Rejoice, Rejoice; The Season of Light is Beckoning

“There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.”

John Calvin

This Sunday in Advent asks for us to rejoice in the season.  We can see the changes wherever we go during Christmastime. Colored and white twinkle lights adorn trees, houses, barns…and even gaily displayed on a whole group of people in Pelzer, South Carolina.  What a delight it is to be surrounded by the joy of light and lights.  Today implores us to be mindful. It asks for us to join hands in an effort to make the world a gentler place of rejoicing.  What better time than now to start a journey of healing and awakening?  We have the light to guide us just as the Wise Men did more than two thousand years ago.

The Pelzer Light People

All of this incredible celebration is shining into our hearts on Gaudete Sunday.  But I want to share another kind of rejoicing that has touched me deeply.  I have had the great honor and privilege of listening to the “Fifth Step” of people recovering from the chronic diseases of addiction.  When one arrives at this point, a fearless moral inventory has been painstakingly prepared.  Resentments have been identified.  Even personal ownership in those offenses has been taken.  A lifetime of secrets is shared and confessed.  Burdens are set aside.  A place is made for rejoicing where depression and regret once reigned. From the heart of darkness comes a beacon of hope. 

I have learned from these brave people that light, love, and joy can glow in the most hopeless situations.  I have learned that healing and awakening are always possible.  I have learned that we are never alone.  I have learned that we are all in this together for a very good reason.  I have learned that Christmas rejoicing can happen every day of the year if we allow it. That transformation is just what we need today.

“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his stockings.  “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy.  I am as giddy as a drunken man.”

Charles Dickens 

Embracing Faith; The Mystical, Magical Flight of Christmas

“I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.” ~ William Sloane Coffin

One of the magical messages of Christmas which we are asked to explore during Advent is that faith, like love, is here regardless of our willingness to recognize it. We don’t have to trust this…and we don’t even have to believe it.  In fact, we don’t have to do anything.  Faith is just there regardless of our acceptance. 

Words of the poet Rilke sweep over me and fill me with wonder when he says that in faith “there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.” 

The mystical wisdom of Jesus who compares faith to a mustard seed boggles my mind.  The tiniest little seed was planted in each of us.  And it has the capacity to move mountains.  How could it be that our faith which seems so fleeting and fragile is so ever-present and strong?  Perhaps because it never really leaves us.

Our always-possessed faith whispers the truth to us that darkness can never endure.  It proves over and over that good will overcome evil.  It brings love forward and casts hatred aside.  It dispels worry and asks us to simply do the-next-right-thing.  We are not meant to understand faith.  This isn’t necessary and perhaps not even possible. Just take the leap.  Your wings will appear and provide a magnificent flight. Everything will be okay.

The Good Word; our power to surprise and delight

“He was conscious of a thousand odors floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares, long, long, forgotten.” ~ Charles Dickens

According to the writer of St. Luke’s gospel, an angel appears to shepherds at night and said “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people.”  It is difficult to imagine the awe and happiness that they must have experienced.  A Good Word suddenly dispelled the darkness of night with the light of hope.

Every year without fail, I watch the 1951 Alastair Sim version of Scrooge, A Christmas Carol.

I imagine that the shepherds must have had the same dumbfounded expression on their faces that Bob Cratchit had when his boss, Scrooge the miser, gave him a raise and told him that life was going to be different from that day forward.  What an incredible privilege it is to bring good tidings, to speak well and to carry a message of hope! The changes that such communication brings to the lives of those who receive it are instant and have a lasting impact. And almost everyone will receive it.

Most of us are hungry for good tidings, good news and hope. When we hear it our spirits are lifted, we rise from the funk and the day takes on a glow of possibilities. It is hard to be dragged down after heeding a message of joy.  The great change is evidenced in the words of Charles Dickens in the closing of A Christmas Carol when he states “He (Scrooge) became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.”

We all have the opportunity to bring good tidings and spread them wherever we go to whomever we meet. It is just as easy as carrying a downcast, forlorn, morose and melancholy demeanor. We can surprise and delight people with a different message. 

We can make the astonishing offer of Scrooge when he says, “I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob.”  Now is the time to make the change. What is your good word? Are you bringing hope or discouragement? What do you have to add to the positive flow of life? What personal benediction do you have for your fellow human beings? Find the answer and carry the message!

It is Christmas time. Life is good. By the way, it is always good…and always has been!

The Wonder of Hope

“Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” ~ Tertullian

This wonderful season presents itself just at the time of the year when daylight is quickly diminishing.  We begin bringing out the candles.  I am reminded of the Jewish prayer of Hanukkah which begins, “We light these lights for the miracles and the wonders.”  It’s a time in which everything is shining. It is the first Sunday of Advent for Christians who begin to focus on the four virtues of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace.

Today we light the hope candle.  Healing happens when we participate in hope.  Hope is not an idle, misty, sympathetic emotion.  It is a faith-filled response to life. The vision of The Wonderful is upon us and we are reminded to never let darkness fill up our hearts.  We might be tempted to extinguish the lights and ignore the continual presence of The Wonderful as voices of negativity, gloom, and doom, reverberate from so many corners.  Scrooge and The Grinch can be found lurking around if we want to look and listen for them.  Even so, it is important to remember that both Scrooge and The Grinch were transformed by the light.  Darkness likes to make us think that it is overpowering.  But the truth is that a tiny candle will push it aside.

Advent and Hanukkah Candles will be flickering with the message that hope can never be snuffed out.  We have the opportunity to kindle them right now.

Advent and the Gift of Waiting

“At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”  ~ Mother Teresa

Advent begins next Sunday.  The Hallmark Channel is providing continuous Christmas movies, people are hanging up calendars to mark the days until Christmas, while decorations abound in stores, homes and on lighted streets. Holiday music is playing on the radio.  But Advent is about waiting for Christmas.  This is a different kind of waiting than the annoying kind we experience so frequently like hours sitting in doctors offices, and long lines for at airports.   Advent is about joyful anticipation.

The kind of waiting that we are called to experience during Advent is both focused and alert.  It is being present in the moment and deliberate in our actions.  We are asked to participate during this holy time by being more attentive to the people in our lives, actively listening to our families, taking extra measures to be kind and considerate, and by being unselfish as we touch the lives of strangers.  This is challenging and can only be done if we slow down and take our steps thoughtfully. For hidden in these days of Advent, amid planning, rushing and overdoing, is the gentle spirit of peace.