The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
Dreamers are often too easily dismissed. We love to hear the words of the prophet Isaiah at this time of year, but do we take them seriously? You see, in the prophet’s day, people found Isaiah to be a bit strange. He was a dreamer who spoke words that pointed to a time that was too good to be true. He spoke of a day that was impossible to imagine. Most dismissed him and his words because they couldn’t see what he could see.. To be a prophet, you had to see beyond what is in order to see what could be. Today, there are many of us who have an issue with seeing as the prophets of old call us to see. We are willing to settle for a mediocre version of our world and of our faith.
Can you allow yourself a bit of privilege this day? Give yourself the joy of getting a glimpse of seeing life not as it is, but as it can be. Not just for yourself, but for everyone. Isaiah is pointing us to a day when the oppressed will hear good news, the brokenhearted will know wholeness, captives will know freedom, and prisoners will gain release. The world will be turned upside down. He is pointing us to a time when God will use a baby born in a humble manager to signal that the day is upon us.
Redemption is promised. That redemption will not so gently nudge us out of our comfort zones and into God’s future. Will this be the time when you and I decide to see something bigger at work in us and through us? I hope and pray so, because God desires all to know wholeness and to know that beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is love. Allow yourself to see the world not as it is, but as it can be.
The administrator at church got in the habit of clearing my calendar and marking me out during the second week of January. The first time it happened I asked her about it. She was smart enough to observe that I put so much into and ran so fast during the Advent season, that once the adrenaline stopped flowing my body would shut down. I was always sick during the second week of January.
As we enter the season of Advent that leads to Christmas, clergy know how important this season is in our spiritual lives. Leading up to Christmas, your pastors will be fully immersed in the life of the church and all that happens during the season. While your pastors are doing much for you, here are three easy things you can do for your pastors.
Be Kind, Don’t Criticize
When the tree lights don’t go on at the appropriate moment at your Hanging of the Green, or the Advent candles don’t have sufficient enough wick to light, your pastors are the first to notice. Trust me, anything you notice that seems out-of-place or didn’t go as expected, your pastor notices long before you did and it bothers them twice as much as it bothers you. Clergy spend months planning a meaningful season that will make for a powerful journey to the manger for the congregation. When something doesn’t go as planned, its tough to take. After all, something is going to go wrong and when it does, your pastor needs words of encouragement and gratitude.
Remember That Your Pastor Has a Family
Family celebrations, stresses, and logistics are part of this time of year. Pastors are no different from anyone else. She is working on being a full participant in family gatherings and activities on top of the ministries of the church. They desire to be a fully present spouse during the season. He wants to spend time with kids or aging parents just as you do. When the final Christmas Eve service is finished, pastors are going home to help their spouse face the three most feared words in the English language: Some Assembly Required. Trust me, putting together a play kitchen at 1 a.m. isn’t all that its cracked up to be. Give your pastor space to take part in their family’s celebration. Know that they might be dealing with some of the same baggage around family issues that you are. Find ways to honor their commitment to family.
Give an Extra Financial Gift to your Pastor
An extra financial gift collected among the congregation makes a big difference for your pastor. Many congregations are generous when it comes to additional gifts. As we learn more about the slippery financial slope upon which many pastors sit, a gift like this becomes even more important. To make it “the gift that keeps on giving,” consider using the gift to add to their retirement account or college savings account. In a season in which we lift up great causes, remember that your pastor is a great cause.
I put up Christmas lights yesterday. For someone who doesn’t like to climb ladders, this is a daunting task. In Atlanta, we had a neighbor who held nothing back when it came to putting up Christmas lights. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, he would begin a two-day project of putting up lights, inflatable characters, and whatever else he could get his hands on. Any display that anyone else put up paled in comparison. The neighbors would gather out in the street, shaking our heads and lamenting that we just didn’t have enough lights when compared to the Clark Griswold of the neighborhood.
This time leading up to Christmas is a time when many of us feel like we are not enough. Our inadequacies in what we don’t already own are suggested through each Black Friday advertisement. “You must get here at 6 am to get this deal. You can’t live without it.” We are led to believe that we need more to be enough. We feel the need for everything to be spotless and eloquently decorated for holiday house guests. We are led to believe that perfection leads us to be enough. The mail overflows with perfect family holiday cards, touting how good everyone looks and how well their grown children are doing. Inevitably, we wonder why our family is not as perfect and we feel like we aren’t enough. A struggle for me is the feeling of inadequacy comes from not leading a congregation through the Advent season for the first time in a long time. Will I be enough without this leadership role in this holy season?
Here’s the thing; Christmas is God’s way of saying to each and every one of us that we are enough. If a baby born in a humble manner is enough to bring light to the whole world, then surely it is enough to remind you and I that we are enough. The trick to really getting Christmas is to remember this great truth in the face of everything that would tell us different. We need nothing else to be enough in God’s eyes. No lights, no material goods, no perfect Christmas card, nothing changes the way that God sees us.
One of my favorite quotes for this time of year is from the late Peter Gomes, who reminds us, “For those of us who believe that the greatest gift is the gift of love, Christmas is the ultimate and most intimate expression there is. The child in the manger is the means whereby God’s love is presented to the people whom God loves”
I need that reminder. We are the people whom God loves. You are enough.
It’s Valentine’s Day, which originally began in the church, of all places, as a feast for the saint Valentinus. The story goes that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for those who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to followers of Christ who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. As the story goes, he was put to death around February 14.
We mostly celebrate today with flowers
chocolates, and cards. It’s become a big day for the Hallmark company. We would be remiss not to remember what we celebrate on this day and the responsibility given to us.
Valentinus had the courage to defy orders from the Roman Emperor in the name of love. Anyone who has known love knows that there is risk involved. We become vulnerable when we love another and when we allow another to love us.
The Apostle Paul tried to capture love’s essence is his letter to the church at Corinth when he wrote that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This is a real, flesh and bone kind of love that cannot be captured by a Hallmark card or experienced during a Lifetime movie. This is the kind of love that originates from the way God first loved us. Jesus understood this as agape love. Agape love is the universal, unconditional love that God has for all of creation. As a child of God, we are called to embody this unconditional love towards others. This is a love that can take all that is broken in this world and make it into something that is whole and good. That is the power of love.
What is the best way to celebrate one who so boldly risked and eventually gave up his life for the power of love? Perhaps it is to live each day empowered to love boldly and fearlessly.
Grace and peace,