Back on New Year’s Day, we watched the Tournament of Roses Parade. The floats are marvels of beauty and engineering, combining artistic flower work with mechanical prowess. In addition, each float must be self-propelled. During the parade, the worst nightmare of any parade coordinator comes true each year however when at least one float fails to function properly. A number of years ago, that happened and parade personnel were quickly dispatched to figure out the problem. Within a few minutes they discovered that the problem was actually quite simple: the engine that powered the float was out of gas. As fingers pointed about whose fault that was, someone was dispatched to the staging area for a gas can. Not longer after, the float was on its way again. As it rolled off, parade coordinators had to laugh, however. Out of the hundreds of floats in the parade the one that ran out of gas was owned by Standard Oil.
In 1884 a young man died. His parents decided to establish a memorial in his name. To make that happen, they met with Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University. Looking at their less than high-society appearance, Eliot condescendingly said “I believe you mean a scholarship.” “No,” they said, “We had something substantial in mind, like a building.” Eliot brushed aside the idea, and instructed them to call back if they changed their mind. A month later, Eliot learned that the common-looking couple had given 26 million dollars to establish Leland Stanford Junior College in memory of their son.
Bill and Helen Lovelace are missionaries with the General Board of Global Ministries. Bill is a pastor in the United Methodist Church of Ukraine, and Helen runs the Dosvitok Street Children Center in the Ukrainian city of Kiev. ‘Dosvitok’ is the Russian word for ‘daybreak,’ and it is the name of Helen’s center because it opens each morning at ‘daybreak’ so the abandoned children of Kiev have a safe place to go for meals, shelter, and heath care. Helen once shared with one of our churches how missionaries came to visit her center one Christmas, bringing with them gifts and candy. During their time there, they also shared the story of Jesus’ birth with the children. As they did so, the children listened intently. For many, it was the first time they had heard it. Being homeless and unwanted themselves, they readily related to the holy family’s plight, and were touched by the thought that God would become homeless and unwanted to offer them the gift of eternal life.
If I decorate my house with Christmas bows,
And put up strands of twinkling lights,
But do not show love, I am just a decorator.
If I bake dozens of Christmas cookies,
And set a festive dinner table,
But do not show love, I’m just a cook.
If I trim my tree with shimmering angels,
And sing a solo in the Christmas cantata,
But do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.
This past week, I saw a piece of artwork that pictures two biblical women who never met one another standing together: Eve and Mary. On the left, Eve is pictured looking down – as if she is lamenting the tragic event that took her from being the mother of all mankind to a central role in what theologians call “the fall from grace.” On the right, Mary is pictured. She is also looking down, but her gaze seems to be divided between Eve and the miracle child she has in her womb. At the bottom of the frame, the artist illustrates why he put these women together. He does this by painting a serpent draped around Eve’s leg. The serpent is a reminder of the bondage to sin that Adam and Eve brought upon their children through their disobedience.