Christmastide

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Ephesians 1: 3-14
At the top of the slope the skier stands, poles under the arms, body crouched, goggles cleaned and cleared.

There is a resolution in the skier’s readiness, stance, and inclination.

Off!

Here is a moment when life is full, intense, real, serious, and good, a moment of really being alive. Such a moment of new birth brings a piercing alertness.

“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom…”

We set our chin to the challenge. We know the swiftness with which the run passes. We know the peril in the pace. We know the power of incline and gravity. We have faced the ice and snow, as William Shakespeare did in his darker sonnets, like the 66th which here at Marsh Chapel we sometimes remember as a bracing wind to put us on our toes.

Before us is the slope of another hour\day\week\year\decade. It is Christmastide. What shall we resolve?

Let us resolve to ‘be there’. My friend said, his words have a gnomic, Buddhist ring: ‘wherever you are, be there’. BE there. Be THERE.

Whoever wrote the Johannine loveliness of our reading, and whoever appended it to the opening of the gospel, confronted us with life, presence, wonder, awe. His 18 verses are a little Matterhorn.

Do you remember seeing or seeing pictures of the Swiss Alps? Ice. Snow. Height. Power. (And that’s in the summer!). John Calvin wrote of the glory and grandeur of God, with such mountains to kindle the imagination. Grace and Truth, the starry heavens above and the moral law within. Creation and conscience still us still.

God gives snow like wool and scatters frost like ashes. Says our Psalm today.

We went again this week to the grave of John Brown, nestled in Lake Placid. Ice. Snow. Height. Power.

Wherever you are, be there. Every minute is a temporal moment shot through with an eternal gift. Like a snowflake, tiny, beautiful, pure, unique, fluid.

You will need resolution to ‘be there’ this year. The technological tempests tempt you otherwise. I am told that in a recent wedding the groom interrupted his vows to change his FACEBOOK status. For two reasons, I have little doubt this occurred, though I did not check it to the source. One is what I see in other human settings—the tyranny of techne, constant internetaction, placing human distance between human beings. I notice the beneath the table fingering at high level meetings. The second reason is three decades of ministry and several hundred weddings. It could happen. I refer you to Robert Fulghum’s essay “MOTB” for the possibilities lying within every wedding.

Be it resolved in 2010. Be there. Wherever you are, be there. With me you may help develop a Trinitarian existential Christianity: breath, listen, smile: lung, ear, lip: creator, redeemer, sustainer. Be there.

Let us resolve to ‘be reconciled’. I looked this December at old editions of a defunct religious periodical, KATALLAGETE, the Greek word meaning, ‘be reconciled’. This is Christmastide. If we are serious about facing the run down the trail, then we face grace and truth, the truly gracious possibility of reconciliation. The Lord’s table beckons us. You may be thinking of reconciliation this Christmas. It is a natural thing to consider in Christmastide, given the given givingness of the Divine giver, born of a woman, born under the law.

In him we have redemption. Says our Lesson today.

Let me offer some language for reconciliation. By phone, or in person, ask: “Hello. You know, we have not really talked for some time (fill in time), ever since that incident (fill in quarrel). You may not want to talk, and I understand and honor that. But I have made some resolutions for the New Year, and the New Decade. One is that I want to mend whatever fences that I can. Then I went to Marsh Chapel (fill in, heard on radio, listened on internet, read on online) one Sunday and the preacher said ‘let us be reconciled’. (go ahead, blame it on me). Would you be willing to have a coffee with me? Just to talk. I would really like to talk to you. Maybe nothing will be different, but maybe something will be different. Lunch is on me.”

There is a transformative serendipity loose in the universe. People change. Seasons change. Openings arise. Be reconciled.

Ask.

Regardless, you will be glad you tried.

Let us be real, too. Real.

Some years ago, Lionel Trilling wrote an essay about
sincerity and authenticity, the former belonging to modernity and the latter to us, I suppose. Being real though involves both. Being real includes both the sincere simplicity of the manger and the authentic complexity of the church. We know the manger babe through graces, after all. Real people are authentically sincere, and sincerely authentic.

Last week a third grader, who did not know me from Adam’s house cat, and whose own name I never learned, brought such a welcome reminder. At a party I had asked about school, and learned that she had to read 20 minutes a day. I asked what she read. Barely audible came her response (not what I expected): the Bible. There was something so genuine in the way she put it—yes, sincere, but authentic as well. Real. What strange treasures she will find in law, prophets and writings! What treasured strangeness she will discover in Gospels, Letters and Apocalpyses!

If she can abstain from texting, for twenty minutes a day, in the third grade, maybe you can too.

You may then become a real human being, inviting those whom you know to enjoy your church family and your church home, and to share your creed, maybe a new creed, like the one written some years ago in Canada.

Be real.

Let us be happy in 2010.

John Wesley said of his singing, poor Methodists that they were a people ‘happy in God’.

Are we? Are we his descendants and theirs ‘happy in God’?

I do not refer to some inauthentic cheeriness. I do not refer to ‘happy talk’. Nor did Wesley. Here is the right reference:

“The true light, that enlightens every one, was coming into the world.”

Colin Williams at Yale once said that the role of
preaching is to remind and restore all to the confidence of God’s care, so that each can happily go back into the world to care for the tasks of the time.

I realized over Christmastide that I have been too tight lipped over the years about something. The life of faith, and particularly in our case life in the ministry, is a happy life. Not an easy life, not a simple life, not an invariably peaceful life. But a truly happy life. Those who hunger and thirst for right living will find happiness in church. Those who have been seized by the calling to preach will find happiness in the service of the church. I mean fun. Fun. The joy of birth. The craziness of Christmas pageants (read A Prayer for Owen Meany). The messiness of weddings. The party after the weddings, which my old colleague called the ‘deception’. ‘Are you going over to the deception?’, he would ask. The thrill of seeing someone come home to their own most self. The privilege of watching people develop the habits of generosity. The honor of being present for decisions, difficulties, and death.
Today the ministry is not a popular calling. It is not a status filled vocation. Nor is it overly well compensated. But there is nothing like it for happiness. I need to say that more. And I will. That is my resolution
.

Let us be happy!

Let it be resolved this Christmastide:

Be there.

Be reconciled.

Be real.

Be happy.

~ The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel

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