Tagged: Christmas

Working the night shift at the Bethlehem Motel

Jeremy Brooks, Flickr, Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/2imaaNe
Jeremy Brooks, Flickr, Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/2imaaNe

The night manager of the Bethlehem Motel tossed the cup of old, cold coffee into the trash can and gave a quick, end-of-shift report.

By dusk, every last room had been snatched up. But when he flicked the switch so the sign out by the highway could announce to travelers, “NO Vacancy,” nothing happened. The repairman had obviously not come as promised. The night manager said he marched straight over to the computer and fired off a strongly-worded email to the City of David Sign Company.

He spent the rest of the night, he said, glaring at that “lying sign” and turning away an endless parade of people. All night long, they kept tromping into his lobby, tracking up the place, asking for non-existent rooms, then asking could they at least use the restroom. He rubbed his eyes. “Government-mandated travel might be great for motel owners…it sucks for motel workers.”

By 9 he was out of clean towels. By 9:30 he was getting a steady stream of complaints about there being no hot water. At 10, he had to call Room 106—twice—to tell them to hold it down. Then, around midnight, once everyone was finally settling in, he could have sworn he heard a baby crying. “From somewhere out back,” he motioned over his shoulder with his thumb.

Around 1, the squalling kicked up again. Maybe it’s a cat? he thought. The night manager walked over to the housekeeping closet and grabbed a mop handle. He locked the office and slipped out the rear entrance to do a walk-around, have a smoke.

That’s when he saw them. They were running toward the motel, from over by the old self-storage place. Four or five high school boys, maybe frat guys from the college—it was hard to tell in the darkness. They stopped when they got to the vending machines by the pool.

He yelled an empty threat—about calling the cops. They busted out laughing and hollered back—all at once, the heavyset one saying something about angels, it sounded like, the others jabbering on about other things that made even less sense. They were drunk, or high—anyone could see that. One of them suddenly looked up at the moon, howled like a wolf and took off. The others whooped and jostled each other as they followed him around the side of the building.

“So…just another night at the office, I guess — a full house, a cat that wouldn’t shut up, and some crazy college kids doing God only knows what….I don’t know when I’ve been this tired.”

As he moved toward the door, he looked over his shoulder at the day manager. “See if you can get ahold of those sign people. Tell ’em we want that thing fixed today.”

Coming down to earth at the holidays

Rosana Prada, Flickr, Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/1NW2skW
Rosana Prada, Flickr, Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/1NW2skW

Advent is the shortened form of the Latin word adventus. It means “coming.”

What a perfect name for this season.

Everything is coming at us during the holidays.

Colder weather comes, usually. Calendar craziness always comes—on consecutive nights it’s possible to have a play, a party, a performance, a pageant, then another party. Each weekend brings the arrival of better doorbuster sales and bigger blockbuster movies.

That end-of-the-year letter from your old college friend about the exploits of her amazing family—that’s coming too. Count on it. (No telling how she’ll top her news from last year—when her 11 year-old developed a vaccine for the common cold while doing his science fair project—but somehow she will.)

For many, the season means the joyous arrival of all those strange and magical traditions—guzzling eggnog and wassail, singing carols, and dragging a “live” (i.e., dead) pine tree into the living room.

For others, Advent is when the blues come, or at least the blahs. I have friends who tell me that every year Sadness comes knocking, uninvited, accompanied by Loneliness in his most hideous Christmas sweater.

At Advent coworkers and neighbors come together. Grown kids come home, bringing precious little grandkids (who happen to be coming down with the flu). Hopefully, on Christmas Eve, Santa will come down the chimney—or at least the UPS and FedEx trucks will come up the street with those gifts you ordered at the last possible minute.

Advent also means the New Year is coming, and God knows, the credit card bill is coming soon after that, probably with a migraine chaser.

All this constant “coming” of all these things. We should be oh so careful.

More and more, the Christmas season resembles a horde of Black Friday shoppers—initially giddy and good-natured, but slowly turning dark and sinister. So that by the time “the Day” arrives, we find ourselves hunkered down over some cheap gadget, “assembly required…batteries not included,” taking swings—or at least verbal swipes—at anyone who dares glance in our direction.

How easy it is to forget that none of these arrivals are even the point.

In church world, our end-of-the-year focus is supposed to be on the coming of Christ. Beginning four Sundays before Christmas (slightly longer in the eastern church), Christians remember that Jesus came in history.

Nativity 8During Advent we read again the sparse details of his birth (so sketchy that we’ve taken it upon ourselves to fill in details that Matthew and Luke left out—adding an innkeeper, deciding there were three wise men, imagining a stable and populating it with kosher animals).

We shut the book and wonder at the outlandish claims of the gospel writers: This Jewish newborn who was worshiped by foreign dignitaries, ignored by most everyone else, and stalked by the paranoid King Herod was and is the Almighty. The infinite infant.

No wonder C.S. Lewis, speaking of the Incarnation, said, “If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the Earth.”

At the most basic level Advent is meant to remind us that Christ has come (past) and that He will come again (future). At a deeper level, the mystical and beautiful truth is that He still comes (present tense) to those who make space for him, to those who, like Mary and Joseph, welcome him into their lives.

The shepherds, if they could come back for an ABC Family Christmas special, would say that if angels ever show up at your workplace and announce that the Savior has come to a manger near you, you should definitely drop what you’re doing and go see for yourself.

One Christmas a gift came for me in the mail and it got misplaced. I think it was an envelope with a check in it. Or maybe a gift card. My memory is fuzzy. I just remember that in the midst of all the holiday hubbub, it got shoved aside and buried under all the wrappings and trappings. The Latin word for that is amissus, “lost.”

Just like a wife, Cindi came over from the kitchen, searched through the clutter, and found it. Which, if you think about it, is Advent in a roasted chestnut shell.

When everything about our world was amissus, God’s response was adventus.

Some words about words (and about “the Word”)

I read yesterday where the Oxford American Dictionary recently chose its 2012 “Word of the Year.” The winner? “GIF,” a 25 year-old noun (from the world of technology) that morphed this year into a verb meaning “to create a GIF file of (an image or video sequence, especially relating to an event).” “GIF” beat out a number of other finalists, words like “superstorm” and “nomophobia” (i.e., the fear of losing one’s mobile phone–nice to know my condition has a name). “GIF” joined a growing list of winning words that describe life in Cyberspace, words like “unfriend” and “podcast.”

True confession: “GIF” is not a word I use (unless I get in a pinch in Words With Friends), probably because I have never been much of a “GIFFER.”   But “GIF” aside, I am fascinated by most words. I like to read, speak, and hear them. I try to imagine a “word”-less “world.” (It would literally be “l.”)

So many words. So little time. A few are fun to say, words like “whomperjawed” and “conniption.” Others are beautiful and soothing–“hush,” “tranquil,” “lullaby,” and “murmuring” come to mind. A friend likes to say the word “lovely,” which is, in itself, a lovely word. But Julie makes it even more lovely because she always says “lovely” in such a lovely, sophisticated way.

A mere four-letters, “home” is, for my money, a piercing, breathtaking word–either due to the home you came from, or the one you always dreamed of but never had. And then there is “grace.” Philip Yancey nails it when he calls it “the last, best word.” Amazing word, that word “grace.”

I’ve noticed some words so exactly match the ugly images or harsh meanings they are meant to convey, they make me wince. I think of “treachery,” “corpulent,” “gargoyle,” “divorce,” and “gripe.”

I won’t mention naughty words here, or hard-to-say words, but since I am writing words about words, I will say this:

My friend James Skinner will preach at our church Sunday. (In fact, if you are in the Greater Ruston Area this weekend, let me invite you to come hear him at The Bridge. With his words, Skin–as most folks call him–will make you think, and he will make you laugh. When he opens his mouth and shares both from his head and his heart, you will want to be his friend. And if you talk to him for even five minutes afterwards, you will feel like you and he have been friends always.)

Skin is kicking off our three-week Advent sermon series. His words will focus on John 1:1-5.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is how John’s Gospel begins, with these simple yet enigmatic words.

A theologically-minded Jew reading John 1:1 would have thought of G-d’s creative word (i.e., Him making everything from nebulae to gnats by the sheer Word of His power–see Genesis 1). Or maybe about YHWH’s guiding word (i.e. the LORD calling wayward people to Himself through divinely-inspired prophets)…or maybe about His saving and healing word (i.e., hopeful words graciously spoken by  the Creator to his perishing creatures–see Psalm 107:17-20).

A philosophically-minded Greek reading these same words about “the Word” would have viewed them as a reference to the impersonal Reason that permeates and governs the universe. Which is it?

Three paragraphs in, and some other mind-jarring metaphors later, John dispenses with all his obtuseness. He quits dropping symbolic hints and letting his readers form their own assumptions about what he means. In John 1:14, he spills the Bean that can, if you let it, cause your heart to skip a beat. His exact words? “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

“The Word became flesh.” John is talking, of course, about Jesus Christ. And in case there is any doubt, he says this plainly in verse 17.

Then, for the rest of his gospel, John struggles and strains to find (what else?) words to tell of Jesus …this Word who came into the very world He created with words. This ultimate Word whose mission was, in part, to do what every good word does–to express and convey (in this case to explain God and make plain the truth about His heart). John’s task is so impossible, he finally says in the last words of his gospel, that if the whole world were a library of thick books, each one filled with words about “the Word,” it would still not be enough.

The Jews were on the right track. God’s “Word” is instrumental in creating, guiding, and saving. What they needed to see in the end is what John ended up saying: “God’s Word has a name: Jesus.” And the Greeks needed to grasp that the Reason that permeates and orders the universe is anything but impersonal. “He” is Jesus. And He is full of grace and truth.

So this is John’s brief, most unusual version of the Christmas story. No “GIF”s of mangers or stories of shepherds… just a few mind-blowing words about “the Word.” Not Jesus the baby, but Jesus the Word.