Monday, December 18, 2017

The Light of Christmas

Even though I am usually pretty strict about “It’s not Christmas yet – it’s Advent!”, I had a very “Christmassy” week:

Muslim friends offered donations of Christmas pajamas and canned goods, wanting to help people in need have a happy Christmas. One of them also purchased a gift for our dove tree, organized by Northborough Helping Hands, collecting gifts for local families who cannot afford to purchase their own. I was deeply humbled and moved by their generosity, contributing to a religious holiday they do not celebrate.

Last Saturday, I was part of an Interfaith Celebration called “Light!” at Congregation B’nai Shalom in Westborough. Representatives of the Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Unitarian-Universalist and Christian faiths came together to listen to music and then broke up into small groups for discussions about their faith and ethnic traditions, and their personal experiences with prejudice. About 160 people attended, all seeking to find peace and understanding in these contentious, divisive times.

This is a photo of the Hindu group, Chinmaya Mission Metro-West, sharing some of their traditional songs about light.  

At the end of the concert, we all sang together Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer”:

If I had a hammer
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening
All over this land

And I'd hammer out danger

I'd hammer out a warning
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land… 

I heard many people say, this is what we need right now. We need to come together, talk to each other, learn from each other, and give each other hope.

As we Christians get ready to celebrate what has become the biggest holiday of the year, let us focus on its small beginnings: a newborn child, a young mother, a refugee family – and the light that newborn child brought into all of our lives.

Quoting an old man, John the Baptist’s father Zechariah, as recorded in Luke 1:78-79: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”   

May it be so.

Monday, December 11, 2017


The passage for the Second Sunday of Advent was Isaiah 40:1-11.

Read it here: search=Isaiah+40%3A1-11&version=NRSV

The prophet Isaiah is speaking comfort to his people after their holy city had been destroyed.

The congregation called out what came to mind when they heard the word “comfort”: Tomato soup and grilled cheese; a hug; a soft pillow; sitting in an easy chair on Sunday afternoon, watching football.


I then pointed out that the comfort Isaiah was bringing was forgiveness for the sins of the Israelite people.

I also mentioned the “comfort zone” is not always the learning zone. We learn the most when we are not comfortable! When we face the reality that we live in constant tension between what we long for and what is, who we are and who we could be, what we want and what God wants – that’s very uncomfortable. But that raw and vulnerable, honest place is where we get closest to God.

We then read the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism together, written in 1563:

“What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

“That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. 

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.” 

That is our only comfort in life and in death: Jesus.

He is our way out of sin and its painful consequences, and out of our comfort zone, into a new, deep, purposeful life.

Someone said “comfort is a word with muscle.” I like that! Comfort is not just soft and warm and fuzzy, but strong and powerful. When you find comfort in Jesus, you can do anything Jesus wants you to. 

Advent is an opportunity for us to prepare ourselves for Jesus to come into our lives and change us. Advent acknowledges the fact that life is not all pretty and peaceful as we wish it would be – at least on Christmas! Sugarcoating and denying that life is tough and that we are not always the good people we pretend to be, does not move us forward. What will move is forward is facing that grim reality, that we are not always good and life is not always good, and trudging through it. With Jesus. Then we will fully get to experience the comfort and joy that Christmas brings.

Thanks be to God for comfort food, comfy furniture, and the comfort of a friend or family member’s love.

If you like music, listen to our passage from Isaiah, beautifully sung in George Frideric Handel’s Messiah: v=8dDjva1ecYo v=dnKItt9nSj8 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

God Moments

Each Sunday, we ask people to share their God Moments: A time that they experienced God's presence in their lives; or a time that they wished they had; any time that they thought about God during the day.
Usually on Sundays I'm pretty busy leading worship, responding to members of the congregation, organizing last-minute details or making notes in my head of things I need to do for next week. So it's not always a very worshipful experience for me. 
There are always moments when I am deeply moved: when we pray, when we sing, when kids and adults openly share their thoughts and questions. 
Last Sunday I had three very powerful God Moments:
The congregation was sitting in small groups, sharing their highs and lows, reading a Bible passage, talking about it, and then praying for each other. Usually, the last step is uncomfortable and many try to avoid it so I walked around to the different groups, encouraging them to pray. Most of them had already done so. Some were in the middle of it and I didn't want to interrupt. I sensed a very deep, spiritual atmosphere. People were willing to be vulnerable with each other and trust each other. 
That's powerful stuff. I don't think I could ever create that kind of atmosphere, no matter how "well" I pray. This was God's spirit at work.
The second God Moment was when the kids collected ornaments that people had brought to be put on the Christmas tree, items that were meaningful to them. A few people brought photos of loved ones: a grandchild, and a mom who had recently passed away. That gave me goosebumps. The circle of life, and our love on that tree, beautifying the sanctuary for this special season. 
The third God Moment was a gift a church member made to a guest: Our guest asked for prayer for a lot of sadness that she was going through. Our church member had brought the altar flowers in memory of her brother who passed away several years ago. She gave those flowers to the guest to comfort her in her sadness. What an incredibly kind and generous gesture.

The other day in a meeting we were asked to share what we loved the most about the holidays. One person said it seems like people are just kinder to each other. 
I hope that's true. And I hope it will be true the rest of the year as well. 

Praying an ancient prayer for this season of Advent, the time of preparation for Jesus to come into our lives and change our hearts: "Come, Lord Jesus." Come. We need you.