I spent this last weekend playing with and watching my 2 ½ year old grandson play.
Fish swam through the air.
Dinosaurs talked with elephants.
Legos became a car and blocks of wood a castle.
My imagination could not keep up.
Or, at least my energy.
As I watched him I began to wonder…
When did our imagination become so limited?
When did I become so practical and pragmatic that I could no longer see possibilities beyond what was right in front of me?
Maybe I need to learn to dream again.
Maybe we all do.
I say it a lot.
Maybe because I need to remember it myself.
That Thank you is our first and best prayer.
And, gratitude transforms our lives and the lives of those around us.
Here are ten things for which I am grateful.
- The doctors and medical staff who could repair my shoulder and keep me from being partially disabled.
- For my dog who pushes her nose under my hand and her body onto my lap.
- For this afternoon’s nap.
- For all those who added their piece that we could provide a safe place to sleep for those in our community who needed it this winter.
- For my children who are wonderful parents and partners and amazing young adults.
- For the luxury of dreaming about tomorrow.
- For the students who we will meet this week and consider for a college scholarship. Students who have overcome so much and yet have the courage to reach for a better tomorrow.
- For my wife, who in more ways than I can name sustains my life.
- For being here today.
- For this next breath….right now.
What are the ten things you would put on your list today?
It is really such a simple story.
The part we know best is a mere 17 sentences.
A pregnant young woman.
A couple expecting their first child.
A forced migration.
No room when the time comes for her to have her baby.
Truth be told, that is not a new or a newsworthy story.
How many times over the course of human history, to say nothing of the last 24 hours, has this part of the story taken place?
But there is something more here, isn’t there.
Meaning and hope layered over that all too common event.
Holy messengers who sing about Peace on Earth.
The baby who is born known not just as Jesus, but as Emmanuel which, as you know, means God with us.
With you. With me.
Right here. Right now.
In the craziness and complexity and wonder of life as it is and the world as it is.
And, what about this?
These words written long before Jesus was born, but which tradition has linked to the witness and the promise and the meaning of his life. From the Jewish prophet Isaiah:
For to us a child is born,
To us a son is given;
And his name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
He shall judge between the nations and shall decide for many peoples;
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war any more.
There is a holiday car commercial on TV right now with the tag line:
If you are going to wish, wish big.
So, if there ever was a night for wishing and dreaming…
In the beauty of this place
Amidst the candles and the carols and our singing Silent Night together
I would say this to you.
This Christmas, if you are going to dream, dream big.
Don’t settle for Santa or visions of sugar plums or a Merry Christmas.
I am not stretching the truth to say…
I…we…the world needs more than that.
Looks for and longs for, and when it can, hopes for more than that.
Today more than ever, the world needs brave people willing to dream big dreams. Dreams big enough and bold enough to stand alongside the witness of the angels and the vision of the prophets and against all those forces which would demean and destroy and demonize any of God’s children. And instead find ways to wage peace and to build hope. Dreams big enough and bold enough to risk being God’s presence, risk being Emmanuel with all that implies, to those who need it the most. Being hope and compassion and kindness and community with and for the forgotten and the lonely and the hungry and the stranger.
Swords into plowshares.
Spears into pruning hooks.
Peace on earth.
Good will among all the children of God…which, in the end, includes all of us.
Too much to wish for?
To hope for?
Too much for you?
And, so it is Christmas.
And, that tantalizing dream of God comes to us wrapped up in the birth a child.
I love Christmas.
I love the carols.
I love the candlelight.
I love setting up the creche in my office.
And having the children see it and talk with me about it.
I love thinking about what gifts to give.
And, don’t even mind the shopping (most of the time).
And, the meaning of the season stands at the center of my faith.
Maybe it is heresy to say
But Christmas means more to me than Easter.
Incarnation more than resurrection.
All that serves as introduction to this.
Yesterday afternoon I spent a few minutes looping ribbon through a note card and then through a hole in a cardboard star. Written on the note card is a gift suggestion for a child whose family does not have the resources I do to buy gifts for my family. I thought of those children and those families yesterday as I looped ribbon through holes and tied a knot. I thought of the excitement of the children which, I am sure, matches the excitement of my children when they were young. And I thought about the parents…the Moms and the Dads…who long for and work so hard for something more for their children. Each knot became a prayer.
I know Christmas is about more than gifts.
But it is about wonder and excitement.
And, about dreams and possibilities beyond the reality of the present moment.
Sometimes we catch a glimpse of that in church.
And, sometimes on the village street.
And, sometimes in the eyes of a child.
Or in the dreams of a parent.
Tomorrow morning we will recognize the high school seniors who are a part of our congregation who have or will be graduating this month. A third of those who have grown up here will be able to be here. Others will be on the sports field or with family or away for the weekend or busy with something else. I understand all that. I will be grateful for those who carve out the hour or so to be here and I will miss those who are not.
I want all of them to know, that beyond family and friends, we cared for them and about them, and that our caring will not end as they head off to college. I want them to know this is a place to which they can return. They can walk in by themselves or with another. I want them to know this is a place where they can bring their joys and sorrows, their successes and failures. Our doors are open. I want them to know we have done our best to be honest with them and with ourselves. That their questions are allowed, even encouraged. And, that their searching is a part of life. Is life. None of us have all the answers and all of us figure it out as we go.
I want them to know…
And, I want them to walk into the world with confidence and courage. I want them to leave room in their life for mystery. And to have awe and wonder take their breath away. I want them to see how big and wonderful and heartbreaking the world is and can be, and to be wise enough and strong enough to see and to embrace our shared humanity and, in whatever way they are able, to build a world better tomorrow than it is today.
Along with parents and family and friends and teachers, we have done our best to plant and nurture those seeds, and now they take this next step.
To one and all…
Vaya con Dios.
Go with God.
Prayer is an opening of the self so that the God can break in and make us new. Prayer unmasks. Prayer converts. Prayer impels. Prayer sustains us on the way. (I read this this week, but forget where.)
Are all prayers, O God.
Sometimes we wrap them words.
Most of the time not.
Always they are held carefully and deeply in our heart and mind and soul.
Then pushed out towards you;
And towards those whom we love;
And to those who find themselves in need;
And into the world entrusted now to our care and keeping.
We take this moment;
Just as it is and just as we are;
To open up our hearts;
And to be open to your presence;
And in whatever we we might or are able to pray.