"A Fascinating Reality”

Meditation Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – December 24, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Lessons and Carols

Christmas Eve

    I am always excited about the coming of Christmas because of what happens in the lives of so many people.  Merchants hope beyond hope that consumers are ready to spend their money.  Families come together to celebrate their unique traditions.  Homes are decorated unlike any other time of the year.  Churches have overflowing crowds of people on Christmas Eve.  The story of Jesus' birth makes its annual appearance in word, song and live nativities.  

    What is fascinating, however, is that there are very few changes that take place in our habits, attitudes and routines after our observance of Jesus' birth is over. We have celebrated Jesus' birth since we were children and have fond memories of those days, but has Christmas made that much difference in our lives?    

    Hanging on the wall in the office of my former church was perhaps the greatest statistical graph ever created.  To me the graph symbolizes the futility of war.   It was created by the French engineer, Charles Joseph Minard.  It shows the war of 1812 when Napoleon marched 422,000 soldiers into Russia.  When his frozen, exhausted and starving troops retreated into Poland, only 10,000 of his men survived that campaign. 

    Listen to what Napoleon wrote, “Caesar, Charlemagne and I have founded massive empires.  On what did our genius depend?  Brute force!  Jesus of Nazareth founded His Kingdom on love and service and today, millions continue to honor Him.”  Napoleon knew not only the birth-story, but also Jesus' life and teachings but he still remained enamored by his own skill as a master-craftsman in the art of war. His spirit was captivated by the allure of having his legacy attached to having massive amounts of real estate under his command.

    This evening we are going to consider the changes that continue to take place in our lives.  Are they automatic because we are aging, because our family and job status have changed or are most of the changes the result of making new and better choices? 

    Last Sunday we celebrated in our sanctuary the life of a deceased member of our community.  During my meditation, I told a story of how an artist created a quality oil painting for his television audience during a half hour show.  It was fascinating to watch him create a canvas of beauty in such a short period of time.  I told the congregation how much our lives are like a blank canvas when we are born. 

    It is as if God presents each of us with such a canvas and says:

I have given you free-will.  My love for you will always surround you and there is nothing you can do to prevent that.   You may create anything you wish on your canvas. When you are finished with life in your physical form, your canvas will reveal the responses that you made to all of your life-experiences.

    Regardless of what any of us believes about anything, every person on earth is engaged in this process. Each brush stroke represents our responses to everything that comes up for us.  Think about it this way -- our choices mold and shape our attitudes and our predispositions.  Our choices form our decision-making abilities and the nature and quality of our relationships.  Our choices are influenced by what we believe and by our personal skill at interpreting creatively what we are experiencing.

    What is fascinating is that no one else can put any of those qualities or skills on our canvas.  This process happens so slowly that we seldom understand the small changes that have been taking place within ourselves since we were born.  The habits we have developed, the secret and visible appetites that we have, the attitudes we have assumed are all formed from our responses to life's non-ending cycle of changes and events.

    God made a difference in history by sending a baby that would grow up to teach us how to create remarkable canvases.  Are we captivated by celebrating Jesus' birth while neglecting what he grew up to teach?  Napoleon had correct information but he failed to be influenced by it. 

While listening to each other, have we ever noticed how skilled we are at describing why we are the way we are? For example, "Mom and Dad did not treat me like my brothers and sisters."  "I was born a middle child."  "I was an only child." "My parents divorced when I was twelve."  "Many of my friends got the breaks because their parents had connections."  "There wasn't enough money to send me to college."  We could go on with our self-analysis and miss the point completely.  We were the ones putting all those self-definitions on our canvas.

     God sent Jesus to teach us that our treasure does not come from the conditions of our lives but rather by developing what is inside of us.  The world needs to hear and understand this.  By following our dreams rather than the money trail, we will find that we have the potential to experience all the values we celebrated with our four Advent Candles -- Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.  Jesus came to guide us through the maze of living in a material world filled with its attractive horizons and greener pastures, none of which is capable of delivering what they promise.

    Think about what these people have in common:  Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Walt Disney, Johnny Depp, Mario Andretti, Daniel Radcliffe, and Julie Andrews.  So far in their lives, most of them have created some very colorful canvases but not one of them graduated from high school.  Each found their treasure by following their greatest desire, a desire that propelled them into the futures they chose.  Radcliffe, who played the role Harry Potter in all the movies, has a net worth today of 110 million. 

    Our inner spirits, however, may also be motivated by very selfish purposes.  Just like Napoleon, Alexander the Great once wept because he felt there were no more worlds left to conquer.  Drug dealers and crime kingpins are driven by the riches that can be gained.         

      In the Gospels, there is only one place where Jesus discusses his purpose for being born.  He said, "I came into this world for one purpose and that is to speak about the truth." (John 18:37c)  Most of the other things that have been written or said about Jesus have come from others. The truth Jesus came to teach was that our potential talents, abilities, gifts and graces are not found in the material world, they are found inside of us.  He said, "The Kingdom with all its power is where God dwells.  That Kingdom is within us and no where else." (Luke 17:21)

    All of us need guidance.  All of us need suggestions.  All of us need a coach that helps us seek our highest potential. It does not matter how old or young we are.  Life can be very confusing for millions of people.  Just look at the headlines in the Royal Gazette that discussed recently that in Bermuda our sons killing our sons.  Look at the sheer numbers of angry people who believe their unhappiness is caused by what others are doing with their lives. 

    The Christmas story was not recorded in the Gospels to transform anyone.  The story only reflects God planting a seed in human history.  If we have been influenced by what Jesus pointed to, our transformed choices will show up on our canvases.         

    What is fascinating is that we can change the entire canvas any time we wish.  Nothing in our past is set in stone.  All of it can be wiped clean simply by changing by being more creative and loving in our responses to life's events. Look at what happened to Zacchaeus or Saul of Tarsus. We can let go of old grudges and hurt feelings.  We can begin allowing our life's energies to flow away from us through generosity, kindness, compassion and forgiveness that we direct toward others.

    Baby Jesus grew up to teach us that life is not about what happens to us. Life is about what happens to others as a result of our being here.  Not only is this true today but it has been true in every generation. As we enter the New Year, let us desire to reinvent ourselves every day by using love as our rudder.  Keep your energies flowing away from you.  That is what Jesus taught and that is what he demonstrated with his life.  Now it is our turn to step up and make a difference.  Merry Christmas!