I had a nice walk along the Yellowstone River yesterday. I normally go into Makoshika Park because it is so much closer to my house, but decided this would be a nice change. I walked along the leveee going north and then changed direction and headed south. This is the area the River floods most every year. Here and there are patches of sand deposited by the river when in flood. The paths fairly well-maintained and wind their way through the flat land.
The above photo shows what we call the "black bridge", railroad bridge still used by the BNSF. Glendive has four bridges -- this one, the interstate bridge, the Old bridge which is closed to traffic, and the Towne Street bridge.
This next photo is the underside of the Towne Street bridge. Something I have not seen before. Interesting.
Anyway it was a lovely day -- chilly but no wind, sunshine and a good path to walk on with my leg which is still questionable when I need balance. Nice way to end 2020.
Trump is on his way out! I heard Rep. Ben Sass of Nebraska call out those Republicans who are trying to appease Trump's base as they look to their own futures. He called it "civic vandalism". The vote with the electoral college is the 6th of January and for the first time it is contentious (well maybe 1876). There are groups who want to disenfranchise those who voted for Biden. Many are going to make Biden's work very difficult. The work is not over, but we pray for the vaccine to reach more people, pray for health for all, prayers for the world that this virus may be brought under control. 3400 died yesterday.
Today is a windy day. Strong gusts both today and tomorrow. The temp is a decent 22 degrees and the sun is shining, but the wind. . .Really limits anything outside, like a walk.
Heard from the family. Margy is doing Christmas cards today. Bernie made a chicken noodle soup as Greg is ailing and I am writing a sermon for Christmas Eve. I will bring the message at the UCC church by invitation. Fun and nice to be asked. Their Pastor (Brother Guy) is a very laid-back, down to earth kind of guy.
Made filled cookies and fudge this year. Sharon and I will share Christmas Day dinner so I will make Grandma Larson's apple salad. Always a favorite.
Vaccines are starting but virus cases are high and many deaths. Dawson County is experiencing its share. Scarey and difficult. Even when people die of heart issues or cancer there is not the closure allowed because of virus exposure. I have done a few graveside services with masks and distancing and it is difficult for people.
Thought I would share my Christmas Eve sermon as I have worked on it thus far.
Christmas Eve UCC December 24, 2020
Grace and peace to you from God the Creator, from Jesus, the Messiah, the promised One and the Holy Spirit our teacher and guide. Amen. Grateful for invitation to bring you the Christmas Eve message. It truly is a holy and joyous night when Christians the world around celebrate the birth of Immanuel, God with us.
As a pastor, one of my frustrations about Christmas, is what message to bring that is new or different or challenging at Christmas. It is a dilemma because I think what most of us want to hear are words that take us down memory lane. Christmas is a dear, sweet, nostalgic time. Every sight, sound, smell, every tinkling bell takes us back to childhood and that most magical time. I can even remember some of the gifts I received that were special, in particular two dolls that I still have stored away. Precious memories.
My parents wanted my brother and me to be part of family traditions that had several generations of patina on them. The ranch where the night sky was so crammed with stars you thought you couldn’t squeeze in one more. Cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles, traditional Norwegian food, presents and then we always had a family Christmas Eve devotional time. There was the final round of coffee and cookies before everyone headed home. You all have have something special you remember — the church services, programs — school and Sunday School, caroling, the sense of joy prevading your life. But in truth no Christmas was perfect — each one was different — some good, some difficult.
But what people want each year is “normal” — tell the old story and we do, but remember that each year we hear it with new ears. There is no “normal” Christmas in the sense it is like last year or ten years ago or fifty years ago. We hear it differently because each year means something different to each one of us. You know I am going to talk about 2020 — such a different year —raging forest fires, hurricanes, melting polar ice caps; our music has been the songs of civil protest and recognizing racial inequality; division in our democracy and a fractured election; and of course, most of all the virus brought death and isolation and financial ruin, hunger and poverty to millions of people throughout the world. Underlying this year has been a basic strain of fear and a lack of understanding as to why this has happened? how it happened? and how do we deal with it? This year perhaps we can say with more understanding that the manger lies in the shadow of the cross. This year more than ever we need the Christ Child to move among the lost, the dying and the suffering bringing the Word of comfort, peace, and assurance we all are desperate to hear.
The challenge of the preacher bringing the Christmas message and the challenge to those listening is to take those varying worlds and draw them all together until the focus narrows and the beam of light pinpoints the baby and we hear perhaps for the first time, the words of the prophet Isaiah on this Christmas Eve — For a child has been born for us, the gift of a son for us! He will take over the running of the world. His names will be Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. His ruling authority will be widespread and he will deal in fairness and right living now and forever.
As Christians of the 21st Century, ones who still believe in the power and love of the Child, we are called by God as each generation has been called to redefine the Christ Child, placing his manger in our world against the backdrop of our time and place. Only then can the old story become startlingly new and speak to us in words and ways that mean something for us.
The Apostle Paul, writing to Titus as we read in the NT, reminds us that Jesus is not just then, long ago, but Jesus is now. Paul says, “For the grace of God has appeared (that is Jesus) bringing salvation to all, leading us in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly as we wait for the blessed hope and the second coming in glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The key words are “leading us in the present age to live lives”.
How do we identify Christ for our time? As we come adoringly to the manger, we must bring our own gifts and talents for these are the gifts the Child seeks — what is in our hearts? A loving heart is what is pleasing to God. How do we love? Not just in thought, but in word and deed. How we serve our neighbor next door and around the world? Jesus said the greatest commandment was: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. And the second commandment is like it :You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22.36-40.
I have always found Jesus’ words in this commandment to be full of deep meaning. Jesus says we are to love God with everything we’ve got. Everything we are and hope to be we focus on loving God and then Jesus adds love your neighbor just like you love yourself. All our lives are focused on self-preservation — it is the way we are made. Jesus now take that activity and focus on your neighbor. What does that mean — love God, love your neighbor. Actually pretty simple to hear but much harder to do..
Coming to the manger to coo and ooo and ah at the baby is ok as Lon as it doesn’t end there. It must not end there. The manger in the shadow of the cross is the challenge of our faith. Baptized, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. Christmas is a holy and sacred time when we reintegrate ourself into this world with resolution to live as we are called to live in this present age. We hear the Christmas story with different ears this year. But each year is a year like no other. We face the challenges and the hopes and the desires of each year kneeling at the manger and then moving into the world to serve.
As I make my preparations for the holiday season, I find myself taking periodic reality checks. I was struck with reality particularly hard as I sent out Christmas cards and letters and blithely signed “Happy New Year.” Last year I did the same thing never realizing the year that lay ahead of us. Now, at the end of that year, the reality of those greetings is that it means picking up the pieces and attempting to mend our world which is broken. When I read the cards this year, the language of Christmas takes on new meaning — joy, hope, love, goodness and, of course, peace. A broken world where the word “peace” is twisted and battered and in shreds.
The whole world is hurting, but the United States seems to have been hit harder than other countries and we are reeling from the economic disaster the pandemic has brought upon us. And I am reminded of the poem by Shelley entitled “Ozymandius”. Upon seeing the ruin of a mighty statue lying in the desert, the poet hears the words that are written on the wind, “We are the greatest nation. Nothing like us ever was.” But nothing remains and
“Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
And I wonder about the greeting “Happy New Year.”
If you have understandably, after this past year, turned your back on news reports, magazines and newspapers. If you say “No more politics”. Then perhaps you have not heard the analysis of the struggle that lies before us — receiving and distributing the vaccine, healing a broken government where legislative action and judicial decisions are divided to the point that trying to do some good is blocked at every turn. To wish someone a “Happy New Year”, after all 2020 has brought with fires, civil unrest, political division, and hurricanes, not even mentioning the virus, seems to me rather like the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”
In Jesus’ words to his disciples, He says, “Peace, I give to you, my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives…”. I want to grab hold of the word, “peace” and attempt to wring out of it any hope for the new year. And lo and behold, there it is. Do you know the Greek myth about Pandora’s box? Pandora’s curiosity causes her to open the box given her by Zeus. As she does all the horrors of life spill out and move into the world bringing sadness, death and destruction. Struggling to close the box, Pandora hears a soft voice saying, “Wait” and out of the box flies “Hope” to move into the world.
The “peace the world cannot give” is a hard fought peace. It means that each day of the new year we must dedicate ourselves to pick up the pieces and mend our broken world. No more blame games, no more letting someone else do the work. Money and greed, prestige and power will not make 2021 a “Happy New Year”. It is going to take diligence and the recognition of a hard-won peace to rebuild. We have to lay aside political differences and gender and race and think about helping this world and our country be a place where everyone matters, dedicating ourselves to the lost and the struggling and the poor. We are in this struggle as one humanity. Only then can we return to being a beacon for the world through our generosity, our welcome and our allegiance to freedom and democracy.
Howard Thurman, American author, philosopher and social justice activist wrote a Christmas blessing that stirs my heart and helps me re-orient myself in the right direction each time I read it:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart
Let the work of Christmas begin!
Let’s begin it together!