Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas Parable - The Parable of the Shopper by H. David Burton

Today our journey into spirituality via Christmas Parables comes to an end. First, allow me to wish everyone who visits my sight a very Merry and joy-filled Christmas. Please note that for the next week or so I will not be posting anything on my daily blog. I shall return on January 2nd.

The Parable of the Shopper as told by H. David Burton

A woman tells the story of what occurred on a bus:

I had been Christmas shopping all day long. When the bus finally arrived, it was packed with holiday shoppers in the same exhausted mood as I. I sank into the only vacant place, near the back, by a very handsome gentleman. He politely helped me to situate my packages and even held some of them himself.

After jovial conversation among the passengers, the gentleman began in a quiet, melodious voice, deepened with experience, to teach me a lesson that I have never forgotten. "Hear now the parable of the shopper. A woman went forth to shop, and as she shopped, she carefully planned. The hard-earned money was divided, and the many purchases were made with the pure joy and delight that is known only to the giver. Then the gifts were wrapped and placed lovingly under the tree."

"In eager anticipation she scanned each face as the gifts were opened."

"'What a lovely sweater,' said the eldest daughter, 'but I think I would prefer blue.'

"'Thank you for the cassette player, Mother. It's just what I've always wanted,' said her son. And then aside, secretly to his sister, he continued, "I told her I wanted the one with the automatic reverse and an extra speaker. I never get what I want!"

"The youngest child spoke out with the spoiled honesty of her age, 'I hate rag dolls! I wanted a china doll.'

"One gift still lay under the tree. The woman pointed it out to her husband. 'Your gift is still there.'

"'I'll open it when I have time,' he stated. 'I want to get this bike put together first.'"

"How sad it is," continued his soft, beautiful voice, "when gifts are not received in the same spirit they are given. To reject a thoughtful gift is to reject the loving sentiment of the giver himself. And yet, are we not all sometimes guilty of rejecting?"

He was not talking only to me, but to all of those on the bus . He took a present from my stack.

"This one," he said, holding it up and pretending to open the card,"could be to you."

He pointed to a rough-looking, teenage boy in a worn denim jacket and pretended to read the gift card.

"To you I give My life, lived perfectly, as an example so that you might see the pattern and live worthy to return and live with Me again. Merry Christmas from the Messiah.'

"The gift of example is a precious yet often rejected gift."

"This one," he said, holding up a pure, white present, "is for you." He held out the gift to a worn-looking woman, who in earlier years must have been a real beauty and was still attractive in her slim black skirt, black tights, and heels. She allowed her tears to slip without shame down her painted face.

"'My gift to you is repentance. This Christmas I wish you to know for certain that though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow, and I the Lord will remember them no more. Have a happy New Year. Signed, your Advocate with the Father.'

"Ah, repentance, something every Christian needs," said my seatmate.

"But that isn't all. No, here is a big, red package." He looked around the group and brought a ragged, unkempt, little child forward. "This big, red package would be for you if He were here. The card would say, 'On this Christmas and always, My gift to you is love. My love is pure! It is not dependent on what you do or what you look like. I love you as you have been, as you are now, and as you will be in the future. From your brother, Jesus.'"

"And this silver package to you, madam," he said with a bow to an aging grandmother two rows behind.

"Yes it would be for you, because you would appreciate it most of the time. His precious gift to you would be the gift of salvation. The surety that you will rise from the grave and live again with a perfect, resurrected body. The card would read, 'I give this precious gift freely to you and all men, by laying down My life for you. Signed, Your Saviour.'

"One final gift," said my seatmate. "The greatest of all the gifts of God. Eternal life! A chance to receive the same quality of life that Christ Himself lives. But though this gift is to all men, it must be assembled. He has given us the instructions. They are here in the scriptures." He tore off the paper to reveal a worn, well-used book . He stood up. He was leaving, making his way slowly down the aisle. He paused just as he reached the front and said, "One last gift. Peace! Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." [John 14:27] With those words, he was gone.

How we receive these gifts, these precious gifts from the Babe of Bethlehem, is the telling point. Are we exchangers? Is there really anything else we would rather have? Is there a feature missing? It is what we do with a gift long after we have opened it that shows our appreciation. Have we used it, worn it, displayed it, or cherished it? How does Christ feel when we don't even take time to use His gift of repentance, the one He purchased at such a great price? How sad it is when gifts are not received in the same spirit that they are given.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Parable - What Language Does God Speak? by Rev. Joseph Healey

During this past week I’ve been sharing various Christmas stories/parables. I hope that you have enjoyed the spiritual journey that stories alone can provide. They speak a universal language and communicate the very heart of God. Maybe that is why Jesus used so many stories to share the great news of God’s love for all people. This particular story speaks to that reality.

What Language Does God Speak? By Rev. Joseph Healey

Once upon a time there was a man in the Serengeti District of western Tanzania called Marwa. In the sixth grade he studied the Christian religion. At Baptism he chose the name Emmanuel which means "God is with us." After finishing high school Emmanuel read magazines and books about God. He believed that God is truly present among us, but he asked: "What language does God speak?"

Emmanuel posed his special question to different church leaders in his village. The old catechist answered. "I think that God speaks Latin." The chairperson of the parish council guessed, "God speaks our local language Ngoreme." But the searching youth Emmanuel had doubts. "When I get the right answer," he said to himself, "I’ll know immediately and feel great joy." So the young African set off on a journey. In the neighboring parish he asked again: "What language does God speak?" One Christian suggested Kuria, another local language.

Again Emmanuel had doubts. He began to travel across the whole of Tanzania visiting small towns and big cities. In one place the Christians were certain that God spoke Swahili. People in western Tanzania said Sukuma while residents in the northeast said Chagga. Emmanuel was not satisfied with these answers. Remembering the African saying -- "traveling is learning" -- he journeyed outside Tanzania. The Kenyans said Kikuyu and the people of Uganda answered, "God speaks Ganda." In West Africa he got different replies: Lingala in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Hausa in Nigeria and Arabic in Morocco.

He decided to travel the whole world if necessary. Passing through Europe he was told "French, German and Italian." The Christians of North America said "English" while South Americans replied, "Spanish." In his heart the young Tanzanian knew that these answers were inadequate. Determined to find the real truth he went to China where the local people insisted that God speaks Mandarin or Cantonese. Emmanuel was tired from his long travels but he resolutely pushed on. In India he was told Hindi. He reached Israel late in December. The local inhabitants said, "Surely God speaks Hebrew."

Exhausted by his long travels and the unsatisfactory answers, Emmanuel entered the town of Bethlehem. The local hotels were filled. He looked everywhere for a place to stay. Nothing was available. In the early morning hours he came to a cave where cows and sheep were sheltered. He was surprised to see a young woman with her newborn baby.

This young mother said to the traveling youth, "Welcome, Emmanuel, you are very welcome." Astonished to hear his name, the young African listened in awe as the woman called Mary continued: "For a very long time you have traveled around the world to find out what language God speaks. Your long journey is over. God speaks the language of love. God loved the world so much that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

Overjoyed to hear these words of Mary the young Tanzanian understood Gods language of love for all people, for all races, for all nations. Emmanuel exclaimed, "Truly, today God is with us."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Christmas Parable written by Soren Kierkegaard - "The King and the Humble Maiden"

During these days of preparation leading up to the Christ Mass and the Celebration of the birth of the Christ child, I’ve been sharing Christmas stories and parables which have been borrowed from numerous different resources. I’m deeply in debt to the wide range of men and women who have shared the stories/parables that they have discovered during their own spiritual journey.
Normally I have simply shared the story allowing each of us to draw our own conclusion. Such is the case with today’s story with one exception. Before I share Soren Kierkegaard’s Christmas Parable, “The King and the Humble Maiden” I want to share the insight from the 4th Century of one of the ancient church fathers, Father Athanasius, who  took pen in hand and in one sentence gave us wise insight into the incarnation: “He became what we are that we might become what he is”.
The King and the Humble Maiden
There once was a king who loved a humble maiden. This king was of uncommon royal lineage. He was a king above kings, with power and might to make all others humble before him. Statesmen trembled at his pronouncements. None dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all who opposed him. The wealth of his holdings was unfathomable. Tribute arrived on a daily basis from lesser kings who hoped to gain his favor.
And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in the poorest village in his vast kingdom. He longed to go to this maiden and announce his love for her, but here arose the king’s dilemma: how to declare his love? Certainly, he could appear before her resplendent in his royal robes and surrounded with the Royal Guard, ready to carry her away in a carriage inlaid with gold and precious stones. He could bring her to the palace and crown her head with jewels and clothe her in the finest silks. She would surely not resist this type of proposal, for no one dared to resist the king.
But would she love him?
She might say she loved him. She might be awed by his royal splendor and tremble at the thought of being blessed with such an amazing opportunity. She might tell herself that she would be foolish to reject such a marriage proposal. But would she love him, or would she go through the motions all the while living a life of empty duty, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she love him or regret the moment of being face to face with the overwhelming grandure of the king?
Or would she be happy at his side, loving him for himself and not for his title or riches or power?
He did not want a wife who behaved as a subject to his royal decrees, cringing at his word and unwilling to do anything but agree with all he said and did. Instead, he wanted an equal, a queen whose love knew no restrictions or limitations. He wanted an equal whose voice would speak to him at all times without hesitation. Love with his beloved maiden must mean equality with her. He wanted a relationship with the woman that had neither barriers nor walls in which he was not a king and she was not a poor subject of the crown. The love shared between them would cross the chasm that threatened to keep them apart, bringing the king and peasant together and making the unequal equal. In short, he wanted the maiden to love him for himself and not for any other reason.
He had to find a way to win the maiden’s love without overwhelming her and without destroying her free will to choose. The king realized that to win the maiden’s love, he had only one choice. He had to become like her, without power or riches and without the title of king. Only then would she be able to see him simply for who he was and not for what his position made him. He had to become her equal, and to do this he must leave all that he had.
And so one night, after all within the castle were asleep, he laid aside his golden crown and removed his rings of state. He took off his royal robes of silk and linen and redressed himself in the common clothes of the poorest of the kingdom. Leaving by way of the servant’s entrance, the king left his crown, his castle, and his kingdom behind. As the next day’s sun rose in the east, the maiden emerged from her humble cottage to find herself face to face with a stranger, a common man with kindly eyes who requested an opportunity to speak with her and, in time, to court her for her hand in marriage.
And the courtship goes on…

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Weight of a Snowflake - A Christmas Parable

I came across this little Christmas Parable at a Food Resource website. Given the recent events at Sandy Hook Elementary and the non-response-shift-the-blame-spend-more-federal-money-put-more-guns-in-the-hands-of-people-and-in-our-schools response to this horrific tragedy by the NRA; given the large number of homeless in America; given the ever growing number of starving children throughout the world; given our propensity in our national entrenchment way of thinking of what is in it for me … I thought it would give us some food for thought as we approach the Christ Mass and the glorious celebration of peace on earth, good will towards all people.

The Weight of a Snowflake

"Tell me the weight of a snowflake," a sparrow asked a wild dove.

"Nothing more than nothing," was the answer.

"In that case I must tell a marvelous story," the sparrow said.

"I sat on a branch of a fir tree, close to its trunk, when it began to snow, not heavily, not a giant blizzard, no, just like in a dream, without any violence. Since I didn't have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952.

When the next snowflake dropped onto the branch - nothing more than nothing, as you say - the branch broke off."

Having said that, the sparrow flew away.

The dove thought about the story for a while and finally said to herself:
"Perhaps there is only one voice lacking for peace to come in our world."

Whenever you think your contributions, acts of charity, work for justice, gifts of love, or your talents are nothing, or are small in comparison to those of others, remember that when one is added to another, and then to another, great things can happen---from "nothing more than nothing."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Two Christmas Parables - Mette's Christmas Miracle and Sherlock Holmes and Watson's Christmas Camping Trip.

 During this week leading up to the Christmas celebration I am sharing some Christmas stories and/or parables. Today, there are two stories – one long, one short. I hope that you have enjoyed these stories and have received some inspiration in reading them. By-the-way, I will continue to share these stories up to and including Christmas morning and then I will be taking a week off returning to writing my daily blog on Wednesday, January 2nd.

Mette’s Christmas Miracle By Harrison Woodard

 A long time ago there was a flock of sparrows. They lived near a small farming village in Norway.

Just before Christmas it started snowing. For two days the blizzard raged covering everything and making it impossible for the birds to leave their tree.

The flock began to worry.

“What are we going to do? If the snow continues, we will never find anything to eat,” said Markus.

“Maybe we should have flown south with the other birds,” said Lina.
“We have always survived the winter here. We will survive this one as well,” said Jonas one of the older sparrows.

Mette listened to the older birds. If Jonas was not worried, she wouldn’t worry either. She found a warm spot and fell asleep.

For two more days the snow continued. The flock became even more concerned.

“I don’t understand. The weather has never been this bad for so long. I don’t know if we will make it,” said Jonas.

Now that Jonas was starting to worry, even Mette was concerned. Before she went to bed she asked God for help.

“Dear God, I know you will provide all we need. Thank you for protecting us,” prayed Mette.

The next day the birds peered out at the raging storm. It was a dismal sight. The snow and the wind made it impossible to fly anywhere.
“Jonas, what will we do?” asked Markus.

“Will the storm ever end?” asked Lina.

“I think we are in trouble. Even if the storm ends, it may be weeks before we can find any food. The snow will be too deep. It will cover everything,” said Jonas.

All the birds were very sad. There didn’t seem to be any hope.
Mette listened to everything the other birds said. As the youngest of her flock, she rarely would say anything. But she knew she had to say something.

“Don’t you believe God will take care of us?” asked Mette. “He has always given us everything we needed. Why wouldn’t He keep His promise now?”

The other birds admired Mette’s faith, but they saw the snow and heard the howling wind and saw no way God could save them.
“Mette, God has many things He has to do. He can’t always save us. Sometimes it is up to us to save ourselves,” said Jonas.

The other birds agreed.

Mette lay down and thought about what Jonas said.

“God, that just doesn’t make any sense,” she prayed softly. “I know that you will supply everything we need. I am going to trust you and not the other sparrows.”

The next day was Christmas Eve. The weather outside was the worst it had ever been. The snow was coming down so hard that you couldn’t see more than a couple of feet. There was absolutely no way the flock could leave their tree.

The sparrows gathered together to discuss their options.

“I don’t think I can last another day,” said Markus. “I’m very hungry.”
“Me too,” added Lina.

“I just don’t know what to do,” said Jonas.

They had lost all hope.

Off in the village came the faint sound of Church bells. The sparrows listened to the music. It was very pretty and brought a brief moment of relief to their despair. After the bells stopped, the birds sat in silence.

And Mette said, “Did you hear the bells? This is Christmas Eve. The night God gave His Son. If He is willing to give His own son, He will certainly provide our food.”

The other sparrows wanted to believe, but all they could see was the raging blizzard. They saw no way that God could provide anything for them.

“Markus, don’t you believe?” asked Mette.

Markus thought for a second, “I believe I do.”

That night, Mette bowed her head and prayed, “God, thank you for giving Jesus to the world. I know that you love my flock and will provide everything we need.”

Mette found a warm spot in the tree and fell asleep.

It was another long and cold night.

The next morning, Markus was the first to wake up. He felt the warm sun on his feathers and took off on a short flight to stretch his wings.
The snow had stopped and it was a sunny Christmas morning.

Markus flew over the village and was surprised by what he saw. He immediately flew back to the tree.

“Mette! Wake up! It’s a miracle!” shouted Markus. “Everyone, come quickly.”

Soon the whole flock was following Markus toward the village.

During the night, the people had placed sheaves of oats on poles and rooftops throughout the village. There was plenty of food for everyone. Barn doors, gables, and gateways throughout the village were decorated with grain. There would be plenty of food for the whole flock all winter.

“Just like you said Mette, God will provide everything we need,” said Markus. “I will never again doubt God.”

That day the sparrows celebrated Christmas by feasting on all the food they had gathered. Never again would any of them ever doubt God’s ability to provide everything they needed.

And from that day forward, in villages throughout Scandinavia, people continue to place food out for the birds at Christmas. No human knows exactly why this custom started. But God knows. He was responding to the faith of a little sparrow named Mette.
Story #2: Sherlock Holmes and Watson’s Camping Trip
One Christmas holiday Sherlock Holmes and Mr Watson went on a camping trip. After a fulfilling meal they lay down in their tent for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend awake. “Watson, look up and tell me what you see.” Watson replied, “I see millions and millions of stars.” “What does that tell you?” Holmes questioned. Watson pondered for a minute. “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. 

Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Logically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant . Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.” “Is that all?” Holmes asked. “Yes,” Watson replied. “Why have I missed something?” Holmes was quiet for a moment, then spoke. “Watson you idiot! Someone has stolen the tent!”
Point of the story: Don’t overlook the obvious … Have a very Merry Christ-centered Christmas.
NOTE: I will continue to post a Christmas Story or Parable through Christmas morning and then take a short break in writing my daily blog until Wednesday, January 2nd.