On the Second Day of Christmas

On the Second Day of Christmas, I celebrate the gift of a sabbatical given to me by the congregation I serve and the Lilly Endowment’s Clergy Renewal Project. Since coming off of the four month sabbatical last August, I have been working on my reflections. I am glad on this Second Day of Christmas to be able to share the completed project, along with my deep gratitude to all who helped make it possible. A special thanks to all of you who conversed with me via this blog during the sabbatical. Those were such helpful responses, and I hope you see them reflected in the report. Let’s continue the conversation. Peace and blessings.

Here is the link:

http://www.fpcfranklin.org/docs/Sabbatical_Report.doc

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On the First Day of Christmas

I saw the heart of the universe on Christmas morning, beating strong and true. In spite of the devastating news coming from Connecticut, the disheartening developments in Washington, and the deepening turmoil in Afghanistan and Syria, I beheld the heart of all things, and it filled me with hope.

We managed to purchase a gift for our daughter she did not expect, one she wanted for a long time but did not think she would receive. I hate to admit it, but we actively deceived her, telling her that the gift she really wanted was – for lots of believable reasons – not possible this year. We wanted to preserve the surprise so we could celebrate the wonder, perhaps catch a glimpse of that beating heart beneath all things.

As she tore into the wrapping paper and unfurled the gift buried beneath the bubble wrap, her eyes widened. She could not believe it – literally saying over and over, “Are you serious?” as it dawned on her the thing she most wanted was coming to pass. That one moment of wondrous surprise and the exclamations of thanksgiving that followed were a glimpse, a magnificent look, at the beating heart of all things, the mystery of the universe, the reason for our existence.

I’m drawn more and more to theologians who talk about the mystery of the Triune God as the eternal giving and receiving of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At root, they say, God is this spiritual community of generous hospitality that – in an act of love – spills out into the created universe. Beating beneath every rock, every mountain, every star, every drop of water is the mystery of grace. We are placed here among all this wonder in order to receive these gifts with thanksgiving and become ourselves bearers of grace. This is what it means to be created in the image of God. Much of the pain in the world is due to our inability or unwillingness to participate in our true vocation – as receivers and givers of grace.

Christmas is a celebration of the Incarnation – the daring belief that God, in an ultimate act of grace, became one with the creation, one with us, in order to reveal the heart of all things in the giving of Christ. When we give gifts to one another in these holy days, we in a small way enact and practice a way of life to which we are called all our days.

Think of the joy you feel when a gift you thoughtfully give elicits wonder and thanksgiving. Think of the way it feels to receive such a gift – the immediate sense of connection and love you feel for the gift-giver. The gifts become secondary to the relationships that produce them. The relationships deepen in the giving and receiving. Is this not a window into the very heart of God, into the beating grace that lies beneath and within all things?

Unfortunately, in our ever more materialistic culture, in an age when one of the biggest retail days of the year is the day after Christmas when people will rush into stores to return gifts, it is easy to forget what is really happening in this exchange. The gifts themselves are signs, opportunities to celebrate and embrace what lies beneath.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth. It always comes as surprise, this gift, even though we celebrate it every year. And we are left speechless in wonder, overflowing with thanksgiving, renewed in relationship. This is the heart of the universe, still beating strong and true – I saw it again on Christmas Day, and it fills me with hope.