O great mystery, And wondrous sacrament, That animals should see the newborn Lord, Lying in their manger! Blessed is the Virgin whose womb Was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ.
O Magnum Mysterium, Matins liturgy
Last week I wrote about the star in the Christmas story. Today I’m thinking about the animals around the baby Jesus. Donkey, camel, cow, sheep, dove.
“O Magnum Mysterium,” says that the animals seeing Jesus in their manger was a sacrament! A sacrament is a sign of the presence of God, which is often hidden and spiritual. We say that sacraments are a means of grace. How do the animals fit into our theology, or our spiritual lives? Maybe they call us out of our heads, and into our hearts. Maybe they call us out of human society and into the community of creation? Or, do they draw our attention away from a distant light, shining from heaven, to the warmth and intimacy of earthy, furry, pawing, neighing relationships?
Animals keep it pretty real. The sights and sounds – and smells – of animals are very different from the sterility of the star. Earthy hay, manure, dust, grunts contrasted with heavenly light.
From the moment of his birth, we find Jesus living in two worlds: marked by a star in the night sky, and nestled in a barnyard manger. Fully God, fully human. This is the great mystery (magnum mysterium). Just like Jesus we live in two worlds. Learning to be fully spiritual people and fully flesh and blood at the same time is the challenge and promise Jesus sets before us. Hark, the Angels and the Friendly Beasts.
I’m going to try to honor both this season: to make time for prayer and music that makes my spirits soar. And to decorate our home and cook great food to delight the senses! And I’m going to receive Mollie-the-dog’s grace-filled nuzzle with a reciprocal belly rub. God breaks in from beyond, and sidles up alongside and as common kindness.
It is ours to sing glory to God in heaven, and to make peace on earth.
The Christmas cards I ordered arrived last week. I searched to find cards that showed the nativity with Jesus front and center bearing the message, “Blessed Christmas” embossed in gold.
But something was missing. Roll call: Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, cow, donkey, sheep. No star.
The star of the nativity marks the birth of Jesus as a world-changing God-event. The star is the glory of God shining through from heaven into the dark and harsh reality of the world. Without the star it could be any baby in the manger– oh, miraculous, to be sure, but without the power to heal, release, renew and transform.
So, I bought a shiny pen. And I am painting the star into the midnight sky on every card. The power of God is at work in our world through Jesus, who comes to us as. . .
Light (shining in darkness) | Fire (of the Holy Spirit) Hope (of the world) | (abundant) Life Grace (upon grace) | (steadfast) Love Promise(fulfilled)| Peace (on the earth)
God bless you this Christmas, with light in darkness. And may you be a light to the world and all who live in it.
During the two-year presidential campaign, tension built across our nation like it does as you wind up a jack-in-the-box. Then, SURPRISE, the polls closed and what seemed impossible had happened. Donald Trump was elected the next President of the United States. Half the country is elated beyond their wildest dreams. The other half is reeling in disbelief. Most of us on one side of the divide don’t know many people on the other side.
I’m less interested in what kind of president Donald Trump will be than in his election as a symptom of a grave illness in our nation.
Can it be in 21st century America, that many of us no longer have substantive conversations with anyone who isn’t very much like us in education, income and world view? Have we become separated, red from blue, without even realizing it until this most unexpected election?
On August 13, without fanfare, Clint and I crossed from Montana into Idaho on I-90. It was a pilgrimage from Denver to Seattle; from one rich chapter of life and ministry in the Mountain Sky Area into another, unknown chapter in the Greater Northwest Area.
How do you enter a new place? Or even, how do you re-enter a familiar place after many years? How does a leader join multiple teams each with its own habits and traditions, its quirks, taboos and preferences?
In Luke 10, Jesus sends his followers to places they had never been before with instructions to “carry no purse, no bag, no sandals” (Luke 10:4). He tells them to offer only a blessing of peace and to receive the hospitality offered them by strangers who receive their blessing. They are to heal the sick and tell them that the Kingdom of God “is right on your doorstep” (Luke 10:9, The Message). As you read the passage you wonder, what about teaching about Jesus, condemning wickedness, and baptizing converts?
Sounds like a gentle kind of evangelism, grounded in vulnerability, mutual respect, shared resources and healing relationships. Can it be that the Kingdom of God is there on the doorstep – the threshold – where guest and host exchange blessings and meet one another?
I’m thinking of this year as a threshold. Throughout the year I will travel to a variety of places for “threshold events” where we will meet and bless one another. In June, we’ll cross the threshold into new relationship with a service of installation during the joint Annual Conference session of the Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences, with representatives from Alaska joining us as well.
God’s at work in the world, sending us to new places to meet new people. We are blessed to be a blessing!
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
I’m Elaine Stanovsky and I’m the brand new bishop in the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church, having just moved here from Denver, Colorado where I served for eight years. I can’t tell you how excited my husband Clint and I are to be in the Northwest, we came from the Northwest, we served all of our professional lives in the Northwest and its great to be back in the Pacific Northwest Conference, the Oregon-Idaho Conference, and the Alaska Conference.
I believe to the core of my being that God is still at work in the world through the Church. And that the job of those of us who believe in Jesus Christ and who know the power of Christ’s life-giving work; our job is to figure out where God is at work, and how God is at work in the world, and to go join God in that work! I hope that all of you and all of your places are looking for that kind of new reengagement with your neighborhoods.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to get to meet you as I begin to travel the Area, learn about the ministries you are involved in, and encourage you along the way. But for now I’m going to say:
God bless you, God keep you, and may God bring us together on the road.