At a West Hills Church staff Christmas party at my house, probably Christmas 2010.
For many years I have written an end of year poem for the pastor at my church. It started kind of innocently and not deliberately around 1997 or so. Doctor Seuss-like verse pops out of my fingers without thinking most days. That year I had become more involved here at my church and really started listening to the sermons. By listening, I mean absorbing.
So, George Moore was our pastor then, and he was the inspiration. He had spent many sermons trying to get us to understand the word incarnational. That word and the word relational were the two words that really described our church. Well, once we understood what they meant!
So that Christmas I began to understand how the two went together and how we define our life here in this community of worship and faith.
I also realized the two words made a great rhyme!
I don’t have that poem as I wrote it out longhand in his Christmas card that year, the first time I wrote him a poem, and the first time I gave him a Christmas card.
And that continued all the way through 2011, when he preached his last Advent series. He had one ready for 2012, but sadly, he died on November 24, 2012, before he could give it to us.
I wrote one for the associate pastor that year; I’m not sure she appreciated it like George did. She never said anything. I wrote one for our interim last year, and I would say the same thing. I realize neither of them is George, and no one can ever take his place.
I used to put it on his desk between the two late Christmas Eve services with a little gift.
He would always find me and say, “How do you do it? How can you write a poem about my Advent series and always include something about the sermon you haven’t heard yet? The one from tonight?”
I would just smile and say, “You have led me to this place by the previous sermons. You wrote it. I didn’t.”
This year I’m not writing one. There just hasn’t been any inspiration. Maybe it’s me. My heart is in a very sad place right now. My friends and sisters and brothers in Syria and Iraq are not experiencing a silent night. I take hope from the fact that they are still there worshiping the same God who came to earth as an infant. I take hope in the fact that their voices are still lifted in worship. I take hope in the fact that they are still there serving those living through these days.
But my heart is not inspired to a Christmas poem this year.
Inside Joe Mbiy’s home in Kumbo, Cameroon, summer 2001. This was the second time I had met Joe. The first was in Germany the year before. He has now completed seminary and been ordained as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon.
So I wanted to share the last one I wrote for George. And in it I mention another dear friend, a Cameroonian man I met in Germany in 2000. Upon visiting him in his country on a return trip there in 2004, he pulled me aside and told me his dream of becoming a pastor. (That’s Joe in the picture, standing with the hat on.)
Joe is one year older than me, making him 57. His birthday is tomorrow, December 22.
He had a fourth grade education when he asked me if my family might see the way to help him achieve his dream by attending seminary. I asked him how it was possible if he only had a fourth grade education. He said he would work to get his equivalency diploma allowing him to take the entrance exam.
Thinking this was a total impossibility, I told him we would pray about it. If he could make it that far, we would take him the rest of the way, never believing myself that it was possible.
Well the poem indicates that Joe did make it. He worked to get his equivalency diploma, all the time he was a father, grandfather, farmer and Sunday school agent for his church, the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon. He made it through seminary, and graduated at the top of his class.
Steve and Jana and I supported him for those four years of seminary and he worked as hard as anyone ever could.
Two weeks ago, we sent him an ordination gift. He is now Reverend Joe Mbiy.
This poem is for those two pastors from two different continents who inspire me even today. One has gone home to be with Jesus, and one is in Africa, six time zones to the east.
A Christmas Worth Remembering, 2011
My purse was full when I made my start
As I walked in, I grabbed for a cart.
The store was full of so many others:
There were brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers.
This time of year we spend and spend
And Santa’s line, it has no end.
As far back as I can remember,
This is how we have spent December.
It’s Christmastime! The lights! The splendor!
The shopping that’s a never-ender.
A shirt, some shoes, a brand new jacket,
Toys and games that make a racket,
The cart it overflows with plenty,
And when I return my purse is empty.
This ritual of consumption seems so permanent,
and yet I wonder, should it be different?
What if instead of filling a cart,
I took a step and emptied my heart?
If I just stopped and took a deep breath,
and thought long ago of a nativity crèche,
The scene before me would surely reveal
A Christmas worth remembering, God’s ideal.
He asked a young girl to open her heart,
And bear his son, this plan to start.
Her simple peasant acquiescence,
Allowed room for this holy presence.
A song she sang to worship fully,
Her soul glorifies the Lord most holy.
She and her mate had nought to spend,
But with this gift to us portend
That in giving all they had to give
They showed God’s plan on how to live.
To empty my cart and open my heart
I can give to just one, it’s a step; it’s a start.
How easily love can be made manifest
I can give even more, maybe even the rest!
For the story we hear every year on this night
Is about a little babe born to set it all right.
He is the word of our God, sent to us in the flesh
It’s him we should worship, much more and not less.
He spent all he had, his life, in his giving.
To show us the way to love while we’re living.
So when he asks me, and my answer is “yes,”
I should look forward, and not second guess.
As I think back on my “yesses” in this year that has passed
I look in my cart to see what I’ve amassed.
My brother in Cameroon shall soon be called “Reverend,”
I’ve worshiped in Basra, I’ve gone where he’s sent.
I’ve sung in the choir, in the plate I’ve put treasure,
I’ve given my all in ways I can’t measure.
I thank you for helping me have vision to see
That the love of my Jesus, is all that I need.
He gave up his life for the sake of us all,
And that’s what he asks when we answer his call.
This answer does mark us, it makes us distinct
That’s what you told me, at least what I think!
That’s your gift to me in this month of December.
It surely will be a Christmas to remember.
Merry Christmas George!
Peace to you and to all in 2012