Thursday, December 7, 2017



‘Tis the season…   for the movie “Elf”!   “Elf” is that Will Ferrel comedy about a human child that grows up in the North Pole working with Santa to make every Christmas a wonderful treat for all the children of the world.   The whole premise of the movie is his adventure in the “regular” world as he travels to find his Human father.  But because he lives in “Santa-World”, he indeed knows the secrets behind the curtain; that Santa’s sleigh runs on “Christmas Spirit” – the more people that believe in “Christmas”, the better the sleigh will fly (higher and stronger!)

This is how Santa flies around on Christmas eve night… Christmas-Spirit power.   And at the end of the movie, well, of course, people believe in Christmas!   And as an effect of this increase in “Christmas Spirit”, Santa’s sleigh picks up speed and does indeed fly strong and true! 

Here’s a few questions for you…  Is Santa real?    Do you believe in Santa?  

What’s the difference between     Is “Santa“ real?...   and…    Is Santa “real”?    Is there a difference between    Do you “believe” in Santa?    and      Do you believe in “Santa”?    Is there an actual guy who wears the red outfit and rides in a sleigh and takes presents to children all over the world (in one night!).   Is that Santa real?    Or…  is the idea of Santa real?  …The open heartedness of the season, the sharing of gifts, the “Christmas Spirit” of it all.   All this is personified by the person Santa.     You’d have to be a Grinch to not believe in this kind of Santa, right?!

The idea of that simple thing called “Santa” reflects a deeper truth. 

I’ve been watching some episodes of the new version of Cosmos, the remake of the Carl Sagan version from the 1980’s.  This version has the telegenic and equally qualified astrophysicist Neil 
DeGrasse Tyson.  It’s about the wonder of creation; the universe, the galaxies, our galaxy, the stars… our star, life on earth… how science explains life on our planet, and possible life on other planets.   

This is all explained through the lens of science, but still very awe-inspiring!

Now, I’m a Lutheran pastor, a representative of an institutional Christian religion, and I very much have an appreciation for the “Sacred”, for the Mystery of God, for the Mystery of Life!   I call all this, all this behind the “veil”… but also…  what’s under, around, and in our world too… a Sacred Mystery! 

The show Cosmos reminds me again that our world – the world we live in daily – is filled with knowledge, facts, information, reality… all combined to help us recognize we are all a part of this grand wonderful mystery of life!  

This Mystery, the Sacred Mystery, is always there… but we don’t always notice.  But there is enough there to remind us there is a deeper truth that underlies our world – that’s just under our normal attention.  Sometimes we stop at the facts of our lives…  the Dragnet/Joe Friday/ “Just the facts” kind of facts… but we forget that just behind the facts there’s the wondrous depth of Sacredness, mystery… the “well” of Deeper Truths!

Sometimes we look into this “well” through the eyes of science     or also    through the lens of religion – “theology”.   The word “theology” is a misnomer.  It literally means “the study of God”.  But think about it… we’re not actually studying “God”.  We’re more accurately studying our perception of God, our understanding of God.   We could better say, “theology” is our attempt to look into this “Well of Mystery” through the conscious perspective of the divineness-of-things.  

An we humans are part of this “Divineness”, part of this deeper Sacred story.   Our human experiences are recorded in the earliest cultures, and they also tell of these deeper truths.  Sometimes these truths, are hidden from us – from our consciousness – but these Deeper Truths are still just as true!    

For example, let’s look at the cosmic struggle between Light and Dark.  Every culture, every time, every place… this theme of the “struggle between Light and Dark” has always existed.  Story after story, culture after culture, across time – until today, we’ve all known this struggle of the Darkness inside and outside of us and around us – the forces, energies, and (especially) tendencies of the baser parts of our human natures; fear, laziness, apathy, anger… struggling against the forces, energies and tendencies we all have of bringing Light into the world.

Stories from the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Israelites, and countless Indigenous cultures across the globe, this struggle of the Darkness and the Light accompanied our ancestors in the past.  And still accompanies us today – through stories like the Star Wars series, and many of the books of writers like Stephen King and Dean Kuntz.   This struggle is very real!   It’s deeply embedded in our human experience.    

We celebrate the birth of Christ – the “Light of the World” – at the end of December.  Our Christian Christmas is another expression of the “Light and Dark” theme.   We don’t really know when Jesus was born, but we celebrate his birth on December 25th.   Why would we do that?   Why that date?  This only works in the Northern Hemisphere, but by December 25th, we’ve passed the Winter Solstice – the shortest day of the year.  After the 21st, the days start getting longer!  And more than a few “Sun God” religions of the Ancient Near East celebrated the birth of their god either on the 21st or just after as well.  

The Persians celebrated the birth of their “Sun-God” Mithra then too.   So too did the Roman Sol Invictus cult celebrate the birth of their Sun-God then.   

Another theme transcending place and time has been the idea of “Resurrection”.  There are the religious expressions – from the story of the Phoenix, the mythical bird, that rises anew from the ashes of the old, to the Ancient Near Easter religions celebrating the re-birth of the crops and vegetation, to the Anglo-Saxon Fertility god Eostre, and quite a few others – to the theme of “resurrection”… these all have at their core, the underlying theme of New Life!  

This idea of resurrection shows up so often in our past religions precisely because it is a classic human theme, expressed not only in our human religions, but in our human lives!   From those successfully negotiating drug and alcohol abuse, divorce or the break up of a long-held relationship, the death of someone we love, or the ending of a job… all these are examples of people coming from and ending, a death of some kind, to living life anew!  These are indeed examples of Resurrection!

These are all part of the human experience… always have been… always will be. 

And Advent… this is another of those classic Human Themes!    Advent – the beginning of something, the coming of something.  We humans have always “marked” time; we’ve “marked” the beginning of things, the coming of things.  Whether “good” or “bad”, we’ve always taken notice of certain starts, certain beginnings – either by looking forward with excitement and anticipation, or dreading what’s coming.

We wait with anticipation, apprehension, or with hope…
…Waiting with Hope – we’ve always done this!  …Waiting with Hope – this is part of this Grand Sacred Mystery, part of the Deeper Truths of us as Human Beings!

The Churches traditions often reflect these deeper truths.  “Waiting with Hope” is one of them; through the centuries, the millennia, we humans always had the tendency to wait with expectancy – with hope; for new births, for new family members, for a brighter tomorrow after a dark night, for a better year, for successful crops, for better, more fair leadership, for a new world.   

The Church year starts with waiting!   With hopeful, expectant, waiting!    Waiting for the Advent of a new day, a new year!    In our Advent… in our waiting, we’re tapping into the Deeper Truth of “human-ness”.  We’re invited to prepare, to make some space… some Sacred Space… in our lives.

Noticing these Deeper Truths, these deeper Sacred Mysteries doesn’t come easily to us.  We have to prepare… and it starts by paying attention. 

One of my High School years I spent in a country bordering the Indian Ocean.   I went on a class trip to the ocean, and for the first time went snorkeling.  I got in the water, took some bread down with me, crumpled it up so the bread broke into many, many small pieces.  These pieces floated all over around me, and attracted fish.  And boy did it!   Fish of all kinds surrounded me; the colors and styles were just amazing!  I could feel their fins, their tails on my body as they turned and darted around me, competing for the floating pieces of bread.   They were so close, all around me.  I wanted to grab one.   I tried – first this one, then that one, over and over again… they were just too fast!    I couldn’t grab, much less touch, any of them.  But I found if I left my hand open, the fish would swim just above my open palm.  The more open my palm was, the more likely they were to swim there. 

I learned, sometimes this is the same with God – same with the Deeper Mysteries – sometimes we have to allow space… then sit and wait…   and pay attention…  and God shows up!

This too – Advent – waiting for a new coming, a new day…  for the coming of Christ…    is another part of the Deeper Truths of the Human Experience!            

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