Archive for December, 2011

Keeping it Real for Christmas

Posted: December 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

“It is not a light thing to God that every year we celebrate Christmas and do not take it seriously.” Bonhoeffer, God in the Manger

Adam Hamilton, pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, posted the above quote on his Facebook and Twitter accounts this week.  It has stuck with me since.

I’ve been thinking about this past couple of weeks.  I’ve had a series of meetings in Spartanburg to finish CPE, a residency meeting in Columbia, celebrated an anniversary with my wife, had part of our family here for the weekend to celebrate Christmas, spent some time shopping and trying to get gifts for family members, etc.  It’s a busy season!

Then on Christmas Eve, we have two services and another service on Christmas morning.  Sometime in that 48-hour time period of Dec. 24-25, we’ll find time to celebrate Christmas with our daughter and with my side of the family.  And it has been so much fun so far! Christmas with a 4 year old is an amazing experience.

Well, there’s this cold that I just can’t get rid of.  I guess everything can’t look like a Christmas card!

But Christmas isn’t just a time for family and friends.  There are constant reminders of the commercial monster that Christmas has become.  The commercials that are running now don’t help.  They seem to be push all of the gifts that I’d really buy if I really loved my family.  If I had enough money, I think I’m supposed to buy a Lexus so my family could have a “December to Remember.”  There’s even a commercial from Target with Santa running frantically to Target to get his last minute gifts.

There are crowds and crowds of people at stores and have been reports this year of violence as customers waited for bargains.  It’s enough to wear me out!

Yet, somehow in the craziness that Christmas can become I get the opportunity to talk about a birth that changes everything.  We’ll join together as a community of faith on Christmas Eve to share the shepherds’ story and then join together in music and Holy Communion.  On Sunday, we’ll talk about Anna and Simeon and the church’s story.

And as I’ve been thinking about this task and how important it is for us, my mind has turned to the Grinch.

There’s that beautiful moment where the Grinch is transformed from someone with a small heart to someone whose heart has grown three sizes.  And there’s a quote that captures this spirit that Christmas is more than just a bunch of wrapped boxes.

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

May your Christmas be something more — something that brings you together with those you love and something that reminds you of the one who loves you!

Christmas is born in the darkness and loneliness of a stable.  It still has the power to change the world.


And so this is Christmas…

Posted: December 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

“While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.” — Luke 2:6-7 (CEB)

Maybe the streets were more crowded and congested than normal.  There’s a big event in town and everyone who was anyone was expected to be there.

A teen father and his teen bride have made the nearly 80 mile journey despite the fact that she is desperately “with child.”  This baby’s going to come and he’s going to come soon!

They seek shelter in an inn or a guesthouse and with so many people in town, there’s just not much space available.  Travelocity isn’t around to help them find alternative lodging.

So, they end up with the next available lodging — a stable with the animals.  It could have been a cave carved into a wall.  It could have been the downstairs of the home.  It could have been a free-standing structure out back.  But it was their space.

Notice who isn’t here.  No evil innkeepers barring their entrance into his establishment.  No choirs of angels singing in the background.  No magic lights from heaven or erie glowing lights.

It’s just Mary and Joseph in a quiet space.

And then the baby arrives.

In the quiet still space of a stable, the savior of the world arrives.  There’s no party for the future king.  There’s no royal decree.

When God chooses to deliver Emmanuel — God with Us — He does so in the most unlikely of places to the most unlikely of people in the most unlikely of settings.

And if God can change the world from a stable in the small town of Bethlehem, from a savior born to a humble and poor family, then I wonder what he can do with us?

So this is Christmas.  Are you ready?

ImageAt some point, Mary has to tell Joseph, “We need to talk.”  She’s had a meeting with an Angel and things are never going to be the same again.

She has to let Joseph know that there’s a hiccup in the plans for their marriage.

The Bible doesn’t give us the background to that conversation and we can certainly speculate.  Mary might have been extremely nervous, carefully measuring her words, and hoping that somehow Joseph would believe the words the Angel had told her.  And Joseph… wow, what must have been going through his mind?

  • You are what?
  • Oh, no you can’t be.
  • Seriously, Mary, do you expect me to believe that?

Joseph, described as a righteous man, is prepared to quietly divorce Mary and move on.  Then, he does something that we sometimes do.  He sleeps on it and in the middle of his slumber, he receives his own visitor.

As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” — Matthew 1:20, CEB

Joseph’s encounter with the Angel seems to be different from some of the others.  Mary is told not to be afraid. The shepherds are told not to be afraid.

Joseph is told, “Don’t be afraid… to.””

The Angel explains the predicament that Mary is in and how this is from God. Joseph is told to marry Mary and raise this child. There’s the promise that no matter what he goes through, he will have Emmanuel — God with Us.

And in the end, Joseph wakes up from his slumber and does just as the Lord as promised.

In this season of preparation and anticipation, where do you find yourself afraid “to” act?  How have you experienced God calling to you, as you’ve been thinking on it and sleeping on it, to move past your fear and do what you know you should do?

Maybe it’s something as simple as committing your life to something far bigger than yourself.  Maybe it’s a call to share your love of Christ with another.  Maybe you’re afraid to speak to someone or help someone or go somewhere.

What’s the “to” for you?

God is not distant.  God is present, with us — the promise of Emmanuel.  And that God, God with us, is inviting us to move beyond our fear and “to” act.

How will your Christmas change when, in prayer and mediation, you discover the “to” in your life and then you get up from your slumber and do what God is calling you to do?


It’s just words, right?

Posted: December 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

I grew up in a family that pulled for the Gamecocks.  Then, I attended Clemson.

Maybe that was the start of my football confusion.

People ask me whether I pull for Carolina or Clemson and I think my best response is, “Yes.”

Then, I graduated from Lander, a school without a football team.  And I completed my seminary work at Erskine, a school that hasn’t played football since 1952.  By the way, Erskine is also reportedly 2-0 lifetime against Florida State.

I’ve had the chance to attend games at Clemson and South Carolina and both are fun places to see games — complete with their own personalities.  I also attended several games at Furman and Furman is, by far, a prettier campus than Clemson or Carolina can ever claim to be. I can tell you some of the great moments I’ve witnessed at those places.  But at the end of the day, it’s a game.

As a state, maybe we haven’t handled athletic success very well.  Clemson’s had a better history overall and won a national championship some 30 years ago.  South Carolina has improved considerably with the arrival of Lou Holtz and now with Spurrier.  And it has been a great moment for our state to have both teams in the top 15 for most of this season.  I don’t remember that ever happening before in my life.

But enough already!

I’ve heard the stories from this season, the number of people who have “unfriended” one another over the viciousness of comments made on Facebook.   The rhetoric can be nasty and divisive and really just not very productive.  Maybe wins and losses aren’t worth losing friends over.

There are days when I miss the mediocre years of our state’s football programs.  The spirit was more collegial and the wins might even have been appreciated a little more and not so “expected.”

But now we have battles over social media and coaches and players launching into tirades over Twitter.  Coaches and players are are fueling the flames.  Fans are dividing and taking sides and throwing gas on the fire.

But it’s just words, right?

With the exception of a few major programs in the US, college athletic success is cyclical.  Teams that are not tapped into the major recruiting veins manage success when everything aligns and the schedule is right and the coaches and players are there.

Spurrier is definitely correct in what he has said all along.  South Carolina is not Alabama.  And it’s not LSU.  And that’s a good thing.  It’s a school with its own personality.

Of course the same statement applies to Clemson.  It’s not Alabama.  It’s not LSU.  And that’s a good thing.

And both of the major college programs in South Carolina are not copies of one another.  And that’s a very good thing.  Life would be pretty boring if everything and everyone was just alike.  And it’s awesome to pull for your team and celebrate the success, but what if there’s something just a little bit more?

In the immortal words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”