Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Twas the Night Before Christmas at the Preacher's House...
There was a very cool article about how pastor's do Christmas that was floating around Facebook that I thought was pretty good.

For a lot of folks Christmas can be stressful, especially for Clergy, Clergy Moms and Dads, and I believe especially for Clergy Couples. Churches can do a lot to ease the stress off the pastor so that the pastor may be the most effective s/he can be-- especially on the night that is most the most highly attended church service of the year!

I am very very thankful for the amazing church I serve!

Messiah United Methodist Church is an amazing community of faith sharing the joy of Jesus Christ!

I've had both of my babies here. In fact we found out the day after we moved in the parsonage that we were pregnant.

I thought they would just be so disappointed! Here they brought on this young vibrant pastor and I was exhausted.... But no, they never thought or acted this way. Once my church knew that Kevin and I were expecting our first child- they were as ecstatic as we were! Then when sixteen months after our first we had our second, they joyfully welcomed her too!

Messiah has always been wonderful at offering childcare at church events, worship, meetings, etc. They were like this way before I was here.

But here's the huge thing- if I'm the only one who needs childcare at a meeting...it is still made available for me. That is huge! (Some of you will really know this!)

We have wonderful families, but neither Kevin's family nor mine live close by.
At church events, worship, etc, we do not have family who can help with our children.
One year, our children were in the nursery until 12:30am on Christmas Eve!
(We have the most amazing childcare/nursery workers ever!!! They love our children and we love them!)

We are a clergy couple- so we usually both need to be at church at the same time.
Currently, we serve at the same church (which has advantages and disadvantages to child care needs--for ex we once were both leading retreats (me for the Women's Ministry, him for the Youth on the same weekend- Aghh!)

For Christmas Eve this means four services 5, 7, 9, and 11. I lead the 5pm service for children and families. This service used to only have the children's Christmas pageant and children's music.... which is great--but I added a sermon when I came on board. Mostly because I figured that for some folks this may the only church service they attend all year, but also because every opportunity I get, I'm going to preach the Gospel. Dr. Teresa Fry-Brown used to walk into the classroom, shout out a text, and give us 3-5 minutes to preach a 3-5 minute sermon.
Even if I've got only a small window of time...its still an opportunity...

Kevin preaches at the 7pm Youth Service and then we're both at 9 and 11.

For a couple years now, one of our friends who also happens to be a staff member (although this is not part of her job!) has offered to be at our house with our children (and her kids come over too) we turn on the fire and they hang out enjoy watching movies, and our kids get to bed.

They did this again for us this year and it is a huge help- an enormous relief!

So after I finish preaching the 5pm service, I get the kiddos, take them home, get them in their Christmas pjs, and we put out Santa's cookies (milk will come out later).

I am so thankful for our friends helping us with this!

A few other kids have joined in this tradition- folks involved in the music ministry (who are also at church all night) have dropped off their kids.
SO in addition to my two-- our friends watched 2 other families' children!
With a total of 5 kids.
Before we left for church earlier in the afternoon on Christmas Eve-we pulled our pack n play out for one baby and cleaned the guest room up for another child to sleep.
Of course now- it still looks like a tornado hit our house --- post-Christmas....

Also for the past few years, one of the amazing women from our church, a Mom, and a friend, and a leader out of our PoLO's Parents of Little Ones ministry has organized "Christmas Eve Lunch" to be brought to our house on the 24th.

This is amazing and overwhelming, and I fight back tears as swarms of loving folks ring our doorbell bringing food. We were brought, turkey, ham, potatoes, green bean casserole, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake, apple pie, salad, fruit salad, a Breakfast casserole! SO So much food!!! We ate a bit for Christmas lunch... but we are so go-go-go... that we don't tend to fill up too much on Christmas Eve... We really eat this on Christmas Day!
We have nothing to worry about on Christmas Day because of this joyful and kind service! And we are SO THANKFUL!

On Christmas Eve I tried to clean most of the day- we're having visitors coming in town this week... and since folks would be over in the evening of Christmas Eve I wanted things clean and organized... and I just wanted it to look nice for me- especially before the whirlwind came Christmas Day.
I cleaned until around noon ish-- then we ate a bit of lunch and then I put the girls in the bath by 2 ish. Gracie thought it was hilarious that she was taking a bath in the middle of the day!

I got the girls in their dresses, hair done, tights, shoes, and Kevin and I got ready and then we read "Twas the Night Before Christmas."

I wanted to be at church by 3:30 but didn't make it till 4 (still needed to print out my sermon and go over it a bit)-- even when its 5 minutes-- you still want it good! :)

Kevin was going to drop off girls at the Children's Choir room by 4:30 and get them where they needed to be. I had enough time to print sermon, pull my hair up, get my mic, robe, and stole on, put the nursery workers cards and gift cards together (and asked someone to take them down to the nursery for me- yay for delegating!) and got in the sanctuary to greet folks coming.

5pm came and the service went great! I'm pretty sure we had about 1000 folks at the Christmas Eve Service (but that's a "preacher's count" lol) Folks went out to the narthex...

The greatest part of service this year? After preaching my sermon- I sat with my family and together we watched the pageant together. We even got a picture!

Afterwards one of the youth helped Kevin get girls in settled in stroller to go home while I said goodbye to folks. Then I walked the girls home and got them settled with our friends.

I made it back in time to see the 7pm service. I wasn't participating in this service, so I had the great joy to sit in the pew and hear my husband preach!

You might be wondering - do preacher's eat dinner on Christmas Eve? I'm not sure how other's do it-- but I only eat and the other pastors and musicians and those involved in services at Messiah eat because of the love and generosity of the SPRC (for non Methodists- that's Staff Parish Relations Committee --they're like HR) The Staff Parish Committee sets a spread for all of us in the parlor. We have caffeinated drinks (a must), sandwiches, hors d'oeuvres, sweets, etc.. Everything is delicious and we graze all night.

One of the best Christmas Eve's -- it was right before the 11 o'clock service and I said something that sounded really Southern and I laughed at myself and said, "Wow, I'm tired my Southern accent is really coming out!" And Ralph (our Sr. Pastor said), "I hate to tell you this, but you always sound Southern!" We all were rolling! He has an incredible sense of humor!

The greatest part of Christmas Eve is singing "Silent Night" seeing the light of the Christ candle spread throughout the congregation and as the light is spread, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus come up the aisle and stand with the pastors. I love sharing a hymnal with my amazing husband, holding my light high, and seeing the light throughout the congregation knowing that Christ has come!

At the end of singing Silent Night, Pastor Ralph gives this benediction:

"O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today!"

We sing "Joy to the World" and process out of the church with the acolyte leading, then Mary and Joseph, then Kevin and me arm in arm, and then Pastor Ralph and Pastor Jose side by side (they tend not to walk arm in arm!).

I love Christmas Eve! I love being a pastor and a mom and a wife-- and I love that God and my church have called and equipped me in all of the above!

12 Days of Christmas

Its sad to me that most people seem like they are done with Christmas... It is still Christmas! :)
I am seriously not trying to be a liturgical snob here.

Most of us are burnt-out on Christmas because decorations came up after Halloween.

So many people have taken down their trees and decorations. And our tree is looking a bit of a fire hazard and will have to come down soon... and I totally understand the desire to have everything neat and packed away so that vacation time can be enjoyable (as some folks are doing.) But it is Still Christmas! We have 12 days to celebrate the birth of Christ!

The 12 Days of Christmas is not just a song that is played on the radio...
It has real meaning.
Delia Halverson points out in her book, "Teaching and Celebrating the Christian Seasons" that the origin of the Twelve Days of Christmas song was actually a device to teach Christianity.

The meaning behind the song is :
True Love---------------------- God
Me------------------------------ Baptized Christian
Partridge in a Pear Tree--------Jesus (a partridge acts as a decoy to save its babies)
Two Turtle Doves---------------Old and New Testaments, witnesses of God
Three French Hens--------------Faith, Hope, Love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
you know this one its what we read at all the weddings...
Four Calling Birds----------------Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)
Five Gold Rings------------------Torah of Old Testament (the first five books)
Six geese a-laying----------------Six days God created (Genesis 1)
Seven swans a-swimming--------Seven gifts of Holy Spirit (Romans 12:6-8;
1 Corinthians 12:8-11)
Eight maids a-milking-------------Eight Beatitudes (Matthew 6: 3-10)
Nine ladies dancing----------------Nine gifts of Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22)
Ten lords a-leaping----------------Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 1-7)
Eleven pipers piping---------------Eleven faithful apostles (minus Judas Iscariot)
Twelve drummers drumming------Twelve points in Apostles' Creed

Epiphany does not come until January 6

We still have time to be in Christmas! My husband, Kevin preached a great sermon on Christmas Eve titled, "Doing Christmas" where he shared how we get so caught up in doing Christmas that we do not "feel" Christmas.

Perhaps it has been a rush getting ready for family and Christmas, and gifts, and baking, and cleaning.

Advent and Christmas are quite hectic in my house- but I am thankful for these 12 days. I do not take vacation during this time- I'm usually one of few in the office this week. Kevin and I usually take the first week of January for vacation so that our Senior pastor and Director of Congregational Care can be away this week. I actually love being in the office. It is quiet, I have time to clean, to reflect, to prepare for future sermons. But most of all- this week allows me space to truly BE in the power of these 12 Days of Christmas. To allow space to soak in the power of the Incarnation.

So Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prayer for Bullies and those they bully

Lord, soften the hardened hearts of bullies. Tame their harsh tounges when they threaten and puff themselves up. Restrain them in their haste to tear others down. I cry out and wonder why they are the way they are? Help me Lord to be strong, make me a fortress in their assault. I do not know why they do what they do. I do not understand why others follow them. I am hurt and angry by their weapons of intimidation, fear, and manipulation. I teach my children, “Bullies have a hurt in their heart and that is why they hurt others. Maybe we can show them love. Maybe we will teach their hearts to be kind.” And yet, Lord, often” killing them with kindness”, only seems to fuel their agenda. This is too big for me. I give you the pain. I am too small to handle them. I feel too small to shine your light in their darkness. I do not feel equipped. I cannot teach their hearts to be kind. Thank you for your Son, who came for all. Your love came down on Christmas to save us all. Let the love of your Son Jesus Christ dwell in the hearts of all your children. Let bullies cease their desire for a control which creates chaos and disunity. Let your love rule over our hearts, let us let Jesus be our Lord who guides us, let your love unite us all. Amen.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What's the Deal with Santa?

There are a lot of posts these days about Santa. There are articles, there are news reporters blurting out the "truth" about Santa on the local news, there are teachers telling their 2rd graders...I've seen folks share they don't want to lie to their children by telling them to believe in Santa.

Some believe that if you talk about Santa it takes away from "keeping Christ in Christmas."
They may be the same people who get upset about using X in Xmas.... I remember the gasps across my Christian Thought colloquy when the TA wrote "Xian" on the board to shorten it. The TA said to all of us - get over this- X- means Chi- for Christ....This image has floated around Facebook:

I have no judgment (? that's even probably too strong) towards those who love Santa or demonize him. Nor do I think that my words will be the all wise words of how to deal with Santa...but I do have an opinion about Santa, so I thought I'd share.

I actually love Santa. I'm a pretty optimistic person- I do not believe optimism means naivite either. (Perhaps that will be another posts someday...)

I never grew up feeling like Santa and celebrating Jesus' birth were mutually exclusive.
I don't really feel like Santa means commercialism or consumerism.
Yes, manufactures, toy stores, etc have manipulated the Santa image to sell products.
I do believe parents have used Santa to manipulate (read here scare) their children into good behavior.
I think sometimes children may have a wrong view of Santa--like he'll bring them whatever they want... but I don't think that's their fault. I think they just haven't been taught who Santa is.

So- Who do I think Santa is?
Santa is Saint Nicholas- someone who loved Jesus and gave to the poor and shared his love of Christ with others. Saint Nicholas was a bishop and a saint.
See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas (I'm having trouble with this link- but its wiki)....
Kevin and I loved reading this historical fiction book a few years ago- "The Autobiography of Santa Claus" It was a fun historical novel to read that we greatly enjoyed reading to each other. Whenever I talk to my girls about Santa- I say that Santa does what he does because of his love for Christ. We may meet people who dress up like Santa who do not reflect this, but it does not discount the core of who Santa was/is. I talk about how the wise men brought gifts to Jesus. I talk about how Jesus received three gifts. I talk about how the greatest gift we have is that God gave us His Son to save us. We watch the Veggie Tales "Saint Nicholas: A Story of Giving."

For parents -- I loved this response about Santa.

We also love watching Charlie Brown Christmas, we love watching Rudolph, we love watching Frosty, The Night Before Christmas- and pretty much any Christmas special out there (we even have a He-Man/She-Ra Christmas special!
We watched Rudolph the other night- what a phenomenal movie about rejection, grace, redemption, who are the misfit toys today??? We talked about these things with the girls as we watched the movie. God calls us not to judge others, but to see their gifts and know that God has made them for a purpose. These are the conversations we have. There can be good and powerful teaching conversations that are helpful and that do not overwhelm them with too much info.

Why should I deconstruct the world for them before they have yet experienced it? I believe it is important to deconstruct things - for sure! I had a solid and wonderful liberal arts education! I've read Foucault, Derrida, Heidegger, Lyotard- I took Postmodern Theory, Philosophy, etc.. Much thanks thanks to incredibly smart and caring professors at Birmingham-Southern College and more deconstructing as a US-2 Missionary thanks to the General Board of Global Ministries and Central UMC in Detroit. I continued the joy of deconstructing in seminary.

Deconstructing is fun- interesting, intellectual, important.
It shouldn't be done for our own agendas... b/c then we'd just have to deconstruct ourselves!

Which.... really- at the end of the day that is what theology should do... we need to deconstruct ourselves...

We deconstruct, we tear down, and what do we find at the core? Truth. Incarnation. Christ.

There is more than us-- we are made in the image of God.
We are made to point to something more.

I loved loved loved this wonderful article about the power of Incarnational Theology!

The power of believing is important- but we don't believe just to believe- we don't believe in an idea or an idol, or a concept, we believe in a person- Jesus Christ.
A real person who came and lived, and died, and rose again for us.

Who came so that we may have life- and not just any life, but a life transformed and abundant.

And we have wonderful wonderful amazing persons who help point us to the person of Christ and help us live more like Jesus. Saint Nicholas was one of those persons.

So what do I tell my girls?
I tell them to believe -in Jesus, to believe in Saint Nicholas (Santa) and to believe in themselves and what God can do through them to give, to share joy, and share the love of Christ.

Advent Prayer

Almighty God of light and hope and healing,
in this advent waiting time
wrap the power of hope around each of us.

Fill us with the expectancy of joy and love
and the miracle of the incarnation.

Let all your people know that you are with them.

Your love is being birthed anew throughout the world.

Wrap love and prayers us like swaddling clothes
and rock each of us in your nurturing care.


Setting my mind on the Spirit

 It's the first week of Lent.  I decided I wanted to write and reflect more for Lent.   Years ago-- I wrote on this blog more often and ...