Saturday, December 29, 2007

Communion Meditation on the Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto dramatizes not only how dangerous and unstable our world is, but also how chaotic and confusing. Whether U.S. presidential candidates, world leaders or news commentators, clearly no one has any idea how Pakistan can move forward positively. The growing influence of radical Islamists in a country with nuclear weapons evokes fear talk. History and Scripture agree that decisions made out of fear (or anger) almost always lead in the wrong direction.

The antidote for fear is not found in the international community or the United Nations, nor in Washington, D.C. or military power. As Psalm 33:16-17 says, “A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.”

No, the antidote for fear is found in the manger of Bethlehem. Joseph did not flee with Mary and the child Jesus to Egypt in fear but in the calm confidence of God’s protection and direction. Fear drove Herod the Great to slaughter the babies of Bethlehem.

The stability we crave lies in the Lord’s Table where Jesus said to his disciples, “I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) And the Apostle Paul teaches us that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) Empires will rise and fall. Wars will be won and lost. The Church’s center of gravity will shift south. Nevertheless, until Jesus appears in the fullness of the eternal Kingdom, God’s people will gather around the Lord’s Table to reenact Jesus taking the bread, blessing, breaking it and giving it to his disciples saying, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” He also took the cup and gave it to them, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins.” At the Lord’s Table, take courage, lay claim to confidence in the certainty of the coming Kingdom. Jesus has the last word on human history.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas Day was very quiet for us. With children and grandchildren in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and parents in Minnesota and Illinois, only (college student) Erik was “home” for Christmas. Christmas morning gift opening was small but cherished tokens of appreciation from parishioners, friends and family. It only took a few minutes. After phone calls to scattered family, the three of us prepared a casual, impromptu Christmas dinner. Erik returned to his student home.

Nevertheless, this was not anti-climactic. Over the years we have opted out of the cultural and commercial frenzy of the Christmas build up, and have thus avoided the disappointment and depression that can come with the anti-climactic realization that expectations were not met. As a pastor I have long encouraged the observation of Advent as a time of preparation and anticipation, so that Christmas Eve worship can mark the beginning of celebrating for two weeks that at the birth of Jesus Christ, God came to us as a human person.

Though the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (December 25-January 5) seems to lead to ever more extravagant gifts, the season is an invitation to contemplative joy. We felt it with our laid back, improvised Christmas dinner. Our conversation was not particularly Christmasy or identifiably spiritual, but we were surely aware that Christ was present. As I write the house is quiet. Candy is out running errands. As the Old Testament for next Sunday says, “He became their savior in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them.” (Isaiah 63:8-9 NRSV)