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Christmas Spirit…

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s become harder to get in the Christmas spirit this year. The exact reason has proven elusive. It could be that Christmas music starts blaring the day after Halloween, but It probably has to do with the fact that Mom and Dad are both gone now. This is the second Christmas since Mom passed and the sixteen of them without Dad. You’d think I’d be past it by now, but grief is what it is. It wasn’t until this morning that the season rushed over me and my soul felt revived with Christmas spirit.

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I have a scheduled meeting every Sunday morning at 9:00AM. It’s one of the highlights of my week. I get to carry a simple message of hope to hurting people. I don’t know who benefits more – them or me. The spirit of giving tends to do that. Uncommon sense again – the more you give, the more you receive. But I digress…

I drove to my meeting yesterday morning somewhat short of my required coffee quota. I wasn’t paying attention to the radio or much else until I heard an angelic rendition of “Silent Night” come flowing from the speakers. I wish I could tell you who the vocalist was, but I had to hop out of the truck and get to my meeting before it finished. All I know is that I felt different. I was more “Christmas-ee”…

My family never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday. Being good fundamentalists, we couldn’t celebrate something that the Bible didn’t state for certain. To most folks that sounds silly. Now that I’m older I can’t say that I disagree. Still, we celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday of giving and family. Santa Claus was alive, and Jesus’ birthday was up for debate.

Ironically, Christmas carols were always in order even if they were religious in nature. The Sunday church service before Christmas always included religious carols, and mentioned the birth of Jesus (you know, since the rest of the world was focused on it) but it was “to celebrate the season”, not the birth of our Savior. I never quite got the logic in that. Anyway…

I no longer hold to the strict religious traditions of my youth. Jesus may or may not have been born on December 25th. It makes little difference. This is the season which people have chosen to celebrate his birth. I can’t find anything wrong with that. The point is that he was born. Emmanuel – “God is with us”.

Listening to “Silent Night” this morning it hit me full force; “God is with us”, and just like us. Just like me. Just like you.

My sons may be adults now, but I can remember the day each was born as though it were yesterday. I didn’t need a manger, livestock, shepherds, or wise men to make both moments holy, just as that moment some two thousand years ago. Maybe that’s why God chose to enter in to our world the way he did. I’d like to think so.

The authors of the four Gospels tell of the man and his teachings, but they record little of Jesus’ life growing up. I’d like to believe that he wasn’t much different from my boys. I don’t know what was comparable to spaghetti in First Century Palestine, but I’m sure that most of it ended up everywhere but his mouth. Mary probably had to give many an after-dinner bath during those first couple of years.

At the risk of sounding a bit sacrilegious, I would like to think that Jesus ducked out of Hebrew school to go fishing with his buddies. After all, He had an affinity for fishing and hung out with his fishing buddies…

The only reference we have to Jesus’ young life is an incident when he was twelve years old. Instead of going home with the rest of his family he hung back in Jerusalem. I can only imagine the panic Mary and Joseph felt when they realized he was missing. I freaked out when one of the boys hid behind a clothing rack at the store…

I’m no Biblical scholar, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus was “just one of the guys” for most of his life: content to live like everyone else in his town. It’s telling that the townsfolk response to his first recorded teachings in the Gospel of Luke is “Isn’t this Joseph’s son, the one we’ve known since he was a youngster?” (Luke 4.22).

It’s easy to concentrate on Jesus as divine, as perfect, and forget that Jesus was one of us. That, above all, is the miracle of Christmas. God chose to enter His creation through Jesus, an everyman, dirty diapers and all. He lived and worked among us as an ordinary guy. He laughed and hung out with his buddies. When all was said and done, He stepped up to announce that,

                “God’s Spirit is on me;

he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor.

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind.

To set the battered and burdened free,

To announce, “This is God’s year to act” (Luke 4.16-21 The Message)

The rest, as they say, is history.

So, I’m in a bit more of the Christmas spirit this morning. If Jesus could walk among us, “Loving God and loving others” then I’m inclined to follow in his footsteps. It isn’t always the popular thing. After all, he tended to upset the proverbial apple cart. “You’ve heard it said… but I say to you” tends to rub some people the wrong way. I guess we all tend to do that…

I’m so glad that God chose to enter the world the way he did. “Emmanuel” – God is with us.

Happy Birthday Jesus!

Merry Christmas y’all!

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On Dead-ends and Fishing

There’s a steady breeze this morning, making for a pleasant summer morning here on the porch. Margaret is hurting this morning and elected to stay in bed a bit longer leaving me to enjoy the sunshine of the day here in our quiet cul-de-sac by myself. She had two procedures of shots in her back in the last month and the promised relief is nowhere to be found. If anything, the pain is worse. It’s hard to see my wife in pain but she reminded me that ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, so it we gave it a try.

My quiet was broken this morning by a large tree-trimming truck pulling a wood chipper as it came down the street. Please keep in mind that we live in a cul-de-sac at the end of a long street. Parking is at a premium here and cars on the street make our little circle even smaller. I noticed the look of panic on the truck driver’s face as he slowed and tried to figure out how he was going to negotiate the situation. He made several attempts, growing more frustrated with each one. It was apparent he was in a bit of a pickle. He sat for a moment, thought about it for a bit and soon his passenger climbed out and positioned himself behind the chipper. The driver, reassured by his guide, took a deep breath, repositioned his truck and chipper and backed down the street and went on his way. Problem solved…

I, like the tree truck driver, find myself driving along a road that seems free and clear, and suddenly I find myself facing a dead-end and I can’t get out. Sometimes I just need to stop trying to turn around on my own and back down the way I came. Since I’m not that great at driving in reverse, I need a guide I can trust to show me the way without backing into all the parked vehicles or tree limbs hanging over the street. Fortunately, I have such a guide and I’m blessed to have family and friends who help me stay on the right road. A lot of folks don’t…

The whole scenario reminded me of my youth and fishing trips with Dad. I was notorious for getting my line tangled on something beneath the water. I’d pull and tug until the line popped and came flying back, creating a tangled mess of fishing line that was impossible to straighten out. My father used to tell me to cut my line when it’s caught on something and I’d avoid a tangled mess. I could put on a new hook and get busy fishing again. I was stubborn and wanted to do it my way, so I didn’t spend a lot of time fishing…

I can still be pretty stubborn, even though I don’t like to think so. I don’t think it’s just a ‘guy’ thing that I don’t like to ask for directions. I like to think, or at least let others think, that I have it all under control, that I don’t need help. I’m like the ‘Marlboro Man’ in the old cigarette ads. I can do it and do it my way. Of course, I forget that the ‘Marlboro Man’ died of lung cancer. Independent, strong, and egotistical has their drawbacks…

I am getting better, though. I trust my guide and not only is it easier to back out of dead-ends, it’s become a little easier to avoid them in the first place. I’m willing to stick to the map and ask for directions if I’m having difficulty. I’m willing (most of the time anyway) to stop when the people closest to me sound out a warning. Heck, I’ve even learned to read instructions before I assemble new purchases. I still have parts left over from time to time but it’s usually because they packed extra ones to begin with. Go figure!

I’m learning to ‘cut my line’ and let go of my need for control over situations. I spend a lot more time ‘fishing’ and a lot less time trying to work out the knots and tangles life throws at me. They’ll work themselves out one way or the other. I’m not responsible for, nor can I control, the outcome so why get all worked up? I cast the line, reel it in, and sometimes I get a really big fish…

It’s time to go in and get to work. I’m sure the tree truck dilemma was no coincidence this morning. I have a project that’s proving itself to be somewhat difficult. I needed a reminder that my Guide never steers me wrong. Who knows, maybe I need to ‘cut my line’ and tackle the problem from a different angle. Either way, I’m going to trust my Guide and follow directions. Like the old Zen proverb, I’m going to “cut wood and carry water” and see what happens…