Monthly Archives: December 2019

“The Red Hat in a Gray-suit World”

“By the way, I’m not doing Christmas cards. If you want them sent, you’ll have to do it.”

According to Sam Gardner in Philip Gulley’s delightful “Harmony” series, it was the same “fight” every year. Sam, pastor of the Harmony Friends’ Meeting (Quaker church) would buy four boxes of Christmas cards at Kivett’s Five and Dime and lay them on the dining room table with the address book nearby.

On this particular year, nothing happened. So he moved the cards into the bedroom, placing them near his wife Barbara’s side of the bed. A day later, he found them relocated to his side with a note on top: “I wasn’t kidding.”

Sam’s a smart guy. I’m surprised he hadn’t figured out years ago that the only “safe” way to send Christmas cards to his parishioners was to put one in the newsletter so as to be utterly democratic about Yuletide best wishes. Any other approach is fraught with danger.

The Gardner’s Christmas card list was growing at an alarming rate. The main category comprised of the church membership list was especially large. It was easy to get in the directory. Even the repairman who had come to fix the church freezer just before the church ladies’ annual Chicken Noodle Dinner fundraiser for Brother Norman’s Shoe Ministry to the Choctaw Indians was rewarded with honorary membership. (Not a single noodle was lost.)

Once you were in the directory, well, there you were. To ever be removed took something very serious, something like a death certificate signed in triplicate. Non-attendance and non-giving would not do it. If you drove past the church once a month and smiled, you were on the list, like it or not.

All of which meant that the Gardner’s Christmas card list was beginning to look like the IRS roll and likely included a few folks long since deceased.

But the handwriting was on the wall, not yet on the cards, and so Sam got to work. And Barbara, after a compromise, helped. Sam would write the inside, she’d address the outside, and he’d do the stamps.

It was going well until Barbara read the one to the freezer repairman.

“‘We love you’? You wrote that on every card? Isn’t that a bit over the top? What’s wrong with ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Thinking of You’? The freezer guy will get a confusing message, Mr. Loverboy, and feel like he and his wife need to invite us over, and then we’ll have to invite them over—me, cooking—and . . .”

“If you remember, you told me to write the cards.”

It’s a sweet annual argument, Sam says. His wife, modest and traditional, argues for just a bit of reserve while he maintains that God, instead of sending a lawyer to ‘define the limits of love,’ sent His Son.

After all, Sam tells his good wife, “Christmas is not the time to hold back. It is the bold stroke, the song in the silence, the red hat in a gray-suit world.”

And so it is. Indeed, it is.

 

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

 

  

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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 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 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Will We Be Ready for the Real Joy of His Coming?”

Zero to sixty. That’s how fast this year we revved up the Thanksgiving sleigh, slid “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house,” slammed down the turkey and dressing, and, before the tasty bird was even digested, hitched up the red-nosed reindeer, jingling all the way.

My head’s spinning, and my feet are having a very hard time catching up with the calendar. Christmas will be here before we know it, and, lest we take measures, before we’re genuinely ready to observe it. In about ten minutes, even the part that most loudly demands our time and attention will be packed into some big boxes and shoved under the stairs or hoisted up into the attic. It will be done. And we will be done in.

Then comes January, lit off with a sparkler or two, featuring loud parties and artificial joy, all the more plastic and phony compared to the genuine joy of the glory explosion that only the God of the universe could have sparked (oh, so quietly for an explosion) at Bethlehem long ago. The glory of one angel, much less an “angelic host,” appearing to a few startled but immensely blessed shepherds trumps an electrified ball appearing to a million mindless folks at a hyped up pep rally any day.

But hot on the heels of December, January will have arrived. And January blues. And January clearance sales. And January merchandise returns.  And January tax forms. And January bills for stuff we really didn’t need that we bought with money we really didn’t have.

The turkey will be long gone. And the reindeer’s red light will be out, or at least invisible, since the FAA doesn’t require a light (any color) on the south end of a reindeer headed north.

Our heads will be spinning again. And we’ll wonder, how did we get here? Man, that was fast!

I know of no way to slow down the passage of time (though I could preach you a sermon or two that would certainly seem to slow it down). I think the real task for Christians is to participate each moment in God’s redemption of time. That’s the wisdom of our predecessors in the faith, and I’ve always found that there’s much more wisdom to be gained from dead people than from folks who just happen to be breathing right now. Their experience is that we can ask God to help us squeeze the meaning, the joy, and even the sorrow, out of each moment’s fruit, and thus find blessing.

I’ve always loved Christmas, but I’ve found that for the meaning and joy of Christ’s coming to fill every star and light, smile and gift, I need to intentionally find some quiet time in the weeks and days before its arrival to ask God to help me be ready. Personally, I love the tradition of observing the Advent season (the word has to do with “coming”) during which Christians centuries ago (at least from the fourth century) set aside time to use Scriptures and prayers and readings to help “prepare the way” into their hearts. I seem particularly drawn to words and songs that bless my soul now even more as I realize they were written and sung first by many generations of souls now gathered to the Author of their faith. In faith, one day I will be, too.

In the meantime, with them I ponder Christ’s coming. His first. His second. And I pray for the Father to help us not waste this precious time, his gift to us right now to prepare the way into our hearts for the coming of that greatest Gift.

 

       

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

 

  

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Merry Thanksgiving!”

For just a moment, ponder this year’s calendar. You’ve already noticed, I’m sure, that it is playing tricks on us this time around.

Thanksgiving and the turkey, dragging their heels, showed up way late, which means that Advent (and thus Christmas) are upon us way early. I’ve often complained that the most difficult Sunday of the year to plan and “to preach on” is the usual “dead” Sunday, falling between Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent. You see, your official Thanksgiving sermon was the Sunday before, but on the usual “between the seasons” Sunday, most congregants are totally turkey-stuffed. They have lapsed into a feast-fed stupor, albeit a grateful one. The most committed will probably show up for worship that day but, truth be told, nobody, including the pastor, is terribly excited about the prospect.

Ah, but this year the scene has changed. I’m writing on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. It is also the first day of December and the first Sunday of Advent. Thanksgiving weekend and December have crashed right into each other, a bit of a wreck with ramifications. If you’re a retailer, you’ll have six fewer days to “re-tail” this year. If you are, say, a person who loves to sing Christmas songs for folks during the holiday, well, you’ve got six fewer days to sing Christmas programs (and it’s six days closer to your annual post-Christmas singing depression).

And, yes, if you’re a pastor planning a variety of seasonal church and worship activities, services, sermons, etc., it might be helpful to know that this year when the wise men show up, they probably won’t be bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. More likely they’ll be loaded up with turkey, dressing, and giblet gravy.

You might also look for four of them. The reason we assume that the first wise guys were a trio is not because the Bible says there were three of them; no, it is because Scripture says there were three gifts. We thus assume one gift per guy.

But if that first Christmas had been as close to Thanksgiving as this one, I figure our Christmas cards would be featuring an additional wise fellow, the song would be “We Four Kings,” and one more little guy in a church Christmas pageant would need to borrow his dad’s bathrobe to dress up for the journey down the church aisle to Bethlehem under the star up front. Because? Because I’m betting that somebody’s wise wife would have packed his camel bags with some cranberry sauce as a gift to go along with the other three guys’ tasty offerings. And that makes four. Four gifts. And four wise men.

Anyway, for more than a few folks, it was leftover turkey and dressing for lunch on the very Sunday that we lit the first Advent candle. Merry Thanksgiving!

But maybe this year’s calendar crash is not as much of a clash as I first thought. You see, Thanksgiving reminds me that no matter how hard I’ve worked, the most noteworthy thing about my life is how completely needy and poverty-stricken I am when it comes to saving myself. The blessings I need the most are blessings straight from God, blessings that only he could give, blessings that I could never earn, deserve, or procure myself.

Guess what? Here comes Christmas with much the same lesson, written large: “Get over yourself, pilgrim! The Gift given to save you is God’s Gift, not one you could ever have given or even imagined. You can’t improve it, add to it, or in any way deserve it. You can just accept it.”

Peanut butter and jelly. Turkey and dressing. Joy and thanksgiving. Some things just go together. Odd calendar? Yes. But it comes with a very fine lesson.

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2019 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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