Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Promise for Christmas

Jaroslav Vajda is not a familiar name for many of us. Vajda died last year, I think, but not before he wrote some of the best hymn texts I know. "God of the Sparrow" is probably the Vajda hymn most people know. "Go, My Children, With My Blessing" is another one of which I never tire. One of his Christmas hymns reminds me of a promise that gives this season meaning and buoys me up with hope. The hymn is called "Where Shepherds Lately Knelt." The first stanza reads:

Where shepherds lately knelt and kept the angel's word
I come in half belief, a pilgrim strangely stirred.
But there is room and welcome there for me.
But there is room and welcome there for me.

The Christmas story is so familiar to most of us that we don't think nearly enough about it. If we do pause to think about the mystery of incarnation, we are bound to find things that stretch our ability to believe. Virgin birth? God in human form? One child who will change the world? All this has something to do with my life today? You can add your own questions to these that pop in to my mind.

I'm grateful that we don't have to be overly careful about what we ask God, at Christmas or any other time. If half-belief and strange stirrings are all we bring, bring them to God, who will not turn us away, but will invite us into a relationship that will provide opportunities for questioning and for growing.

There is room and welcome there for me. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Friend

Dealing with loss is something I do fairly often in my work as a minister. I recently looked back at the log book I keep of my pastoral work over the years, and had to sit and reflect a while when I saw how many funerals I have preached or assisted with over the past several years. Most of those were for church members, and most of those died after an illness which had involved me in some way or another. All of those losses were significant, to me and to the families of the ones who died. Last week, though, Deanna and I traveled to Columbus, Mississippi just before Thanksgiving to participate in the funeral of a very good friend. Gay Mims was a bivocational (educator and pastor) pastor in Columbus for many years, and he was my friend. Gay and I worked together in several areas, and in recent years, he had invited me to preach and teach in his church on several special occasions. Being with the good folks at Brooksville and Mt. Zion and spending time with Gay and Martha Jo are some of my greatest gifts. I was honored when Martha Jo wanted me to participate in his funeral. I know we kept folks there way, way too long that day, but all those preachers gathered there to bury one who had meant so much to us and who had taught us all so much took time! Gay's funeral was in the fellowship hall at Mt. Zion, a facility he had dreamed into being and which will stand in that community as a testament to his determination to serve his community. He was one of the finest people I have ever known. I still have much to learn from him. I miss him, but I am happy to have been able to have been a part of the celebration of his life and witness. This world is diminished by his physical absence, but he gave so much of himself to many of us while he was he that he will live on in ways he never imagined. I miss him. He was my friend.