Whose Birthday? #20

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Inspiring Reflections

Inspiring Reflections

NOTE: If you want lectionary-based Biblical reflections, you have many to choose from. Visit SimpleLivingWorks.org >> Archives >> Whose Birthday? Click Archives at the top of any page, scroll down to Whose Birthday? Year A (Matthew) includes: #17, 14, 11, 8, 5, 2.

This Season, Practice Christian Hospitality

by Marilyn Sharpe

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15: 7

More than two decades ago, as we decorated our home for Christmas, I dreaded what lay ahead. With three young children and shabby furniture, Christmas was the ONE time our home really looked its best. I felt that I really ought to entertain while it looked festive. One house cleaning could cover a multitude of parties. I could dazzle them with my cuisine. I thought about all those I really owed a return invitation. There were sitters to line up to watch our children, while we went to the parties others threw to pay us back. What a miserable economy of paybacks!

And, oh, how different is Paul's call to hospitality from the pickle I'd gotten myself into. 'Welcome -- as Christ has welcomed you -- for the glory of God.' I had it all wrong, and I needed to get off that merry-go-round-gone-mad.

So, what changes have we made over the years that bring the Good News to us, so that we might share it with others?

STOP - Evaluate absolutely everything you do for the Christmas season. Does it give life and joy? Does it bear Christ's light into the world? If not, say 'goodbye.'

PRIORITIZE - Family comes first. Make space in a hectic schedule to enjoy the beauty of the season together in your own home.

SIMPLIFY - Instead of a gourmet extravaganza, host potluck dinners or invite friends for a cup of Christmas tea and a plate of cookies.

DO IT DIFFERENTLY - Instead of hosting a dinner, go to a soup kitchen and serve those who are not overfed this season. Now, that is welcoming one another as Christ has welcomed you, to the glory of God.

SABBATH TIME - Savor the relationship you have with God, the relationships you have with others, the gift of this day. Be still. Listen. Give thanks.

PRAYER: Holy God, help us to stop, prioritize, simplify, do it differently and honor Sabbath time. Help us remember that Christmas is about loving and caring and welcoming, not about extravagances. Give us insight and strength to make changes in our Christmas celebrations. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Discussion Questions
1. When would be the best time to evaluate everything you do for the Christmas season?
2. Name three things you can start doing now to SIMPLIFY Christmas.
3. Are you willing to 'do it differently,' to serve the needy? If not, why not?
4. Name one new way you can honor Sabbath time.

Columnist Marilyn Sharpe serves as Director of Christian Parenting and Intergenerational Ministry for The Youth & Family Institute, Bloomington, MN (www.tyfi.org).

If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • Let's Get Off the Christmas Roller Coaster! (also on Christmas Trilogy audio CD)
  • A Simple Christmas
  • Simplify & Celebrate: Embracing the Soul of Christmas

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    The Promise of Advent: Gospel Nonviolence

    by Paul Amrhein

    John 8:2-11 -- Jesus said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you. Go on your way, and from now on do not sin again.'

    The promise of Advent is nothing less than Jesus' proclamation of the reign of God. Our daily Scripture readings for this season are full of the promise of God's covenant with the chosen people for Israel to send a Messiah to redeem them. This Messiah showed us the way to be God's children.

    Two thousand years later we are still an Advent people trying to live out that promise. Nonviolence is an integral part of living out that promise, a mainstay of Jesus' Gospel message, and a reflection of the Advent season.

    Take for example, Jesus' handling of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:2-11, where Jesus prevents a woman from being stoned to death. The crowd, ready to cast stones, represents a very human tendency to want to have the situation brought to closure and move on. The punishment is prescribed; carry it out and the world is a better place.

    Jesus' nonviolent handling of the situation, telling the crowd, 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,' may appear to be a clever end to the story, but such is never the case with Gospel non-violence.

    The practice of Gospel nonviolence is ever the beginning -- ever the Advent story. Its challenge is that there is rarely an immediate solution or closure but rather it provides the opportunity for the Gospel of God's love to take root and bloom.

    This is an important point for contemporary Christians who too frequently look for others to take leadership in applying the Gospel and/or blame others for evil in the world. As followers of Christ we believe God loves us each equally and each of us is accountable to God.

    The difference nonviolence makes in the story as told is, all have the chance to repent and follow the Gospel. The adulteress woman in this story, aside from receiving the scare of her life, is given the opportunity to repent. The stone throwers also see their own need to repent.

    Whenever we practice Gospel nonviolence in our lives, it is rarely an immediate solution to our problem. Rather, it is the beginning of the solution. It provides us the opportunity to work out our differences with those with whom we are in conflict.

    A primary problem in dealing with violence in our culture is that so few of us recognize the violence in our own lives. Our actions and words help perpetuate a culture of violence.

    The United States has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world, the highest percentage of its people incarcerated in the world and one of the only industrialized democracies of the world with a death penalty, sadly enough, popularly supported by many Christians. Watch the news, just about any TV program and see violence, hear it in the language. Violent talk, violent actions all breed more violence.

    The challenge of Advent is to examine our own lives -- do we treat every person with dignity and respect as a child of God? Are we truly making way for Christ to be born among/within us?

    PRAYER: God of Peace, help me to recognize the violence in American culture and in my life. Give me insight to figure out ways to replace it with peacemaking. Give me strength to be an example of peacemaking.

    Discussion Questions
    1. Are you surprized by the information about violence in American culture? Why or why not?
    2. Where do you see violence in your home -- TV, video games, other places?
    3. Has physical violence affected your life or the lives of loved ones? How about verbal violence, disrespect or bullying? How have you responded? How are you dealing with it?
    4. Do you think everyday events -- gossiping, back-biting, name-calling -- are violence? How do you deal with such situations?

    Paul Amrhein serves as the Director of Social Concerns at Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, Raleigh, NC.

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • Kids Creating Circles of Peace
  • Raising Kids Who Will Make a Difference
  • How to Teach Peace to Children
  • Gifts of Peace packet

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    Getting Beyond Trading

    Finding the Right Recipient for Our Gifts


    by John Marty

    Luke 4:16-19 Jesus read, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.'

    During the Great Depression, my parents considered themselves very fortunate if they with their siblings together, received a toy for Christmas. Those were tough times and they didn't have much, so their parents would stretch every last dime to get a gift for the kids. These were gifts of love in the spirit of the Christ Child's birth.

    Times have changed. Children receive more toys at one Christmas than their grandparents received in their entire childhood. In our consumer society, most households have too much stuff; a big problem is finding a place to store it all.

    Yet despite our overabundance of possessions, we are taught that it is socially proper to buy Christmas presents for numerous people. Not just family members, but nieces and nephews, co-workers, friends, and children's classmates. These days we trade gifts, more out of obligation than a spirit of giving. If someone gives us a gift because they found something special that they want us to have, we are socially obligated to return the favor. The Christmas gift exchange, where we draw names and everyone gives and gets a gift, has become expected behavior.

    Most participants in gift exchanges struggle to find a suitable gift for the recipient who has everything. So retailers sell us gift cards, allowing the recipients the ability to choose what they want. Not surprisingly, this has morphed into friends merely exchanging $10 or $20 gift cards. Several years ago, our son decided to illustrate the silliness of this when he and his cousin avoided the hassle of gift cards and simply exchanged $20 bills!

    We don't need to lose the giving spirit of Christmas -- we just need to find recipients who could use our generosity. Church World Service and other groups have developed Christmas gift catalogs to help out. Several years ago, when our kids gave us a flock of chicks through Heifer Project International, they pointed out that this gift wouldn't add clutter to our house. And their gift gave some family a source of income, nutritious food, and a better future. That is truly meaningful Christmas giving.

    PRAYER: O Lord, as we celebrate the gift of your coming, renew our spirit of generosity. You came to proclaim good news to the poor; help us bring good news to the poor too, learning to give to those who need our gifts, not to those who struggle with too much. Give us the ability to see our neighbors in need around the globe and to rejoice in our ability to give them needed gifts. Teach us to stand up to the social pressures of our society and remember the meaning of your birth.

    Discussion Questions
    1. When I do Christmas gift shopping, why am I struggling to find something meaningful for each recipient?
    2. Is this struggle due to my lack of creativity, or is the problem that the recipient is the person who has everything?
    3. Instead of spending my energy finding the elusive right gift for my neighbor, could I spend more energy finding the right neighbor for my gift? How does Christ define our neighbor? (When half of the world's population lacks sufficient resources for life, it shouldn't be to hard to find someone who would appreciate a gift, whether it be food, shelter or an economic opportunity.)
    4. Do we give gifts for the benefit of the recipient or for our benefit as giver? Are we giving gifts because we feel obligated to do so, or because we believe the gift will improve the life of the recipient?

    John Marty has been a member of the Minnesota State Senate since 1987. He is chair of the Senate Health, Housing, and Family Security Committee. John has passed several nationally recognized government reform laws and has authored numerous environment, education, crime and DWI laws.

    Marty is a graduate of St. Olaf College with a B.A. in Ethics. The son of author and theologian Martin Marty, John is a former corporate foundation administrator and is a free-lance writer. John and his wife Connie have two children and live in Roseville, MN.

    If you enjoyed this article, you will enjoy these resources:

  • Affluenza and Escape from Affluenza DVDs
  • Living More with Less -- book, study/action guide, poster, post card, book mark
  • Hundred Dollar Holiday
  • The Conscious Consumer: Promoting Economic Justice Through Fair Trade

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    Giving BIG - A Modern Day 'Widow's Mite'


    by Peter Marty

    Jesus watched people putting money into the temple treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two copper coins worth a penny. Then he said to his disciples, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had to live on.' (Mark 12:38-44, Luke 20:45-47,21:1-4)

    The manger scene on our church's front lawn had theft issues for five of the eight years I served that city congregation. Someone was hell-bent on stealing the baby Jesus. I'm not sure what made this Jesus so attractive. I always figured that he probably landed in a house that needed him more than our outdoor creche.

    Most December mornings my pattern was to check for a Jesus kidnapping as I made my way into the church office. One cold morning, when Jesus was fast asleep on the hay, I noticed a small wrapped package beside him. A tiny note with a misspelling was taped to the red Christmas paper: 'Happy Brithday Jesus.' I had no idea if this was a makeshift bomb, a booby trap, a Candid Camera set-up, or an honest-to-goodness gift of some kind.

    And then: Was it ethically right to remove something that was possibly as sacred as someone's personal gift to Jesus? Curiosity answered that moral quandary with a 'YES.' I scooped up the present and brought it inside to open.

    Beneath the wrapping was an old Shake 'N Bake Pork seasoning box. Inside it was 33 cents and a piece of notebook paper with some hand-written words: Dear Jesus. Happy Brithday! Here's some small change for you to feed someone hungry. I give myself to be kind as you were kind to other people on earth. Love, Maria.

    Maria lived next door to the church with two other women in a house our congregation had opened for those living with chronic mental illness. I didn't know much about Maria, since her schizophrenia had turned her into something of a recluse. But I knew she had a big heart. This day I discovered how big.

    Maria died before the next Christmas. I didn't have the heart to tell funeral goers about the gift I had stolen. The Shake 'N Bake box still sits in my desk drawer, though, now fifteen years after I lifted it from the manger. Reverence for Maria won't let me let it go. And awe for what Christ brought out of this little woman with voices rattling around her head, still has me wondering, 'When will I learn to give a gift as big?'

    PRAYER: Dear God, help us to see opportunities to be generous beyond ourselves. Give us the strength to take the first step. In Jesus' name, Amen.

    Discussion Questions
    1. Tell about an experience you've had with a person who has a mental illness.
    2. Have you ever experienced a similar situation of generosity -- a gift that was sacrificial, even though small?
    3. What did the author mean by, 'When will I learn to give a gift as big?' Can you ask the same question of yourself?

    Rev. Peter W. Marty is senior pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, Iowa, and host of the Grace Matters radio program (www.gracematters.org). Yes, his brother John Marty also contributed to this issue.

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • Christmas Campaign Kit: Alternatives Giving Cards; Buy Me Nothing, I'll Still Love You; Bearing Gifts Does Not Make Us Wise
  • Gifts of the Heart
  • Waiting for the Wonder: Voices of Advent

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    Away in a Stank Manger


    by Shane Claiborne

    The Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) visits us on occasion at The Simple Way community -- to cut down our endangered trees, to fine us for cracks in the sidewalk, or to let us know according to city ordinance 'it is illegal to invite guests into your home to eat.' (For the record, most of you readers are also criminals for the same reason!) It could all make for a great sitcom.

    But here's the newest twist: OUR INSPECTOR'S NAME IS 'JESUS' (pronounced 'hey-SOOS'). He's not a Galilean peasant, but a young, clean-cut Latino guy from North Philly. But that's not all. Our lawyer handling these theatrics with the City is a friend named Ralph Pinkus who happens to be Jewish (and one of the best real estate lawyers in the city, thanks be to Yahweh!). Ralph and I were joking the other day, and he said giggling: 'Well, Jesus isn't helping you out of this one.' We laughed hysterically, and you can imagine we've kept the Jesus-jokes rolling ever since.

    It is just like our God to use a Jewish lawyer to save a Christian non-profit from violating the codes of an Inspector named Jesus, here in the City of Brotherly Love. Ha! All this makes me think of the riddles and stunts pulled by Jesus (of Nazareth, not of L&I) back in the day -- pulling money out of the mouth of a fish, reducing Mammon to fish food, letting everyone know that money may have caesar's image on it but caesar has God's image on him; money may come from the mouth of fish but fish came from the mouth of God. YES! (Sometimes I would like to tell the L&I inspector to go catch a fish and it will pay the fine for us, but there's no lake nearby). Or how about Jesus telling parables like the Good Samaritan where the heroes were heretics and outcasts -- peasants who proved powerful in the face of negligent kings, sinners who proved faithful in the face of apathetic priests, beggars who proved wealthy in the face of thirsty rich folks.

    As I have been studying the early Church, I am reminded of all the radical conversions. Justin (martyred in 165AD) wrote this of the early followers of the Way: 'We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools.' I see a lot of people trading in their swords. There are the obvious ones, the terrorist Saul of Tarsus, Simon the zealot revolutionary, but I have seen some new ones this year. I keep being surprised by God at work where I least expect it, over and over. A soldier who was on the ship that fired missiles into Iraq came forward at an altar call I gave praying for God to disarm him. A millionaire gave his company away and now works with folks dying of AIDS. A young girl was raped and asked us to help her seek restorative justice that would heal her attackers rather than punish them. A lady whose family members were killed on Sept. 11 came up to me at a conference and said she wanted to join the hundreds of other victims of 9-11 crying out for peace. Two former CIA analysts I got to talk to for hours and hours about Iraq, the Church, and our Lover, have fallen in love with God afresh. A soldier returning from war said he had risked his life for an American lifestyle that he no longer believes in and that the world can no longer afford.

    The world is groaning this Christmas. The world is groaning in the pains of childbirth as the Scriptures say. We are not simply celebrating the birth of a baby 2000 years ago. We are also in labor, giving birth to the Kingdom of God, on Earth.

    This month we are having a Christmas service entitled: 'Away in a Stank Manger,' to remind ourselves that the birth of Jesus was not pretty. Children were being killed by Herod. Jesus' family was forced to flee, born a baby refugee on the run from oppressive rulers, born literally in the dung of our world. A pastor friend of mine, Wayne Gordon, of Lawndale Community Church, in Chicago told me a story. He had become so troubled by all the distractions of Christmas -- buying, decorating, indulging. He struggled with what to do for their Christmas service to stay true to the story.

    He decided to remind everyone of the filthy reality of the Christ-birth, so before the service, instead of decorating as usual, he spread out cow manure under all the pews. As people came in and sat down dressed in their best attire, they looked at each other awkwardly, as if someone needed some antacids. At first people squirmed and shifted uncomfortably. As time went on, they mystically remembered the lowly life of the homeless baby.

    This is the Jesus we celebrate at Christmas -- the one who was born in a stank manger, who told stories where Jewish lawyers and Samaritan women could be heroes. (How encouraging, as my troubles come from Jesus of L&I and as my hope keeps coming from reborn soldiers!) Everyone was surprised, scandalized by the One who rolled around in the dirt with children. We celebrate the one who refused the temptation to call fire down from heaven -- and died the detestable execution reserved for traitors, insurrectionists, bandits, and failed messiahs with the world mocking, laughing, spitting on him. Indeed, we will undoubtedly find ourselves much more likely to meet Jesus this Christmas in the stench of manure or the filth of the ghetto than we are to meet Him in the best decorated sanctuary or the most festive shopping mall.

    PRAYER: O God, help us remember that Jesus was born in simple surroundings. Give us the enlightenment and courage to celebrate His birth with reverence and simplicity. In Jesus' holy name, Amen.

    Discussion Questions
    1. How would you and your congregation react if the minister put manure under the pews?
    2. Do you and your family struggle with your celebration of Christmas -- meal, budget, traditions, gifts? If not, why not?
    3. Does the simplicity of the surroundings of Jesus' birth comfort you or condemn the commercialism of modern Christmas celebrations?
    4. What are you willing to do to counter the growth of the commercialism of Christmas? What conversations are you willing to have with your family and friends about it?

    Shane Claiborne is the author of 'The Irresistible Revolution' and co-founder of The Simple Way community in Philadelphia. His book and new DVD are available from Alternatives.

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • Tony & Shane's DVD / CD Simply Enough and Tony & Shane UNCUT
  • The Irresistible Revolution
  • Unplug the Christmas Machine

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    Connecting at Christmas

    A Memory of Warm Springs Chapel


    by Becky Garrison

    John 1:12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.

    When I was twelve, my late father served as a supply priest at Warm Springs Chapel in the Warm Springs, Georgia, hospital. The highlights of these trips were serving occasionally as my father's acolyte and partaking of the free buffet afterwards. The rows of congregants in wheelchairs failed to capture the attention of this self-absorbed preteen.

    On Christmas Eve, I was in a really foul mood. For starters, an older acolyte was allowed to robe for the service. Someone was concerned that as a kid, I might accidentally set the chapel on fire in the middle of this serene candlelight service. Also, I had just been informed that I wasn't getting some of the presents I put on my Christmas gift list. And to top it off, there wasn't even a free buffet afterwards.

    Right after the congregations had received communion, the chapel doors opened. The candles reflected the bright hospital white color that filled the sanctuary as hospital staffers escorted patients in stretchers down the aisle. When I saw one young man who was close to my age smile as he received the body and blood of Christ, I felt ashamed. Here I was having this pity party when these people who couldn't even get out of their beds had a glow about them. I saw how they possessed the gift of Christ's love, and in that moment I realized that that was the one gift that really mattered.

    PRAYER: Dear God, help us see the gift that you give us at Christmas time is the promise of salvation. Remind us that your gift is more valuable than any other gift I may receive. In Jesus' name, Amen.

    Discussion Questions
    1. What does it mean to be a child of God?
    2. Describe an experience when you've received the gift of Christ's love. What can we learn about God and our faith from people who are physically or mentally challenged?
    3. Who in your community may be homebound or away from their families during this Advent season? How can you reach out to them? (Check out www.where-to-turn.org to see how a local grassroots group put their faith into action helping those in need.)
    4. What does Live simply that others may simply live mean to you?

    Becky Garrison is author of Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church and Senior Contributing Editor for 'The Wittenburg Door.' She can be reached at bgthedoor@aol.com

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • What Does Jesus Want for Christmas? pageant and music CD
  • Cloth for the Cradle (Iona Wild Goose Worship Group)
  • Shine On, Star of Bethlehem worship resources

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    Christmas for Real

    by Debra Dean Murphy

    We all have images of her in our heads. We see her kneeling reverently, eyes closed, head bowed. She is usually shrouded in blue or white -- halo optional. Mary, the mother of Jesus: demure, peaceful, passive -- and so clean! And all this after just having given birth in a barn.

    I've long felt that any woman who has experienced pregnancy and childbirth probably regards these images with skepticism. Birth, as we know, is messy; it is bloody and sweaty. Modern western culture, which seems to fear birth as much as it fears death, has always tried to sanitize the birth process -- in life and in art. Most of the depictions of Mary and the infant Jesus in Christian art and hymnody, while often beautiful, are too sterile, too pristine.

    In contrast, for example, Julie Vivas' beautiful book, 'The Nativity,' captures the gritty realness of Jesus' vulnerable beginnings. Her artwork depicts a more realistic holy family. With whimsy and humor, illustrator Vivas renders Mary in all her humanness, her womanliness. She shows Mary's growing belly and swollen breasts; we sense Mary's discomfort, her unwieldiness. Following the birth she looks utterly spent. We see Joseph as her tender protector. Even Gabriel, with his tattered, papery wings, disheveled hair, and beat up work boots, lends a comic, human touch to the story.

    We need more of these kinds of images in our heads. We need not sentimentalize this most radical and most human of stories, for it is in the disarray and brokenness that is our humanity that the divine meets us. And Mary, the one who bore God, bears that truth again to us, even now.

    Let's share new visions of Christmas by reading aloud, discussion, prayer and service.

    PRAYER: We pray for the strength and insight to shed the sentimentality surrounding Christmas and to search for its real meaning for our lives. In Jesus' name. Amen

    Discussion Questions
    1. What are we doing now that distracts us from a real Christmas?
    2. Are we willing to revision our celebration of Christmas by using a planner, like Let's Talk About Christmas or a workshop like Unplug the Christmas Machine? If not, why not?
    3. What are some of the implications of a real Christmas for us year-round?
    4. What practices would help us live out these implications, such as reading aloud, discussion, prayer and service? Are we willing to adopt or strengthen such practices?

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • The Nativity
  • The Shoemaker's Dream
  • The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
  • Let's Talk About Christmas (planner)

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    Do Not Conform, But Be Transformed


    From Ann Basye's Journal

    Living at Holden Village* makes me remember the church bulletin with Romans 12 on it that I used to keep tucked into my bedroom mirror, for courage. 'Do not conform, but be transformed' kept me brave, able to press ahead with life changes that transformed me.

    I live this invitation. It's my mantra.

    Yes, I can resist consumer culture!
    Do not conform, but be transformed.

    Yes, I can talk to Alex or sit on the porch instead of watching TV.
    Do not conform, but be transformed.

    Yes, I can sell my car and live without one.
    Do not conform, but be transformed.

    Yes, I can work at home and be there for Alex.
    Do not conform, but be transformed.

    Yes, hand-me-down clothes are a gift!
    Do not conform, but be transformed.

    Yes, I can appreciate what I have instead of always wanting more.
    Do not conform, but be transformed.

    Yes, I can borrow CDs from the library instead of buying them.
    Do not conform, but be transformed.

    Yes, it's okay to shop at garage sales.
    Do not conform, but be transformed.

    Yes, I can say no once in awhile and rest.
    Do not conform, but be transformed.

    Yes, God is inviting me to deepen my understanding of God's culture and to try to live God's principles in my faltering, imperfect way.

    Excerpt from 'Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal,' 2007 ELCA Hunger Program. Used by permission.

    PRAYER: Transforming God, help us to see the conforming that we do that keeps us from doing Your will. Open us to Your change. In Jesus' transforming name, Amen.

    Discussion Questions:
    1. What is one of your favorite Bible verses? How is it helpful to you?
    2. Name one area of your life that you feel needs transforming. Name two or three small steps that would start that transformation.
    3. If you keep a journal, why? If not, why not?
    4. How can you use the idea of transformation to go beyond simplistic New Years resolutions?

    Author, columnist and poet, Anne Basye is a thoughtful observer and practitioner of simple lifestyles. A member of Unity Lutheran Church, she lives in Chicago with her son Alex, dog Barks and many friends.

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal
  • Break Forth into Joy! Beyond a Consumer Lifestyle video
  • Your Money or Your Life

    *Holden Village is a retreat center in remote Washington state.

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    Recovering Jesus


    by Tony Campolo

    A friend of mine had his TV turned on one morning in early December when he was taken aback by the strange announcement of a newscaster. 'I have something disturbing to report,' were the words that caught his attention. 'Someone has stolen Jesus! Sometime between midnight and three in the morning, someone took Jesus from the manger scene that sits outside the county courthouse. If anyone in our television audience has any information that could lead to recovering Jesus, please contact this station as soon as possible. We very much want to get Jesus back where He belongs.'

    It doesn't take much of an imagination to be amused by that announcement or to glean all kinds of messages from it. Each Christmas it is easy to get a sense that Jesus has been taken away or gotten lost amidst all our harried activities, decorations, and presents. During the holiday season, we may want to put Jesus back in the center of things where He belongs, but we all know that recovering Jesus involves more than getting some plastic Jesus returned to a crib on the lawn of a courthouse in St. Louis.

    If the real Jesus is going to be recovered this Christmas, we will have to make room for Him in our hearts and minds. Whether that plastic imitation is ever found only has symbolic meaning, but making room in our lives for the real Jesus is what is desperately needed.

    Each morning try to make room for Jesus through centering prayer. I empty my mind of extraneous thoughts and try to create that sacred space that the ancient Celtic Christians called 'the thin place.' I establish a subjective condition wherein there is receptivity for an invasion by Bethlehem's Jesus, and when in stillness that invasion occurs, I experience a wonder-filled recovery of the real Jesus. This, unquestionably, is the best of all second comings.

    PRAYER: Holy and faithful God, help us to recover Jesus everyday. Help us not to be distracted by all the attractive things of this world while serving You and our global neighbors in this world. Amen.

    Discussion Questions
    1. What keeps us from recovering Jesus in our lives, especially around Christmas time?
    2. Are we willing to take the time and discipline to recover Jesus daily? If not, why not?
    3. What practices, such as centering prayer, have been helpful to you in recovering Jesus?

    Tony Campolo, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in suburban Philadelphia, a media commentator on religious, social, and political matters, and the author of a dozen books and numerous videos. He has served on Alternatives' Honorary Board of Directors since its inception.

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • It's Easy Being Green
  • Serve God, Save the Planet
  • The Art of Debt-Free Living

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    Page updated 29 Oct. 2016

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