Monthly Archives: December 2012

God’s “Most Uncommon Decision: To Come Commonly”

“Christmas commemorates God’s most uncommon decision: to come commonly.” So writes author Max Lucado so well, so truly.

Long ago it occurred to me: one of the things I like best about our Lord is his extraordinary and utterly amazing love of the ordinary, his deep delight in the utterly common.

Our society doesn’t understand that at all. We disdain, disregard, disrespect, look down on, trample into the dust, rumble right over, despise—the ordinary, the common. We make much of, fawn over—yea, verily, we worship—all the wrong things, all the wrong people, all the wrong places. To receive our worship, and thus our attention, our money, our time, our lives . . . To be esteemed by us as successful, worthwhile, important . . . all you have to do is be big and rich and loud, glitzy and proud and pompous.

In our shallow society, “Mom and Pop” stores are “Wal-marted” into oblivion. Sweet and already beautiful little children are painted up and thrust into “children’s beauty pageants” to satisfy the ugly need of their parents to have the “most” beautiful baby or child and thus win big! Smaller churches with a mega-quality of relationship that most mega-plastic-Piety Marts can’t buy at any price are made to feel even smaller. After all, nothing that’s not big or loud or glitzy is worth anything, right?

Wrong. Fatally so, and blind. But it’s no new mistake.

In the first century, Rome was big for sure and all about power. Caesar rolled over in bed after some dream about falling off a “fiscal cliff” and decided that “all the world should be taxed.” Again.

Religion was big in Palestine. If you want religion that largely ignores what God values, you can go for the consumer approach our society prefers, or you can always go for a do-it-yourself “truest of the true” approach Pharisees in Palestine, and in all ages, all places, adopt, looking to obtain salvation the “old-fashioned way,” working to “earn it,” disregarding God himself, all the while despising little people who don’t measure up.

But when God sends his Son into this world, it’s not to powerful Rome or pious and holy Jerusalem, it’s to lowly Bethlehem. It’s not to sit on a throne like Caesar’s but to be laid in a common as dirt feed trough. Pharisees, sure they get religion right and completely trusting in their own goodness, are passed over by Heaven for shepherds who know they’ll never even smell good, much less “be” good. But the shepherds see angels while the Pharisees are too blinded by rules to open their eyes and see how often what God calls most holy is what we disdain as most common.

When God came at Bethlehem, he came “commonly.” That he still does is among the greatest of miracles and mysteries. And it’s “wonder-full” indeed.

 

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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God’s Genuine Joy Can Bubble Up Almost Anywhere

 

Ah, I love the Advent and Christmas seasons—the waiting, the preparing, the hoping, and the glittering joy-glimmers, each sparkling facets of God’s light and the diamond-truth that his Son has come and is coming again.

The older I get, the more I realize what a rotten Puritan I’d make. I’ve gotten over feeling even remotely guilty about experiencing God’s genuine joy, however and whenever he sends it. (And I find it increasingly difficult to trust people who don’t trust joy.) I figure God wants us to take his joy full on, straight up, with a heart overflowing from an abundance of gratitude, a mouth well-accustomed to the taste of sweet laughter, and eyes regularly rinsed clear by pure tears that prove that joy and sorrow can indeed walk together in his grace. And all of that because we know Christ has come and is coming.

So I make no apology to the Puritans. If they choose to distrust joy (because it smacks of freedom and thus frightens stone-cold law-lovers), that’s a sad choice, but not one we have to repeat.

I know the trappings of this season can sometimes be contrived and shallow, the light artificially created by those whose spirits, either because of unbelief or because of toxic religion, can rise no higher than Jingle Bells.

But hearts lit up by God’s genuine light know how to “harken” to the glowing message of the “herald angels” and receive that beautiful joy, even as they get the much more minor but still real joy of Jingle Bells—and lights and tinsel thrown in for good measure. I don’t think God minds. All real joy is God’s joy, and Puritans are wrong: it’s not possible to get too much of it.

I’m looking at our beautiful Christmas tree as I write. I think they get more beautiful every year, and this year my favorite daughter-in-law (I have three favorite daughters-in-law, all my very favorites in amazing ways), did a great job doing the lion’s share of the decorating.

Yes, it’s a plastic tree likely made by Buddhists in China. I think kids will have lost a very nice thing if they never get to walk through a Christmas tree lot, pick the perfect imperfect tree, smell those great smells, and warm up near an old topless 55-gallon drum glowing with a real wood fire. I want a real tree again sometime before I die!

But this tree is still beautiful, and, though I’ve not done exactly what I did so many mornings as a child, crawling in under real branches and gazing up through layers of lights and ornaments toward the star on top, I still look at that sparkling tree each morning and feel that same joy.

I’m particularly proud this year of the bubble lights I’d told my grandkids about and promised to find. Those lights were my favorites on our tree when I was little, and I wanted my three wee folks to see them.

Since he is the Source of it all, God’s joy can bubble up and surprise us yet again almost everywhere. From a star. From a song. From a tree. Even from one turned into a cross.

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A “God With Skin On” Gives Us Hope Even Through Tears

I just hugged my five-year-old granddaughter a bit longer even than usual. She doesn’t know anything about what happened last week at Newtown, Connecticut. She doesn’t need to know. I wish I didn’t. The media had a duty to tell us; I doubt they have a duty to wallow in it.

On one Sunday just before Christmas several years ago, I found myself gazing at the front of the sanctuary and watching silhouetted shepherds themselves gazing upward in wonder, one of them pointing toward a brightly shining star just feet away from the arrangement of three crosses also displayed before us. It was a poignant reminder that in God’s wisdom Bethlehem and Golgotha are forever linked, two sides of the same amazing story of God’s love.

The Baby of Bethlehem drawing his first breath of air in the world he had spun into existence eons before was more than a baby. He was Immanuel, God with us, God in the flesh, God who came into this world laying aside the robes of royalty, willingly clothing himself in humanity to fully experience our joys and our sorrows, our triumphs and our tears.

I love the story told by author John Drescher about a little boy lying awake terrified by a storm one night. From his dark shadowy room he cries out to his father, “Daddy, come, I’m scared.”

Daddy replies, “Oh, son, God loves you and he’ll take care of you.”

But the boy isn’t satisfied, and he shouts back, “I know God loves me and that he’ll take care of me, but right now I need somebody with skin on.”

Our world did, too. And so God came “with skin on.” Immanuel. God with us. God sharing fully in the human situation from “the trauma of birth to the violence of death.” God feeling everything a human being can feel.

Christmas assures me that the God I worship is no absentee landlord who lives a million miles away leaving the poor tenants to aimlessly “do their own thing.”

Nor is our God a heavenly bureaucrat lost somewhere on a cloud shuffling paper and handing down rules to complicate a situation he knows nothing about.

God is not the sort of military officer who proposes daring offensives but has never led a charge from anywhere more dangerous than a warm command post where he might fall off a chair as he sits safely moving markers and flags around on a map.

Christmas assures me that God has been at the front. He’s seen the blood. And the most precious of all was his own Son’s who died so that one day death itself will die.

The wondrous story of Christmas is that with those stunned shepherds, all the angels and the universe itself watched awestruck at the depth of God’s love as he became what we needed most—Immanuel, God with skin on.

When in this twisted world, a madman tries to “out-Herod Herod” and more innocents die, a “God with skin on” who fully shares our pain and our tears is the God we need—and the God we have.

Bethlehem’s manger and Golgotha’s cross. A “God with skin on” gives them both meaning. And gives us hope through our tears. 

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Know You What It Is To Be a Child?”

 

“Know you what it is to be a child?” asked the poet Francis Thompson. “It is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything . . .”

I love that! But the words that follow are musings from a rather bummed out magic pony. That would be me. You see, my four-year-old magic faerie princess (who took time out on Sunday morning to be an angel in our Christmas pageant; she’s amazingly talented and versatile) had to go home yesterday (and my five-year-old princess and 18-month-old dear little dwarf were unable to come).

At first, I told Her Little Highness that, as her magic pony, I’d consider it my duty to take care of the magic castle while she was away, but she didn’t think that would work, and now I see that she’s right. Air Force One is a really cool airplane even when the president is not aboard, but it’s not Air Force One unless he is. I like my shed/greenhouse/man-cave, but when the little folks aren’t there, neither is the magic.

The magic faerie princess christened me her “pony” early on in this weekend’s adventure. She doesn’t like it when I talk about it much to outsiders, but I’ll just mention that we started the journey on a trampoline but soon found that some orcs and trolls were carrying on their mischief in the area. (Black birds are, we discovered, on their side, but white birds are our friends.) If we spotted a party of orcs, we road as fast as we could, and, if they got too close, we found that her magic could transform her pony into a magic unicorn (magic because it could fly; your run-of-the-mill unicorns can’t), and we’d fly off to a magic pool no orcs could reach, the water of which, if you drink it, renders you invisible.

I’m giving too many details here. Suffice it to say that if a magic faerie princess has a broken wing, the good dwarfs who work the caves have among them a dwarf doctor who is good with such things.

We ended up back in her magic castle where she rules and makes the most delectable soup for her magic pony and other subjects. The castle comes complete with chimes that announce her arrival, multi-colored stars that twinkle, a Christmas tree and a couple of stockings, and cacti (cactuses, you know) near the window which are beautiful but have thorns through which orcs cannot pass without dire consequences to their sorry hides.

The joy really is in the journey. On this one, I realized yet again how pure and magical and deeply sweet are such moments, even more precious as we know they are fleeting here and can’t be captured or held except in memory.

January follows December. It’s not a bad month, inherently un-joyful; it’s just easily greyed out and bludgeoned into boredom by bean-counters and bureaucrats too insensible to know how deep is their loss as they trod roughshod over diamonds of delight and don’t even see the sparkle.

Adulthood follows childhood. It frightens me to think that though we want our magic faerie princesses to grow, well, the human adult can be one of the dullest and most insensible creatures imaginable. It often takes years to pass through that valley and then God uses something wonderful, like a magic faerie princess or two, and a delightful dwarf or a few, to bring back the magic.

No wonder our Lord was pointing to children when he said, “Of such is the kingdom.” Ah, that’s a kingdom worth loving!

And, I keep reminding myself, a Lord who can turn a stable into a palace and a manger into a crib fit for the King, can be trusted to perform the miracle it takes to keep the hearts of magic faerie princesses and dear little dwarves, and, much more difficult, even us adults, open to His joy.

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Gledelig Jul Og et Godt Nytt Ar!”

 

“Gledelig jul og et godt nytt ar!”

No, my fingers are not on the wrong spot on the keyboard, nor am I typing “in tongues”! (Well, maybe the latter, but no miracle required.) I’ve just wished you “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” in Norwegian.

I do not know Norwegian. That bit of Norwegian lingo was the last line in a Christmas letter we received years ago from friends serving a church in Decorah, Iowa. They were of Norwegian descent, probably a long descent genealogically but not a very long one chronologically. They were Norwegian to the bone! And Decorah, they wrote, is “the home of all things Norwegian—Vesterheim Museum, the annual Nordic Fest,” not to mention even “a McDonald’s with authentic Norse decor”!

Barbara Mandrell used to sing, “I was country when country wasn’t cool!” Our friends, John Victor and Hazel Halvorson, were Norwegian long before Garrison Keillor and his mythical Minnesota town of Lake Wobegon peopled with good Norwegians made being Norwegian “cool.” When they wrote, the Halvorsons had two children living in Norway and grandchildren for whom English was their second language; Norwegian was their first!

In their letter, the Halvorsons wrote that their church in Decorah had given them a very special Christmas present—two plane tickets to Norway where they were able to spend a wonderful Christmas with family there!

Let me share one short but meaningful paragraph from their letter. They (probably Hazel, a longtime English teacher) wrote, “We look forward to worshiping in a Norwegian church this Christmas. Although the language and some of the traditions will be different, the message of joy and hope and peace will be the same.”

That letter warmed my heart, and still does. Though this dear couple has been gone on a far longer journey for years now, I remember them with deep fondness and gratitude. I’m honored to count John Victor, a fine professor of Old Testament and committed Lutheran pastor, as a mentor who has genuinely blessed my life and ministry. It was great to hear so many years ago that their church in Iowa loved and appreciated them. They were easy to love.

But then and now, when I read that sweet letter, what I most treasure is the truth they expressed: When people anywhere in this world share a real love for the Savior, barriers of language and tradition don’t really matter much. Their Lord, and the joy and hope and peace that He gives, is the same. That’s reason enough to rejoice in any season!

So, may I share with you and yours a wonderful Christmas wish passed to me and mine by some dear Norwegians whose letter and whose faith bless me still:  “Gledelig jul og!”

 

  You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


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