doubting Thomas

Having attained the age of 73, I thought that I probably knew most of the lessons and information necessary to continue for another 20 or 30 years undeterred. Like the teenaged Larry from the 1960s there appeared to be nothing new under the sun to learn. I, now a mature, gray-bearded man, could settle into an attitude of old-age ‘know-it-all”.

WRONG!!

For example, a passage I read this morning inferred that the Christ child was a toddler playing on the floor of his parents’ home probably with a wooden toy which Joseph had made for him when the Kings from the East visited to pay homage bearing valuable gifts fit for a king. Wait a minute! A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes does not play on the floor with toys – not even Jesus.

What about the nighttime visit to the manger in the stable where Mary birthed the baby Jesus? Every depiction, every nativity scene, every song says that the Magi, aka the Three Wise men, knelt before the Christ child lying in swaddling clothes in a manger filled with animal bedding.

Oh no!! Is this a revisit to the picture hanging on my church wall which shows the young adult Jesus as a blue-eyed Caucasian with long-flowing hair? It took me several years and numerous books written by educated Bible scholars to accept that Jesus was born Jewish and therefore, as a young adult, looked much like the olive-skinned, brown-eyed, curly-haired men of today’s Middle East.

So, what have I learned? Blind faith has to be supported by historical fact and common sense. Of course God could have given Mary, a Jewish maiden and Joseph, a typical Jewish man, a blue-eyed, blond-haired, fair-skinned child if God wanted to do that…..but not likely. Furthermore, if the star appeared over Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus, these wise men from eastern kingdoms did not book passage of the next flight to Israel. They had to prepare for the overland trip, pack provisions, hire camels and a support team. Then the trip itself – it was not an overnight excursion. By the time they arrived in Bethlehem, Jesus was no longer a babe but could easily have been a little boy playing on the floor with toys. King Herod was obviously not a stupid man. In order to cover all his bases in eliminating the newly proclaimed king announced by the Magi, he ordered the slaughter of all Bethlehem’s children under the age of two because he knew the boy could have been born 2 years prior. MATTHEW 2:16

Thanks for bearing with me. This is just another take on the Christmas story from someone who has been labeled ‘doubting Thomas’ for good reasons.

Come & See

For Lutherans and numerous other Christian denominations, Christmas is not just Christmas Eve, December 24th, and Christmas Day, December 25th. It is an extended season often called Christmastide celebrated from Christmas Eve until January 5th – the twelve days of Christmas. During this time we continue to observe the birth of Jesus. Many of us leave decorations in place until January 5th, the Twelfth Night, or until February 2nd, Candlemas, as we continue with our Christmas. In Lutheran and Episcopalian tradition , Candlemas is a time when congregants bring their candles to church for blessing. These candles are then used the rest of the year. They are symbolic of Jesus, the Christ, who referred to Himself as the Light of the World.

It is a time of communal celebration as well as personal reflection upon the meaning of this Holy season. It is a time to come and see what God has done.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” JOHN 3:16 KJV

Now what?

Probably most of the Christian world has whispered a hushed ‘phewww’ now that the pace of the season is over. Time to kick back, watch some football on TV and run to WalMart to exchange those unwanted gifts.

But, what shall we do with Jesus, the greatest gift of all? We could put him on the fireplace mantel until next year, pack him away with the rest of the Christmas decororations, or shove him into the closet with the other unwanted gifts.

What will I do with Jesus? Several years ago, a renown comedian referred to Jesus as our imaginary friend. Amidst his profanity, the tasteless attempts at comedy, his crude sexual referrals, this one comment offended my senses more than any.

But, it caused me to contemplate. Is this just a product of my imagination? Have I been bamboozled by opportunistic theologians? Am I searching fruitlessly for answers in an unknown realm of belief?

The truth is that I don’t know. What I perceive is a belief in something unknown and unproven in our physical world. Some would define this as faith and for me faith is good enough to call Jesus real – as real as anything I can see, hear or touch.

I do know as factual the functioning body with which I have been blessed, the beautiful Creation in which I live, the wondrous unfolding amazement of a friend’s love, the purring cat lying beside me. My recovery and redemption from a life of alcoholic addiction is certainly proof of an intervention by an unseen and unproven God.

It is my choice what I do with this gift that renews every Christmas. I can receive everlasting love, peace and comfort or I can set it aside for another year to collect dust.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Him ye creatures here below; praise Him above ye heavenly Host; praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN

A well-remembered adage flowing freely around the tables of Alcoholics Anonymous was this:

“You have got to give it away to keep it.”

Sobriety, the clean and serene, the return of sanity, the restoration of family and community was a gift of a Higher Power whom we trusted and revered. It was freely given through the grace of a loving, magnanimous God. Many of us, needing definition to this God, rely on the Christian concept of Jesus, the Christ. I have to give Him away to keep Him.

Celebrating the birth is part of this Jesus story that has given meaning to life as well as understanding to death. A boyhood verse learned in Sunday School said, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

Alcoholism kidnapped my relationship with Jesus and set me in the darkness of the deep valleys. My story is found in the New Testament book of Luke, chapter 15, the parable of the prodigal son. Through Jesus, my Father and I have claimed victory over alcoholism and spiritual death.

Yes, yes, yes, I will go tell it on the mountain, in the valley, on the streets and wherever anyone will listen. Tonight I celebrate the birth of the Son who saved me from insanity or jail or death. Tonight is all about God’s gift to humanity. This little light of mine – I’m gonna let it shine.

O HOLY NIGHT

It is an extraordinary Christmas Eve. The normal candlelight services are mostly online only. Family gatherings are limited. Did you make yourself weary with the decorating, the house-cleaning, the meal preparations, and, of course, the shopping in a covid-19 environment?

Not me. I determined several years ago that simplicity was the best way to celebrate Christmas. I have moved my pre-lit tree from a corner in my craft area to centerstage in the living room where I can sit at night and early morning admiring the beauty of a tree with only lights and icicles. The other ornaments remained in their storage containers. Simple, right? As for gifts….lottery tickets by the handful provide entertainment and anticipation.

My Christmas Day meal has been planned for several weeks. The most extravagant dish will be a casserole of oyster dressing – Jim’s favorite holiday treat. Along with a roasted turkey breast and giblet gravy there will be cooked carrots, cranberry sauce, pickled beets in a strawberry jello and fruit cake. This is my idea of Christmas dinner done simply.

We can’t help but think of the many families struggling for food and shelter, searching for a light in the darkness of our country this year. The video I am sharing touched my heart in a mighty way reminding me, and hopefully you, what it is we are honoring and celebrating at this time of the year. It’s not about the decorations, the glitz, the food or the socializing. It is all about the gift of love given to us by a gracious and merciful God. It is about life lived victoriously in sobriety. It is about me caring about you more than me. It is about trusting the heart over the theology.

Enjoy the season. It is meant to be joyous and festive, but don’t forget the reason for the season. Merry Christmas and a blessed 2021 to all of you.

Mood of Christmas

HOWARD THURMAN – THEOLOGIAN & MYSTIC

For Thurman, the “Mood of Christmas” was not merely in the Christ Child, but in what Christmas is offering us across the entire sweep of creation and time. He writes:

The symbol of Christmas—what is it? It is the rainbow arched over the roof of the sky when the clouds are heavy with foreboding. It is the cry of life in the newborn babe when, forced from its mother’s nest, it claims its right to live. It is the brooding Presence of the Eternal Spirit making crooked paths straight, rough places smooth, tired hearts refreshed, dead hopes stir with newness of life. It is the promise of tomorrow at the close of every day, the movement of life in defiance of death, and the assurance that love is sturdier than hate, that right is more confident than wrong, that good is more permanent than evil. 

Daily Meditations Archives — Center for Action and Contemplation (cac.org)