A Christmas Wish

This Christmas, the children at the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew did something radical. In the spirit of the radical love we celebrate on Christmas, they dared to share their love with children in Bethlehem. On Halloween, as we were decked out in our costumes, we started to talk about the miracle of Christmas. We sent Christmas cards to show mow mcuh we love. On this Christmas, I hope that we all find the kind of love that children do not question. Share in this simple joy with this short video at http://www.umtv.org/newitems/Christmas_Cards_To_Bethlehem.htm. And yes, that's my voice asking "Who can tell me what happened in Bethlehem?" Those are the wonderful kids that I minister to who made me remember that the miracle of Bethlehem happens again and again and again.


The Love of a Child

Not only did I used to live in Park Slope which spawns a whole other realm of affection, but I am touched and warmed by the love offered from our children. Perhaps we can learn something from young Miss Brantl.

The New York Times
December 18, 2005

Park Slope -- Park Slope is no stranger to luxuries, among them hot stone massages, artisanal cheeses and puppy manicures. Now it is home to a refuge for lonely dolls whose owners may be headed for the slopes of Vail or the beaches of St. Bart's.

The purveyor of this newest luxury is a rosy-cheeked 7-year-old named Elizabeth Brantl, who started the Home Away From Home doll care service shortly after Thanksgiving.

"Do your special dolls and cuddly stuffed animals need a home while you're away," asked fliers posted outside local doll-owner hot spots like the toy store and the veterinarian's office.

Sitting in her frilly pink bedroom the other afternoon, Elizabeth swept through the deluxe accommodations available to guest dolls at Chez Brantl. Although monogrammed robes are not available, dolls are changed into their own pajamas at bedtime, a service, one might note, not even offered at the Waldorf. They are then put to sleep next to Elizabeth's own favorite stuffed animals, Blue Teddy, a bear, and Lovey, a lamb.

Twice a day, they are fed a gourmet mixture of paper clips, Snapple bottle caps, miniature plastic hamburgers and invisible food from a domino case.

"A lot of people have a special doll," Elizabeth explained, noting, like a true concierge, that she "would love them as much as I love my other dolls."

Although she has yet to receive any clients, some of her second-grade classmates at Public School 321 sounded interested when she described the service.

Would she consider lowering the $1-a-day fee she is charging? In response, Elizabeth cast a confused look at her father, Bob Brantl. "She'd refer it to her business agent," Mr. Brantl replied.


A Sermon for Christmas

Let’s start from the very beginning. Some might say that it’s a very good place to start. We think of the beginning as the very first thing. It’s what happened before everything else. It is “in the beginning.”

We tell this story with it’s own beginning. We tell this story from our faith as if the very first thing was the journey that Mary and Joseph made to Bethlehem. This story begins with a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. Of all places, this story begins in a barn. No matter how unlikely, we are perfectly content to hold onto our story that begins in that barn in Bethlehem.

But, John is not so certain as he pens the words, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John challenges us to rethink our beginnings. He wants us to read his words only to scratch our heads and flip back to those opening words in Genesis. John evokes the imagery of formless blackness but challenges us not to get stuck there.

In tune with the ancients, John understood time as something that was not marked by past, present and future. The present wasn’t just the here and now. It was everything in living memory. What would our present extend to if we included everything in living memory? How would our conception of time expand if we were to include everything in visible prospect? As daunting as this seems, John and the ancients would have understood the past and the future as truly daunting. These markers of time were God’s time. In this space between God’s time and our present is where the beginning resides.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This is the same Word that created the world in seven days. But, as you know, this isn’t a past event. Instead, this beginning is in our present. It is part of our living memory as we continue to retell the story of a barn in Bethlehem. It is not enough for an angel to come and announce, “’and he shall be called Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’” God is not only with us. God is in our present. God is part of our living memory. God is right here with us.

As many times as we retell the story of a barn in Bethlehem, this is not our beginning. This is not where it all began as God’s story continues to be a presence here with us. The formless blackness of creation still creeps into our present. In the seasons of our own darkness, we wonder if this can really be true. Our world so often seems dark. Our president continues to appear on frustrating televised press conferences. MTA and other unionized workers are scorned for their struggles toward safety and security on the job. Religious divides intensify as our nation quibbles over taking the Christ out of Christmas. And our troops are still overseas while here at home, we gather to celebrate our first holiday without the laughter of an uncle, the joy of a mother or the companionship of a dear friend. Our darkness seems hopelessly opaque even two thousand years later.

John reminds us that there is a light that shines in our darkness. It is the Word. It is the same word that created the skies and the earth. It’s this Word that releases the creative power of God’s revelation. It is this creative power that John calls us toward in our beginning. On the longest night of the year, we light four candles to remember that God is indeed with us. We light four candles of hope, peace, joy and love to overcome the darkness that threatens to overcome us. Two thousand years later, when we struggle to start from the very beginning, John offers us the metaphor of light. A light that shines in our darkness. Filled with this light, we celebrate that God will always be part of our present. This is our endless beginning.


We Should Be Dancing

Bopping down the street somewhere in the East Village (or perhaps somewhere in San Francisco, as the case may be), Rosario Dawson sings "Take Me Out Tonight." The streets are deserted. She has just gotten out of work -- and she's dancing. She is surrounded by a community that shares in the hardships of living with AIDS in 1989. But, she's dancing. What a great image to celebrate life!

There are so many times that I want to dance down the streets of the city. When a good song pops onto my iPod, there are times that I really want to bust out dancing. But, something always stops me. Am I afraid of what people will think? Am I really so constrained by what is socially acceptable that I resist this urge to dance?

For the love of God, we should be dancing. We should be dancing to celebrate the many that died of this disease. We should dance in their memory and cherish the blessings that they have offered us. We should dance for my friends Paul and Durrell. We should dance for the people that still dance when disease overcomes their bodies. We should be able to celebrate in all of the wonders of our human connection -- where two men kiss on the silver screen. We should dance in celebration of l'vie boheme. We should dance when the parents of two women can bless their union. There should be priests and ministers that are offering God's blessing upon Angel and all of those that have died. We shouldn't be afraid. We should be dancing.