Wandering around Times Square in NYC at 5am and realizing there’s a LOT that is not going on. The cops are standing or sitting in their cars, chatting and watching the streets. Venders are busy inside the darkened windows, setting up service. The newsstands don’t have change for a twenty ’cause who’s going to be carrying that much cash at this time on the streets of New York? The lights and explosive signs are all kicking but they’re just advertising what might be happening in people’s lives later on or where they could start a new day of spending. Friendly workers, walking together, are on their way to or in, with buckets of tools in hand, or satchels hanging from shoulders, or hands jammed into jacket pockets, but all comparing notes on bosses and what they’re going to do, say, make sure happens when the boss shows today. It feels a bit like the lights’ advertisements and their suggested possibilities. Maybes…
Walking around at this time of the morning reminds me of what’s been accomplished and I breathe in memories. It was a big 36 hours.
Started with getting into church and figuring out the last details, letters that needed to be written, contacts made before we got to Christmas Eve worship. After an hour we got to the rehearsal for a different Children’s service. Instead of having a “pageant” where parents got to see and hear the recitations or prepared songs of the children, we practiced how to have children worship on Christmas Eve. We didn’t have the children go over and over what they were bringing. We just told them how and when to walk in, where to stand or to sit. The other leaders and I showed them how they’d get in place if they had something they were to share personally. But then we were done. A few folks hung around to go over their parts, but most everyone took off into the day. The office closed at noon.
I did some last minute Christmas stocking shopping, just fun things to slip into the celebration the next morning.
Then we all gathered back. Having not seen everyone go over and over their parts that morning, the children were watching all the pieces unfold along with all the adults. Trombone solo, tap dance routine, flute solo, group songs, Scripture readings, storytelling, personal thoughts, all got shared with a spontaneity that brought the kids and adults along. It felt like worship, like we were telling God why we were happy and thankful.
A massive choir showed up for 8pm along with a packed sanctuary. They sang through the Lessons and Carols and brought tears and smiles and deep thoughts. It felt like worship, rich and textured. Harmonization on “In the Bleak Mid-winter” still chimes within me.
And then young adults gathered in the hour before midnight and made the end and beginning of the day a candlelit wonder. Along with the intimacy of communion we had a chance to hear the story take on a renewed edge. I’m hoping now that this expression expands.
The next morning almost 40 people gathered to secure the celebration with more songs, including an impromptu keyboardist who came to tears as he expressed his joy in participating, Scripture and a different retelling of the assurance we have in the God who brought Christmas. And then we drove to NYC for family and feasting and relaxing.
But this all makes me thankful… thankful for the amazing staff and volunteers who brought all this together, for the grace of God and for the girl so many years ago who said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be to me as you have said.”
It will always come down to one of us saying, “Yes, I will.” Today’s a new day when I can. There’s a LOT that’s not going on… yet. Onward.
All over the world there are candles being lit as a personal statement of being trustworthy. I’ve heard of blogs being read by 1500 people an hour. I don’t have that kind of personal impact, but it turns out that hundreds of people are reading the post I wrote on my candle. For many years I have lighted the candle that sits on my desk to remind myself of my purpose here. I light it and say a simple prayer, the same words every time, and I am challenged to live up to the trust that is placed in me. I am gripped within my soul by the responsibility I carry.
I can’t believe that, with as many people reading that post, others are not lighting their own candles now. And it is the season of candles. It is the season of lighting a flame in the darkness and demonstrating how weak darkness is.
I was cautioned not too long ago, not to make fun of the darkness, of evil. I don’t. I don’t make fun of it, but I will not lend evil power by pretending it is stronger than it is. The candle flame, that bit of trust that flames within our soul, is all that is needed for evil to fail. Some may say, it is only a single candle flame within the vast night, but the truth is that this little flame can be seen through the vast night. The darkness cannot overcome it.
And this is the season of candles. It is the time when Christ followers around the world light a series of candles, increasing the light of hope and expectation within, while sharing it with any who join around it. It is the season when we remember, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” When all the world is darkness and the cold claims too many hearts, we have one who did not fade away. That is the light we follow. That is the light we imitate.
The darkness has not overcome it because it can’t.
One of things that captures my attention is the nature of lonely people, like how they talk. Have you ever been with someone who can’t stop talking and do you experience that as a sign of loneliness? People who have no one with whom to talk, to grab a cup of coffee, to walk with to the bus, to make dinner for or with, can also be the ones who fill up meetings with reading reports that were sent earlier or asking questions which should be answered by one person separately and not be part of the full meeting. They give reports and think of something that goes with that and should also add because it pertains to this and just remember this other thing that they meant to bring up or get on the agenda and they might as well just bring it up here… Lonely.
Lonely in that they are in need of creatively listening ears and so can’t stop their mouths. None of the stuff really means a whole lot to everyone, but being attended to means a whole lot to this one speaking. It’s the closest they get to conversation that really makes a difference. This isn’t just conversation. It is that conversation that is part of friendship. It’s conversation that is a give and take between people who are paying attention to learn more and to participate more.
Makes me think about the way we talk with God. Some people are shy in talking with God and others are just talking forever. Both of these suggest loneliness to me now. They make me think that this person is not in a relationship where they expect this one they’re talking with actually knows and cares. In other words, they want someone who talks back because of their interest. They are poor in their sense of worth. This is the essence of poverty, right? Having no relationships becomes poverty because there are no resources, no participation, no good word on “where you can get one of those… cheap.” Poverty at its basis is loneliness.
So, here’s Advent, the approach of God… where people, particularly poor people who were living in the midst of the community that was supposed to understand that God was close and interested, and suddenly they were told God wanted a conversation. He announced he was going to live right in town, just down the street, that he’ll be able to answer questions, tell stories and listen. He was going to play by all the rules… with us. He was going to be God… with us… so we can discover that we have someone who is a friend, and, in fact, our dearest friend.
Try starting your prayers with those words… “Dearest Friend…” and see where it leads you. See if you can trust someone like that more, whether you can share what is actually going on more, share what’s true more… learn how much we’re enjoyed and paid attention to…
Lancaster is a city built on a grid, north/south and east/west streets, with most of the central main routes running in one direction or the other. You need to know where you’re going and have an overall perspective to drive to any particular spot because the one-way streets can catch you up and make you run in squares (similar to circles). I’ve noticed that when I walk through the city I tend to look in the direction from which the traffic is coming. The other day I discovered I was missing out on life because of that increasing habit.
At one corner, for no reason at all, I looked the other way. I had already checked the traffic and instead of just coming back to look forward I kept turning my head up the empty street. There was a steeple and a couple of shop owners cleaning the sidewalk outside their places and the people moving across the street and the sky and the pink edged clouds catching the arriving light of early morning. I stopped. I took it in. I relaxed and then turned and walked on carrying the image in me.
Ingrained habits, bodily-muscled memory, like Dan Snyder preached about last Sunday, create the liturgy of days and life. Dan’s admonition to take note of the liturgy we’re called into and to make sure we want to follow that pattern is one I continue to walk with this week. I want to make sure I look that other way as well.
We so want rigid routes, one-ways that tell us the right way to go so that we don’t have to think about it. Like riding a bicycle, we want to get out of awkward stage so that we don’t have to think. But thinking is this gift of God. We use liturgy to help guide our thinking, but when liturgy uses us we stop thinking and just do it until we come to the other end. That’s kind of like the experience of driving home from work and suddenly realizing we’ve arrived. How did we do that? We don’t really remember anything we passed. We’re so immersed in the habit, the liturgy, that we’ve forgotten to experience it.
Some of the roads that lead out of the one-ways of downtown have names. These are Pennsylvania roads which do not move in a direction but to somewhere. Columbia Avenue goes to Columbia, PA. Marietta Avenue goes to Marietta, PA. If you get on Morgantown Road, you can take it right into Morgantown. I’ve always liked that about Pennsylvania. That’s part of the reason I follow Jesus.
I follow Jesus as “the way” because I know it brings me to God. It doesn’t do that some day. It does it today, every day. I follow the way because it goes not more deeply into myself, not toward rewards, not toward right understanding, but because it goes somewhere, to someone. What’s interesting to me is that it isn’t a way I can do without thinking. I have to experience it. I have to pay attention because the way will bend this way or that. It doesn’t go north, south, east or west only. It could take any of those directions simply because it gets me to that one to whom I’m headed. So I have to follow the way and obey its movement rather than my own inclination to stop thinking.
Following the way makes me look other ways. It makes me pay attention to the life that is actually going on in another direction. It doesn’t allow me to become complacent, but constantly challenges me with newness.
So, I hear a voice calling from the wildness, the voice calling me out from the one-ways, the patterned directions. It tells me to turn around, to see, to hear and to get into living a real life. It calls me into Advent, this time of anticipation, of moving my sluggish self out onto a road that moves toward the dawning light.