Friday, December 24, 2021

The shepherds' story

Luke 2:8-20:

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


My name is Isaac. I was one of the shepherds on that first Christmas night, two thousand years ago. I had been a shepherd all my life. My father, Abraham, had also been a shepherd. There were five of us on the top of a low rise in the ground when the angels announced the Messiah to us. We were tending our sheep. We had brought together three flocks for the night. It was safer for the sheep for them to be brought together and easier for us to watch them. Three of us would keep watch while the other two got some sleep, taking turns, of course. 

Just before darkness fell, we made a makeshift pen for the sheep by setting out rope strung between stakes to make a broad circle. When a lamb is small you simply whack it if it tries to cross the rope. After a few whacks it will not try any more, even after it is grown.

We built a fire near one side of the rope pen to give us light and warmth and we warmed some broth to sip. Around us were the hills of Bethlehem. King David had been a shepherd in these same hills about a thousand years before, so Bethlehem was nicknamed the "City of David." The grazing areas had been wilder in David's day. He had contended with wild bears and lions. We never faced those beasts but at night the wolves and the thieves liked to come out. So, two of us would sleep while three of us stood watch: one standing close to the fire where thieves could see we were alert, and the other two walking quietly around the pen, armed with hefty staffs. 

Halfway to midnight I had spent two shifts patrolling the perimeter of the sheep pen and it was my turn to stand by the fire. Then I would get some sleep. We would walk first, then stand by the fire so we could go to bed warm. I scanned the sheep pen with my back to the fire. Occasionally I caught a dim glimpse of Benjamin or Jacob walking their posts. All was normal. The fire behind me began to flicker low. One reason for the fire was to show my silhouette standing guard, so I decided that when Jacob reach the left side of the sheep pen, I would put more wood on the fire.

But just then fire got brighter, so I knew that either Gedalya or Penuel, sleeping behind me, had stirred enough to add some wood. I kept watching the sheep.

But something was odd. The firelight had increased quite a bit but there was no greater warmth. A brighter fire should give more heat. Just when this thought occurred to me, I heard Benjamin's urgent voice come from the darkness:

"Isaac! Isaac! Behind you! Behind you!"

My heart leapt to my throat. Someone must be approaching me from the rear! Without a thought I lunged quickly to my left, whirling and bringing up my heavy staff, ready to strike. 

I stopped frozen with astonishment. I was struck dumb by what I saw.

Gedalya and Penuel were sitting bolt upright, hands raised before their faces, shielding their eyes. Without thinking I was raising my hands before my eyes, too, because from a single point about five feet above the fire shone a light of such bright purity and dazzling intensity that I could not look directly at it. It seemed to grow larger and even brighter until it shone round about us.

There was no sound except the pounding of my heart. I was suddenly aware that Benjamin and Jacob had run up and stopped, open mouthed, beside me. I was more frightened than I had ever been in my life. In fact, I was terrified.

The light began to change before our eyes. Its blinding brightness became softer until we could look directly at it. As we watched the light expanded in size. In mere seconds it took a shape much like a human being, but far larger. It hovered above the ground and then the light actually spoke to us:

"Do not be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 

I caught my breath. Our visitor was an angel of the Lord God Almighty! A messenger announcing a Savior born of God! It was too glorious to comprehend!

Suddenly another, tiny point of light appeared beside the angel, incredibly bright though as small as the tip of knitting needle. Another appeared, then all at once so many shining points burst into view that I could not keep up with their advent. They swirled and swarmed around us in every direction, up, down, right, left, back and forth – a small galaxy of angelic visitors. We shepherds were encompassed in every direction by a countless heavenly lights! I laughed aloud, and I heard my friends laughing, too. I raised my arms giddy with joy, astounded that the God of all creation would favor such lowly ones as us shepherds with the announcement of the birth of the Savior and this celebration by a multitude of the heavenly host.

I raised my face toward Heaven, overcome by joyous excitement, and shouted, "Glory to God in the highest!" 

Immediately, the heavenly host took up my phrase. They sang in the purest tones of praise, "Glory to God in the highest!" Then they added, "And on earth peace, goodwill among those whom God favors!" I had never heard voices like those before and I know that in this life I never will again. But that night was enough. The angels sang it again and again and we joined in, also, beside ourselves with amazement and thanksgiving, nearly delirious in our rejoicing. In a time – I don't know how much time – the lights dimmed. Their singing grew growing softer until at last there was only darkness again and the faint whispers of their chorus. 

We stood speechless, warmed all the way through even though our fire was only embers. At last Jacob said, "We need to go the Bethlehem." 

"Yes," I breathed, "Let us go down to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

With no further thought we hurried off to the city of David. "What of our sheep?" Penuel asked halfway there. Benjamin huffed while we trotted, "The Lord will never abandon them. The angel told us to go." That was good enough for us. Was not our Lord a Good Shepherd for his flock?

We found the manger quickly, almost as if we were led to it. And I suppose we were. We found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger, just as the angel had said: Christ the Lord. 

"Angels sent us," I said to Mary.

Mary smiled. "I believe you," she said. "We've had some experience with angels ourselves." 

I said, "The angel told us that this child is our Savior, who is known as Christ the Lord. What does it mean?"

Joseph said, "When an angel appeared to me in a dream, he said that this child was conceived from the Holy Spirit. We have named him Jesus, as the angel said to do, because he will save his people from their sins." 

Mary added, "The angel Gabriel told me, 'He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.'" She fell silent for a moment, then said, "That's really all we know."

We stayed no longer, for it was late and the Savior was sleeping. Mary and Joseph looked like they wanted to sleep, too. We had seen the child, so we left the manger. But it was impossible to keep this amazing thing to ourselves. We went about Bethlehem spreading the word concerning what had been told us about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what we said to them. Then we returned to the fields, where our sheep safely waited, and we glorified and praised God for all the things we had heard and seen, which were just as we had been told.

-----------------

When our Christmas season is over and we have returned to our usual routines, let us remember that the gospel we have and the salvation we are given is just that which we have been told. The grace of God is not mysterious. It is just as we have been told in God's Word: A savior was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. 

Like the shepherds, we live in a world when the memory of Christmas will be overcome by other events. The shepherds' sheep would still get sick or be attacked by wolves. Our cars will still break down and we'll still have bills to pay. On the outside, nothing will seem different. 

But we are different. God is with us! The glory of the Lord has shone around us, and there are heavenly words: Fear not, for behold, there are glad tidings of great joy. Unto us was born a Savior! God’s grace has been given to us. From a stable in Bethlehem our savior has come. We have seen the glory of the Lord revealed in the Christ who was born to us. Tell the world. Treasure the story. Ponder it in your heart. We will Glorify and praise God, for all we have heard and seen! Rejoice! Rejoice! Christ has come!

May the love of God, the redemption of his Son, our Savior Christ the Lord, and the strengthening company of the Holy Spirit fill you and fulfill you this day and all days. For unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders. And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the King of Kings! Merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 19, 2021

The forgotten man

 Matthew 1:18-25:

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”   

He was a man faced with a detestable duty. He was a man of compassion, even tenderness. But he was also a man of honor, a man of a stern code. His obedience to the Law was unwavering. The moment he learned that his wife was pregnant he knew that it was the end of their betrothal, and potentially even the end of her life.

It was two millennia ago in the Roman-occupied land of Judea. Joseph’s wife, Mary, was going to have a baby and it was not his. Compassion, honor, and duty dueled within Joseph. He could not pretend there was no problem. She obviously had betrayed him. The whole town of Nazareth was watching.

It would have been easy for Joseph to put Mary through the spectacle of public divorce, which would have disgraced and humiliated Mary before the entire community. But Joseph was both righteous and compassionate, so he decided to send her away quietly.

It had to have been a tough decision. It wasn’t that Joseph was head over heels in love with Mary. In the arranged marriages of his day, it’s quite possible that Joseph did not even know Mary very well. Joseph’s conflict of conscience was likely not about what to do to one he loved, but over the ever-present tension of how to do what the Law required. 

To say that Joseph was a righteous man meant that he adhered to the Law. Righteousness and religious lawfulness were the same thing to Judean Jews. As a righteous man, Joseph knew he could not pretend Mary had not transgressed, and transgression it could only be since Mary was pregnant and Joseph knew he was not involved. As a righteous man, Joseph could not be blamed for choosing to have Mary disgraced before the community, for the Law did authorize at least that. Joseph’s crisis was that his righteousness impelled him to do the right thing by the Law, but he didn’t like it. Finally, Joseph decided Mary would have to pay the price for infidelity as the Law required, but on his terms. He would break his betrothal to Mary and send her away without fanfare, leaving her to fend for herself. Doubtless from Mary’s point of view that would have been unpleasant, but she would not be subjected to public humiliation. 

After Joseph had made up his mind, he dreamed of an angel. The angel filled Joseph in on the rest of the story that Mary’s unborn child was from the Holy Spirit. 

In Joseph’s dream the angel gave Joseph two instructions. First was to take Mary home as his wife and second to adopt Mary’s child as his own, giving him the name Jesus. 

Matthew uses the word “Jesus” eighty times. This name was a popular one in the first century. Paul mentions a man named Jesus as one who send greetings in his letter to the Colossians. A man named Jesus is included in Christ’s genealogy in Luke, although some Bible versions call this person Joshua or Jose. Even Barabbas’ first name was Jesus. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus names twenty different men he knew named Jesus. “Jesus,” as a name, was about as distinguished as, well, “Don” is today.

The Son of God receives an ordinary name, uniting him with the people of this world rather than separating him from them. In Hebrew the name is Yeshua, which means “God helps.” In Joseph’s day, when a Jewish man gave a name to the child born to his wife, he was announcing that the child was his own. Maybe Joseph’s and Mary’s families knew that Joseph was not the baby’s natural father, maybe they didn’t. It didn’t matter. When Joseph publicly named the baby Jesus, he was also giving to Jesus his own identity, his own lineage, and that settled that. Jesus then could truly be said to be of the line of David, because Joseph was of David’s line and Joseph announced  Jesus as his own son. “This child belongs to me, this child is my child,” is what Joseph proclaimed when he named the child Jesus. 

Joseph gets the short end of the Christmas stick. Mary gets a lot more play. Did you know that Joseph never speaks in the Gospels? Joseph hears, Joseph dreams, Joseph acts and Joseph obeys, but there is no record of even one syllable he uttered. Mary is the one with the speaking part. Mary is the one of whom Michelangelo carved the Pieta, one of the most beautiful statues ever made. Her role is the most sought after in Christmas pageants. 

Another pastor told me of one afternoon before the annual children’s Christmas program, when a mother phoned the church office to say that her son, who was to play the role of Joseph in the Christmas play, was sick and wouldn't be able to be there. “It's too late now to get another Joseph,” the director of the play said. “We'll just have to write him out of the script.” And they did, and few of those who watched that night realized that the cast was incomplete. Joseph is so easy to overlook and leave out.

In 1993, my wife Cathy played Mary in the Christmas pageant at our church in Virginia. They asked her to play Mary because they wanted an actress who was gracious and beautiful and devout. Also, because they needed a woman with a newborn infant, our two-month-old daughter, Elizabeth, to play the baby Jesus. Elizabeth and Cathy, Jesus and Mary, were a package deal, couldn’t get one without the other. But any guy off the street could have played Joseph. In fact, the associate pastor asked me, “Did you want to play Joseph, or should we get a man from the choir to play him?” I said I would but talk about feeling like a fifth wheel … .

Which made me think: We should ponder theologically where Joseph fits in with God’s redemption of humankind. Joseph’s adoption of Jesus is not insignificant. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul says that through Jesus Christ we are adopted as children of God. It is a common and emphatic theme with Paul. Paul calls followers of Christ sons of God and children of God, and let’s be fair, if Paul were alive today, he would say daughters of God, too.

Before God adopted us as children of God in the family of Christ, God sent his son to be adopted by Joseph into the family of humankind. Jesus really is Immanuel, God with us. We really are brothers and sisters with Christ and through Christ with one another. Joseph affirmed on behalf of all humanity that God belongs with us. 

What if Joseph had said no to the angel and had sent Mary away anyway? Can we imagine Jesus growing up in the home of an unwed, single mother in first-century Judea? Would Jesus have ever known God as his heavenly Father if Joseph had never taken on the role of Jesus’ earthly father? It took courage for Joseph to claim Jesus as his own. His example calls for us to muster the courage to make Jesus our own as well. 

Hear then anew the Word of God, Matthew 1.18-25:

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 

 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”   

24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no union with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Joseph adopted the Son of God as the child of humankind, and through Christ God adopts human beings as children of God. There seems to be a symmetry of salvation and relationship at work. It is a Marvelous Exchange! We see in Joseph’s story that we and God belong to each other in and through the one whom Joseph named Jesus, “God helps.”


Tuesday, December 7, 2021

 

This is the original ship's bell of USS Arizona, recovered from the sunken vessel and now on display at the entrance to the National Park Service pavilion across the channel from the memorial.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The coming Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference

The final organizational meeting of the not-quite-achieved Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference was held Dec. 4 via Zoom teleconferencing. The Tennessee and Memphis Conferences will be officially merged in January 2022 into the new Conference. 

The entire video record of the Dec. 4 meeting is here and embedded below. Bishop Bill McAllily's message for the day begins at the 33.05 mark. I highly recommend it! 


(For those who may not know, Bishop McAllily is bishop of both present conferences, a practice that began decades before his assignment here.)

Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Time of Your Life

As delivered Nov. 28, 2021; video of it is here.

 One summer Saturday some years ago, my wife and daughter and I were returning from Durham, North Carolina. They wanted to stop at Black Mountain, a small town just north of I-40 to the west of Asheville. They wanted to shop at the Doncaster outlet store there. I argued not. I wanted to go to the town also. I did not want to buy clothing. I wanted to buy some more time. 


There is a place there called Pellom's Time Shop. My friend Gerard Vanderleun wrote about it a few years ago on his web site.
It's the oldest shop in Black Mountain, North Carolina. None of the other shop keepers can remember a time when it wasn't here. Nobody in town can remember a time when Pellom himself wasn't here. The Time Shop and Pellom may well have been here before the town was here; before even the Cherokee were here. Nobody can say. ...
Most people look into the cluttered and dust-layered window of the Time Shop and walk on by. After all, most are retired and have, they think, all the time in the world.
Pellom doesn't mind. He knows what time it is. He also knows what can happen to time. How it can come unsprung. How it can run slow and still run fast. How time runs down. How time goes by. How time runs out. That's why he's careful, when he can, to save time.
You can, if he decides he likes you, buy some time at the Time Shop. All you have to do is to step through the seldom used door of the Time Shop and say "Good afternoon, Mr. Pellom." Then you need to look around the shop carefully and slowly. You need, most of all, to take your time. 
In time, if the time is right, Pellom will glance up at you from behind his bench, his green eyeshade shadowing his eyes, and say, "What can I get you?" Not "What are you looking for?," or "How can I help you?," but "What can I get you?"
You'd be well advised to take him at his word and say, "I'd like to buy some more time."
Then, if your request is timely, Pellom will nod and fetch a small loud-blue glass-stoppered bottle from the shelf behind him and bring it over to the counter and put it down in front of you with a sharp, satisfying clack on the glass of the counter. Looking into it all you will see is, towards the center, the faintest mist made from the color out of space and inside that, towards the core of the mist, a shovel of stars.
"Very good, sir," Pellom will say. "How much time would you like?"
I'd advise you to buy as much time as you can afford, as often as you can afford it, time after time.
Just because Pellom has some extra time today doesn't mean he won't be out of time tomorrow. Most of the time, time is always in short supply. Tonight, while you sleep, your government will be awake printing more money. Nobody is printing more time.
Which is why you should be careful how you spend time in the first place. Just ask Pellom down at the Time Shop.
"Nobody is printing more time."
 
One day in seminary we pulled our desks into a circle and took sixteen squares of paper the instructor passed out. She'd been years a chaplain at a large Catholic hospital. On four squares, she said, write the names of the four people you love most. On another four, the names of the four places you enjoy most to go to. The third, your four favorite ways to spend leisure time. The fourth, your four favorite restaurants. We complied.

"Now listen," she said. "You have recently had exploratory surgery and the doctor has the lab tests back. You are in his office. 'It's cancer,' he says. (Pause) Now, select any one of the sixteen pieces of paper, crumple it into a ball and throw it into the middle of the room."

My piece of paper marked "Six Flags" went sailing. I don't get there all that often and anyway, I can’t take the roller coasters any more.

She said, "You will begin chemotherapy this coming Monday. Toss another piece of paper."

This time I crumpled up a restaurant and pitched it into the pile. 

"The chemotherapy did not work. Next is radiation therapy, but the oncologist has already told you that its chances are less than the chemo. Throw one more piece." 

And so it went. You throw away a piece of your life one at a time. At first, it's not hard because for each of the four categories for which you have written four items, there is always one item that does not mean that much to you and so is quickly tossed. 

Until about the ninth or tenth throw when you realize that you have kept every piece of paper with the names of the people you love most. Almost every restaurant is gone and all but one favorite place to go. Before long she says, "The cancer is in stage four and is inoperable. The doctor prescribes hospice care." 

And your papers mock you like a two-high hand with a missing card, because all that are left are the names of the four people you love most - for me they were my wife and three children.

"Throw away a piece of paper," she says.

I stare. Who shall I throw away? And the answer is no one. Game over. I fold my hand by laying the papers down and leaning back in my chair.

"Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care about time?"

So, I went to find Pellom's Time Shop, not really believing that Pellom would fetch a small, cloud-blue, glass-stoppered bottle from the shelf behind him and bring it over to the counter and put it down in front of me with a sharp clack on the glass on the counter. And even if he did such a thing, I did not think that looking into it that all I would see is, towards the center, the faintest mist made from the color out of space and inside that, towards the core of the mist, a shovel of stars.

It was not easy to find the Time Shop because it is so small. I almost went into the shop next door but corrected myself. A gray-headed man was standing near the door facing the right wall, passing time when I walked in. He turned slightly toward me and said hello. 

"Hello," I answered. I awaited the question I knew had to come: "What can I get you?" Not "What are you looking for?," or "How can I help you?," but "What can I get you?"

"Pretty cool day today," he said. 

"Yes," I answered, "it is." Chit chat was not what I expected. I asked, "Are you Mr. Pellom?" It 
seemed a foolish question, for who else would be in here?

"John Pellom," he said. "Indeed." He put his right hand out. 

I took at and shook it gently. "My name is Don Sensing." 


There were clocks scattered around the whole shop, some in pieces. One thing John Pellom has plenty of is time. Time is everywhere in the Time Shop. (It is a real place, you know.) 

"Ah, well, Mr. Don Sensing, I am glad to meet you,” John said. “What brings you here today?" 

"My wife and daughter are presently bankrupting me over at Doncasters, and I don't want to be there for that bloodletting. So I searched for your Time Shop."

"How did you know I was here?"

"I read about your shop on the Internet." I pulled out my smartphone and opened Gerard's essay and showed it to him. He scanned it quietly. He read about the small, cloud-blue, glass-stoppered bottle and the mist of stars. 

"Well," he said, "that would really be something." 

We made small talk for a few moments. I gave him my card and briefly explained what we had done on vacation. He told me that he kept busy repairing globe clocks and putting antique wristwatches back into service. His father opened the Time Shop in 1929. "Not before the Cherokee?" I quizzed.

John chuckled. "Well, I don't think so."

My phone buzzed. I knew it was the deadly shopping duo texting me that the MasterCard was now maxed out and would I please go to a bank and bring them a wheelbarrow full of ben franklins. A look at my phone showed I was right. I nodded at Mr. Pellom. "John, it was a pleasure meeting you. I hope you are open for a long time." I turned toward the door.

"Reverend Sensing," John said. I glanced back. He peered kindly at me a moment. "One more thing I have to ask you." I felt his pale blue eyes looking right through mine to the infinity beyond the Time Shop. 

"What can I get you?" 

I said nothing for two heartbeats, then spoke slowly. "I'd like to buy some more time."

There was no shelf behind him. He reached into his pocket and produced a small, cloud-blue, glass-stoppered bottle. "Take this," he said, "and look inside." 

There was, just as Gerard had written, a faint mist of a color out of space and inside that, towards the core of the mist, a shovel of stars. 

At that time, time stood still. Traffic outside ceased, birdsongs stopped, the dust mites in the sunbeam froze in the air. The ticking of the clocks in the Time Shop stopped. 

The bottle drew me in so that I barely had time to think, then I was surrounded by timelessness. There were scenes. Sometimes just still shots and sometimes short clips of short seconds - except there were no seconds, or minutes, or hours, because those things are all time. Inside the cloud-blue bottle there was no time.

There I was as a small boy learning to ride a bike. There I was with neighborhood kids playing kick the can after dark. My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Jarvis, unjustly punishing me for another kid's spill of paint, but I didn't fink. A home run in a backyard game. Walking Valerie home from school. My first job at Woodlawn Market and owner Pappy's fondness for the bottle, but he was always a jolly drunk.

My grandfather teaching me to milk cows and my grandmother rocking me when I was small. Creeks I stomped in, Boy Scout hikes and merit badges. First girl I kissed. Hunting and golfing with my dad. First day of college. First parachute jump. A pretty girl who told me she liked my beard. Commissioned an Army officer. Learning to fly. Wedding day. Births of children. Honors and awards. Ordination service. This was the highlight reel and it felt good. 

The blue bottle wasn't finished.

The lies I told. The kids I treated badly because they were different. The lessons I would not learn. The defiance to my parents. The anger at my brothers. The blows I landed. The push I gave a child when I got home and all he wanted to do was hug me. The prideful stands and the cruel words said. The barriers I put up. The books I didn't read to my children. Contemptuous words uttered. Affections neither accepted nor given. Arguments started. The cursory treatments. The tantrums. The self-centeredness, the caring never rendered, the people dismissed, the love-worthy ignored. This was the low-light reel. It burned white hot.

The blue bottle wasn't finished.

The kindnesses given. Taking Mrs. Adams’ paper to her in the winter because she couldn’t walk in the snow. The elderly befriended. The mother's hand held at her son's last breath. The prayers for the grieving, the bereaved consoled. My shoulder to cry on. The blessings invoked. The needy assisted. The children cared for. The life I saved. The new believers and infants baptized, the celebrations blessed, the dying anointed. The Word spoken truly, the sacraments offered duly. The friendships offered and the hands extended. The prisoners visited, the hungry fed, the naked clothed, the strangers welcomed, the sick cared for. The counsels offered. The listening ear.

The scenes ended. Time returned. I looked up. John Pellom was there as before. I dared to ask, "Did I get more time?"

He shook his head. "Son, no mortal can give you more time."

"But the blue bottle ..."

He raised his hand. "All it can do is show you the time of your life, so far."

My phone buzzed. I ignored it. "Is there a lesson here?"

John glanced at my card. "Reverend, you know the lesson."

I did, but I needed to hear it. "Tell me."

He locked his eyes on mine. "There is only one question you will have to answer before the Lord when that time comes: ‘How did you spend the time of your life?’."

A gentle smile crossed John's face. "Now what do you think the right answer is?"

My phone buzzed again. "It's time for you to go," John said.

"Thank you for your time, John," I answered. We shook hands. "Anytime," he said.

I left the Time Shop and walked back to the car where waited my wife and daughter. We sat in the car for a short time. "Where did you go?" Cathy asked.

I told her of the Time Shop and showed her the two photos I had taken. I tried to read her Gerard's explanation of the Time Shop but could not make it to the end. Time was out of joint. The fabric of time had been ripped and had not yet been woven back together. Rain was falling, closing the world off from us. We were silent for a time, then she said, "It's time to go." 

I started the car and we drove home.

This is the season of Advent. It is always Advent, for always we prepare for Christ’s coming. It is the season of Christmas, for we always rejoice that Christ was born. It is Lent. It is always Lent, for we always repent. It is always Pentecost, for we always receive the Holy Spirit. It is always Ordinary Time, for we live always in this broken  and fallen world. Best of all, it is always Easter, for in our baptism we have died as Christ did and have been raised to and born again in new life. 

Christ will come again. When he does, no matter how it is phrased, our Lord will really want to know one thing: How did you spend the time of your life?

What do you think the right answer is?

(Responsively:)

...When the Lord returns in his glory, he will say to those at his right hand, 
...“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
 ...“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” 
...Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 
...This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"
 
No one is printing more time. The time of our lives is measured only by the love we give away, so we must make sure we always have time enough for love.

Pentecost - Filled with New Wine

Acts 2:1-21 1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.   2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound lik...