DAWNING OF A NEW YEAR
We are just over 48 hours away from the dawning of a New Year. Twenty fourteen is about to begin. Are we anticipating the New Year with excitement, or are we approaching the change in the calendar with trepidation? Are we optimistic about the future, or do we have a gloomy pessimistic forecast? The attitude we bring may contribute to the kind of year we will experience. It’s sort of like an optimist who stays up until midnight to see the New Year in, while the pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.
Our scripture this morning speaks to the importance of praise for helping us to adjust our attitude. Psalm 148 goes way beyond our human ability to offer praise to God the psalmist even presents us with cosmic praise: Praise God, sun and moon, praise God, all you shining stars! Praise her, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Give praise you sea monsters of the deeps. Praise you fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind, mountains and all hills, fruit trees and the great cedars of Lebanon, beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! The psalmist is pointing out that the whole universe gives praise to our Creator, so how much more so should we human beings. For as Psalm 8 points out to us: When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, and the children of earth that you care for them? Yet you have made us little less than God, and you have crowned us with glory and honor, and you have even included us as co-creators on earth.
PRAISE CHANGES US – THE UNIVERSE IS NOT ALL ABOUT US
Does God need our praise? No! But praise changes us! How does offering praise to God change us? First, we are reminded that God is God and we are not. In case we had any delusions of grandeur the act of offering praise to our Creator reframes our perspective to take us out of the center of the picture – the Universe is not all about us. Humility is our rightful place in relationship to the divine.
HUMILITY OF POPE FRANCIS
We have been observing the power of the virtue of humility in Pope Francis. His dress, the way he carries himself, his spurning of the accoutrements of his office, his resolution to live simply have made Francis a worthy successor to Jesus and the disciples — the before and after pictures are striking. In his reflection on the meaning of Christmas, Pope Francis has urged all of us “not to place ourselves above others, but rather lower ourselves, place ourselves at the service of the poor, make ourselves small and poor with them.”
PRAISE SHAPES THE DAY
When we begin each morning with praise, we shape the whole day. Humility in the morning brings focus and perspective. Prayer and praise change us, and remind us that life is good as it is given. Now I know the affirmation that life is good as it is given is difficult for those of us who tend toward pessimism. Some of us just have a natural tendency to see the gloomier side of things. Certainly there are difficulties in this life, but as Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
PESSIMISM SHAPES OUR VIEW OF LIFE
Some people are so dedicated to seeing problems in everything they can’t appreciate anything. Like the story of an avid duck hunter was in the market for a new bird dog. His search ended when he found a dog that could actually walk on water to retrieve a duck. Shocked by his find, he was sure none of his friends would ever believe him. He decided to try to break the news to a friend of his, the eternal pessimist who refused to be impressed with anything. This, surely, would impress him. He invited him to hunt with him and his new dog. As they waited by the shore, a flock of ducks flew by, they fired, and a duck fell. The dog responded and jumped into the water. The dog, however, did not sink but instead walked across the water to retrieve the bird, never getting more than his paws wet. This continued all day long; each time a duck fell, the dog walked across the surface of the water to retrieve it. The pessimist watched carefully, saw everything, but did not say a single word. On the drive home the hunter asked his friend, “Did you notice anything unusual about my new dog?”
“I sure did,” responded the pessimist. “He can’t swim.”
Life is good as it is given. Believe it and change your life.
When we open our eyes with praise we begin to understand just how bountiful is our Creator. God doesn’t give us just enough. God gives us more than enough. From Psalm 67:5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 6 The earth has yielded its bounty; God has blessed us.
PRAISE BY SHARING
Yes there are people in the world who do not have enough, but that is because we fail to share what God has given to us. We have organized our life together as human beings based upon scarcity, when all the time God’s bounty is all around us. Some people do not have enough, and some people have more than they will ever need, and God has given us the solution. It’s called sharing. We could all change our lives and the lives of so many people around us, if we would take only what we need, recycle what we do not use, reconcile the difference between our wants and our needs, and join all people in praise by sharing.
ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE ACCEPTED
Praise changes our lives by reminding us how much God loves us. It is easy to acknowledge the possibility that God exists, but to affirm that the source of all life the ground of our being actually loves us is a leap of faith many folks just can’t embrace. And that is why praise brings grace. In the words of Paul Tillich, grace is sometimes when a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance. Grace comes to us through praise.
DISCIPLINE OF PRAISE THAT REMAINS JOYFUL
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges is to develop a discipline of praise that remains joyful. So often our devotional lives become just another duty, another something we have to do before we can laugh or have fun or experience joy. Joyless praise will kill faith faster than a New York minute. And I looked up the definition of a New York minute: “The smallest measurable amount of time in the universe. Approximately equal to the time between a traffic light turning green in New York City and the cab driver behind you honking his horn.” Joyless praise kills faith. So how can we infuse our praise with joy and fun and beauty?
PRAISE AND JOY
The Psalms are full of praise with music, song and dance. Psalm 33:1 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. 2 Praise the LORD with the lyre, make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! 3 Sing to her a new song, play skilfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
Psalm 150: 3 Praise God with trumpet sound; praise her with lute and harp! 4 Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise God with loud clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
DANCING OUR PRAISE
Let us remember, “joyful noise,” not funeral dirges. A song you want to dance with. I remember Terri Shows and Carol Howie dancing the Sunday we sang, “Don’t Worry Be Happy!” We need songs so joyful they take over our feet and make our hips move. It doesn’t matter what the words are if it makes you get up and dance before the Lord, it is a sacred song. Find your song and sing it every morning, and when the time comes you forget your own name, you will still be able to sing your song of praise to God.
WELCOME THE NEW YEAR WITH PRAISE
And as long as the New Year is coming, allow me one more suggestion. In some churches there is a tradition of a “watch night service.” People gather at the church on New Year’s Eve, have a good party and then about eleven o’clock they have a prayer service that ends with loud and joyous laughing and dancing to welcome in the New Year.
We have a hard enough time getting people here on a Sunday morning without planning an extra service. But wherever you are on New Year’s Eve, let me encourage you, if you stay up to welcome in the New Year to make a joyful noise, and let that be your praise to God for another Year of God’s gift of life. Life is good as it is given. Amen.
Rabbel the Nabataean
Have you ever ridden a camel across the desert at night? The stars seem so close you could reach out and grasp one. We who travel at night in the desert use the stars to guide us. And the quiet of the desert at night is profound, only the soft-muffled sound of the pads of the camel’s feet in rhythm on the sand of the desert. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Rabbel a trader of Nabatea. I have come tonight to share with you a story of long ago of a special night, when even my trader’s heart was touched by a child.
We Nabateans are a fierce desert people. Perhaps you have heard of our Capitol City, known as Petra, truly one of the wonders of the world, carved out of red rocked cliffs. Even your Indiana Jones borrowed our treasury for one of his movies.
We are traders and caravan drivers crossing the desert with costly spices and silks from faraway India and Cathay, frankincense and myrrh, from southern Arabia. We mine for turquoise, copper and gold in the mountains of Arabia and the Sinai. We are expert camel-drivers. Our trade routes span from Babylon to Damascus, Gerrah to Gaza, Aden to Alexandria.
My family lives in Avdat in the wilderness of the Negev a small way station on the caravan route to Egypt. My father, blessed be his memory stored water, and he gathered fodder and fire wood for the caravans that stopped in our town. A trading mission carries as little food and water as possible to maximize the trade goods carried by the animals.
When I was twelve, my father, apprenticed me to Malichus, the caravan master, so I might learn to be a trader. My first job was camel boy, hard and dirty work. Camels are marvelous animals. They can travel for days without food or water, but it requires a firm and determined hand to discipline the animal –stubborn they are very stubborn. And while you may imagine me riding a camel across the desert, you would be wrong. The goods that we carried rode on the backs of the camels while we walked beside the animals keeping them in line. Only occasionally was there an empty camel to ride, for an animal without a load represented opportunity wasted. We carried spices, silks, incense to the Roman markets in Alexandria, or Gaza, or Damascus, and we brought back the trade goods of the West across the desert, salt, balsam, glass, salted fish, olive oil, wine. We had to make trade both ways to make a living.
I was in my fourth year working for Malichus, and he had begun entrusting some of the trading to me learning how to buy cheap and sell dear. Such is the life of a trader. We were making the desert crossing from the Arab Sea to Damascus, when one clear night I looked up to the stars to check our direction and I noticed a new star in the sky.
“Malichus,” I asked, “have you seen that star before?”
“No,” he answered, “perhaps it is a sign of something new in the heavens.”
“But what could it be?”
“A new war perhaps, or the birth of a ruler, time will tell. The astrologers of Babylon could probably tell us. By the way we will be journeying to Jerusalem on our way to Damascus.”
We took the trail on the west side of the Great Salt Sea and stopped at the Oasis of En Gedi. Malichus sold some of the spices we were carrying for a good price, and then he purchased a load of Balsam he could sell in Damascus. Then we began the ascent up the escarpment to the highlands of Judea. It is a hard climb and one of the camels became lame, so Malichus determined we would stop short of Jerusalem in a little town called Bethlehem.
The caravanserai was located on the East side of the town, where a rather poor overcrowded Inn provided what food and shelter was available for travelers. We Nabataeans made camp outside the City Gate, buying a little food for ourselves and our animals. Malichus with my help doctored the lame camel, removing a splinter from its left front foot and treating the wound with wine and olive oil, all the while the animal complaining.
Malichus determined that the camel needed rest, so he would send me on ahead to Jerusalem with a load of spices for the court of King Herod. We Nabataeans hate Herod, but business is business.
While Malichus was giving me instructions at the camp fire for the next day’s journey, I noticed a poor man and woman approach the Inn. The woman seemed to be groaning in pain and the Inn Keeper simply shrugged his shoulders. Finally in response to their pleading the Inn Keeper pointed over toward our camp fire, and the couple started moving down the hill side to a cave, where animals were kept. In the fading light I could see the woman clutching her bulging belly, and she moaned. Her time had come.
I was struck with sympathy for these strangers forced to give birth to a child in the cold with no warmth or protection from a fire. So I asked Malichus, if I might take some wood and kindle a fire at the mouth of the cave. He gave me leave.
The man spoke Aramaic, and so he understood gratefully, when I offered to make a fire. I also shared some of my bread with them. As the fire began to warm the cave, I heard a baby’s cry and smelled the scent of blood and sweat. The odor of blood would attract wolves, so I hunted up extra wood for the fire at the mouth of the cave as well as our own fire protecting our animals. The man thanked me and said his name was Joseph a carpenter of Nazareth.
In the middle of the night we were awakened by shepherds who were crowding into the cave. “What is this?” I asked one of them in Aramaic.
With a dazed look on his face, he said, “Angels. Angels appeared to us in the field over there — beautiful beings of light. Said this baby is the messiah they did.”
“Messiah?” I asked. “What’s that?”
“Important, but don’t tell. Don’t tell the King.” With that the shepherd drifted away into the night.
Allow me to pause here to feed my camels. I will return in a few minutes.
Early the next morning I took one of the camels with a load of spices and headed for Jerusalem five miles to the Northeast. I arrived in the morning and arranged for the delivery of the spices at the Palace of the King. At first the Steward of the palace did not want to pay the agreed upon price. I assured him we could get a better price in Damascus – business is business.
While I was in the courtyard of the Palace, a caravan of foreigners arrived. I could tell these were not traders because these men rode their camels. They were richly dressed, seemed almost like nobles. This was interesting so I sat down to watch. They were announced as ambassadors of Babylon, and they entered the Palace.
I walked over to one of their camel boys and struck up a conversation. “Who are your masters?”
“They are three of the greatest Magi of Babylon.”
“What’s a Magi,” I inquired?
“They are great and learned men, who can read the stars. They come representing the Emperor of Persia to greet the new King in Jerusalem. They saw his sign in the sky, and they have come with gifts.”
“The new star, perhaps you have seen it?”
“Yes I have,” I replied, “but how does that bring them to Jerusalem?”
“Ah, they can read the stars like a scroll. They say this star tells them that a new world conqueror like the Great Alexander has been born here in Jerusalem. They have come on a mission from the Emperor to offer friendship and peace.”
That was news indeed, and I needed to return to Bethlehem. So I took my camel and started back to share this important message with Malichus. A new world conqueror could have consequences for Nabatea.
When I arrived in Bethlehem, I gave Malichus the gold from the sale of the spices. I also told him of the arrival of the Magi. “Yes,” he said, “I have seen such star gazers in Babylon. Let us hope this conqueror will bring peace. Our trade depends upon it. I think the camel will be well enough to move day after tomorrow.”
During the night we were awakened by the arrival of another caravan. It turned out to be the Magi I had seen in Jerusalem that morning. They set up camp next to us. So sleepily I sought out the camel boy I had talked with in the morning.
“What brings you to Bethlehem,” I asked?
“There was no child in Jerusalem. My masters created quite a stir. The King called for his advisers to ask where this new ruler was to be born, and they said in this small out of the way town.”
My mind began to race. I wondered could the baby born in the cave be the child these Magi were seeking? “Maybe I know where such a child has been born,” I said to the camel boy.
A few minutes later I found myself standing in the presence of the Magi. “What do you know about this child,” one of them asked me?
“When Yousef, your camel boy, told me the child you seek is to be born in this town, I remembered a child born only last night in a cave not far from here.”
The three Magi whispered to one another and then said to me, “Take us to this child.”
I led the three men down the hill to the cave, and went inside. Joseph looked sleepy and alarmed until the three Magi knelt before him. Then it was my turn to be surprised. The three dignitaries began asking Joseph questions and I heard him describe an angel who had appeared in a dream to him. And then I remembered the Shepherd who had told me of a vision of angels. Could it be I wondered that this baby born in a cave used for a stable, could it be a child destined for greatness? I looked at the impoverished parents and the small fragile infant lying in a manger. The gods are forever surprising us.
I followed the Magi out into the night. The star was shining overhead. The great men turned and thanked me and then asked if our caravan had any goods worthy to serve as a royal gift. We have costly Frankincense and Myrrh from Arabia I offered as well as spices from the farthest East. “That will do,” they said.
Excuse me I must take a moment to tend to my animals. I will return shortly.
Sometimes God is at work right under our noses and we don’t even know it. I had seen the star, when we were traveling in the desert. I had watched the Magi arrive in Jerusalem, but I had never guessed that the child born in the cave for whom I started a fire that night might be connected to the star.
Early in the morning the Magi went back to the cave taking with them gold, frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and mace. I followed them to catch another look at the child. After presenting their gifts they told Joseph that they must leave and not return to Jerusalem. An angel had appeared to them as they slept, and told them that Herod would seek the life of the child.
“But what should we do,” pleaded Joseph?
“Flee! Any way you can,” advised the Magi. “Do not stay in Herod’s realm!”
I saw the look of worry on Joseph’s face as he turned to me. “I am a humble carpenter, unaccustomed to great journeys. You are a trader, a desert traveler, where should we go and how do we get there?”
I found myself torn. I owed nothing to these people. They were Jews. I was a trader of Nabatea. Business is business, but life is more than buying and selling. Sometimes God appears right under our noses, and I sensed that in their need God was present to me.
“Wait here,” I replied, “I will talk to Malichus and return.”
I found Malichus getting up. “Malichus, Master,” I began, “the Magi are leaving, but they have told Joseph that Herod will seek the life of the child.”
“Sounds like Herod,” he replied.
“I would like to do something to help them,” I began. “The Magi believe the child will be a new world leader – a ruler of justice and peace. They have seen it in the stars – the star that guided them to this place, the star we saw in the desert.”
“So, what business is that of ours?”
“I can lead them to Avdot,” I began. “That is far enough outside Herod’s domain, they will be safe. Then I will ask my father to help them find a caravan to accompany them to Alexandria. There is a large Jewish population there, and they can easily hide.”
“And what am I supposed to do without your services?” Malichus demanded!
“Avdot is a two day journey,” I began, “lend me one of the donkeys, and I can catch up to you before you reach Damascus. I believe this child is important.”
“I don’t know why, but I do too,” Malichus, replied. “Perhaps the Magi’s gold is proof of that. You have my leave to help them.”
I took the fastest of the donkeys and went to the cave, where Joseph and Mary were packing . “I have leave to lead you to Avdot, where my father will help you find a caravan you can accompany to Alexandria. We should leave soon.”
For the first time I noticed that Mary was no older than I. She had given birth only days before, and she was preparing for a journey into the desert into the unknown. She was young and vulnerable but brave. She turned to me and said, “Joseph, Jesus and I thank you, Rabbel.”
We loaded the baggage on Joseph’s donkey, and we placed Mary and the baby on Malichus’ donkey. As we left Bethlehem later after sun up we saw a cloud of dust approaching from Jerusalem. We left the road so we could not be followed as we set out into the wilderness. The desert is a place of testing where character is forged and people are transformed. Joseph, Mary and Jesus would need the spirit of the desert. We walked most of the day, ate, rested, and then journeyed on into the night. I became weary and afraid we were lost. And then I noticed the star, the star of the child, was in the southwest. It was pointing our way home.
My father, God bless his memory, found a caravan to accompany Joseph and Mary to Egypt. I learned in those days that great things often happen in small and quiet ways. Miracles are all around us – the stars in the sky, the wind in the desert, babies born in the night — right under our noses.
God With Us
MARY WAS WITH CHILD
Matthew dares to open up the issue of the unusual circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Joseph and Mary were betrothed, and then Mary discovered she was pregnant. Since they had not yet had sexual relations, Joseph knew he could not be the father, and therefore questioned the wisdom of proceeding with a marriage to a young woman of questionable virtue. Being a kindly man Joseph did not wish to publically accuse Mary of adultery and subject her to being stoned to death, so the text tells us that he planned to divorce her quietly. The child, however, in such circumstances would have been illegitimate, and as a bastard he would have been barred from the congregation of Israel and his descendents also excluded for ten generations. Deuteronomy 23:2 “No bastard shall enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD.” In those days not everyone was welcome!
JOSEPH LISTENED TO HIS DREAM
Joseph was not a hasty man. He took his responsibilities seriously, and so he slept on his decision. Have you ever slept on a weighty issue? Sometimes answers come to us in our dreams, and indeed an angel appeared to Joseph assuring him that the child conceived by Mary was of the Holy Spirit. But who would believe a message from an angel in a dream? Joseph made the leap of faith to embrace the child as his own and name him Jesus.
Of the four gospels Matthew was most anxious to relate the story of Jesus to the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. And here in verses 22 and 23 Matthew makes the first claim to the fulfillment of prophecy – Isaiah chapter 7 verses 10-16. “Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
ASK FOR A SIGN
One of the problems of Matthew citing this passage from Isaiah is the prophet was not referring to Jesus in this passage. In Isaiah chapter seven the prophet was trying to convince King Ahaz of Judah that he did not have to be afraid of his enemies Syria and Samaria, because within a short time both of them would fall to pressure from the larger and militarily stronger Empire of Assyria. The prophet said to Ahaz that if he didn’t believe what Isaiah was telling him, then he should ask for a sign from heaven.
But Ahaz feigning humility replied: “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”
Since the King would not ask for a sign, Isaiah gave him a sign anyway: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The young woman in question was a young princess of the court, who became pregnant and gave birth to the future King Hezekiah after Ahaz had sacrificed his first born son Rimmon to the pagan god Molech. In the eyes of Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah Hezekiah turned out to be a good King and so he was described by the prophets as “God with us.”
A SIGN FROM GOD
And speaking of signs I am reminded of a story. A rabbi and a priest got into a car accident. Both cars were totally demolished, but, amazingly, neither of the clerics was hurt. After they crawled out of their cars, the rabbi saw the priest’s collar and said, “So you’re a priest. I’m a rabbi. Just look at our cars. There’s nothing left, but we are unhurt. This must be a sign from God. God must have meant that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace the rest of our days.”
The priest replied, “I agree with you completely. This must be a sign from God.”
The rabbi continued, “And look at this. Here’s another miracle. My car is completely demolished but this bottle of Mogen David wine didn’t break. Surely God wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune.”
Then he handed the bottle to the priest. The priest agreed, took a few big swigs, and handed the bottle back to the rabbi. The rabbi took the bottle, immediately put the cap on, and handed it back to the priest.
So the priest asked, “Aren’t you having any?”
The rabbi replied, “No…I think I’ll wait for the police.” Be careful of assuming any event is a sign from God.
YOUNG WOMAN NOT VIRGIN
We should also note that Matthew mistranslated Isaiah 7 to read, “a young virgin shall conceive a son,” instead of “a young woman shall conceive.” Standards for the study of scripture in the time of Matthew were very different than our principles for Bible Study today. The early church felt free to rewrite, and be creative with the Hebrew Scriptures, when they were forming the oral traditions that became the New Testament. The important point both Isaiah and Matthew were making in their writing was that somehow the child to which they were referring was a special person – God with us.
GOD WITH US
What does “God with us” mean? For a Christian can that term apply to a person other than Jesus? For that matter, are there events and places other than human beings, we want to point to and say, “That is God with us?” In that event, in that creature, in that book, in that film, in that relationship, God is with us.
WINDOW SEEMS MORE HOLY THAN THE GARGAGE CAN
If God created the universe and all that is within it, then God must be a part everything, and potentially all people, places and things can be a pathway into God’s Holy presence. But some places, some people, some objects seem more able to draw us closer to God than others. I have to admit that when the sun shines through our sanctuary window my spirit is lifted more than when I take the church’s garbage can down to the street on an over caste day. God is present in both, but I am more open to God in the window than in the garbage can.
God can be found in everyone, but I must confess I was more aware of the presence of God in the life of Father Homrich, who had spent 60 years in mission in the jungle of Bangladesh than in Bing Bisping who I am not sure whether he had a spiritual bone in his body. Now that is probably just the failure of my perception, but I think most of us experience some places, some things, some people are more holy than others.
GOD IS SELDOM AS PLAIN AS THE NOSE ON OUR FACE
How do we know when something or someone is holy? God is seldom as plain as the nose on our face. We are more likely to catch a glimpse of the divine out of the corner of our eye than when we are staring right at it. God has a way of showing up in unexpected ways and places – like in a baby in a feed trough for animals. Our ascent to the holy depends more on us than it does on circumstances.
CALVIN AND HOBBS
I am reminded of a Calvin and Hobbs cartoon. Through my adult eyes snow is dangerous and a nuisance. But in the eyes of a child snow is a great wonder, especially a first snow fall of soft powder, and a day off from school. Snow is a wonder in the eyes of a child.
TO SEE A SNOW FLAKE
And if as Jesus said, we can become like children again to actually see and be aware of a snow flake, we might once again experience the awesome mystery of life around us. If we can actually see a snow flake we might know that God is with us again.
Our awareness depends upon us. Can we focus enough to experience God with us? And we need to not be afraid that our visions of the divine are too simple and not sophisticated enough. One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons reminds me that even if all I can see in the clouds is a horsey and a ducky, then that is the vision God has given to me, and it is enough.
KARL BART H
We should be careful when our theologies become too sophisticated. The famous theologian Karl Barth, who wrote a multi-volume theological magnum opus was once asked by a smart ass seminary student, if he could summarize his theological work in 25 words or less. Barth looked at the students and said, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
JESUS IS OUR EMMANUEL
Here at United Church we hope that we are all growing in our faith and understanding, but no matter who you are or how simple your theology you are welcome here. God is with us in our prayers, our relationships, our homes, our families, even in Christmas, despite all of the abuse to which that poor holiday has been subjected God is with us. Indeed, over this next week we will celebrate that Jesus is our Emmanuel. So let us pause in this holiday time to be aware of God’s presence with us.
The Christian Hospital of Mungeli India
The Christian Hospital Mungeli has been serving the community for the past 116 years. The hospital, in this past year, has been able to move further in new adventures and strides which has brought recognition and stability. Christian Hospital Mungeli has become known in this region for both sophistication and compassionate medical care for the marginalized at the lowest affordable cost. The addition of the School of Nursing and the addition of the CT scan machine have been major landmarks in this past year. However, these are only some accomplishments among many.
In a year, almost 30,000 patients are seen. This number keeps growing each year. As the population of India increased, the number of infant deliveries also increased this year to 616 and there was a reduction in the number of intra-uterine deaths that often are due to delayed care. It is satisfying to know that patients are coming to the hospital more quickly than before. This is most evident in snake bites and scorpion stings. Originally many patients were brought in too late. Now they are well-aware that the hospital is there and, although some will also try both traditional and hospital care for treatment, in many situations people come directly to the hospital. Sadly there was a shortage of anti-snake venom in the country and it was a challenge to make sure that there was always some on hand.
The surgical department usually experienced an overflow of patients. There was always a flood of students who liked to observe and help in the OR as they came to the hospital for their academic electives. Dr. Deeptiman James has joined the staff, along with Global Ministries staff Dr. Anil Henry, in surgery. He has been able to start off making an impression in the community, as he really cares about the patients that he operates on. It is hoped that his services may be expanded. This might mean that a new OR block would be needed, as joint replacements would be added. Dr. Samuel continues to be one of the pillars of Mungeli but fractured his leg some time ago. He continued hobbling around in a cast with support while the services of the hospital continued on.
There were over 600 deliveries during the past year. There is now some amount of outreach, as the nursing students have been reaching out to the villages as they go on their visits. This will make a difference with the kind of cases coming into the hospital. Dr. Ipsita will be joining the staff as soon as she finishes her studies. The sickest patients that came in were those who came from a long distance and had been rejected in other places, including the government hospital, and thus came for refuge as the last hope of life. Some of these were mothers who came with severe jaundice, anemia, high blood pressure, and convulsions (ecclampsia), a ruptured uterus, or malaria. These cases have a high mortality rate and other hospitals do not want to deal with them. It took much more work and effort to take these patients in the latter stages of sickness and attempt to save some of these mothers.
During the past year, lab services increased and the demand continues to grow. There were over 48,000 lab tests that were done by the four lab technicians that we have. Services in haematology, biochemistry, microbiology, and blood banking have been increased as well. The hospital continues to struggle to find donors willing to give blood. There has been some awareness and young students are sometimes willing to come and give, but there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.
The medical imaging this year made many changes by getting into digital imaging and then acquiring a PACS, a system by which radiological imaging can be examined, compressed, and transferred through the internet. A new 500 mA x-ray unit for higher penetration was acquired as well as the CR system for digitalization. All of this information needed to be stored, and Mungeli became the first hospital in the region to have a PACS that stores all the images on a large server.
The greatest addition to all this was the CT scanner. This is a special spiral CT which can reconstruct images and do all sorts of fancy things to help recreate a lesion in the body to assist in the treatment. This equipment is a first in the region and the scans are cheaper than those done in any city nearby. The CT scans are read by tele-radiology, which means that a radiologist logs into our machine remotely every day and reads and reports the scans of all the patients that were done that day. A second ultrasound machine was also acquired. This ultrasound is a state-of-the-art machine with facilities for color doppler and cardiac echo.
The dental department has been handled by Dr. Nirmal, who has been a great help. He not only works with his own patients, but also helps out with the load of general patients. He assists in cases in the OR which are maxilla-facial and need suturing, as well as being a part of the big cases that we do for oral carcinomas, where major resections and reconstruction are done.
The physiotherapy department continues to grow each year with the variety of patients. With the addition of Dr. Deeptiman, a greater need for physiotherapy has been realized. An occupational therapist from Australia joined the staff and has been able to put a different angle on the kinds of activities that go on in the department.
RSBY Smart Card Insurance Program
Mungeli Hospital participates in a government health insurance program for low-income families called RSBY. Basically, the government pays premiums to an insurance company on behalf of families living below the poverty line. This provides a family of five access to care worth Rs.30,000 (approximately $665) in a year. The benefit applies only to inpatient services, and there are packages by which the hospital is supposed to receive reimbursement. It is now alarmingly true that the number of patients that come with these cards is increasing day by day enabling more patients to be helped. The sad part of it is that there are still the poorest of poor who are not able to get this card, as they are left out. As the program continues the poor are getting awareness, and it is hoped that the program will continue to grow as is the plant by the government. As usual with all insurance companies, there is a very large outstanding amount that the hospital is yet to receive.
Accommodations For Relatives Of Patients
The main activity of the hospital is to take care of the patients; however, when there is a group of 10 – 12 relatives that also comes with each patient, they also are in need of attention. A large hall has been converted for their use, called the Dharamshala, which is free of charge. A kitchen provides subsidized meals and a place where they can cook their meals by gas stoves. It has been difficult for the gas company to keep up with the high load which is required; thus, the hospital has had gas crises at times requiring the relatives to go back to burning wood. Wood, of course, is free to them, but the consequences to the environment are evident and sad.
School Of Nursing
The School of Nursing has now completed its first year of existence with a total of 20 students in 2011 and again in 2012. The hospital could actually handle 30 but there is a shortage of accommodations. Once this gets settled, there will be 30 students each year. The presence of the students on campus has changed the atmosphere of the staff. There is a sense of new life, responsibility and, surely, liveliness which the community has experienced with this growth. A “Capping Celebration” was held in February, and Reverend Landa Simmons was the chief guest, along with Debbie Briese. This was a very special occasion, as it was the first of its kind in the community. At this point, the primary focus for strengthening the School of Nursing is to provide enough space to house the two classes of students on two floors above the guest house. A new nursing hostel needs to be built which will accommodate about 220 students and staff. This is being planned, and ground breaking will take place in about two months.
Automation of the cooking facilities is helping to feed these nurses as the number will grow substantially.
The crèche is a facility that was recently started with a class of six children. This program is geared for children of working women. The children play and learn songs, alphabets, and numbers. The vision with starting the crèche is:
- To bring in children at a younger age to monitor their nutrition and start them on a good road to health.
- To build up their skills in being able to sit, learn, and play with other children.
- Prepare them to be ready to go on to the Rambo Memorial School.
Rambo Memorial English Medium School
The Rambo Memorial School is the hope for tomorrow. This is what will bring true change in Mungeli for the next generation. The school has been increasing in numbers each year and now there are more than 600 children. This growth prompted the purchase of a fourth school bus last year and, beginning the following year, a fifth school route was started. It is something special to be teaching village children using an English medium, and it is felt that this will surely be the way to “get the frogs out of the pond” and into the world. Thanks go out to the friends and volunteers who come and assist with classes and enlightening the children both in speaking English and in teaching them about the world that God has made around us with many amazing things. The main way forward has been to work with the Church to get their agreement that the school will be functioning under the administration of the hospital. This is essential as long as the school needs to grow. Right now, the school is basically in a large bungalow and there is no more space available. It is for that reason that ground was broken and a new building is being constructed. Six classrooms are almost complete and, when it is done, this facility will be able to educate 1,000 children.
This year the hospital has done well, and has been able to do a lot, not only to improve the facilities in the hospital, but also to work with the infrastructure.
Hospital Management Software
A new company was secured, Aavanor, based in Chennai, India, to provide hospital management software. The software has brought about a paperless Outpatient Department, starting with patient registration where a nice hard plastic ID card is given with a bar code on it and the patient’s picture which the patient will keep. This system will also be linked to our new PACS server in the X-ray department so staff will be able to view reports and pictures on any of the computer screens in the hospital. It is hoped that staff can learn and begin the process of storing and viewing images that are saved on the ultrasound and the gastro-scope. This software will be able to give additional accuracy in storing and retrieving data as well as make the work of the hospital more streamlined and easy. There is no doubt that the doctors will have to learn to enter data into the computer and will have to know the software.
Major Equipment Acquisitions
The following equipment was purchased during the past year: more air conditioners, a CT scanner, spiral CT 16 slice machine, a video gastro-scope and video trachea-bronchoscope, a new incinerator, ventilators, a solar water heater for the new nursing hostel and staff homes, a new school bus, a 500mA x-ray machine, a digital CR system for x-rays, new picture archiving and communication system PACS, two water coolers, a cement mixture machine, a cancer therapy machine, new hospital management software, and a new ambulance.
Renovation and building projects at the hospital continued. This year approximately $75,000 was spent toward these renovations and building of new structures. Completed projects include: Conference room and library, new x-ray room and CT scanner room (x-ray department), burn unit with four private rooms, two apartments above existing staff houses, two floors and extension of the old guest house (now the temporary Student Nursing Hostel), cancer machine and infrastructure placed in the cancer treatment center, renovation and building of the boys’ hostel/old nursing superintendent’s house, and building and furnishing of classrooms for the School of Nursing.
Plans For The Future
Over the past nine years, Mungeli has been dreaming and moving along with a vision which has started new endeavors, but it will be necessary to build up the infrastructure for these. Most of all, Mungeli is an exciting place to be. There is always change and there are always surprises that bring staff to the end of the day praising God for guidance as each project gets completed. This next year, one of the anticipated new projects will be the cancer treatment services. This is a dream which is almost realized. The building is completed and the machine is being installed. The prayer is to find the technical hands and the doctor to head this department. God answers prayers, and Dr. Sudeep Marcus has gotten into the radiotherapy course in CMC Ludhiana and will be done in another two years. He is the future of this project. In the meantime, the project will start with current staff and God will guide the way, as always. Also in the planning are:
- The completion of the new school building. This is something which will take some time. Six classrooms are done, and the other six are being completed on the first floor, with two more floors to go.
- The building of a nurses’ hostel. This is becoming urgent, as housing for the nursing students this next year is desperately needed. This project will start very soon and donations are coming in to help get the work started.
- A new water tank will need to be purchased. Construction on this structure has already begun and this project will also have a water recycling system for grey water. Right now the hospital manages with two 2,000-litre tanks on top of the ward.
- More staff housing is needed. This needs to be done if services continue to expand at the rate they are going.
- Begin, in a small way, a survey and community health project.
- There is also interest by the Damien foundation to start an orphanage. This would be a great program to start since the school and the medical facility are already in place and the food will be the only thing that will need to be added.
There is no doubt that nothing could be possible without the support of the hospital staff. They are the backbone of the hospital. The pillars of the medical work are the doctors, of course. Then there is the rest of the staff that put in many extra hours of work in order to produce the excellent results that you see in this report. Staff have been able to attend conferences, including one in Chennai where ten staff members were able to attend the CMAI conference. There have been other conferences and meetings in which staff members have taken part, as well.
The restoration work on the Bishrampur church has been completed. This has been a great accomplishment. This was the first church that was built by Reverend Oscar Lohr in 1868, and it was in shambles. The restoration expenses were defrayed considerably by generous donations of from the Whitcomb family and Sandy Springs Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The rest of the load of was then taken on by the hospital. The opening ceremony was attended by the heads of both the United Church of Christ, Reverend Geoffrey Black, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Reverend Sharon Watkins. It was a grand celebration with about 4,000 people in attendance. A lunch was enjoyed right after the ceremony.
Every morning, the hospital staff meet in the chapel for morning prayers. It is, however, getting evident that the building needs major help. Therefore, a new chapel will need to be built and plans are being made for this.
VISION OF PEACE
THE FAMILY CHINA WAS GOING TO GET BROKEN
Isaiah could foresee the undoing of his people. The rich were getting richer, the poor were getting poorer, and the fabric of the nation was beginning to fray. People don’t pull together to defend a nation, where most of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small elite, and the bulk of the population is impoverished.
Israel also lived in a tough neighborhood in between huge empires that wanted to make a date to duke it out with each other on Israel’s soil — Egypt and Assyria, then Egypt and Babylon, then the Greeks and the Persians. When two giants decide to fight it out in your house, some of the family china is going to be broken. Isaiah could see that eventually the Jews would get creamed.
OLIVE TREE SYMBOL OF FAITH AND PEACE
Isaiah, however, did not give into despair. For the prophet also had a vision of peace, and the eventual restoration of the people of Israel. His vision centered on the olive tree, a symbol of faith and peace. Olives have been cultivated in the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years. Olives can be eaten as food. The oil from the olive is valuable for cooking, lighting, medicinal, and religious uses. The wood from the olive tree is hard, beautifully grained, and it is used for furniture and decorative functions.
Olive trees have been a symbol of life and faithfulness. Some olive trees have been known to live well over a thousand years. A few olive trees have attained ages in excess of two-thousand years.
EXTENDING THE OLIVE BRANCH
Olive trees were so valuable God gave a command in Deuteronomy 20:19 that even in time of war the army was forbidden from cutting down olive trees. One reason for protecting olive trees is they require many years to mature before they bear much fruit. A person who planted an olive tree did so intending for her descendants to harvest the fruit. A branch from an olive tree was considered throughout the ancient Mediterranean world to be a symbol of peace. Even today we speak of extending the olive branch.
OLIVE SHOOTS — NETZER
The vision of Isaiah begins with an olive tree that has been cut down a stump of a tree. But not all hope is lost. For olives are very difficult to kill. If they are cut down shoots will come out of the stump and form a new tree. Even if the tree is cut level with the ground, so long as the root system of the tree is intact a shoot will come up from the roots and form a new tree. Thus the ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane probably grew up from the root systems of the trees that were there, when Jesus prayed in the Garden. This shoot that comes up from the root system is called a “netzer.”
JESUS THE NETZOREAN
So why is any of this important? Because when Isaiah wrote: “a branch shall grow out of his roots,” Isaiah was envisioning a netzer. And it just happens that the Roman Catholic Holy Land scholar Bargil Pixner claims that the family of Jews who returned from Babylon in about 100 BCE and settled in Nazareth of Galilee called themselves the netzer, the branch that grows from the root of Jesse. They believed that the Messiah was to come from their clan. And so they were called netzoreans – the ones who grow out of the roots of David. Pixner believes that the name for the Village of Nazareth was derived from the name of the Clan of Netzer. Thus he believes that Jesus was originally known as Jesus the Netzorean or the one who comes out of the root of Jesse. “In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”
NON-VIOLENCE OF JESUS AND THE EARLY CHURCH
So did Isaiah actually foresee the coming of Jesus, or was the whole netzer thing merely a coincidence? We don’t know, however, the church very early on identified our passage from Isaiah with Jesus. What is sad is that too often the church has lost the vision of peace. The early church embraced the non-violent love of Jesus, enduring persecution and forgiving their tormenters, following the example of Jesus who from the cross forgave the people who crucified him.
SLIDE 9: VISION OF PEACE IS INCLUSIVE
Jesus had a vision of peace, when he advised those who would follow him to turn the other cheek. His vision of peace extended to forgiving enemies, and sharing worldly possessions with others, so that everyone might have enough. His vision of peace was inclusive, he reached across the separations of tribe and clan the taboos of ritual cleanliness to eat with tax collectors and sinners. No matter who you were or where you were on life’s journey you were welcome to eat with Jesus. In a world of strict social stratification especially played out at the dinner table, Jesus’ feedings of the multitude were a new vision of a community of peace.
POWER AND CONTROL OVER PEOPLE
Too often the church has sold out Jesus’ vision of the beloved community of peace in its bid for power and control over people. Rather than welcoming all people to the Sharing Table the church after Constantine said you are only welcome if you are willing to affirm the prescribed creedal statement, or conform to prescribed social and sexual behavior, and if you will not submit to the power of the church’s hierarchy we will use the power of the state to imprison you, torture you, if necessary kill you. For most of the history of the church, peace has meant the silencing of women, the silencing of minorities, the silencing of all dissent.
UNITED CHURCH – INCLUSIVE- SHARING- TOLERANT
The United Church of Christ and United Church in particular represents a renewed attempt to embrace the way of Jesus. We are inclusive. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here. We reach out to share with each other and with people in need outside of our community of faith. By practicing radical tolerance we seek to embrace Jesus’ vision of peace.
PRAYING FOR PEACE – NOT ENOUGH
Often we pray for peace. And that reminds me of story about praying for peace. In Jerusalem, a CNN correspondent heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. She went to the Wailing Wall and there he was! She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, she approached him for an interview. “I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN. Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall to pray?”
“For 46 years.”
“Forty-six years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
“I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the hatred to stop and I pray for all our children to grow up in safety and friendship.”
“How do you feel after doing this for 46 years?”
“Like I’m talking to a stupid wall.”
ACTIVE PEACE MAKING
Praying for peace is a beginning, but not nearly enough. If we are to become the community of the vision of peace, we must become active peace makers. And peacemaking in the way of Jesus begins with embracing powerlessness and vulnerability. All recovery programs begin with the admission that we are powerless in relationship to our addictions. Only by submitting our lives to a higher power can we begin to make our lives manageable again. And sometimes the way of peace is taking simple steps like noble laureate Mangari Maathai, who started a peaceful revolution in Kenya by persuading other women to plant trees.
SLIDE 14: NELSON MANDELA
Or consider the now late Nelson Mandela who led a peaceful revolution forgiving the white oppressors and creating a society, where all people could be free. Just so, we cannot create a culture of peace by exercising power over others. We can invite others to join us in the beloved community of peace, but we cannot force anyone to accept the way of love.
COOPERATE RATHER THAN COMPETE
When Eugene Peterson wrote his paraphrase of the Bible, entitled, The Message, he translated the peacemaker scripture in the Beatitudes, Matthew chapter 5 verse 9 this way, “You’re blessed when you teach people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” Lifting the vision of cooperation rather than competition is a radical change for our culture and our economic system. So much latent violence is programmed into the structure of our economy – laying people off, undercutting the competition, stealing intellectual property, driving down wages – all latent forms of violence. Embracing the way of peace can mean becoming counter-cultural. Like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King we are called upon to love those who will hate us. Loving those who would even seek to harm us opens the way for transformation.
Jesus did not say the way of the love is easy. He did not say that sharing with others is practical or will make you rich. He did not say the ruling class will be ready to cooperate rather than compete, he simply held out the vision of shalom. Shalom means hello and goodbye, and shalom is a vision of all things coming together in healing and peace – shalom. We are called to be the people of shalom and in that day, “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
The Coming of the Gift
Today is the first day of Advent — preparation for the coming of the gift – the divine word revealed in flesh. Our scripture this morning emphasizes the fleshiness of the divine child – a helpless baby who suckles at his mother’s breast and needs to be changed and kept warm – child in a manger.
GENEALOGY OF JESUS
Many people when they decide to read the New Testament, open their Bible and dive right into the first chapter of Matthew and they just can’t get through the genealogy of Jesus. “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers and on and on and on.” So most people skip over the first 17 verses of the New Testament and fail to realize the deep wisdom contained in the family tree of the Messiah.
BAD BOYS AND GIRLS OF THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES
Jesus was not some star child who appeared from out of nowhere. The Messiah was part of the fabric of nature a product of evolution. He had a family tree just like us. And while there were Kings and Queens in his lineage, there were also stone masons, horse thieves, prostitutes, and carpenters, among his forbearers just like us. Tamar and Judah, Rahab and Salmon, David and Bathsheba all had irregular sexual liaisons. Parts of Jesus’ pedigree read like a chronicle of bad boys and girls of the Hebrew Scriptures. And yet even these characters of dubious reputation were ancestors of the Messiah.
AUTHENTIC NOT PERFECT
The point of the story is that God acted through imperfect people, liars, cheats, adulterers and murderers to bring Jesus the Messiah into the world – the word made flesh. And if God can act through the ancestors of Jesus, God can certainly act through us. Our flesh does not have to be perfect in order to incarnate the love of God. Our goal is to be authentic not perfect.
Let’s take a few minutes to talk about flesh. Our bodies are often embarrassing and a source of perceived weakness. An endless number of third grade potty jokes testify to our discomfort about our bodies and our bathroom habits. I see Paris, I see France, I see Suzie’s underpants.
Or then there’s the story about drunk who staggered into a Catholic church and sat down in a confessional, saying nothing. The bewildered priest coughed to attract his attention, but still the man said nothing. The priest then knocked on the wall of the confessional three times in a final attempt to get the man to speak.
Finally, the drunk replied, “No use knocking, mate, there’s no paper in this one either.”
ADOLESCENT SEXUAL HUMOR
Eighth grade humor is a testament to our anxiety about our bodies and sexuality. Q. How do you know when you’re getting old?
A. You start having dry dreams and wet farts. Q. What do you call a virgin in a waterbed? A. A cherry float.
We make jokes to allay our embarrassment and shame about our bodies. Our appetites betray us. We struggle to control our body weight, while our addictions can make our lives unmanageable. For some of us, it is hard to become comfortable inside our own skin.
FLESH GIVES BIRTH TO FLESH
And yet the gift of life comes to us in the flesh. The world around us is mediated to us by our physical senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. We derive pleasure from the experience of the sight of beauty, the sound of music, the sensation of touch, the smell of pleasurable aromas, the taste of good food and drink. If we exercise with some regularity the experience of movement is pleasurable. We use our bodies to earn a living and seek care for our bodily needs of food, shelter, sleep, and sex. We even give life to a new generation through our bodies. Literally our flesh gives birth to flesh the miracle of life flows through our bodies – miraculous.
GIFT OF LIFE WRAPPED IN FLESH
The gift of life comes wrapped in flesh. We are incarnated life. There may be some other kind of life that does not have a body, but at least in this world, our lives are our bodies. We are our bodies. And part of the good news of the gospel is that the Messiah, God revealed in flesh had a body like us. The church from time to time has flirted with asceticism, an attempt to deny the flesh. Clergy celibacy is an unwelcome legacy of that kind of flesh denying theology. Pope Francis has placed clergy celibacy on the table for discussion, because of a shortage of priests, however, I think there is also the possibility of creating a new flesh affirming theology — incarnational theology – call it love with skin on.
OUR BODIES FORM A CONSPIRACY AGAINST US
Of course as we grow older sometimes we can feel as if our bodies have formed a conspiracy to betray us. Arthritis begins to set in. Our bowels become grumpy. Our eye sight and hearing fade. The fires of passion no longer burn with such ferocity – of course that can be a good thing. Perhaps most distressing is when our brains begin to fail. We become more forgetful. We walk into a room and wonder why we are there. We write down a shopping list and then forget where we put it. Our keys seem to find new places to hide. Dementia is no fun. That reminds me of my favorite story about memory loss.
Two older couples used to get together to visit. One day one of the men, Harry, started talking about this fantastic restaurant he went to with his wife. “Really?” the other man said, what’s it called?
After thinking for a few seconds the Harry said, “what’s the name of those good smelling flowers that are often red?”
“Do you mean a rose?” the first man asked.
“Yes that’s it,” he exclaimed. Then looking over at his wife he said, “Rose what’s that restaurant we went to the other night?”
LIFE IS A PRECIOUS GIFT REGARDLESS
But even suffering the disabilities of age life is a precious gift. Not too many of us are signing up for an early exit. We simply accept the reality that the gift of life comes wrapped in skin with all the weaknesses to which flesh is prone. And the wonderful gift of Christmas is that God says the gift is good. We can appreciate and love our bodies just as they are. We can connect with other people with our bodies, holding hands, hugging, even occasionally offering an affectionate kiss. Our skin was made for stroking and patting and loving. We can use our hands and arms our embrace to comfort. Certainly we have to be appropriate. There are boundaries and different people have different comfort zones we need to respect. And we all need love. Love is as critical to our survival as food and water. People die for lack of love. That’s why when we share communion this morning we will form a circle, join hands and look each other in the eye.
THIS IS MY BODY
As Jesus said, “This is my body.” Just so we are the body of Christ in the world. We are called to incarnate the love of Christ in our own bodies and share that love with others. On this first Sunday of Advent as we prepare for the coming of the gift we celebrate our embodiment and share our joy. Amen.