Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Unspeakable (Reflections on the Feast of the Transfiguration, Year C)

Okay. It’s time again for that really bizarre tale which always ends the Epiphany season—the story of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-43a). Here’s Jesus with his buds James, John, and Peter up on a mountaintop. He prays, and suddenly his clothes become dazzling white like he’s in a commercial for New Tide with Bleach. Then two dead holy guys appear with him. Peter offers to pitch tents for all of them on the mountain (which is silly since dead holy guys don’t really need shelter), and then the whole scene gets covered by a talking cloud.

Just plain weird. I won’t even attempt to give a rational explanation of this yarn. I think it’s better we just take the story at face value and pick out of it what we can. As I look at this scripture this year, what strikes me in Luke’s version is actually what isn’t said. Check out the conversation which happens before this tale takes place back in verses 21 and 22. Here Jesus tells the disciples that he’s going to suffer and be crucified. How do they respond? The Bible doesn’t say. In Matthew and Mark’s gospels, Peter gets his shorts in a knot and rebukes Jesus for saying that he has to die. In Luke, however, the disciples are all silent on the subject. Didn’t they hear? Or are they just too afraid to ask?

In case the disciples missed what Jesus said in verses 22-3, Moses and Elijah bring the subject up again when they appear with Jesus during this miraculous mountaintop experience (v. 31). None of the three disciples on the mountain ever comment on it. Peter offers to pitch some tents, but he never says to Jesus, “Uhh, Boss..? We’re not sure we heard right. Did Elijah just say that you were going to Jerusalem to depart? What does that mean, exactly?”

That’s so like the disciples. It’s also so like us, don’t you think? Here these boys are having a wonderful worship experience in which they really seem to get to know the glory of Jesus. In fact, we might even interpret what Jesus says up in verse 27 as a promise that some of them would really get to see God’s glory in Christ. But they don’t seem to understand that this glory is only transient, and that they’ll have to come down the mountain and deal with the real dirty business of the world.

I also find it interesting that even after they’ve had their mountaintop moment, they don’t seem to want to talk about it (v.36). What are they afraid of?

The compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary link the story of the Transfiguration with the tale which immediately succeeds it of Jesus healing a boy with some kind of seizure disorder. The boy’s dad says that he took his son to the disciples, but they couldn’t cure the lad. This gets Jesus in one of his rare irritated moods. He accuses the powerless disciples of being “faithless and perverse” (v.41). Could it be that they actually had the ability to heal this child, but simply lacked the confidence or trust to do it?

If we read on beyond the assigned lectionary for this Sunday, there is a third reference in Luke chapter 9 to Jesus’ impending passion (vv.43b-45). This time Luke clearly tells us that the disciples didn’t understand this and were afraid to speak of it.

For me, I guess, the disciples in this chapter seem to resemble members of an old, established congregation who really love the worship experience, but just can’t seem to wrap their brains around the call to witness to a hurting world. They want to pitch that tent in the garden with Jesus, but they just don’t want to talk about it or deal with any of the aspects of the faith which might be troublesome or confusing. They’re ready to talk your ears off about petty things and personal gripes (see verses 46-50), but they can’t open up about how they experience Jesus, and they are afraid to take the leap of faith necessary to do a mission of healing for their community.

This is the challenge as we come down the mountain and set our faces with Jesus towards Jerusalem--towards the realities of sickness, injustice and hurt in this world. As we enter the holy season of Lent, will we open our mouths to speak our own faith? Will we be willing to tackle the tragedies of hunger and want that so cripple this planet? Can we believe that we have the power to cure within us?

But here’s the good news: Jesus used these poor, simple, dim-witted, pusillanimous boobs to bring his light to the world. It can be done even by the most simple, tongue-tied, confused, and shy among us. If we’ve known Christ’s glory even for a second, we can remember it for eternity and move forward in its promise.

Thanks for reading. God’s peace to you.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

So What Brings You Here? (Reflection on Epiphany 3, Year C)

 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:14-21)

So what brings you to Planet Earth? Have you ever wondered why you’re here? In this week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus lays out his mission statement. He’s telling the folks why he’s here. In a nutshell, God’s Spirit has brought him into the world to proclaim the Hebrew notion of jubilee—the time when the society hits the reset button on human behavior. Historically, this would mean that land was returned to its original owners, debts were cancelled, slaves were freed, and everybody gets a new start. As Christians, we often look at this passage and imagine that the year of the Lord’s favor—that great second chance and restoration—comes when we figure out that God loves us in spite of our stupid selves. God in Christ has come to us, washed in our bath water, taken our punishment, experienced our pain and sadness, and still said, “Father, forgive them.” And every day we drown to our old sinful selves and rise anew, trying to be better, striving to be more thankful and appreciative, hoping to do right out of gratitude for God’s limitless patience with us.

Of course, we can’t all teach in parables, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, or die on a cross for the folly of humankind. But what can you do? What is your mission? Why did God put YOU here in this place and time?

I like to think that I’ve finally found my purpose after more than half a century of life. I think my job is to tell stories. Not just Gospel stories, but stories of where Christ shows up in the lives of everyday saints. You see, as one of the few full-time Protestant clerics left standing in my neighborhood, I get called on to preach at the funerals of just about every non-fellowshipping Protestant or lapsed Catholic in Northeast Philly. I see my job as pointing the way to Christ. That is, seeing Christ in the lives that I eulogize. In a way, that’s the job of all Christians: to see Christ in others and be Christ for others. That’s our spiritual path.

I think the challenge for this Third Sunday in Epiphany is to ask ourselves if we know our own purpose and if we know the purpose of our congregations. There’s a pretty cool policy guide (if you will) found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship’s liturgy for Affirmation of Baptism:

“You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
To live among God’s faithful people,
To hear the Word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper,
To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
To serve all people following the example of Jesus,
And to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?” (ELW pg 237)

(BTW: That last part about “justice and peace” was the purpose of the “Year of the Lord’s Favor” which Jesus references in the Gospel reading.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that following the above rubrics is the only purpose of your life, but I do recommend this path as a way of finding your mission if you’ve not already done so. It’s also a way of encouraging yourself in the mission you may have already found.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Beuchner, Wishful Thinking)

Think about it this week, won’t you? 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Godparents For Life (Reflections on Baptism)

Back in the day I used to hang with this girl named Julie. She was a musician and played the organ at our church. She and I often joked about getting married, and I certainly couldn’t have asked for a better partner—she was pretty, wealthy, generous, funny, smart, talented, and Christian. But she was also gay, so that kind of put the marriage thing out of the question.

But I’m thinking of dear Julie this week in connection to her godfather, Clyde. Clyde was an elderly fellow in our congregation (I don’t believe there are young fellows named Clyde) who was ubiquitously loved by every member of the church. He was kind and funny and fond of leisure suits (Remember leisure suits..? This was all about thirty plus years ago) and white shoes and the Los Angeles Dodgers. But he was quite concerned when he learned that his goddaughter was into girls.

One Sunday during after-church coffee hour, Clyde approached me and wanted to know about Julie. “There is something,” he said, “which is extremely distasteful to me. And you know what I’m talking about.” I told him I knew, but I wasn’t comfortable discussing my friend’s sexual orientation around the assembled church folk. We agreed to meet for lunch the next day to discuss it.

Clyde picked me up from the small college where I was teaching the next day, and we dined at a local restaurant. After he said grace, I explained what I had observed in Julie since she had “come out.” You must recall this was thirty years ago, so folks’ attitudes towards the LGBT community were not as enlightened as we might have wished. But I told Clyde that, since Julie had come through the flood of recognizing her sexuality, she would now hug me—which she’d never done before. She’d also say, “I love you,” which she’d never done before. And she seemed happier than I remember her seeming before.

Clyde’s response to this was one of the most Christian things I can recall. He told me he loved his goddaughter, and, though he did not understand her lifestyle, he would pray for her happiness. He told me he accepted what I had to tell him despite his initial misgivings. All he wanted was for Julie to be happy. “Please tell her,” he said, “that I will not ask anything about her personal life. But if she ever needs anything, she’s to call me. After all, she is my godchild.”

I share this little tale with you on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord because I want to celebrate what an extraordinary godfather this now long-deceased gentleman was. To subordinate the ingrained opinions of his upbringing for the sake of the love of the child he’d promised to nurture in the Christian faith was a true sign of sacrifice. But what impressed me the most about Clyde was how seriously he took the promises he had made at Julie’s baptism. His concern for her did not end after the water had dried on her infant forehead, nor did it terminate at her Confirmation or her eighteenth birthday. He had made a promise before God and intended to keep it.

“Sponsors,” the Evangelical Lutheran Worship baptism liturgy asks, “do you promise to nurture these persons in the Christian faith as you are empowered by God’s Spirit, and to help them live in the covenant of baptism and in communion with the church?” (ELW pg.228) There is no statute of limitations on this question. Living in the grace of our own baptism requires that we become servants to all the baptized—especially the young whom God has placed in our charge.

I get a bit miffed and feel rather superior when someone calls my church, claiming to have been baptized here, but saying they have lost their baptismal certificate and need a duplicate to prove to some Roman priest that they are worthy to stand as a godparent. I want to ask them, “What qualifies you to be godparent at a child’s baptism when you seem to have so little interest in your own that you haven’t even preserved your certificate?”

I can feel really smug at such times. After all, I know where my baptismal certificate is (hanging on the wall of my office). I can also lay my hands on my Confirmation certificate and my seminary diploma and certificate of ordination. But, truth be told, I have been one crappy godfather to my own godchildren. I have had nowhere near the life-long commitment to their spiritual growth which Clyde had for Julie.

What would the church look like if we all took seriously these baptismal vows? What if we committed ourselves to sharing our faith with our children and we all assumed parental roles for the kids in our parish? What if Affirmation of Baptism no longer meant “Graduation from Church?” What if we remembered that, in baptism, Jesus got down in our dirty bath water and promised to love us through all of our sin and pain and confusion, and we committed to doing the same for each other?

So often I feel that baptisms have become just an excuse for a party. What if we committed to being godparents for life?  I think, then, that God would be well pleased.

Thanks for reading, my dears. God bless you.

Monday, December 28, 2015

No End to Herod (Reflections on Epiphany)

According to my Manuel on the Liturgy, the Feast of the Epiphany rates as one of the principal festivals of the Christian faith. It used to be the time when the earliest Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus, but old Emperor Constantine decided sometime in the middle of the fourth century to make Christmas December 25th since all the pagans were partying at that time anyway. January 6 then became the celebration of Christ’s baptism and the start of the season in which people began to recognize the divine in Jesus.  Hence the twelve days of Christmas (which most of us don’t celebrate in our culture because, with Christmas commercialism starting in September, we’re all pretty sick of Christmas by this time!).

Nevertheless, the Church still finds lots of meaning in the story in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2:1-20) of the Wise Men, King Herod, the escape of the Holy Family into Egypt, and the death of the Holy Innocents. I’d go so far as to say that this story is even more poignant in our world today than it ever has been. The Wise Men (or Three Kings as they are known—even though the Bible neither specifies their number nor gives any indication of their royalty besides the fact that they can afford some pretty high-priced presents!) have come to symbolize the universality of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Christian art has depicted them as a young man, a middle-aged fellow, and an old codger to symbolize Jesus belonging to all the ages. They are also often represented as a European, a Middle-Easterner, and a black African to symbolize Jesus came for all nations and races. Pretty cool, huh?

But to me, it’s Herod who is speaking the loudest. Historically, we know that Herod was not Jewish, but was a foreigner with no authentic claim to rule over Israel except the Roman power which propped him up. He is known to have murdered his own family members in order to secure his position on the throne. How threatened he must have been when informed that a child with legitimate ties to King David had been born!

 Throughout history, this murderous tyrant has been remembered as the epitome of evil. Yet the nightly TV news continues to bring Herod to life. Bashar al-Assad, a modern-day Herod, is completely willing to let innocent children suffer so he can remain in power.  ISIS seeks to establish an Islamic state through terror and intimidation. Joseph Kony turns children into soldiers to establish his thuggish so-called Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Mass gun violence in the US is ignored for political purposes. Twenty centuries after the time in which Matthew wrote, and we still live in a world where violence is the tool of power.

So what lesson do we take from the Epiphany story? For me, it’s the reminder that Herod’s plot, for all of its brutality, still failed. Violence and ruthlessness never achieve permanent ends. There is, you see, no true king but God, and nothing will blot out God’s Word in Jesus Christ. I also like the fact that it’s the foreigners who are the first real evangelists. So maybe those immigrants have something of value to give us, don't you think? Joseph brings the Messiah safely out of—of all places—Egypt, that once-hated land, reminding us that we never know from where God’s grace and blessings will come.

Happy Epiphany, my friends. Thanks for checking out my blog.

PS-A little “Herod trivia:” The role of the murdering king was popular in the mystery plays of the Middle Ages. The hammiest actors usually got the role of Herod, and enjoyed portraying him with fiendish glee during the twelve days of Christmas. Shakespeare makes oblique reference to this in the second act of Hamlet, when Hamlet warns the players about over acting. (“…it out-herods Herod. Pray you, avoid it…”). My favorite hammy Herods are Claude Raines in The Greatest Story Ever Told and Sir Peter Ustinov in Jesus of Nazareth. Click on Sir Peter’s name to see this wonderful actor (and fellow Lutheran) chew the scenery in the 1977 made-for-TV epic.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Baby in the Manger

 Image result for holy nativity images

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

Twenty-eight-year-old Father Chris Heanue, a newly ordained Catholic priest, had a great idea for the Christmas crèche at Holy Child Jesus Catholic Church in Queens, New York. He planned to follow the liturgical tradition of setting the nativity scene up at the beginning of Advent, but waiting until Christmas Eve to place the figure of the infant Savior in the manger. To make the four-week wait of Advent meaningful to his parishioners, Father Chris planned to fill the manger with dozens of paper tags on which were written gift ideas. Parishioners, many of whom are Latino and Asian immigrants, would be asked to take a tag from the “Crib of Love” and purchase the suggested gift for a poor child or family.

On the Monday morning following the feast of Christ the King, sixty-year-old sexton Jose Antonio Moran began assembling the nativity scene in the front of the church’s nave. Jose had assembled the “stable” portion and figured that adding the figures and scattering the straw could wait until after his daily noon lunch break.

When he returned to the worship space around 1 PM, Jose heard the sound of a baby crying. This was not an uncommon sound at Holy Child Jesus Church, but what startled Jose was the fact that the crying was coming from the crèche. To his total astonishment, Jose (whose name translates as “Joseph” in English), beheld a newborn baby boy, wrapped in a blue towel and lying in the manger. The sexton immediately ran to get Father Chris. The priest called the rescue squad, and the newborn—who was judged to be about five hours old and with his umbilical cord still attached—was taken to the local hospital. He was, apparently, a very healthy newcomer to our planet.

Authorities would later find and identify the baby’s mother. Although no details about her have been released, it is obvious that she gave birth at home. Feeling that she could not care for her child, she left the little one at the church in accordance with New York’s “Safe Haven” law which permits women to surrender newborns for whom they cannot give adequate care to area hospitals, churches, police, or fire stations—no questions asked. I have to wonder about this woman: was she young? Afraid? Too poor to go to the hospital? Overwhelmed by the ordeal? How painful was it for her to part with her child?

We know that she came back to the church the following day to make sure her baby was safe. I, for one, wouldn’t judge her. I feel certain she did what she thought was right. I wonder if, when the angel Gabriel came to give her the startling news, the Mother of Our Lord—young and unmarried—didn’t feel many of the pangs which this mother felt?

When the story of the Baby in the Manger broke, a tidal wave of love flowed from the parishioners of Holy Child Jesus. Father Chris’ phone rang with calls from families wishing to adopt the infant. He would later tell the New York Post, “They felt he was left in the parish and should stay in the parish.” Many of these parishioners are poor like the shepherds to whom the angels heralded the birth of Christ. Many are foreigners like the Magi from the East who came to marvel at Christ. Many are elderly and faithful like Simeon and Anna who longed to see Christ. And, perhaps, in this little orphaned child they actually saw Christ—Christ in compassion and mercy, the very reasons for which he was sent to our suffering world.

There has been much discussion around Holy Child Church as to what to name the little one. Emanuel, “God With Us,” has been a popular suggestion. Father Christ has favored John, after John the Baptist who makes his appearance in the lectionary which precedes Christmas. Some have suggested Jose in honor of the sexton who found the child. Of course, the most obvious name for the baby in the manger might simply be Jesus (pronounced hay-SOOS, of course).

Again, I have to wonder about a child named Jesus who was found in a manger during Advent. What will this little boy think as he grows up and hears the story of his birth? What will he come to believe about himself and the community which has embraced him? Will he feel a certain desire to live up to the image of the gentle healer and Prince of Peace whose nativity so closely resembled his own? I hope so.

But maybe the more important question is what will our response be to this child and all the children born to us today? Will we find that tender compassion for the weak and helpless, and commit ourselves to making a world in which they can grow and live and feel and know the tender embrace of God?

A blessed Christmas to you all. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Have Yourself a Merry Little Advent Four, Year C

“…He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant.” (Luke 1:48)

At this festive time of year one turns on the radio to hear the sounds of the season. After two solid weeks of “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and Sir Paul McCartney’s abysmally monotonous “Wonderful Christmastime,” one might be ready to toss one’s lunch about now.

Still, there are not a few secular Christmas tunes which your Old Religious Guy actually likes to hear. I have a weak spot for Karen Carpenter singing “Merry Christmas, Darling,” and Nat ‘King’ Cole’s version of “The Christmas Song.” But I really get all sentimental and mushy over “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Granted, it’s not the most sophisticated piece of music ever composed, but it bears a sweet message which veers dangerously close to the Gospel accounts of Our Lord’s birth.

In case you didn’t know, the song was composed for the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis. In the flick, Judy Garland sings this tune to cheer up her younger sister played by child star Margaret O’Brien. The child has learned that her family will be leaving St. Louis to move to New York, and she is hurt and saddened by the loss of her beloved home and friends, as well as disappointed at missing the anticipated World’s Fair. Judy’s character sings this song as tears pour down the little girl’s face.

I like this song because it reminds me that not everything is ever just merry and bright this time of year. I was on the phone the other day with a parishioner who has lost both her mother and husband recently and is facing her first Christmas without them. The pressure to be joyful at the Yule is so often an unspeakable burden to us, and so many people feel lonely, lost, and depressed.

When “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was recorded as a pop tune, a poignant line was changed. I personally like the original version which went, “…until then, we all will muddle through somehow.” Because that’s what we do in this world—especially at this season—muddle through.

The story of Christ’s birth in the Gospels is not all sweetness and light, and we often forget this in the pressure of the season and our American expectations of what Christmas should be. The Gospel lesson for Advent 4 Year C (Luke 1:39-55) makes beautiful Christmas cards, but it has a painful side to it. Poor Elizabeth, in her culture, would be despised and considered cursed by God because she couldn’t get pregnant (see Luke 1:25). Mary, would be equally despised and possibly stoned to death for conceiving out of wedlock. Both are second-class citizens by virtue of being women. Both are peasants.

And yet, it is their very femininity—their shared knowledge of the mysteries of childbirth—which allows Elizabeth to speak as a prophet and Mary to be the bearer of God. I guess what I so love about this passage is the defiant jubilation these women share. Mary rejoices that the lowly have been lifted up (v. 52), a joy one can only know once one acknowledges that one has been lowly. Neither woman suddenly hits the lottery nor has her life made any easier than it has been. They just know that God loves them and has not forsaken them. They do not forget their hardship, but they sure know how to access joy in the midst of it.

Hey. If I were to tell you that leading a good and virtuous life would bring you only good and virtuous things, I’d be lying to you. Thinking you can influence God (and haven’t I said this before..?) isn’t religion. It’s superstition. The truth is that sometimes things just plain suck. But that doesn’t stop God from choosing us to be the bearers of good news.

So okay. Miss your loved ones. Worry about ISIS and global warming and your job and your whacky kids. Feel a little guilty that you can’t afford to give the gifts or make the charitable donations you really want to. Be lonely and afraid. But remember that God has chosen YOU to carry the Good News.

And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

PS - If you'd like to see the scene From Meet Me in St. Louis in which Judy Garland sings this unforgettable tune, click here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Rejoice, You Sloppy Christians! (Reflections on Advent 3, Year C)

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” (Luke 3:7-8a)

What’s up with this?

Image result for gaudete sundayThe Third Sunday of Advent has been known since the ninth century as Guadete Sunday. That’s when the Church decided to shorten the period of Advent from forty days, as it had been since the fifth century, to a mere four weeks. But, they still kept this little “party day” in the middle of the season so waiting and fasting wouldn’t be too much of a downer. Guadete is Latin for “Rejoice,” and it was the first word spoken in the liturgy for this festival Sunday (See the epistle lesson from Philippians 4). We symbolize the up-beat nature of the day by lighting a pink candle on the Advent wreath and singing something happy and Christmassy like “Joy to the World.”

The problem, however, is trying to celebrate a “Rejoice Sunday” when the words of John the Baptist in the Gospel lesson (Luke 3:7-18) sound more like “Kick-Butts-and-Take-Names Sunday.” I mean, John just doesn’t sound like a happy camper. I don’t know of anybody who’d feel particularly joyful to have John call them a snake and threaten them with being thrown into the fire. Yet this tongue-lashing from the Baptist is necessary. Sitting around waiting for God to come and fix our lives, our churches, or our world just won’t get the job done. We are called to repentance, to actively embrace social justice, rigorous honesty, and a commitment to the Gospel. And John tells us we better start bearing some fruit.

Can we be honest? I love my little parish in Philadelphia, but at times I’m worried about her health. In the time I’ve served here I’ve seen Lutheran churches in my synod and conference fold up like beer cans hit by Mac trucks. The ax is lying at the root of the tree. Good doctrine and liturgy don’t seem to be enough to save us. After all, God is able to raise up Lutherans from rocks if he wants to. But can Lutherans rise to the challenge of bearing fruit? What should we do?

I’d say it’s pretty obvious. We need to rediscover discipline. Discipline in prayer. Discipline in worship attendance. Discipline in worship itself (Yeah. I’ve got to talk to folks about bringing their Dunkin Donuts coffee into the worship space during mass!). Discipline in Bible study. Discipline to serve as examples for our children. Discipline in fellowship and care for each other. Discipline in volunteering. Discipline in giving.

Those first century Christians were willing to die for their faith. We don't seem to be willing to be inconvenienced for ours. Is it any wonder what's happening?

I’ve heard it said that the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency. I like to think I’m a pretty nice guy, and I hate to get on anyone’s case. Forgiveness and forbearance are my business. But: I am witnessing a lack of consistency in my congregation which I can only understand as a lack of commitment and a lack of respect. I hate to say it, but there it is and I have to put it in words. This is why the Church, in her wisdom, has punctuated the season of Advent with the admonitions of John the Baptist. We need to be told while we are still in the pre-Christmas party mode that faith is made real in actions, and that a true trust in God will only manifest itself to the world if we who are in the Church are willing to get off our lazy butts and do the work of God.

But here’s the good news. We serve a gracious and loving God who wants to come into our hearts. If we’re willing to let him in, he’ll burn away the chaff of indifference, apathy, and fear. The change in our lives will be phenomenal—and that will be cause for rejoicing.