This morning after the 10 a.m. worship service, holding Sean and standing with Jie
Personal Notes from Mike
  • Merry Christmas to all my readers.  This is the last Sunday letter of 2016.  I appreciate the time you have taken to read my musings and meanderings...and especially the times I have heard back from you with your own comments and experiences.   A writer needs readers, and for all the time and thought you have invested with me...THANK YOU.
  • We enjoyed the day with a worship service, a meal at Mindy's house, a movie (Passengers,) and phone calls to the family we could not be with today (Alison and Nelson and my parents.

December 25, 2016
Ways to be Santa Claus
How have your Christmas plans worked out this year?  Mine got sabotaged, as always, by life itself. 

The plan:  my family would sit together in church on Christmas Eve.  The daughters, the sons-in-laws, and the grandson would all be together in a front row, an exemplar of family piety and joy to inspire the whole congregation.  One-year old Sean would remind everyone of the perfect baby Jesus.

The sabotage:  Well, there were several.  First of all, Alison and Nelson got stuck at home in Wisconsin because the transmission in their car went out.  So only part of the family was there to portray happiness and holiness.  

Then there was the grandson Sean.  My grown daughters have their parts down pat, complete with shy mien, angelic faces, and sweet smiles.  Unfortunately the boy never got the memo.  He started out charming enough, entertaining his section of the sanctuary, pointing at everything...and everyone.  He jiggled to the music, particularly when the choir sang their anthem, "Amen:  Go Tell it on the Mountain."  

All went as planned until the pastoral prayer.  Just as I was pleading with God to "send some joy to the earth," the kid erupted in an unauthorized scatological solo, triggering a tittering up and down the "family" pew.  

So the lesson is this:  be careful what you ask for when you pray.  
It is an irony that so much of our Christmas is about planning: visits, meals, gifts, parties, decorations, church services, etc.  It is an irony because the first Christmas was a catastrophe of plans gone amiss.  
An untimely and illegal baby was conceived.  The parents were on the road when the young mother's labor started.  There were insufficient accommodations for them.  Rumors abounded which endangered the newborn's life.  And the family was forced to leave the country due to a violent dictator.  They became refugees while Jesus was still an infant.  There is not a single successful planner in the original Christmas story...except God.

And so one of the signs that it is indeed Christmas is that our plans continue to go awry. 
There was the Christmas Eve service many years ago, in my country church in West Virginia. We had a full house that night and everything was working out according to plan.  When it came time at the end for the candlelight ceremony, I asked the ushers to put out all the lights.  They did.  Only the Christ candle remained lit.  (It was really dark in that little country church in the middle of the night.)  The script called for Sharon and Nancy, (who were assisting me in the service,) to come down off the platform, approach the Christ candle, light their own candles, and then carry the flame to the congregation.  I had not realized that the platform was so hidden in shadows that I would not be able to see them.  Nor could they see each other. And they couldn't see any of the furniture up there. After an awkward moment of wondering when they would arrive at the Christ candle, I heard them bump into each other.  Then I heard one of them bump into some furniture.  Then I heard one stumble. This, of course, was not the plan.  I had to grab the Christ candle, go find them, and illuminate the way out of the shadows and back to the congregation. Happily there were no injuries. 
Sometimes our plans are skewered by conflict. My mom tells of the holiday (early in her marriage) when her mother and mother-in-law had a disagreement over whether you made the gravy with corn starch or flour.  

Sometimes it is weather that disrupts the blueprint.  Sometimes sickness intrudes.  Troubles in life abound, and they don't take a break for our holidays: job troubles, financial stress, accidents, and even death have no respect for Christmas.  Much as we desire to perform the ideal Christmas, it can never happen. And so our scripts must be continuously adjusted and made relevant to new circumstances. 
But did you ever notice how often the altered script is a source of joy?  Did you ever add up the times that love materialized because of the way everyone responded to the unexpected?  I wonder how many times the "solution" to a holiday problem actually became a new tradition for a family.  And how often does the disruption of plans plunge us into a place where we feel a moment of divine patience and inner peace?
My holiday wish for all my readers is this:  may your scripts be sabotaged this season with love, joy, peace, and hope.  If need be, may all your plans crash and burn.  And may you remember this season and all its unexpected happenings for the rest of your life with fondness and thanksgiving.  -Merry Christmas, Mike

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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