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A Christmas Reminder . . .

13 Dec

Babies have a way of finding ways into the alcoves of our souls, the very places where things are known only to God.  They crawl right up into those hidden areas and something quite miraculous happens. Those little ones open us wide to the world, while teaching us a little more each day about God.   Think about it. Who can touch us more deeply than a newborn baby?

One baby in a room of adults reduces most of us to mere functional illiterates–and by choice!  We become entranced by the bald-headed, toothless, drooling squirmers, and quite mesmerized by their attempts to make sense of the insensible.

I remember talking to my own children: “You wan Dada to bwing your baba or bankie?”

I won’t go into all the baby talk, or nicknames my wife and I had for our children.  Some of them are hilarious, to be sure.  If you are as we are, you might still find the urge to pop open one of these phrases from time-to-time, just for the sake of reaction.  There aren’t too many of us that are able to hold back baby-talk when face-to-face with a little life in our presence.  It is almost expected.

I often wonder if grown adults talk to the aged the same way.  After all, both ends of life’s continuum quite resemble each other.  However, that discussion is for another time.  In the presence of babies, we sing and tell stories.  For some, these practices begin while the baby is in utero.  We talk to them, and we pray for them.  After they are born, we teach them nursery rhymes and, as they grow into toddlers, tell them stories of our childhood (and maybe just a bit embellished), and instruct them in right and wrong, as well as share in affection and closing prayers at bedtime.

Remember those fun days?  I am referring to the fun days before they sat on the sides of their beds and cried for no reasons at all, or got quiet when they realize as teenagers that they are held accountable.  Recall the moments when we asked them, “What’s wrong,” only to hear in return, “Nothin”?  I surely remember them!  In fact, there are times I’d like to sit on the side of my own bed and cry a little for myself, these days.  It is sometimes a good thing to feel sorry for ourselves, as adults, at least for fifteen minutes, before someone asks for money, or the cell phone rings.

However, I am left to wonder: Why is it that babies bring out the best in us?  I remember their giggles, tiny dimples, gummy smiles, flailing hands and stubby toes, their splashing arms and legs during baths–capped off by their pudgy, solid, yet wrinkly feet.  All of this serves to remind us of life’s simplicities and basic human needs.  Babies also remind us of the necessity of the protection they need, their fragile states, and complete dependency.  The trust they place in adults is astounding.  However, they learn quickly.  Once they figure out that we are not perfect, all things begin to change.  If you are like I am, you are torn by those early years, sometimes longing for them again–but happy also not to have to repeat those long nights, illnesses, doctors’ visits, and the like.

Have you ever wished for your children to stay little forever.  Have you ever spoken that desire?  Nah!  There are grandchildren for those reasons.  Right?  Babies are signals of life.  Life must moves onward.  Babies are reminders that the future is already in the “present”–and the word-play is intended.  I think you know to which “present” I refer.  Babies comprise the past through one’s DNA and heritage.  They consume the present and they embody the future.  Babies are the miracles that are united from one sperm and one egg–gestating over time–to become the “other” us. With each birth of our children, we are reminded that “WE” are with us. We are connected and that’s that.

Here in this supposedly sophisticated twenty-first century, we tend to place things, such as child birth—which have the sense of the miraculous—onto the realm of the ordinary.  But that is pedestrian.  Each conception brings into existence a unique entity, a person of the most distinct, individual “being.”  The truth is we are all unique and the mold is broken with each one of us. However, we have this little nature thing, with which to contend. Moreover, therein lays the problem!

Imagine for a moment that your teenage daughter comes home one day and tells you that she is impressed in her spirit about something incredibly unique.  What if she tells you that an angel of God had told her that she was specially favored among all other young teenagers of the day? Assume, then, that sometime later she informs you that she is pregnant, yet maintains that she was still a virgin–untouched by any man sexually.

To make matters more concerning, imagine your single, teenage daughter had been engaged to a man more than twice her age–and that the engagement was going to be broken by the man, once he discovers your daughter is pregnant. I know, I know . . . I can imagine your faces now. Yet, I do think you know where I am going with this.

Philosopher Paul C. Vitz asks us to “Consider that Mary was pregnant with Jesus today.” I also ask us to do the same.  What are the chances that some of the parents of this pregnant teenage girl would shuffle her off to the local Planned Parenthood clinic?  What would her friends and contemporaries say?  Speaking as one who was conceived prior to marriage, I rather identify with that last statement, in terms of its implications.  Know what I mean?

No, I am not claiming divinity, personally–but divinity as a delicacy, now that stuff is freakin’ awesome! (It is approaching Christmas, after all)  The prophet Isaiah (ca 800 BC) stated: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) A miracle baby son, a virgin, and the name translated to mean “God with us” (Immanuel) Hmmmm. Most interesting.

The disciple Matthew Levi (1st century AD), the tax gatherer wrote: “And Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place that which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet shall be fulfilled . . .” (Matthew 1:19-24)

The Christmas holiday (derived from “holy-day”) is about the advent of Jesus, the baby, and the beginning of His earthly pilgrimage.  The birth occurred more than likely during the summer months and there was no snow.  That reminds me, what happens in Australia and Africa, during December in the Southern Hemisphere?  I hope Santa’s varicosities aren’t too apparent with those pasty legs of his, filling out those speedo-like shorts.

John 1 speaks also to this illustrious Christmas event: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1: 1, 14).

This baby Jesus is the gift that keeps on reminding us of our flesh and mortality. The baby reminds us of our beginning and the blessings we are to others.  However, why do we keep Him in a manger?  Why is Christmas about Jesus as a baby only?  Is it because there is no room in the “inn of our hearts?”  Maybe it reflects the reality that babies are no threat.  Babies do not challenge the way we live.  Babies are the miracle gifts in-and-of-themselves. Nevertheless, babies do grow up into young adults and then enter mature adulthood.  Baby Jesus becomes a challenge to people’s supposed sovereignty.

Apparently King Herod also had serious concerns about the baby Jesus, for he had all male children slaughtered, age-two and under.  This infanticide occurred in Bethlehem and its surrounding environs (Matthew 2:16).  Herod feared all of this talk about the birth of a king, a Messiah, would diminish his sovereignty over the land.  As a result, the child Jesus and His parents went to Egypt until King Herod had died.  Afterwards, they returned to their homeland. One interesting piece of trivia from the Hebrew language is quite telling. The name “Beth-lehem,” can actually be interpreted “House of Bread.”  Now I am singing, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” . . .

Later Jesus was given the title “Bread of life,” and communion would be taken at “the Last Supper,” to symbolize His crucified and broken body.

Part of the communion remembrance today using crackers or bread illustrates the “broken bread” of life.  Who would have ever thought that the bread of life would have been born in a house of bread?  All of this is derived from the Christmas story?  Yes indeed!  Another point of interest was that when the wise men came to visit Jesus, He was already a toddler.  The Magi were the ones who tipped off Herod, and this was the reason for the age-2 on down slaughter of the innocents.

Therefore, yes we celebrate the baby Jesus.  Nevertheless, we really should be celebrating the toddler, at least in my mind.  But no toddler I know would stay in a crib, let alone a feeding trough for animals.  I know my own kids did not. As far as my kids were concerned, they kept jumping out, falling on their heads, or something along those lines. That might explain a few things.  Now my father’s statements to me in my youth ring more clearly.  He would ask rhetorically, “What is the matter with you? Did you play too many football games without a helmet?” I never figured out “how many” was too many.  But back to Jesus.

Some 2,000 years after the birth of Jesus, his infancy still influences the world. While some wanted to make Him an Earthly Excellency, believers see Him as their All-Sufficiency, beginning with infancy. The commemoration of Jesus’ birth is the real reason we celebrate the giving of “gifts” to each other.  Jesus is the ultimate gift to the world.  The reason for the season is ultimately for His pleasin’.

A second gift was given to us by the resurrected Jesus, just prior to His ascension. Luke, the physician, records in Acts 1:3: “. . . He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things to come . . . He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised . . . ” Jesus told His followers: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:15-16). The Holy Spirit is the gift that keeps on giving.

During this festive season of holidays, may we Christians celebrate like never before.  May we live and love like never before. The baby has grown, lived, and He has changed the world through his death, resurrection and ascension. Don’t you think it is time to be Christ-like in ways that show we also have left our own “Christian cribs?” My apologies to the hip-hop community.

Dear friend, let us celebrate the holiday as He is NOW in our lives. May we look back to the past, while living in the present–knowing that we have a future with Him.  May our baby-talk, and baby-walk grow into a mature, contagious conversation, coupled with a powerful Christian walk.  May this walk evidence movement in the right direction, prompted by the Spirit and evidence by the fruit of the Spirit.

No, I did not imply fruitcake. Unlike “divinity,” THAT stuff is so nasty, and is the evil twin doorstop with the yule log.

Thank you for reading!  I thought I would share a little reminder about why this time of year is extra-special for me and many others.

OK, where’s my egg-nog?

Happy 2018 all!

Oh Baby!

16 Dec

Babies have a way of finding crannies of love that we hide from others.  The alcoves of our souls hide things that only God, Himself, knows of and can pinpoint.  Yet, there are those little ones who open us wide to the world–even if guarded, as such.  Think about it.  One baby in a room of adults reduces most of us to mere functional illiterates by choice.  We become entranced by the bald-headed, toothless squirmers.   

I remember talking to my own children.  “You wan Dada to bwring your baba or bankie?”  I won’t go into all the baby-talk, or nicknames my wife and I had for our children.  Some of them are hilarious, that is for sure. If you are like we are, you might still find the urge to pop one of them from time-to-time, just for the sake of reaction. 

There aren’t too many of us that are able to hold back baby-talk when face-to-face with a little life in our presence.  We sing to our babies in the womb.  We talk to them, and we pray for them.  W teach them nursery rhymes, tell them stories of our childhood (maybe just a bit embellished), and instruct them in praying before bedtime.  Remember those fun days, before they sat on the sides of their beds and cried for no reasons at all, or got quiet when held accountable?  Recall the moments when we asked them “What’s wrong,” only to hear in return, “Nothin”?  I surely remember them!  In fact, there are times I’d like to sit on the side of my own bed and cry a little for myself, these days.  It is sometimes a good thing to feel sorry for ourselves, as adults, at least for fifteen minutes, before someone asks for money, or the cell phone rings. 

Why do babies bring out the best in us?  A giggle, two tiny dimples, a gummy smile, flailing hands and stumpy toes, their splashing arms and legs during baths–capped off by their pudgy, wrinkly feet, capping off the ends of their soft and supple smallness.  All of this serves to remind us of life’s simplicities and basic human needs.  Babies also remind us of the necessity of the protection they need.  The trust they place in adults is astounding.  But they learn quickly.  Once they figure out that we are not really perfect, all things begin to change.  If you are like me you are torn by those early years, sometimes longing for them again—but happy also not to have to repeat those long nights, illnesses, and the like.  Why can’t they stay little forever.  Have you ever wanted that?  Nah!  There are grandchildren for those reasons.  Right?

Babies are signals of life.  They are reminders that the future is the present.  They comprise the past through one’s DNA and heritage.  They consume the present and they portend the future.  Babies are the miracles that are united from one sperm and one egg–gestating over time–to become the “other” us.  With each birth of our children we are reminded that “WE” are with us.  We are connected and that’s that.

Here in this sophisticated new millennium we tend the place things which has the sense of the miraculous, such as child birth, in the realm of the ordinary.  Each conception brings into existence an absolutely unique entity, a person of the most distinct, individual “being.”  We are all unique and the mold is broken with each one of us.  However, we have this little nature thing, with which to contend.  Therein lies the problem!

Imagine for a moment that your teenage daughter came home one day and told you that she was impressed in her spirit about something incredibly unique.  What if she told you that an angel of God had told her that she was specially favored among all other young teenagers of the day?  Assume, then, that sometime later she informed you that she was pregnant, yet maintained that she was still a virgin–untouched by any man sexually.  To make matters more concerning, imagine your single, teenage daughter had been engaged to a man more than twice her age–and that the engagement was going to be broken by the man, once he discovered your daughter was pregnant.  I know, I know . . . I see your faces now.  Yet, I do think you know where I am going with this.  The philosopher Paul C. Vitz asks us to “Consider that Mary was pregnant with Jesus today.”  I also ask us to do the same.

What are the chances that the parents of this pregnant teenage girl would have shuffled her off to the local Planned Parenthood clinic?  What would her friends and contemporaries say?  Speaking as one who was conceived prior to marriage, I kind of identify with that last statement, in terms of its implications.  Know that I mean?  No, I am not claiming divinity, personally—but divinity as a delicacy–that stuff it freakin’ awesome!

The prophet Isaiah (ca 800 BC) stated:  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)  A miracle baby son, a virgin, and the name translated to mean “God with us” (Immanuel)  Hmmmm.  Most interesting.

The disciple Matthew Levi (1st century AD), the tax gatherer wrote:  “And Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.  But when he had considered this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.’  Now all this took place that which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet shall be fulfilled . . .” (Matthew 1:19-24)

The Christmas holiday (derived from “holy-day”) is about the advent of Jesus, the baby, and the beginning of His earthly pilgrimage.  The birth occurred more than likely during the summer months and there was no snow.  That reminds me, what happens in Australia during December in the Northern Hemisphere?  I hope Santa’s varicosities aren’t too apparent with those pasty legs of his in those shorts.

John 1 speaks also to this event “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1; 1, 14).

This baby Jesus is the gift that keeps on reminding us of our flesh and mortality.  The baby reminds us of our beginning and the blessings we are to others.  But why do we keep Him in a manger?  Why is Christmas about jesus as a baby only? 

Is it because there is no room in the “inn of our hearts?”  Babies are no threat.  Babies do not challenge the way we live.  Babies are the miracle gifts in-and-of-themselves.  But babies do grow up into young adults and then enter adulthood.  Apparently King Herod had serious fears of the baby Jesus, for he had all male children slaughtered, age-two and under.  This infanticide occurred in Bethlehem and its surrounding environs (Matthew 2:16).  Herod feared all of this talk about the birth of a king, a messiah, would diminish his sovereignty over the land.  So the child Jesus and His parents went to Egypt until King Herod had died.  Afterwards, they returned to their homeland.

One interesting piece of trivia from the Hebrew language is quite telling.  The name “Beth-lehem,” actually means “House of Bread.”  Later Jesus was given the title “Bread of life,” and communion would be taken at “the Last Supper,” to symbolize His crucified and broken body.  Part of the communion remembrance today using crackers or bread illustrates the “broken bread” of life.  Who would have ever thought that the bread of life would have been born in a house of bread?  All of this is derived from the Christmas story?  Yes indeed! 

Another point of interest was that when the wise men came to visit Jesus, He was already a toddler.  The Magi were the ones who tipped off Herod, and this was the reason for the age-2 on down slaughter of the innocents.  So, we celebrate the baby Jesus, but we really should be celebrating the toddler, at least in my mind.  But no toddler I know would stay in a crib.  As far as my kids were concerned, they kept jumping out, or falling on their heads.  That might explain a few things.  Now my father’s statements to me in my youth ring clear.  He used to ask, “What is the matter with you?  Did you play too many football games without a helmet?”  I never figured out “how many” was too many. 

Some 2,000 years after the birth of Jesus, his infancy still impacts the world.  While some wanted to make Him an Excellency, believers see Him as their Sufficiency, beginning with infancy.  The commemoration of Jesus’ birth is the real reason we celebrate by giving “gifts” to each other.  He was the ultimate gift to the world.  The reason for the season is ultimately for His pleasin’.

A second gift was given to us by the resurrected Jesus, just prior to His ascension.  Luke, the physician, records in Acts 1:3:  “. . . He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things to come . . . He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised . . .”

Jesus told His followers: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:15-16).  The Holy Spirit is the gift that keeps on giving. 

During this festive season of holidays, may we Christians celebrate like never before.  May we live and love like never before.  The baby has grown, lived, and He has changed the world.  He died, resurrected, and ascended.  Don’t you think it is time to be Christ-like in ways that show we’ve left our own “Christian cribs” (apologies to the hip-hop community)?  On Christmas, are we going to ask our families to pass the milk or pass the meat?

I dare say when we celebrate our own birthdays we do not present each other with kind notions of the time we spent in the crib.  We celebrate our birthdays as we are now.  I also know a little about this, having a birthday in the same month as the Christmas holiday.

Dear believer, let us celebrate the holiday as He is NOW in our lives.  May we look back to the past, while living in the present–knowing that we have a future with Him.   May our baby-talk grow into a mature contagious conversation, coupled with a powerful Christian walk.  May this walk evidence movement in the right direction, joined by the fruit of the Spirit.  No, I did not say fruitcake.  Unlike divinity, THAT stuff is so nasty, and is the evil twin of the yule log.

Thank you for reading!

OK, where’s my egg-nog? 

Feliz Navidad!

Rozhdyestvom Christovom

Buon Natale

Merry Christmas

What’s In Your Closet?

16 Nov

They we were, in our darkened kitchen, just a few short years ago.  My wife, our daughter, and her visiting friend—surrounded by all sorts of “goodies.”  We were huddled around the kitchen table for an additional and unconventional kind of holiday goodie. 

But first a little background.  A few years back, our daughter was home from college for the weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family.  It was such a great time.  The day was peaceful, the food delicious, and the fellowship fun.  Fun, that is, until someone suggested that I break out the old 16mm film projector.  I winced at the suggestion.  However, I am such a softie when it comes to those kids of ours—and my daughter is no exception.  So, when she began the “please dad,” routine, I gave in and headed for the closet under the stairs.  I hate the closet under the stairs.  That closet has a door for a reason.

When my kids were very young, I made up this story that a spanking machine was hidden in the deep, dark recesses of that closet.  Not sure why I said that, but it seemed to work as a deterrent for awhile.  They stayed out of the closet.  The door stayed closed and everyone was happy.  Happy, that is, until I acquiesced to the heart-tugs of the day in question.

There I stood, like a man about to head off to war—a real dilemma on my hands.  Finally, I decided to tackle the challenge.  As I opened the closet door, I was one sorry man.  How in the world could so much junk be piled in such a small closet?  I live with a group of wonderful people, but let me tell you something.  There is a philosophy that pervades my busy family. The philosophy is this:  “What we can’t see can’t hurt us.”   Sheeesh!  The converse is equally as true.  Things fell down onto my feet and I let out frustrated, “ouch!”  Snickers were heard from the kitchen. 

“Funny,” I yelled.  Snickers turned to cackles.  For a second, I thought I lived with a bun of hens.

Instead of going through the accumulated piles of junk and discarding what is NOT needed, my family loves to just transfer messes to other vacant spaces.  Believe me when I tell you this:  THE CLOSET INTO WHICH I AM STARING IS TOTALLY FULL!

There I was, dealing with someone else’s junk pile just to find the projector. 

“Happy Thanksgiving to you too!”

The deeper I dug into the middle of the pile of papers, furniture, blankets, etc., the more I became frustrated.  I was frustrated now for a little different reason.  I was realizing most of the junk I was tossing about was MINE–ALL MINE!  I could not believe I kept all that stuff.  I was surely glad no one was videotaping my search for the distant past.  But being the man on a mission, I kept my discoveries quiet.  A guy’s got a reputation to uphold, you know.  [Now, I am snickering]

Anyway, let me get to the point.  I did find the projector and the old reels of film in the same box.  I yanked the box from its mooring, which was between two chairs.  I snatched up the box and paraded back into the kitchen like some sort of hero. 

Soon, we would begin the trip down memory lane.  I thought to myself, “this is going to be fun.” 

There is something special about the clicking sounds that accompany the showing of 16mm films, as the projector labors to advance the film frame-by frame.  There is a certain synchronicity that is almost mesmerizing to the listener.  One good thing about silent 16mm films is that running verbal commentary does not at all harm the viewing.  Some people can be so rude to the elderly who just like to reminisce out loud. 

I guess the reasons I am sharing this story are highly personal and somewhat simplistic.  You see, as the projector clicked and clacked, I watched my own life roll before me.  As the images flashed on the screen in faded colors, I began to stare at my wife.  I then extended gazes to my daughter and my son.  Amidst the comments of how skinny and young we were, the baby baths and tricycle rides–and the laughter about our clothes and hair styles–there were so many nonverbal sensitive moments.  I felt a little like a god, watching his creation adore the very objects which I adored, and in which I played a role in making.

As the last film reel neared its end, I was struck anew with the reality that none of us is immutable–yet can love and be loved consistently and unconditionally.  Our lives are but whispers, non-ubiquitous and momentary, yet here we are–STILL!.  Our whispers are slowing and our ubiquity not as prominent.  The years do take their toll.

There is something about the past that provokes a sense of urgency.  For me, that night, the past cut through the present clutter of life and allowed me to resurrect reality in fresh ways.  Definitely, I am little heavier.  For certain I am a lot older, and a little grayer.  Despite these realities, I am a whole lot more appreciative.  I appreciate my wife and my children so much more.  I am struck with a line from Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  Senator Jefferson Smith, speaking via his filibuster in the Senate, stated:  “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these senators didn’t start out life as boys.” 

Some people find skeletons in their closets.  My life is no exception.  It’s just that some of these skeletons are a little younger and a lot more nimble, so as to hide themselves in life’s clutter.  There was no spanking machine at the back of the closet.  There was only a box of memories that gently patted my heart. 

This Thanksgiving will be the first holiday without my father.  He passed away from nasty brain June 6, 2010.  I plan to wear my specially made cremation jewelry, so as to keep him with me as I carve the turkey.  It was my dad’s gentle hand of guidance that showed me how to carve the delicious bird.  I am sure when I get to those special parts of this year’s ancient film festival, where my dad appears, it will bring both old and new emotions to an emotional junction.  But it’s all good.  It’s all purposeful.  It’s all from God.

God’s gift to us is people.  God’s gift to other people are our memories of them—the likes of which can never be kept hidden in a closet. 

What’s in YOUR closet this holiday season?  Care to make some special memories during this year’s holidays?  It might very well be the last ones you will ever make.  Go ahead, I dare you.  Open the door . . .

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