Written a few days before Christmas:
I sit here behind the screen at Starbucks. It's called "the library." It actually is peopled by customers who are intent on computers and other devices, which seems to have formed a contemplative mood - or at least thoughtful, puzzling something out, trying to make sense of a problem..
I sit, somewhat distracted, sipping coffee, disappointed that I'm not at the gym, rowing; breathing, walking, lifting, balancing - the things I had so hoped to do today after my pastoral visit with a dear friend, followed by a haircut.
"If you're tired, rest at Starbucks, or just come home," Molly had said. I said I would if I needed to. I didn't expect to need to. "I'll be alright. It's exercise I need."
But Margie for Hair said, "Be careful as you go, Arthur. You seem a little wobbly."
It was hard to be honest, and just say, "I am wobbling. I have feelings of vertigo. It came on after I arose this morning. It's still there. I've done the standard exercises. I'm better, but not quite over it. My better judgement does say, "Go home. Rest. Lay your head down, even if it's for a couple of hours." So, I'll do that.
The struggle to take care. To attend to the body, and so, the spirit. It is good to be quiet here. To pray. To read the Bible. To re-underline my Christmas sermon.
The days pass slowly. But, I am aware that in each one, I am preparing for Christmas Day. Resting enough. Recouping strength. Slowly preparing my heart and soul for Christmas Day.
I read through the message I believe I was given, "Jesus and the Great Return!" On the Second Coming. The End Times.
I raise the questions. But mostly affirm the answers Jesus Himself gives, and the prophesies He affirms. It leads us into an arena of great wonder and mystery.
"At that time," Jesus says, "You will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, with power and great glory." Oh, what a wonder. I'm trying to sink my soul into it, and pray God will use the message for good, to those friends - few or many - who will come.
The days pass, one by one. We put up trees. We are "out and about." We go to concerts - of grandchildren, of professional choruses. More and more we hear the words - of the great story. The hymns and anthems at church sing them to us.
They did to us, at two services of "Lessons and Carols," and were enchanting. The gifted staff read the winsome and mighty words, then gave brief and penetrating words of interpretation and explanation. Then a brief, pointed, penetrating prayer. Wonderful anthems from the Chorale, and the Chamber Singers, and the children's choir put it all to music.
And so, more and more, carols of Christmas help us look up, and look in, and see in our hearts again the mystical characters, and the wondrous places of this seeking season.
We see Gabriel, from Heaven, addressing the young Mary: "The Holy Spirit will overshadow you, and you will bear a child, a son, whom you will call Jesus." Joseph, too, is addressed by a messenger, and plays his part.
Far away, in eastern courts, astrologers who study the heavens to understand what is going on in heaven, intended for the world, became aware of a new and unfamiliar star in the sky. It calls them to follow, to saddle up and journey out, to see and understand.
And the focal point, the place of God's invasion of earth, was a tiny town just outside Jerusalem, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It was no big city, no great metropolis, albeit by history and by prophesy, "King David's Royal City," but it was ground zero for God's great movement of hope, far more than the twin towers of Manhattan Island were the focal point of the Devil's intended destruction of and disintegration of the world's hope beyond itself.
Amazing how God chooses unlikely places, and unlikely people to be His place, and DO HIS WORK in this world.
Nazareth would follow on the list of unlikely places. And Joseph and Mary and their first born son would be the almost unbelievable instruments of this mystical invasion.
What is He using now, as the world senses the coming of the "Second Advent" in these "end times?"
Can we play the part? It is a call to the Church and to every individual believer, who loves Jesus, and is ready to serve Him with a new will, and commitment, and courage.
It's coming close. The stores are full of shoppers and families are making plans to be together.
The music we hear is more than ever the secular songs that lift up the themes of loneliness, and coming home, and the scene, the looks of Christmas time. With snow outside, the family and friends coming to the front door.
We miss the truest meaning if we ignore the story of what God did, in the huge miracle of His coming to earth to be among His people, so they could see Him, and know Him, and find this deeply personal way to love Him. Imagine the miracle of that entry into human life: as a tiny child, the Babe of Bethlehem. The same way we all enter the world: in the innocence of a baby, the earnestness of a mother, the coming of friends and neighbors to see the newborn - shepherds from their fields, because angels had told them what was happening and then representatives from governments, with gifts to give.
And it was all happening because the heavens were telling the story. Angels out of heaven were crying out "Good News" to simple people. Because a new star had appeared and moved across the world, leading astronomers of that day to follow its track to see something God was doing.
Of course, the Babe of Bethlehem came into a hostile world, led by the jealous King Herod who, in fury, ordered all the boy children two and under to be slaughtered, lest one of them grow up to take his throne.
It is all an amazing story, full of truths so staggering as to challenge our minds. But, these same truths bless our hearts. They dare us to believe fantastical things of a God whose love has no end, and dared to offer the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross, through Jesus, the Child of Bethlehem, that we might all believe, and accept His gift of the saving of our lives through the forgiveness of our sins, and our reconciliation to Him at last and our own Welcome Home to our life forever with Jesus in Heaven.
He wants us to believe, and be changed. He wants us to live now, the strange life of His love, serving others, forgiving and being reconciled to others, so that the world can become One, and Peace become real, and healing become the hope of all.
So, Christmas is Jesus' time, and the time in which we make room in our lives for all people. And we do gather, and give gifts, and welcome friends, and let no-one be our enemies.
IT IS ALL SO POSSIBLE. Let this be the wonder of Christmas this year.
I listen to Public Radio off and on through the day - in the early morning in my bathroom, and later in the car, to and from my exercise at the health club. Most every show has turned to reporting on the latest from The White House and the Mueller investigation.
Each latest bit of news speculates on what seems to be the tightening noose of legal implication against our President. There seems a sense of delight that now at last the leader of our land will be exposed, quite possibly indicted, even jailed, at some point.
I understand the criticism of the President, his seemingly boorish remarks, his rudeness in defense of himself.
That's why I was so touched by the spirit of reconciliation that seemed to be present at the Rotunda, and the Washington Cathedral as George W. Bush extended his hand to the sitting President of the United States, and his wife. Not easy for either of them.
These are hard and bitter times. How can the spirit of revenge be changed? How can the Holy Spirit of God Who loves our people and leaders and wants us to be humble with each other and follow a path of peace in our dealing with each other - beginning in this time of the coming of The Prince of Peace?
Surely, the first step of change will come by Prayer. It is our great tool, if not weapon, of change.
Can we not be more fervent, more clear in what we lay before our Lord to bless, and change? The only power for real change in all our hearts, is the power of prayer, that can open us all to daring to be made humble, and grateful, and even wise in these times.
We can speak peace to each other and to those who are tempted toward the vengeful spirit. Peace, love, joy! We can do that. We can find ways. It will be work - but blessed work. I pray we'll dare to try..
Jesus and Paul both preached joy in adversity. Cultivating a spirit of victory even when your outward circumstances would seem to spell defeat. Living that is considerably more difficult than giving in to things that have gone wrong. It is so much easier to express fear, to feel defeat, to think about the worst.
Last Saturday, after a day high in the Spirit, as our Pilgrim Center team, led by our Dr. Jim Olson at the wheel, kept faith with a long tradition of piling into a van and driving north to Walker, in the middle of the Leech Lake Reservation, and having lunch in the back room of Jimmy's Restaurant with our dear and long-time friend, Father George Ross, retired Episcopalian minister to his Ojibwe people in Cass Lake, Red Lake, and White Earth.
We greet each other, eat together, talk and sing, tell stories especially of our deepening relationship to each other, pray, and finally depart about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon to reach "the Cities" by mid-evening.
This year was different, because we were adding a three-hour healing retreat, to be held in a nearby funeral home. Sweet things had happened in the retreat, hurts and hopes were prayed for, communion was shared, and the teachings of "The Journey with Jesus to the Cross" and "Repentance and Forgiveness as the Key to New Life" were lifted up.
We experienced a oneness of spirit and joy in our hearts, just by being together. Our Native American friends, and our motley group of white folks from the city, gathered as one through those few hours of a December Saturday afternoon.
Our team loaded up, and headed down through lonesome roads among deep pine forests. There were few lights to be seen as we drove swiftly along through woods, along straight-arrow roads, but little signs of settlement, and no towns.
Suddenly, our headlights began to dim, and the same with dashboard lights. Something was wrong. Dr. Jim pulled over at a lonely cross-roads to search for the trouble. The battery registered low. The alternator was dying. Darkness was not only outside, but filled our suddenly sober van full of traveling Christians.
He made calls: to the sheriff, to a distant garage. Two cars stopped and offered cables to help us. They were warm country folks. But our only form of transport was dying, our heat was disappearing. For over an hour, we sat in the dark, colder-growing van.
We began to think of the real ramifications: of what the cold would do - to all of us. Finally we called the State Patrol. They promised to come, and to call the garage at a truck stop in Motley. We prayed. We wondered. Minutes seemed like hours. We tried to "effect joy in the midst of adversity."
At last a vehicle came along with flashing lights. The young trooper emerged, quickly assessing our situation. He offered me - as the elder in the midst - a seat in his warm cruiser. I declined, insisting I was okay.
Before long two trucks with big lights appeared. We were all transferred to one of them, while our van was loaded up to the other.
Mercifully, we were on our way. Finally, Motley appeared, and the lights of the truck stop, the warmth of the still-serving restaurant. Another church van was on its way from St. Paul, courtesy of Dr. Jim's long-standing ministry at his Bethel congregation. By 10:00 pm, the van came. We started again, quietly praising the Lord. By 12:25 am, I was being deposited at Covenant Village of Golden Valley, with Molly at the door, in pajamas and overcoat.
Home at last seemed miraculous. Surely, God had intervened. We had all wanted to be joyful in our threatening situation, but had probably not come through in the full Scriptural sense. But, IT WAS A LESSON.
Molly and I rejoiced in the outcome. I was sent to bed, and ordered to stay there. How I wanted to be up for church. But Sunday morning's rest was needed, and she went off with daughter Kristen for wonderful Advent church at Colonial. She was blessed with a great message and the loving greeting of a host of friends.
That's what "church" is, and God does. We have peace, and joy, this Advent week, and new lessons learned, from our mighty God.
George Herbert Walker Bush decided he would not go back to the hospital again. Clearly, he wanted to be with his wife, and get beyond the trials and troubles, pains and problems of being kept alive. It was time to go.
Time to say goodbye to all the family here, who were so dear to him. Time to head home to all that his life-long Christian faith had assured him would be there, on heaven's side. Most of all, His heavenly Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who had led, and guided, and guarded him all his life long.
When his body, lying under the draped flag of his country he had loved and served so long, came to the Capitol rotunda in Washington before his funeral services, leaders in Congress and the government, and all his extended family circled around to say goodbye. Apparently, his beloved helper dog lay watchful beside him. His oldest son, the 43rd President of the United States, struggled to hold back the tears that were in his heart. He had held an uncommon love for his father all the years of his life.
My wife was herself brushing back tears as she watched the proceedings from Washington that were coming through the television when I arrived home.
"He gave a great gift to his country," she said, "in his life and the spirit in which he lived it, which we can remember in these days of mourning."
He gave us a great sense of family with those he held so close. And of marriage, in his long deep love for Barbara. And an instinct always to serve others, which he demonstrated all his years. And his deep Christian faith which he lived.
Over and again, his grandsons spoke of his essential kindness and the grandpa they knew who was never angry.
He is said to have been the best-prepared president we ever had, for his life had been serving. He gave us his "thousand points of light," his vision of service.
Molly remembers that her father served on the Greenwich, CT town council with Prescott Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush's father, who later became Senator from Connecticut.
I can recall being at the beach in Maine, very near Kennebunkport in the days when "41" was President, and seeing the long "cigarette" boat speeding along off-shore, with George Herbert Walker Bush in it, and U.S. Coast Guard cutters trailing behind.
What a gift indeed, is our memory of this good man who served us all, and the world. In days already vastly different, with division, and anger and great hurt in our land, it is good for us to hear "Eternal Father, strong to save," the Navy hymn sung, and the earnest prayers said. It reminds us that, whatever comes, whatever divisions and difficulties and conflict in our national life, we are still held in the hands of our Eternal Father, who hears us, "when we cry to Thee," and is ever "strong to save."
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES