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For Christians, December ushers in stories of unplanned pregnancies and lives interrupted, visions (a reality imposed upon another reality), auditions (a sentence heard), dreams (stories experienced while a person is sleeping), discernment (the ability to perceive good and evil), miracles (when the unexpected happens), refugees and foreigners, simple human beings experiencing holy hospitality, angels (heavenly beings with earthly messages), messengers (earthly beings with heavenly messages), prophets (visionaries), deserts and awakenings, and outrageous inclusion.

It is the story of Emmanuel; God- With -Us in the birth of Jesus Christ, and we are in awe. Our lives are not singular, and our stories are not told in an abyss. Someone is listening and inviting us to do the same, to listen. We call this mutual invitation to listen and to be heard a relationship, with the Divine an experience of God.

This invitation to be in relationship with God is frequently accompanied with the words, “Do not be afraid.” Are you familiar with the approach? How has God introduced God’s self to you?

Like Mary, have you heard God through an angel, and been gifted with a friend like her cousin Elizabeth who affirms your experience of God? Congregations can be our Elizabeth.

Did answered prayer leave you speechless, like Zechariah? Like John the Baptist, did you emerge from an uncluttered space like a desert with a mighty message? Have you felt a stirring in your spirit because the universe is beautiful, mysterious? Like Joseph, did you experience a dream that spoke to current events in your life, perhaps warned you? Like the shepherds, were you moved by an invitation to “come and see” the new thing God is doing in the world, your world?

The office assistant at a church I served years ago in the Midwest asked me for a few minutes of my time for personal reasons. “If I am a bit distracted today it is because my daughter is in the hospital. She has breast cancer and she is having both breasts removed. Her father is with her. I need to tell you the whole story. She had a dream that she had breast cancer. The next morning, she made an appointment with her physician. Tests came back positive. I can’t believe it!”

“Why can’t you believe it?” I asked her. “If the stories in the scriptures about God communicating with us through our dreams isn’t true, well, why are you in worship? Love shows up. If it didn’t, well, we might as well listen to that lamp post outside.”

“I’ve often thought that,” she quipped, “if I were better off talking to the lamp post.”

Another person shared with me that he was overwhelmed by his mother’s mental illness. She was paranoid and refusing all help but his, and he suffered from a chronic illness.

He slumped in the sanctuary one morning, his heart saying to God, “Why me?” and “What am I supposed to do?” It was Lent. He heard this sentence, “Maundy Thursday has to be true.”

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He asked me what I thought it meant. “It’s your sentence,” I said to him, “What do you think?” He smiled and said, “Well, on Maundy Thursday Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Even though my friends tell me to walk away from my mother, you know, focus on me, I think God is calling me to serve my mother.”

“Does this help?” I asked him. “Yes, it does.” His mother died shortly after Easter Sunday.

“I am glad I stayed present to her,” he confessed, “She actually was quite coherent before she died. I treasure our final conversations.”

These stories are love stories, like the stories we read in Advent and Christmas. God is love, and love shows up. If love doesn’t act, well, what is it really? I ask you earnestly, how is God with you? How has God made God’s presence known to you? What is your love story, or two, or 10?

This past Monday I attended Christmas in the Cathedral, thoroughly delighted by the music of the Helena Symphony Orchestra & Chorale that echoed through the Cathedral of Saint Helena. Such variety. It occurred to me how much music has been written about Christmas. Why? Why Christmas? Why does this season inspire us to pen poems and essays and music and lyrics? I think it’s because love is true, and mystery is true, and miracle is true, and silence is true, a life interrupted is true, deserts are true, and you and I are true, and experience of God is true. Can we keep it to ourselves? Should we? Sing!

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The Rev. Dana Keener is an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has served in the ministry for more than 35 years. She is the pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 311 Power St., Helena, where all are welcome. A Spiritual Director, she has a certificate of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Bethesda, Maryland. You can find the congregation on Facebook and on the web at fcchelena.org, and contact the church by calling 442-3525 or through email at ofice@fcchelena.org.

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