Friday, December 15, 2006

Update and Good Sermon

I'm possibly back to the once a week posting. Hopefully I'll be able to improve my frequency soon.
Since my last post I've watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith, taken Anthony job-hunting, watched the Nativity Story, finished The Eye of the World and started The Great Hunt, done some Christmas shopping, given away food and Christmas presents in Waukegan, watched The Librarian : the Quest for the Spear, moved some videos out of my office, had a good prayer time with the guys from the LifeGroup, watched the Bears kick Ram-butt, cataloged some books, heard a message to the youth on trusting God from another of the high school students who used to be in my small group, taken Anthony to get an i.d. and some work clothes, talked to Mom, shocked co-workers by showing up before 8 a.m., taken Anthony to his work orientation at a local theatre, eaten boneless wings, watched Talledega Nights with some friends again, finished and discussed The Gutenberg Elegies for our library task force on information and the future, created a long run list of stuff I've done. Tonight Steve and I are going to see Eragon in an attempt to help Steve recover from a long day of inventory. I've not read the book and I'm not really expecting much, so it should be o.k.

This Sunday we got to hear from self-proclaimed bald-guy #3 instead of the one of the Johns. Greg is a Ph. D. student in New Testament at TEDS and I thought he had a very good sermon on dealing with selfishness in the holiday season from Philippians 2:3-11. The title was Christmas Ahead: Prepare to Yield. He began by telling us about an interview in the newspaper with a local mall parking lot security guard that illustrated people's selfishness this time of year. He also used a personal example of his own selfishness when he was in East Asia. Turning to the passage he structured it around the command in verse 3-4 with reasons for obedience from the following verses. According to verse 3 we should do nothing out of vain ambition or empty conceit. Greg likened this to a prima donna attitude that assumes the world exists to serve or fulfill me. Instead Paul challenges us to count others as more important than ourselves. Verse 4 expands on this by encouraging us to yield to the interests of others. Greg mentioned the common attitude that this is a nice principle but is not for the real world where nice guys finish last and we don't want to be doormats. He acknowledged the force of that objection, especially if the world is a closed system but argued that verses 6-11 show a different way to live.

Greg pointed to the argument of 2 Corinthians 8:8-9 where we have nothing to offer Christ but he becomes poor that we might become rich. Coming back to Philippians, we yield because we share the mind of Christ. According to verse 5 we should seek conformity with the live of Christ because he defines our existence. Therefore we should look at people and things as he did.
We yield for others because Christ did. Christ was the son of God and fully divine but he did not grasp onto his equality with God but willingly gave it up to take the form of a man, no longer the King but now a servant. As a servant he was obedient to the Father even to the point of dying on a cross, a death designed to display the criminal as an object of shame. The beauty of the Christmas story lies in God choosing to become man for our benefit.
We also yield because what happens here is not the end. We share in the destiny of Christ. The humiliation of the Son of Man was only temporary. The Father restores the glory and honor that the son had relinquished. As his followers we share in the suffering and humiliation of Christ but we will also have a share in His eternal glory. This is shown in Philippians 3:20-21 and Romans 8:16-17. We should expect our life to follow the same pattern as his, suffering and humiliation for a season, glory for eternity. Greg used the example of climbing the Yellow Mountains to watch the sunrise. It was a great deal of suffering getting up the mountain but beauty the next morning. He called us to imagine what our lives would be like if we were willing to yield.
As a result of the conviction I was feeling during the sermon and the communion and singing that followed. I went out with our church's monthly food delivery to a poor neighborhood in Waukegan. We deliver bags of groceries and this week we also had presents for the children. It was a good time and I was glad to be able to serve.

Verse of the week:
"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:3-11 (ESV)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Why I Don't Have a Christmas Tree

I'm not really a Scrooge I just don't have any real enthusiasm for decorating my home or office for Christmas. My friend Matt put his finger on the issue this morning at work. I don't have a tree or decorate my apartment because I don't celebrate Christmas there. Christmas for me centers (focuses?) for me on two things, meditating on God's love shown in Christ's incarnation and celebrating with loved ones.
The former hasn't really involved any decorations for me. I know there are people out there attempting to invest trees, wreathes, and candy canes with Christian meaning but those attempts have never really resonated with me. There was a Wizard of Id cartoon once where the Spook (the prisoner) was given a Christmas tree by one of the guards. Somehow Spook knocked all the needles off, maybe by sneezing on it. The guard looks in on Spook and says, "Great! You've ruined the symbol of Christmas." Spook is standing there looking at a bare tree in the shape of a cross. I'd rather honor Christmas by reading a chapter from one of the Gospels every day, meditating on the Magnificat, and reading a book on the incarnation than by putting up decorations. Traditional decorations don't have much meaning for me so I don't spend time on them. But maybe this year I'll try out my nativity set.
The latter point also plays against decorations. I enjoy getting together with friends and family at Christmas and exchanging gifts, eating, singing, even decorating trees (at least watching people who enjoy decorating trees do it). But these are not things I do where I live. I don't have people over to my apartment for Christmas parties. The parties are held by people with bigger places who enjoy throwing parties. Eventually we reach the last few days before Christmas and I drive south to celebrate with Mom and Daddy, with the folks in Corbin, with the Campbells and Whites, with Lydia and Geron and Cora (Huzzah!), with Ann and Daniel. Christmas doesn't really happen in my apartment because there's hardly ever anyone there on 12/24-25. A few years ago when I lived with Matt, he put up some decorations because his sisters were coming to visit him for Christmas. He put up some lights and bought a couple of little "postmodern Christmas trees" at Ikea. I liked those trees. I came home one day and there on our end table was a red pyramid about a foot tall and maybe 4" wide at the base and a silver cone about the same size. Those were our Christmas trees the two Christmas seasons I lived with Matt. I was happy to find out that they had made it into his and Unity's decorations this year. But if his sisters hadn't been coming we may never have had them.
There was a time when I was a kid that a tree was an important part of Christmas and I'd still like there to be one at Mom and Dad's. One year when it was certain that my parents weren't going to have a tree Lydia or Ann drew one on posterboard and tacked it to the wall where the tree would have been. I like a tree where I'm celebrating but I'm not putting one up, so maybe the whole thing just comes down to laziness or thrift. I don't want to spend the energy or the time.

Christmas List

1. Eggnog or Hot Chocolate?
Hot Chocolate

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
"Santa" wraps them.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
I don't know that I have a preference for the tree. I like blue lights on the houses. There's a house nearby with Hanukkah lights that I like.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
No. I try to avoid opportunities for kissing my roommates and I'm sure they appreciate that as well.

5. When do you put your decorations up?
Currently never. It used to be when we got around to it.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
Hard to beat country ham. I also like Dad's steaks or goulash (not traditionally holiday dishes but we often have one or the other for Christmas lunch) and Mom's scalloped oysters.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:
I don't have a lot of specific childhood holiday memories. I like the time I was planning to kiss Rudolph when Santa came.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I don't remember when, I'm pretty sure it was on Whig Ct. My memory is that I hid behind the couch and saw Mom and Dad putting out the presents. I don't know if that's a reliable memory.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
No. Though we used to go over to Uncle Mike and Aunt Marcie's when they lived in Frankfort on Christmas Eve and we'd open their gifts to us then.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
I place it in a prime natural location such as a forest, tree farm, sales lot, or in a store and allow God to do with it as he sees fit.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
I love it except when driving.

12. Can you ice skate?
I used to could. I might still could. I used to like the falling. I doubt I'm as enthusiastic about it as I once was.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
The Alamo that Dad made for me.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
Reflecting on God's love in Jesus' incarnation.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
Sentimentally it's Granny's sugar and fruitcake cookies. Realistically it is probably her fudge.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
I enjoy listening to "How Come Christmas?" I especially liked the inadvertant pause that always snuck in when Sandy Claus said, "Thank you kindly ... Lawd." Daddy would read the first part as if it were the whole sentence. Then when he turned the page he'd add the rest. I was a little sad when he started to remember it.

17. What tops your tree?
Pine needles I suppose.

18. Which do you prefer giving or Receiving?
I actually prefer receiving. Giving is nice but is always accompanied by a tinge of "will they like it?" anxiety.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?

21. Favorite Christmas movie?
Maybe in a couple of days I'll say the nativity story but for now it's either National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or It's a Wonderful Life

22. What do you leave for Santa?
He can have my tree.