Tag Archives: #BeChristInChristmas

Epiphany – The first Baby Shower

Matthew 2:11 – “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Upon this verse, much folk theology has been built.  The story of the wise men, or magi, or astrologers, coming to visit Mary is an important part of our cultural understanding of Jesus’ birth.  One thing needs to be clear, despite the beautiful song set to tune of Greensleeves, they were not kings.  There isn’t really a reason to believe there were three of them.  There were three different gifts, but no where does it number the men.  I don’t bring this up to make any grand theological point other than to remind us of how often we read into Scripture, and how difficult it can be to unpack centuries of tradition.

Many legends, song, and art has been built around these mysterious men with their gifts.  Almost all of it is speculation.  The traditional interpretation of the gifts is spelled out pretty well by this Yahoo Voices article.  It goes something like this:

Gold: A gift for royalty, acknowledging that Jesus was of a Royal line.

Frankincense: An expensive incense that was burned as a part of worship in The Temple.  This signifies Jesus’ divinity.

Myrrh: An expensive oil used for perfume.  According to this explanation, myrrh was most commonly used among wealthy Jews as an anointing oil for the dead.  Thus, the myrrh is seen as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and a reminder of his mortality.

While this explanation fits nicely into popular modern Christian theology, I’m not sure it really has any historic merit.  For instance, how would the strangers from the East have known Jewish ritual customs of the Temple?  And it doesn’t say that they worshiped him as a deity.  Instead, they “paid him homage.”  Also, isn’t every baby mortal?  Why would anyone need to be reminded that a king will someday die?   According to Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope, at one time Frankincense was the most valuable commodity on earth.  It was also used as an eyeliner by Egyptians.  Not much symbolic value there.

I’ve never been one to go deep into this explanation. I figure it has legs enough without me.  This year however, I found another explanation of the gifts.

Frankincense and myrrh have been used for medicinal purposes for over 5,000 years in places like India and Saudi Arabia.  I do not pretend to know anything about their effectiveness.  There are several websites that you can find with articles extolling the virtues of these ancient oils and resins.  What you and I think about their effectiveness in healing though, is inconsequential.  What seems clear is that men from the East might have understood these two gifts to have medicinal value.

Mary gave birth to a son.  Though we often sing “Silent Night,” anyone that has been anywhere near the birth of a child knows that there is nothing silent about the experience.  Giving birth is a messy and dangerous.  Today a mother dies in childbirth once every two minutes.  In many parts of the world, it is the most dangerous thing a woman can do.  According to the Lukan account, Mary gave birth in a stable, surrounded by animals, with no midwife.  She gave birth in what we would be considered, even then, deplorable conditions.  I’ve written before that the unnamed miracle of Christmas is that Mary survived.

What I have not noticed before this year, is that the reason she survived might have come in the gifts presented to Jesus by the magi.

To a modern reader, the gifts of the Magi seem strange and impractical.  To explain these peculiar gifts, many have placed dubious symbolic meanings on them.  Instead, I feel it much more likely that these gifts were extremely practical.  Notice that Matthew says that the magi “Saw the child with Mary his mother, and then knelt down…”.  These gifts might have saved Mary, and indirectly Jesus himself.

We would be good to take note that Mary’s “Baby Shower” was an act of valuing the life of a woman.  Though Mary gets the short end of the stick through much of the book of Matthew, this act of gift-giving is a reminder of how important a mother is to a child.

This Epiphany, my church is remembering the gifts of the Magi by having a “Baby Shower for Mary.”  The youth of our church are baking cookies, brownies, and muffins. We are putting up cheesy paper decorations, and playing a few silly baby games.  All have been invited to bring a gift in honor of Mary.  People will bring diapers, onesies, blankets, socks, lotions, shampoos, and more.  All of the gifts will be brought to the Crisis Pregnancy Center, which helps women in need.  They operate a clothes closet for infants, and are in constant need of the expensive needs of a newborn.

This small act of mercy might help a mother care for her child.  I’m hoping that in time, we can do more than give gifts to the Center.  I’m hoping that we can develop a relationship with them, providing mentors, support, and classes.  This is just a first step toward helping children and mothers in our area.

Like the Magi so long ago, we may pay homage to the newborn King by making sure his mother survives.  There are other things we can do for mothers worldwide.  The Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project raises awareness about the need to support international family planning and maternal health initiatives.  It is an organization of which I am proud to be a part.

This Epiphany, brings gifts to the baby.  Save a mother.

The Unnamed Miracle of Christmas

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Our Baby Shower for Mary invitation posted on Riverside’s facebook page:

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To those who only come on Christmas Eve, “Welcome. I’m so glad you’re here.”

WelcomeIs this the only day of the year you come to church?  Please don’t apologize. You are welcome, and I’m thrilled you came.  If you’re only going to come to worship once a year, then this is a good day to pick.  It is a pretty awesome day.  The Christmas tree is beautiful.  The songs are familiar.  The story is simple, and the message is powerful.  Singing Silent Night at the end of the service with the candles lit give me chills every time.  I hope it is moving for you too.

Maybe you’re here because your Grandma insists.  Great.  We love your Grandma too.  I saw her last month in the hospital, and we prayed for you.

Maybe you’re here because you’re looking for your “yearly check up.”  Great.  I’m glad you still feel connected to God through worship.  It might not be a part of your weekly routine, but I’m so glad that you came here to try to encounter something Holy, even if it is only once a year.

Maybe you’re busy every weekend.  You intend to come to worship, but it’s just too hard.  Great. I know that your time is precious. I’m so glad that you were able to carve out some time now. Christmas is an especially busy season.  I’m so glad you were able to be here and worship. Life is hard. I believe that being a part of a worshiping community can help you tremendously.  I hope you are blessed by coming.

Maybe you’re back from college, and this service brings back memories of growing up as you live through a transitional time of your life. Great. We’re proud of you, and what you’re becoming. We hope you remember who and whose you are while away at school. Leave your school address, and we’ll send you a care package.

Maybe you’re trying church with your kids. Great. We love kids, and not just the idea of kids. We love real kids.  Kids that make noise. Kids that get up and climb the steps. Kids that need something to do. Kids that want to participate in worship, and kids that just want to color. Kids that are looking for a smiling face over the pew. Kids that dance in the aisles when the music is just too good to sit still. We know that raising kids is one of the hardest things we’ll ever try to do, so we’ll be in this together.

Maybe this is the first time you could come back since the loss of a loved one.  I’m so sorry for your loss, but I’m so glad you’re here. I hope you consider this a step toward healing. I know you miss her. I know that Christmas can sharpen the pain. There is someone here that misses someone too. I hope you sit together, and find comfort and joy in the midst of mourning.

Maybe this Christmas you had a strange feeling that maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. Great. I hope you continue to search, and by the way, I love Dr. Seuss too. I hope you encounter something real with us at worship. I pray that you feel connected to God through the songs, the prayers, the Scriptures, and the message proclaimed. I hope that the power of the eternal Word made flesh resonates with you, and opens up a new way of understanding the world.

Maybe you’re searching for a church home. Great. You should know that this is not a typical worship service, but we hope you can come back. May your search be blessed, wherever it takes you. If you want to come back on Sunday, we’ll be here.  We’d love to have you. I’d love to walk with you as you dig deeper into your faith. I’d love to see you in a Bible study. I’d love to talk with you over coffee about faith, compassion, forgiveness, Jesus, grace, sin, death, and life.  I’d love it if you want to get baptized. I’d love it if you joined us in our mission to transform our community and our world.  But if this night is all you want, I’m okay with that.

Maybe you’re a pilgrim searching for truth. Great. There’s room for your questions. No one here has it all figured out. I believe that doubts, questions, and wondering makes faith stronger in the long run. There’s no need to check your brain, your science, or your logic at the door. Maybe though, there is room for some mystery, and we can go on this journey together.

I celebrate that you are here with us today. Sometimes I hear “church folk” or other pastors talk about “C and E Christians.” You know, people who only show up to church on Christmas and Easter. The term is seldom used with kindness.  Maybe if the people already established in churches stopped talking about C & Eers with such righteous indignation, more of them would come back on December 28.

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Sermon: Let No Prison Hold You

From the sermon below:

“‘Are you the one?’  John the Baptist asked. ‘Or do we need to wait for another?’ 

I can understand this question John asked.  I can see the prison walls around me.  That we build up with violence, war, and poverty.  I see Newtown and Columbine.  I see apartheid South Africa, and oppression and racism that exists today.  I see hunger amongst us, hurting people in our pews.  I see my own heart, my own failures, and the hurt that I cause.  I see the times when I’ve failed to love God the way I should, or participated in the unjust  systems.  I can see the walls, and they are thick, and they are strong.  And I can ask too, ‘How long must we wait?'”

For a full blog post, go here.

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Let no prison hold you

let none hold you

Few of us ever plan on going to prison.  No one wants to spend time in a jail cell.  Yet many of us spend time in one every day.

We spend time in jails built around us.  Sometimes they are barely noticeable.  Like the fish that doesn’t know it is in a fish bowl, or the bird that doesn’t know the world outside the cage, we spend our time in prison.  These are the prisons of injustice.  They are the prisons of systems that keep us from fulfilling our dreams.  They are the walls that are built by those that want to keep others oppressed.  Hope and possibility are kept out, and all that remains is a cycle of despair.

Sometimes we are in prisons that we built ourselves.  We guard our pain and our torment and make sure nothing is able to penetrate the walls we build.  We have been hurt too many times, so we build walls.  We remain in the cell because the outside world is full of pain, and at least inside the cell we have the illusion of safety.  Intimacy and friendship are kept out, and all that remains is superficiality.

Sometimes we are in prisons that have been built for us.  These walls are built by sickness, or by those that hurt us.  Sometimes great wrongs are inflicted upon us.  Sometimes the tragedy is too much to take.  Some say, “God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle.”  I don’t believe it, because I don’t believe it is always God that is giving it.  Sometimes the pain is just too much, and the walls of the prison are too strong to break free.  Healing and joy are kept out, and all that remains is pain.

In Matthew 11:2-11, we find John the Baptist in prison.  He was imprisoned by a King that did not want to hear the truth.  John spoke the truth to power.  He called for repentance.  He called for a change of heart.  He called upon people to follow the path of righteousness, and he prepared the way for the one that would come.  But he was not imprisoned until he demanded too much of the King.  When he impeded the powerful from having his way, he had to be stopped.  He was kept alive, for awhile, by the will of the people.

John was called the “greatest of all those born of a woman,” by Jesus.  And yet as he was in jail, he wondered.  It can be dangerous to inject too much of our own thoughts into figures in the Bible, but here it is almost impossible not to wonder what John was thinking when he sent a messenger to Jesus.

“Are you the one? Or are we to wait for another?” he asked.

John was in prison, so all he could do was wait.  And yet he wanted to know, “Are you the one?”  Sitting in jail, still alive at the whim of a tyrannical King, looking back at his work, his ministry, and looking forward to a future that was unlikely to have a happy ending, he asked, “Are we to wait for another?”

And likewise I wait.  I wait in my prison.  I wait in the prison of sin that I have built around me.  I wait in the prison of injustice that is all around.  I look to Newtown and Columbine.  I look to the Liberian Civil War and Apartheid South Africa.  I look to violence on the streets of our cities, and violence in the homes our children.  I look to hungry children at the school in my neighborhood, and to the cold families looking for coats at our Wardrobe ministry.  I look into my own heart at the choices I make, the hurts that I cause, and the prisons I build.  I wait and look back at my work, my ministry, and look forward to the future and wonder.  “Are we to wait for another?”

Is the question a sin unto itself?  Maybe.  But at least I know that I’m in good company.  I’ve never felt that doubt is the opposite of faith.  .

So, trapped in our prisons, what do we do?  What is Jesus’ answer?  Of course, Jesus doesn’t give us a straight answer (That is why I think doubt is not an obstacle to faith, but lines the pathway of faith.  If Jesus wanted us to never doubt or question, he would have given us more straight answers.).

Tell John what you have seen,” Jesus says.  Tell John to look beyond his prison walls.  Tell him to look beyond the pain and the heartache and the bleak outlook.  Tell John “that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

This Advent, we still wait.  We wait like John in prison.  Not held in by despair, but looking always outward.  Looking from within our own prisons at the world all around. Waiting and watching with God’s eyes to see the signs.  Waiting is never a fun activity.  We do everything in our power to avoid waiting… for anything.  We fill our time with noise.  We go to restaurants designed to limit waiting as much as possible.  We go to grocery stores where the lines are filled with things to read, and last-minute items to buy.  What are waiting rooms filled with? TVs, magazines, some even check out ipads.

Yet here we are waiting, but not idly.  We are purposefully waiting.  Waiting with eyes open to the love of God that is all around.  We hear one of the Newtown mothers declare “Love wins,” and are left in awe of the power of the human heart to heal. We hear stories like the one Peter Storey tells here, of a woman in South Africa who said to the man that killed her son, “You took my son.  So now you must be mine.”

Advent is a season to wait.  Wait and watch for Christ in our midst.  In a world addicted to instant gratification, the act of purposeful waiting is a revolutionary act.  It is a soul-cleansing act.  We wait with eyes wide open.  We wait with hearts open for Christ, seeking the answers to our questions in the stories of hope and grace.  We wait, seeking  forgiveness.  We do not rush into anything, because you cannot rush something as powerful and painful and precious as forgiveness.

This Advent, we wait like John in prison, who was called to notice the signs all around.  

This Advent, we wait like Mandela in prison, who refused to let the walls hold him.  We wait like Mandela, who transformed his prison into a crucible of learning, organization, and reconciliation.  Who practiced forgiveness even as he was tormented.  Mandela, who befriended white guards who were supposed to hate him, who used their friendship to secretly write his manuscript for A Long Walk to Freedom.  Mandela, who wrote in prison, “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death” (from A Long Walk to Freedom)

We are called to look beyond the walls of our prison.  Don’t ignore the walls, but do not let them defeat you.  Look beyond the walls, and do not let them contain you.  See the signs of mercy, justice, and love.  See Christ all around – not in holiday decorations or TV specials.  See Christ in the hearts of others.  The prisons made by sin and injustice can feel impenetrable, but there is freedom in Christ.  No prison held Mandela.  No prison held John.  Let none hold you.

Listen to the sermon I preached based on this post

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Advent Photo-a-Day

advent photo a dayRethink Church has come up with another great chance to combine social media, art, reflection, and devotion.  The concept here is simple, prepare the way for the coming of the Lord by spending each day reflecting on a concept or theme.  Then take a picture of something that you feel represents that theme.  Share the picture on twitter, instagram, pinterest, facebook, and maybe someone you know will take some time to reflect as well.  This is not only a great tool for reflection and devotion, but a tool for evangelism, and connecting to others.  Once again I commend my friends at RethinkChurch.org for providing this tool that has so many positive facets.

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The Virtual Run to Bethlehem

According to google maps, the journey along the Jordan River from Nazareth to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is 166 kilometers, or 103.2 miles.

According to google maps, the journey along the Jordan River from Nazareth to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is 166 kilometers, or 103.2 miles.

This Advent, I am going to run to Bethlehem, but I need your help.  As a way to encourage people to Live Well, I’ve started a new virtual running event.  From November 28 until December 25, I want to run the virtual journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  According to Google Maps, this is a 106 mile journey.  For me to run the 106 miles, I would have to average four miles a day.  While not impossible, it is an impractical goal.  So I’m enlisting help.

My Pulpit Fiction co-host and best friend Eric Fistler and I are going to do this together.  We are asking all of the Fat Pastor readers and Pulpit Fiction listeners to do the same.  If we can get a few people to do it with us, the 106 mile journey will be a lot easier.  In fact, I figure if there are ten people running, we might be able to make the return trip too.

If you want to participate in the Run to Bethlehem, just submit your time and distance on this google form.  We’ll compile the information and post our progress as we go along.  We’ll start tracking on Thanksgiving Day, and we’ll go until Christmas (maybe Epiphany)

If you’re on twitter, use the hashtag #AdventRun to post pictures or tag routes if you use something like Map My Run.

Also, don’t forget to use #BeChristInChristmas to share ways that you, your family, or your church is trying to be Christ in the life of your neighbors.

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11 ways to #BeChristInChristmas

christmas meme1. Don’t get mad at people when they wish you “Happy Holidays.”  I’m not sure who decided that anger is the right Christian response to a polite greeting from a stranger.  I say “Happy Holidays” all the time.  Is it because I’m a politically correct, overly emotional, too-sensitive, mamby-pamby, liberal pinko who hates Christmas and wants to hang an Obama Tree in my living room?  Maybe, but I’m only a few of those things (I’m not telling which).  I just think it is a nice thing to say.  People that are looking for Christ at the check-out register of Target might be looking in the wrong place.  Frankly, I’m not too interested in finding Christ at my daughter’s public school either.  Check that.  I can find Christ anywhere, but I find it in the heart of my neighbor, not in slogans, signs, or songs.

2. Go to worship.  It might sound overly simple, but maybe we can look for Christ in his house.  The purpose of worship is to connect with the divine, so look for Christ in the hearts of your brothers and sisters.  Find Christ in the songs of the ages.  Find Christ in the passing of the peace, in the breaking of the bread, and in hearing the Scriptures read and proclaimed.  If you’re not a church-goer, give it a try.  Most churches are at their best in the weeks leading up to and on Christmas Eve.  There are few moments of the year I enjoy more than singing “Silent Night,” and lifting a candle on Christmas Eve.  I’m not going to guarantee that every House of Worship will suit you.  The body of Christ has many flaws and scars, yet the presence of Christ can be found in the midst of this imperfection.  Then go out into the world and be the presence of Christ for others.

3. Read the Bible.  Again, sounds simple.  There are a lot of ways to encounter Christ, and one of them is to read the stories of his life.  Read the Christmas stories as found in Matthew and Luke.  Read about Jesus’ ministry and discover what he said, who he loved, where he went, and what he did.  Allow the Sermon on the Mount to challenge your life.  Allow the parables to challenge the way you think of the world.  Discover the radical strangeness that is the Kingdom of God.  Be like a tree planted by the waters, and delight in the stories of Jesus.  Then maybe his birth will mean something more.

christmas check list

4. Volunteer.  Give your time to a cause that is meaningful.  Use your talents, skills, and passion for something larger than yourself.  Love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your God.   Find a soup kitchen, a food pantry, a clothes closet, or a shelter that needs help.  Sign up with the Boys and Girls Club.  Offer to teach a class at your church.  Volunteer to read to kids at your local elementary school.  Then after Christmas is over, keep doing it.

5. Shop fair trade.  Buy products you can feel good about.  Support economic justice by making sure that the people that created the products you buy are paid a fair wage.  There is a shop in downtown Davenport I buy a lot of stuff from called SIS International Shop.  Equal Exchange is another great company that I love to support.  Ten Thousand Villages is a wider chain with some great merchandise as well.  

christmas meme 2

6. Buy gifts that will improve relationships, not just add to clutter.  A few years ago my brother, sister, our spouses, and I decided that we weren’t going to buy each other presents.  Instead we gave our parents a night with the grandkids, and the six of us went to dinner and bowling.  I don’t get to see them nearly as much as I’d like, so I cherish that night we shared much more than any t-shirt or book that they might have gotten me.  Last year my daughter got a big Lego Star Wars set for Christmas.  It was great, but the best part of that gift were the hours that we spent together working on it.

advent books7. Make one of these.  I could buy a cheap box with terrible chocolate to pop out each day leading up to Christmas, or I could make this.  The Advent calendar of children’s books is an amazing idea I’ve seen from a couple of people on Facebook.  I hope I take the time to make the latter.  I’m afraid I’m going to end up buying the former.

8. Go on a prayer run.  This is a term I first heard from a follower on my Facebook page.  She told me that while she runs, she prays.  She solicits prayer concerns from friends from church, and takes them with her as she goes on a run.  Sometimes she listens to the Bible as she runs.  I’m hoping she adds the Pulpit Fiction podcast to her playlist too.  The point is, she’s improving her physical health while at the same time strengthening her spiritual life.  She told me recently that she ran her first 5K.  I’m so glad she shared her joy with me on the FB page.  Now I share her idea with all of you.  You can also participate in the 2014 Advent Run to Bethlehem.  The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is 103.2 miles.  Last year, 23 different people made a total of 67 entries in our Advent Run.  There were entries from 14 different states plus London, England. We went a total of 255 miles.  Join in the virtual run to see if we can cover that distance as a team between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Here is the link to submit your run.  It will open on Thanskgiving Day, 2014.

9. Throw a Baby Shower for Jesus.  There is a women’s shelter near you.  There is a scared teen mother you know.  There is a Children’s Home that is struggling to stretch their budget.  Invite people to a Baby Shower for Jesus.  Have games, food, and decorations just like a regular baby shower.  Invite everyone to bring gifts just like at a regular shower.  Then give them all away to someone in need, and remember that Jesus said, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” (Matthew 25:40; CEB)  And if the idea of throwing yet another party before Christmas is too daunting, then wait until Epiphany (January 6, 2014), the day we remember the coming of the wise men to bring gifts to the baby Jesus.

10. Advocate for Justice.  The unnamed miracle of Christmas is that Mary survived.  Mary gave birth among animals and filth.  There was no professional to help her.  She was probably very young.  The fact that she survived the birth is a miracle that few name.  This Christmas, name that miracle. Tell the stories of the thousands of women who give birth in similar conditions every day.  There is a natural connection between the need to advocate for maternal health and family planning and the coming of Christ.  I wrote this reflection after I went to Washington to meet in Congressional offices on Capitol Hill.  Understand though, that you don’t need to go to Washington.  Write or call your local Congressional office.  They pay attention to what people talk to them about.

11. Tweet #BeChristInChristmas.  Share ways that you are being Christ to someone else this holiday season.  Use the power of social media to share the good news of Christians being like Christ.  Last year there were a few people that participated and shared some great ideas that included sending cards to soldiers, shopping for an Angel Tree, and singing in nursing homes.  I’m hoping that this idea can grow, and we can all be inspired to do something for mercy, justice, and kindness.  Be the hands, feet, heart, mind, and mouth of Christ this Christmas.  And please, have a very happy holiday!

12 Listen to this song by Christopher Grundy.

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The Unnamed Miracle of Christmas

Mary survived.

She gave birth to a boy surrounded by animals, filth, and dirt.  There was no midwife or doctor or antiseptic or sterile instruments.  There was no one to help.  She was young – probably not fully physically mature.  Still, she gave birth to a boy and survived.  The unnamed miracle of Christmas is that Mary survived.

Healthy Families Healthy Planet

I first heard this statement from Katey Zeh, Project Director of Healthy Families, Healthy Planet.  This initiative of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society is funded by a grant from the United Nations.  Its mission is to educate people about the dangers of motherhood in the Global South, and to advocate for the protection of these mothers.  They have produced this video, which is worth a watch.

A lot of people get very tense when you start talking about family planning.  This is a hot-button issue in American politics.  Yet I believe that this project is one of those things that can and should transcend partisan politics.  Maternal health is a pro-life issue, and so is family planning.  Family planning includes education about contraception, birth spacing, and the importance delaying a girl’s first pregnancy.  Maternal health is not a women’s issue.  It is a human issue.  When women are healthy, their children are healthy.  Education about women’s health reduces abortions, miscarriages, and maternal mortality.  That is something we should all be able to support.

In many parts of the world, where women are still treated much like cattle, family planning and education can be a matter of life or death for a mother and her children – both born and unborn.

This Christmas season, as you ponder the miracle of God becoming flesh, think also of Mary.  Think also of a 14 year old girl you know.  Ponder what would happen to her if she were forced into pregnancy, and was unable to access a doctor, a midwife, or even a clean floor on which to give birth.  Think also of the mother that died in the last 90 seconds in childbirth.  Think of the women that are valued not as people, but for the service their uterus provides.  They are forced into pregnancy too young, and too often.  They are giving birth in terrible conditions.  They are dying.  Their children are suffering.  They need us.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief provides a guide for putting together Birthing kits.  If you are interested in putting these together, you must follow the guidelines precisely.  Follow this link, then click on “Birthing Kits” along the right side of the page.  This is a great way to #BeChristInChristmas.

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The two Christmases #BeChristInChristmas

Sometimes I feel like there are really two Christmases.  There is the Christmas that drives our nation’s economy.  It gives us “Black Friday,” where retail stores turn red bottom lines into black ones.  It gives us a myriad of commercials, jobs, advertisements, tie-ins, door-busters, and TV specials.  It focuses on, at best, the joy of giving and gathering with family.  It focuses, at worst, on consumerism, materialism, and the illusion that stuff=happiness.  This is the Christmas that the vast majority of Americans celebrate, and it is only superficially linked to the birth of a Nazarene boy that would defend the widows and children, stand up to religious hypocrisy, break down man-made barriers, challenge the status quo of the powerful, and become the Savior of the world. It is an important part of our culture, and it is not going anywhere.

Then there is the other Christmas.  It is the Christmas that celebrates a child.  It celebrates the moment when God became flesh.  It celebrates the God that became a man so that we may know how to love.  This Christmas is about Jesus.  It is a reminder that Jesus came to change and save the world.  Jesus was anointed by God to…

“Proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’” (Luke 4:18)

For many, the desire to “Keep Christ in Christmas” is a backlash against the first Christmas I described.  They see that in many ways Christ has been removed from Christmas celebrations, and they mourn that.  I understand, but I think getting upset over someone saying “Happy Holidays,” or not finding a baby Jesus in a public park is misguided.  If you’re looking for Jesus in the secular, cultural Christmas, then you’re looking in the wrong place. In the past, I’ve written some pretty angry and pointed posts about this subject.  I don’t feel like being angry anymore.

Instead, I offer this suggestion.  The only way to keep Christ in Christmas is to be Christ in Christmas.  If you want to find Christ this Christmas, you can still find him.  If you think someone can take Christ out of Christmas by removing a statue from a park, then I think you underestimate the power of Jesus Christ.  No one can take Christ out of Christmas where the people of God are being the body of Christ.

If you want to keep Christ in Christmas, then spend as much money on others in need as you do on your family for gifts.   Work for justice.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with your God.  Love your neighbors. Love your enemies.  Forgive.

Happy Holidays

The United Methodist Committee on Relief offers a few suggestions, and resources to actually get it done.  I’d love to find out more ways that you are going to #BeChristInChristmas.  I would love to see this hashtag become active on twitter.  Share ways that you are being the body of Christ.  Are you volunteering at a homeless shelter? Donating to a clothes closet or food pantry?  Are you sharing your gifts and blessings so that other may be blessed?  Share it.  Tweet it.  Do more than wish someone Merry Christmas.  Be someone’s merry Christmas.

As Teresa Avila said, “Christ has no body but yours.  No feet on earth, but yours.”  So if you want to keep Christ in Christmas.  #BeChristInChristmas.

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