life that Jesus modeled.
Living. Breathing. Embodiment.
But again, we can’t play the end at the beginning. Incarnation is not Ressurection. Implicit in incarnation is humanness. So it’s vulnerable, messy and capable of suffering. Jesus does not abolish suffering for himself or for us. But he is with us in it. We can also celebrate Christmas in the midst of pain.
I met with a pastor today who just led a Blue Christmas service at her church. I had never heard of it. It’s a service where you can come to celebrate Christmas without having to leave behind your suffering. It’s a space to acknowledge and offer one’s struggles and say “Beloved, anoint my pain with your presence.”
“Christmas does not ask us to make-believe,” Rolheiser so wisely says.
Howard Thurman the theologian, mystic and civil rights activist understood this call to incarnation. Hear his poem, Now the Work of Christmas Begins..
When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.
Keep us from conjuring the Christmas we think we should have.
Instead, allow us to make space for the Christmas that is,
and only is, you.
Teach us to stay in the moment of new life a little longer
in the moment of enfleshment, of first steps, of gurgling laughter.
Help us not to skip over your life,
But invite us in as we invite you
into our hands and feet to do your work.
Show us where we may be bread for the hungry
And a cool cup of water for those that thirst.
Let Christmas be our own annunciation.
Let us see you, Oh God, in all your messy humanness
That made blood and tears sacred.
Let us gaze into your beloved many faced - face.
And whatever we are this day, let it be enough.
Anoint our pain with your presence
So that we may be present, in the flesh, to our lives.
Thanks for praying with me. Take Howard Thurman’s words as a blessing that you can carry into the 12 days of Christmas with you.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins.
May we find the lost, and be so found.
May we heal the broken, and be made whole.
May we feed the hungry, and be satiated ourselves.
May we release the prisoner, and in turn be freed.
May we rebuild the nations, and in so doing be empowered.
May we bring peace among the people, and so find peace.
May we make music in our hearts and sing our songs for all to hear.
Be well friends, join me next time as we continue our practice.
A Few Invitations..
In this next year I’d love to grow this newsletter and would love your help. If you feel so inclined to share with friends and family that you think might benefit, I would be most grateful.
Check out the podcast - A Prayer Practice I’ve heard it’s a good listen on your way to work on Monday mornings. There’s 4 episodes up: Hope, Peace, Love and Joy.
If you’d like to attend a Christmas service this year but don’t have anywhere to go, come with me! I’m going to go to one of the services at the Clayton site of The Gathering. Hit me up and I’d love for you to join me. Or if you’d like to join from home (or out of state), check out the site and there will be live streaming and recordings of the service.
If you are struggling and need a listening ear, reach out. Spiritual Direction is a helpful practice in the midst of darkness. You don’t have to have any specific belief system - its for everyone, right where you are. I’m happy to have coffee and answer questions to see if it might be a good fit for you.
And finally, feel free to leave a comment or reply to this email and send me your thoughts. You can disagree, share something that resonated or surprised you. I’d love to interact and get to know you better.