If I were one of “the tired, the poor…”

I hear a lot of statements to the effect that people who want to emigrate to the US should do it legally…that there is no excuse for illegal entry. In a perfect world, I agree. But unfortunately, our world is not perfect.

Compared to many in the world, I live a life of privilege. I have had the privilege of a good education and been able to work at jobs that pay decently. I have a home, clothing, enough for my family to eat (and to spare), access to medical care…and I do not spend my days worrying about my children or grandchildren being targeted by gangs as drug runners or sex slaves—or dying from malnutrition. I do not worry about my home being shot up or about bombs going off in my street. I can drive around my town safely without worrying about IEDs or car bombs or random shootings (mostly, anyway).

I cannot imagine living in a place where that is not true.

I honestly do not know what I would do if I lived in a place with the opposite of those conditions. If it were just me, that would be one thing. But if there were any other option that I could see for my children and grandchildren, I think I would take it—legal or otherwise.

And for many of the world’s people, there is not a legal option. Either because of lack of education, lack of money, lack of access to government offices—or the corruption of those offices… If all I had was my feet—and the hope that there must be a better world somewhere—I think I would gather up what I could and start walking.

Yes, I think our immigration system needs to be overhauled. Yes, I think we need to do what we can to help stabilize governments where many of these folks are coming from.

But at the same time, I would hope that we would have some empathy for those who are trying to find safety and a better future for their children and grandchildren—and I would hope that we would read again…and be willing to live out…the poem by Emma Lazarus that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:Statue of Liberty seen from the Circle Line ferry, Manhattan, New York

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Merry Christmas

joseph-mary-and-jesus

And so the day is here…the day that we’ve been looking forward to.

But it’s not the end; it’s the beginning. It’s a reminder that the journey is not finished…that we still have a long way to go before we are living in the peace that the angels came to proclaim.

On this day we celebrate one child born so long ago–a child who had no bed to lay in, born to parents who would find themselves fleeing to another land to escape violence.

As he grew, he challenged the status quo. He loved the unlovable…taught that all were of worth…brought healing and wholeness.

We might not be able to do all the things he did–but we can do a lot. We can look back in celebration to the birth…and forward to a time when we can celebrate a world living as he wanted us to:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

And so…as we celebrate the birth of this Jesus, let us live Christmas all year.

Joy

Advent 4

On this last Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of joy.

What is joy?

Perhaps we should start out by saying what it is not. Joy is not necessarily happiness. Happiness can be fleeting, dependent on events happening in our lives–or the lives of our loved ones. If circumstances change, happiness may disappear.

But joy…joy is an emotion that comes from deep in our heart. We can find joy even in the most difficult of life circumstances…even when common sense says we should be completely down in the dumps.

So what makes the difference?

Joy may include happiness, but it goes deeper. We have joy when we know we have a firm foundation we can build our lives on–someone we can trust to always be with us through both good and bad times…someone who loves us, no matter what.

Joy acknowledges that life is not always easy, but it also knows that we are never alone, even when it may feel like we’ve been abandoned. Our human family, our friends may turn away from us–but the One whose birth we are preparing to celebrate never does.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite stories (and movies) this time of year–Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The Cratchit family lacks much of the “things” that we tend to think are necessary to find happiness, and also are dealing with the illness of the youngest child–and yet when they are preparing for their Christmas dinner, Bob Cratchit (the patriarch of the family) is still able to offer a toast of thanks and gratefulness for what they have…the love of family. They have joy.

And so…as we light this candle of joy, my wish, my blessing for each of you is this quote from Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!” And may you be blessed with true joy, not just this day but throughout the year.

 

Love

Adventskranz 3. Advent

Today we lit the third candle of Advent–the candle of love.

What is love?

There are many ways to define it. I remember as a child enjoying the Peanuts definition – “Love is a warm puppy.” But is that all there is to it?

English can be a challenging language because many times, we only have one word to identify multiple emotions. That’s true of “love.”

When Prince Charles and Princess Diana held their first news conference so many years ago, when someone asked Charles if he was in love with her, he replied “Whatever in love means.” That did not bode well for their marriage–but there is a lot of truth in his statement.

We love ice cream…if you’re a woman, you may love a particular dress…we love the weather…or a sports team…or our spouse…our children…

Do we really know what love is?

The One whose birth we are preparing for came to show us true love…a love so strong that he was willing to give his life for others. Occasionally we see that in other human beings around us. Unfortunately, far too often we settle for an “easy” definition.

But perhaps the best definition–and the challenge–of living in love can be found in a verse often used during weddings. But it’s a good challenge for each of us as we continue our preparation for celebrating the baby who came 2000 years ago–and whose coming we look forward to now:

What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others.

Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.

Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered.

It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do.

Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil.

Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting.

Love never fails!

 

Peace

Advent2

This Sunday we lit the Advent candle of peace.

That sounds a bit like an oxymoron in the society we are currently living in. We hear talk of wars…we see our environment being destroyed for short-term gains…we hear language that demonizes those who are different, whether that difference is due to race, ethnicity, gender, color, sexual identity or orientation, religion, politics, or any of the other myriad ways we can separate ourselves from each other. We see people dying for lack of basic needs while others have more than they could ever hope to spend in a lifetime.

So what peace are we talking about?

In English, “peace” is rather passive…an absence of conflict.

But I think the kind of peace being talked about when we light this Advent candle is more like the Hebrew word “shalom.” That means an absence of conflict, but it means so much more! It means healing…wholeness…reconciliation. It has to do with keeping promises…in our relationships with each other and with the Divine.

That’s not easy. It’s sometimes so much simpler to just sit back and wish for a time when there is no conflict.

But Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” A contemporary translation (The Message) says it this way: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

So lighting this second candle of Advent–the candle of peace–challenges us to do more than just sit back and wish. It commits us to modeling the kind of relationships we want for the world…keeping our promises…doing all we can to bring healing, wholeness, and reconciliation to a world in desperate need of those gifts.

Hope

 

Yesterday there were two candles to light…the first candle of Hanukkah and the first Advent candle, the candle of hope.

In some ways these two might not seem to have anything in common. And we might wonder what they have to do with hope.

The typical definition of hope is kind of shallow. We might say “I hope it doesn’t rain” or “I hope I can see that movie”…or “I hope…[something else].” That’s short-term or wishful thinking and doesn’t require much of anything from us.

But there are some other ways of defining hope that are more meaningful in this season of advent.

Hope can be seen as an optimistic state of mind based on expecting positive outcomes regardless of what is going on in the world around. It can mean to expect with confidence or to cherish an idea with anticipation.

In the Christian tradition, it can be seen as faith directed toward the future. It is “the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

Hanukkah reminds us of hope in a God who knows our needs and provides what is needed–in this case, eight days of oil which allowed the Jews to rededicate the Temple that had been desecrated under the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes. There was only one day’s worth of oil available to light the candelabra and begin the process of rededication–but it burned for eight days.

Advent points Christians toward the celebration of the presence of God in the world through Jesus…a celebration of the time he came 2000 years ago but also a looking forward to his coming again.

Both of these things seem impossible–and yet they happened.

And because they happened, we can acknowledge hope as more than just wishing that something will turn out well. We celebrate hope as a faith that looks toward the future with confidence…that God is, and that God continues to care for all of God’s creation.