Pastoral ponderings . . .
The tender and holy moments that melt your heart. When have those happened to you? Who were you with? The Hallmark channel is wildly popular these days. I remember watching the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" on network TV. The Hallmark Channel in the holiday season is chock full of lonely people in distress finding love and companionship, usually with snow falling and a puppy or two. Those aren't real, of course, but those little plays can and do touch the heart. "Heart-warming" is what we call those. And who doesn't need a little "heart-warming" these days? In fact, I would suggest a little more Hallmark Channel, and a lot less 24-hour news. 24 hour news is bad for anyone's emotional and mental health. Stick to the morning paper and leave it at that, I say.
It is a tender and holy moment when the infant Christ Child is gathered into the waiting arms of first Simeon, the one who has waited his whole life for this moment, and then into the arms of Anna, whom we learn has lived as a widow to the age of 84; perhaps no children of her own; possibly no home of her own as well. The gospel of Luke says "she never left the temple, but worshiped there with fasting and prayer, night and day." A tender and holy moment as these hands, careworn with age, touch the face of the infant Jesus; looking into his eyes, staring into theirs. What did they see?
There is nothing quite like looking into the eyes of a baby, when they are quietly observing you. Newly arrived to this world, without blemish or bias. I treasure the memory of my mother, holding Signe when she was a baby. Signe was my mom's last grand-baby. My mom spent a month with us, just as Kirstin was returning to work from maternity leave. It was such a comfort to us, knowing we could leave the house for work, and Soren for daycare, with Signe's gramma there to love and tend her needs.
My mom was 81 when Signe was born. Not quite the prophet Anna's age, but close enough. She had a full hip replacement a few years before. If she had not, she would not have had the strength or ability to come for that month with Signe. What tender and holy moments the two of them shared. Signe was what we call "an easy baby." She ate. She took long naps. My mom shared with us how she would give Signe her bottle, and Signe would hold her fingers, and they would gaze into each others' eyes. Then mom would lay her down and rub her tummy until she fell asleep. Tender and holy moments. I am so grateful that my mother lived long enough to share them with us.
We have two young grammas in our congregation: Stephanie Wilson, and Regina Reed. Now, when you say "young gramma" in Mormon Utah, that's not a remarkable thing, is it! It's actually remarkable if you don't! I don't know who the youngest gramma in Utah is, but I'd bet you dollars to donuts they aren't Lutheran. Gramma Stephanie and Gramma Regina are no doubt spending many holy and tender moments with their granddaughters.
There's something very holy and tender about the presence of infants and babies in a worship service. It was holy and tender having Zach and Megan Wilson with their baby daughter Nova here on Christmas Eve at Mount Tabor. Parents and grandparents worry that their spontaneous noises are distracting. But unless they are screaming uncontrollably, they are not! Nova's voice was the presence of the Christ Child for me, reminding me of the tremendous mystery of our tradition: that infinity chose to become finite; the divine became fully human; earth and heaven united in a tiny human form. This is what the Incarnation represents; not a jolly saint with gifts who comes and goes one night of the year. The Incarnation of God in our species represents the uniting of heaven and earth as never before or since, and the beginning of Love's revolution within our social existence; reminding us of our holy and sacred calling as a species to be the caretakers of this sacred planet we and every other species of God's profound creativity, call "home." The Incarnation means earth and heaven are forever united, and bound together by the profound action of God, choosing to be born as one of us.
I don't believe we are here on this planet to learn some lessons and leave for a different spiritual plane. I believe we are here to embrace our calling from God to tend this place where heaven and earth have been united, are still united, and in our faith tradition, will be united forever. This planet is not disposable. It is irreplaceable. Yes, we are now aware that there are a couple planets a few thousand light years away that may be in the same "sweet spot" from their star as our planet is from ours. But I have to believe that just as every life-form on the Earth is unique, even within its own species, so must every planet be in the universe. And thus, I do not believe we are the only intelligent and self-aware beings in the universe. Mathematical probability alone, argues against it. But that remains to be proven. What we do know as fact, is what we observe: our own home planet. And what Christmas calls us to reflect upon is what we are doing to help or harm its well-being: this planet of all planets, and this species of all species with which heaven chose to unite.
When our faith stories and traditions tell us is that when The Great Creator chose to become one with our species and teach us to love as God loves, we received our purpose beyond any doubt.
I think our purpose is to be the species that takes care of all the rest. I believe our calling from God is to be the caretakers of not only each other, but of the entire planet and all its ecosystems; and not, as some religions and spiritualists tells us our purpose is, simply to jump through spiritual tests and hoops in a disposable place for the sake of an eternal reward.
Because Mary gave her consent, because God chose humanity, because in our Great Story heaven and earth were united at Christmas, I believe humanity received its highest calling and purpose: The Caretakers of Mother Earth.
This is how I define what stewardship means. This is what conservation means to me: being so conservative with the limited resources of this amazing planet, that we leave enough for everyone and everything to thrive. Stewardship, for me, means leaving the place as good, or better than we found it.
When we hold our own kind close to our hearts in their most vulnerable, beautiful, and innocent forms and look deeply into their eyes in holy and tender moments, isn't this what they are calling from us as well?
Don't they ask us with their eyes, the windows of the soul, what we are doing to preserve the beauty and diversity of this world for them, and the infants they someday will hold? Every child that is born, asks us those hard questions. They are the questions asked of stewards. May we resolve in this new year to continue our calling as stewards of creation in every way we can; so that every ecosystem that shares this planet may grow strong, filled with the wisdom and favor of God.