It goes without saying that we never really understand the dynamics of the relationship we had with our parents until we are old enough and experienced enough to gain proper perspective. When I think back to my young childhood I am (uselessly) abashed at the total lack of understanding I had of my father. He worked long hours for long years at a job that represented no kind of dream for him and we five kids lined up to consume his paycheck and break all his stuff! That, of course, is not the whole of the story either – simply a strand I was incapable of grasping at the time. And, unless it was accidental on my part, I did nothing to make his life easier at the time. Later, as I understood more, I did better. Sadly, I must confess that I worked a lot harder to be a blessing to dad after I was out of the house than before. I suspect I am far from alone in this. In the last few years of his life, when his strength failed, all dad’s adult children worked tirelessly to help him remain as active as possible, as comfortable as possible and as engaged as possible for as long as possible. Dad took a yen to have some ducks around and duck eggs to eat. None of us even cared why? I built a coop and put up a pen. My older sister got six peeps (Campbells’s – egg layers) and raised them in her garage until they were old enough to occupy the coop. All siblings made whatever improvements were necessary as time went by, fed and watered the ducks, gathered the eggs, learned the best ways to cook with them, etc. It was but one thing. When dad could no longer make it to the woods we went and took pictures of the recent doings of the beavers, deer, snapping turtles, etc. My youngest sister is a nurse and kept on top of the increasing medical demands, giving the rest of us the training we needed. All my sisters went to great lengths learning to cook for dad’s specialized dietary needs. We built a new deck with a ramp to ease the process of getting to the car. My younger brother did the lion’s share of the home repairs. We trimmed and removed trees and repaired the leaky roof. We learned to do physical therapy and therapeutic wraps. We mowed, gardened, and kept the roads hot between dad’s house and the pharmacy, grocery, hardware…. Our only wish was that we could have done more. When absolutely no more could be done, we gathered round his bed and stayed till the time came to say goodbye. We experienced in those times, a fierce determination to bless our father. It was, as Dickens would have it, the best and the worst of times.
My experiences with my earthly father mirror my experiences with my Heavenly Father in at least this one way. There was a time when I was only concerned about being blessed by God. I still am concerned with that. I desire earnestly to be blessed by God. But I also wish to bless God – a thought that did not enter into my earlier calculations. It never even occurred to me that I could! God had everything to give and what could He possibly need from me?! Well, we learn better. Even though He never ages, fails, nor dies, God is a father after all and every father can be blessed by His children.
As we come to a new year, if we are goal setters/resolution makers let us try getting alongside the ambitions of the Apostle Paul who said – Therefore, we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. II Corinthians 5:9
Let us spend 2021 in a grand effort to please God.
When I was a young child, I would have climbing the walls the past couple weeks WAITING for Christmas to arrive! I do remember once thinking in July that we had gotten over the hump in the long WAIT for Christmas. Then, shortly after Thanksgiving the actual Christmas decorations would start going up. In our house a tree never showed up until about December 15 – 10 days being about the max for keeping a fresh cut tree looking good. Although mom had a box of actual store-bought Christmas tree decorations, we kids loved to string pop corn and paste bright colored construction paper chains together until almost no actual foliage could be seen. Stockings would be hung, somewhere in that last week mom always arranged a telephone call from ‘Santa’. A box of oranges (the only time of year we had oranges) and a dish of vanilla crème drops showed up (always managing to make their mysterious appearance when I wasn’t looking!). All these little markers and progressions finally led to laying awake in bed on Christmas Eve, having set out the milk and cookies and determined to stay awake until….zzzzz.
Then the big day arrived.
Well, things have changed. These days I feel like the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day passes far too quickly. There are so many things to do and so little time to do them that the season is over before I have much got to enjoy it. But there are high lights, markers and progressions: Singing the old Christmas Carols and the new songs the contemporary praise band learns, the Christmas play (the youth of the congregation really knocked our socks off this year – helpful hint: put your socks back on before leaving the church building – Ohio December evenings are cold. The personal Bible studies that inform and build the sermons for the Christmas season. All these things have nothing to do with the glitter and color that so thrilled my childhood days. And the mysteries of Santa have been squeezed aside by a much deeper and more profound mystery – the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The few weeks at our disposal are inadequate for considering such things and suddenly, it is January.
The secret lies in the realization that the blessings of the incarnation are not limited to a season. The big event came – as the Bible says – in the fullness of time: that is, following millennia of preparations that involved whole peoples, cultures, languages, nations, societies, and more. The markers and progressions that led to the Christmas event took in the whole phenomenon of Hebrew prophecy, the entire panoply of Eastern monarchs, the rise and fall of powers, earthly and heavenly, the ministries of men and angels and LOTS MORE. Nor is it only the relative past of all those years BC. The blessings of the incarnation have spanned all the years, languages, peoples and powers since as we mark off the steps along the way to the next phase of God’s REALLY BIG PLAN – in the fullness of time. Suddenly, hanging a stocking seems somewhat trivial and the taste of those crème drops fades.
I am not anti-presents, trees, decorations, etc. – I do believe glitter is immoral and ought to be illegal, but only because it is impossible to contain. But the Christmas season is already short enough and we do have to be careful of distractions from the actual point. I hope you have a blessed Christmas in every possible sense.
I am not much of a gambler myself. As kids my siblings and I would take a jar in which the family saved pennies until the jar was full, divvy up the coins and play poker until someone had cleaned everyone else out – then all the pennies went back in the jar. At some point the jar would get full and whosever turn it was would get an infusion to their savings account. Gambling is easy when it costs you nothing. But that isn’t usually the case. As an older teen I helped my grandparents a lot on their perspective farms. On one occasion my paternal grandfather and I finished up his haying for the year. We had just filled the last two wagons in the field and grandpa was certain it would not all fit in the remaining space in the barn loft. I said I though I could get it all in. He said he doubted it. I said ‘Wanna bet’. He asked ‘Bet what?’ ‘A root beer!’ I replied. Grandpa and I both had a thing for root beer. Mason’s was our favorite! Grandpa took the bet. We pulled the wagons to the barn and he ran the bales up the elevator while I scrambled, climbed and toted to arrange them in the loft. On the way from grandpa’s farm to ours we stopped at Campbell’s grocery where I bought two root beers. Then we finished the journey and put the last thirty some bales in our barn. Before giving up I had been hanging out grandpa’s loft window, clutching the track for the sliding window cover with one hand, hooking bales from the elevator with the other and swinging them into the rapidly vanishing available space. Too late I had considered the decades worth of scrawls on the loft wall where grandpa had counted, each and every year, the number of bales he put in that loft. Never bet against the man with certain knowledge!
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is probably best remembered for what has come to be called ‘Pascal’s Wager’. It was actually a minor portion of his thinking and not published until after his death. If you really want to warp your mind study Pascal’s Triangle! But the wager. A brief summation goes like this.
*God is or is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives. (if an infinite God exists He is outside the system of cause and effect and beyond the limits of our reason.)
*A game is being played. (You exist and must conduct your life by a series of choices.)
*You must wager. It is not optional. (Everyone decides for themselves whether God exists or not or, at the very least, whether the decision is important to them.)
*If you wager that God is and win – you gain all and lose nothing – or at the very least any small losses of present material and pleasure are miniscule compared to the eternal bliss you have gained - if you win the wager.
*If you wager that God is not and lose – you lose all and again, any gains in present material and pleasure you may have enjoyed are miniscule compared to the eternal bliss forfeited – if you lost the wager.
*If you wager that God is and lose - you actually lost nothing – endless extinction is the same whichever way you bet and, Pascal observed, believers seem to be as happy – if not happier – in the course of their lives.
*If you wager that God is not and win – if it can be demonstrated that believers are as happy, if not happier than non-believers in the course of their lives – what, exactly did you win?
Whatever anyone thinks of the wager, by describing it Pascal is counted as the father of both game theory and decision theory – both consequential to our modern lives! But, as to the wager itself. Most skeptics deride the theory as the very weakest possible proof of the existence of God – which is kind of like looking at an apple and saying it’s the worst shaped banana you’ve ever seen. Pascal was not trying to prove the existence of God. He was trying to describe the situation in which humans, lacking proof of God, find themselves. Criticizing the wager on the basis of something it is not is what as known as attacking a straw man.
From the perspective of a committed believer, I have only ever seen two objections to the wager.
Once, long ago, my father found himself laid off from work for the Christmas Season. In those days and in our neck of the woods at least, working class families did most of their Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve. Online shopping wasn’t even a dream yet! Dad would get a Christmas bonus and get off early on Christmas Eve. As soon as he got home – he and mom were off to shop. The department stores in the County Seat (My upbringing was considerably more rural than most people are used to and unless we kids wanted rough cut lumber from the local family owned sawmill under the tree and bologna sandwiches from one of the few local mom & pop groceries in our stockings – the County seat was it.) stayed open late on Christmas Eve for just such shoppers. Well, on the Christmas Eve in question, the stores were open and Dad had plenty of time but there was not only no Christmas bonus, there was no regular paycheck either. In addition to our parent’s shopping, we kids were usually given a few dollars to put with whatever small amount we had been able to hold on to so we could buy something for each other. None of that was on the menu. Jumping ahead, we kids always received $7 cash @ on Christmas day - $5 from one set of grandparents and a $2 bill from the other. As usual, when it rains it pours and the well pump quit the day after Christmas. Dad needed our Christmas money to buy a new one and spent the immediate post-holiday season seven feet under ground and hip deep in cold water installing it. But – that was afterwards. Dad was always pretty good with his hands and spent some of his presently copious spare time out in the unheated garage with the table saw, drills, and C-clamps manufacturing gifts. Mom spent as much time at the sewing machine, rapidly depleting her hoard of cloth and for just once in my experience, nearly emptying the button can (an old candy tin in which she kept buttons rescued from clothing we wore out). We kids caught the spirit and went to work. I painted my older sister’s room. My middle sister crocheted little tie thingies for us boys to put on the top buttons of our dress shirts. And so it went. All said and done, dad went back to work and there followed lots of Christmases where the gifts represented more money. I remember here and there over those years receiving a Secret Sam (look it up), a Johnny Eagle set (look it up), a Timex watch and a chromatic harmonica. But none of those gifts I remember and certainly none of the ones I have long since forgotten, had the same impact as the year we gave the work of our hands. Sure, I suppose we had to due to unfortunate circumstances. I can only say in retrospect that I am glad those circumstances arose. For myself, even my $7 (more money then than now) that went into the new pump, felt like just one more contribution. I felt closer to my family that year and closer to God as well. I pass this on for what it’s worth. Merry Christmas.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church