Life Abundant

As we close out this season we are (just as Mary and Joseph were when the wise men left) forced back into the real world.  The twinkling lights get put away.  The trees and wrapping are put out on the curb.  The garland has dried out and the red and green are fading from the city.  Carols are gone from stores and elevators and, maybe, from our spirits.  We get back into the daily grind.  Back to regular work and school schedules.   And, if we aren’t careful, our sense of awe at God’s love for us might fade right along with the lights over Court Street.

We are, with the close of the Christmas season, being ushered back to reality.  We’ve taken twelve days and then some to reflect on what it means that God came among us in the flesh.  We’ve thought about why God came, incarnate in Jesus, to be born into the lowliest of circumstances.  It’s like God choosing to be born to immigrant parents in Queens who can’t qualify for a Habitat house and struggle to keep the heat on in the winter.  Why would God choose that?  Hopefully, in these twelve days we’ve come to the conclusion that it is because those circumstances show us that there is no place God’s love can’t dwell.  There is no person it cannot envelope.  There is no space God’s love won’t go.

The wise men brought gifts symbolic of the importance of Jesus’ birth.  The gold representing his royal standing; frankincense his divine birth; and myrrh his mortality.  Jesus’ three pronged identity as royal, divine, and mortal threatened the existing power, and ultimately, the reigning way of life.  Pray that Jesus continues to threaten our way of life beyond these twelve days of Christmas.  Pray that this Christmas has shaken up our tendency toward existential dread, toward mundane attitudes, toward blindness of what God is doing.  Pray that the wonder and awe of this season will not die with the lights and that we will continue into 2017 with a keen sense of God-with-us.

Jesus talks about having come so that we might have life and have it abundantly.  As we move out of the Christmas season and into Epiphany, may we live as though life is a feast every day.  May we recognize the table of goodness spread before us.  May we see twinkling light in the eyes of our children, beauty in the morning sky, and the glow of our friends’ smiles.  Above all, may we have life abundant because we love and are loved, so, so loved, by God.


Merry Christmas….still?

“In America do you say Merry Christmas or Happy New Year on December 27?”  A friend of mine asked me this question after she was rudely chastised that after December 25 the proper salutation relates to the New Year coming up.

For weeks (in retail for months) we prepare for Christmas.  Gifts are purchased, decorations displayed, and parties seem endless.  THE DAY comes and goes, and we move immediately to the next thing.  Looking back on the year that was and making resolutions for the upcoming year fills the news and our conversations beginning on December 26.  Whatever happened to the season of Christmas?  Yes, Virginia, there is such a season.

The season of Christmas is filled with fun traditions, odd celebrations, and folklore.  Some historians contend the Twelve Days of Christmas poem and song is filled with hidden meanings passed along for centuries due to religious persecution.  I wonder if 10 Lords-A-Leaping really does stand for the 10 commandments.  Maybe?  Maybe not.  The NY Times made its annual report on the cost of purchasing everything from the partridge to the drummers.  $44,602 – a slight increase over last year.  (Note: leave out the golden rings for a big cost savings.)  Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was written to close the Christmas season on January 6.  Many church staffs are beginning serious planning this week for Lent and Easter.  Why don’t we bask in the manger’s perfect light before heading down the road to the cross?

I fear too often we live in anticipation without experiencing the joy when we arrive.  There is a letdown the day after Christmas when there ought to be continued celebration.  Ripped wrapping paper and left overs should remind us of the day we kicked off the Christmas season.  Even the celebration of administrative professionals has grown from one day to a full week.

A couple of days ago we celebrated Emmanuel, God with us.  Is it possible to use these 12 days to reflect on what incarnation means in our lives?  God the son took on human flesh and human nature.  Epiphany will be here soon enough when the proclamation of the Gospel begins.  We know how the story of Jesus’ earthly life ends.  There will be time to observe those solemn days with the incredible ending.  For now I’m going to do what is so difficult and rewarding.  Join me in living in the moment, in the season of Christmas.  Keep singing Joy to the Word and saying Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas, still!



Skipping Christmas

For centuries, Christians have celebrated the birth of Jesus by coming to church to sing, pray, remember, give thanks, and recommit our lives to God.  What were we thinking?

This year, with Christmas falling on Sunday, many churches have decided that the best way to celebrate the coming of Christ is to cancel worship.  The primary reason given is that attendance will be sparse.  When did we decide that the purpose of worship is to draw a crowd?  Attendance at the first Christmas was not big, but God decided to go ahead with it.

A second reason offered is that canceling worship is in keeping with a “family friendly” approach.  A pastor in Melbourne, Florida, says: “Christmas is a big family day, and we’re focused on the family.  We should be able to worship the Lord in our homes, also.”

Huh?  Should churches encourage members to gather with their family for brunch on Easter or go bowling on Good Friday?  When did we get the idea that the primary purpose of the church is to support the family?  The New Testament teaches that the church is our family.  Christians put God ahead of their family.  Jesus felt this so strongly that he said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters cannot be my disciple.” (This verse is not going to make it on to anybody’s Christmas card.)

What about the people without a family—the elderly, singles, lonely people, those a long distance from family?  Isn’t it possible that those who are alone at Christmas need to worship God?

The real issue is not that people will skip church on Sunday.  The problem is that churches are failing to tell the truth about Christmas.  It is hard to read the Gospels and see how our modern Christmas celebration could have begun with the ancient story.  In the Bible, Christmas is not about big crowds, family gatherings, or expensive presents.

The first Christmas marks the beginning of a small, counter-cultural community that puts their trust in God’s way and none of their faith in materialism.  Christmas invites us to have different standards, hopes and dreams than those who do not know the meaning of Christ’s coming.

If we believe that Jesus’ birth changes the world, then we will change the way we see our world.  The work of Christ’s hands will be continued in the work of our hands.  We will have compassion for all people—especially those that are usually left out.  Because Jesus has come, we will walk out of step with the rhythms of the world.

On Sunday morning at 11:00 at Plymouth, we will gather to sing, pray, and listen to the story.  We will celebrate by remembering the first Christmas and giving ourselves again to the hope born in Bethlehem.



On Love – The Fourth Sunday of Advent

We are told the time of Advent is all about waiting.  Waiting.  Preparing.  Quietly contemplating.  So where does Love fit in?

Is there time for love?  If I’m any example, my days are chock full and noisy. Dashing.  Rushing.  Juggling.  Between working on a presentation—it’s, maybe, really good, but definitely really late; attending holiday performances for school—can I get to the MetLife plaza in time to hear my kid for yet another year; coordinating visiting family over Christmas—wait! I can’t sleep 8 additional people here, and you know “she” doesn’t get along with “her”; baking cookies—“No Mom! not Cinnamon Stars, we wanted Raspberry Thumbprints”; waiting for the cashier who’s taking his or her time—“so what do you do with fennel?”; end-of-year odds and ends—yikes, we’re out of gift wrap; and well, someone’s got to get dinner on the table (every night!).  Where is the time for Love?

Is there the proper setting for love?  The way the days go, are we ever in the right place for love?  The office is sterile, the classroom is noisy, the kitchen is a mess, the sidewalk is crowded, the gym is sweaty, and well, the subway platform is crowded, and something doesn’t smell too good.  Where is the place for Love?

Do I have the capacity to love?  You mean you want more than I’m already giving.  It’s not enough that I go to church on Sunday, that I write an extra check to a good cause, that I’m baking and buying and shopping, that I’m here for you!  So I ask again, where does Love fit in?

I’m stuck on the wrong love.  Here I am talking about drumming up and doling out more of the same.  But we’re talking about a different kind of love altogether.

Advent offers us a sanctuary for a quiet moment of relationship to God amid the noise of the season.  The coming of Christ is our sign of the presence of divine love in our lives, in our relationships, in our world, and in us.  The coming of Christ is our marker of divine love.

How ironic that I and others take this season devoted to the birth of Christ and allow it to drown out just exactly that quiet contemplative love.  Could the advent of divine love free me and free others from my self-centeredness?  Might I then experience my own possibility for good will? It’s easy to love my friends, but not so easy to love the slow cashier, the demanding client, the pushy parents, the needy child, and the fetid masses.

At this Christmastime, as we experience the season, as we gather and celebrate the coming of Christ, let us feel divine love and pour out our love and receive love in worship, among friends, family, our global community, and our faith.

Penelope Kulko


Advent Joy


Joy is, in my opinion, best visually represented by the young. As we get older we unfortunately turn down the physical expressions of such emotions to some degree (except when it comes to family). It’s mostly in the young where our true visual manifestation of such a powerful emotion can fully be expressed to the eye with such abandonment. Please pardon my obvious and sometimes not so obvious depictions of this wonderful feeling. Oh and by the way, this was a joy to do -)

Joy is something you Give
Joy is
something you See
Joy is
something you Feel

Joy Is the Love we share

Joy Is Doing God’s Work, even in unexpected ways

Joy Is the Beauty before us – if only we open our eyes

Joy Is What We Bring to life

Here are some of my favorite quotes on Joy:

“Remember to light the candle of joy daily and all the gloom will disappear from your life.” – Djwhal Khu

Joy is not the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” – Robert Schuller

“In thy presence is fullness of joy.” – Psalms 16:11

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Guatama Buddha

Joy is not in things; it is in us.” – Richard Wagner

Joy is the infallible sign of the Presence of God.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardi

“Heaven, the treasury of everlasting Joy.” – Shakespeare

Joy is prayer – Joy is strength – Joy is love – Joy is a net of love
by which you can catch souls.” – Mother Teresa

“Now and then it is good to pause in our pursuit of Joy 
and just be Joyful.” – Anonymous

Chris DeRosa

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