Archive for December, 2013

Both poor and rich find place at Christ’s birth

Rich and poor don’t always get along. One can be skeptical; the other envious. One questions motives; the other questions motivations. Both can be all stars in the blame game. Both find contentment elusive.

Ninety-nine percenters long for the Top 1%. “I know money won’t make me happy, but I sure would like to try!”

And the Top 1%? Some of them would rather be in the middle. Currency complicates. Dollars bring dysfunction.

Our system of haves and have-nots has been around for ages. This season, we recollect a story of a have-not family who had no hotel reservation. They had no rich relative with a spacious backhouse. They had a donkey – maybe.

Was there really no room in the inn, or was there just no room for them in the inn?

We think of Jesus being born inside of a barn. That may be too glorious. Scripture only says he was placed in a feed trough. It could have been out in the open. The shepherds “living in the fields nearby” felt right at home by the manger. It could have even been theirs.

The shepherds were blue collar boys accustomed to following directives. When an angel appeared to others in the Christmas story (Mary, Zechariah), they asked, “How can this be?” Not the shepherds. They asked no questions. They simply “hurried off” to find Salvation.

The poor shepherds greeted the poor baby. Then, they spread the news of what they saw. People were amazed by the news and by the smelly news bearers, no doubt.

The poor must have been particularly enthused. Poor shepherds telling the story of a poor infant messiah. “Yes! God has seen our plight,” they might have said.

It would have been simpler had God concluded Christmas here. We would have our marching orders: God is a god of the poor. So, be poor and please him.

But Christmas continues. In from the east come the rich. Call them what you wish – Magi, Wise Men, Foreign Dignitaries – they were people of influence (King Herod tuned in to what they said) and they were people of means.

The distinguished guests were likely rulers in their homeland. They had resources to travel long distances. They brought precious metals and rare perfumes.

They were rich, but they were also humble (“they bowed down”) and generous (“they opened their treasures”). Mary may have traded the manger for an ornate bassinet.

At Christmas and in Christendom, rich and poor bow down together. They worship together in an upside-down kingdom. First are last. Poor are rich. What’s on the inside counts.

As Mary sang while pregnant with Jesus, “God has brought down rulers … and lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” But not the rich from the east who laid their treasures at his feet. He invited them into his story. With God all things are possible.

It must all depend on where your trust lies. If you’re poor and you trust in yourself, you’re in peril. If you’re rich and you trust in yourself, you’re equally in trouble.

The Old Testament prophet Micah testified that Bethlehem would produce “a ruler who will be the shepherd.” ‘Twas fitting that rulers and shepherds welcomed him to earth.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Joseph offers a model of faithfulness

A son nestled against his mother. A daughter rested across her lap. The mother’s unadorned left hand caressed the girl’s back.

The boy looked ten. The girl, seven. The woman was in her mid-thirties. An empty chair sat next to them, the lone vacancy in an otherwise full row of churchgoers.

The children’s father may have been working. He may have been sick. He may have religious convictions that took him to another place of worship. Not all married women wear wedding bands.

He may have given his life in service to us all. My hunch? He was AWOL, missing in action in a widespread war on the nuclear family.

I hear frequently of families’ succumbing to the divisive pressures of the age. Some you expect. Others come out of the blue. None are pretty.

The parties usually believe they are minimizing the effects on the children. I’m sure that’s what my friend’s parents thought.

Years after his parents split, while in his twenties, he faced anger and depression. A counselor’s touch pointed him to the root. He grew beyond the pain of the divorce. Today, he has a joy-filled wife and two handsome sons.

Most people are not so fortunate, or willing. They struggle through life from habit to habit, between relationship and loneliness. They never grasp how an early earthquake rocked a foundation on which their life was intended to build.

Another friend tells a story from his childhood. He travelled with nine other public school honor roll students to a prestigious academic contest in Boston. As they were touring some sites in a 15-passenger van, they attempted to identify things they all had in common. The most prominent commonality? They all came from intact families.

We all know half of marriages end in divorce. The federal government’s National Center for Health Statistics gives more detail.

According to its National Survey of Family Growth, 20 per cent of first marriages end in their first 5 years. Thirty-two per cent end by year 10, and 40 per cent fail by year 15.

So, it’s not just that marriages are failing; it’s that they are falling apart at a time when children need their stability the most.

Some will argue two peaceful homes are better than one filled with discord. I do not disagree when the choice is presented so simply. I do believe, with a little divine help, we humans are capable of more elaborate options.

Who should take the lead in finding better ways to resolve differences that can lead to divorce? I’ll go out on a limb: the man. God has placed a certain mantle of leadership on the masculine gender. It has been used at times to harm. It is intended to mend, bind up, protect, provide.

I know each circumstance is different. Emotional wounds, mental illness and substance abuse can wreak havoc not easily repaired no matter how capable the leadership.

But many situations are no more bizarre than one in Judea twenty centuries ago.

Joseph had reasons to take a pass. His fiancé? Prematurely pregnant. The baby? Not his. His young family? Virtually homeless, forced into two years of exile by a mad king.

But with strong trust and tender strength, Joseph, “a righteous man” (Matt. 1:19), led the family that housed the child that would one day overcome the Great Divorce. Let us follow his faithful lead.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Man’s dark struggle with Christmas lights

I’m generally a hopeful guy, so I rarely quote Dante’s Inferno. But one place needs the poem’s most infamous line: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

It’s the Christmas lights section at Home Depot.

Christmas lights are the bane of man’s existence. I do not overstate the point.

Of all the electrical appliances a man might assemble, there is nothing, I repeat, nothing like plugging in a freshly strung strand of Christmas lights and having nothing, I repeat, nothing happen.

Yes, smarty-pants, I checked them in the yard before putting them up. Yes, Mr. Know-It-All, they worked then.

Clark Griswold, the Christmas Vacation character who put 25,000 lights on his home, knows the feeling. He had spent days creating his masterpiece amidst spousal questioning: “Are you out here for a reason or are you just avoiding the family?”

When the time came to plug it all in, only criticisms lit up.

“I hope you kids see what a silly waste of resources this was,” derided Clark’s mother-in-law.

“He worked really hard, Grandma,” defended his daughter.

“So do washing machines,” reported his father-in-law.

At this point a man doesn’t want a diagnosis of the problem. He doesn’t want a handful of solutions. He just wants to be held. And he wants a trust fund to pay someone to do this tragic chore for the rest of his life.

For most men, the trust fund is not to be. The Christmas lights are his cross to bear — alone. And if he has small children, the stakes are as high as the roof line.

I understand the logic: no Christmas lights, no Christmas tree, no Santa, no presents.

But man’s dark struggle against the lights is anything but logical.

If it were logical, the extra replacement lights would actually fix a problem once in a while. If it were logical, there would be no microscopic replacement fuses – I last saw fuses like this in my grandfather’s 1982 Datsun.

And if it were logical, the Federal Trade Commission would close every light manufacturer known to man for their most reliable failure rate. 

Instead, a baggie of extra lights and fuses is taped to each strand by a belly-laughing factory worker. Instead, giddy consumers swept by the joy of the season keep forking over hard-earned dollars for what amounts to an exercise in character formation.

Sure, there have been decorative advances: the net of lights you can throw across your shrubs, the dangling icicles, the inflatable Santas and Frosties. Projectors can put a holiday Mickey Mouse on your garage door. Custom homes have exterior outlets lining soffits and eaves for easy access to power.

But there is simply no substitute for the hard work of installing one’s own creation, for overcoming the broken bulbs, for triumphing o’er the inexplicably expired segments.

There is no trading the thrill on the kids’ faces when the job is done. It’s the equivalent of a 1,000-volt attitude adjustment.

Even Clark Griswold’s easily embarrassed teenagers were moved when his lighted sight came to pass. As the Hallelujah Chorus rang out,

“Dad! It’s beautiful!”

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

 


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