Christmas Gift

” She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:1 ESV)

 

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Sunday was Charles Wesley’s birthday. I’ve always liked Charles Wesley, for more than just his prolific hymn writing. And make no mistake he was prolific. what amazes me about Wesley is not just how many hymns he wrote, but how many  theologically rich, musically sound they are.  it’s one thing to write a lot of hymns. It’s quite another to write so many good ones.

While I admire, respect, and am indebted to Charles’ older brother John for so many things, I don’t know if he’d be the brother you’d want to spend time with. Oh, I’d want to hear him preach and ask him about his faith and how he organized his small groups.  But I never got the sense that John was a guy you’d want to hang out with.

Charles, on the other hand, seems like the Wesley most likely to be invited to the neighborhood Christmas party.  Charles seemed to take great pleasure in life  and enjoyed being with people.  His demeanor seems softer, gentler than John’s.  Surely Charles long marriage and happy children give testimony to the type of prison he was. As well as his decision to become more settled and spend time with his family rather than  do as much circuit riding as John did. While this caused a bit of a disagreement with John, I have to think Charles had his priorities straight.

Last year I toured Charles Wesley home in Bristol on a very rainy cold summer day. I thought about what it must have been like in that home. The children playing while Charles was either feverishly writing up stairs or playing a new hymn for the first time. Did people pause by the house as he played, only half listening to “And Can It Be” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”?

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It doesn’t mean that Charles was any less committed to the ministry or to holiness than John was.  After all, let’s not forget Charles has his heart warming experience happened three days before John’s did.  And he was willing to lay aside personal preferences to share the gospel.  Under John’s direction he came up with more singable tunes for the coal miners and the “unchurched” of the way so that they could worship. Wesley famously adapted popular tunes and rhythms, often hear in the pubs, in order to do this. One of those songs became that anthem of Methodism “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing”. Charles at first thought the tune too common and a bit vile to be sung in religious  circles. Yet he wrote it and used it to great effect.

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That’s not to say he was perfect by any means. His interference in the love life of his brother caused a tremendous rift between them for many years.  It seems that while he wasn’t willing to risk his personal happiness for the sake of the movement, h was wilignto risk John’s.  I don’t believe Charles was being hypocritical. I think he saw Joh as being more important, or at least a greater driving force behind Methodism, and he feared what might happen if John settled down.

So  although I think Charles might have been more fun to hang out with, it doesn’t mean he was better than John.  He was simply different than his brother.  The Wesleys embody the idea that God uses the entire Body of Christ without different gifts, and personalities to further the Kingdom of God.  Perhaps rather than spending so much time trying to make everyone the same, we  and the world would be better suited if we allowed

In this season of giving we celebrate the greatest gift of all, the birth of Jesus. The one who’s birth, Wesley reminds us, came to give us a “Second Birth” “Born than men no more may die”  New life now, and an eternal life as well.  It’s for this reason we give gifts at Christmas. Oh, I know our greed can put gift giving all out of proportion.  But isn’t giving a gift and receiving them still a wonderful way to celebrate the greatest gift of all?

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So what might happen if we began to see each other as a gift form God, just as we are? Different to be sure. Our lives put us in different places and give us different priorities. God gives us different gifts and passions, just as he did John and Charles Wesley. But what if we simply learned to be thankful for the various gifts and temperaments we find in the Body of Christ?

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We’d certainly be easier to get along with. What might a church look like that spent less time in making us fit a mold and more time helping us develop our passions and gifts? We’d certainly be more loving and more attractive  to the world.  But I think we’d be more effective as well. The early Methodist movement needed John Wesley. But it also needed Charles Wesley as well. When they saw each other as s gift they were incredibly effective.  Would it be any less today?

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

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Not So Perfect

“While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7 NRSV)

 

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One of the true signs, at least in our home, that Christmas is just around the corner is that we get mail.  I mean actual mail. Not bills, not notices we are eligible for a “grand Prize” or a flier from local businesses. but actual, honest to goodness mail. Someone actually sits down writes something, puts it in in an envelope and mails it to us.

Yes, tis the season of the Christmas card.  With the advent of the internet and social media, we get less of them than we used to, but they still come. A trickle at first, then a slow increase as we get closer to Christmas. And we treasure them all. We , as I am sure you do, display them somewhere in our home. It’s nice to know someone thought of you and to be able to catch up on a more personal level.

Catching up. Because often in that Christmas card is a “year-end” letter catching you up on all that has happened to the family. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I have been blessed with being associated with some of the most perfect people on the face tf the earth.  Some times the card is a photograph of the family. And they are all perfect. Good looking. Perfect smiles. Perfect pets sitting and behaving. Often they are on a beach, all dressed alike  barefoot and smiling. Because nothing says Christmas than to say” Not only is my family perfect and good looking, but we take vacations you could never afford”.

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The letters themselves are a wonder. Everyone is promoted.  The two-year old was just invited to join Mensa, but is weighing her options. The junior is being scouted by several Ivy League schools and they don’t even play sports. They are just that wonderful. Oh there will be times of trial in those letters, but always with a happy ending showing strength in adversity and how they overcame problems in a perfect manner.

You never get a card of the family with mom’s hair a mess, the baby just spilled milk down Dad’s shirt as the five year old points to the cat that’s cleaning itself.  We never see a letter that says, Bob failed to meet his quota for the third time, because frankly, he mentally checked out of his job years ago.  The baby learned a new word when Mommy dropped a bowl on her foot, and now won’t stop singing it at the top of her lungs. Our teenager has decided to wear the same clothes to school every single day of the school year and no one know why.  We never get that letter, but if we do, I’m putting it up on the mantle first.

And please understand, I’m not pointing fingers. I’m guilty of the same thing. We all want to look our best. We all would rather look wonderful and talk about the small success instead of the daily imperfections.  We all want to note that one great day and ignore the really weird days most of us have. We do it in Christmas cards, we do it Sunday at church always wanting to look and act our best.

I understand it, and am even guilty of it.  But I wonder if it doesn’t also reflect an unhealthy obsession with perfection. We seem satisfied with a veneer of perfection, even if it’s not who we are deep down. We want to measure up. We want to keep up. We want to be as perfect, or maybe even a little more so, than everyone around us.  We fear not being accepted. We fear rejection. We fear everyone seeing themselves that our lives really are.  There not bad lives at all. Just imperfect and messy.

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To me this is what makes the birthplace of Jesus so important. The Son of God, the perfect lamb of God enters the world in the messiest way in the messiest place possible. Let’s face it, childbirth is a messy affair. And a stable full of animals jockeying for position is about as messy as it gets. Jesus, the God of all eternity, is put into an unsanitary manger to sleep. Messy. As are the lives and futures of Joseph and Mary. Earthly parents to the Son of God.  Bearers of a virgin birth that only led to gossip and whispers behind their back.  It’s hard to imagine Jesus coming into  a messier situation.

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But isn’t that the point? The Incarnation reminds us that Jesus didn’t come only for the perfect. He came for those of us who have incredibly messy lives.  Jesus doesn’t ask us to be perfect before we come to Him. He loves us not only in spite of the messes of our lives, but in the middle of them.  Jesus isn’t about being present in those small perfect moments of life. He is about being present when you burn the toast, double park and mess up that report at work.  He is there in the middle of the bad day, when your temper is shorter than it should be with your loved ones.  He is there, loving you  when you are in your old sweats as much as when you are dressed to the nines to go to church.

Look, life is messy. For everyone.  Christmas reminds us Jesus loves us in the middle of the messiness of life. Even when we make the mess, He loves us.  So relax a little this year. Instead of trying to show how perfect your life is, spend sometime looking for Jesus in the middle of the mess. For it is there, knowing and receiving His love that you find true perfection.

 

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

A Little Bit of Light

“he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6 NIV)

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When I was a child, one of my father’s favorite activities at this time of year was to have us get in the car and drive around to look at everyone’s Christmas lights. It was the advantage of living in a suburb until I was ten You could drive around for a long time, see a lot of homes with lights and not really go more than a mile or two from your house.

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And there were a lot of lights. Now it may be that I’m looking back with a child’s eyes and missing reality, but it seems that in those days everyone had Christmas lights up. Big multicolored lights around their homes.   More inflatables today, to be sure. But it doesn’t seem there are quite as many, but it’s still enjoyable.

It wasn’t until later that I realized one of the reasons my dad liked looking at all of the lights was because of his satisfaction how much better his looked. He loved putting up all of the lights he had.  The house, trees, nothing was spared.

 

But it wasn’t becauseImage result for griswolds christmas lights he was trying to draw attention to himself.  He hated any spotlight being put upon him.  No I think he did it because he truly enjoyed Christmas. And he wanted everyone else to enjoy it as well. Maybe some of that came from growing up during the Depression in a large family. Gifts and lights weren’t always plentiful.

But I have to think some of it came from his working nights for so many years. Most every day in the winter he would go to work when it was dark and come home while it was dark. He worked in a factory with few windows. He could go almost the entire week without seeing the sun. can you imagine the sun, light , being absent from Sunday until Friday?  I’ve wondered if his love for the lights came from his lack of light in the winter.

Light does make a difference doesn’t it? This past Sunday was the second Sunday of Advent and many churches lit the second candle of Advent. Many of us also lit the second candle in an advent wreath in our homes.  You know, to be honest two candles don’t throw out all that much light.  Even though we’ve doubled the light output from a week ago, it’s not very much. We can’t see all the details in the room and we are hard pressed to read by two little candles.

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I’ve noticed something about those candles, though. Even though they don’t give off much light, its enough to push back the darkness. The room can be enveloped in darkness. It can be heavy and oppressive. But there is a point where the darkness does not enter. Those two small candles say,  “You can only come this far, no further.”

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the one who is the light of the world. But maybe this year you are having a hard time celebrating the light because your life is so full of darkness.  It could be the darkness of not having much money. Family issues, your own inner demons. Maybe just the darkness of having  a lot of stress in life and not compounding it with the stress of the Holiday. And the darkness can be so overwhelming that it’s difficult to see anything else.

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But just because the darkness in your life is oppressive, it doesn’t mean the light isn’t there. If you look you will see it. Sometimes small, sometimes dim but the light of Christ  is there. Jesus has come to overcome the darkness in our lives and in the world. Oh, it doesn’t mean Jesus just automatically makes every problem go away. But he does limit just how far the darkness can come. It gives us hope. Can there be anything more hopeful than even a candle, or two suddenly lit in a dark world? It gives us joy. Has there ever been a heart captured by darkness that hasn’t found joy when light comes?

We all have a choice in life. We can look at the darkness in life and be overwhelmed. Or we can choose to look at the light of Jesus pushing the darkness away and bring us hope. May the light of Christ continue to bring you joy in this Advent season.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><