Sunday, January 29, 2012

Managing What Matters

Epiphany 5B
I used to love to get on airplanes.  No, not the packing or the rush to the airport or the hassle of getting through security.   Rather, I loved actually getting on board and settling into a seat.  I loved the fact that for the next few hours no one could reach me. For me then, the requirement of having to turn off the cell phone always felt like a gift.   (Of course, this was in a period in my life when everyone I loved was happy and healthy and my being temporarily ‘out of touch’ wouldn’t likely have a negative impact on those most dear to me.)  It was, for a certain period in my life anyway, the only time when I could without guilt or distraction sit in the quiet and think and read and write and pray.  
And so it is as I read the Gospel lesson before us now, I have some sense of why Jesus was sneaking out before dawn in order to have time and space to pray.  In fact, I found myself reading back again from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel to be reminded of what had come before.  You know the story.  After John’s announcement of who Jesus was we hear of Jesus’ baptism and then about his forty days of being tempted in the wilderness.  Right after that he begins to call his disciples and next we hear of the start of his ministry of preaching and teaching and casting out demons.  It’s been quite a beginning and one where the word of his ‘success’ has spread quickly  -- so much so, in fact, that by the time we catch up with Jesus today the ‘whole city’ is gathered outside the door, waiting to bring to his attention their deepest hopes and hurts.  Indeed, we can be certain that some of those who have heard of what Jesus could do for them --- some of the most desperate among them probably spent the night there outside Simon’s mother-in-law’s front door, hoping to be 'first in line' the next morning.  Indeed can’t you just picture Jesus walking lightly as he did his best not to wake anyone --- perhaps even using the back door to evade the crowd --- all the while holding his breath as he prayed that for a little while at least he could put some distance between himself and all those hurting people.
Because of course, Jesus knew in a way I all too often forget that he needed that time apart.  He knew that ‘success’ itself can be an idol that leads us to forget what we are here for, who we are called to be, even Who it is we represent.  Indeed, Jesus knew that was something he needed to be grounded in again and again and again as he moved forward into all that lay before him.
An odd thing happened to me the other day as I was trying to put some thoughts together on this text.  I was writing away in “Microsoft Word” when suddenly an advertisement appeared in the bottom right hand corner of my computer screen.  (I have to say that at first I found myself a little surprised by this as I’d never had this happen before and my first response was to feel a little ‘invaded’ --- but that’s a direction for another day’s writing.)  It didn’t happen only once of course and so the second or third time through I paused to pay attention to it.  It turned out it was touting the value of ‘Microsoft Outlook’ and it displayed a scrolling calendar with various commitments highlighted next to the times on one particular day.  And then at the end the words were simply “Manage What Matters.”
“Manage What Matters.”  I thought this a rather odd and interesting coincidence, for in many ways, although the details differ, just like Jesus did, you and I have all kinds of demands competing to be counted among what ‘matters’ on our calendars.  We have work obligations and families to tend to.  We squeeze in time for exercise and put forth the effort to make sure we connect with friends.  We carve out time for worship and to be a part of the community of God’s people.  All of it 'matters.'  All of these may be good and important and sometimes, yes, even life-changing things.  Even so, if you're in the business of working with people at all you know what I mean when I say that people’s needs in this world are endless and we do need to be reminded that we can’t always fix it, heal it, or make the kind of difference that is so desperately needed.  And we can certainly never do so on our own.  Not without remembering the Source of our own meaning and strength and hope.
And so like Jesus, we would do well to do what we have to do to ‘sneak out before dawn’ to find the time and space to pray. 
We would do well to ‘manage’ to do so not only when life’s circumstances make it easy, like when we’re climbing onto airplanes, but every day in the midst of all that life throws at us.
We would surely do well to pause every day to be renewed and strengthened and reminded of what matters in the presence of the Holy One whose people we are called to serve in the first place. 
Some things I’m wondering….
  • What do you think went through Jesus’ mind as he headed out in the early morning darkness to pray?
  • Can you identify times in your own life when the need for time apart to be in prayer was so obvious that you felt you had no choice but to do so?
  • Are you like me?  Do you find yourself grateful for those times life hands you the time and space you need to simply put it all back in God’s hands, but maybe you aren’t always so good at making the effort to do so in other times? Why do you suppose that is so?
  • Have you had stretches of time which seemed to be something like the time that Jesus has just been through before he takes that early morning hike away from all those demands?  What difference did it make to you then to be reminded of who you were and what you were called to be and do?  What difference did it make to you to be embraced again by the Holy One who crafted your very life and yearns only to fill you with meaning and strength and hope? 
  • What does it mean to you to “Manage What Matters?”

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wondering About Authority...

The 4th Sunday after Epiphany
I find myself wondering at what they saw in Jesus in the synagogue that day… what it was that had them leaning in closer to listen.  I wonder if they were puzzled at first but found that puzzlement turning to surprise and from feeling surprised to being utterly astounded.  I wonder how it was he showed the kind of authority that had them taking such notice.
If you’ve been in the conversation with me for a while you know that I often find myself laying the text alongside my life and finding parallels. I find myself doing this in an especially tender way this week for even as I write my family is marking the 15th anniversary of my dad’s death.  And so it is I’ve been thinking about ‘authority’ even while my mind travels back to a hospital room and hard decisions --- a time so very marked by struggle and loss and comfort and hope….
Today I remember especially the bright lights of a hospital consultation room and the uncomfortable chairs that were ours to sit on.  I remember the doctor sitting at the end of the table and that I had a good view of him and of my sisters who sat opposite me.  Our mother sat to my left between me and the doctor.  I remember we had asked for this meeting for in the manner of large teaching hospitals we had seldom had conversation with the physician overseeing my dad's care.  We had kept that vigil three weeks by then and there were signs that his condition was continuing to deteriorate.  And we were wondering if it was now time to stop. We were wondering if it was time to simply let him go.
I remember the doctor --- the one carrying all the symbols of ‘authority’ --- the degrees, the white coat, the experience.  I remember him hearing our concerns and listening to our questions but that even he stood in that mystery between life and death. Finally, he said that our wondering if it might be time to stop the fight made sense.  Still, it was our decision.  He passed the ‘authority’ over this precious life in this life back to us.
I remember that as we waited for family to gather I leaned on the counter in the Intensive Care Unit outside his room and asked the nurse in charge how this would go now, once life support was removed.  She didn’t meet my eye.  She kept filling in her charts as she quietly said to me, “If you’re fortunate, it will go quickly.”  She spoke with the ‘authority’ of one who had walked this path before with hundreds of families, probably.  Perhaps she spoke with the ‘authority’ of one who had lived this even closer to home.
I remember gathering around his bedside and I remember the quavering prayer of a young hospital chaplain… probably a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) student who was on call after midnight that night.  I knew that in that hour I couldn’t have and certainly didn’t want the ‘authority’ to pastor my own family.  I needed to hear those words of comfort and promise spoken with a different voice.  And I found myself ever so grateful to have another take on the ‘authority’ to speak those words in that hour.   
I remember that then the nurse on duty moved around his bed and quietly pressed buttons.  I remember the whirring of the machines becoming silent and I remember that apparently my sisters and I were all doing the same thing: we were watching the monitors to see his pressure dropping.   And I remember my mother --- her voice choked with tears, speaking with the kind of ‘authority’ that is rooted in love saying to us, “Don’t look at the machines.  Look at your dad.”
And I remember the ‘authority’ of another pastor --- one serving a congregation neighboring mine --- who got the call very early that next morning.  He was already scheduled to preach in my stead, but in the next hours he rewrote his sermon to include words about how to minister to a pastor who was grieving.  He spoke with ‘authority’ that day: the kind born of hard earned experience in ministry and in life. 
And I have to say that more than anything I remember recognizing the ‘authority’ of Jesus all over and through that time in the love and care of God’s people… and in the mysterious, really impossible to explain in words, ways in which I sensed the very presence of God holding me, holding us then, promising us that not even this would defeat us.  Assuring us that this was not the end: not in any ultimate sense.
All of these things I remember and they give me some sense of what ‘authority’ is.  Authority, it seems to me, is marked by experience and authenticity and love. 
And yet I find I wonder, still, about what the people saw and heard in Jesus that day. 

One might be tempted to say that it was the miracle they witnessed next that caused them to be so impressed.  But they’re already speaking of Jesus’ ‘astounding’ authority even before Jesus casts out the evil that confronts him.

Perhaps they had history with him, but we don’t know that for sure.

Surely his life so far had honed in him unusual gifts for this teaching…. And perhaps that was easily recognized as he stood before them in the synagogue.

However it was they came to know it, they knew it even then to be sure: that yes, Jesus did have ‘authority’ … only not the kind that comes with degrees, or uniforms or titles… except, of course, the only ‘title’ that mattered where he is declared God’s Own Beloved Son at his baptism as we were reminded again a few weeks back. 

And this was an authority born of love, to be sure…. only his listeners in the synagogue could not have yet fully known the significance of that love and what it would be, what it would mean.
You and I do know though. We carry the whole story in our minds and on our hearts as we stand alongside those gathered in the synagogue now.   More than that, we are those who are still watching the meaning of Jesus’ authority unfold in our own lives and in the lives of the people we are called to serve.  We know that the strength of Jesus' authority lies in his experience and authenticity and love. 

The sort of experience that lived the same life you and I do as one of us.

The kind of authenticity that has one recognizing that there is no deception, but only truth experienced in every encounter.

The sort of love that did so much more than simply teach and heal, more than feed thousands and cast aside evil.  The kind of love that gives it all away --- even life itself --- for the sake of this world God so loves…
Some things I’m wondering still…
  •  What do you think had the people sitting up and taking notice in the synagogue that day?  What must that experience have been like for them?
  • When you think of ‘authority’ figures in your life and experience, what gave them that authority?  How does their authority compare to that of Jesus’?
  • How do you believe one gains ‘authority?’  Is it given?  Is it earned?  Is it a combination of both?
  • How does Jesus have ‘authority’ over your life, your family, your place of employment, your ministry?  When have you experienced this to be especially true?  How would others recognize this is so?
  • Do you experience this story as a gift or a challenge or both? Why or why not?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Following Jesus as Though Our Lives Depend On It

A Story for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
I was reminded of this journey as I made my way home from O’Hare Airport in snow and rush hour traffic the other night.   It was a hard drive but didn’t begin to compare to one I took many years ago when I was serving my seminary internship in Wahoo, Nebraska.
I had traveled to Marshalltown, Iowa for a couple of days to visit my sister, Martha. While there an April snowstorm hit.  You know the type --- where the snow is heavy and wet and doesn’t last long but while here wreaks havoc on everything and everyone who dares to venture out in it.  My two day visit turned into three and I was getting anxious to get back.
The sun was shining brightly and the roads looked clear as I peered out her apartment window that morning.  Of course, it was 1987 and we simply didn’t have access then to accurate weather reports and road conditions so I did what I knew to do.  I looked for myself and then I called back to Wahoo and checked there and they said it looked good on that end, too.   So I packed up and headed west on Route 80 and for a while the drive was easy.  It was as I approached the Iowa/Nebraska state line that I wondered at my wisdom for suddenly the roads turned to glare ice.  I will never forget the moment when I had to suddenly brake… and while I kept the car steady and on the road, I looked into my rearview mirror to see a semi- truck bearing down on me.   I remember gripping the wheel so tightly I thought I’d never be able to let go.  I remember he was able to stop… but just barely and in fact, bumped the back of my little car before bringing his rig to a screeching halt.
Of course, if I’d had any sense at all, I would have pulled off at the next exit and found safe shelter for the night.  Perhaps it was just the “invincibility” of youth that had me not thinking clearly and so I kept driving.
It was when I turned off the Interstate and kept driving west on Route 92, that even I had to admit I was in trouble.  By now it was dark and the drifts on either side of the road were growing higher and higher.  Pretty soon the lanes themselves narrowed to the point that the few foolhardy people still on the road were left to squeeze by one another.  It was so tight, in fact, that I can remember the side of my car scraping into the high drifts on my right.  Still I kept going.
Until I reached the small town of Yutan and was brought to a halt by bright orange barriers which told me the road before me was closed. I was less than fifteen miles from home and apparently I could go no further. 
I pulled into the convenience store that was right there.  I wearily walked my way inside and asked to borrow a phone. (Yes, this was long before cell phones…)  The clerk set it on the counter and I called the pastor who was my supervisor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Wahoo… just a few miles away now but far out of reach to me.  He suggested I try to call the pastor who served the Lutheran congregation there in that town.  Perhaps I could stay there for the night.  I made the call but when he answered he didn’t seem to remember me and that being the case was none too eager to venture out into the cold to rescue me.  Discouraged, I hung up the phone and looked at the clerk behind the counter who was even then working at closing up.  He wanted to get home early since ‘traffic’ was literally shut down and I was most likely their last customer anyway.  I looked at him and asked for directions around the closed road.
He gave them to me… speaking the language of rural folks who have lived in a place all their lives.  You know what I’m talking about: turn right at the grain elevator, go about a mile and a half and turn left at the old Smith place… you can’t miss it, they have two windmills instead of one, etc. As he spoke I felt myself wanting to weep, knowing I would never find my way.
Before he had finished though I felt a kind hand on my shoulder.  It seemed this older couple had been in a few minutes before to fill their gas tank and he said he thought he recognized me coming in as he was going out.    He and his wife got back into their car and he turned to her and said, “You know, I think that was Janet Hunt.”  They started towards home and then they turned around and came back.  He walked back inside and said, “You’re Janet, aren’t you?”  I looked at him, but in my exhaustion I had no idea of who he was.  He introduced himself and reminded me that we had met a few weeks before when I had been paying a hospital call on a friend of theirs.   And then he said, “Come on.  Follow us. We’ll get you home.”
And so I did.  I climbed back into my car and followed them… never letting their tail-lights out of my sight through those unfamiliar rural roads.  I followed them through twists and turns and drifts higher than my car until they turned off at the edge of town, knowing I could find my way from there.  I followed them as though my life depended upon it. And perhaps it did…
Some things I’m wondering…
  1. What in this week’s story in Mark’s Gospel stays with you?  What bothers you in it?  What gives you hope?  What surprises you most?  Does it bring you comfort? Does it make you uncomfortable?  Why or why not?
  2. In my story, I followed that car as though my life depended on it.  How did the lives of Simon and Andrew, James and John depend on following Jesus?  How about you?
  3. Apparently, I had met my rescuers before --- although I did not remember them then --- and so far as I know I have never encountered those kind people again.  So far as we can tell, the four disciples mentioned today had never met Jesus before.  Why do you think they trusted him enough to follow him?  
  4. My following was towards the familiar and the secure. The following of the disciples would have seemed to be towards the unfamiliar and the insecure.  Again, what do you think compelled them to drop everything and go?
  5. When I ponder stories like this one in Mark I am tempted to say “That was another time. People today can’t just drop everything and go like that.”   Maybe and maybe not.  Even if it didn’t mean abandoning everything you have known, what could following Jesus into the new and unfamiliar mean in your life?  Why might it be especially important for people like you and me to come up against stories like this?  Is it possible that sometimes we get altogether too comfortable, too unwilling to risk, too unable to step out in faith?
  6. What are you called to leave behind as you follow Jesus this week? What might you be called to move toward in your following?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

It Seems Like It Should Be So Simple.... So Why Isn't It?

Looking Ahead to the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany:
 Some thoughts on Philip, Nathanael, Jesus, my hairdresser, and invitations...
“And Philip said to Nathanael, “Come and see.” (John 1:43-51)
Who knew it could be that easy?
I got a glimpse of what that can look like in the middle of my life yesterday….
I was sitting in my hairdresser’s chair where she was doing all she could to tame my unruly hair. We were making small talk… talking about the weather, about her son’s newly painted truck, about her daughter’s forensics competition that day.  I don’t know how we got talking about exercise, but Carolyn saw an opening and invited me to join her exercise class.
If you know me at all you know that I’m an early morning walker.  I walk for my physical health, to be sure, but it is critical for my emotional and spiritual health as well.  It never fails.  As my body finds the rhythm of walking my mind is somehow set free.  It’s when I work things out, make connections, ask big questions.  It is good for me, and yet I have known for some time it is not enough.
And so it was Carolyn saw an opening and began to tell me about her early morning exercise class. “It’s called “A.M. Workout Warriors,” she said, “but don’t let that scare you.  It’s a bunch of women about our age.”  She went on to describe the other participants in the class, the patience of the instructor, the fact that you don’t need to bring anything with you as it’s all provided. She assured me that I could fit the workout in and still be home in plenty of time to get ready for work.  She told me this would be a perfect time to start as a new class begins this week.  When I began to ask questions she told me where the class is held and how to get there. She even offered to pick me up on Monday morning as she said, “I know how hard it is to sometime walk into a place not knowing anyone.”
I didn’t quite have the courage to ask what I should wear as that seemed like something I should know. 
After I left her house I drove to where she said the class is held --- just to be sure I could find it should I decide to go.  When I was out shopping later that afternoon, I picked up a new pair of sweat pants.  My old ones are well, old, and fine for walking alone in the dark, but I really don’t want to be embarrassed by something so basic should I decide to go.
As I took my usual walk today I got to thinking about how like Philip Carolyn was as she invited me to join her class.  She knows enough about me to know I might be interested… just as Philip must have known Nathanael would be interested in the fulfilling of God’s promises and so told him about Jesus.  She wasn’t pushy.  She answered my questions as I asked them.  And when it came right down to it, she knew that anything she would say would not be enough.  She simply invited me to come and see, to come and experience it for myself.
It was a simple, straightforward conversation. There was no judgment offered about my flabby middle aged arms or the struggle I’ve had with weight ever since I became a pastor and was introduced to the constant caloric temptations of the role.  She told me enough so that I could find my way on my own should I decide to go and she offered to come and pick me up if that would help.
And yet, I am deeply aware that the kind of invitation Carolyn extended to me yesterday all too often doesn’t happen like it did with Philip and Nathanael in our own journeys of faith.  Still, it seems like it should be so simple.  To care enough to ask. To watch for an opening to invite.  To speak a simple, entirely nonjudgmental invitation.  To not get defensive in the face of another’s skepticism.  To offer to give a ride if that would help. And to let it go, trusting, believing that, in the end, it’s not about you at all, but that, in the end, it’s about Jesus. And Jesus will do the convincing.
And so I’m wondering now….
1)       Who was your Philip?  Who invited you to ‘come and see’ Jesus --- the first time and the many times since?  And what are your ‘Nathanael’ moments --- those times Jesus connected with you so profoundly you’ve never forgotten it?
2)       Consider my conversation with Carolyn about her exercise class.  What about her invitation made me consider responding positively?  What might she have said (or not said) that would have made me dismiss her invitation and forget it as soon as I got out of her chair?  What can that teach us about how we talk about our faith with others?
3)      Why is it that it’s easier to invite someone to an exercise class than to invite them to join us in worship?  I’ve got some pretty good ideas, but I’d really be curious about what you think. Offer your comment below or drop a note to and maybe we can have a larger conversation together about this.
4)      If you haven’t found a home in a congregational community for some time and you’ve dropped into this page and have actually gotten this far into this with me, thank you for bearing with what must seem like a terribly ‘insider’ conversation.  I would be especially curious about your experience.  Has anyone ever invited you?  Did you wind up joining them?  Why or why not?  Again, drop me a note and tell me about it.
5)      A few years back a friend described her experience of moving new into a community.  She said she received a warmer welcome among ‘soccer families’ on the sidelines of her daughter’s games than she did in local congregations.  I still ache to remember the pain she experienced in that time. And I wonder why that was so.  What do you think?
6)      There are a whole lot of questions swimming around in my mind as I think about joining that exercise class tomorrow ---- what should I wear?  Where will I enter the building and how will I find the right room?  Who will be there?  Will I fit in?  What will they think of me?  Will I be glad I went?---  I’m pretty sure those folks thinking about dropping into worship are wondering the same things.  What can we do to alleviate some of those fears that may well keep our neighbors and friends from ‘coming to see Jesus’ for themselves?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Out of Step

“Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)
It was a tradition in our home --- one begun and perpetuated by my mother --- that the celebration of Christmas wouldn’t end until the last day of Christmas had come and gone.  And so it was that we could count on one last gift on Epiphany, on January 6th. The Church calls this day Epiphany.  As children we knew it as “Three Kings Day”: that day when we remember the wise men from the east who were guided by a star and found their way to Bethlehem where they offered gifts fit for a king.  We were always back in school by then and so it was that at the dinner table that night a small gift would be waiting for us each one…  Usually, I have to say, it came as a surprise.  For in spite of the fact that it happened every year, usually I would forget…
It was a tradition which put us a little "out of step" with the rest of our world in that small town we called home, for having no orthodox neighbors, we had no idea that whole ancient traditions continue to mark Christmas on that day. We only knew that something special was ours to receive and celebrate: one more gift to unwrap long after Christmas had otherwise been packed up and put away.
And so I wonder now what gifts will be ours to give and receive this Epiphany, this 12th day, this 6th of January --- long after the more expected and anticipated giving and receiving is past.  I, for one, am going to keep the tradition alive tomorrow--- waking a little earlier to stop at the bakery in Sycamore to pick up treats for my colleagues at work.  They certainly won’t expect it and that will be part of the fun.  It is my hope that perhaps that little bit of sweetness shared will help make us all the more aware of all those other gifts God intends for us --- not the kind we unwrap, perhaps, but the sorts that surround us, often surprising us,  all the time.
How about you?  How will you mark Epiphany this year?  What gifts will you give?  How will your eyes and hearts be opened to receive the gifts of God for you?   Could it be that this awareness of God’s unending generosity is one of the best ways our faith puts us "out of step" with the rest of the world?  Indeed, what a wonder it is that we might not only receive but also recognize the gifts of God on an otherwise ordinary day in January…

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Pay Attention!

The Baptism of Our Lord
January 8, 2011
Pay Attention!
When I wrote in this space on Christmas Eve I spoke of my morning walk that day.  I told you then that my Monday-Friday wake-up time had me awake anyway that Saturday morning so I took my usual walk in spite of hoping I might sleep in a little.  To tell you the truth though, that was only part of the reason I headed out at my usual time that morning.  I also wanted to see the Christmas Countdown Clock one more time.
For you see, every morning in December as I made my way down Somonauk Street in Sycamore I would come upon it. It is a plastic snowman holding a digital clock, standing next to the manger scene on a neighbor’s front yard.  In the early morning darkness you could just make out the wooden cutouts of the Peanuts Gang heralding the Christmas tree on the other side of the sidewalk, but this snowman was clearly placed next to the manger scene for a reason.  The countdown was to this: this birth which would change the world.
And so it was that I watched it countdown through December…. From 25 days to 18 to 7 to 1 and on Christmas Eve somehow I didn’t want to miss seeing it count down to zero (with some 18 or 19 hours left to be sure.)  And sure enough as I came upon it there it was as I expected it.  And this is the truth: I couldn’t help myself.  Even at the age of 50 I felt a deep sense of gladness and anticipation to see those numbers wane.
And yet I wondered then what would happen next .  I wasn’t standing vigil as the calendar turned from the 24th to the 25th so I didn’t see all the numbers go to zero.  Perhaps the owners of the house, of the plastic snowman and its Christmas Countdown clock, stood outside in the December chill at midnight a week ago to watch, I don’t know.  But I wondered if they would unplug it then, take it down, put it away for another season only to be brought out another year to entertain passersby like me.  I got my answer a few days later when I took that walk again.
For there it was in the dark of early morning. The Peanuts Gang was still heralding the Christmas tree.  The baby Jesus still lay in the manger with plastic sheep and ox and Mary and Joseph standing nearby.  And the snowman holding its clock still stood there, too.  And it was still plugged in. And the numbers now were flashing red!!! as they had clearly been doing for several days.  It was as if it was telling me to pay attention. To not forget.  To remember that even though this stretch of waiting had now passed, the story is not over yet.
And so it is now that we come to the Baptism of our Lord.  It falls for us here at the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel --- as if the writer, too, is reminding us to pay attention: that what is said first matters.  And this is what is ours to hear…
Jesus is the One who was foretold.  God’s people had been watching and waiting for a Savior for as long as anyone could remember.  And we get hints of this right here for we hear, of course, about John the Baptist pointing the way to Jesus as One of power unlike anyone who’s been experienced before.  To be sure, we know John is a prophet by his wardrobe and his choice of diet for that alone parallels that of the prophet Elijah (see 1 Kings 1:8).  We know it even more so by the message he shares: calling people to account as prophets have always done.  Pointing to another way that God intends.  Only while other such prophets may have spoken of One who would one day surely come, today John finds himself in the very presence of that One.
So the writer of Mark’s Gospel is telling us to pay attention here as he puts this story first.  And John is surely telling us to pay attention to what comes next.  And then, we’re told, that the whole universe is telling us to sit up and take notice, too.  For while we hear that only Jesus saw and heard it, the story goes that the very heavens were ripped open and that God’s voice was heard to say, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Like a flashing red Christmas Countdown clock I’m reminded to pay attention.  This is the One who was waited for for generations.  This is the One sent from God. This is the one who is God’s own much loved Son.  This is the One.  Pay attention. The story didn’t end at midnight Christmas Eve.  It continues for all of us and for all the world.  Pay attention.  Amen.
Some Questions...

What are the details of the Christmas Story that still stay with you these weeks later?  What is it about the Gift of Christmas that matters now in January?  To what are you still called to 'pay attention?'

Why is it that we only countdown to Christmas? What might it look like if we were to pay more attention to other important markers or moments in the life of Jesus?

Take a close look at the Gospel lesson coming up this Sunday (Mark 1:4-11)?  What grabs your attention in this familiar story?  Why?