Tuesday, December 30, 2014

God in the Ghetto

Sometimes in life everything seems right.  So incredibly right.

But, it turns out you are wrong.  So incredibly wrong.

Other times, everything seems wrong.  So incredibly wrong.

But it turns out, you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

I can imagine the magi chatting away, following the star, reflecting on the bizarre encounter with the king and his devoted entourage. 

How could they have been wrong? Isn’t the king supposed to be born in the palace surrounded by glamour and pomp, guards and privilege?

But, clearly, not this king.

They also anticipated the culmination of their journey. 

What is it going to be like? How will they feel when they finally see him face to face? Could they touch him?

 They could feel they were getting close. They could feel it in their bones… in their marrow.

Then the star suddenly stopped.  They looked at the modest shack before them, at each other and then back to the star.

This can’t be right…

I agree. It’s way too… shabby. Too plain. No king is ever going to be born here.

Yea, let’s just move on.

But the star. It  seems stuck. It’s not moving.


I don’t feel right moving on without the star. 

Me neither.

Well, at least we can check it out. We were wrong once. We could be wrong again….

Just then the door opened and a man walked out. Behind him, in the light of the setting sun they saw a young woman holding a baby in her arms.  

They looked around again – the stuck star, the simple house, the man and the woman. And even though everything seemed so wrong, so incredibly wrong – no pomp, no glamour, no guards no protectors - they knew - knew it in their bones, knew it in their marrow, that they have arrived at the right place at last. 

This post is the eight installment in the Magi-cal Journey series.

Lost and Found

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Peace on Earth 1914-2014

“Do not be afraid; 
for behold, I bring you good news of 
great joy 
which will be for all the people; 
for today in the city of David 
there has been born for you a Savior, 
who is Christ the Lord. 
This will be a sign for you: 
you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and 
lying in a manger.” 
And suddenly there appeared with the angel 
a multitude of the heavenly host 
praising God and saying, 
“Glory to God in the highest, and 
on earth peace among men 
with whom He is pleased.”

The Story Behind Sainsbury's Christmas Ad:

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Baby Shower Like No Other

What about the gift?

What gift?

The gift – for the baby! We can’t go to see the baby empty-handed!

Oh yea! What shall we bring him? Diapers? They’ll need a lot of those…

Nooo – bringing diapers to the king???? Are you kidding me?

But what else? Maybe we can pick up something from Toys’R’Us along the way…Thomas the Train…?

It must be special… really special. Because this Baby is special. I mean, I know that EVERY baby is special… but this one…He is the future king!

How about gold? The purest gold there is…

That's a thought... gold is an appropriate gift for the king… it represents power and purity and riches… yes, we’ll bring some gold for him… but what else?

What do you mean, ‘What else?’  Isn’t gold enough?            

Nooo… I don't know... it doesn’t seem that bringing just gold is enough… There’s gotta be something more…

'Just gold'?!! 'Something more'?!! That’s the best we got! You can’t better the best.

Yes you can. How’bout…frankincense?

Frankincense?!!! Have you lost your mind? Bring frankincense to a baby? As a gift? Do you really want to go into history under the term 'weird'? 

Well… maybe he has a point… babies stink sometimes, you know…

That's NOT what I meant, like a Glade air freshener or cat litter granules… I thought of it more like the scent of... the way you smell the rose... or the bread... or the Presence ... the way you can smell a prayer in a person without a word...

They all fell silent. Listening - to their breathing.  In and out… and then it came to them… the scent.  

For there is nothing quite like the scent to evoke… memory… 

... to stir…mystery… 

... to transcend time and space, tangible and intangible and bring them together right here, right now, in perfect unity. 

The way prayer does. 

Instantly they knew it. 

Yes! We must bring along frankincense – of the purest kind… from the mature tree… that has grown out of the rock… and shed its tears into the purest form of frankincense… For this baby brings - they look up to the star -  the heaven and the earth together like no one else… It’s a perfect gift for him.

Well, then, we are all set now.  We’ll bring along gold and frankincense.

There’s something more…

More??? There’s nothing more.  We are done with the shopping list. Plus there is no room in the luggage.

Just one more thing…one more thing we must bring to him…

 This post is the seventh installment in the Magi-cal Journey series.

Lost and Found

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lost and Found

If you never had anything – anything at all – lost, and you thought that it was lost forever…

A house key, for example.

Or a wallet…

a library book…

a wedding ring…

Or perhaps…

your health...

or a dream…

or a child…

or mind…

or heart…

or… hope…

If you never had anything lost, and then assumed – as we often do...

when we are enveloped in the molasses-thick-darkness...

when we are worn out from the long journey of searching-and-not-finding...

You assumed that it would never be found again…

And then, you found it!

Or rather, if we are willing to admit the truth, it would be more like IT  found YOU!

If none of these ordinary human losses ever touched you…

you have no idea...

you have absolutely no clue...

what the tired travelers

wrapped in darkness and foreboding,

shivering on the steps of Herod’s mansion,

the heavy doors slammed shut behind them...

what they felt

when they saw

the lost star.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Uncontainable Joy of Christmas

What was THAT all about?, said Herod, as the palace doors slammed behind the visitors, and immediately called his national security council and his entire entourage of advisers. And they put their heads together in order to ensure the most efficient elimination of this new threat to the kingdom. That night their strategy for elimination of the impostor to the throne morphed into a tactical plan for a mass murder.

What was THAT all about?, said the religious know-it-alls, not little offended that some presumptuous foreigners dared intrude on their privileged turf. If there was anything to this preposterous story about the birth of the Messiah, wouldn’t God reveal it to US first? And they quoted the chapter and the verse, and nodded their heads and gave a hearty approval to each other and to the deranged king that this must be nipped in the bud before it gets out of hand.

What was THAT all about?, said the weary travelers as the palace doors slammed behind them. They shivered in the cold and in the chilly foreboding of something they couldn’t quite understand and they lifted their weary eyes to the wide open sky.

No clue… but… LOOK!  

Shut out and enveloped by the molasses-thick darkness, their eyes grew big… and then BIGGER.

Their star was back!

The star that launched them on their ridiculous journey…

The star that lured their childhood dreams out of their sleepy hearts and into the open… that made them look like fools, leaving everything behind as they reached towards something they didn’t know what…

The star was back.

They rubbed their eyes, and looked at teach other, and at the star, forgetting all about the strange conversation inside the king's mansion, and the palace door slammed-shut behind their backs... and even the bumpy journey of a million camel-steps... because, suddenly, none of it really mattered in the light of the star's return.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Catastrophe of Christmas

Was it an honest mistake, an incalculably costly six-mile overshoot, or were the Magi actually led to knock on the door of the vicious king, to ask him, of all people, where the new king was?

Did they realize how threatening their inquiry was to Herod? Could they pick up on the subtle non-verbals, the surreptitious looks exchanged, the eyebrows raised… ? Could they feel the fear ripple through the room… ? Could they see through the evil king’s religious charade...?

Go and make careful search for the Child… and when you find Him, come back and tell me so I too can worship Him.

Yea, sure, your royal highness… you are most welcome to join us, but if not, we’ll do all the work on behalf of  your majesty  and make it really REALLY easy, really REALLY convenient for you to worship this new king… You don’t have to lift your little finger… just sit there on your royal throne and we’ll bring this new king to you on a platter so to speak….

How did Herod's words sound to the weary travelers after they have braved maybe six thousand miles, watching thousand sunrises and sunsets and everything in between – feeding and watering the animals, caring for their saddle sores, carrying their wounded hearts along with the gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh…? How did they ring in their ears… these words of cheap worship that oozed like molasses off the king’s lips?

And what about all those religious know-it-alls who sent them off on the last bit of their long journey without actually joining them? 

Sometimes there is a greater distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, than between Bethlehem and the furthest end of the earth.

Were they led by God to this king and his entourage so their true heart can be exposed or was it an honest mistake?

Either way, the results were catastrophic. Their little deviation resulted in the worst kind of nightmare any parent could imagine... the shedding of innocent children’s blood at the hand of the deranged king. 

Was it a premonition of the catastrophic price the innocent baby in Mary's arms, the innocent Lamb of God would soon pay to ransom all the thieves and liars, all the murderers and adulterers and all the religious know-it-alls of this broken world?

This post is the fourth installment in the Magi-cal Journey series.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The GPS Malfunction

Some time ago I needed to drive our son to a concert venue I wasn’t familiar with. In the past, I would have pulled out a map, pored over it until I figured out exactly where I was going and how to get there. I might even take notes, mark all the turns and calculate how long it would take to ensure timely arrival.

But now, we have a GPS.  All I need to do is plug in the address, push the ‘go’ button and, voila! – we are there! Once in the car, I turn my brain off and I religiously follow the voice of the woman giving me turn-by-turn directions until she says:

You have arrived at 1600 bla-bla-bla

I look around and even with my brain off, I know she is wrong!  

No we did NOT, you idiot! I blurt out. We are in the middle of some woods with a large retention pond sprawled in front of me and no concert hall anywhere in sight.

Then I spot a MAYS sign and then another.  I continue following the signs until I see the front door, familiar faces and small children hauling giant instruments. 

Now we have really arrived!

Sometimes I wonder if the astronomers from the east had a malfunctioning GPS that led them to the Herod’s palace instead of the baby in the manger?

Or as they approached their destination, did they assume that ‘they can take it from there’, figuring out that the king’s palace is the most appropriate, most logical place to look for the newborn king?

Did they caravan right past the modest dwelling where Mary and Joseph were cuddling their baby boy in the shadows of the great metropolis?  

Who could fault them for choosing the lights and the glory of the city known as the epicenter of the religious and political power of the region over the quiet, stinky animal shelter? 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Long Journey of Nevertheless

We can only speculate how long was the astronomers’ journey. It could have been up to two years.

Take a measuring rod and stretch it back about two years. Mark the day. Seven, or even eight hundred day-steps into the past, no need to haggle over it.

Two years, plus or minus, is a long journey. Do you remember 2012? Followed by 2013?!!! And here we are, at the end of 2014!

For me, some of those day-steps felt like a thousand-year leaps. Some, exactly the same, except in the opposite direction. I also had days when my lead-laden legs were barely moving, treading murky waters, no solid ground underneath, no rock, no pebble, no measurable progress. Then I would let myself sink from sheer exhaustion only to discover that I don't have to keep my head up all the time...My head's under water but I'm breathing fine...

Two years is a long time.  Enough time to cradle a birth and casket a death.  Time to say our vows in marriage. Time to heart-break our promises in divorce. Time to lose friends and make new friends. Time to succeed.  Time to fail.

No matter how comfortable your transportation is, two years is long enough time to give us all saddle-blisters.

Are we there yet?

Are you sure we are not lost? I’d thought we’d already be done with this trip by now…

All the virgin-journey excitement, the starter thrill of novelty evaporates into fumes after two years. The weariness settles like dust on the shoes… on the soul.

We really don’t know the details of the astronomers road trip. All we know is that they pushed through - and kept pushing through - whatever attacked them from the outside and from the inside. The fear, the doubt, discouragement, setbacks, fatigue. The relentless extremes of desert.

Once they left their home, everywhere they went, they were foreigners. Foreign was their language and foreign were their ways.

They fought back the lapping tongues of skeptics that eventually caught up with them and the raging rivers of tears they left behind... and they kept going… and going… and going… Until they finally arrived!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

When Destiny Knocks on Your Door

They must have been super-excited at the beginning of the journey

Packing the bags, double-checking their mile long ‘bring-along’ list, securing the valuables, loading up. Energized by the promise of an epic adventure awaiting them made the teary good-byes and the skeptics' looks more bearable.

Somebody said that the call of God is like the call of the sea— no one hears it except the person who has the nature of the sea in him. For them it was the call of the starry sky… It came as the bright Star - star like no other. 

They recalled the first time they spotted it on the ever-changing yet almost painfully predictable dark-blue velvet. Some called them the star-gazers – the dreamers, but they were simply mesmerized by what their heavenly science was both hiding and revealing. The vastness and proportions.  The empty and the beauty. The depth of the unknown. The face-off of the endless boring with the eternal glory. But, when they first saw it, they knew they were onto something.  Something really big - even by astronomers' measurements.  

Only 'the big' wasn't just 'out-there'.  It also awakened something they didn't know existed, buried deep inside, that grew and grew filling their minds and souls, consuming them from the inside out. They knew they had to follow.

It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime, or rather, once-in-many-a-lifetime opportunities. The culmination of everything that they were and their lives' work - intersecting with cosmic history-in-the-making.

When destiny knocks on your door, ignoring isn't an option. 

So, they set off the way lovers and pilgrims do.  Blind and foolish, or perhaps having an extra eye to see what nobody else could see, tuned into a deeper and higher wisdom that somehow escapes the rest of us ordinary folks.

Still, they couldn't have the foggiest idea of what they were really getting themselves into.

None of us ever does when we say ‘yes’ to the call.

They had to trust that the One who started them on this journey will be there not only at the end of it, but every inch along the way.

This post is the first installment of the Magi-cal Journey series.

Lost and Found

Monday, December 01, 2014

Split-Screen Owner's Manual

Our ancient made-in-the-90's working TV is up for grabs along with a digital converter box and remote control. It may take a crane and a tractor-trailer to get it out of our house but hey it's free.

The faithful limping giant was replaced by a Black Friday paper-thin cereal-box deal you can lift with your little finger. 

It’s the dawn of a new era in our family.

Without a trace of nostalgia, our tech-savvy 21st century kids were showing us off all that the new TV can do.

Mom, now we can play split-screen Minecraft together…!

And we can use Daddy’s  phone as a remote controller, see… And our friends can… They were bursting with the can-do excitement, interrupting each other, fire-hosing us with all this incredible information about tremendous potential of the new family acquisition.

I was getting dizzy.

How do you know all this? I ask quite impressed by the lightweight gizmo and all the technical and operating knowledge my kids already have about it.

We read the Owner’s Manual, they grin in unison, clearly pleased with themselves. But, that's not all. There is so much more…

The Owner’s Manual?!!! Who in the world reads the owner’s manual…? I’ve never been much of the owner's manual reader.

But then a thought stops me in my tracks. For there is the Owner’s Manual like no other.  The Owner’s Manual for living

Unfortunately, much of the time I either think I already know enough to get by without really paying attention to it or prefer other sources offering somebody else’s regurgitated cliff notes of wisdom.

Just do this and don’t do that and you’ll be O.K.  

God’s Word, however, is not an ordinary owner’s manual, full of incredible information as it is. It’s more like a the-Owner-Manufacturer-live-personal-help-guide

The Book is meant to point me to the living breathing Person revealed on its pages. The-Father-Son-Holy-Spirit-Person who knows me better than I know myself… who is more than sufficient for all my needs… who longs to be known and loved so He can show us more of who He is and what He does and what is yet to come.

So, let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. Hosea 6:3