Dear Salem Family,
My Mom, bless her heart, had a unique way of toying with my brother and I when we were children. In her younger days she had worked in several different jobs where she had been obliged to use something called Gregg Shorthand—a phonetic writing system developed about 130 years ago. Sort of like modern-day hieroglyphics, it uses cursive symbols to stand for words and sounds—for instance, this is what a section of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol looks like in Gregg Short-hand:
What Mom would do, starting in November, was to write a list of what she and Dad were getting my brother and I for Christmas—in shorthand. And she would casually leave the list lying around the house—on the kitchen table, in the living room, wherever—knowing that we would find it…and confident that we would never be able to read it.
Her confidence was justified.
My brother and I would puzzle over the list like archaeologists poring over the hieroglyphs in a freshly-excavated Egyptian tomb, only with less success. Even after one of us glommed onto a book which showed the various word and sound-symbol relationships, we were never able to figure out what she wrote—not any of it. Part of this had to do with our own lack of skill as code breakers, the other—as we learned later—had to do with the fact that practitioners of this dark art tended to develop their own styles which were slightly different from the textbook symbology. In any case, the kitchen table was just as secure as Fort Knox, for Mom’s lists.
I think about that, when I think about the generations of faithful children of Israel who lived their lives knowing that God had something in store for them—a Messiah, a redeemer, a savior—but were forced to try to guess just what this Messiah would look like by reading and understanding the words of various prophets. As it turned out, this was much more easily done in retrospect, than it was as a forward-looking enterprise. When Micah promises that a ruler will be brought out of Bethlehem Ephrathah, or Isaiah tells us of a child who will be called “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” and “Prince of Peace,” we can look back and point to Jesus and all that he taught and did, when a person living before the time of Jesus would have found it impossible to predict just what to expect.
And isn’t it interesting that we can often understand the influence of God in our own lives, better, when we look back? From the vantage point of today, we can look back at yesterday and see the places where God has touched our lives to bring us to where we are. I know I can look back at particular experiences, even challenging ones, and say, “Wow—God’s fingerprints were all over that.”
And knowing that, of course, can make us wonder—what is happening, today, that will shape our tomorrow? Are the answers right in front of us—if only we could read them? Or is it a mystery only meant to be unwrapped when the time is right? More than likely, it is a combination of the two.
Advent is a time of watchful waiting and anticipation. As we watch and wait for Christmas, we are also watching and waiting to see what the future has in store for us. In this holiday season, it is my prayer and hope that whatever the future has in store for you, it will be joyful and exciting. This is an exciting time to be a part of the Salem UMC family, and I believe the new year will be one of new visions and ever-expanding love for our neighbors, our community, and the world…and I cannot think of any church that is better-equipped, spiritually, for this future.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
(Earlier A Word from the Pastor messages may be found in Newsletters.)