2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 11 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Christmas Means Receiving (A Christmas Eve Meditation and Part 5 in Series, “Christmas Means…”)

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In the ancient religious tradition,Taoism, everything is built on and around “tau,” which refers to nature, balance, energy, the way of the universe. “Tau” is life at its best. Now, hear this comment on “tau” from Chuang Chou, and yes I know it’s Christmas Eve:

If the Tao could be served up, everyone would serve it up to their lords. If the Tao could be offered, there is no one who would not offer it to their parents. If the Tao could be spoken of, there is no one in the world who would not speak of it to their brothers and sisters. if the Tao could be passed on, there is no one who would not pass it on to their heirs. However, it obviously cannot be so and the reason is as follows. If there is no true centre within to receive it, it cannot remain….

Christmas means receiving, but I don’t mean receiving materialistic gifts. I’m not putting down gift-giving and celebration by any means; however, Christmas means receiving something or some things that are intangible.

At first blush, that may seem simple enough, but more than a few of us have difficulty receiving gifts, especially the life changing ones. Receiving, though, isn’t just a willingness to take what is offered, as Taoism suggests. If there is no true center to receive it, it cannot remain–meaning, to oversimplify, if we have no place for it we may go through the motions of receiving, but we won’t really; we can’t really.

Baby Jesus grew up to be a living message proclaiming the core life truth: God is love. That love is freely offered as a gift that comes with life. There’s nothing you must do or can do to get on the gift list to get it. The only thing we have to do benefit from this, the greatest of all gifts, is to receive it. Yet, there are those who can’t or won’t receive it; some only want gifts that require no effort on their part while others would love to receive the love that is God, but they know they do not have a place to keep it because there no inner space, no centering space, where it may be kept.

By a space to keep it I do not mean something like the equivalent of an inner safe deposit box where the gift is locked away for occasional opening and polishing and use only on special occasions. A centering space for receiving and holding onto love that is God means a place deep down inside where it may flourish and function on a daily, hourly, moment by moment basis. It’s not to be locked away or put away. To the contrary, it must be in a place more like a greenhouse in order to function and flourish and do what it was intended to do.

Without love, and God is love, much is missing from the experience of life. We know this from the dramatic studies of children from whom human love is withheld and how damaged they typically become as a result. On a spiritual level, the same kinds of things happen to us if we refuse to or are unable to receive the gift of God’s love freely and with no strings attached, offered to each of us in every generation within the human family.  Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck says that the inability to receive love is almost as destructive as the inability to give it.

Interesting that Jesus’ specialty was loving the largely unloved, encouraging them to risk creating a place within themselves where the gift of love, and God is love, could prevail for the long haul. Can you think of anyone to whom Jesus ministered who was widely loved by all or almost all of those among whom they lived? Can you think of anyone to whom Jesus reached out who had no need of his affirmation and the divine love to which he pointed them?

Maybe this pattern of ministry and concern was an integral part of his personality. Maybe, though, as he grew up his mother and father, Mary and Joseph, told him time and again about the circumstances of his birth in Bethlehem, and except for the kindness of an innkeeper who made a comfortable place for them in his barn or cave Mary would had to have given birth alongside a darkened roadway with only Joseph fumbling around in the pitch black to try to help her. The chances that the baby who’d be named Yeshua could have survived such a delivery are slim to none, but because his parents received what was offered out of concern he lived. They sensed that God worked through that stranger. Perhaps that remembrance shaped Jesus’  life and ministry entirely.

“Let every heart prepare him room”: prepare room for God, in other words. You recognize the words of the carol. I remember most of the words to one of the songs we sang in our church youth choir; they’ve stuck with me: “Let [love] be born in you, let [this] love live on in you, and you’ll lead the world to a brighter day.”

Receive it when you can, as you can. There’s no single formula for how it works for everyone and for that matter no uniformity of expression once it’s there. Christmas means receiving.

Amen.

Christmas Means Love

 I.

There’s a huge difference between love and sentimentality. By no means am I suggesting that love is absent from many of the Christmas traditions that we treasure and remember, but I am suggesting that many of the feelings we identify as love are in reality sentimentality.  Sentimentality is not a bad thing by any means; but it’s not the same as love.  

Love is a much sturdier word, concept, process.  “Love never fails,” says the apostle Paul to a reading/hearing audience who didn’t love him much at all. Sentimentality, however, may well fail.

What if we could not create the Christmas traditions that have been so special to us for years and years? The loss of meaningful, stirring, sweet sentiments would hurt, but it shouldn’t take away the love of Christmas. Love that is genuine remains.  So I may not have any longer the beautiful Christmas tree that my mother and sister, for the most part, decorated while Dad repaired or replaced burnt out lights, and I may not have that wild rush to open gifts at a time you only barely could call morning as we practiced gift opening in my family of origin as well as in the family I raised. It was so much fun watching the kids open the gifts chosen just for them and seeing their eyes sparkle with delight.  I miss that, but those days are gone unless we re-create them some day when there are grandchildren. Until then, though, I don’t want feel unable to celebrate because my favorite Christmas sentiments are unrepeatable at the moment.  There’s still something significant about the whole collection of Christmas events that point to love–real love, lasting love, love unattached to sentimentality.

Let us keep in mind that the way we celebrate Christmas today is a patchwork process spanning many generations and countless adaptations. The way many of us celebrate Christmas in our corner of the world has nothing to do with the way people in other places do their Christmas celebrating. There isn’t a right way and multiple wrong ways to do it unless you completely commercialize Christmas in which case it becomes detrimental to the remembrances of the birth of the one who would grow up to change the world because of his own untiring devotion to live out love in the most complex of situations.

If we want any kind of an authentic Christmas celebration, commercialization has to go, and compassion for strugglers must move to center stage.  Acts of compassion are tied to love; buying gifts unneeded by anyone on our list, gifts that may be into the back of a closet in short order is not Christmas, and yet not just any compassion will do.  The Reverend William Sloane Coffin, one of the noted pastors of the Riverside Church in New York City and a minister who could be called a “tough love” pastor, said:

 

To show compassion for an individual without showing concern for the structures of society that make her or him an object of compassion is to be sentimental rather than loving.

 

Coffin absolutely clarifies the difference, or a difference, between sentimentality and love.

         I’m thrilled at the ways this congregation continues to stay focused on helping those in need every way we can.  How could I not be thrilled when you go above and beyond to make a practical difference in the lives of people who without you might have no food or clothing or shelter at all?  Let me be clear for the sake of you newbies; I didn’t bring that ministry of compassion and concern to Silverside.  I found it inextricably entrenched when I arrived. 

         That said–and we do care about motivation around here, not just end results—we hear what Coffin said to his congregation not terribly far from Hell’s Kitchen; if all we do is feel sorry enough for someone to toss some money in the pot for groceries or gloves without taking plenty of time to understand why she or he is in that position our actions haven’t been loving, but rather sentimental.  The needy, grateful people on the receiving end probably don’t give two hoots about our motivation for giving, but we should.  Jesus didn’t do all he did for the strugglers in his world simply because he felt sorry for them though, certainly, he was a compassionate person.  He envisioned communities in which everyone had her or his basic needs met, no one going without or doing without.

         There is little doubt that one branch of the early Jesus Movement, after his Roman execution, set up such communities of sharing where all material goods were held in common by everyone within the communities even if they’d had little or nothing to bring to the establishment of the community—widows and orphans, for example.  In these communities, everyone had responsibilities that contributed to the common good so learning skills and taking responsibilities would be a part of the future for them if they hadn’t already embraced those in their pre-communal lives and lost them for the same reasons people lose jobs and homes and investments today.

         Teju Cole is a native of Nigeria who came to this country to try to make a greater mark on the writing world, and he has.  While he appreciates much about our country, he has not been able to miss the reality of an ever-present racism.  He wrote, not with Christmas in mind but for me it applies:

 

From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED [Technology, Entertainment, and Design—Ideas Worth Sharing] the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex. The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening. The banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality. The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm. This world exists simply to satisfy the needs– including, importantly, the sentimental needs–of white people and Oprah.

 

II.

When we celebrate Christmas today we should know something of the background of the holiday, and we have to start by pointing out that the earliest followers of Jesus did not celebrate his birth at all. They began by focusing on his death and the life they sensed from him even after he was no longer walking on this earth.  In other words, the earliest followers of Jesus were caught up in the fact that physical death, biological death was not the final word for or about him in their experience, and from there they worked backwards over a period of hundreds of years to get to the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  There were many reasons some Christians felt the need finally to introduce a celebration of Jesus’ birth into the Christian calendar. It had nothing to do with love, however.

Many pagan traditions were intertwined in the various types of celebrations used supposedly to commemorate the birth of Jesus, such as those brought to Britain by invading Roman soldiers. These included covering houses in greenery and bawdy partying that undoubtedly became the paradigm for modern office Christmas parties.  The truly hilarious and dearly departed Phyllis Diller said in one of her standup routines:  “The thing I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a new job the next day.”

The church attempted to cover up pagan practices and give Christian meaning to those customs that just wouldn’t go away.  For example, Christmas carols that had begun as pagan songs for celebrations of midsummer and harvest were taken up by the church so that by the late medieval period the singing of Christmas carols had become a Christian tradition.

Christian groups also attempted to infuse Christian meaning into the use of holly—first, by making it a symbol for whatever had been used to craft the crown of thorns crammed down on Jesus’ head in a ridiculous display leading up to the crucifixion. According to one legend, all holly berries originally were white, but a little orphan boy who was living with shepherds when the angels announced Jesus’ birth wove a crown of holly for the newborn baby’s head.  When he presented it, he became ashamed of his gift and started to cry. Miraculously, according to the legend, the baby Jesus reached out and touched the crown. It began to sparkle, and the orphan boy’s tears turned into beautiful red berries.

I believe the earliest evidence we have of scattered Christmas celebrations are in the mid-third century.  Christmas celebrations did not gain prominence, and then hardly universal, until the early Middle Ages; however, even then Christmas wasn’t the big deal Easter and Epiphany were.  You know what Easter is, but you may not know that the Season of Epiphany is the season of the Magi who finally get to Jesus when he’s about two years old.  The season built around their long journey and non-Jewish interest in a little Jewish toddler was groundwork for seeing the work of Jesus as having a universal component.  Remember that all of this was reasoned through long after Jesus’ execution.  Very little of this was pondered during his life or immediately after his loss of life.

The prominence of a day to celebrate Jesus’ birth increased gradually after Charlemagne’s coronation as Emperor on Christmas Day in the year 800.  By the time of the high Middle Ages, Christmas celebrations were prominent in a number of places around the world.  There were places, England for one, where Christmas celebrations were opulent and excessive, sounding more like Mardi Gras than what looks and feels like Christmas to us today. 

Not everyone was happy about what they saw in celebrations of Jesus’ birth.  Many Puritans, for example, blatantly condemned the celebration of Christmas calling it a purely Roman Catholic creation with “trappings of popery” in evidence at every turn.  Yet, those who tried to do away with Christmas in England met with fierce opposition.  Not so in Scotland where the Parliament abolished possibilities for legally celebrating Christmas in 1640; in the Parliamentary proclamation accompanying this act, the lawmakers claimed that, thanks to them, the church had been purged from observing superstitious days.  Not until 1958 was Christmas reinstated as a legal public holiday in Scotland.

In Colonial America, the influential Puritans weren’t shy or quiet in making known their disapproval of Christmas; thus, the celebration was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681 when an English governor made celebrating Christmas legal. Legalities aside, it still was not “fashionable,” we could say, to celebrate Christmas in and around Boston until the mid-1800’s.    

There were places where Christmas celebrations were central before Boston came around.  Christians in New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina made celebrating the birth of Jesus a major part of their respective ways living and worshiping. 

Alas, another hard hit for Christmas during and after the Revolutionary War.  Those fighting for American independence believed that Christmas was an English custom and, therefore, should be left out of life in America altogether. George Washington spent December 25, 1776, finalizing his plans to attack German mercenaries the next day at what came to be called the Battle of Trenton.

Many of the sentimental traditions meaningful to many of us in our Christmas celebrations were initiated by English writers such as Charles Dickens.  There were some Americans, too, who contributed.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said in 1856 that he detected a transition about the celebration of Christmas in New England.  His words:  “The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful, hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so.”  And in Reading, Pennsylvania, a newspaper reporter wrote in 1861, “Even Presbyterians who have hitherto steadfastly ignored Christmas–threw open their church doors and assembled in force to celebrate the anniversary of the Savior’s birth.”

 

III.

We have said in these weeks leading up to Christmas that Christmas means joy, and Christmas means gratitude.  Today, we say that Christmas means love.  Getting back to our beginning point, love is not sentimentality.  What is it then?  Well, that’s much more of a challenge to say, but we could begin by saying what it’s not. 

The opposite of love is not hatred as I heard someone say years ago.  The opposite of love is apathy or indifference.  Maybe that is just a clever play on words, but it still raises something vitally important.  At least hatred is active and can be seen and confronted.  Not so with apathy; it’s hard to see and nearly impossible to challenge. 

The key character in the Christmas story who demonstrates love is God. God initiates the Christmas story in retrospect because God adopts Jesus as God’s child and then gives him as a gift to the world. Jesus ministers consistently in God’s name and thereby lives out human life as God would’ve lived it out if that were possible. Of course God is not human, but we get a sense of God’s concern from the way Jesus lived—demonstrating real love rather than sentimentality-based compassion.

Some few years we had a series of sermons dealing with how to speak of God, how to think about God, and one of the emphases was the need to move away completely from anthropomorphisms for God. So we really cannot say that God loves since all we know of love is human love, and human love at its best could not measure up to divine love if we could fully grasp it. What we could say with a fair amount of agreement is that God IS love; that’s quite a difference. We still are left even with the inadequacy of human language to be able to define God; still, it would be rather universally affirmed by many who have any sense of God that God is love.

The beautiful song, which the choir has sung, “Love Came Down at Christmas,” has one of those melodies that captures anyone who listens carefully to it. While we understand from the words the message the writer wishes to get across, we must avoid the mistake of assuming that there was no divine love operative in the world until it was revealed through the life and teachings of Jesus.  Love has been from the beginning and will be to the end.

What Christmas does not mean and can never mean is that God gave God’s unique child to the world to be slaughtered as the only acceptable sacrifice powerful enough to appease God’s wrath toward humanity caused by human disobedience to God’s expectations of us. It’s a horrible thought, but it comes up every Christmas as well as Easter for that matter. If that’s what Christmas celebrates then, indeed, there should be no Christmas.

God is love, and love is action from a human standpoint; love is action. Yes, we humans have loving feelings toward those who are dear to us–our children, our significant others, our parents, our friends.  Those are wonderful feelings, but until we act on them they are mere sentimentality. So children grow up telling their parents of their love for them, and most of the time everyone, including the parents, believe what is being expressed is honest and authentic. But circumstances may change, and just saying, “I love you,” no longer does the trick.  There may come times when love must take action.  So I see from my pastoral vantage point adult children who in love begin caring for their aging parents and doing tasks for the aging parents that they can no longer do for themselves. Adult children must often make decisions for aging parents that they are no longer able to make for themselves.

In wedding vows we still ask couples most of time, do you promise to love her or him in sickness and health, in poverty and wealth?  It’s one thing to say, “I love you,” when all the trappings of a beautiful wedding enhance feelings. It’s quite another to say, “I love you,” to the person to whom you have pledged your undying love who suddenly shows a weakness you didn’t notice at all during the years of dating and maybe even living together.

Sentimentality will not get us through.  Love that is love is, again, sturdy and determined.  Baby Jesus grew up to put love into practice in the most hopeless of situations.  That is what Christmas must be about.  Christmas means love.

Amen.

 

 

Christmas Means Gratitude

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I.
    For many folks in our culture, Christmas–even if they keep
the birth of Jesus in their conscious–has become a time to expect
specific gifts rather than to bask in gratitude that we are gifted at
all, however small the gift. There’s competition among certain
religious groups and subgroups over whom Jesus was primarily
given or sent to so those who regard themselves as God’s
favorites gloat at Christmas. There are huge differences between
gloating and gratitude.
    Someone has pointed out that expressing gratitude or saying
thank you to a person is nearly as important as saying I’m sorry
when I’m in the wrong or expressing sympathy in response to
loss. Back when I was teaching the geography of religion
segment in a Human Geography course, I stumbled upon an
anthropologist’s research pointing out that In many traditional
societies all over the place, the first words taught to a child
capable of initiating her or his own verbal responses were,
“Thank you” spoken to their elders, to visitors in their homes, and to other  children.
    Just about everybody appreciates being thanked for a
good turn even though they may brush it aside by saying, “Oh, it
was nothing.” Saying thank you is a polite way of telling other
people that their help was appreciated and neglecting to say it
may be taken to mean that the good deed was not appreciated
and may have been unwanted.
        One of the three or four giants in the field of pastoral theology in the twentieth century was Dutch Roman Catholic scholar whose last teaching post was at Yale Divinity School. The following beautifully stated insight is from the late Henri Nouwen:

In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneousresponse to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realizethat gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. Thediscipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledgethat all I am and all I have is given to me as a gift of love, agift to be celebrated with joy.

    Perhaps the last thing we should be concerned about when
pondering gratitude is what expressing can do for us, but this
might be worth tucking away for further reflection some other
time. A couple of years ago, some researchers at Kent State had
a group of student volunteers agree to write one letter every two
weeks. I’m sure stipends must have been involved! Each letter
written had to be expressed positively from start to finish. The
guidelines stipulated that some insight and reflection had to be
evident and not of a trivial nature. Finally, each letter had to
contain a significant portion of its content focused on gratitude.
What do you suppose happened? After each letter, the
researches asked these university students to complete a survey
to gauge mood, satisfaction with life, and overall feelings of
happiness–all of which increased with each letter written. The
more they wrote these gratitude-filled letters the happier they
were.
    Angeles Arrien has said:

There is a fundamental spiritual quality to gratitude thattranscends religious traditions. Gratitude is a universalhuman experience that can seem to be either a randomoccurrence of grace or a chosen attitude to create a betterexperience of life; in many ways it contains elements of both.Grateful people sense that they are not separated fromothers or from God; this recognition of unity with all thingsbrings a deep sense of gratefulness, whether we arereligious or not.

II.
    Christmas means gratitude, or it should. Therefore, as part of
our contemplation in today’s Gathering I want to visit two places in
the Christmas story where thank-you’s were certainly uttered
even though the Gospel writers do not report them.  The Innkeeper who has been perpetually portrayed as a villain in the Christmas story because he had to tell Mary and Joseph there was no room in his Inn for them was actually no villain at all. He was politely letting them know that there was no room for them to sleep in his Inn and especially given the likelihood that Mary was going to deliver a child in the next few hours. Inns in those days were not individual rooms the way we expect to find our accommodations when we book a hotel or motel today. Rather, they were big wide open spaces where people kind of in the style of a hostel were given space to spread out their sleeping gear and to sleep there for the evening. So the Innkeeper was actually a good guy for protecting Mary’s privacy and also for offering them the only place he had to offer them, that was a place to have privacy for the delivery of the child in his barn. The barn may have been attached to his house, which what was not uncommon, or it may have been built nearby and would have looked something like a pavilion probably less than what we would call a barn today. Or it may have been a nearby cave.
    Many of you know about the vast uses of caves in many parts of the world historically and today. Some of the oldest art we have preserved in tact are sophisticated cave paintings, not stick figures by any means. And today, our own Margaret Walker, for
example, has just returned from a wonderful, amazing visit to
Morocco where a part of her agenda included having lunch with a
woman who lived in a cave. That must be an upcoming forum
topic. How many churches all across the land today could say one
of our members has recently been to Morocco where she ate
lunch with a cave woman?
    In many ways the Innkeeper was a life-saver for
accommodating Mary and Joseph given the vast number of
travelers crowding around Bethlehem and other key cities for this
mandatory census; there weren’t many places available, much
less a place for a woman to have a baby in the night. Therefore I
can imagine smiles of gratitude on their faces when he said there’s no room in the Inn, but there’s a more suitable place I can make available to you; it’s in the barn.
    We mentioned last week that in the Pope’s new book he says there were no animals at the manger. He still apparently believes that Jesus was born in of some kind of a barn-like setting and perhaps even laid in a manger, a feeding trough, though animals were not there at the time of his birth. I don’t get this, and I don’t see what difference it makes. I don’t know how all this information came to the Pope. But I do know that much more has been made of animals attending the birth of Jesus in Christmas carols than the Gospel writers take the time to describe. I make a number of assumptions based on the fact that since Jesus was born in a barn, barnyard animals such as cows and sheep and goats were close at hand.
    The kindness of the Innkeeper made all the difference. No
words of gratitude are recorded in the story, but if the events took
place in any way like they are described by the Gospel writer then
we can be assured based on a culture that put so much emphasis
on hospitality that the beneficiaries of hospitality at the very least
would have said, “Thank you; thank you; thank you so much.
How could we ever repay you for making this space available to
us?”
    If not for the Innkeeper’s concern, Jesus may well have been
born along an unsafe, darkened roadway somewhere. As it turns
out, though, he was born in this space either attached to the Inn
or somewhere close by, and it is my kind of common sense
reasoning that because Mary was a young woman, a teenager
about to birth her first child, that the Innkeeper’s wife and/or
perhaps some of the women staying in the Inn that night took the
roles of midwife to help Mary deliver her first baby. I can’t imagine
it would have been any other way. If that’s the case then we have
another instance of Mary’s gratitude, and probably Joseph’s too,
being expressed. “Thank you; thank you so much for helping our
baby come safely into this world.”
    A poem-prayer by e. e. cummings:

I thank You God for this most amazingday: for the leaping greenly spirits of treesand a blue true denim of sky; and for everythingwhich is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.Tell you what. In place of the angels and the Magi and theanimals in your crèche set, add the Innkeeper and his wife.

III.
    Another part of the Christmas story where gratitude was most certainly expressed though the writers didn’t chronicle it was a thank you from Mary to Joseph for having confidence in her and believing that he was the father of her child as an act of God
comparable to the way old Abraham impregnated Sarah as an act
of God. It took God to make everything work properly when there
was no Viagra.
    We had a study one Wednesday evening years ago when we looked at the possibilities for who Joseph might have been. We sorted through details about his life, possible details, that might help us understand something about him. Had he been a young man getting married for the first time he would have been about 17 or 18 years old and his bride about 13 or 14 years old. But it was not uncommon for older men to marry younger women if the appropriate arrangements were made between the man and the girl’s parents. Nor was it uncommon or unlawful for a man to have more than one wife. We kind of leaned that evening, those of us who were digging into the study, to the idea that
Joseph was probably an older man. Betrothal arrangements were
a step beyond engagement but not yet to marriage. Apparently
sexual relations were permitted at the betrothal stage.
    The thing is Joseph obviously had not been confident that all of his parts still worked properly; therefore, he had no idea how Mary could have been impregnated. Mary tried to explain to him that God worked it out and divinely compensated for any possible deficiencies so that what he thought could not have happened indeed had happened. “Thank you for trusting me and believing me against odds, Joseph,” said Mary.
    A significantly different twist for your consideration. A few
years ago we had Dr. Robert Miller, one of the Fellows of the
Jesus Seminar and a professor of religion at Juniata College in
Pennsylvania, return to Silverside for a second set of lectures. He
is a liberal historian early Christianity, rubbing scholarly elbows
 with likes of Elaine Pagels at Princeton and Bart Ehrmann at the
University of North Carolina.
    One of Dr. Miller’s lectures was on the subject of Jesus’
paternity. One of the theories he dealt with at length was the
widely held notion in the ancient world, and I warn you before i
say it that it is so shocking to some as to send painful emotional
currents through your system. The theory was that Mary was
raped by a Roman soldier during an invasion into the lands of the
Jews about a year before Jesus’ birth, roughly 7 BCE using the
flawed calendar in use since the Middle Ages when a Vatican
scribe dozed off and lost his count of years he was adding up. Given the lateness of the hour and his nearly burned out candle he chose to make his best guess and call it a night. Thus Jesus was born in 6 BCE. That is another item the Pope agrees with in his book. Historians and archaeologists tell us it would not have been uncommon in a Roman raid for a soldier to rape one or several women.
    I mentioned this a few years back at Christmas time, and a
number of you were shocked to say the least. Some of you
claimed to have relatives rolling over in their graves that you even
gave ear to such crude heresy, and I’m sure the theory could still
be unsettling for many of you. I’m just trying to talk some
possibilities.
    Now if the soldier raped Mary, and she become pregnant
perhaps she never told Joseph what happened because she
didn’t want him to think she was used merchandise. When the
pregnancy became undeniable she had to have something to say
to her betrothed, her husband to be, and the great thing about
Joseph is that he loved Mary profoundly; as a result he believed
what she told him. So you can bet she and her family expressed
their heartfelt gratitude to Joseph over and over again for
believing the best of Mary instead of taking the route most men
would have taken, with full legal endorsement, and had their
fiancées stoned to death. Had Joseph not believed Mary, he
made up his mind that he would quietly annul the engagement
and betrothal and send her to live somewhere else where her
unfortunate plight would not be known.
    We don’t know which story Joseph ultimately believed, but he could not separate himself from Mary and Jesus. In any case, he must still have had a few good moves in him because he and Mary had other children before he died leaving Mary a widow and
in the care of her firstborn, Jesus. Joseph was absolutely
convinced that God was behind all the good things. And, yes, he
thanked God in the manner his ancestors had thanked God such
as by singing with gusto Psalm 100.
    Here’s a new version of that beloved psalm for modern folk,
from “Psalms for a New World” by Christine Robinson. She calls
her renderings improvisations on the psalms. To be more precise,
she calls her psalm summaries improvisations “…USING
INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE AND INCORPORATING THE MODERN
LENSES OF ECOLOGICAL AWARENESS, TAOIST
SENSIBILITIES, AND POST-MODERN THEOLOGY.” I like her
work!

Be Joyful—everybodyMuslims, Christians, Pagans, Atheists.  Gladly serve the good.  Rejoice in the gift of life.  Highest above, deepest within.  Around us in nature, present in each.  We are yours, You are ours.  We enter your presence with thanksgiving.  With chants and songs.  With grateful hearts and open hands.  And know a flash of eternity. 

   I close with a word about gifts from psychologist Robert
Leahy:

I have a suggestion for a gift — a gift that you can receive and
give at the same time. It’s called “gratitude.” What you can do
is think about the people that you love, the special people,
and contemplate why they matter to you. What would life be
like without your best friend, your partner, your mother or
father, your kids? Imagine that they no longer existed and
now you had a chance to get them back — but only if you
could prove that you really were grateful. What would you
miss about your best friend? Think about the conversations,
the memories, the laughter, and the tears — you both shared.
Now think about how grateful you are for having him or her
in your life. Now, tell them.  I think back about my mother who died several years ago. I am forever grateful to her. She cared for me when I was a child, made me laugh, gave me confidence, kissed me and gave me the ability to love. I am grateful today. And always will be. I am grateful for people and things that are gone–but stay with me forever because I keep them in my gratitude. No one can ever take away my appreciation.

 

    Amen.