What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-24-19
This Advent season we’ve explored ways to cultivate hope, peace, joy, and love in our lives. The cultivation of these qualities creates an optimal environment for the Spirit of Christ to be born in our lives. That’s the idea, anyway. This, of course, isn’t a one time or even an annual process. The cultivation of hope, peace, joy, and love is a practice we as Christians are invited to continue every day because our circumstances are continually changing and every day is an opportunity to refresh these qualities in our lives.
Nevertheless, as I prepare for Christmas Eve services, I’m faced with the question, What is this “Christ-event”–as some theologians call it–anyway? What am I preparing for?
Jesus the Christ was a real, historical person who was born some two millennia ago around 6 A.D., most scholars think. Only two of the four gospels contain birth narratives. Both birth narratives contain a mix of historical and mythological details told not primarily for the purpose of documenting historical “truth” in the modern sense but for the purpose of expressing theological truth rooted in human experience that we can access today, in this very moment, in fact.
For me, the theological truth of Jesus’ birth is that God is being born each and every moment in my experience. Each moment is a precious gift to be welcomed, nurtured, attented to, prized, and shared.
Is every moment pleasant? No. Absolutely not. I remember early one morning after our second child, Olivia, was born. She woke up screaming to be fed. It was my turn to do the night feeding, so I got up, warmed up some breast milk from the fridge, picked up the screaming child from her crib, and sat down in the rocking chair to feed her. Not thirty seconds later, her older sister, Fiona, who was three at the time, was standing next to me in tears because Olivia had woken her up. Fiona wailed that she wanted me to rock her. Then Olivia started crying again. This routine had been going on for weeks. I was delirious with exhaustion. I distinctly remember having the thought, “This is going to kill me.”
But it didn’t, of course. Somehow I managed to handle the situation by myself. My wife, Nicole, got her sleep. And now those screaming children are beautiful adults.
Can you tend your life like you would a precious infant? Can you welcome the screaming with patience? Can you welcome the smiles with joy? Can you savor that newborn scent even if the air its carried on is bitter cold?
I am so glad to share this one precious life with you. My wish for us this Christmas is greater strength and deeper tenderness to welcome all the moments of 2020, no matter what shape they take, no matter what opportunities they bring.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-18-19
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife . . . .” (Matthew 1:20)
When Joseph found out his fiance Mary was pregnant and he wasn’t the father, an angel says to him, “Do not be afraid.” It’s interesting that the emotion attributed to Joseph at this point is fear. I might have thought anger because from a human standpoint, the assumption would be that Mary had cheated on him. But anger isn’t named. The emotion that needs to be released in order for the holy wedding to take place is fear.
The thought of marriage scared the pants off me when Nicole and I were dated. My parents were in the process of an ugly divorce. Her parents had also had an acrimonious divorce. Our families’ recent track records were not good. Who could say we would do any better? In the end, with fear and trembling, I asked, and she said, “Yes.” Twenty-three years later we’re still together! For me, it has less to do with anything special about us. It has more to do with God’s grace and an amazing support system. And even after all these years, I am deeply aware of how fragile it all is.
The Apostle John writes that “perfect love casts out fear.” This suggests that love and fear go together. True love demands vulnerability, vulnerability brings risk, risk often gives rise to fear. “Will I be rejected?” “Will I be taken advantage of?” “Will my loved one leave or die?” Human love is imperfect, so fear goes with the territory. That’s why for me a key to making human love work is grounding myself everyday in God’s perfect love. If you’re not at least a little afraid, you may not be risking true love. If you find yourself afraid to, for example, share your feelings, be honest, meet a neighbor, share a gift, make a friend, commit to a relationship, instead of ignoring the fear, you might sit with it for a bit, invite divine love to shed some light on the situation, and then step forward with courage.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-9-19
Yesterday eight folks from First Congregational Church of Granby grabbed some sandwiches after worship, put on our winter boots, and stepped out into a cold, bright, sunshiny afternoon to sing Christmas carols in our neighborhood. It was fun!
Neighborhood caroling is a new activity we developed out of our Vitality Team. Team members are Ann Wilhelm, Heather Dobbert, Beth Lindsay, and Anne delCampo. Other supporters are Chris and Vicki Saunders, Aurelle Locke, and Kerri Crough. Our singers yesterday were Ann Wilhelm, Bob and Peg Giles, Chris and Vicki Saunders, Catherine Kibby, and Duncan Rowles.
Just to review: the Vitality Team is a part of the Reaching New People plan that a group of us from FCC developed at the Reaching New People workshop with Rev. Paul Nickerson last September. Since that time, the folks who participated in that workshop have been meeting via conference call every other month to implement the plan we developed. The role of the Vitality Team is to continue implementing the plan and to create a culture of invitation in the congregation. Neighborhood caroling was a joyful event that got us out of our building and got us inviting our neighbors to church for holiday worship and activities.
We visited 20 houses because that’s how many goody bags we had. Aurelle and Vicki very lovingly prepared them. I was the doorbell ringer. Then we gathered together, sang a few carols, and handed whoever answered the door a goody bag filled with cookies and our advent brochure. Some people did not answer the door, so we sang carols and simply left the goody bag inside the storm door or hanging on the doorknob. Those of us who took this adventure have lots of stories to tell. I hope you will ask the singers how it went.
At one house we went to, the homeowner stood in his doorway. He had tears in his eyes. We sang, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” I handed him a goody bag. As we were leaving, the homeowner said, “I’ve never experienced anything like this. Thank you so much.” I felt the joy in those tears. Many years ago, Christian author C. S. Lewis, wrote a book called Surprised by Joy. Joy is the surprise of connection. Joy is the theme of the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Joy may be closer than you think. It might be waiting for you next door in a compassionate connection with a neighbor.