A Christmas story

Ever felt like asking the question, what in the ever-lovin’ world is going on? Disappointment. Heartache. Broken relationships. Death and grief. Wounds that won’t heal or scars so deep they constantly remind.

What do we do when no answers come? Where do you turn when there’s no place to go? Who can offer comfort when we all are hurting?

Go with me to another time, another land, and understand from those who have gone before us.

For hundreds of years, no prophets proclaimed, “Thus saith the Lord.” The Jews scattered, wandered and wondered where God was, a nation scarred by their rebellion. The kingdom that once shone like a brilliant star had darkened, and the people were lost without a shepherd.

As the Hebrews lived daily with promises still waiting, perhaps there was excitement in the heavenlies, preparation for the Word of the Lord soon to be delivered.

Heaven’s attention turned toward a small blue and green planet in the universe and a temple standing in Jerusalem, the city of David, where Israel’s long history was venerated.

A grey-haired man had served there faithfully all his days, more years than he cared to count. Mundane tasks were ingrained in him, receiving and preparing sacrifices, the continual ritual washing of pots, pans and himself, necessary duties that kept order as people came day in and day out.

This day was different from the routine, as the choosing of clan, of family, of a man privileged to serve in the holy place was about to take place.

Was Zachariah surprised when his name was called? He was aged by now, and his bones ached. He moved slower than the young priests eager and ready to assume responsibilities. But it was his name he heard. What stirred in him at the recognition? At long last he would be the one to present sweet incense on the table of God, offering prayers of intercession for himself and for his people.

On the appointed day, he prepared himself, dressed in pure white garments, and gathered the special spices and fire as he approached the place where God had once dwelt as visible cloud. Those days were but a memory now, the Presence departing as Ichabod was pronounced.

Still Zachariah was ready and willing. Entering behind the first curtain into the holy place, he went about his duties, memorizing his special day. He would share the details with Elizabeth, the love of his life, when he returned home.

See the source image
from “The Nativity

He heard a rustling, the dividing curtains shifted as if moved by a gust of wind. Light appeared on the right side of this somber room revealing a being like none he had ever seen.

Zachariah trembled in fear, his aged bones shaking as he looked and listened, trying to grasp everything this angelic being was saying.

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and will never drink wine or beer. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.

And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.”

The old man was barely able to stand, astonished and trembling. The admonition not to fear didn’t help. “Your prayer has been answered,” and he wondered which prayer? He’d offered thousands of supplications in his lifetime.

The words sounded jumbled, confusing. A son? Elizabeth, his equally old wife, had resigned herself to being childless decades ago, carrying with her the shame and disgrace of it.

Name him John? Who in his linage was ever called John? A son from his loins would be great, like Elijah the prophet? To prepare the way for the Lord? The messiah was coming? Now?

Who could believe such a wild tale?

And so Zachariah asked, “How?

The angel was given the right to see into Zachariah’s doubting heart. What were his doubts? Doubt that he was worthy of such a visitation? Doubt in the message and the messenger? Doubt that Elizabeth was physically capable to conceive and birth a child?  Doubt in the God who can do whatever He chooses?

It had been a very long time since anyone heard anything from God. And Zachariah was doubtful.

Zachariah’s doubt resulted in his silence. He was speechless. He could not explain this marvelous experience to anyone with words. He could gesture, or perhaps write words on a parchment, but otherwise, he was left with his own thoughts and memories of the most momentous event of his long life. In his silent days, he remembered the years of God’s silence to Israel. He soon realized that God decided to speak up.

When God speaks, we would do well to listen.

When Zachariah went home after his service in Jerusalem, he took his dear wife in his arms like days when he was young and viral. She conceived. And the words of Gabriel sang to him for months, “Make ready for the Lord a prepared people.” With his own eyes he watched Elizabeth’s belly grow round and beautiful, exactly as the angel said, the sure message coming to pass.

God will do what God will do. He will use whom He will to accomplish His purpose. His promises are sure though we wait long for them, though fear and doubt creep into our hearts. God is long-suffering and patient with His children, and when He speaks, the words are true.

What promises are you holding in your heart? Have you lost faith that God will accomplish it? Do you sometimes wonder if He remembers where you are? Do you feel He has forgotten you?

Tell Him all that is in your heart. He will not turn away from an honest confession. He will draw you near and whisper His love to you.

The days of her confinement ended and Elizabeth delivered a beautiful baby boy. She called his name John. And Zachariah believed.

Christmas grace

The last months of the year are like arrows pointing toward the finish line.

I get thoughtful as I make lists, and my lists abound. Returning to this year’s goals page in my bullet journal, I see what seemed important in January must not have been, since I didn’t prioritize my time and energy to accomplish them.

As I enter the last 30 days of this year, it feels brief, like my life, moving toward the unknown. What shall I do with the days of December. What shall I do with the days of my one wonderful life?

These are important questions to ponder.

What if I moved toward Christmas keeping Jesus foremost in all I plan and do? It almost seems a novel concept while advertisers try to plant desire for whatever is flashy and bright. Scenes of cheerful families, perfect gifts, decorations to die for, expensive jewelry appeal to my visual senses, and for the moment I want that.

But is that really Christmas?

The Christmas into which Jesus entered was fraught with family conflicts, unanswered questions, and long hard journeys. Sound familiar?

At the same time hope and faith encircle stories, heavenly visitors bring heavenly message, and miracles astonish priests and shepherds alike.

Could Christmas be full of wonder again instead of making us frazzled and frustrated? Could I celebrate the Christ child with simplicity while cherishing what is truly important about the season?

The message of Christmas is love. God’s love was demonstrated to us when He sent His only Son. Jesus came for us and rescued us. He showed us how to live with purpose, valuing people above rules and regulations. He went against the flow, touching the untouchable, reaching for the outcast and remembering the forgotten . While He knew what lay ahead for Him, He lived in the moment with those at table with Him.

This year, this Christmas season, what if I lived it like Jesus, considering Him at every turn?

Let love be my guide. Allow joy to invade. Pay attention to the present and the people. Look for miracles. Expect wonder.

Because Christmas is Jesus.

Sunday grace

Before the household awakens, I awake. It is a special time of day for me, to sit quietly while it is yet dark, to contemplate my God and my life, and await first light of the new day. I love first light.

It’s a few days before Thanksgiving Day, so I start my annual list of blessings. It is my very own tradition, one I keep while many of my beloved traditions have fallen away like autumn  leaves.

I number gifts. Nothing is too small or insignificant. Some are manna in the wilderness. Some are as brilliant and beautiful as spring flowers. Others are like a star in the night sky, a beacon pointing the way through a dark and sorrowful season. But they are gifts, all of them, from a loving God who uses all things to work out good, bringing life from death and beauty from ashes. 

I look around this old house; it holds memories a plenty. I am grateful for the dear ones who have graced us with their presence, who have shared themselves with us. My people are treasures, young, older, and in-between, unique like snowflakes, and I marvel at their warmth and tenderness, that they want to come, to be with us.

I count the ordinary – strong, hot coffee; comforty bed with warm blankets; indoor plumbing; food enough; squirrels that play in our little woods; good neighbors; sunny days and rain to water the earth.

I count the extraordinary – my prayer partner who still prays with me every week, us enduring more than a decade; playing in the band at church with those young enough to be my children and grandchildren; sharing music with piano students and hearing their joyful sounds; money to pay for unexpected and unplanned home repairs; God’s Spirit communicating with my spirit in ways that challenge me to change for the better and then giving grace to do it.

I ponder experiences that broke me open as I cried buckets of tears, running to the throne of grace for help in my time of need. Change and healing do come, the balm of Gilead, and compassion and empathy make their abode in me with a better understanding of my brothers and sisters.

I am astounded by God’s love, displayed through Jesus, how it moves me to surrender to His way of loving others. That kind of love transforms me.

Over the next few days I will add to my Joy List. As I consider what to record, I  will look at the world with eyes of gratefulness and a heart of thanksgiving. I will see grace and beauty, faith and kindness, and I will know each comes from God whose essence is love.

Showers of blessings, like so many falling leaves, are all around.

. . . whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God, the Creator of all light, and He shines forever without change or shadow.”
                                            — James 1:17 Living Bible

Sunday grace

It’s about love. That is it. That is all.

Francis Chan said this: “We are here to love. Not much else matters.”

My best intentions are pointless unless they are birthed from love. My sound advice may not be well received unless it is clothed in love. My wise words will be sounding brass and tinkling cymbal unless guided by love.

Why do we think we have the answers for other people’s situations, and why do we feel the need to pour it on them like a dose of needed medicine? How can I possibly understand someone else’s journey when I have not walked it or even listened enough to picture where they are?

Wait. Let me examine the mote in my own eye before I try to remove the speck in yours.

Love is patient when frustrations run high and people don’t do what I want.
Love is kind even in difficult circumstances, when others are unkind to me.
Love is not envious of another’s gifts, beauty, talent, possessions or success.
Love is not boastful but remembers that all things come from God’s hand.
Love is not proud of accomplishments but rather humbly serves from a heart of gratitude.
Love does not dishonor others by words or actions.
Love is not self-seeking but wants what is best for the other person.
Love is not easily angered and is therefore self-controlled.
Love does not keep a record of wrongs; it keeps forgiving and forgiving.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth and justice.
Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always endures, even when, and especially when, it is hard.
Love does not fail. Love is primary. *

Dear Father in Heaven,
I’m convicted as I write the words about love. I fail often and I falter too much in loving well.

Your kindness leads to repentance. You draw us to Yourself by loving the unlovable.
May my words be kind, always. May I be patient even in my tribulation.

May I offer grace in the abundant way I have been given grace.
May I be quick to forgive and keep no record of offenses.
May Your perfect love touch the deep places of my heart and cast out fear.
May Your mighty power work in me so I can comprehend and acknowledge how wide, long, high and deep Christ’s love is.
May I come to know this love, though it surpasses knowledge, and be filled with the fullness of God, so that I live according to love’s direction.
I pray this in Jesus’ name, the One who loved us with His life and with His death. *

Amen

* From 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 3

Tuesday thoughts

A text on a Sunday morning, read between band practice and the beginning of service, sets my head to spinning. Someone is in the hospital. It’s serious.

Sweet William and I go as soon as we can. We see the grave faces of the family, observe the mechanics of the ICU room, and gaze upon the stillness of our friend.

There is nothing we can do but offer love and prayer and our presence.

By the next morning, I hear of his passing. Another death in so few months. And I am broken open by a broken world where death comes without warning and life feels too short. I wonder how I am to live with the reality that all of us face the same end?

What is life about here on an earth that groans with its own longing as if in the pains of childbirth? I groan with it, eagerly waiting for the perfection of all things when tears will be wiped away forever.

I experience what is common to all. Birth. Death. And in between are a multitude of experiences, joyous as well as heart-rending. What is the purpose?

I’m full of questions without answers.

I remember Paul’s words how the resurrection of Christ is our hope in a world of hurt. If we do not know that reality, we live in misery, without expecting anything better. We live futilely looking for meaning when there is sickness, pain, and death all around.

While living is radiant, joyous, abounding in good things, gifts from a benevolent God, there is the harsh reality of suffering and we are left wondering. In our hearts we know it isn’t supposed to be this way. We feel the call to the flawless Eden when God made everything and called it good, very good.

So we exist in the in-between of Eden and Heaven, with eternity set in our hearts drawing us to a higher and better place, where beauty exceeds our imaginations, where music is more splendid than we’ve ever heard, where suffering no longer exists and love permeates everything with an eternal light.

We wait for that glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. We wait for all things to be fulfilled as God has ordained. The plan is beyond me. I cannot fathom in my finite mind what He is doing. But I know without a doubt He is working all things according to His excellent plan, and I rejoice and find comfort that I am part of His plan.

Until I understand more, I am told to trust. Believe. See His glory. Even when it is shrouded by a cloud of darkness and I tremble to approach. God dwells in light but He is also in our darkest nights. He never leaves us in our heartbroken estate. He is with us even then.

Yes, even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, again and again, I know my Good Shepherd will be with me. I do not need to be afraid.

I look upward to the heavens, watch the clouds begin to mist away as blue sky appears. Even the blackest of night gives way to dawn’s radiance.

The morning will come. And it will be magnificently triumphant.

Photo by MaRanda Green

Monday grace

What do I really want? I think about that often.

What do I want to fix for supper? What do I want to wear today? What tasks do I want to accomplish this week?

Looking farther down the road than today or next week, I am searching my heart. This journey I am on spans some decades. What do I really want to do with the rest of my wild, wonderful life?

I’m exploring my inner landscape, and I’m looking for arrows.

I’ve never heard God speak audibly, but He does speak if I listen. Sometimes it’s through my longings. Sometimes it’s through a person. Often it’s through His Word in my morning quiet.

When decisions stand before me, my perception intensifies, like raising the antenna. I don’t want to miss what God might be wanting to tell me.

He invites to me to ask, to seek, to knock. He encourages me to come with all my wonders, my what-ifs, my quandaries, my questions.

So I am looking for the arrows He may send, pointing me in a direction to show me the way.

This verse sits on my kitchen counter now. I study it, making the effort to commit it to memory. It is the guiding principle as I look for the arrows.

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.
— Psalm 32:8 NLT

I’m keeping my eyes open. I’m listening for His voice. I’m trusting God’s timing.

I’ll raise the sails, anticipating the breath of the Spirit as it begins to move. I want to go where He leads. Let the winds blow.

As October ends

Each ending is a new beginning. I’m learning it evermore.

October felt strained, and I’ve been occupied, mind and body, with a flurry of matters. Reviewing my calendar page, I reflect as I examine it.

Journal pages record the stress of an expensive house project, days that were rushed as I went where I was needed and called, and our family’s effort at learning a new normal after death dealt a hard blow. It’s been emotional and turbulent, a difficult month.

While temperatures turned toward a fall climate, I made some small progress in the gardens that were neglected most of the summer. The tasks overwhelm. My body ached after a few hours, and I paid for it with restless nights.

I needed margin, and margins were thin. I felt the old tension of overcommitment, me running at a rabbit’s run. These days I prefer a slower tempo. An overly-full schedule does not equal the abundant life Jesus offered.

In spite of this, I was more diligent to write in my gratitude journal. Perhaps it is loss that makes us thankful for grace. I found myself looking for beauty in the midst of busy. I focused on the gift of relationships. I basked in the Presence of Jesus at a pause in my day.

As October ends with cold rain and winds that whisper winter’s chill, I am purposely evaluating my November. Each month gives me a chance to start fresh.

We enter the holiday rush, the press of activities, the pull to fill calendars to overflowing. Holy days meant for giving thanks for harvest and rejoicing over the long-expected Messiah have turned us toward excess, stress, and burdened hearts.

I want something different for the last of 2019.

Psalm 90:12 in essence offers a prayer: Teach us to reflect on the brevity of life so that we may grow in wisdom.

Brevity of life I know about. Growing in wisdom is what I long for.

As the day dawns tomorrow, I will begin it with the Lord’s promise, a whispered petition, and a meditation for my heart.

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
    I will advise you and watch over you.

— Psalm 32:8 NLT