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Alternative View - Dec 14

By Dan Baumgartner on
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Dec 24 in Musings
"All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth."  That's what the child's voice sings in the playful Christmas song of the same name.  As I ran along the East River at sunrise in New York City last week (see picture at top), I found myself thinking- "Actually, I want so much more."  My front teeth are intact, for now, but the world's a hot mess.  Every day's news is depressing. Deception, random violence, manipulative leadership, injustice. 15,000 children held in immigration camps?  Two nuns stealing half a million dollars from a school and using it on cars and casino trips? A terrorist shoots up a Christmas market in France?  There are so many accusations of wrongdoing amongst politicians that mere immoral behavior doesn't even phase us. Falsehoods are presented as truth so often we don't even notice it. We've become immune.
What do I want for Christmas?  Some demonstrations of integrity. Acts of compassion. The embrace of diversity. An approach to life that is not based in fear.  Some calm rationality. Stories of sacrificial servanthood. For people to listen to one another. The return of wonder.  I know, I know. I'm asking for a lot.
Here's the thing. It's pretty clear this is not going to happen "out there."  Our culture is not going to do a 180-degree turnaround, so as has always been the case- we need to look closer to home.  How about the Church?  How about our church?  How about us?  At this moment in history, followers of Jesus have a spectacular opportunity to live out something different. Something that stands out in stark contrast to the things that fill the news. Something that, as the Gospel of John says, is light in the midst of darkness. We can participate in an alternative story, a different narrative.  Sometimes scripture calls this "the kingdom of God."
What do people around us see when they look at our lives?  Do we model or speak up for faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?  Do we serve? Stretch beyond comfort zones? Keep score or give sacrificially?  Seek to understand others or merely wish they were more like us?
What do people see when they look at the life of our community at Hollywood Presbyterian? What do they experience if they show up here?  Is this a community you invite people into? Would they get a warm welcome or a disapproving look? Would they find people seeking entertainment or deeper faith?  People concerned about the broader world or just protecting what we have?  Would they be pointed towards the grace-filled love of Jesus or hear gossip and backbiting?  Is it more of the same thing they've experienced all week or something radically different? 
In Advent we are rightly focused on the approaching birth of Jesus, the inbreaking of God's kingdom into the world. That solitary life- and death and resurrection- means all bets are off. We are free to live in a way that is so very different from the chaos around us that it stands out like a beacon of light, compelling people to find out the reason. 
What do I really want for Christmas?  For the Church to stand out. For our church to be an alternative community. For my own life to reflect God's goodness. Santa won't be bringing these things about, but Jesus does-  the Light shines in the darkness. 
See you soon,      
       Pastor Dan
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