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Archive for December, 2018

Christmas – Jesus, the Great and Most Needed Interruption

I remember the look in my kid’s eyes saying it all, “Somebody please stop him!” when I was on a parental roll, taking charge of the situation (usually without consulting Susie), laying down new rules, unleashing a fresh wind in the Frei household.

Have you ever wished for someone to stop you, interrupt you? Like when your mouth just wouldn’t shut up? When you were throwing a fit? When you were making a complete fool of yourself? When you were making lousy choices, spending too much, eating too much, texting while driving, …? When you were mean, petty, arrogant, unkind, or plain dumb or acting stupid?

Of course, there are much weightier things that need interrupting, like addictions, dysfunctional habits, violence, injustice, exploitation, oppression, tyranny, hatred, ignorance, poverty, excuses, lies, unforgiveness, hypocrisy, evil. However, just because something needs interrupting does not mean the interruption is welcome, darkness will fight the light to the bitter end, wrong and evil have no tolerance for interrupters.

“There was no room …” (Luke 2:7) for Jesus Christ in ordinary life, in political life, religious life, and in most people’s personal life. There was no room for the personified Word and will of God no matter how much it was, and still is, needed. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Creator, Source of all life and light came into this world, stepped into history, but he was not understood, human darkness recoiled at his light, and his own did not want him. The “grace and truth”, the innocence, goodness, righteousness, and hope interruption our world so desperately needs still finds few takers, few who will make room for it, welcome it, Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12 (NIV).

It’s striking, unless we outright reject it, how much we dress up Christmas, the incarnation of God, in sentimentality, quaintness, and feel good. Let’s make it a superficial, fleeting interruption. But Christmas, Jesus is about God interrupting us at our core, our worst, in our deepest depravity, in our evil, at our most sinful, our total helplessness, our utter hopelessness, and in the darkest reality of ourselves and all humanity. Will we welcome him there? Will we make room for Christ there? Will we praise God for interrupting us through Christ and proclaim the excellencies of him who called (interrupted) you out of darkness into his marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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The Interruption of Me, My, Mine

It is an amazing thing to watch the acquisition of the words me, my, and mine.  If you happen to attend a Christmas gathering inhabited with a number of kids below the age of five you will have a front row seat to watching, me, my, and mine.  I guarantee, sooner than later there will be a ruckus because one child will play with a toy given to another child. Then the owner child will inform the taker child that the toy s/he playing with belongs to him/her, “That’s mine!” or simply, “Mine!” will be followed by a determined grab. But the rightful owner is unaware that the usurper is claiming the unofficial rule, or even natural law, that anything left unattended long enough to be taken and played with constitutes a transfer of ownership. Thus the determined grab by the rightful owner will be met by a jerk in the opposite direction and a claim, “No, mine!” And before you know it there will be a physical altercation accompanied with tears and screaming. At this point, the inattentive adults, who were happy that the children were  “playing so nicely together,” are alerted and jump in to correct the situation with various, although often ineffective, strategies.

Of course, these little people have been working on the concept of these words since birth, long before they can articulate it into words. They figure out very quickly who is “my Mommy,” which Mommy might interpret as her being super special (which she is, really), but it really is about that little cutie making sure about “me,” that s/he gets taking care of, is being fed, burped, changed, and cuddled. If you think I am being too cynical just watch what happens when someone comes along and does a better job of the things that are important to that little “me (first).”

Now check out the child who was jealous as she saw her sibling or cousin unwrap a present she really wanted. She is looking for an opportunity, the moment her cousin lays down the coveted toy, she looks around, sees that no one is watching, and swoops in. Meanwhile, the owner child is engaged in playing with something else, happy as can be, until she spots cousin with the toy she wasn’t caring about at the moment. Did you see her mood change? The different look in her eyes? The indignation? Me, My, Mine taking over? She glares with disgust at the intervening adults who are trying to encourage her to share. “Hypocrites,” she thinks, although she doesn’t know that word yet, “Let me see you do that when someone uses your toys without asking! It’s my toy and I get to use it when I want to use it.”

While addressing the child owner the adults are also trying to persuade or sidetrack the jealous taker child, who instinctively has tightened his grip. She’s not giving it up without a fight, logic and property rights be damned, in spite of not knowing those words either.

Human history, our personal history is marked and marred by the Me, My, Mine cycle and all the ills that accompany it. Many, if not most, of our laws mean to curtail it, rain it in, yet none have been able to eradicate it. Even the youngest, most untarnished members of our society are unable to be happy and generous in the midst of abundance.

Christmas – Jesus interrupts this Me, My, Mine cycle. It is one of the major reasons we struggle with Jesus (the real Jesus, not the one we have reshaped). He prayed, “Your (God the Father’s) will not mine.” He cared about God’s glory and honor not his own. He gave his life so sinners could live. He exhausted himself by helping, healing, caring. He lived a life that wasn’t about me and calls us to do the same. He didn’t hang onto what most of us wouldn’t dream of letting go. At no time in his life did he succumb to the Me, My, Mine cycle, nor did he excuse us to continue in it, instead he died trying to deliver us from it. “You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich” 2 Corinthians 8:9 (MSG).

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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In two decades of substitute teaching, I developed a morning introduction, “Good Morning class, I am Mr. Frei. I am not Ms…, I don’t look like her, I don’t walk like her, I don’t talk like her, I don’t smell like her, I don’t do my hair like her (I am bald), in fact I am nothing like her, so don’t be surprised that I don’t do things like her! Today, please don’t tell me, ‘But Ms… doesn’t do it that way. But Ms… always does it like this. Ms… lets us do that.’” But after this preemptive introductory speech, I would try hard follow as many of the routines the regular teacher had implemented in her/his classroom because the fewer routines I violated the better things usually went. We are creatures of habit, not just from K-12th grade but throughout life, and when our routines are interrupted we become somewhat disoriented.

Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were good at the religious routines. In fact, their religious routines shaped all the other routines of their lives (a good thing), and their observances of religious routines sprang from sincere hearts, “they were both righteous in God’s sight …” (Luke 1:6). As a priest, Zacharias was in the middle of rotation of tending to the Altar of Incense, an assignment that was all about very specific routines, and it was then that God spoke to him. He clearly had no expectation for a personal God moment to occur, even though he was in the Holy Place of the temple (Luke 1:12). As helpful as routines can be, they can also be a hindrance, they can confine us, especially when it comes to God, and they can make us reluctant to and even reject the very voice of God.

Zacharias and Elizabeth did not only have their routine interrupted but also their resignation. They were childless, which was considered a blemish in their time. His response to the angel’s announcements that within the next year they would have a child was, “I am old and so is my wife” Luke 1:18. They were resigned to childlessness, to old age, to the stigma. God interrupted that too. Makes me think back to my substitute teacher days, one of saddest things to see is a young child already resigned to limitations real or imagined. Zacharias, who as a priest should’ve known better, got a stern nine-month rebuke for letting his resignation to childlessness diminish his faith in what God could do in his and Elizabeth’s life.

If we are honest, we don’t like our times of rest, of relaxation, of recreation be interrupted. We can get very grumpy, unkind, short, and irritated when that happens (probably not you), after all, that’s kind of “our time.” The night Jesus was born there were shepherds outside of Bethlehem watching their sheep (Luke 2:8). Sheep corralled and settled down it was time to get off the feet, sit by a fire, get out the harmonica, eat a snack, share some stories. The folks in Bethlehem were fast asleep, shops closed down, shutters closed, doors locked, comfy cozy under the covers in bed (Luke 2:17-20). Then the midnight ruckus of angels, the glory of God, and hollering shepherds in the streets. Goodbye sleep, adios relaxing, sayonara “my time.”

Christmas – Jesus is the great interruption, including our routines, our resignation, and our rest. The question is, “How do we handle it when God interrupts them?” Do we quickly return to what we are comfortable with? Temper God to our limitations? Try to get back as fast as possible to whatever we were doing? Grumpily crawl back under the warm covers? Or are we embracing God’s Jesus interruption and in the middle of the night are found responsive to his voice, adjusting to his will, and shouting his praises?

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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