Monthly Archives: December 2017

Thank God for Shepherds and Stargazers!

Thank the Lord for shepherds and stargazers!

While muckety-mucks in Rome were trying to figure out new and improved ways to shake even more shekels from the pockets of the subjugated populace and further filch the meager bread of the common man, the Highest of Kings was pretty much ignoring Rome. The most powerful of all earthly kingdoms was less than nothing compare to His. The true King was dispatching a troop of angelic hosts, any one of whom would be stronger than an assembly of all of Rome’s best troops, to appear before shepherds.

Shepherds!?

Yes, shepherds. Minimum wage kinds of folks Caesar would have completely ignored if he hadn’t wanted them on the tax roll.

And isn’t that just like the King in whose kingdom the janitor waxing the floor and whistling “Amazing Grace” could easily be a wealthier man and a truly mightier citizen than the CEO scurrying off to attend yet another “success” seminar, completely unaware that the janitor he bumped in the hall has already found success and could teach him where to find it if he’d stop and listen and learn? But he doesn’t have time to stop. Or to learn.

And don’t forget the stargazers, the night sky watchers with their faces turned upward focusing on another sort of heavenly host while Rome’s bean counters had their noses buried in ledgers, figuring taxable income, gross national product, and formulating plans to try to squeeze twice as much work out of tired employees for half as much pay. Bureaucrats never change. You can be sure they were looking for ways to further complicate anything they could “improve” that had once been simple, and struggling with such momentous questions as whether shepherds and bakers both had to file the same Form CCLXI-revised or if Form CCLXI-EZ would do.

At Bethlehem, God reminds us that almost everything we take for granted about power and prestige, success and status—not to mention “generally accepted accounting principles”—in the kingdoms of men is in God’s kingdom beautifully, wonderfully, delightfully, topsy-turvy if not altogether ignored.

As Max Lucado writes, “Were it not for shepherds, there would have been no reception. And were it not for a group of stargazers, there would have been no gifts.”

Yes, indeed. Thank God for shepherds and stargazers!

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2017 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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May Christmas Open Our Eyes to Real Gold

It’s always good, but never better than during these holy days, to recognize the difference between genuine gold and the sort that blinds fools (and all of us when we’re foolish).

You probably remember that alchemy of old was the attempt to turn common metal into precious gold. Most blacksmiths, I suppose, were content enough to ply their useful trade and hone their craft, and their communities daily reaped the benefit of their art in iron. Alchemists ultimately benefit no one, and we’re all alchemists when we find ourselves endlessly chasing pots of gold labelled “When We Make It Big,” “When We Arrive,” “When We’re Really Successful,” “When We Have All We Want,” when . . .

Notice that the pot of gold is always like the carrot on the stick in front of the proverbial donkey’s nose. Notice that the “when” of dangled success and proffered happiness is always in the future and never in the now. Notice that, self-blinded, even if we knew where we were going in our race to have always more, and blindly bowing to our creed that more is always better (we’re not sure why, but it must be, right?), we’d never know when we’d arrived even if we got “there.”

Odd it is, how a contented blacksmith finds gold that no one can take away and a gold-seeking alchemist, even one in a business suit or a fancy car living the “good life” spending all of his never-enough gold on himself and whose life’s highest goal is that he not lose too many golf balls, ends up with a life that rusts and blows away.

The closest the Virgin Mary ever got to gold was to hold in trust the amazing gift one of those truly wise men gave as an offering to her infant Son. What a sweet miracle it was that those fellows were given eyes to recognize the star they should follow, the fruition of the journey its light directed, and the baby King worthy of all worship in its glow. “When we arrive” never arrives for gold-worshipers, but “when” becomes “now” and rich indeed for gold-givers. They make the right journey. They worship the right King.

But long before that wise man brought gold, Mary’s heart was genuinely golden. The angel Gabriel’s message took her breath away, but pure was the heart that his appearance and his words almost stopped.

Glittering with God-glow, Mary goes to see her also-astounded and glowing kinswoman, and Elizabeth’s soon-to-be-born son, also God-promised and long-prophesied, leaps inside his mother as if he can’t wait to begin his proclamation. Ah, John, it won’t be long, but first Mary’s full-term time will come and more angels will visit to do their own God-commissioned proclaiming, to light up the sky with golden glory, and to sing praises with tongues of light.

Fools chase gold, frantically hoping to find it “when.” Mary and her children have already found it in their hearts when they respond to God and his promises right now, “Yes, Lord, I believe. May it be to me as you have said.”

 

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

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Christmas Seems to Come Around Once a Week”

Years ago, when a friend and church member who was well into his eighties told me that for him Christmas seemed to come around about once a week, I believed him.

But now, having tasted life at sixty, I’m getting Jay Butler’s point even more clearly. I might not say that Christmases seem to flit by “once a week,” but they surely do seem to come around far more quickly than they did when I was a child (or even, say, 25 or so).

You don’t have to tell me that the rate of m.p.h. (minutes per hour) really doesn’t change. Or that the whole thing is an illusion.

I understand that, though the moon certainly looks a lot bigger when it’s right above the horizon, it’s actually the same size always. I’m a very scientifically-oriented person. I realize that lunar green cheese doesn’t really expand or contract nearly as much as a quick glance might lead us to believe.

And, no matter how “slow the moments go,” or seem to, when you’re in love “for sentimental reasons” (says that sweet old song), minutes are minutes made up of sixty seconds strung along at exactly the same rate whether you’re gazing in eternal bliss into the eyes of your sweetie or gripping chair arms in unending agony as your dentist performs a root canal.

The reality, of course, is that the blissful moment only seems eternal and the cursed agony only seems unending. The sands of time actually drop through the glass at a fixed rate.

We know the reality, but we also know that it doesn’t feel real. Of course, if we trusted our feelings—the unhappiest and most dangerously unstable people in the world always do, and I hope you know better than to make that mistake—we’d swear that our fun/happy times fly by while our sad/painful times drag on forever.

An Internet search regarding this phenomenon led me to an article in The Observer which pointed me to psychologist and journalist Claudia Hammond’s intriguing book, Time Warped. I’d thought that the perception of the frequency of the Christmas season’s arrival had to do mostly with the varied frames of reference, the obviously different chronological perspectives, of, say, a four-year-old and an eighty-year-old. Yes, in part.

But Hammond points to a “holiday paradox.” As they’re being lived, special times seem to fly by, but their memories last much longer than the “ordinary” times that seem to drag endlessly but whose memories fade in a heartbeat. The ordinary times we zip through on autopilot. The special times in which we do new things and create new experiences are rich in lasting memories. For good reasons, your memory of a sweet event one Christmas will last a lot longer than what seemed like an eternal bout with your last cold, even though Christmases seem to fly by. (I’m not doing the book justice. It’s a good read.)

How long did God’s people of faith wait for that first Christmas? Almost forever, it seemed. But at just the right moment, “when the time had fully come,” God sent his Son and hope that will truly last forever.

I love Christmas. I’m okay with Christmases coming around very quickly. But I want to squeeze the juice out of every moment. I know now that I shouldn’t waste a single moment of Advent expectation/preparation and deep Christmas joy.

 

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

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Some Thoughts on Cats and Dogs, Candles, and Romans 14

Getting ready. That’s what Advent is about.

At church we lit the first candle of Advent this morning, and, as I write on this Sunday evening, I’m sitting in a quiet house, enfolded by the warm glow of the light from our Christmas tree.

I didn’t grow up observing Advent or, for that matter, any of the other seasons of the “Christian calendar.” I was unaware that there was such a thing, and in our non- or anti-denomination denomination, there most certainly was not. I was blessed by “our” folks and still love them, but our bunch back then wasn’t even very sure about celebrating Christmas as a “religious” holiday. We weren’t the only ones. Chalk that, and a lot of this, up to our common Puritan ancestors, I think, who tended to be suspicious of both color and celebration.  But, honestly, I need to read more history to be sure I’m being fair with them.

As I grew older, I suppose I became vaguely aware that Lent was a time preceding Easter and, I thought, seemed to have something maybe to do with eating fish on Fridays. What else? I didn’t know.

As is the case with all of us pretty much all of the time, I needed very badly to learn a little more history to be able to make more sense out of the present and plot a wise course for the future. And, as a Christian, I desperately needed to read more church history for the very same reasons.

I also needed to learn some things other members of Christ’s family could teach me if we’d just try to cross over our walls occasionally and visit a bit. Not only do we honor our Lord by doing so (he prayed poignantly for the unity of God’s people, you know, in John 17), we also put ourselves in a position to learn some things. We might or might not choose to make some changes in our own situations, but at least we might come to understand more about the decisions and practices of other folks who love and honor their Lord every bit as much as our own little group does. The guy who said that cats and dogs who try spending more time with each other often find it to be a very broadening experience was on to something.

Differences among Christians regarding the keeping—or not—of special days is nothing new. When the Holy Spirit made it clear that God wanted the doors of his church opened wide to both Jews and Gentiles (the gulf between them was vastly wider than that between, say, a Baptist and a Lutheran) well, you never saw cats and dogs have a harder time figuring out how to live under one roof.

Ironically, then it was the more conservative folks who felt duty-bound to observe special feast days, and folks on the other end of the spectrum who felt perfectly free not to. Read the amazing Romans 14 to see God’s incredible counsel to his kids about dealing with differences. Don’t stand in judgment on each other, he says. Make a decision that you believe honors Christ. In love, let your brothers and sisters do the same. And don’t you kids dare look down on each other or try to make laws for one another! You’ve got one Master. You’re not him.

By the way, it turns out that Lent has precious little to do with fish. Advent does have something to do with candles (and I like candles). But both have a lot to do with preparing our hearts to more fully receive what God is doing. Personally, I like that a lot. Personally, I need that a lot.

 

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

 

Copyright 2017 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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