Well, yesterday’s to-do list was pretty well completed, including setting up the beautiful Christmas creche that came as a gift from Cheri’s folks – one piece at a time for probably 15 years of Christmases. The most cherished part, however, is the stable itself. You see, Cheri’s dad was a wonderful wood worker, and he spent time in his retirement years creating a just-right sized replica of the stable that they had for their much larger sized figures. It’s a beautiful work of art, and one that both Cheri and I love to see each year. Cheri’s dad died two years ago, so it’s doubly precious to us.
We/I also grilled steak outside, in the grill for our noon meal. Even though we have had some chilly mornings lately – down in the low teens – by late morning and into the afternoon, the temps have gone kind of nuts, with highs still in the low 40s. Now, that may sound freezing to you all if your address is below the Mason Dixon, but for us northerners, it’s time to put on shorts and flip flops…
The other thing that we managed to do, which for some reason doesn’t happen every year, is that we pulled out the Advent Candle holder, and put four new candles in the stand for this year. I have to admit that when I was traveling as a superintendent, the first couple of Sundays in Advent usually took me out of town, and there were times when we only managed to fit in the third and fourth weeks of the season, lighting the right candles. There’s another benefit to retirement – you can actually celebrate the season.
So I am reminded every year that, while the little pewter Advent candle ring is very pretty, and we have been using it for probably as long as the boy have been born – over 30 years – every year when we put the candles in place, the tiny slim, thin little tapers have two challenges. One, they are made differently than 30 years ago, and so they are just a little, wee, tiny bit slimmer than the originals. This creates, of course, a wobbly effect in the stand. Two, when whoever it is dips the candle in the final coat of colored wax – purple and pink – they allow the excess to drip off the non-wick end of the candle, which then produces a small, but critical bump on the bottom of the candle. The bump, along with it being too thin, creates a tipping effect, a wobbly effect, a going-to-fall-over effect. This does not make for a beautiful setting to think about Advent. Advent is not the season of worry and concern, unless of course you are Mary, the mother of Jesus. I’ll give that to her, but the rest of us need more sturdy and trustworthy holders for our candles…
So, year after year, I pull out what we call “sticky stuff” that normally is used to keep posters and things on the wall without nails. I make a small ball of the “stuff” and shove it into the bottom of the fairly shallow candle holder, and then shove the candle in, without breaking it off at the base. Sometimes it actually works, but for some reason, there is usually one candle that refuses to cooperate. This year it was the pink one. I seated the candles, stepped back to look and see if they were straight, and sure enough, pink started the slow lean like the Tower of Pisa. More sticky stuff. Didn’t work. Finally, I took a knife, dug out the years of sticky stuff, and put the candle in first, and then wrapped the stuff around the top of the holder. It sort of worked, and my – what a beautiful sight, to see a pink Advent candle held in place by a tan colored wad of you-know-what.
Still, it seemed to work. The boys came up from their basement fortress, and we lit the first candle of the season. What does that first one stand for? Faith. The trouble is, it’s been a tough year for that word. Especially for our oldest, who earned his PhD just in time for every college and university in the country to shut down, and cancel any hiring of new faculty. He continues to apply when he sees a job opening, but there is very little response. Kind of – no, really frustrating, to have gone through the work of earning that degree, and then have no way to use it, at least in an academic setting.
So, his was the first response to faith. I won’t go into the details, but generally, and this expands to the entire country, there is a feeling that, while God has the power to control everything, and do so much, that right now, the sense is that either God can’t do it, or has decided not to adjust or change the course of our culture and life for the good. Pandemics and riots and political garbage and such, along with self-imposed quarantines have sucked the joy and life out of at least a couple of people who live in our house.
It was then that I, the wise older pastor and lifelong theologian – didn’t try to sugar coat things for a change, or to help everyone look on the bright side of life. Instead, I think God might have even used me to frame where we are, and I’d like to share that with you.
Hebrews tells us that “faith is the reality of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen.” Anyone who tells you that Faith is very simple and forthright is someone who doesn’t understand what faith is. The word “faith” at its root means, “trust.” When we put our faith in something or someone, or Someone, we are saying that despite all that may be happening around us, and even to us, that we still put our trust – our lives – in the hands and care of some thing or Person beyond ourselves. But you see, the bleaker the world around us appears to be, and the more rotten a hand dealt to us gets played, the tendency of the human is to shift the trust from beyond me, to inside of me. I lose faith. Actually, what I do is that I remove faith – even from God – and I make the decision to only trust and have faith in what I can do by the force of my own will, with my two hands.
That’s a terribly sad decision, but it is usually made when I can’t have a clear view of what God has in mind. The fact that I haven’t seen something happen on my behalf tempts me to no longer hope that something will happen either for my good or the good of those around me. I take Hebrews and pretty well throw it away, and decide instead that “faith is when I get what I need or I want, and seeing is believing.” There are millions of saddened and broken folks around us, who have indeed pulled their faith and sit in the quarantine of their own loneliness.
What I told my sons is that the faith in this instance is completely backwards. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for more than 400 years, held in captivity in Babylon for 70 years as a nation. Hannah, Elizabeth, Samson’s mother, Sarah, Rachel, and more were women who longed to have children, but waited in faith that God would act on their behalf. Over and over again in the scripture, we are the image, not that faith will make things be alright and fine, but that faith is the strength that allows us to wait upon God, for God’s perfect right time to rescue us. I often used Psalm 40 when I would speak with folks in tough situations, or while sick in the hospital: “I waited. I waited for the Lord, and He heard my cry, and brought me out of the pit, and put my feet on the rock, and put a new song in my mouth.” It’s a wonderful image, but hardest part was not being rescued – it was waiting. It was employing faith when it seemed to not matter. It was to see the things that have not yet happened, and know that the future is in God’s hand – that we are in God’s hand, and what God says to us each moment is simply and surely “Do you trust Me?” Do you trust that I will do what I have promised from the beginning, and the time will come. Your job is not to predict or manipulate your world. Your holy task is to wait in faith. It will happen, and it will happen in the manner that I choose, as your God. Have faith.”
So, this may have become a bit of a sermon today, but I won’t apologize. This too is living part of the intentional life. Living intentionally means not reacting, but thoughtfully acting in the honest, trusting and faithful way we can.
I hope you can keep the faith today, during this first week of our waiting for the coming of the Christ Child.
Word for the Day: versutiloquent. Pronounced ver-syoo-TILL-oh-kwint. It’s a rather obscure word, but has some power when we realize from where it comes. Of course, it’s Latin, and it comes from the word, versutiloquus, which come from versitus and loquor, and finally versus, which means “turned, or changed,” but also means, in a dance, to make a move that is a turn. The word sounds very aristocratic, but it boils down to mean “the act of speaking slyly, or craftily.” So, when you are versutiloquent, you will tend to start off saying something straightforward and true, and then in a subtle way, you “turn” the words to another meaning or direction, and so you slyly get a point across, or get someone to think a different way. The snake in the Garden was truly versutiloquent, as he got the woman to think differently about the fruit that she was not to eat.
Versutiloquent people are also very smug and proud of themselves. Not good people.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.