Wednesday, December 26, 2018

How is Christmas Supposed to Feel?

I'm fresh off a funeral and hospital visit that both stung a little more than usual. I'm not exactly sure why. Because I've spent enough time around end-of-life scenarios and difficult moments, I'm not typically shaken by them. But the raw realities of this weekend have done something different in me. Maybe it's due to the timing of these events. We're at the precipice of Christmas Day, which our annual Advent preparation reminds us is a longing for hope, peace, joy and love. And if I can be honest with you, longing is probably a good word for me.

I read lots of articles and posts about the "feelings" that should accompany Christmas. And I can't begin to count the number of times I've listened to others confide in me that "it just doesn't feel like Christmas this year." I guess I've never quite understood what Christmas is supposed to "feel" like. This isn't the first year I've "felt" the way I do, but every Christmas is different. I've had blissfully wonderful Christmas seasons, "Bah humbug" Christmas seasons, and Christmas seasons that are somewhere in between. I've experienced Christmases as a young boy, eagerly straining my ears to hear hopeful sounds on the rooftop. Those were fun times! I've also experienced one particularly painful Christmas when I looked around the room and processed an empty chair. That one didn't feel good at all. But it was still Christmas.

When I read the Christmas story, I see a lot of feelings I don't expect to see. Luke says the shepherds were terrified. How's that for a Christmas feeling? I don't ever recall longing for a terrified approach to Christmas. Or what about Mary? She was perplexed. Or Joseph? He must've felt like a champion when he was told, "There's no room for you." The Magi got their audience with the Christ child, then had to find another way home. And Herod? Well, his Christmas "feeling" was anger. Intense anger. Because Jesus messes with our lives, challenges our status quo and threatens to make everything different. So, again, I'm not quite sure how Christmas is supposed to feel. But I do know what Christmas proclaims.

Christmas proclaims the surprising and profound love of God. Out of love, God chose to send the world a Savior. Which is truly absurd when you think about it. Have you seen the world lately? Much of it is hard to love. Just turn on the evening news or read the headlines of your favorite media platform and you'll see. Hatred. Injustice. Evil. Racism. Abuse. It's rampant; it's everywhere. Just like it's always been. And yet, for God so loved the world.

I'm part of that world God loves. And so are you. My life is far from perfect, and I'm guessing your life has some missing pieces as well. But you and I are not unloved. And we are not alone. This Savior goes by another name- Emmanuel. Or Immanuel, if you prefer. Into the realities of this world enters one who is "God with us," which is a stunning development that changes everything. Now we have a friend to enter the darkness with us. Whether it's suffering or fear, hopelessness or despair, failure or even death, there is One who goes with us, stays with us, perseveres with us and offers to us a grace that is sufficient. And I need that. Every day.

If you were to write a book detailing my Christmas celebrations, each chapter would tell a different story. I've tried to manufacture certain Christmas "feelings," but that doesn't work for me. I've tried to reawaken old family traditions, but they're just not the same. I've tried to buy the perfect gift, but the ecstasy of the moment wears off after a day or two. I've tried to stay home, I've tried to travel, I've tried to do nothing and do everything...and every year there's a different feeling. That's because Christmas isn't a "feeling." It's a proclamation of love. And regardless of how I feel, or how my life changes, or what I'm experience professionally or personally, Christmas itself never changes. It's still the old, old story that never grows old: For God so loved the world. Praying you know the surprising and profound love of God this Christmas, no matter how you feel. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2018

It's a Wonderful Life- Believe It

It’s a Wonderful Life- Believe It
Luke 1: 46-55

            I don’t know if this is true of your family, but we’re not big fans of pain in my house. We don’t care for blood and gore and wounds and sickness, and the number of band aids in our closet is proof! It’s actually quite astonishing how many band aids we go through in a given year. It’s so apparent that even Santa knows, because some Pittsburgh Pirate band aids showed up in my stocking last year! It seems that every cut and scrape, whether real or not, is usually met with a look of sheer panic and a mad dash to the medicine cabinet. And we slap one of those suckers on and hope that it will all soon be over. But sometimes, in our haste, we forget that pain isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it can actually signal good news.

You wouldn’t think a bloody lip would be a sign of hope, but for George Bailey, it was a light shining in the darkness. As he stood on the bridge just outside of Bedford Falls, the only thought that crossed his mind was his desire to live again. He had been down to the lowest of lows. The Building and Loan was about ready to close their doors, and George was convinced he was on his way to jail. What would happen to his family? What would become of his marriage? What about all the people who had placed their trust in him? The fear of that moment was too much to bear, and he felt so alone, with nowhere to turn. It was similar to what the old saints called the dark night of the soul, a spiritual desert that felt like hopelessness and abandonment. And when Bert the cop pulled up, George thought his life, for all intents and purposes, was over. But then he noticed his bloody lip and something in his heart came alive! It was a sign of life. He wasn’t done!  He had been given another chance to believe that he was part of something much bigger than himself. And he had been given another chance to believe that his life, no matter how complicated, really did matter!

One of the things I most love about the Christmas story is that everyone in the story matters. Everyone has a role to play, and every role contributes something significant to the narrative God is authoring by sending his Son into the world. I think that’s by design, by the way. There are certainly moments when God raises up unique individuals for singular purposes, but all in all, God typically works through a community of people to accomplish his will. And that’s true of the Christmas story. There is no Christmas without John the Baptist, whom we looked at last week and who reminds us to keep on turning toward the Kingdom even when it doesn’t seem like anything is working out. And there’s no Christmas without the angels, the shepherds, the magi, even all of creation. Each plays a vital role in the birthing of this eternity-changing, eternity-shaping God so loved the world story. And the same is certainly true of a young girl named Mary.

Some of the best Biblical scholars suggest that Mary was no older than a young teenager when she first appears on the scene. Doesn’t that make you raise an eyebrow or two?  A teenager fulfills one of the more prominent roles in the Christmas story. Now, I don’t about you, but when I was a young teenager, the things of God were not usually the first thoughts to cross my mind. I was concerned with things like homework and baseball and avoiding my chores. If I could get out of bed and make it to 8:00 church, that was a win! But all joking aside, do you want to know the real reason I didn’t think much about God? I wasn’t sure God could or would use teenagers. Maybe it’s because I only ever saw adults (most of them happened to be men, by the way) preaching, and teaching and sitting on boards and councils- you know, the places where the real ministry action happens. And I guess I started down a path that suggested you had to be a certain age with certain life experiences to be play a part in what God is doing. But Mary has since changed my perspective. 

There are lots of theories as to why God chose Mary to be the theotokos, a Greek word meaning the “God-carrier” or vessel of the Savior of the world. Some have suggested that it was Mary’s innocent nature that attracted God’s attention, or maybe it was the way she lived out a fervent devotion to God. Others have suggested it was her sexual purity- she had never been intimate with another human being. And some have even thought that Mary’s life had a certain quality of holiness that just wasn’t typical for the average person. But there’s a part of me that wonders if God chose Mary for a different sort of reason. Now, I know I could get in trouble for saying this in some circles, but what if God’s reason for choosing Mary was less about Mary and more about God. In no way am I trying to downplay Mary’s attributes and character. I’m sure she was a wonderful, God-fearing human being. But what if Mary’s role in the story says more about God? What if God, in choosing Mary, is showing the world that all things are possible with Him? Because let’s face it. The last person we expect to carry the Son of God into this world is an unwed teenage girl. That’s not how we would’ve written the story, and we come to find out that even Mary was perplexed.

Whatever God’s reason, it’s clear that God has a plan…but Mary has some questions and concerns. When the angel announces to her God’s plans, Mary doesn’t just jump in and say, “Here I am, I’ll do whatever you want!” Instead, she asks, how can this be? Out of perplexity, Mary responds to God’s plan by entering into a conversation with God’s messenger.  I think that’s a wonderful gift God offers to Mary, because it signals that Mary has a choice in this. And God is willing to entertain Mary’s fears, concerns, and questions. I appreciate how one pastor describes this moment: “…Not only has God chosen Mary, God gives Mary the space and time to choose as well.” [1]

God has chosen us to play a part in His story, but it’s not one-sided. God always gives us the opportunity to choose Him, as well. In those moments between God’s invitation to Mary and Mary’s eventual “yes,” there was a pause. I don’t know how long the pause lasted, but it was at least long enough for Mary to mull everything over. I can’t even begin to imagine what went through Mary’s mind when God’s plan was revealed, but I know what usually happens in my mind. I begin to think of all the ways my life will change and the various apple carts that could be upset. I think of the people who will “get it” and jump on board, but also those who might walk away. I think of the dreams that could be crushed…or discovered; the opportunities that could be lost…or gained; I think of the work it will take and the blessings it could offer; but mostly, I think of this: how is it that I’m the right person for the job? And the answer is always the same: the Holy Spirit will do this. That’s what makes the impossible things of the world possible for God. God’s Spirit will do in and through us what we can’t do on our own! And that was enough for Mary to sign on the dotted line!

George had signed on the dotted line years ago. He tried so hard to get out of Bedford Falls, but Bedford Falls was exactly where he needed to be. There was a moment, however, when George Bailey paused to consider whether his life made any difference or not. And that pause painted a sad truth: the sight of Bedford Falls without George Bailey was rather quite ugly. Mr. Gower was a homeless drunk. Harry drowned in the pond. Ernie’s marriage failed. Martini and his family never make it out of Potter’s slums. Without George around, there just wasn’t much belief that things could be different. Clarence the Angel put it this way: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” What a difference one person can make.

Just like George’s life shaped many in ways he never knew, Mary’s life has the same effect on our faith. Because in spite of all her fears, worries and trepidations, she believes that God can do this. It might be crazy for a teenager to carry the Son of God in the world, but Mary chooses to believe. And this belief doesn’t stop there. It carries over into a beautiful song where Mary invites us to believe what is sometimes hard for us to see: to believe that God sees us, even in our difficult conditions; to believe that God will do great things for us; to believe that God offers us mercy and strength; to believe that God will correct the wrongs of the world, putting the abusers and powerful in their place, and lifting up the lowly, the forgotten, and the sad; to believe that God will fill us, help us and finally, God will remember us. No matter who we are, where we are and what we’ve done, God will remember us.

You might not feel as if you’re a big part of God’s story, but God does. This Christmas, I invite you to believe again in the wonderful news that God is sharing in His Son Jesus. But I’ll invite you to take one further step: I’ll invite you this Christmas to believe again that you also are a part of this story. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God is offering to use you as a vessel of his holy work- tearing down strongholds, caring for the forgotten, blessing the nobodies of the world, healing the sick, filling the hungry with good things and so much more. And all this is possible because of God. May we find the same faith this Christmas that Mary found, a faith that chooses to believe that God can do anything. Amen.


Sunday, December 9, 2018

It's A Wonderful Life- Hope In It

It’s a Wonderful Life: Hope In It
Matthew 3: 1-12

You have one of those conversations when the right person at the right time spoke that changed the way you looked at the world? I had one a few years ago. Before I grew in my understanding of social dynamics, I was a little judgmental in my attitude towards people who lived differently that I did. In my small hometown, I didn’t notice many differences between this family or that family-probably because I wasn’t looking. But when I did start to notice, I had lots of questions. If you’re in debt, why would you spend more money? If you need to eat, why don’t you sell something of value? And the biggie- If you’re trying to make ends meet, why are you spending all your money on worthless items like cigarettes? Now, I’m not proud of those thoughts, but they reflected something about my upbringing that wasn’t true of everybody…I had what I needed to live a good life. And because of that, I had hope. Lots of it.  And that was the difference. I didn’t know this until conversation with the head of a local social service non-profit a few years ago. I brought these questions to her attention- concerns, really- and she gracefully looked me in the eye and gave me an answer I’ll never forget: They have no hope, Brett. They have no thought of a future, because they’re not convinced they have one.

One of the more dangerous things that can happen to a person or society is to experience hope slipping away. When we start to lose our hope, we start to lose our hearts. And when we lose our hearts, we begin to lose the very essence of what it means to be human. Numerous studies reveal that hopelessness leads to serious problems- physical, emotional and relational, and if we get to a point where we feel that hope is a pipe dream, we’re bound to throw in the towel and give up. And in those moments, those moments when we can’t see a way forward, we need a fresh voice to call us back, a fresh perspective to help us see our lives and circumstances in a different light.

George Bailey was that fresh voice for the Board of the Building and Loan. Following the passing of his father, Peter, who was the life and soul of the company, the Board was left in a quandary. They all knew Peter was the engine that made the company run, and so long as Peter was in charge, the Building and Loan had a captain to steer through the ups and downs. With Peter at the helm, the Building and Loan stayed afloat and became a source of encouragement for the average Bedford Falls resident. But now he was gone, and mean old Mr. Potter was capitalizing on the Board’s fear. Where’s all this good will going to get us, Mr. Potter asked. It’s just going to create a bunch of discontented lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class…And all because a lot of starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas. I’m guessing the Board never thought of it that way, but Mr. Potter now had their full attention. Maybe he was right. Maybe they would be better off just selling the company and cutting their losses. Maybe they were foolish, because instead of just making money, they were trying to do something hopeful for their community. Maybe it was all a waste of time. And sensing the temperature in the room changing, George Bailey stands up and utters the words that begin to turn the story around: Now hold on just a minute.

We don’t see those words in any of our texts for today, but it’s clear that God’s people needed something to turn their story around. Their lives weren’t awful, but they weren’t full of hope, either. They were stuck under Roman rule, which made it hard to accept their identity as God’s people. And the longer they waited for God to fulfill his salvation plans, the more susceptible they became to giving up and giving in. I think Zacchaeus is a great example. I don’t know if Zaccheaus was a victim of hopelessness or not, but he certainly abided by the “If you can’t beat them, join them” theory. And he hired himself out to the Romans as a tax collector and began to charge more than what the average citizen had been asked to pay. That’s a good way to lose your identity. That’s a good way to forget who you are. And it’s to that people, a people in danger of giving up, that God sends a fresh voice named John the Baptist.

Of all the Advent characters we sing about and talk about, John the Baptist is probably the least desirable. You know why? Because he’s the type of guy who loves us so much that he’ll tell us off from time to time. We need those people. We don’t always like them, but we need them. John the Baptist is an important voice. Like a doctor who tells us news we need, but don’t necessarily want to hear, John speaks truth in a way that cuts to the heart, but he does it for one reason: he wants to remind us that we are people of a different story. And there are times we get off course and forget out what and who we’re all about.

John the Baptist’s first word for us is repent, which all in all is a good word, but probably needs some redemption. It really is a word for a hope-filled people, but I’m not sure that’s the image that comes to mind when we hear it. I have a feeling that the word repent evokes some negative emotions in us, kind of like the feeling you get when you’re caught doing something you know you shouldn’t have been doing or when the doctor looks at you and says, “You really need to lose some weight.” When it’s abused, the word repent is a “bad dog” word, a word that points out all the bad things and weighs us down with guilt and shame. But that’s not the heart of this word. At its heart, repent invites us to walk in a different way, to turn from an unhealthy reality to a new one. It’s a word that speaks a fresh invitation to leave the tired, worn out ways behind, the ways that slowly decay our spiritual vitality, and instead embrace a new direction in life. And that direction, says John the Baptist, is the Kingdom of Heaven. Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

I’m sure most of the people who heard John’s invitation were a bit perplexed because it certainly didn’t look like the Kingdom of Heaven was near. And I think we would say the same thing today. Where is God when all these bad things happen? How can God’s Kingdom be real when tragedies strike? Why should I follow God when my life feels so lousy? That’s what happens when we forget that our faith is built on hope. We grow desensitized to the story that’s defined us and more importantly, we grow desensitized to the One who is writing the story – the Lord of all Creation. In a sense, that’s what was happening to the Board of the Building and Loan. They were struggling to remember their story because of unfortunate circumstances. Without Peter Bailey around, they quickly forgot the why behind the business, and it had very little to do with making money. But George’s prophetic voice called them to repent, to “hold on just a minute” and remember the truth instead of believing Potter’s lies.

There are lies all around our world that seek to drain the hope out of our souls and create a chasm between us and the deep love of Jesus Christ. And if we’re not careful, we’ll start to believe those lies. But there’s nothing a lie fears worse than the truth. Paul Joseph Goebbels, was the Reich Minister of Propaganda under Adolph Hitler and was known for touting the “big lie” about the Jewish race. In explaining his tactics, Goebbels said this: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the…consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Despite every reason to quit believing, God’s people have always been a people of hope. And that’s because as crazy as it sounds, John the Baptist was telling the truth- the Kingdom of heaven IS near. And not long after John’s proclamation, the long awaited Savior of the Universe appeared on the scene and saved the day. But more than that, he offered with his life to save the world and set us free from the lies of evil, sin and shame. When God’s people were stuck in chains in Egypt, they held on to that future hope. When they wandered for 40 years in the desert wilderness, it was that hope that kept them moving. When Daniel was thrown into the den of lions, he, too, held on to that future hope that would one day take the form of a baby born to a virgin in Bethlehem. And now it’s our turn. This is our story, and we must hope in it. We hope in it by turning and returning to this story over and over and over again. We turn to it in the face of sickness. We turn to it in spite of darkness. We turn to it when we our love fails. We turn to it when tragedy strikes. We turn to it when our questions go unanswered and our prayers seem to fall flat. We turn to it because we need it.

At the end of his speech, his “truth-telling” to old Mr. Potter, George Bailey had one more thing to say to the Board. He couldn’t make a decision for them. They would have to do that on their own. But he could remind them of their vital work. “There’s just one more thing,” says George, “this town needs this measly one-horse institution, if only to have someplace where people can come without crawling to Potter.” This world, brothers and sisters, needs our story, as crazy as it sounds, of a God who so loved the world. Without this story, we’ll continually crawl to the lies that only leave us empty and wanting more. In Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near. So let’s turn to it. And let us return with all of our hearts, souls, mind and strength to one born in Bethlehem.  Let’s place our hope in Him. Amen.

It's A Wonderful Life- Endure It

I’ve always wanted to preach an Advent series on “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Before moving to the area, I had never seen the movie, nor did I know that the Indiana area was once home to Jimmy Stewart. This American classic is very much a part of our local culture, and even though this film isn’t part of the Christian subculture, there are Advent lessons we can glean from this historical movie. So the next time you see this movie, I pray that it draws you deeper into the heart of Advent. So let’s begin.

Endurance doesn’t immediately strike us as an Advent theme, does it? But yet, that’s exactly the type of life George Bailey’s father invited him to embrace. Sitting around the dining room table, ready to conquer the big, exciting world in front of him, George’s dad asked him if he’d consider just coming home and working at the old Building and Loan. Not the type of wonderful life George was anticipating. Like Geoargy, we usually hope for something different in our lives- especially this season. Which is why we are so used to seeing words that inspire a different type of emotion during Advent, words like hope, peace, joy and love. Every year we look forward to these themes, these words that keep popping up. Isn’t it interesting that we keep on coming back to those four words during this season? Maybe that’s because these words aren’t as natural as we’d like them to be. If we’re honest, they are words that easily slip from our vocabulary, and, sometimes dangerously, our hearts.

Just a month after last year’s Christmas celebrations, I ran into an old friend who was struggling with his mind and his emotions. The joy-inspired days of Christmas and New Year’s had dissipated into the cold and dreary January darkness, and it was affecting this man’s soul. I think he was battling some type of seasonal depression. He’s a man who yearns to be outdoors and remaining bottled up inside a “shabby existence” is a frightening existence for him.  On his best days, he’s filled with nervous energy, always getting something done. On his worst days, you have to pull him from the house, because he’s not quite certain he wants to do anything. He’s not even sure he wants to go on living. He just wants the darkness to be over.

We might not have the same struggles (or maybe you do), but I think we all have the same sentiment. We just want the darkness to be over. We just want the Kingdom of God to come the way Jesus says it will come. And our proclamation is that one day, it will. One day, the Kingdom will come, just as Jesus has said, and everything will be the way it should be. No more death or mourning or crying or pain. No more war and division; no more hatred and senseless acts of violence. No more evil in this shabby world gone wild. One day, God will make all things new. But until then, we have to learn the discipline of endurance.

Endurance is a tough concept in our culture. For a people so used to having everything and anything at the click of a button, endurance is almost incomprehensible. The idea of waiting for something we yearn for seems unjust and unfair. We want hope, peace, joy and love to be our reality, and we want those promised gifts now! Just like we want Christmas to appear as soon as possible! But while we get glimpses of those gifts, they’re often overshadowed by other realities that take the life out of us. Realities like the recent shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill and raging wildfires in California. And that’s what makes endurace, just like hope, peace, joy and love, such an important theme for Advent.

It’s safe to say that we’re not the only ones who struggle with endurance. So did the early disciples. Like the kids in the backseat asking “When are we going to get there,” the disciples were constantly asking Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” It was a popular question for Jesus, and understandably so. The Jewish people were tired of the status quo- tired of other governments controlling them, tired of feeling like they were second-class citizens, tired of feeling powerless to change their social situation. And they had been at it for quite some time. Their history was one of oppression. Whether it was Egypt or Babylon or Assyria or Rome, they just wanted the promises of God to become their reality. And every time they asked when their shabby existence would transform into the beautiful Kingdom, the answer always seemed to be the same: “Not yet. It is surely coming, but not yet.”

“Not yet” isn’t the answer anyone wants to hear, but it’s the answer God gives more often than not. And knowing that we’d like God to reveal more than a “not yet,” Jesus teaches us the way of endurance, the way of faithfully moving forward, undeterred in the faith, especially when moments of hope, peace, joy and love seem fleeting. And who better to teach us than the one who Hebrews says, “endured the cross for the joy set before him, scorning its shame.” Endurance is the way of Christ, and it’s the way of Christ’s followers who must learn to fix their eyes when they cannot fix their world. In these in-between times, the threshold between what is and what will be, our souls must be shaped by the discipline of endurance. And endurance requires a great deal of courage. That’s what we’re invited into this Advent season. We’re invited into a courageous faith. 

Without courage, it would be easy to discover, like my friend in mid-January, that our hearts can easily grow discouraged, disappointed or even listless. Enduring the struggles of this world while awaiting the joy that is to come is not for the faint of heart. This is the point Jesus is trying to make to his disciples. Having faith requires courage! It takes courage to get up every morning and proclaim love in a broken world. It takes courage to await joy in the face of suffering. It takes courage to believe in resurrection when everything around screams death. It takes courage to keep on believing that whatever chapters are currently being written cannot and will not undo the ending of a story we know to be true. So we must endure. Not simply exist. We must endure! And that requires courage. But here’s the thing about courage: it’s not found by digging deep within; courage is found when we’re awakened to the activity of God.

Jesus has said that heaven and earth will pass away, but his words never will. His words, which flow out of his heart to strengthen our weak spirits, will never be shaken. Nothing in our world can undo the story God is writing, which is why Jesus tells us to look at pay attention to the signs all around. “There will be signs,” says Jesus, and those signs will remind us that our redemption is drawing near. And those signs remind us that God is not done! Right after Halloween, the girls and I made a trip to Lowe’s. The shelves were still stocked with marked-down spooky decorations, but just a few aisles down, we began to see Christmas decorations. And even though it wasn’t Christmas, the sight of the lights and the trees was enough to make me start humming, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” at the end of October. It looked nothing like Christmas, but there were signs that Christmas was coming, and my spirit endured.

Paying attention to signs of God’s Kingdom among us can do a world of good for a disciple. They can change our tunes, help us see our situations differently. For Joseph and Mary, the sign was a baby in a manger. For the Magi from the East, it was a star in the sky. For us? Well, it could be anything, really. A word of comfort when we we’re at our loneliest hour...a relationship reconciled when we thought it was all opportunity to right a wrong when someone gives us a chance we never deserved. And sometimes, it’s just an unexpected act of kindness that gives us reason to pause and reconsider our worldviews. But the thing about signs is this: they always point us to Christ, who gives us the desire and strenghth to endure.

As it so happens, I took a break from writing my sermon to scroll through Facebook, and I saw a sign that caused my heart to sing a different song. A friend, who gave me permission to share this story, posted that she sent her young daughter with $20 to Santa’s Workshop, a fun event for our local students to buy small gifts for their loved ones, and her daughter came home with $13. When asked why she didn’t spend it all, the young girl said, “Well, I bought a gift for everyone, but I know we don’t have a lot of money, so I didn’t want to buy too much.” That’s a story, friends, about a young girl choosing wisdom over greed and kindness over temptation. It’s also a sign, a reminder from God, that even though it feels at times as if all hell is breaking loose, the Kingdom IS drawing near. Believing that takes courage. Believing that the God of heaven is stronger than the chains of hell is what Advent is all about. Believing that Christ is still reigning despite the darkness that lingers much longer than we’d like is our calling this season. So as we wait for that glorious day to appear, let’s look to Christ – the sign of the season- and take courage, and press on. Amen.