Responding to What Life Brings

The Magi (ne: Wisemen) used the knowledge and the understanding of their craft as astrologers to ascertain the significance of the “star as it arose.” The star (or angelic appearance as John Chrysostom, 4th century Archbishop of Constantinople, believed) was an objective reality that demanded a response of all that saw and understood that its appearance heralded something significant. The story, as recorded in the second chapter of Matthew’s book of good news, shows two very different responses to the appearance of the star. The magi, whose profession it was to be curious and understand the signs in the stars, respond by traveling for many miles and many months to find the source and pay homage to the one whose birth the star announced (this was a common understanding in the ancient world that the appearance of a new star announced the birth of someone of importance.) Herod, on the other hand, whom history records as being paranoid, anxious and lustful for power, was deeply trouble, or agitated when he heard the news. Same information, same objective reality, but a very different response from the main characters in the story.  Psychologists tell us that our response to new information in our lives is often less guided by the significance or truth of the information and more determined by who we are as a person. Hence, if we are adventurous, we tend to see the possibilities, if we are anxious we seek to control and manage. The question is, can we change our response to the events of our lives to be more positive and hopeful, particularly if we are confident that God will work these things for good as God has promised, even if our default response is other.

Tom Bodett tells the story of two old guys in Homer, Alaska, Angus and Bud, who play practical jokes on one another at Christmas each year. Angus, a junkyard dealer, is reputed to be a hard and difficult man who glories in being a curmudgeon. One night, as Angus is driving the 7 miles to town for the first annual lighting of the Christmas tree, he encounters a large box that used to contain a refrigerator, in the middle of the road. Because of the snow and the width of the track he is unable to drive around. Cautiously, he exits the truck, approaches the box and opens it, only to find it empty. Pushing the box aside, he gets back in the truck, drives another mile, comes around a corner only to find another refrigerator box smack in the middle of the road. This time, leery of an ambush, he drives closer, quickly gets out, checks the box, again empty, and kicks it aside, all the while looking over his shoulder fearing the worst. This happens every mile as he gets closer to town: the third mile, a third box, then a fourth, by the fifth box he is driving headlong into the huge cartons sending them into air as his pick-up maintains the best speed it can on the old, snow covered, narrow road. Finally, only a mile from town, he comes around a corner to see a sixth box off in the distance.  Gathering speed on a slight straight stretch he gleefully bears down on his target, hitting it dead on only to realize that this box is not empty and in fact, it contains a wooden crate filled with 300 pounds of rusted car parts. Angus exits the truck disoriented and angry. One of the headlights is smashed and steam issues from the radiator pushed back into the fan blade. Dog at his side Angus marches for town to “make his peace” with Bud, ready to respond to this unexpected turn of events as he has dealt with setbacks in his life before – with bluster and spite. But,  as Angus gets closer to town he hears singing, which puzzles him, until he  realizes it must coming be from the town folk lighting the tree in the park in the middle of their tiny town. Bodett writes that the closer Angus gets to town, the more moved he is by the carols until he experiences a complete change of heart, his anger melting with each step in the cold Alaskan night. When he finally arrives at the tree, coming into the circle of townsfolk singing the songs of Christmas, he reaches out to shake the hand of his nemesis Bud and wishes him a merry Christmas.

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Clipping In to the Rope

Welcome to Pastor Paul’s blog. I will use this space primarily as a medium to facilitate conversation following up on the Sunday morning message. For example yesterday we used the image of climbers on Everest clipping into the fixed rope as a metaphor for the things that bring us security and comfort in our walk of faith. The challenge is to not see these things: the faith community, worship, devotions etc as an end in themselves, but rather as means to a deeper and more full relationship with Jesus. Just like the value of the rope on Everest is actually where it leads, so those things we clip into are intended first and foremost to lead us to Jesus. As the climbers move up the mountain they often have to unclip in order to allow someone to pass or to get past the ice clips and screws that hold the rope in place. At that time they are momentarily much more vulnerable. What does it look like for you to be “unclipped” from the rope that leads to Jesus?

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