On a silent and holy night some 2000 years ago, an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds living in some fields who were keeping watch over their flocks. The angel proclaimed good news of great joy for all people by announcing the birth of a little one who would be found in a manger. Suddenly that angel was joined by a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
I’ve always been enamored with those incredible, fun-loving creatures who live in the Shire in JRR Tolkien’s books called hobbits. Now I’m not a diehard ask me any sort of trivia question follower; I just love their devotion and loyalty, their ability to enjoy life and those around them. You may not remember this, but when it’s a hobbit’s birthday, they give presents to their friends, family and neighbors who show up to their birthday celebrations rather than receiving gifts from them. Their focus on their birthday is to be grateful for those other people in their lives and not on what they can get in terms of cool presents.
We long to live in a world where consequences match the actions. We want the bad guy to get it in the end (or sooner, frankly). We see this often in movies and novels—when that character that’s been a pain finally gets his just deserts. So when bad things happen to good people, we get upset, claiming life isn’t fair and that God is either to blame or should do something to remedy the situation right now.
I absolutely loved the study of Iconography while in seminary. Religious iconography entails the images or symbols associated with a specific person or event in the biblical narrative found in paintings, stained glass, and the like. A person “reads” iconography by knowing the symbols or the stories being depicted. For example, the early church used the story of Jonah and the great fish as a precursor of Jesus’ resurrection since Jonah sat in the belly of that fish for three days—just like Jesus in the tomb. So on the sides of ancient coffins you’ll encounter depictions of a huge sea creature with two legs hanging out of its mouth. Those in the know would immediately think of the resurrection.
You and I are often defined as “consumers,” as those who consume. And, according to most measures both economic and otherwise, we’re darn good at it. We devour and use up and utilize and yes, we even squander, destroy and waste things and food and news and people.
Eternal One, far too often we are blinded in this world by the darkness rather than the light. We believe far too readily that things will always be the same, that they cannot be transformed. Let your light shine in us and through us, that we might reveal your glory to the world. Amen.
We Americans have a love-hate relationship with our bodies.
I’m not sure if it’s helpful to cast blame as much as it is to just be honest about our current situation. We spend billions of dollars on products, procedures, and the like to make our physical bodies match the image in our minds of what is beautiful. Our bodies age, and so our eyes don’t quite focus like they used to, or our hair isn’t quite as there as it once was. We tire out more quickly, or our memory starts slipping, or things we used to do easily when we were younger now give us trouble. Never mind the issues we have around food and weight that begin way too early in life. Our relationship with our bodies is complicated.
Imagine Peter’s surprise when Jesus, who had been teaching the people near the lake of Gennesaret, simply climbed into his boat, and then asked him to push out a bit into the water. After working all night with nothing to show for it, Peter had been washing his nets, pulling out the seaweed, branches, and other debris. The gathering of people kept pushing up against Jesus to hear his words more clearly, and amidst the jostling, he kept getting closer and closer to the water’s edge. The boat was the best available option. I hope this slightly amused Peter rather than annoyed him that this teacher, this rabbi, would have the chutzpah to climb into his boat without asking.
At some point after his baptism in the Jordan and after he had begun calling people to follow him, Jesus, his mom and his disciples attended a wedding. We aren’t told who the bride and groom were—John doesn’t include the bit about when the save the date card came out, or if there was a bridal shower—we just know there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and Jesus and Mary and his disciples got an invite and showed up.
Once again our society has gotten it almost entirely wrong. Christmas trees have been out on the floors of BJ’s since early October for those who can’t wait to put out their decorations. This includes some in my own extended family who expressed dismay back in early November when they learned that we don’t get our tree until the last weekend before Christmas. A local radio station has been playing holiday tunes 24-7 since November 1. I can not even begin to imagine the number of times “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” or, God help us, “Santa Baby,” has played until now.