The month of December has been full in our household this year – full of varied events, concerns, prayers – full of waiting, as is typical of Advent. But the waiting this year has felt more complex and stirred a different response than many an Advent time of preparation. It’s been the waiting of sleepless nights and early mornings and days so full you find yourself living in the moment. It’s been a mixed-bag season of waiting and preparation – of prayers offered and answered. Perhaps it’s best explained through the metaphor of the muddled messages in my December inbox.
December has long seen an increase in the volume of mail one receives in his or her inbox. Whether we are talking about your literal USPS mail box, your email box, or the varied other means by which persons communicate these days (instant messenger, text or other Social Media); inboxes are generally stuffed during December. They contain a myriad of sales advertisements, the usual bills, flyers from local businesses, year end political reports, holiday event notices – and then there are the Christmas greetings. Yes, we still receive a number of cards each December and send several ourselves; even though the trend in Christmas card giving has decreased overall. Picking up the mail on a December afternoon, at the end of the drive way or through one’s email provider, can bring a smile to your face as you read greetings, view pictures and reconnect with friends from miles away to right next door.
If you were to come up with a top ten list of things for which you are grateful, what would be on your list? The Thanksgiving season is a great time to give some thought to this list. But do me a favor. Don’t just write out, or mentally check off, the expected list. Put some thought and creativity into the list. Go beyond the one word or simple phrase list to expound in a few more words what you are thankful for in 2019.
For the past six weeks (40 days) our congregation has been engaged in The Red Letter Challenge. We’ve taken a fresh look at the words of Jesus and what it means to “put them into practice”. To date we’ve examined four primary themes within the teachings of Jesus (Being, Forgiving, Serving and Giving) and this Sunday we will add the fifth – Going.
Each of the Gospels (including the two volume set of Luke-Acts) ends with a command, or commissioning, for the followers of Jesus to “go” with the good news of Christ Jesus. We may be most familiar with the words found in Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission, where the connotation is “as you are going” about your life, or your routine, “make disciples”.
Have you ever known someone who has a “giving” nature, but also needs to let you know they are “giving”? I mean, they’d give you the shirt off their back, or the remaining groceries from their pantry; but they would also groan or moan, sigh and fuss all the while. Know anyone like that? In vocabulary terms these folks would be called oxymoron’s – the pairing of two things that don’t appear to go together – giving & hurting while you give. They practice a form of martyrdom giving. It’s a bit confusing when you are on the receiving end of such giving. “Do they want to give this, or don’t they? I’m getting mixed messages!”
“Giving” is the fourth topic of the Red Letter Challenge – a deep dive into the words and teachings of Jesus intended to help us “put his words into practice”. Jesus had a lot to say and model about giving. He talked about it quite a lot and gave us some terrific examples, with the gift of himself being the ultimate one. Jesus’ giving was accompanied by hurt and pain. He gave until it hurt. He gave his all. He gave his life. But Jesus didn’t allow the hurt or pain of the gift to surpass the purpose or love behind the gift.
When I was a kid I had the opportunity to serve for a day as a page with our state representative in the Indiana General Assembly. Looking back on that day, I remember getting a picture taken alongside our state rep and another student from my school, in the Indiana House. I remember running errands, delivering messages, watching the House at work, and getting a tour of the state capitol. But my most vivid memory from the day is that our state representative, himself, picked us up in his car at school, drove us to the state house, went with us to lunch, and gave as a ride home. In other words, this busy, political leader spent a considerable amount of time with a couple of high school kids. He personally invested in our education that day. He repeatedly engaged us in conversation, and listened to what we had to say. He saw to our needs and comfort. He served us – two of his not yet able to vote constituents.
This elected official was respected in our community. He won re-election several times over. He was a public servant in the best understanding of that title. I think of him, and others like him, as our congregation moves into the week of the “Red Letter Challenge” devoted to service.