January 2019 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for January is now available here.

January 6, 2019: Demon Busters

Pastor Steve Mechem

Mark 1:21-28 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.


One word to describe Jesus:
Lord
Master
Savior
Master
Revolutionary
Healer
Exorcist

Those of us in a non-Pentecostal, or non-charismatic church traditions tend not to focus on Jesus the Healer. Don’t misunderstand. We love a good healing story, but we tend to focus on the healing rather than the healer, we focus on the unique people who are healed or the weird circumstances surrounding their healing, but we tend to play it as a one-off, a specific incident, a unique situation, whereas the gospels are full of healing stories. A full third of the gospel of Mark consists of healing and miracle accounts.

It is my intention to use the next several weeks, until Palm Sunday, to Peruse the healing stories in the Gospel of Mark.

With our modern scientific sensibilities, we downplay the supernatural acts of miraculous healing and exorcism, but in the first century, folks who could heal or run off demons were popular and plentiful.

According to Reza Aslan, Author of Zealot,

“It did not take long for the people of Capernaum to realize what they had in their midst. Jesus was surely not the first exorcist to walk the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In first century Palestine, professional wonder-worker was a vocation as well established as that of woodworker or mason and far better paid. Galilee, especially abounded with charismatic fantasts claiming to channel the divine for a nominal fee. Yet from the perspective of the Galileans, what set Jesus apart from his fellow exorcists and healers is that he seemed to be providing his services free of charge. That first exorcism in the Capernaum synagogue may have shocked the rabbis and elders who saw in it “a new kind of teaching” – the gospels say a slew of scribes began descending upon the city immediately afterwords to see for themselves the challenge posted to their authority by this simple present. But for the people of Capernaum what mattered was not so much the source of Jesus healings. What mattered was the cost. By evening, word had reached all of Capernaum about the free healer in their city.”

Jesus was one, among many, healers in Galilee in the first century, but not only did he heal without requiring payment, he did it as a part of a bigger ministry.

Again, according to Aslan,
“There is something unique and distinctive about Jesus’ miraculous actions in the gospels. It is not simply that Jesus’ work is free of charge, or that his healings do not always employ a magician’s methods. It is that Jesus’ miracles are not intended as an end in themselves. Rather his actions serve a pedagogical purpose as they are a means of conveying a very specific message.”

-A message of hope, of love, of grace, of wholeness, of an in-breaking Kingdom.

Interestingly, sources that mention Jesus apart from the New Testament that come from the first and second century often define Jesus as a healer, or a miracle worker, or a wonder worker. Even those sources that deny The Lordship of Jesus still recognize his healing and wonder working prowess.

In early. non-biblical sources, Jesus is referred to as a healer, the crucified miracle worker, and the doer of wonderful works.

And this first healing is a doozy.

It is Saturday, The Sabbath, quite possibly just one week from Jesus debut performance in his home city of Nazareth. There, Jesus had proclaimed that the scripture from Isaiah promising that the good news would be preached to the poor, that the blind would see, that prisoners would be pardoned, that the oppressed would be vindicated, and that the Jubilee year of the Lord would commence, were fulfilled in him. The crowd in the congregation, amazed and incensed at Jesus’ bravado, sought to throw him off a cliff just outside the synagogue. Jesus got away.

So now, Jesus is 50 miles northeast in the seaside village of Capernaum. He is in the synagogue teaching. And his preaching is powerful and good Folks are amazed. And responsive. Jesus doesn’t sound anything like the usual synagogue preachers.

He is vibrant,
alive,
animated,
his words draw pictures that his audience understands,

They are spell bound.

But, then there is a commotion in the congregation.

A voice,

The voice of one challenging Jesus.

It comes from a man in the crowd-
a man that many in the crowd know. He has a reputation. Folks have been concerned about his erratic behavior for some time. People believe that he is possessed by an unfriendly spirit, a demon.

In fact, as a rule, this man is not allowed in town, and certainly not allowed in the synagogue, but somehow, here he is.

His voice is strange, it is hard to explain, guttural and pained.
“Who are you? I know who you are, are you here to destroy us?”

All eyes turn toward the man who is shaking visibly and in tears.

Jesus stops speaking for a moment, looks at the man, and says, “Shut up and leave.”

But instead of the man shutting up and getting up to leave, he has a seizure, screams loudly, and throws up violently.

After a moment, the man is calm, appears dazed. He stays on the ground as members of the synagogue stare at each other in amazement.

‘Wow,’ congregants mutter. “This guy not only moves us but moves demons as well.”

Jesus returns to preaching, the crowd is energized. It takes them a moment to turn their attention back to Jesus. But when they do, they are hooked on his every word.

As Jesus finishes preaching, the congregation to begins to move out. So much conversation takes place between exiting members as they speak of the one who spoke so wonderfully and as they talked of the healing of the man in their midst who was possessed by a demon.

Now there’s an idea with which we struggle with today. Possessed by a demon?

Do demons really exist? Do they actually possess people? That was the common understanding in the first century. And a common understanding and horror movies today. And a tag line for Flip Wilson who loved to say, “the devil made me do it.”

In times past, all sorts of illnesses that people could not understand, epilepsy, narcolepsy, mental illnesses were defined as demon possession. And since, there was no help for people with these now diagnosable and treatable issues, they were outcast, and defined as undesirable and untouchable..

Well, of course, we have a name for all of those things now, so we dismiss the idea of demons and evil incarnated in and through people.

But, perhaps we are too dismissive of things we don’t understand.

For sure, this story of healing in a synagogue in Capernaum, traveled like wildfire. Jesus became popular in a minute, and the entire region of Galilee began to buzz with the news that a new preacher, healer, teacher, had come.

They knew he preached phenomenal sermons, but he showed in his actions a grace and kindness to even those that are continually left out and left behind.

And Jesus ongoing call to us is to “come and follow him” and to love others as he loves them. We join Jesus as healer in our words and our actions as we reach out to those around us in love and grace.

Amen.

December 30, 2018: Grace on Grace in New Shoes

Pastor Steve Mechem

1 John 2:5-6 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.


The year is 1979. I am the youth minister at Cherokee Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Tennessee. During the summer, we hold a Vacation Bible School for the community. A favorite song that the kids sing that summer is
“I’m gonna put on might be like Jesus shoes”

“I’m gonna put on my be like Jesus shoes
I’ll go running everywhere
telling of his care
spreading joy all-around
gonna put on my be like Jesus shoes”

Catchy little tune. The kids love it.

But what exactly are “be like Jesus shoes?’

We have been told over and over again that with the right kind of shoes we can do almost anything.

In the 1940s and 50s, Keds sneakers were marketed as the “shoe of champions.” If l just had a pair of Keds I could run faster and jump higher and hit farther – I will be on my way to being a champion with a pair of Keds.

In 1951 Marilyn Monroe’s image appeared in a newspaper ad for city club shoes. Under her picture where the words “They’re the shoes women like men in!” If only I have a pair of those shoes… I’d be something.

In 1968, the U.S. basketball team wore Chuck Taylors in the Olympics. Soon, Converse advertised it’s all-star sneaker with the taglines “When you’re out the beat the world, you wear all-stars,” and “Just because the US Olympic basketball team wears converse basketball shoes should you? You betcha.” Imagine how much better I will be if I were to wear Converse All-Stars.

Nike advertised it’s a vintage running shoe with the slogan “Eat our dust.” If you are to slip on the Nike brand shoe you will run faster and leave everybody in your wake. With these shoes, you might just be the next Steve Prefontaine.

In the mid-1970s earth shoes were all the craze. If you wanted to be cool, you had to wear earth shoes. Their slogan “Earth. Different. Like you.” All the cool kids wore earth shoes.

The famous television ad shows Michael Jordan flying high from the free-throw line and dunking the ball with authority- while wearing his red and black air Jordan high-tops. The slogan flashes on the screen “Just do it.” Yeah boy, I could just do it if I had those shoes on my feet.

Here’s the reality of advertising.

I had a pair of Michael Jordans original air Jordans. I didn’t come any closer to dunking a basketball with them on then with them off.

I had earth shoes in the 1970s. Got a tell ya, they didn’t make me cool.

I was wearing Nike running shoes when I ran a marathon in the 1990s. My 4:41 time is not considered a record breaking speed by any measure.

There is an old saying, “the shoes make the man.” Not buying it.

So, what is meant by “Be like Jesus shoes?

Well, the scripture that was read this morning says that if we follow Jesus then we should walk as Jesus walked.

Ok, I think Jesus wore sandals, and today I am wearing sandals, I don’t think that means I am walking more like Jesus walked than if I were wearing another kind of shoe.

To walk like Jesus walked has nothing to do with footwear. To walk like Jesus walked is to act like Jesus acted, to care like Jesus cared, to have the attitude that Jesus had.

One of the problems with this is that different ones of us define who Jesus is very differently so when we say we should act like Jesus acted and care like Jesus cared and have the attitude that Jesus had, that means something very different to some of us.

It strikes me that the only real way we have to define Jesus is to look at Jesus as he is defined in the scripture. There isn’t a lot of extraneous material, so we are left with the stories told in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

In the gospels we learn a lot about Jesus.

We learn that the coming of Jesus itself was an act of sacrifice, of emptying self of the glory of God, so that Jesus might reveal to human beings what God is truly like and how much they are loved by the divine.

We learn that Jesus cared desperately about people. They didn’t need to look like him, or believe the same stuff he believed, or hold his political views, or be successful, or religious for Jesus to care about them.

We are going to, over the next few weeks, look at the healing stories in the Gospel of Mark.
demon possessed people (Whatever that means)
A mother-in-law
Lepers
The disabled and disfigured
A foreign woman’s daughter
A man who could not hear
A man who could not see
A roman soldiers servant
A suffering woman declared unclean by her religion.

All kinds of people in all kinds of messes, and Jesus reaches out and touches them, heals them.

Now you are I may not be able to heal by touch, but we can help bring healing with our words and we can assist healing with our resources and we can intercede for the hurting with our prayers.

We learn that Jesus welcomed anybody and everybody who was open to the message of a burgeoning kingdom of inclusivity, of love, of grace.

He welcomed tax collectors, and former Terrorists, and sex slaves, and religious types and the rich and scholars and those who had been alienated by religion and the poor and the uneducated and foreigners and the lonely and the left behind. As far as I can tell from the gospels, the only people that Jesus rejects are those who reject other people.
Jesus sought to be deeply connected to God the Creator, and implored his followers to do likewise.

He taught his followers to reach out, to care, to respect, to sacrifice, to live for others.

He taught grace and mercy and truth.

Jesus encouraged his followers to listen and to respond in kindness.

Jesus taught that we should turn the other cheek, and walk a 2nd mile, and give to the poor, and to love unconditionally,

Jesus taught us to forgive, to refuse to judge what we do not know, and to seek justice in our world.

Back in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, after his baptism, and soon after his time in the desert, Jesus returns to Nazareth. There in the synagogue, in front of the congregation. from the book of Isaiah he reads these words

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s jubilee.”

And then he said to a stunned congregation, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your Hearing.” It was as if Jesus were saying, this is my life‘s mission.

And Jesus would go on to say over and over and over again “come follow me.”

To put on Jesus’ shoes isn’t to pick a brand or style of footwear, it is to listen to the voice of Jesus and act as Jesus has taught you to act.

Amen.

December 24, 2018: Christmas Eve

Rev. Kara Windler

Luke 2: 1-20 NRSV
In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.

He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.


Audio only.

December 23, 2018: Grace on Grace in the Deep

Pastor Steve Mechem

Psalm 42:7-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.


Audio only.

December 16, 2018: Grace on Grace in the Heart of God

Pastor Steve Mechem

John 3:16-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.


So, a couple weeks ago I preached a sermon in which we discussed the conversation that God had with God’s self in which the decision was made to empty God’s self of glory, of preeminence, of transcendence, of privilege, and become a human being so that humanity could more fully understand God‘s love and grace.

And then last week we talked about what that emptying looks like – A vulnerable, fragile, baby born in the most unlikely and unsanitary of circumstances.

But what we haven’t done is talk about motive. What is it that would cause God, the creator, omniscient, omnipotent, whose presence fills every space in the universe, what is it that would cause God to empty God’s self and become like you and me?

Well,
the answer is found throughout the Scripture,
the answer is found throughout nature,
the answer is found in the very nature of God,
the answer is found in our heart of hearts, wherein we intuit the image of God in us.

God didn’t empty God’s self because of wrath, or because of judgment, or because of God‘s need for companionship, or because God is Creator. God emptied God’s self because of love.

The Bible makes the declarative statement, “God is love.” It is God‘s nature - at the core of who God is is love.

Jesus says that it is because “God so loved the world,” that the incarnation took place.

Obviously, we talk about God’s love all the time. And so I can say a lot of things that you’ve heard over and over and over again.

God‘s love is unconditional. You don’t need to prove yourself to God or make yourself good enough for God. Contrary to popular opinion, with God there is no nice or naughty list, there is simply a loved list, and every last one of us and every atom of all creation is on that list.

God’s love is existential. It shows up in our lives. We sense it. We know it. We experience it

God’s love is kind. The Hebrew word most often used to describe God’s nature, chesed, means loving kindness. Unlike the gods of mythology, God is not petulant or moody or sadistic. God does not play with human beings like they are ragamuffin dolls. God is kind.

God’s love is freedom. Freedom to choose. Freedom to explore. Freedom to take it all in. Freedom to dissent. Freedom to repent.

God’s love is gracious.

God‘s love is forgiving.

God’s love seeks the best for creation.

God‘s love is eternal. It is not fickle. It doesn’t change because of God’s mood, or because you have disappointed God. God‘s love is eternal. Like the bumper sticker on the bulletin board in my office reads, “Relax,God loves you.”

All these things are true about God’s love, and they are things we hear quite often.

But there is another thing about God’s love that I want to note here.

God’s love journeys with us. It isn’t static. It isn’t stationary. It isn’t something that we have to come to. It comes to us. God’s love travels with us. From before we were a speck in our daddy‘s eye, God is on the journey with us, because God loves us. In every Step of life and into eternity, God is on the journey with us.

On this journey we have the freedom to make personal choices, and God, in God’s love, allows us to experience the consequences, both good and bad, of decisions made.

Unfortunately, the primary reason for suffering in our world are the consequences of human beings decisions.

From extreme poverty to climate change to sex trafficking to war, evil manifests as a consequence to behavior. So sadly, quite often, it is the innocent who bear the consequences of others behavior.

Oh how God’s heart must break when our freedom brings pain to ourselves and to others.

This doesn’t seem fair, and it’s not. Of all the things God’s love is, fairness is not among them.

All of this because God loves us and love requires freedom. Freedom begets consequences.

This love journey that God takes with us also requires that God allows us to experience hardship so that we may come out on the other side in a deeper, fuller relationship with God. Our struggles, Paul reminds us, are light and momentary in comparison to the glory and love we experience in God.

Sometimes, as we struggle, we wonder where God is and how a God who loves us could let us struggle like we struggle. What we don’t understand is that often our struggles are meant to bring us to a new place, a place of deeper faith and more complete healing. When we are going through the struggle, it’s hard for us to comprehend it. But God who loves us and who is on the journey with us sees to the other side.

And God who is on the journey with us walks beside us. As Jesus would say, “I am always with you. I will never leave you or desert you.”

Our dog Wrigley, had surgery about a week and a half ago. When we picked him up from the vet, He had on his head a plastic cone so that he wouldn’t lick or bite at his incision.

We were told that Wrigley would need to wear the cone all the time for the next 10 to 14 days.

Wrigley has a head the size of a dinosaur and so the cone is huge. Seriously, The radius at the opening is 17 inches, it’s circumference 4 feet around.

When we came home with Wrigley, it was a disaster. This poor dog, wearing a cone that separated him from his body, was miserable. He fought it and tried to get it off. Every step he took, he ran into something- furniture, doorways, walls, our legs. The other dogs were scared to death of the cone and the crazy dog who seemed to be wield in it like a weapon.

That first evening, I was ready to take it off of him. Because it was so hard for him. I hurt for him.

But we didn’t take it off, because we knew something that Wrigley didn’t know. For proper healing to take place, the cone had to stay there, for the dog’s own safety. 10 to 14 days. We could see to the other side. Wrigley could not.

We love our dog. And we knew that letting him struggle would bring healing.

When we are struggling, and we can’t figure out why or where God is, it behooves us to remember that God sees to the other side and our healing often comes in our experience. And my guess is that it is a struggle for God to allow us to experience the struggle that leads to healing and to fullness.

God is on the journey with us, and the story of the incarnation, the emptying of God to become human, is the story of God intentionally, because of love, choosing to journey with us.

The journey is not complete until we have learned that we are created in the image of God. God is love, and love is in us as God’s creation. One of the great joys of the incarnation, the emptying, is that you and I get to see God‘s love in action.

And having seen God‘s love in action, we are called, Because we are on this journey with God, to love the way we are loved.
Grace on grace on grace.

Amen.

December 9, 2018: Grace on Grace in the Down Low

Pastor Steve Mechem

Luke 2:6-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”


The story I am about to tell you is based on the biblical account, some history, and creative license. I do not claim that all the events happened as they are told here (but they might have).

The story I am about to tell you involves characters you know and places of which you have heard, but the way the story unfolds is not quite like watching a Christmas TV special, or singing a Christmas carol, or looking at a Christmas card. We tend to clean things up, to sanctify them, to sanitize them, to make them look pretty.

Let’s begin in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is a small village to the south and east of Jerusalem. It sits in the Judaen hill country and is surrounded by pasture land used for sheep. There are only about 100 residents in this village, most of them make their living in the hills caring for flocks. 100 residents, that’s Oxly, MO, or Sailor Springs, Il or Fickle, Indiana. There is no beautiful white skyline as we see on the Christmas card. There may be 15 or 20 buildings in Bethlehem, that’s it – one or two room mud and thatched roof dwellings with outside facilities. There may be a synagogue in Bethlehem, but probably not.

But our story actually begins some 90+ miles north of Bethlehem. Taking the Jericho Road about 19 miles to the Jordan River and turning left along The River Road takes you to the sea of Galilee where you veer north westerly and work your way across the Galilean hills to the little town of Nazareth. Nazareth is just a smidge larger then Bethlehem, but 3 1/2 miles North by Northwest from Nazareth is the town of Sepphoris.

In 4 B.C.E. King Herod declares Sepphoris to be the next royal city in Galilee. And so, craftsman of all kinds, stonemasons, carvers, woodworkers, and carpenters are hired to transform the town from a Galilean village into a city reflecting Roman splendor.

Joseph’s father, and Joseph, all of 16 or 17 years old, and maybe Joseph’s brothers, are hired to work on the building of Sepphoris. As Jews, they are not allowed to live there, so they settle in the small village of Nazareth.

There, Joseph meets Mary, a young woman of 14 (maybe), meet. Joseph’s parents and Mary’s parents work out a deal and the two are engaged to be married at a later date, probably after money has been saved from the work at Sepphoris.

Well,

Mary gets pregnant. A predicament that is not tolerated by her family or her community.

To make matters worse, Joseph Isn’t the father.

There is some weird tale she is telling about how she got pregnant, but nobody’s buying it.

Except Joseph.

After the initial shock, he sticks with her.

Early in her pregnancy, Mary flees to the Judean hill country to her aunt Elizabeth‘s house to get away from Nazareth for a bit. Beside the family disapproval, the village has turned on her and she no longer feels welcome in Nazareth. Elizabeth is kindly and gets it.

After some time with Elizabeth, she returns home. Finding herself kicked out of her own home, she moves in with Joseph and his family.

Shortly after Mary becomes pregnant, a Roman soldier rides through Nazareth declaring that Cesar is requiring a new census be done, so that the taxation lists might be updated. Unlike the U.S. Census, census takers don’t go door to door. Rather, each male was required to trek back to his ancestral home to register there. The imposition is extraordinary.

For Joseph, his brothers and his father, it means making the 90 mile journey to Bethlehem. This is especially frustrating because these men have decent jobs in Sepphoris. And There is every reason to believe that when they return home, their jobs will be gone.

And most unfortunate for Joseph and Mary is that the time in which Joseph must register in Bethlehem is in the later stages of Mary’s pregnancy.

Out of fear that Mary may not be safe in Nazareth with his family gone, she is still be shunned by the community after all, Joseph and Mary make the decision that she will travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem with Joseph and his family.

Mary had made the trip to the Judean Hill country just a few months before, however, this time is much different as She is in her third trimester. She walks. She rides on a cart. She rides on a horse. She sleeps uncomfortably on the ground, in the cart. Her back hurts. Her legs feel heavy. The baby is doing gymnastics on her bladder. She is on the verge of exhaustion as they trip took several days. And yet she travels with Joseph. His family helps as much as they can, but there is really little help to be given to her.

And It is the rainy season. Every day, in the middle of the afternoon, Heavy rains pelt the travelers

90 some miles. From here to Springfield Illinois she walks. Nine months pregnant she walks. Up and down the hills of Galilee, along the river, up and down the hills between Jericho and Bethlehem she walks.

And finally they arrive in Bethlehem. The quaint hamlet of 100 residents has swollen too many times its original size because of the census. It is chaos. The village pathways are filled to the brim. It is noisy. There is commotion everywhere. It is Bedlam. And imagine that this is playing out in almost every village and town throughout Israel crazy census.

The census taker, actually a tax collector who has been conscripted by the Romans to write down the names of all the males who come to Bethlehem, is set up on the edge of town. The line of people waiting to register is really long.

Joseph’s family leave the line to look for a place where they might bed down for a few days, so that they might register and then head back to Nazareth and hopefully their jobs.

There is no place to be found. People have opened their homes to strangers but everyplace is filled to overflowing. There is no innkeeper to tell Joseph’s family that there isn’t room. There just isn’t any room.

Mary is uncomfortable in the worst way. It becomes necessary for her and Joseph to get out of the line for registration so they might find her a place to rest. They will have to try registering tomorrow. It is the family’s idea that maybe they can find lodging in Jerusalem which is 3 miles to the north but Mary is done. She can not go three more miles.

All around Bethlehem in the hills are caves. Well, shallow caves, more like deep indentations in the limestone. Shepherds use the caves for storing supplies and providing shelter during storms. The caves are also used to house livestock for short periods of time.

The caves are not suitable places for living. They are damp throughout the rainy season, they are grimy, and smell of whatever was stored in them – hay, animals, animal dung.

Mary, Joseph, and Joseph’s family decide to hold up in one of these caves at least for the night.

Unfortunately on that evening, Mary’s water breaks, and she goes into labor. So, as the men try to shuffle out of the way, Mary cries out as contractions increase in severity. She is on the cart, then on the ground, then back on the cart, stretched out in baby birthing position. The work of her labor, along with the dampness of the cave, create a discomfort she would not wish on any woman. And deep into the night, a baby is born.

Born Exactly the same way every baby without medical intervention is born . Through the struggle and strife of a mother’s labor.

He enters the world naked, vulnerable, breakable, subject to the whims of nature and humanity.

After Joseph counts his fingers and toes (cause that’s what dad’s do), they wrap him in a shawl that belongs to his mother and they place him in a feed trough half full of partially chewed hay, Mary collapses from exhaustion.

A short time later, a grungy band of shepherds, still smelling like their sheep, appear at the entrance of the cave. The small candle that has been lit by Joseph’s father has drawn them there.

The shepherds proclaim that God had somehow spoken to them on the hillside and told them that the Savior was born. They seem a bit bemused, as they look at the baby, wrapped in his mom’s scarf, settled in the half eaten hay inside a feeding trough in the corner of a damp cave in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.

So, when God has a discussion with God-self and decides that the way to reach humanity is to empty God-self of glory, of immanence, this is what the emptying looks like!

Grace on grace on grace.

Amen.

December 2018 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for December is now available here.

November 2018 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for November is now available here.

October 2018 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for October is now available here.