Motel 6 has a slogan that captures a welcoming spirit. “We’ll leave the light on for you.” Anyone who has traveled at night looking for a certain location understands what it means when someone says, “I’ll keep the light on for you.” It means that at the very least they are expecting you, and often times it means they will be waiting up for you no matter the hour you finally arrive.
On the other hand we have all had the experience of coming home after dark or arriving at a darkened building where no one is home or they were not expecting you. It is never an entirely pleasant experience, and not the least bit welcoming. Fumbling for a light switch or tripping over unseen things in no way expresses a warm welcome.
This year Epiphany continues through February. Epiphany is the church season that begins on the 12th day of Christmas and continues until Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. It is the season when the Church, through Scripture, shares the light that God shines on the world through the gift of Jesus Christ. It is the season in which the Church proclaims that God has “left the light on for us” - coming in the person of Jesus.
February, and the continuing season of Epiphany, teaches us two important lessons. First, we can be thankful that God has provided light for the journey we experience as life. Even in the darkest of times, the light of Christ can illumine the journey and bring us safely home. Psalm 119: 105 says “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and light to my path.”
Secondly, Epiphany is a reminder to those of us who are the church that our mission is “to keep the light on for others.” All around us people are journeying through life. Some have gotten far away from God’s good intent for them, often times because no one in their lives has left the light on for them. The very least we can do is to keep the light of Christ shining so they can reorient and find their way. We also need to get beyond the satisfaction we may feel in the familiar and comfortable fellowship of the church. Let us remember to turn on our “outside” light to show others that they are welcome to enter into the church and the fellowship of Christ. Better yet, we can go forth with a lantern to meet people where they are and accompany them home. Together these things show that we are evangelical, willing to share the Good News, willing to share the warmth and illumination of the Christian fellowship.
February can be a cold and dark month. During these 28 days, let us turn on the lights for each other and leave the light on for others making their way home.
“She doesn’t fear for her household when it snows, because they are all dressed in warm clothes.” – Proverbs 31:21 (CEB)
Here’s the scoop, or shovel as the case may be. We do not know for certain what our Buffalo area January will be like, but the healthy spirit will be prepared for whatever it is. We need to be like the “Competent Wife” of Proverbs 31:21.
“The Old Farmer’s Almanac” by Almanac Publishing, editors Geiger and Duncan, seems to suggest a pretty typical January with a mix of snow and rain. Using my pastoral prognostication, not to be confused with prophecy, I am going to suggest more snow than rain. Chances are I’ll be as accurate as the almanac and even the meteorologists with all their instruments.
So let’s consider snow for a moment specifically in terms of spiritual preparation. This is important because I’ve known parishioners over the years to become testy and sometimes depressed due to light deprivation. I would like to avoid this if at all possible. Most people, when we talk snow, think of large groups of flakes such as blizzards and snow mounds created by plows pushing up billions of flakes. It may help to consider the individual flake which is a thing of beauty. When conditions are just right, the geometric bonds of water take on a hexagonal shape. This occurs when water vapor in the air falls below the freezing point.
I remember the first time as a child I was witness to this reality. I was outside playing with my brother. Snow was drifting down in a picture perfect fashion. When I looked at my snowsuit sleeve, there it was. It was a wondrous work of art sitting on the dark green of the cloth! Later my mother shared that no two snowflakes were alike. That still seems unbelievable, but possible. Later still I learned in science class that a single snowflake can be made up of over 200 separate crystals.
So here may be a clue to appreciating whatever comes our way in weather this month. Jesus was pretty clear that the child-like spirit best receives the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 18:3) Remember that first time you saw an individual snow flake and you had a “God moment?” And should these flakes soon become windswept and piled high, just remember it’s a snow serendipity of highest order. Let it snow!
The Voices and Music of the Season
Over the years we begin to associate certain voices with Christmas. These voices are often those of the vocalists who bring us the music of the season. These voices for me were those heard on my father’s record collections. Call me nostalgic, but I think that many of the newer vocal artists cannot hold a candle to those singers when it comes to Christmas music.
For several years I have tried to collect Christmas music to replace my old 33 1/3 records. Inevitably I was disappointed by most of the contemporary artists. The titles of the song were familiar but the renditions were so altered by the contemporary musical genre that many of them didn’t even “sound” like Christmas. “O Holy Night” done to rap somehow rubs me the wrong way.
A few years ago I happened on a gold mine. The first find was a CD version of the original Gene Autry “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a recording straight from my childhood. It includes the cowboy’s rendition of the “Story of the Nativity.” Now that was real Christmas music! The other finds were “Christmas Crooners” featuring Tony Martin, Eddie Fisher, Vic Damone, and Eddy Arnold. Another was “Christmas with Nat, Dean, and Bing.” Just to show I am not completely out of it, Celine Dion is just fine. She has an angel’s voice if ever the world has heard one. A also like Faith Hill and Michael Buble. Chicago also has a great Christmas collection that I am convinced makes Gabriel himself turn green with envy.
Whatever your musical tastes, I think you would have to agree that Christmas would be impoverished without these voices and their music. Without the voices of Christmas there would be a gigantic void. It would be hard to imagine Christmas without them.
A far bigger void, however, would be noticed had not God’s voice been heard. Without God’s voice there would be no Christmas at all. On the first day of Christmas God’s voice became flesh. As the gospel according to John says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1: 14 NRSV)
May you enjoy the music of the season, and may God’s voice once again sing you a love song called “Jesus.”
Grand Island, NY
I’m thinking as we approach the national holiday known as Thanksgiving that the more we have the less thankful we are for it. I’m thinking the converse also. When we don’t have as much the more thankful we are for what we have. It is one of the mysteries of human nature. I suspect one Biblical reference to this phenomena is Jesus’ harsh warnings to the rich. “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:23 (NKJV)
There are, no doubt, many reasons for Jesus’ perspective on this matter, but at the core of it I suspect it has to do with an attitude of gratitude. When one has an abundance of anything it is easy to take it for granted. It somehow gets lost in the sheer plenty of it. Let me give a very simple example. On a recent trip to Vermont to visit my brother and his wife, I happened in a store upon a favorite thing of which I do not often indulge. There on the counter was a large jar of maple candies of the hard candy form. I purchased five and popped one in my mouth. I thought “wow, this is really, really good!” And it truly was. Yet I guarantee you if I had these delicacies every day I would start taking them for granted, and most likely not savoring them in the same way. I wouldn’t enjoy them as much.
Now granted this example is trivial, but let’s take it to a level we will all understand. If you are really healthy you tend to not be as thankful as you are when your health has been restored after some illness or injury. That is undoubtedly why the people Jesus healed tended to be very appreciative of not only their restored health, but of the One who had healed them.
You can apply this principle to almost any part of life. So I have a suggestion for all of us as we enter into what has been designated as “the month of Thanksgiving.” Start now making a list, either literally or in your head of one thing each day for which you are thankful or perhaps ought for which to be thankful. It can be as small as a maple flavored hard candy, or as big as a special person in your life. It might be an adequate supply of food. It could be a good church to which to attend. List them there, think about them, small or big. Then “give thanks.”
Not long ago one of our very faithful members said to me, “We’ve got to stop our grumbling!” She was right. I suspect we often indulge ourselves in the attitude of ingratitude because in reality we have so much of almost everything. This was driven home to me years ago when the church I was serving hosted some Christians from Latvia. After a tour of the spacious building the pastor said a surprising thing to me. He said, “You are so fortunate to have so many Bibles! We have one.” How quickly things were put in perspective. “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Following that money was raised to send Bible of the appropriate translation to this pastor’s church.
It’s the month of Thanksgiving. Let’s nurture an attitude of gratitude and come closer to being people who enter the kingdom of heaven.
Larry R. Baird
Recently Brenda and I had our grandchildren for an overnight. In the morning she opened the shades in the room of two year old Cameron. He looked out of the window and exclaimed “sticks!” He was seeing the top of a very dead tree on the far west side of the house. To him branches without leaves are sticks.
October is the month I most associate with leaves. The months to follow are the seasons of sticks. October is a time of colorful leaves and the ripening of fruit. October is a mature season as nature utilizes the summer growing season and produces ripened fruit, nuts, and seeds.
The Bible speaks of leaves in interesting ways. In Genesis 8:11 leaves signal the earth’s renewal following the flood. In Psalm 1:3 leaves reference the productivity of the Kingdom. In Revelation 22:2 leaves’ purpose is “medicine to heal the nations”, a sign that the fullness of life in “the tree of life” has been opened for God’s people to enjoy. Death and dying have been overcome with life. Brokenness and sin among nations and people have been healed in Christ.
Perhaps in October we will take trips to revel in the splendor of autumn leaves, or we will find ourselves gathering the leaves together that have fallen. Perhaps our children or grandchildren (or we) will enjoy jumping into a fresh raked pile of leaves. When we experience these things we remember that these colorful and spent leaves, having completed their life-giving work to trees, also represent the life that God gives us in Jesus Christ. He gave himself that we might have life and have it to the fullest.