CHRISTMASTIDE – Dec 25-Jan 5

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

“For unto us a child is born, a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6

Emmanuel – God with us!  The words of Isaiah foretelling a messiah were written many centuries before the New Testament, as we know it, was compiled from writings by the early followers of Jesus of Nazareth.  But, the message could not be any clearer because the world was not that much different back then from the world we have today.  Violence, oppression, intolerance, and poverty ruled the everyday lives of the commoners of the Jewish people.  And they, especially the acclaimed prophets, looked to a time when peace and justice would prevail.

Put aside the busyness of the season, forget about the rush to get a holiday dinner together for family, don’t worry about all those gifts that will be returned tomorrow.  Celebrate with gusto this day because it is a phenomenal event for the world.  Along with the sumptuous meals and joyous festivities, remember on this day the blessings of a gracious, loving God who dwells within each of us.  We can name that God whatever our tradition or conscience dictates, wherever the Spirit within leads, because on this day we have been freed from spiritual oppression and spiritual poverty through Emmanuel.  God with us. 

“For if the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed.”  John 8:36

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JOY to the WORLD

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

“You make known to me the path of life; you fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”  Psalms 16:11

the Gift

They came from the East bearing gifts;  but the One they came to honor was the greatest gift of all.

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“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be anymore pain: for the former things are passed away.” Revelation 21:4

Can we imagine a world as described above?  Probably not.  And most likely we should not expect it anytime soon.  Back in the 1960s, when life was young and irreverent, my contemporaries who had taken time to read the Revelation of the Bible would exclaim,

“Cool, far out, that dude John must have been on some kinda awesome drugs.”

Drugs indeed.  In my generation drugs, alcohol and sex were the answer to all of life’s problems.  We proclaimed it on the streets and in our music.  That was the world in which we lived.  Many stayed there, some died there, but God, for unknown reasons, brought a few into His world of forgiveness and grace – a place where all the sorrows and pain still existed, but we now had the tools to co-exist with death and heartache living life abundantly.

That is what the ‘greatest gift’ given to us in the teachings and words of Jesus, the Christ, is all about.  The world is what it is, always has been a violent, miserable place and probably always will be.  But, now we don’t have to wallow in it.  We have a place to go deep within and commune with a God who wants peace and brotherhood for all mankind.  That light we experience within can defeat the darkness surrounding us.  Like Jesus, we were born to live it and share it.  Black, brown, white, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, male, female, gay, straight – all were invited to the table set by the birth of a baby in Bethlehem two millenia ago.  I’ve been invited, you too.  C’mon, let’s party hearty over the birth of the Good News!  AMEN.

MERRY CHRISTMAS 🙏❤

 

home for Christmas

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

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home for christmas

Tis the season.  Time to shake out some memories.  This is where I lived in Pennsylvania for the first 45 years of my life.  I come here every year at Christmas.  It is rural. It is peaceful.  It is where I wanted to live all of my dreams.  When snow covered the fields, the world was so quiet that I could hear myself thinking.  We built snowmen, we sledded on the hillsides, we made angels in the snow.  Winters were harsh, but also magical.

We were farmers.  During the winter months there were always building and equipment repairs to be done.  When the early winter butchering of livestock to replenish the canned meats shelves in the cellar, hams and sausages in the smokehouse, and roasts in the freezer was finished, we also challenged our hunting skills in the nearby woods to add variety to the food supply.  Quite often the women of the house had projects inside which kept us warm and comfy on the coldest of winter days.  We complained about doing ‘woman’s work’ but were quite content to be inside looking out.

The neighborhood boys came by for games of hockey on the frozen pond nearby.  Often a night game was staged with kerosene flares for lighting.  Those same flares were positioned along our sledding run for night-time rides down the hillside behind the house.  What seemed like mere seconds on the down run took fifteen minutes to return to the top.  One of the younger boys stuck his tongue on the sled’s frozen metal frame.  His older brother intuitively used his own breath to unglue the panic-stricken boy’s tongue from the icy frame.  Winter hiking on the mountaintop bordering our farm was an introduction to the indescribable beauty and peace of God’s world covered in a fresh, undisturbed snowfall where only deer and rabbits had trod.

Christmas Day was the highlight of the year.  Grandma decorated the tree which Grandpa brought from the nearby woods often fussing about the scrawny stick which he thought was beautiful.  And it always was a sight to behold, scrawny or not.  My aunt cut pine boughs from the trees in the stand of pines on the hillside, carefully attached them around the porch and nestled  brightly colored lights in the branches.  The surrounding community lauded Grandma for her cooking skills.  Indeed, she outdid herself for the holiday meal.  A fresh turkey from a neighbor’s flock, a ham from the smokehouse, numerous canned vegetables from the summer’s abundance, and desserts.  Many desserts!  My favorite was her mince-meat pie which she tediously assembled from scratch following the Pennsylvania Dutch custom of using shredded beef as the main ingredient.  The older members of the family poured a shot of Grandma’s ‘medicinal’ whiskey atop their slice of heaven.  I, later in life, was also allowed to do this.  Delicious!

Winter also allowed time to visit neighbors and travel to visit faraway relatives.  My grandparents motored to see an uncle and his family in Florida.  I met cousins whom I had never known before.  Uncle Ira owned an orange grove on a beautiful lake with scores of palm trees on its shore.  It is now part of the Villages in central Florida.  We then took off for the Florida Keys.  The bridges were very narrow at that time and Grandma freaked out driving across them.  She fussed and scolded until Grandpa turned around for the mainland.  We never made it to our destination of Key West.  I was glad to return home to Pennsylvania and it’s snow-covered hillsides.  Florida did not impress me at all.

Yes, I’ll be home for Christmas this year….but only in my dreams.

 

 

 

PEACE ON EARTH?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

Is the idea of peace on earth overrated?  Probably so.  By nature man is not an agreeable sort of creature.  Man would sooner throw a few rocks and ask questions afterwards than engage in rational dialog first.  History tells us that man, having never learned to compromise, has resorted instead to heavy clubs, then swords, then artillery, then nuclear weapons that can annihilate every species on earth and it’s habitat.

Mankind seems to be the only creature on earth that does not fit into the natural scheme of flora and fauna.  Plant and animal lifeforms all intuitively know how to grow together, live together, and in many instances compliment the existence of one another.  They do not wantonly kill because of philosophical differences or uncontrolled passions.

No, man is probably not held in high esteem by the world’s other creatures.  Oh sure, that pet dog or cat loves you unconditionally, but stop putting out food for Rover or stop cleaning Fifi’s cat box and it’s just a matter of time before that dog will turn on you snapping at your heels or the feline poop producer will be crapping on your favorite chair.  Don’t kid yourselves.  Man is low on the totem pole of earthly inhabitants.  He does not fit in and the rest of nature knows it.

In order to compensate, a complex system of theologies has been created proclaiming mankind as the master of all species, of all resources on earth in order to justify our existence.  And then theology goes on to say that when our habitat has been trashed and destroyed, miraculously a savior will appear to clean up the mess we have made.  Believe that if you must, but consider this.  The nugget of truth in those earth-renewal philosophies is that mankind can be redeemed through an inner awakening, a fact-finding soul search that reveals our spiritual relevance in a crazy, chaotic world system.  Many mystics have understood this, Francis and Clare of Assisi knew, Jesus the pauper from Nazareth recognized that each individual has within himself or herself the capacity to live in peace with himself, with humanity, with the earth itself.

I love the question following THE BIG BOOK’s (Alcoholics Anonymous) revelation of promises available through sober living. AA PROMISESAre these extravagant promises?  We think not.”

Is this an extravagant promise?  Peace on earth?  The Christian scriptures guarantee it.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  John 14:27

We could rightfully say, “Bah humbug”, considering the turmoil and corruption which is rampant worldwide.  We will continue on our road to destruction and annihilation when we forget that Jesus, in the words of John 14, qualifies his peace: “Not as the world giveth…”

I am chasing down the wrong trail when I envision a peaceful world as one with no wars, no famines, no oppression.  What will save me from the surrounding darkness, from a troubled and fearful heart, is only available within.  Quite possibly that is the peace on earth, goodwill toward men, that the book of Luke attributes to the angels singing to the shepherds watching their flocks.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  Luke 2:14

It is an inside job.  When we feed and nourish the soul through introspection, contemplation and meditation, when we read scriptures revealed by the wisdom of the ancients, then we can dwell in our world of peace and then we can extend that peace to all mankind.

Peace to you.  Namaste.  The Christmas season is a great time to discover a peaceful and fearless heart as proclaimed by Jesus the Christ, Buddha, Muhammad and other messengers of the ancient world.  All of them claim a piece to the God puzzle.

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three gifts

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

In the ancient world gold, frankincense and myrrh were standard gifts presented to a king or deity.

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“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold and frankincense, and myrrh.  Matthew 2:11

What in the world would a baby want with gold, frankincense, and myrrh?  Can’t play with it.  Can’t eat it.  Can’t cuddle up to it like a fuzzy, teddy bear.  Don’t you think that Joseph and Mary would have really appreciated several packages of diapers or a year’s supply of baby  powder?

Of course I am being facetious.  Those gifts which the writers of Matthew and Luke wrote into their narrative of the birth of Jesus were symbolically appropriate for the birth of their Jewish king and historically acceptable gifts to present to kings – gold for royalty, frankincense (an ancient remedy for arthritis), for health, and myrrh (a spice used to prepare the body for burial), for the finality of the tomb.

Gift-giving is a reciprocal behavior.  I give to you.  You give to me.  It’s no different in a person’s faith walk or his/her recovery program.  1 Corinthians, chapter 12 details the gifts of the Spirit.  Pages 83-84 of THE BIG BOOK of Alcoholics Anonymous proclaim to us the ‘promises’ of sobriety.  These are gifts which will be realized when our lives are directed by a Higher Power rather than the whims of self.  Surrender is the only requirement to receiving these gifts.

OK, so I’m a grateful receiver.  But, what do I give in return?  What are my gifts for you and for God?  I cannot buy gold, frankincense and myrrh as gifts.  I can barely afford a greeting card.  But, would you be satisfied with my time, my understanding, my patience, my unconditional love?

I am preparing to celebrate the baby Jesus.  I can’t wrap my presents in pretty paper and a bright bow, but I am hoping He will smile and accept me just as I am.

I come broken to be mended,
I come wounded to be healed.
I come desperate to be rescued,
I come empty to be filled.

 

You’re invited.  Why don’t you come?

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We Three Kings

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

(words from the prophet Micah in the Book of Micah 5:2)

“And thou, Bethlehem in the land of Judah……from thee shall come a prince — one who shall be the Shepherd of my people Israel.”  Matthew 2: 6 WEYMOUTH BIBLE

“Now after the birth of Jesus, which took place at Bethlehem in Judaea in the reign of King Herod, excitement was produced in Jerusalem by the arrival of certain magi from the east, inquiring,

Where is the newly born king of the Jews?  For we have seen his Star in the east, and have come here to do him homage.’

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled , and all Jerusalem with him.”  Matthew 2: 1-3 KJV

The shepherds were told of the birth by angels.  Coming to the stable to worship from their watch over the flocks in their worn clothing, probably soiled and smelly, they had no gifts to present, nothing to offer other than awe and amazement.

The wise men were guided by a star in the sky to Bethlehem.  Learned and scholarly, they traveled probably with a caravan of support staff and supplies.  Being kings from the Orient, they were surely well attired and adorned.  And they brought valuable gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Which would I be?  Shepherd or king?  What would I have to offer in the presence of a Lord and Master?  What gift could I give to honor His presence in my life?  How about you, what could your gift be?

My answer is easy.  I am the shepherd who, from the surrounding hillsides, has seen opulence in society but never participated.  I am the man who has suffered the condescension of the villagers who believe themselves better than me, more moral than me, more worthy than me.  I am a simple man, not so much because I love simplicity, but because I can only afford a simple lifestyle.  I do not ride in caravans with jewel-bedecked kings on camels. No, my ride is more akin to that of the adult Jesus – a borrowed donkey.  I do not speak to governors for information when I arrive in a strange town.  I have to use the tourist center and a google search.  Yes, I would be the one sleeping in a barn on a bed of straw because I could not afford a room at the Holiday Inn.  I am Joseph.  I am Mary.  I am all people who put their trust in a Savior, unseen and indescribable, seeking a life of meaningful spiritual experience.

There is great comfort in the story of the shepherds and the wise men.  Do you see it, too?  God came to the shepherds protecting the flocks on the hillside. They were not seeking God.  God sought them to make the announcement.  The angels stood round about and proclaimed the good news.  The shepherds did not have to travel across a continent, they did not have to follow a star.  They did not have riches to bring.  No, God came to men who were common, unrefined, and poor announcing the birth of acceptance, equality, compassion, righteousness and tolerance among all mankind in the body of baby Jesus.

I love this story because that night in Bethlehem means that I, too, can participate in the Kingdom.  I qualify for membership.   My spiritual poverty, my human depravity, my brokenness in need of healing are qualifiers.  The only dues for membership are surrender and unconditional love.

Too high a price, maybe?  What’s the alternative?  Cold nights sitting on a darkened hillside guarding a flock of smelly sheep?  Spending an eternity separated from the graces of a Lord and Savior?  It’s my call, yours too.  The invitation is there waiting for us to accept.

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”  step 3, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary, Did You Know

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

When I was a young teenaged boy, 14 years old, I had a terrific crush on an older woman.  Yeah, she was 17 and just about pretty as an angel.  Of course, not knowing what angels looked like, I had to use a lot of imagination and, believe me, that was not a problem.

Between her junior and senior year in high school, she and her momma took an extended trip to Germany to stay with distant relatives.  I was heartbroken, briefly, until a sexy, buxomly cheerleader winked at me in biology lab.  Smitten does not adequately define my newly discovered heart-throb.  I quickly forgot the older woman in my life.

Years later, I learned from reliable sources that the trip to Germany was coordinated with an unplanned pregnancy.  Surprise! Surprise!  Several of my female classmates found themselves in the same unexpected condition, but none of them resulted in an interracial child.  Surprise!  Surprise!  C’mon folks, it was 1963 in rural Pennsylvania.  Things like that simply were not allowed to happen.

“Mary immediately got up and hurried to the hill country, in the province of Judah, where her cousins Zacharias and  Elizabeth lived.  When Mary entered their home and greeted Elizabeth, who felt her baby leap in her womb, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  (Elizabeth shouting) You are blessed among all women, and the child you bear is blessed!   And blessed am I as well, that the mother of  my Lord has come to me!”  Luke 1:39-43 THE VOICE

The scriptures do not explain why Mary ran to the hills.  Is it possible that her explanation…..”well daddy, the Holy Ghost came upon me and told me that I would become pregnant by God and that my baby would be the Messiah”…..simply did not fly in her home town?  A child-bearing 12 or 13 year-old unmarried child probably encouraged a few questions from the village women drawing water at the well.  I also would probably run to the hills…or maybe Germany.

All of us need a place where we can feel safe and loved, a place away from judgement, condemnation and shame.  Mary found her refuge with her cousins Elizabeth and Zacharias.  We, too, have that same refuge freely available to us in the person of Mary’s son, Jesus.  Even for those who do not accept the virginity of Mary or the divinity of Jesus, the teachings and scriptures attributed to his earthly ministry are a blueprint for peace, contentment, and spiritual resurrection in this life.

Recovering addicts and alcoholics understand this resurrection.  It has been our experience.  We were dying and dead when a Higher Power restored us to the living.

Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  Step 2, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

CANDLE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proclaimed to shepherds

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”  LUKE 2:8-9

Shepherds! Who would have thought the Messiah would be introduced in the world to shepherds?  Truly, our God has a sense of humor.  Or perhaps the message of Jesus was intended for those who had little about which to cheer.  Maybe it was meant to empower the oppressed and downtrodden, those whom proper society and righteous religionists had disinherited.

God showed them, right?  At that moment in the story of Jesus of Nazareth, the subsequent storytellers let the entire world know, through shepherds and wise men, whom would receive the inheritance of a gracious and loving God.  The life and teachings of a poor, probably homeless, vagabond Jew set the table for a resounding rebuke of elitist power and control.  The story which was told and retold showed mankind that truth and power and salvation resided in a singular action available to all peoples – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all you soul, all your mind, and all your strength,”….and love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31

God told us, right?  God incarnated in that baby who spawned the writings which have changed the world. Why would I not listen?  Why would I not sit with the shepherds in the hillside pastures outside the town of Bethlehem and celebrate “Glory to God in the highest, peace and good will toward men?”

Maybe it’s just a story, maybe not.  But, when ‘just a story’ can bring joy to the disheartened, salvage a lost soul, make sober the alcoholic, then, to those of us who needed to be broken in order to be healed, it has to be the greatest story ever told.  AMEN!

O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

O come, O branch of Jesse’s stem, unto your own and rescue them! From depths of hell your people save, and give them victory o’er the grave. 

O come, O King of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind.  Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

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“Victory o’er the grave?”  Is it possible?  Absolutely!  Ask any addict who has been saved from the hell of his/her addiction, the death sentence of a spiritual abyss, and you will be told,  “Yes, yes, yes!  I have been raised from my personal hell on earth, my living grave, and we, my Higher Power and I, are victorious over death.”

That is what the gift of Immanuel, the spirit of God made incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, has done for mankind.  This is an inexhaustible gift which can never be used up, discarded, put in the attic, or trashed before next Christmas.  But, it can be repurposed and shared with other hungry, dying souls.  I like sharing gifts.  How about you?

“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”    1 Corinthians 15:55

O come, O come, Immanuel

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