A Benediction: The Word Became Flesh

This Benediction is based on the well known “The Word Became Flesh” passage at the start of the Gospel of John (John 1:1-14).  I wrote it for use on Christmas Day in year “A” of the Revised Common Lectionary. 


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   This Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen its glory, full of grace and truth. And, all who receive the Word are children of God, born of God.

The Word is the light of all people. It shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. And, so that all might believe, we are called to testify to this light.

So, go forth!  Rejoice in the Love of God made manifest through the Child of God. Go forth, testify to that Love and share it with all of God’s Creation, just as God shares it with each and every one of us.

Amen.


Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Exploring God’s Creation

As I was preparing for this coming Sunday’s service (Sunday, Dec 18), it seemed to me that it would be appropriate to set aside the standard Lectionary readings and theme for the day, and focus instead on the message of Christmas. (This is, in part because my Congregation has decided to not have a service on Christmas Day, Sunday, Dec 25th: when Christmas falls on a Sunday, most churches have a very small attendance. So, why have me drive all the way out there on Christmas Day, just to minister to a much smaller than normal congregation? Better to use my skills and talents elsewhere. They are right, and I am grateful, as it is a long drive.)

As I reflected on this, I thought of how Christmas reminds us that God (who is omniscient, omnipresent, and – most importantly – nonhuman) was so moved by love and compassion for their Creation that they decided to set aside their divine existence and walk with us as a human being. This meant being born as a human being, growing up as a human being, experiencing all the joys, victories, pains and sorrows of humanity, and finally dying – as a human being.

The message of our faith centers on the reality of the Christ Child, who is also known as Emmanuel, “God with us. And, as I see it, God IS with us a very tangible, real sense. Our Creator is not some amorphous and invisible spirit inhabiting an ethereal realm far beyond our understanding. Instead, the life of Jesus shows that God walks with us, eats with us, suffers with us, laughs with us, and cares deeply about us: always has, and always will.

And yet, our entire world is just a tiny speck in the vastness of Creation. Just how little of a speck we are is made more apparent with each and every new revelation of science; especially through Astronomy and Space Exploration, which are (after all) endeavors that reach out into the vastness of space to see what is there. In so doing, we realize that we are not, and cannot be, at the center of all that is; even though our most ancient myths place us in such a position.

So, I’ve created this little video for you. It reflects upon several aspects of the expansion of our knowledge of God’s Creation and our place within it, and attempts to illustrate that growth while retaining some perspective on just how small “human scale” is in comparison.

And besides, through this I am indulging my inner “Space and Astronomy” geek!

Enjoy!
-Pastor Allen


Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

 

Why #MerryChristmasStarbucks is Everything Wrong with American Christianity

Mr. Lake is absolutely right. Even if the point being made had any validity (which it doesn’t), the “Merry Christmas Starbucks” furor is far more a statement of our inability to be welcoming and loving of all of our neighbors than it is a “defense” of our Faith.

And frankly, our God is a pretty big god. I’m certain that our infinite and omnipresent Creator is more than capable of handling any and all insults without our help. In fact, volunteering to defend our faith due to such perceived slights says far more about our own insecurities and our misunderstanding of the teachings of Matthew 22:37-40 than it does about the strength or quality of our faith.

An Advent Prayer

534100_445597948860210_865607878_nLord, Advent and Christmas are a dark time for many, a time when the pain of past and present injuries and losses become almost unbearable.  A time we’d rather not face all over again.

And yet, the purpose of Advent is to remind us of our brokenness and sin, of our need for the grace and healing touch of a God who loves us fiercely and compassionately. Further, Christmas teaches us that God knows our pain because God has lived it: walking among us as one of us, as a human being.  Jesus experienced birth, the love of a devoted mother, the pain of losing those dear to him.  He knew rejection, hunger, despair and fear.  He was betrayed by those he loved, and he experienced a painful and humiliating death.  God knows what it means to be human.  God knows our deepest, greatest, most deeply hidden fears, failures and weaknesses.

And so, our faith tells us, Jesus is Emmanuel – the God who walks with us.  God and the Kingdom of Heaven are near us at the hardest of moments, and for every moment of our lives, including now.

Continue reading “An Advent Prayer”

The God Who Trusts

Madonna and Child by Pompeo Batoni, ca 1742.
Madonna and Child by Pompeo Batoni, ca 1742.

This Christmas Eve, I thought it would be useful to share a simple thought: that God trusts us.

Orthodox Christianity is very explicit about this – God became incarnate and accessible to us through the birth of an infant human child.

Newborns can do nothing for themselves: they are vulnerable and rely totally upon those who love them for protection, for sustenance, and for life itself.

Jesus and the entire plan and hope represented by the Virgin Birth would never have come to fruition if his parents had not cared for him, fed him, educated him and loved him.  If they had failed to do so, nothing else would have saved him, or us.

So, God became vulnerable to us through the birth of Christ.  God trusted us to take care of the babe and so ensure the fulfillment of God’s plan.

In other words, God trusts humanity – for all its flaws and failings – to do the right thing, and to accomplish the mission.  Even more importantly, God believes that you are ultimately good – because a creature that is inherently evil would never be entrusted with God’s child.

Therefore, God knows you are lovable.  God values you.  God believes in you, and is willing to risk everything based on that belief.

God trusts you…

Have a Blessed Christmas.

… And as my fellow North Central College Alum, Bruce Nesmith, said in response to these thoughts: “Maybe in 2015 we can trust our best selves more.

Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Who Owns Christmas?

Recently I saw a news article on a local TV channel about a family here in a Boston suburb that has been celebrating Christmas for decades with an extravagant display of lights.  This year, for the first time, an anonymous “neighbor” sent them a letter claiming to be insulted by the display.

Now it is true that there are many who react  negatively to such celebrations of Christmas.  Comments I’ve heard and read include people saying they feel insulted, offended, disgusted, oppressed and/or marginalized because of this Holiday, and this letter writer certainly sees the display as a statement of exclusion – Christians celebrating their cultural dominance in an insensitive way.  And, they’re not alone, many have written similar anonymous letters (some with threats) in the past.

OK, Let’s accept that: many do feel this way, including our anonymous letter writer, just as the owners of that home, and many others, are feeling hurt and insulted by what the anonymous letter writer had to say.  Such feelings are a reality and cannot be denied.  But I wonder, was this letter a healthy way of expressing one’s feelings about the display of lights?   (In this case, given what they said, I’d say not!)  But, it does raise the issue: is such a display of Christmas lights as insensitive and insulting as this person claims it to be, and how should we react when such concerns are raised?

Continue reading “Who Owns Christmas?”

An Advent Prayer of Hope

Slightly modified version of a prayer presented at Centre Congregational Church, UCC in Brattleboro, VT, December 15, 2013

11207_13320_5The Advent Season and Christmas are a dark time for many, a time when the pain of past and present injuries and losses become almost unbearable.  A time when we’d rather run than have to face it all once again.

God knows this because God has walked among us, as one of us, as a human being.  Jesus experienced birth, the love of a devoted mother, the pain of losing those dear to him.  He knew rejection, hunger, despair and fear.  He was betrayed by those he loved, and he experienced a painful and humiliating death.  God knows what it means to be human.  God knows our deepest, greatest, most deeply hidden fears, failures and weaknesses.

And so, our faith tells us, God walks with us.  God knows our pain, God feels it, God and the Kingdom of Heaven are near us at the hardest of moments, just like every other moment of our lives, including now.

Know that you are loved.  Know that God has, and will, do anything and everything to free us from the troubles and trials of life in this world.  And, in fact, has already freed us, for the certainty of that freedom and healing is what is in our future.  We cannot escape healing, for God is with us on every step of our journey; and, no matter how dark our valley may be, we are pursued by our Creator’s fierce, relentless love until we are finally embraced in God’s strong, loving arms and so come to dwell in the House of the Lord, forever.

Amen.

Copyright (c) 2013, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site). 

Christmas Treats!

Cookies! Breads! Treats of every kind! As a member of the Pastoral Staff, my inbox and desk were flooded with all sorts of goodies this Holiday Season. The oh so steady but slow gains in my battle against the beltline all went out the window in just a few hours as I chomped down on all of the treats thoughtfully baked and prepared by our parishioners.

We often groan at the thought of being flooded with toothsome goodies every Holiday Season, but I have learned that everyone has a story to go with such gifts.

One man I’ll call Ed had received his recipe for a sweetbread from a friend of his family, who had in turn received it from Ed’s father years earlier. When Ed’s father died, this friend felt moved to give Ed the recipe that Christmas, saying that he knew Ed’s father would have wanted him to have it. So, every Christmas since then, Ed has baked that recipe, always cooking from the same tired, stained, ripped old piece of paper that his friend gave him all those years ago, with the recipe on it in his Father’s handwriting.

Another women I’ll call Nina gave me a loaf of bread, and on her note she wrote, simply, “This is my Grandmother’s Sweet Nut Bread.” I can just imagine the wonderful memories the aroma of this bread must have created for Nina, smelling it now must bring her back to those times as a child when her grandmother was baking it for the Holidays.

Miriam gave me a plate of cookies, and told me how grateful she was to have had so many good years since a life-threatening bout of illness. For her, life is to be enjoyed, every day is relished, because for her, every day is a gift. These cookies are a way for her to share that goodness of life with others.

All of these people were expanding my waistline, it is true, but more importantly they were sharing the good times, poignant memories, wonderful smells and wonderful meals that meant so much to them. They were sharing a part of themselves with me, taking the time to give me – literally – a portion of the fruit of their labors. They were inviting me into their lives, giving me a glimpse of what is important to them, what is deeply meaningful to them. I am being asked to become a part of their family, in a way, I am being invited into the story of their lives.

And this is the way it is with Jesus. God shared Jesus with us. In so doing, God has invited us to be a part of his life, to be part of his family, to become part of His story.

Sharing food is a very intimate, precious thing – sharing one’s time, sustenance and story with another. Gifts like this also have such strong echoes with the Breaking of Bread at Communion, potluck suppers on Sundays after church, and even the sharing of the temple sacrifices with the priests in Ancient Israel. All of these are statements of togetherness, of being a family, of being one with each other.

So, as I sit down and sample these wonderful gifts, I will share them with my own family and be thankful for these wonderful people who have given of themselves to make this happen. And, I will be thankful that I am part of The Story.

Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that mentions my name or provides a link back to this site).

The Unseen

When I lived in Belmont, MA I would often see an old man – big beard, thick graying hair (though going a little thin on the top) with a Mediterranean-looking complexion. He usually stood near the exit of the store: not saying anything, just standing there. His clothes were neat, but obviously old and worn. Yet, no one saw him. Yet, no one saw him: he was ignored as if he didn’t exist. His face, stoic as it was, always seemed to me to be filled with a hurt pride: doing what he had to do to survive, yet once having lived a life far better than the one he has now.

A few Sundays ago, at the beginning of Advent, I was asked to give the “Childrens’ Message” at my church – appropriate (or ironic, depending on how you look at it) since at the time, my son was due to be born any day.  I warned my fellow worship leaders that this might interfere with my being there — making it difficult for me to give the Childrens’ Message!  I said that if it happened, I would be invisible (even though everyone would know why), but that I would be “present in spirit”.

Yet, there is another kind of invisibility: the invisibility of those who are unseen.

When I lived in Belmont I would shop at the supermarket at Belmont Ave and Mt Auburn Road, not far from “Mt Auburn Cemetery” where so many notable Americans have been buried.  While shopping there, I would often see an old man – big beard, thick graying hair (though going a little thin on the top) with a Mediterranean-looking complexion.  He usually stood near the exit of the store: not saying anything, just standing there.  His clothes were neat, but obviously old and worn.  Yet, no one saw him: he was ignored as if he didn’t exist.   His face, stoic as it was, always seemed to me to be filled with a hurt pride: doing what he had to do to survive, yet once having lived a life far better than the one he has now.

Not many people think about it, but there is an abandoned railroad spur that runs behind that store: it starts as a branch off of the “Red Line” near Alewife, runs behind Fresh Pond Mall, through Fresh Pond Park, past many industrial buildings and Mt. Auburn Cemetery, before it dead ends at the Lexus dealership near the Arsenal in Watertown.  It is heavily overgrown, with at least four bridges where it passes under major roads.

Such an overgrown area in the middle of suburbia is a perfect hideaway for the homeless: trees, old buildings and overpasses provide excellent shelter.  Recycle and trash bins provide excellent foraging for cans and bottles to redeem at the supermarket.  (I often see the homeless in the area: pushing grocery carts piled-high with cans, bottles, and their worldly possessions, searching in our garbage cans anything that they can use or redeem.)

These are the real “invisible” people: living right alongside us, sometimes sleeping just a few yards from our bedroom windows, but we never see them, we never acknowledge them, we never engage with them.  — Just like that old man I saw so many times at the Shaws in Belmont.

In this Holiday season, we often talk about how Jesus, the babe is a gift from God to the world.  (…John 3:16!)  Yet, we often forget that this gift is to the world, not just us.  That world includes the homeless, the hungry, the poor.  Also, the gift wasn’t “stuff” rather, God gave of himself.

I’m reminded of another poor man I once knew – “Old George” – who had just enough money from his Social Security Check to pay his rent, and that was all.  He survived as so many of the poor in this area survive – scrounging tin cans and bottles so that he could buy food.  He was renowned for being verbally abusive and mean to people, but he changed.  The change came not because he got more money or was given more “stuff” but because someone I knew invited him to lunch.  She befriended him, and saw him as a person.  She gave of herself, her own time: showing him that he mattered, that he wasn’t just a forgotten and poor old man.

As the friendship with him continued, he began to take the love and friendship he was receiving and “spread it around” to others.  The thing that changed him as a person is that he learned that someone cared.  So, in this Christmas season I ask myself: how am I showing that “I care” to those around me?  How will that old man at the Shaws Market in Belmont know that he matters to God, unless I show him – as Jesus taught us to do?

Next time I’m in that neighborhood, I’ll seek him out and say “Hi, my name’s Allen: what’s your name?”

I wonder if he’ll be hungry.

 

Copyright (c) 2009, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).