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Praise to Hope
It is good to pause, to take time this evening to pause in God's house, relax with beautiful music, be calmed by flickering candle light, and hear again the Christmas story from the King James' version. It wouldn't be Christmas if we at some time did not hear the story of the census, journey to Bethlehem, birth of the baby, and the visit by the shepherds read from the King James Version. The newer translations are clearer, but there is something about the majesty of the King James that makes it Christmas.
It wasn't always so, however. In 1604 King James I rode in triumph from Edinburgh to London to become king of both England and Scotland. The next year he appointed a committee to prepare a new translation of the Bible. Six years later in 1611, they completed their work. Do you know what happened when the long-awaited new Bible appeared? Nobody liked it; it was criticized on every side!
Change is difficult for people. It took one hundred years before doctors took hand washing seriously. An innovative doctor proved how washing his hands before seeing each patient resulted in a lower mortality rate, but it took 100 years for doctors to change, and begin washing their hands.
One of the reasons for stress, breakdowns, and depression in our day is rampant and rapid change. None of us has time to adapt to change anymore, as it happens too rapidly. Therefore, it is good to pause.
Another reason for stress, breakdowns, depression, and divorce is the work style, particularly evident here in Silicon Valley. Last week I picked up a book by Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassel, titled, The Addictive Organization, Why We Overwork, Cover Up, Pick Up the Pieces, Please the Boss and Perpetuate Sick Organizations. It is the authors' contention that many organizations are functioning addictively. "Many of the behaviors considered "normal" for individuals in organizations are actually a repertoire of behaviors of an active addict or a non-recovering co-dependent." Many processes popular in companies are exactly the ways an active drunk responds to crisis. Some high-performing companies function as the addictive substance in their mission statement, products, centrality of the organization in employees' lives, and in the loyalty they expect. The result is a well-known but little understood addiction called workaholism.
If you are one of the unfortunate ones caught in an addictive organization, you need to pause. Relax. Quit looking at your watch. Quit thinking of whatever else you need to do yet this evening. Turn off your stop watch. (My sons set their stop watches to time my sermons!) Pause. A reporter asked Arthur Schnabel the secret of his genius at the piano. He replied, "I don't think I handle the notes much differently from other pianists, but the pauses between the notes--ah, there is where the artistry lies." According to the Bible, God established the rhythm of work and rest, sabbath and worship, in the creation of the world. On the seventh day, God rested. Do you pause one day a week? Do you worship God weekly?
Christmas is a time to pause. Now that Christmas Eve is here, forget about the gifts you didn't yet purchase, or the baking that isn't done, or the cards that didn't get sent. Relax, and pause. Traditionally there are 12 days of Christmas for you to pause, from now to January 6.
The shepherds paused, left their work, and made their way to Bethlehem in response to the angelic announcement. I've often wondered what happened to the sheep while they were gone. Having a touch of workaholism myself, and always feeling quite responsible for the church's work, I wonder about the work that didn't get done because the shepherds took off and went to Bethlehem. Maybe they left a skeleton crew. Maybe they let the sheep tend to themselves, and then had a huge job rounding them up when they returned from Bethlehem. Maybe they didn't worry about it. The work ethic may not have been as compelling. At any rate, the shepherds paused in their work and worshiped the new born baby.
I invite you this Christmas and throughout the year to pause. Take time to pause, relax, turn your mind and heart to God. Pray, meditate, and reflect on your life. Remind yourself that you are a human being first of all, not a human doing.
And, I invite you especially this Christmas to pause to hope. The days ahead do not look bright. The talk of war is much stronger than talk of peace. Our Bishop of northern California and Nevada, Melvin Talbert, who will preach here next Sunday morning, went with a delegation of Christian leaders to the Persian Gulf to talk peace; to pray and work for a peaceful solution to the crisis. Bishop Talbert sent back word that the situation looks bleak. Both sides are acting as if war is inevitable.
The angel Gabriel told Mary, "Nothing is impossible with God." Let us claim that promise this evening, this season, and pray earnestly and zealously for peace. The angels sang to the shepherds, according to the King James version, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will toward men." The Revised Standard version translates, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" The New Revised Standard version, which was just released a few months ago, and is probably the best and most accurate of all the modern translations (If you insist on buying that one more gift, give a copy of the New Revised Standard version) translates the verse, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" Let us pause this Christmas to pray for peace. Let us pray earnestly to God to favor the Middle East, and grant the leaders wisdom to settle the difficulties peacefully, without the loss of a single human life on either side.
Let us pause this Christmas to hope, to light candles in a dark world. There is a new hymn in our new hymnal which we have not yet sung. Written by Miriam Therese Winter, the second stanza reads, (# 506) Dawn of a New Day, put to flight the terrors of a nuclear night. As bearers of your loving light, we huddle closer to your fire, lift the lamp of hope a little higher.
The lamp of hope we lift a little higher is the hope of the world. Henri Nouwen reminds us that hope is the babe born in Bethlehem. The hope of the world is Jesus Christ. Nouwen wrote, Keep your eyes on the prince of peace, the one who doesn't cling to his divine power; the one who refuses to turn stones into bread, jump from great heights, and rule with great power; the one who says, "Blessed are the poor, the gentle, those who mourn, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness;" the one who touches the lame, the crippled, and the blind; the one who speaks words of forgiveness and encouragement; the one who dies alone, rejected and despised. Keep your eyes on him who becomes poor with the poor, weak with the weak, and who is rejected with the rejected. He is the source of all peace.
Let us pause this Christmas, pause to rejoice in the birth of the Prince of Peace, pause to celebrate his presence in our midst. Let us pause to hope and pray for peace.
© 1990 Douglas I. Norris