Thursday, December 24, 2015

Holy Night, Noisy Night

"So lay your head on borrowed hay, sleeping Adonai.  Light the world then light my way, sleeping Adonai."

Those lyrics from a wonderful Christmas musical written by Heather Sorenson that our church choir performed this past Sunday morning.  That particular song was meant to be sung as a lullaby.  It was that for sure, but the simple words above that drew the song to a close seemed to stick with me.  They brought to mind the image of a simple, peasant couple laying their newly born infant in a feeding trough because that's all they could find.  That just seems to hammer home (albeit very gently) the point God was making by subjecting Jesus to the full experience of his once perfect, now flawed creation.

Hardly any Christmas Eve of celebration would feel complete if you didn't sing "Silent Night".  Yet, especially for that travel-weary family, the night was anything but silent.  We can only imagine the complaining the animals offered when their little cave stable was invaded.  And, despite what some paintings and songs may have portrayed, the Baby came into the world crying as almost every baby does.  Of course, just as Mary got him settled down, a bunch of shepherds come in out of breath and rambling about having met some angels face-to-face.  

None of this even considers that drummer boy and his drum ... sorry, couldn't resist.  My point is, the night was definitely holy and most likely far from silent because that's how the world is - noisy and a bit disorganized most of the time.  Yet that was the time and place that met whatever criteria God had in mind for the "fullness" and we are forever the beneficiaries.

The Crooked Path pauses once again at the manger scene, choosing not to rush away, but rather to linger in awe and wonder at what God gave.  My Divine Brother preceded me in every way - and entered this world without any political or royal fanfare.  

In tribute of that, I leave you with the following two songs.  One ponders the question of our King subjecting himself to being a subject.  The other reaffirms the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love of my advent wreath by declaring Messiah is born and "All is Well".  Merry Christmas from the Crooked Path to your house.  May your pausing at Jesus' coming bring you much comfort and joy this year, especially in the midst of a rather troubling world.

"How Many Kings" by Downhere

"All is Well" by Carrie Underwood and Michael W. Smith

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fourth Advent Candle - Love

I'm a day later "lighting" this candle than the previous three.  But the reason for the delay is well worth it because it has everything to do with this week's theme of Love.  I was with my extended family for a very special, if not difficult time as we celebrated my brother Steve's life.  Love for family was definitely very present during the weekend and evident through the laughter and tears.

Advent season is holds a very special place in my heart.  I enjoy the progression of the weeks through the candles for Hope, Peace, Joy and now Love.  As I've pondered them, they've grown deeper for me and caused me to reflect more on the entrance of God into humanity.  I find it's a subject we've often glossed over in my past and it makes me want to pause and linger at the manger.  The memory of my own family, gathered to celebrate a life lived and lost, adds even more depth to the Love given that night so long ago.

Before love can be reflected out to anyone else, it must be received and embraced on a personal level.  It has to engage our hearts so we grasp how deep the Love represented by this fourth candle is.  And it's rooted in the kind of family bonds that just can't be broken.  Love came down as part of God's master plan to enter humanity and rescue his family.  That's what I see when I light this candle.  That's what I experienced when we gathered to remember my brother.

The Crooked Path is grounded in Love like no other.  It's rarely as easy or pleasant as we wish, but it sits on Love and leads to Love.  It gathers the Hope, Peace and Joy that sustains us and carries us to the best part ... the Love that knows no boundaries or limits.  May your Advent Wreath burn brightly as you anticipate the arrival of Love this year.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Third Advent Candle - Joy

It's a bit ironic (again) that a week filled with so much "stuff" is one marked for the rose-colored candle of Joy.  Yet, we still did end the week on a joyful note.  This marked our annual trip to work at the Operation Christmas Child distribution center doing the final packaging of shoe boxes as they head out around the glob to the arms of waiting children.  The boxes we packed will be off to the Ukraine.  We send them with the anticipation they will be received with joy.

Our Hope leads to Peace which brings Joy - all of it in anticipation of this celebration of Advent.  Yet, in my family and many others, the shadows of death and sickness seem to loom large.  While none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, some close to us do seem to be slipping almost daily.  The thin strand of what passes for life in this world stretches more for some than others, and if we don't look to something greater than ourselves, we may find despair swoops in and takes over.  

But Joy doesn't have to be elusive or "for somebody else".  Joy can be found in the simplest of what life offers and, when you truly find Life in the fullest sense, Joy will well up the same way Hope and Peace do.  It's just a matter of knowing where to look and finding the One you can trust completely.  So as this third candle is lit, we remember prophets of old who looked forward with great anticipation even in the midst of difficulty and found, at the center of it all, a deep sense of Joy.

The Crooked Path always winds by the stable this time of year.  And, if we let our spirits focus there, we will find a Joy that surpasses everything else and shines brightly in our hearts, reflecting out into a dark world desperately in need of Someone.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Second Advent Candle - Peace

It seems very odd to write about the Candle of Peace given what our country has seen lately.  There are times I admit I shake my head and wonder what has happened.  And then pile all the noise on top of that - news headlines, political grandstanding and everyone grabbing their "15 minutes" as many times as they can.  It's just plain nuts and it makes me very tired.  But above and beyond all that, I can still grasp Peace because of the Hope we talked about when we lit the first candle.

Peace doesn't mean things are calm or there is no fear.  I was reminded of the famous FDR quote about "nothing to fear but fear itself" when a friend posted something about it.  Reading the whole quote, I took it to mean he was talking about panic or dread.  Peace, in that context, is the opposite of dread.  Built on Hope it says, "What you are experiencing isn't the end of all things.  There is something more - something bigger than yourself."  That, at least to me is Peace.  And I find it again this time of year as we prepare to celebrate the Advent of the Prince of Peace.

The Crooked Path will often be noisy and dangerous.  But it will always be paved with Peace if I know where to look for it and trust the Giver of Peace.  Hope and Peace ... two foundational building blocks of Advent and life.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

First Advent Candle - Hope

Hope is a wonderful thing.  Hope sees beyond what is and looks to what could be.  Hope holds the promise of something that feels distant and yet so close.  Hope is the foundation of the human heart, for it is in Hope we see our future, which springs from our past.  And it is with that same Hope I offer you this, the first Advent candle of 2015.
I wasn't raised in a liturgical setting.  In fact, you might say I was long an anti-liturgy person.  Through the years, and due to deeper exposure to the meaning of the liturgy, I've come to embrace and enjoy them to a far greater extent.  Advent is a favorite because it brings focus on what I often call the "first hinge for the door".  It's the beginning of the human side of my Divine Brother and I don't want to take it lightly.

I could write about many aspects of this season (and I've done so in the past on this blog), but I'm choosing to keep things simple this time around.  I just want to light the four candles of Advent for what they mean and breathe in the thought of Hope that descended on Earth so long ago.

May your own journey on the Crooked Path find you awash in the Hope of a newborn baby in a shabby town two millenia ago.  For that root of Hope is so very important to what lies ahead.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Re-Post (from March 2011)

And David said, "Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?" Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, "Are you Ziba?" And he said, "I am your servant." And the king said, "Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?" Ziba said to the king, "There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet." 

Then the king called Ziba, Saul's servant, and said to him, "All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master's grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master's grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master's grandson shall always eat at my table." Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, "According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do." So Mephibosheth ate at David's table, like one of the king's sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba's house became Mephibosheth's servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king's table. Now he was lame in both his feet. (2 Samuel 9:1-3 and 9-13, NASB)

He was living, from all appearances, in hiding. From an early age, he had known life on the run. He was a man out of place, a man perhaps filled with thoughts of what might have been. And those "might have been" thoughts had many variations. Not only was he the last surviving member of a royal line long since defunct, his nurse had dropped him during the first escape and both his feet were crippled as a result. If only things had been different ...

When I listened to this particular passage recently, I found I had to back up and play it again. It only spans thirteen verses, so it only played for about two and a half minutes. But the story found a spot in my mind that I just couldn't shake either that day during my drive home or in the time since. In a crystal clear reflection of the generosity of God, David asks the question, "Who can I show kindness to for the sake of me dear friend Jonathan?" The answer? A young, lame man by the name of Mephibosheth ... Jonathan's son.

The story tells of the servant (Ziba) who happened to work for Saul and Jonathan in former times. Somebody knows his history and he finds himself in front of King David. Heaven knows what might have gone through the man's mind when he was first summoned, but I've no doubt he was relieved to hear David was only after information ... and information was something Ziba had on this particular subject.

Now, turn your thoughts to Mephibosheth. We don't know much about his life, other than where he was living and how he got there. And, of course, we know that he was crippled in both his feet. By whatever means, he is brought to the very same King David as was Ziba and he is prepared to be very contrite. Then, the story takes its turn. David, a man of considerable passion and a strong love for Jonathan, tells Mephibosheth that he doesn't ever have to worry about anything for the rest of his life. He has, by royal edict, restored possessions, granted servants, and given him a seat with the princes of Israel. Mephibosheth will now and forever more take all his meals at the king's table.

How much like our gracious and loving Father this story is. God has granted me, a man of similar ailments as plagued Mephibosheth, a seat at the table of the King. And not only do I hold that honor right here and now, but I have a guarantee of a place at His table yet to come in a place that transcends all imagination. And when I get to that table, I'll find I don't have bad knees, or a weak heart, or easily-sprained ankles, or any of a dozen other physical ailments. I'll sit there (or maybe fall down) and bask in the glow of my King in a worship feast beyond all banquets I've ever known.

As I hobble down the Crooked Path, I can almost feel the infirmities lifting away. Sure, I have a place at the King's earthly table now, but I can get positively giddy just thinking about the table yet to come. My feet feel lighter and the air is somehow more refreshing than before. I have a place at the King's table ... just like Mephibosheth.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

In Search of a Miracle?

It's quite possible we're seeing a miracle in my family right now. I've got a brother who has been battling a brain tumor and, when I saw him a couple of weeks ago he was very weak and stuck in a hospital bed in his own living room.  I won't go through all the details of our last conversation, but it did leave me in tears and yet resolved to accept this rather unnatural manifestation of the natural course of life.  I drove home and was convinced I had seen him for the last time.  And that still might be the case, but then again maybe it won't be.

He's doing more than just rallying.  He's able to move around on his own and he's talking about getting strong enough to come off hospice care and resume some treatment.  There is not medical explanation for this ... it pretty much has to be a miracle as the Finger of God can be the only thing pressing that tumor back and allowing him to regain mobility and function.

Granted, I have to accept this is a temporary reprieve (we all are dying, right?) but we certainly are glad to have it.  However much longer God gives us is a gift and I think my brother recognizes this more than most of us do.  And isn't that kind of give the very definition of a miracle anyway?

So, while I'm rejoicing in that gift, I get a call that causes me to fall speechless.  Earlier this week, a friend and former co-worker called to let me know the wife of a mutual friend (and former boss) had died suddenly.  No apparent reason, no warning and no miracle.  At only 57, this mother of four boys was gone.  Her husband found her when he came home from work that day.  I'm sure there was a physical explanation ... but that hardly matters in the wake of grief my friend, his boys and their extended families are dealing with now.

So all this got me thinking about miracles and about life.  While I think it's fully appropriate to ask for miracles, I think we need to also look around us for the miraculous results of other miracles that happened long ago and yet we take for granted now.  

Think about that for a moment ... think about the greatest, most miraculous wonder of all that is common to us.  The Infinite, Holy God of the Universe created us, gave us free will, knew we would choose to "turn" (check out Paul Young's new book "Eve" if you want a perspective on that word), and chose to pursue us across Heaven and Earth with the intent to win us back.  That's miraculous beyond compare and we have evidence around us that confirms it we should see every day.

But, we want our own "miracle" and focus on that far too often while forgetting to bask in the glory of the miraculous even if it's so very simple.  And never forget that miracles on Earth - the ones we ask for - are temporary.  The miraculous I talked about is permanent.  To me, that makes it work far more.  I think maybe my brother sees that.  I know my friend's wife, standing before the Presence, understands it.

The Crooked Path is a journey, much of which we don't anticipate or plan.  I'd encourage you to be on the lookout for the miraculous even as you ask for a miracle.  In the end, I think you'll find it more satisfying even if you view it through eyes of pain and grief.