I am twelve years old and sitting beside the lit Christmas tree. Everyone else is in bed and I am hatching a plan. What if, just for fun, I open all my gifts and then re-wrap them before Christmas? Wouldn’t that be cool?? No more waiting and guessing! No more hoping I get what I want! Yes. I’ll do it.
So I carefully open up the end of each package with my name on it and slip the boxes out without having to undo most of the remaining tape. (Brilliant.) I peek into each one, but it’s not as fun as I imagined earlier and I’m getting more and more anxious as the time stretches on. It’s kind of cool but not really. It’s actually pretty nerve wracking and I begin to hurry through each one, barely glancing at the present, just praying I’ll get through this without getting caught. I made it! No one knows! Whew.
Then I start thinking about Christmas morning. All the faces around the tree, watching me (re)open my packages, looking for my reactions, hoping I’ll love it!! And I realize my great caper doesn’t end this night, it has to stretch out the next few days and culminate with a Christmas morning performance like I’ve never given before. Not cool.
It is a funny thing about memory. I don’t remember a single present from that year. Not one. I do remember feeling guilty and worried (that was the year I realized being a spy was probably not for me…) And I remember something else. None of it mattered. Because Christmas morning came and I, sick with worry, was immediately enveloped in the love around the tree. My anxiety melted away. There was my mom, who had somehow managed to have something ready for us to munch on even though it was early morning. There were my grandparents, looking at us as if we were the most amazing kids in the world. And my dad, pretending to guess every present beforehand and making us laugh. My little sister, who loved everything she ever got, was as excited about my gifts as I was (more, as it turns out), and she provided good cover. And they all loved me, just as I was. Maybe my parents knew about the packages (there is that thing, after all, about eyes in the back of their heads).
Maybe they didn’t. But it didn’t matter. Because they loved me. I relaxed into that love and let it take away all the worry and guilt and fretting. That’s what I remember about the Christmas I pre-opened my gifts. The only one that mattered, the only gift I remember, didn’t come in a box anyway.
Love. It is the only gift we really need, and it is the only one that is always available to us. No matter what we get, or don’t get, under the tree, the greatest gift of our life is already ours– the love of God, flowing through people, flowing out of us. In the darkest night and in the greatest need, we can call on that Love to be with us and to see us through. When we are most ashamed or most lonely, we can count on that Love to heal us and bring us peace. God’s Love is the grounding of our lives, and nothing we can do will ever change that. What a gift, indeed.
When Jesus was born we are told that he received three gifts from the Magi. They were expensive and exotic and impressive. But first he received something far more valuable: the loving touch of his mother and the tender watchfulness of his father. They were the human expressions of God’s Love, and they helped to set the course of his life.
This Christmas, look for the ways Love is being expressed in your life. Perhaps it is with friends or family or neighbors who care. Perhaps it is in activism that you see makes a difference in the world. Perhaps it is in simple words of kindness spoken from one stranger to another. Love is out there, to be seen and experienced. Love is in here, to be savored and shared. Just remember what I discovered so many years ago: it can never be contained in a box.
We all live in two worlds: the world of our everyday lives, filled with family and traditions, and the greater world, filled with people we do not know and events far from our front steps. Sometimes it is easy to keep them separate, and though the news may make us sad or anxious or even angry, we can close our eyes at night, safe in our own beds, insulated from the outside world.
Yet, this is not always so. As we prepared this week to light the second candle on the Advent wreath, we read again about two more young black men whose deaths at the hands of law enforcement officials have been inexplicably unpunished, and a world of pain intersects with ours. Our candle this week signifies “Peace,” and I could not in good conscious light it without connecting our yearning for peace with the reality of our world. We are, indeed, a people who walk in darkness – and we need a light that reminds us of the Way we are asked to walk.
Our two worlds, the one here in our sanctuary and the one out on the streets of our cities, must be one if we are to be the church. The racism that is embedded in our society and institutions must be seen and discussed and mourned and prayed about and acted on – right here at First Church, even as we celebrate the fellowship and love that make our small community so dear. The light from the candle of Peace must shine on both realities, for they are God’s, and they are ours.
Many of us will never know the feeling of being suspect just because of our race. Many of us will never know the fear of being stopped for a minor incident, knowing it could lead to our death. That is not our everyday world. But it is the world of too many of our sisters and brothers, and true peace cannot be ours until it is theirs, as well.
Thirty years ago the United Church of Christ proclaimed a witness named Just Peace.
“Emphasizing the inseparability of justice and peace, the UCC defined Just Peace as the “interrelation of friendship, justice, and common security from violence … the vision of shalom, linking peace and justice. “At a time when our world seems so far from the holistic vision of shalom … we remain Advent people yearning for a world in which peace, a Just Peace, might swathe all our communities from Ferguson to Palestine.”
(Rev. Michael Neuroth, UCC Justice and Witness Ministries)
Last week we lit the candle of Hope. May the candle this week be our reminder that Christ’s peace must always be a Just Peace. When we light it, may it represent our prayers for a world in which we understand that each life, and each death, is bathed in the same light: God’s light, shining on in the midst of our one painful, broken, beloved world.
The trek to Grandma’s house was quite a bit more than over the river and through the woods for our family. Every December, the day school let out, my parents would pack us into the backseat of the family sedan, and we would begin the long drive through Northern New Mexico, Colorado and Nebraska to the little house where my grandparents were waiting and Christmas could begin. Sometimes we drove through the night, so anxious were we to get there, and I recall waking up off and on, to find my dad driving silently and steadily through the darkness, as the rest of us slept in peace.
Sometimes in the dark my imagination would take over and I would worry a bit — was there anybody else out there? I would look for the lights from a farmhouse along the road, or I would peer ahead, scanning for lights from one of the small towns so sparsely scattered along the way. There weren’t many in those days (or these days, either, I suppose) but there were enough. Enough to remind me that we weren’t all alone, that there were other families and places out there, and that we wouldn’t be stuck out there in the lonely dark forever.
Pope Francis speaks about Advent as a journey whose horizon is hope. What a lovely metaphor that is: the horizon of hope! Because it reminds us that in many ways we pick the horizons we focus on in the distance, and they become the guides for all of our journeys in life. How different would our lives be if we chose to focus on a horizon of hope instead of fear? How different would our journeys be if we believed our destination was not boundaried by disappointment and despair, but instead defined by hope?
We are all on a journey. And sometimes it feels like we are alone in the dark, with not much to hope for. Jesus came into the world at such a time, when the people who’d walked in darkness needed desperately to believe there was something new ahead. His parents traveled a road toward his birth that was fraught with misunderstanding and unease. We, too, live in such a time, and so we must remind ourselves that hope is always the horizon we move toward. In the midst of sadness and despair, injustice and chaos, we have only to lift our heads and remember that this is not the end. We are still moving. There is still light up ahead, a horizon worth traveling toward. God alone knows what it will look like. But it will be enough.
As we lit the first Advent candle on Sunday, we spoke of “befriending Hope.” This invitation, shared by Sue Ann Yarbrough, is a worthy way to begin our travels toward Christmas. Befriend Hope. Keep your eyes on the horizon ahead. And know that God is traveling with you, silently, steadily getting you safely through the darkness and into the light.
I loved listening to Paul Harvey on the radio when I was growing up. His soothing and familiar voice would lure me in with his stories, and tickle me with his twists. A blend of “mystery and history,” his tales were sometimes a bit too pat to be completely believable (a concern he adamantly denied), but they were cheery and upbeat, and if I didn’t listen too carefully to the politics, an enjoyable way to spend an hour.
So here I am, happily appropriating his trademark to fill you in on “the rest of the story” of our move to 1155 Broadway.
Last week I shared about the things we brought over from our other space: everything from bibles to coffee cups to banners. Kathie took some pictures so you could see how we are using them now. This week I want to touch on some of the new expressions of faith that are popping up in our current home.
First, our chairs and tables: Much thought and planning went into finding the right furniture for our chapel and gathering room. The chairs have arms that make it easy to push up and out, and sliders that make it easy to move them around. The tables have casters, so that we can move and reconfigure them for various purposes (they’ve already been used for two community dinners, an NCNCUCC conference meeting, an open house for our neighbors, a Good Hope luncheon, and a Council meeting, not to mention countless informal gatherings for coffee and tea). They are flexible, because we need to be flexible in our life and ministry together. But the casters also lock in place, because when the tables are placed where we want them, we need to know they are sturdy enough to lean on. All of the office furniture and the furniture in the Mahany Community Room are from our old place, and we were able to give away all the pink chairs to a sister church in Fremont. The new furniture, however, fits our new space beautifully, and makes our work easier—sturdy but flexible, beautiful but practical. Like our shared faith.
Second, our new banner: This is the newest banner created by the United Church of Christ, and we may be one of the first churches to use it. It says so much about who we are and what we believe about community and ministry. We have it over the coffee bar, and every time someone leaves the chapel after worship, it is the first thing they see. It is our call and our blessing.
Third, our Faith, in Redwood City Wall: If the banner is the first thing you see after worship, this wall is the first thing you see when you enter the building. Designed by Kathie Fosgett and painstakingly installed by Larry Fosgett (can you say “Laser Level”??), this wall is a visual representation of the heart of our ministry. Each Community Partner is represented, and an explanation of the Faith, In Fund is there for the taking.
Finally, something old and something new: our piano! This beautiful piano was restored and returned to us and it fills our worship space with joy. How wonderful to have this piano, so lovingly cared for in the past, back where we can use it in new ways, with new people!
here are many other things to see and discover here at 1155 Broadway.
There is a childrens’ table with books a
nd art supplies;
storage rooms so we no longer need to rent storage space;
bigger food bins for Second Harvest; a coffee maker that makes the best coffee ever!
Perhaps best of all, we are surrounded by friendly and interesting neighbors, who contributed to our Second Harvest Food drive this month, and have made us feel very welcome.
It is all that we hoped for, and more. And that is, in fact, how God works, isn’t it? We do what we can on this end, and God takes our little efforts and magnifies them, using them in ways beyond our original hopes and dreams. Chairs, tables, banners—in and of themselves, nothing much. But in God’s hands, they become tools for creating a place of extravagant welcome and heartfelt community.
Thank you to all who helped with this move. Special thanks to Kathie and Larry Fosgett, who have dedicated countless hours, working hard to make this a beautiful space for us all. Their work – and ours – is the work of love.
I hope you will have a chance to experience what is happening here. This is the next chapter in the story God is telling through all of us. What a privilege and blessing to be here now. Come, see and hear. A new day is dawning.