5th Day of Christmas: A Gift that Doesn’t Need Returning

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. — Colossians 3:12-1

Christmas day has come and gone. The gifts have been opened. The cookies have been eaten. The carols have been sung. Radio stations have stopped playing Christmas music. Christmas movies on the TV are dwindling. Now comes the returns. Oh the returns! There are several times of year I don’t go shopping: Black Friday, Christmas Eve, and the day after Christmas. Really the next several days after Christmas.

There is something depressing about the fact that as soon as the stores open the day after Christmas, the lines to return those gifts were as long as they were to buy them. It’s a vicious cycle. And one I would rather not participate in. The long lines to return movies we already own, clothes that are the wrong size or not our style, and that strange gadget from our crazy uncle. We spend as much time buying gifts as we do returning them. All in the name of Christmas and exchanging presents with those close to us.

What if we chose to celebrate Christmas differently? To not get sucked into the cultural expectations of gift giving and gift returning and gift exchanging. I’m not talking about having a Buy Nothing Christmas or giving homemade gifts (which are both fantastic ideas, by the way). I’m talking about something that lasts even longer. Instead of focusing on shopping for sweaters that will be returned or shoes that will be out of style in a year, there is something more we can focus on during Christmas.

In Colossians, Paul encourages us to “clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” That is something that we can wear all year around. It doesn’t go out of style. It’s never the wrong size or the wrong color.

What would it look like if the gift we gave to each other and to world was compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience?

A reflection by Angie Rines.

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Angie is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at Presbyterian Church in Morristown. Angie tweets from @AngelaRines and blogs at http://angierines.wordpress.com

3rd Day of Advent: A Reflection on Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Days are surely coming. Branch to spring up. Execute justice. Righteousness in the land. Judah will be saved. Jerusalem will live in safety.

Cool. So, what do you want me to do, God? It sounds like from this short passage, that God’s got things covered… so what are we supposed to do again? Live.

That’s all. Just live. But live as one who believes the story is going to end this way.

In the great theological work, Back to the Future, Michael J Fox’s character goes back in time only to discover that he has disrupted the time space continuum by making his mother fall in love with him. He not only knows how the story is supposed to end, his very existence is dependent upon his parents falling in love at the dance and eventually conceiving him. As he works to get them together, he looks at a clue from the future to see if he is on track: a picture of his family. When it looks like his dad isn’t going to get his girl, Marty and his sister begin to disappear, but when they fall in love, the family picture comes back into focus.

Marty didn’t work to get his dad together with his mom because they were a clear match. The girl was way out of this guy’s league. No one would have given McFly a chance with her. No one except Marty… Marty knew that is how the story ended. And when you know how the story ends, you can live in such a way and wait for certain things that might seem crazy to others.

When I bartended I often would place bets on games that were going on. I never lost. Not once. What was my secret? I only bet on games that were replays.

When you know the ending, making choices others call risky, are in reality, a safe bet. Stanley Hauerwas (imagine Doc Brown as a theologian) says it this way:

Christians are called to nonviolence not because we believe nonviolence is a strategy to rid the world of war…. But in a world of war, as faithful followers of Christ, we cannot imagine being anything other than being non-violent. And that will make the world possibly more violent; because the world does not want the “order” it calls “peace” exposed as the violence it so oftentimes is. Learning how to wait as a people of nonviolence in a world of war… you’ll know what Advent is. Advent is patience. It’s how God has made us a people of promise in a world of impatience. Christ has made that possible: for us to live patiently in a world of impatience. ~Stanley Hauerwas

Jeremiah is telling us how it is all going to end so that we can live differently. Because we know it will all end in peace, not only do we not have to live in war, we don’t even have to live into the “reality” that the world sells as “peace”.

That means when the Church tells us that it is “normal” and “the natural order” and “peaceful” for us to have cheap food at the expense of abused, enslaved immigrants–because we know how the story ends, and because we can live into that ending right now, when we hear lies like “dehumanizing farmworkers is okay,” we can call bullshit.

That means when the Church tells us that it is “normal” and “the natural order” and “peaceful” for us to exclude certain people from our community, leadership, wedding aisles, or ordination stoles because they were created by God to love the same-sex–because we know how the story ends, and because we can live into that ending right now, when we hear lies like “it’s not time yet,” we can call bullshit!

When we do that, it will very possibly make things worse… because the Church does not want the “order” it calls “peace” exposed as the violence it so oftentimes is.

Thank God for that Christ child, cross and resurrection. Days are surely coming. Branch to spring up. Execute justice. Righteousness in the land. Judah will be saved. Jerusalem will live in safety.

And we can live patiently in a world of impatience. Patience isn’t sitting back and doing nothing. Patience is actively being a peacemaker in a warring world because you know how it’s all going to end.

A reflection by Andy Oliver.

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Andy is the Communicatons and Technology Coordinator serving Reconciling Ministries Network. Andy tweets at @HeyAndyOliver and blogs at http://about.me/andyoliver