I spent the morning remembering the excitement of our many past Christmases with five children, then even more grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
This Christmas morning Julian, trying to recover some strength after a debilitating week, was still asleep at 11:30 AM, so I went on line and saw photos of our son Tommy’s four daughters sitting around still half asleep, so looking less than thrilled, while Tommy worked hard to make a happy Christmas for them. He even thought to call and get them to chorus, “Merry Christmas” to me.
Life changes big time doesn’t it?
Then after Julian woke up and I fixed brunch, I began to try to be thankful. I found more things than I could write.
Our Tommy has matured into a loving person and wonderful father even for sleepy teen-aged daughters.
Julian’s blood pressure isn’t scary high today.
His breathing is much better than two days ago.
His cancer has not returned. His pulmonary fibrosis hasn’t progressed in the last six months.
Obviously at least some of his 19 medicines, that are sitting next to the Christmas decorations on the dinner table, are working.
I have a lot more stamina and energy than I’ve had in a long long time.
The couch we bought last year turned out to be good for sleeping with the wedges that keep Julian’s swollen feet elevated.
I can see the cheerful lights of our charming Dickens Village, which our son Steve constructed under the direction of his architect father, displayed now on five levels across the far end of the living room. They are still pretty through the crowded mix of humidifier and air purifier, across the rolling tray table with CPAP machine and blood pressure machine, past the stacked wedge leg supports on the couch, and even over the chair with pillows I piled against the wedges to keep him from pushing them off in his sleep 🙂
I got to have a rare visit with Carmen, our dearly loved first grandchild, last week.
Our newborn great-grandson, Raphael, who had a scary difficult time at birth, is flourishing.
There is a beautiful cardinal at the feeder on the porch.
Our son Chris is bringing a delicious dinner that our daughter-in-law Molly fixed to us tonight.
Julian felt well enough on last week’s family Christmas Weekend to play card games with the grands and great-grands.
Our daughter Julie and all our family and in-laws did everything, so we could have our family Christmas gathering again this year. They came from Memphis and Atlanta and Nashville, and one grandchild, Jordan, made it in on Saturday night from Bolivia. And we got to face time our sons in Cambodia.
Our children and in-laws, grands and great-grands are simply awesome.
Thanks be for all our family and for our many blessings.
Things change, but we keep on learning how to love. And that really is the point of Christmas.
It is okay to be who you are as long as you are alive, because you are still becoming the person you were created to be. It’s important to know that, because otherwise you have to pretend- even to yourself- that you are perfect and don’t need to grow and change. It’s a lifelong process, a dance between grace and the limits of the hand we were dealt, that probably will still be happening at our moment of death.
I don’t know about afterward……I’m personally counting on Jesus, the expression of the unconditional Love of God, being God’s promise of forgiveness for those bad choices I made along the way to becoming the person I am meant to be. Remember the Prodigal Son story.
So, I was really struggling this week with the statement by a writer I respect: “That if God is just, there has to be a hell.” I’m wondering if that depends on your definition of “just.”
Justice to me means recognition of an evil that brings about change. The evil can be either personal or societal.
I don’t see it as a “get even” kind of thing. Plenty of people have hurt me, just as I have hurt others, but I don’t need them to suffer for it. I just want them to recognize it and sincerely regret it enough to not do it again to me or anyone else. I figure that’s what God wants from us.
I do suspect from my personal experience that a “balancing” plays out in life here in a lot of ways. Sometimes when someone hurts me, I have a sudden memory of having done the same thing to someone else. Depending on what it is, I may laugh, sigh, or feel heartbroken about my own blindness. But it frees me to not only let go of the hurt and temptation to judge, but to avoid doing it again myself.
I believe the whole point of justice isn’t retribution. Justice is about recognition, regret, forgiveness and change. It seems to me that in many ways it’s a dying to self and that we experience a lot of deaths and resurrections before the big one.
One note: Acts have consequences. The reason there are “Do Not” commandments is that those things have negative consequences not only for others, but for those who do them. The rules are for everyone’s protection. I believe the retribution is intrinsic and comes in this life.
Today, the first Scripture reading says: “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.”
In the Gospel reading it says of the twelve year old Jesus who has caused his parents great anxiety, “Then he went down with them and was obedient to them. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
The important words for us here are grow and increase. If Samuel and Jesus had to grow and increase, even in wisdom and in favor with God and man, it’s a pretty safe bet we do too. And the growing doesn’t stop when we are 12, or 21, 78 or 95.
Today’s second reading says to us: “As God’s children, holy and beloved,”(Don’t you just want to wrap that word ‘beloved’ around you like a warm soft comforter?)
But it continues, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
The word clothe implies that compassion and humility and patience are not necessarily natural human traits. What follows points the way to grow and increase in them: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Not should or ought, but must.)
The scripture continues “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom.”
Oh boy, there’s the rub. I don’t know about you, but I am not very teachable and if you decide to admonish me, you probably should be prepared to run.
Here’s the good news, when we admit our own need to grow and change, accepting forgiveness brings the grace to change. Forgiveness actually has the power to free us from being trapped even in a lifelong destructive response to people or events.
THEN and only then, can we like Jesus be a witness by visibly fleshing out the power of grace through growing and changing. The best way to teach is to show how it’s done. (It’s probably the safest also.)
Listen please with an open heart to the PRAYER OF CONFESSION followed by a time of silent reflection:
God, you call us beloved. Jesus you showed us that we are called and can be freed to grow and change. Let us feel your hand on our shoulder as you gently shake your head at our blindness. As we listen in silence, free us by your tender love to see where we need to grow and change. Then help us to completely accept forgiveness in the depths of our hearts, so we may be living witnesses to God’s saving grace.
………Take time for reflection…………………
We are all God’s children. We are all God’s beloved. Feel that. Cling to it. Rejoice in it. Give thanks for it. And trust God to complete the good work he has begun in you.
Reflections on Scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, December 27, 2015 NRSV
1 Sam 2:18-20, 26 Col 3:12-17 Luke 2:41-52