Recently I finished reading Gil Rendle’s book Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches. I highly recommend it. It is deep in its insightfulness about the journey we are on in the United Methodist Church. Near the close of his book, Dr. Rendle writes about the United Methodist Church recovering and reorienting around a common purpose and identity. Reframing purpose and identity is really the overarching theme of his book. He challenges us to move beyond restrictive legislation and enforced conformity. He writes: “Instead the center needs to be a story sufficiently strong to make others want to tell it, a purpose sufficiently important and difficult to make others want to pursue it, and an identity clear enough to make others want to live it.” (p. 137) Our story starts with a baby. It starts simply, movingly. “He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:5-7). Somehow we have come too easily to casually accept the awesomely wonderful action of God in our midst. Luther says, “The gospel is not so much a miracle as a marvel. . . . Then come to Him. . . . You will see how great is the divine goodness, which seeks above all else that you should not despair. Trust Him! Trust Him! Here is the Child in whom is salvation. . . . Now overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you but come to this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save.” May you know the joy of the Savior’s birth. I will resume writing This Focused Center on January 4, 2011.