December 10, 2018

Love Came Down at Christmas

United Methodist Hymnal – #242

Love was born at Christmas;

star and angel gave the sign.

 

In the movie “You’ve Got Mail”, Meg Ryan inadvertently finds herself in the “Cash Only” line of her neighborhood grocery store with only a credit card to pay for her purchase. It’s the night before Thanksgiving, the store is full, and tempers are running high. As she pleads with the checker to accept her card, the man behind her, exasperated by her apparent disregard for the rules exclaims, “There’s a sign!” pointing to the large “Cash Only” sign. She, in her preoccupation, had just missed it. This is a round about way of asking, how many signs do we miss every day? Truth is, we’re inundated with signs. Some are there to keep us safe (walk/don’t walk, for example). Some are designed to keep us in our place, or to protect someone else’s belongings (keep off the grass!) Still others are strictly informative (Business hours 9 – 5). But there are other signs, the ones that may not be printed and posted. Non-verbal signs are everywhere. What about someone who suddenly stops showing up for a favorite activity, or someone who become unusually reclusive. Even body language, crossed arms, or the inability to make eye contact are all signs, potentially of a far more severe problem. Just as we must heed the signs that keep us safe and protected, we must not miss, or intentionally ignore the signs when a friend or colleague may be actually crying out for our help. We need to keep our eyes open to the signs around us, this Advent and beyond.

 

And this shall be a sign unto you;

You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,

and lying in a manger.

LUKE 2: 12

      

God of Grace, you want only the best for your children. We thank you for your presence with us, and the opportunities for love and service you offer if we will but listen. We pray not to be oblivious to the signs you place around us, but rather, be vigilant in recognizing those signs, better enabling us to be your eyes, ears, and hands in our world, always striving to do your will.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 9, 2018 -ADVENT II

People Look East

United Methodist Hymnal – #202

Make your house fair as you are able,

trim the tree and set the table.

 

Our Senior Pastor, Jane Tews, once confided to me, “there are only so many ways to say, ’He is Born’” This was obviously as she prepared for her Christmas (Eve) message. She understood that people are most comfortable with the much beloved story of Angels, Shepherds, Wise Men, the Star etc. But to stand before a congregation, telling the same story over and over can inspire someone to find new and meaningful ways to connect that miraculous birth to who we are, and how we live in this modern day. Still, there are some images, or metaphors, that just won’t go away. One of them concerns the preparation of one’s house for the coming of the Christ Child. A medieval poem tells of two kings. If the King of the land was coming to visit, the preparations would be all encompassing. Floor to ceiling, chairs, table, food, everything that would make one a great host would be attended to. Yet, at the coming of the baby in Bethlehem, there was not even a welcoming place for him to be born, and this was the King of Kings, the Savior of the world! How did we get so messed up? And what can we do now? Surely we understand that the Advent season is a time of preparation. So what preparations can we make for our guest? Far more than setting the table or sweeping the floor. I would propose that this season we mindfully focus our preparations on our hearts, opening fully to our families, friends, and those we have yet to meet.

 

Prepare ye the way of the Lord,

make straight in the desert a highway for our God,

the crooked straight and the rough places plain.

ISAIAH 40: 3-4

      

Gracious and loving God, we were so very lax in welcoming your Son so many years ago. Fill our hearts now with radical hospitality. May we fling open the doors of our hearts this Advent season, welcoming not only the Christ Child, but offering a welcoming embrace, both literally and figuratively, to our loved ones as well as those most  in need of our love and resources.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 8, 2018

Once in Royal David’s City

United Methodist Hymnal – #250

With the poor, the scorned, the lowly

lived on earth our Savior holy.

 

Quick – describe heaven! Is the heaven you imagine all white and bright, with beautiful clouds and harp music pervasive? What about wings? Were there angels with wings and flowing white robes? It’s an image that we have become quite comfortable with. We have heard time and time again about the bright white light beckoning those who pass from this world to the next, only to be medically revived and returned to our reality. But there are other ways to see heaven. It could be as simple as the faces of your children, parents, and other loved ones. In fact, I think that perhaps heaven might be found in the company of those we love, and who love us. And in keeping with that thought, think how difficult it is to say goodbye. Like a nice warm bed on a really cold morning, we just don’t want to leave and break the spell. And why would we? What could be better than to be comfortable one minute, then thrust into an alien environment. Much like birth – it’s no wonder newborn babies cry. Yet . . . at this time of year we think about how God came to live among us. A hostile, alien environment, a dirty stable is not the white and fluffy image we have of heaven. And beyond that, we’re told that God’s Son, Jesus, lived and ministered to “the least of these”. The poor, the sick, the outcast, the disenfranchised and socially rejected, these were the friends of the One who came to gather us in. Perhaps Jesus’ ministry began on day one.

 

. . . the Dayspring from on high hath visited us,

to give light to them that sit in darkness

and guide our feet into the way of peace.

LUKE 1: 78-79

      

Gracious and loving God, we live in a world of contrasts. Happiness and sadness, darkness and light. We often find it difficult to see through the bad , to experience the good. Let us remember during this season, that Christ, the bringer of light, was born into the most hostile surroundings. And then let us look around us to discern where we might be light to someone else.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 7, 2018

The Friendly Beasts

United Methodist Hymnal – #227

Then all the beasts, by some good spell, in the stable dark

were glad to tell of the gifts they gave Emmanuel.

 

Everyone has favorite images of Christmas. Many like the glorious heralding of the angels, over the pastures where shepherds kept watch. Maybe others like the grand procession of the three Magi, resplendent in their finery, riding their camels to Bethlehem and the manger. Then there’s always the star, shining overhead, pointing the way to the Christ Child. But my favorite is the stable, and not just the stable, but the animals in it. The gentleness of the sheep and cows stands is such sharp contrast to the rough surroundings. Additionally, the legend of the animals talking on Christmas Eve is hard to ignore. One has to wonder if the animals communicated that night, beyond the stable, in a 101 Dalmatians kind of communication line, announcing the birth of baby Jesus. The presence of animals has been a source of inspiration for years. The Medieval Matins service for Christmas Eve sang of the animals’ presence in the stable (O magnum Mysterium). The animals in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind and the Willows, sing of the same, as they carol door to door. And here, each animal tells of his or her contribution to the comfort of the Christ Child. Lowly animals? I think not. What could possibly be of more value that the ability to comfort the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace. In this season of Advent/Christmas, we should take another look at the dog or cat lying so peacefully in our chair. Come Christmas Eve, you never know what they might be saying.

 

“Who were the first to cry NOWELL?

Animals all, as it befell, in the stable where they did dwell! 

Joy shall be theirs in the morning!” 

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

      

God of all creation, The beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea are yours. Yet you have charged us to be stewards of all living things. As the beasts looked on, your Son was brought into the world. We pray that the same world might become one where the lion lay down with the lamb, and the cow and bear might feed together, and a little child shall lead them.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 6, 2018

O Come, All Ye Faithful

United Methodist Hymnal – #234

Who would not love thee,

loving us so dearly?

 

The above lyric is from the least known stanza of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” In it, the lyricist speaks of embracing the Christ Child “with love and awe.” Isn’t that the way we would embrace any baby? Surely there’s no other way to embrace a newborn. We experience the awe when we encounter the miracle of life first-hand. And the love comes in the knowledge that this tiny person is dependent on us for absolutely everything. Of course, this is part of the magic of Christmas. This incarnation of God in human form. And not a King, or a warrior, as was expected of a Messiah, but rather a helpless, unremarkable baby. Now to clarify, most unremarkable babies do not have hosts of angels proclaiming their birth. Nor do most unremarkable babies have stars that appear and illuminate their place of birth. And most unremarkable babies do not have sages from foreign countries go on the ultimate quest to find the baby at the place of it’s birth. But perhaps that’s the most remarkable thing of all. God with us, Emmanuel, in the most unremarkable of settings, in the most unremarkable of forms. A baby. We know God loves us. The apostle Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love. So if that’s the case, how can we keep from loving this tiny child? God’s love knows no bounds, and neither should ours. So here’s the question: If God love us so dearly, and it follows that we would love God the same, shouldn’t we love all the others that God loves?

 

Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,

nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come

shall be able to separate us from the love of God

ROMANS 8: 38-39

      

Loving God, your love knows no bounds. Even as we stray, unaware of the consequences of our actions, you surround us in your loving arms, embracing us in love and awe, just as we would embrace our own children. Open our hearts to accept your great love, and the love of others, allowing us to also express and demonstrate the unconditional love you’re taught us, for our family, friends, colleagues, and all those you also love.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 5, 2018

Good Christian Friends, Rejoice!

United Methodist Hymnal – #224

He hath opened heaven’s door,

and ye are blest forevermore

 

What’s behind door number two? Haven’t we all wondered that very thing watching the game show Let’s Make a Deal?  It can be so nerve wracking to watch someone risk (or bet) their current winnings, to have what is hiding behind the closed door. Hopefully it will not be a “Zonk”. Actually, opening doors is always somewhat exciting. Opening a door invites us to another experience, maybe another place or time. Think about an ocean front hotel. You open the door from the hall and immediately are overwhelmed by the beautiful and endless vista of water and waves. Or I vividly remember an M&M’s commercial from many years ago. It started with a door being flung open wide, revealing a huge, beautifully decorated, and dazzlingly lit Christmas Tree. (There are cultures in the world where the Christmas Trees are decorated in secret, not revealing them to the children of the family until Christmas Eve, by I’m sure, opening a door.) The open door is such a fitting symbol for the coming of the Christ Child. It was through Jesus’s life, teaching, death and resurrection that we learned the secret of eternal life. It is as though that tiny child flung the door open wide, exposing the glory that awaits us on the other side. And unlike Let’s Make a Deal, there will be no Zonks! We have truly been blest with the prospect of life eternal, and it all seems to begin with an open door. Perhaps that same door through which we welcome everyone to Dayspring.

 

. . . for I was hungry and you gave me food,

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

I was a stranger and you welcomed me . . .

MATTHEW  25: 35

      

God of love and hospitality, show us how to fling open the doors of our hearts, welcoming all into our life experience and space. Help us to understand that we are the truly blest ones, living the way you showed us, following your path to eternal life. May we embrace the stranger, love the unlovable, and practice extravagant hospitality to all we encounter.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley

 


December 4, 2018

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

United Methodist Hymnal – #240

“. . . peace on earth and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

 

Don’t you hate it when you break something valuable? There’s something so final about it, even when a shot of Gorilla Glue might be all that’s needed to restore the object. I’ve known people who intentionally purchased really inexpensive glassware, just because they knew they would be breaking all of them in time. (And in their case, not all that much time.) But that seems so fatalistic to me. How awful to assume, even with good reason or historical precedent, that something will eventually be broken. Does one then take greater care with a precious belonging? Well what about a relationship? How can one enter into a relationship with the expectation of it’s end? And if self-fulfilling prophecy is really a thing, do we unintentionally sabotage those relationships? Sometimes it’s distrust that can destroy a relationship. Sometimes it’s selfish or unkind actions and attitudes. All things that cannot be repaired with glue or duct tape, and though no special skill is required, it is far more difficult to repair a broken friendship than a treasured vase, or piece of art. Humankind is known to stray. It’s not really our fault – we’re given free will and sometimes we just make the wrong choice. But like the prodigal son, God waits for our return. God’s grace and mercy is continually offered to us. We need only accept it. it’s the Christmas message. God’s son, being born on earth, creating a bridge to reconciliation between us and God. No wonder angels sang.

 

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;

you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;

you shall be called the repairer of the breach,

ISAIAH 58: 12

 

Merciful God, it is so easy for us to get sidetracked. The stresses of the season can overwhelm. Our focus on what we need and what we want can alter our focus, from outward to inward, driving a wedge between ourselves, our colleagues and loved ones, and you. Help us to remember that your mercy is offered freely, and that reconciliation is its own reward. Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley

      

 


December 3, 2018

Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates

United Methodist Hymnal – #213

… let us thy inner presence feel;

thy grace and love in us reveal.

 

Who doesn’t love a makeover show? In our modern day, we can observe people being “fixed” in almost every way, from clothing to haircut, from interior décor to landscaping. We even see people learn how to dance or cook. We ever so anxiously wait for the big reveal. And as we watch, how many of us secretly wish (or not so secretly wish) that one of those experts could turn their magic loose on us. We think about how our own natural “gifts” might be enhanced at the hands of a trained professional. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that whatever is changed would probably be just a superficial “alteration”. At the risk of sounding trite, it’s really about what’s inside a person. How many beautiful people do we know that struggle with horrible self images. How many exquisitely decorated homes have we visited that still seem cold and unwelcoming. I’m not suggesting that we don’t do our best at maximizing our individual potentials. Rather, during this season of Advent, we should strive for another kind of reveal. What if everyone worked toward revealing God’s grace and love, working in them and through them? Does God really care about our manicured lawns, if our striving for perfection takes away time that we might have spent caring for a neighbor, or volunteering at a shelter for the unloved and/or disenfranchised?

 

Lift up your heads, O gates!

and be lifted up, O ancient doors!

that the King of Glory may come in.

PSALM 24: 7

      

God of grace and love, come to us now and fill us. Help us to see the “you” that’s present in us. Instead of obsessing over our homes, our yards, and/or our appearances, let us reveal to the world your presence, dwelling in each of us. As we wait for your earthly incarnation, may we be reborn as your children, aglow with your inner presence, revealing your love and light.   Amen.

 

~ Rev. L. Michael Kelley

 


December 2, 2018 ADVENT I

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

United Methodist Hymnal – #211

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer

our spirits by thy advent here:

 

And so it begins. For the next month, children will make an extra effort to be good, except when they’re not. And those persons we encounter at the mall, in line at the grocery store or post office will be especially courteous, except when they’re not. And we will all be more patient and understanding with our colleagues, friends, families, and loved ones, except when we’re not. Recognizing the ease with which we can all get swept away in the details of the season, and the continuing quest for the perfect Christmas, we can lose sight of the real joys of the season. Our best memories are not usually the perfection we experienced in the most beautifully decorated tree, or the most succulent turkey. Rather, we cherish the pictures of Uncle John with a bow stuck on his head on Christmas morning, or the overturned bowl of mashed potatoes that the dog enjoyed before we had a chance to even salvage the top layer. The laughter we share around the tree or table is far greater, and of more value than even the most exquisitely wrapped gift. It’s almost as though the ninth century words of today’s carol were directed right at us, Dayspring. Come and cheer our spirits! It’s like the gauntlet has been thrown down. Are you ready to cheer the spirits of those around you, and those you encounter during the season. Emmanuel – God is with us!

 

“Behold, a Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel”, which means, “God is with us.”

MATTHEW 1: 23 

 

Gracious God, your challenge is accepted. We thank you for your faith in us, that we might be your representatives here on earth. Grant us your peace as we journey toward that most beautiful of days, remembering always that you dwell among us, alive in all we meet, both known and unknown.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley

 


Humble Beginnings

I am grateful to Chuck Winkler for having invited me to lead a session on “How We See Jesus” at the Men’s retreat at Camp Mingus last month. It was a beautiful setting and we all learned so much from each other. To begin, I asked participants to consider some of their earliest or childhood
images of Jesus: maybe a picture, sculpture, or song. For me, it was a small crèche my mom had brought back from Germany as a young adult. Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus – crafted from dried corn husks. I remember as a boy my folks putting that simple nativity out each Christmas season. Now as an adult I’ve come to realize another layer of meaning around that simple piece of folk art, fashioned of discards – I mean, besides tamales, what else are corn husks good for?

Jesus had a heart for “the last, the lost, the least” – those often regarded by society as “outcasts,” even “refuse.” Stories of his birth hint at his own marginalization: Mary, an unwed mother, expectant in a most unconventional way; the Good News coming not to the learned and powerful but to (dirty) shepherds working the night shift; the babe of whose birth we sing born not in Rome but some backwater province of the empire, and laying in a cattle feed trough, not a castle.

It’s easy to sentimentalize Jesus, especially during this season when we celebrate his birth with dazzling lights, lovely Hallmark cards and entertaining Christmas pageants.  That simple corn husk crèche reminds me of the earthy reality of the birth of an outcast-soon-to-be-refugee who would devote his life to helping all to see – powerful or vulnerable – that everyone is no less than a child of God!

Merry Christmas,
Pastor Jeff