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Trail Notes: 12/31/2017

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At Christmas we start with the specific and move to the universal. 

First we draw close to the miracle of a baby born to a poor couple, with only a barn to shelter them.  The dim stable lamplight forms a kind of halo around them as we gaze.  The mixed smells of animals and damp fodder fill our nostrils – not the ideal environment for childbirth.  But this is what the world gave.  The scene is so intimate, filled with such bittersweetness, that we take care not to intrude.  Others gather with us – shepherds wander in, angels disguised in many garbs – captivated as we are by the stillness of the night.  Stars shine in the sky – one more brightly than all the rest.  God has touched the earth in this place, at this time. 

But we cannot hold onto that sweet moment forever.  A new day comes, with its demands, its fears, its challenges.  The little family moves on, as do we.  What shall we carry away with us – a memory? A mission? 

Ever since that night, that moment, we ponder the meaning of this scene at the manger.  What will this child mean for the world?  For us?  Jesus grows up as we all do, and finds his purpose, his mission in life.  It is not an easy one.  He feels called to preach about God – not the vengeance of God, but the love, the mercy, the forgiveness of God.  It is a beautiful message…but the world, it seems, cannot, or will not, receive it.  We are too caught up in our ways of competition, domination, and violence – or are we? 

Jesus fights not with a sword, but with a word of love; not with an army but with a community of the least and the lost.  He appears to be defeated by his foes, yet his message is not dead.  The love lives on.  Its light still shines in the darkness.

We are part of his light: his hands and feet in the world, his voice of love and reconciliation, his smile of welcome to all, especially to the poor and unwelcome in the world’s eyes.  The miracle of a baby, born long ago to a poor couple, lives on, in us.  Merry Christmas.   JBM  


 

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Trail Notes: 12/24/2017

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Today is Mary’s Sunday.  We rightly honor Mary for her unique role as mother of Jesus – the one most intimate with our Lord, who bore his body and suffered for his birth.  In the Orthodox churches, she is called “Christotokos” – Christ-bearer – or even “Theotokos” – God-bearer. 

Although Mary’s role is unique, she is not the only one whom God calls to bear Christ in the world.  God asks that of us all.  As God invests God’s self in human form, we become God’s instruments, God’s tools, God’s media in the world.  Saint Teresa of Avila famously said,

“Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Christ has no body now but yours.”

That’s a tall order – scary even.  If we are Christians, then people look at us as representatives of Jesus.  What we say and do reflects on Jesus.  That’s why it’s so disturbing these days when people who self-identify as Christians say and do things that are contrary to Jesus’ teachings. 

In today’s American society, fear has become a huge driver of behavior.  Some preach that we should fear those who are different from us – people who look different, or come from another country.  Some say that we all need guns to defend ourselves from all the perils of life.  But Jesus said repeatedly, “Do not be afraid!”  A life lived out of fear is wretched, and can cause huge damage to our human community. 

When the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary,” Mary accepted his words, and accepted the holy mission Gabriel came to announce to her.  Mary did not fear the future, the opinions of other people.  She said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.  Let it be with me according to your word.”  The world would be a much better place if all of us could go and do likewise.  JBM  

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Trail Notes: 12/17/2017

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Have you heard a voice in the wilderness? 

Have you ever been heading down a questionable path, and had a friend care enough to challenge you to rethink it, to turn back, to seek a better future? 

Maybe you were in a relationship that was seductive, but really unhealthy.  Maybe you were stuck in a job that was deadening, but you were afraid to change.  Maybe you were violating your own deep values in some way, and somebody called you to account. 

That person was your “John the Baptist” – the one who called you to turn, to repent, to redirect your life.  Like John, her words might have sounded harsh.  You might have wanted to turn away, not listen, continue as you were.  But something gave you pause.  There was truth in her words. 

We all need a “John the Baptist” sometimes, to challenge our ways when we get complacent, when we seek expediency more than doing the right thing.  But we also need something to turn toward…to draw us into a better, healthier, more honorable life.  John didn’t do that part.  Instead, he pointed toward the one who could: Jesus of Nazareth.  While John could be off-putting, Jesus was magnetic: he drew people with his love of life, the wisdom of his teaching, his gift of hope. 

We all have times when we are “in the wilderness” – not comfortable with the status quo, searching for something better, truer.  Maybe you are in the wilderness right now.  Listen for “John” who calls you to turn, to reevaluate your life.  Then look for Jesus to draw you to himself, to love and forgive you into a new life.  JBM 

 


 

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Trail Notes: 12/10/2017

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Five Talents Saves Lives

Our friends and longtime mission partners from Five Talents will be here at both services this Sunday, Dec. 10, and between services during our social time, to share their recent ministries.  St. Dunstan’s is currently supporting the project in South Sudan, a place where few aid organizations can even work due to instability there. 

Five Talents is the Anglican microfinance ministry – with a difference: FT doesn’t just make small loans and hope it will help poor people.  FT works through local Anglican churches.  It creates local communities called savings circles, give training in business practices, and walk with these brave entrepreneurs who start businesses to support their families.  Most FT group members are women, who use their money to buy food and medicine, and pay school fees for their children.  Each small loan (often under $100) lifts up many lives out of extreme poverty, saving lives, giving dignity and hope.    

What could be more fitting in this Advent season, when we pause to remember how God came to a poor family in Palestine, in order to bring hope to a world full of poor and scared people?  Our own needs may not be material, but we are spiritually thirsty for something to encourage us in a world that’s often pretty dark.  Some of us are despairing of the hatred and indifference we see in societies today.  We need the hope and light of Jesus just as much as a South Sudanese woman who is trying to keep her children safe and fed. 

God gives something to each of us – maybe five talents (a whole lot!), maybe just one talent (still considerable resources).  Each of us is responsible to use what we’ve been given for God’s glory.  How are you using the resources entrusted to you by God?  JBM  


 

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