writing for christmas eve...

Tuesdays have become my day of study, writing and prayer in preparation for Sunday
worship. Over the years of my ordained ministry I've experimented with other ways of getting my worship notes ready:  sometimes it was being in my church study every morning (like my mentor Ray Swartzback), at other times I tried Wednesdays or Thursdays, too. It became clear that my mind couldn't handle the interruptions if I was in the office - apparently I need more focus and solitude to construct anything coherent - so I've evolved into a writer on Tuesdays between 9:30 am and roughly 4 pm. Like another wise mentor, the late Raymond Brown of Union Seminary used to say, "Preachers need walking around time with the text. Like Jesus." His admonition was to get Sunday's liturgy done early, then take time early in the week with study and prayer so that as you "walked around" through ministry during the rest of the week, new insights might bubble up.

Being prone to fretting in general - and about worship in particular - I've found this to be essential for me.  I used to try, like many others, to do my writing on Saturday afternoon and evening. But I was too wound up and anxious to accomplish anything of value and then I couldn't sleep. It was just a mess when I was in seminary. So, I took Eugene Peterson's advice and made my calendar my ally.  Peterson wrote in Working the Angles that if he sensed he needed to spend a few hours with Dostoevsky each week, he would pencil it into his calendar. Same for prayer, walking and worship preparation along with pastoral visits. Make your calendar work for you and the Lord he advised - and his wisdom has been a god-send for me.

So, now I have my first draft of my message for Christmas Eve ready. I need to let it sit for a spell while I have some tea. Then I'll return to see if what I've worked on for the past five hours has any merit. Sometimes things click and I am grateful. Other times... not so much and I have to rewrite or even start all over again - and work after I get home from choir practice. This year I've been reading what church leaders in Syria and Palestine have to say about the birth of the Prince of Peace. Pope Francis, too. Their hope and solidarity gives me strength to proclaim the challenging call of enfleshing Christ's tenderness in an age of incivility, bigotry and fear mongering.  My heart has found solace in the words of Walter Breuggemann, too when he reminds us that:

... the first task of the preacher is the maintenance of oddity... an oddity which creates freedom for life, energy for caring and joy through the day.  (This oddity) spins off into public policy and proposes the reordeing of public life. But the first task is the maintenance of oddity for the people gathered for worship.

Brother Brueggemann is explicit in calling the preacher to articulate an alternative vision to the violence and fear of the status quo - a sub-version as he calls it - that makes real God's "radical option in the face of the normalcy of deathliness."

It occurs to me that the scandal of particularity so prominent in the election of Israel and so decisive in the incarnation of Jesus is pervasive in biblical faith, always so particular, always so peculiar, always so at odds. It occurs to me that the Jewish
imagination of the Old Testament is so peculiar and so particular because Jews are always the odd men and women out, always at odds, always at risk, always int he presence of an empire with its insistent version of reality, always telling the boys and girls that we are different, different because we have been in the demanding presence of the Holy One, an now we must keep redeciding for a life propelled by that presence, The Jews, over time, devised signals of this oddity: sabbath, kosher and circumcision.

Noting that the same is true for Christians despite our woeful assimilation to the values of empire and capital, he continues:  In parallel fashion, and for like reasons, the baptismal imagination of the New Testament is so peculiar and so particular because Christians are always odd men and women come together in odd communities and congregations, always at odds, always at risk, always in the presence of large cultural empires that want to dissolve our oddity for reasons of state, always telling the girls and boys we are different because wh ave been with Jesus. We are forever reimagining and retelling and reliving our lives through the scandal of Friday and the rumor of Sunday. We, like Jews, devise signals of oddity: the notice of new life, the bread of brokenness, the wine of blessedness, and the neighbor - always the neighbor - who is for us a signal of the love of God.

So, I will let this message sit for a while - swim around in my head and walk around in my heart - to see if later it still preaches.  The old timers in Arizona used to say about something that worked:  that dog hunts.  We shall see, yes? In the mean time, I'm loving this song.


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