Transformation, not transaction – Advent Reflections part 4

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from Rev. Dr. Heather H. Lear, Vice President for Grant Administration

No one expected the Messiah to be born in a stable to an unwed couple from Nazareth. They couldn’t have predicted he would be raised as the son of a carpenter and spend his 3-year ministry teaching and living in a way that turned social orders and worldly logic upside down. He refused to give answers that fit snugly into the expectations of the day.

St. Therese of Lisieux, nicknamed “The Little Flower,” is known for the profound impact she made in her short life (she died at age 24). One of her lesser known but important sayings is, “God knows all the sciences, but there’s one science God does not know, God does not know mathematics. God knows nothing about mathematics.” So why are we so tempted to tally, count, compare and produce?

Jesus isn’t concerned with blessing our tallies. He pushes back when people try to get him to affirm their math, easy formulas, or that life always adds up and the scales always balance. Time and time again Jesus flips the script and elevates presence, love, wholeness, and true belonging over traditions, expectations, and the hierarchy of the day.

We worship a God who isn’t interested in transactions, but rather transformation. A God who understands our struggles and suffering, loves us deeply, and names and claims us as God’s own.

The past two years have been hard. What are your hopes for encountering God this Christmas? What will help facilitate this experience for you and those you love?

Are there things you can let go of that diminish your peace and joy, maybe just for this year? Maybe from this year on?

New Math – Advent Reflections part 3

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from Rev. Dr. Heather H. Lear, Vice President for Grant Administration

When COVID-19 shut down the schools in my state, I found myself serving as the “stand-in” algebra teacher for my 12-year old son. As the days went by, I realized there is something comforting in mathematics. You can check your answers and have certainty in the work. During a period when uncertainty reigned with no end in sight, the certainty of following a process and checking for right answers was a gift.

So much of our lives are grounded in a kind of math, formula, or logic. We are told that if you follow these steps, do the right things, your reward is waiting. Sometimes that pans out – sometimes not. This tallying and linear thinking can also be applied to our interactions with God. The Christian faith is often presented as easy math, simple transactions. If you agree to these statements, you’ll have eternal peace. Give money to this cause and you’ll be “#blessed.” Pray a little harder and your pain will go away, your wish will be granted.

But this isn’t consistent with God’s character or with what Jesus taught and modeled. The formula breaks down because life is hard, we struggle, and the fairness scale is unbalanced.

There’s no math that makes sense when we consider God’s unconditional love and grace. It’s so extravagant that we can never earn it and it’s definitely not what we deserve. As we prepare for the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, we are reminded that God doesn’t operate in our neat and tidy formulaic ways.

Today, I pray that we can move from thinking we need to do more to earn our place and instead, learn to swim in a sea of God’s grace. Amen.

You’re More Than Enough – Advent Reflections part 2

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from Rev. Dr. Heather H. Lear, Vice President for Grant Administration

I think we’ve all heard sermons and read devotions about not being so preoccupied with our busyness that we miss spending time with Jesus. But let’s be real, especially during this season of the year. How many of us find ourselves taking care of all the details, making sure everyone has what they need? Because if we don’t, who will?

In the story of Jesus coming to Mary and Martha’s house, we find Martha frantically scurrying about trying to fulfill her hosting responsibilities (Luke 10:38–42). We also see her getting increasingly annoyed at her sister for not lifting a hand to help. Martha has spent her entire life living into expectations placed on her or that she placed on herself along the way. This is the tradition and formula for making things work. She pleas with Jesus to affirm her efforts and to implore Mary to balance the equation. But Jesus pushes back:

Martha, you’ve already done more than enough by opening your home and providing physical space. Now open your heart and have confidence that you are enough, and your worth isn’t tied to the things you do or roles you play.

A Perfect Christmas – Advent Reflections part 1

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From Rev. Dr. Heather H. Lear, Vice President for Grant Administration

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it? With all the commitments and pressures so many of us already face, all the other holiday-related things can feel like a huge drain.

B. Janet Hibbs, Ph.D., a Philadelphia-based therapist says, “Childhood memories of gingerbread houses, decorations, wrapped presents, special foods, as well as familial and religious traditions pose unconscious expectations.” Many of us watched the women in our families bake and decorate and run around like a maniac buying gifts. So, part of the reason we might take on these activities ourselves is because it just seems normal. We have our to-do lists, shopping lists, Christmas card lists, and general mental checklists to ensure everything is perfect and sticks to the magical Christmas formula. I don’t remember my grandmother ever pausing her hostess role to sit down and enjoy the food she prepared at the one time a year our extended family was gathered.

How do we remain focused on preparing for the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us?

As we mentally scan our to-do lists and long-held traditions, what makes sense and brings expectation and joy today, when things may be new, or different or hard?