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News That Illustrates for Sunday, December 21st - December 28th

The Christmas Layaway Angel, Grace in the Face of Ebola, and the World's Worst Holiday Bonuses.

Fearing for Our Bodies (According to the Research)
An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education outlines the 100 most-cited research papers from 2014, offering some interesting reading. According to the breakdown of the list, "What we're most focused on is our health. More than a third of the papers are about diet and disease. If Ebola doesn't kill us, we're afraid that milk will. We're worried that we're too fat, that our kids are too fat, that sugar might give us heart disease (and that Splenda might give us diabetes). Too much alcohol might cause dementia. Too little vitamin D might cause it, too." We're in a culture that deeply fears disability and disease of all kinds—all while often ignoring the root causes of those ailments. But do we pay as much attention to the health of our souls?

PREACHING ANGLES: Culture; Health; Well Being

"Moments of Grace" In the Face of Ebola
When the Ebola outbreak broke out in West Africa Dr. Ian Crozier signed up immediately with the World Health Organization, volunteering his skills to help fight the epidemic. But his time in West Africa was cut short because he contracted the virus and was evacuated America. (He is now on the road to recovery.) Besides the harrowing stories of illness that his story highlights, it's the "moments of grace" happening in the face of a terrifying, incurable illness, that stand out. "Mothers whose babies had died would feed children who were orphaned or alone. 'Childless parents took care of parentless children,' [Crozier] said." Three orphaned brothers under his care as a doctor pushed each other through the disease process, all surviving. After Crozier's infection and evacuation, his family and friends did their best to make his stay in isolation easier, plastering his walls with photographs, talking with him through the intercom, and playing his favorite music. Many more stories, I'm sure will emerge. Even against the bloody backdrop of Ebola, the human moments of grace that shine through are powerful reminders of the power of compassion to help heal us.

PREACHING ANGLES: Care; Community; Compassion; Grace; Health; Healing; Kindness; Sickness

Return of the Crunch
If you ate cereal in the 90s you were most likely a fan of French Toast Crunch. You were also disappointed when they stopped making it, back in 2006. Ever since, we devotees of The Crunch have waited, at the edge of our seats, for the hope of … The Return of The Crunch. Well, wait no longer! General Mills has announced that it's coming back. We wait, of course, for a much greater return, like the old liturgy says, "we await his coming in glory." Indeed, watching the skies even from the breakfast table.

PREACHING ANGLES: Christ, Return of; Return of Christ; Second Coming; Second Coming of Christ

The All-Seeing Eye
The all-seeing Eye of Sauron, made famous in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movies and books, is coming to Moscow. In connection with the release of the third-installment of The Hobbit, the Russian art group Svechenie will install the Eye on top of the "IQ-quarter" complex. The Eye will ominously look down upon Moscow watching every move. While the artistic angle of the Eye of Sauron installation is "an allusion to mass surveillance and control," it is a cultural image of omnipresence, too. God of course, sees all. But are we able to understand and comprehend a Watcher who does not intend evil or control (like dictators mythical or real) but instead watches over us for our good and the good of his kingdom? God is not Sauron, Mother Russia, or the NSA. He watches from kindness, for justice, and over a kingdom of love.

Preaching Angles: Care; Fatherhood of God; God, protection of; Protection, Divine; Watchfulness

The World's Worst Bonuses
Who doesn't love a Christmas bonus? Well … not everyone, apparently. Some of these people didn't like theirs, and with good reason. David Hood, who is Jewish and doesn't eat meat, received a … ham as his Christmas bonus. Another year, Hood received a hand written letter of thanks from his boss, but his name was spelled incorrectly—twice! Jay Bazzinoti, who works in Boston, received a sealed envelope full of coupons that were only good on the west coast of the U.S. Joe Geronimo Martinez, a postal worker for Royal Mail, received a packet of flower seeds, after Royal Mail posted a record $156 million dollars in profits that year. The best, or worst, comes from Steve Johnson, who after receiving a turkey for the past 15 years, received a picture of a silhouette of a turkey. "It wasn't even a copy of a real turkey. It looked like the turkeys your kids make out of their handprints in kindergarten." Good thing that God, the "rewarder of those who diligently seek him," isn't taking tips from these corporate Santas.

Preaching Angles: Advent; Christmas; Gift; Reward; Work

Religion … the Fountain of Youth?
A recent BBC article profiles a Seventh Day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California, where aged residents live an average of ten years longer than the average American, enjoying better health "in their golden years." "The reason for this extraordinary longevity could be rooted in their faith. Seventh-day Adventists make up about half of the approximately 24,000 people who live here. It is an evangelical Christian community that follows strict guidelines about food, exercise and rest," it's observed, tying the residents well being to the positive outcomes of their faith. It's a great story (and we'd all do well to emulate their health habits), but it highlights a growing problem that many people have in their consideration of faith and religion—the idea that belief is only worthwhile when it delivers some kind of measurable benefits for the believer. Whether wealth, health, good feelings, heaven, or some other benefit that "religion" brings, they all can distract us from the point of Christian faith—a relationship with Jesus, whose call to discipleship makes no promises for any kind of short term well being, but promises life in the end.

PREACHING ANGLES: Age; Discipleship; Faith; Health; Prosperity; Religion

The Christmas Layaway Saint
Odds are, if you're putting toys on layaway around Christmas time, the budget is tight. But "A woman is being hailed as a layaway angel after she went into a Toys 'R' Us store in Bellingham, Mass., on Wednesday and paid off every open layaway account—giving about 150 customers with items on layaway an early Christmas present. The generous donor paid $20,000 to wipe the entire layaway balance at that location." What an image of holiday generosity, and paying off the accounts of others—what Christmas is really about, right?

PREACHING ANGLES: Advent; Christ; Christmas; Generosity; Holidays; Kindness;

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