Reflections on Shuffle-Play
So far, what have I done that has made this Advent season different than any other? Let’s see, I have been slowly feeding my “piggy bank” for ELCA World Hunger. I found a five-dollar bill in the cemetery the other day and put it in the piggy bank instead of using it to buy myself a latte – so that felt like a step in the right direction. However, we entirely forgot to light our home advent wreath this past Sunday. Plus, even though I vowed to myself to keep things simple and worry-free this year, I’m already stressing out a little bit about upcoming Christmas services at church and cooking for extended family on Christmas Day. So far, Advent is looking a lot like every other church season – a season of stops and starts, a time of victories and failures. It turns out that I prepare about as well for the birth of Jesus as I prepare for anything – kind of last minute and haphazard – and please don’t look in my closet or under the beds because who knows the clutter and disarray you will find.
It is an imperfect Advent, an imperfect life. I can’t take comfort in that because I wish I could always fully complete all the grand plans and sacred endeavors I begin. If I could, I would have written five books by now (all bestsellers). And yet, I do take comfort in this: there is some One greater at work in my life than me. There is a greater plan that has been devised than any I could dream. In some mystical and miraculous way, God has chosen me and you to participate in this plan, God’s plan. We won’t often understand how or why life unfolds as it does, and yet there are times we catch glimpses of the beauty and blessedness of it all. Maybe that will happen for you sometime this Advent season, maybe it won’t. Maybe Christmas morning will dawn with a fresh peace and renewed strength in your heart, or maybe you’ll wake up with the stomach flu and stay in bed all day. Either way, all is well, because this story we live is about more than you and me, what we do or don’t do, rather, it is about God’s story. We are part of it – and it is an immense gift. Our greatest task appears to be that we simply must open our eyes and see it.
Most afternoons these days I spend a little time sitting with a parishioner who is now on Hospice care. His remaining time on earth appears short. There is nothing fun about these days for him as his body and mind slowly fade. I don’t even know if he hears me when I read the scripture to him anymore – but I still read it and I pray out loud for him. It seems so stark and strange to walk past the festive lights and trees that are adorning the Sunset home these days and often the sound of cheerful carols coming from the chapel, to go into his quiet room where death is drawing near. Yet it strikes me that it is precisely in these moments of stark contrasts that we often sense the Spirit’s presence more closely than ever. Actually, I’ve come to realize that sitting in that room next to Joe and listening to him breathe with the sounds of the world going on outside has become what will set this Advent apart for me as blessed. It wasn’t the ritual I planned or expected, but in it, I have felt God’s presence. I’m so thankful for that.
Has God surprised you lately?
11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
In the Bleak Midwinter
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him… give my heart.