Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Who is my neighbor?

The last couple of weeks’ circumstances have me asking the question: “Who is my neighbor?” My family spent four days without electrical power or heat during a recent ice storm. There was lots of company as our entire street and much of our town of Amesbury, MA was without power. (Just a note, some folks in this region are still without power, two weeks after the storm.)

We learned during the outage that you can heat a room with candles, the old Coleman camp stove still works and cold showers lose their charm very quickly.

My older son and daughter–in-law stayed with us during those days as well. So they also learned that I snore. (According to them it was a toss up whether my snoring or a chain saw was louder.)

All through the dark nights the rumble of portable generators accompanied my dreaming and my waking. Of the seven houses near us, 4 had generators. (I wonder it that was the noise my family thought was my snoring!)

After the return of power, I had opportunity to reflect on the entire event. Here are some of my observations:

  • When you are cold it is hard to think of much else.
  • The novelty of candle light wears off after a while.
  • None of my neighbors, who had generators, checked to see if any of the non-generator folks needed help.
  • Before I become too smug, I realized I didn’t check on any of my neighbors either. I at least had a warm room and warm beverages to offer.

When I listened to the stories of some folks from one of the churches my wife serves, I realized what a lousy neighbor I had been. One fellow told of checking with his neighbors up and down his street to see if they needed help. He had borrowed a generator, but only needed it for a few hours at a time. So he offered it to other to help warm up their homes and cool their food.

I realized this fellow had demonstrated what it means to follow Jesus, to be a true neighbor, far better than I. I took it to heart and began to think of ways to help my neighbors. I’ve already snow blown a driveway and helped dig out a water delivery truck stuck by the side of the road, because I want to be a better neighbor.

See how one example can inspire us all to a greater good. I think that is what followers of Jesus are all about, living in a way that inspires the best out of others.

Who is your neighbor? Jesus had something to say about that. Those who follow Jesus have something to do about it.

Just one person trying to reform his neighborly ways,


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Christmas Challenge for Jesus' Followers

How does a follower of Jesus celebrate the birth of Christ amidst the onslaught of a cultural Christmas?

This time of year offers the greatest challenge for followers of Jesus to remain or become more faithful. As our culture kicks into Christmas high gear, Jesus followers are challenged to step back and slow it down.

Over the years an unease with Christmas has grown in me. As our society places greater and greater emphasis on buying, giving gifts and getting gifts, we’ve moved farther away from anything to do with the birth of Jesus. The pressure to support the economy, purchase more, do more seemingly escalates each year.

So this year I am trying to approach the cultural Christmas as an outside observer. My primary observation is that we approach Santa as a god. Listen to the language used around Santa. It is religious language. In November, Macy’s Department Store took out a two page advertisement in the Boston Globe exhorting us to “believe” in Santa. Stories and movies about Santa hinge on people believing. Belief is even encouraged by adults. Santa has taken on mythical and mystical characteristics.

In a culture that centers around consumerism Santa is a perfect god. What do you do with Santa? You ask for gifts. What does Santa do for us? Santa brings us things. If you do not believe Santa is a god, try saying that Santa is not real in church. Then step back and prepare for the backlash.

I do not begrudge our culture it’s holiday. I think there are many good things about it. But I do not wish to confuse the cultural celebration with the birth of Jesus.

I invite you to step back from Santa and our cultural Christmas. Ask yourself what is a suitable way to celebrate and remember the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior. Feel free to share your ideas. Find those who will join you.

Perhaps these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer will help:

Who will celebrate Christmas correctly?

Whoever finally lays down

all power, all honor,

all reputation, all vanity,

all arrogance, all individualism

beside the manger.

Grace & peace,