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Christmas grace

On the first day of winter, the wren sings loud and defiant at the dawning of day. I hear him and smile.

Today marks the longest night of the year, 14 hours of darkness. It also brings the sure hope that tomorrow the daylight hours will increase incrementally, pointing me in the direction of spring.

There were the days (the years?) I fought for joy. Because joy is worth the struggle. I counted gifts with determination, sometimes words of “breathing in and breathing out” were all I could write. I set JOY before my eyes, hanging from window latches, resting on tables, reminders to battle on.

Christmas is joy, and cards in the mail reiterate the songs, their sparkly designs a visual rejoicing. I receive them and I mail them, thankful for people we call friends. They are gifts.

Joy and sorrow are parallel tracks of a train.

There are lonely souls in crowds and broken bodies in hospital beds bearing the weight of heartache even while the world hangs ornaments and lights on a tree. The homeless in my home town scuffle toward a back alley on the cold night. People suffer while the music blasts Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.

As I read the Advent devotionals aloud to Sweet William, I am confronted with truth. Jesus came in the harsh reality of a people sad, sick, scratching out a living. They were looking for consolation, the hope of Israel, a redeemer and savior to take away all the suffering and oppression.

Mary and Joseph felt the heaviness too. The babe bearing down in Mary’s womb. The responsibility bearing down on Joseph’s shoulders. Hurrying to Bethlehem, they hoped for a warm room with a bit privacy for the coming of a child.

Instead, there was a cave, a stable for animals, smelly, dark, damp. Maybe they wondered if they’d taken a wrong turn, wondered if they’d understood the angel’s message, wondered what in the world God was doing?

I have wondered the same.

In a night of deep slumber, I awaken to words spoken to my spirit, “Hope in God.” Through my sleepiness, I recall the verse and in the morning I turn to Psalm 42 and 43 where the composer repeats this: “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.

The Word is familiar, words I learned as a child, rehearsed in my growing, and cling to now. I encourage myself in the Lord like David, the sweet singer of Israel.

At the little thrift store I frequent, there on the top shelf, is the sign for sale in large letters, “HOPE.” I pick it up, hold it to me, purchase it, and set it before me as a reminder. It is an Ebenezer stone.

The hope written in the book of Hebrews is not a penny thrown in the wishing well. It is an anchor for my soul, a sure proclamation cast into the Holy of holies where Jesus, my High Priest, intercedes for me.

” . . . we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever . . . ” Hebrews 6:18-20 NIV

Hope is my memorial stone in this season, though the darkness stays long. I set it and mark it. I repeat it to myself. I cling to its message. Hope in God.

Luke tells us of that an old man named Simeon went to the temple, as was his custom, and he saw the common young couple with the newborn baby. He knew, felt the quickening of his spirit – this child was the promise, the Consolation of Israel. He took the infant Jesus in his arms and blessed the God who is our hope, whose promises are true and will come to us, even when in the waiting.

Though the night lengthens, though the heart is heavy, though the body weakens and trembles, though our prayers appear unanswered, there is a hope, an anchor. There is a Savior who came to us. He came for us.

We put our hope in Him. Jesus, the Hope of the world.

Grace for Christmas Eve

As I sat by the warmth of gas logs this morning, I counted gifts in my gratitude journal. How can I not? I have been blessed. An unusual contentment enveloped me as I soaked in the sweetness of the moment.

I began to think of family and friends who are dealing with loss, grief, health concerns, situations that cannot be fixed with a wrapped present or a holiday celebration. I prayed for them, and I thought of other Christmases when I sank in my own gloom and despair. I understand.

Whether we purchased all the asked-for gifts or money was tight; whether everyone comes home this year or we have an empty chair at the table; whether the family gathers happily or conflict erupts; whether life feels full or we experience an emptiness that cannot be filled;

There is Jesus.

He is Lord.  Lord over all.  Lord of my sunny days and my dark nights.  Lord of my laughter and my tears.  Lord and King benevolent, always bestowing the grace of Himself.  He is the greatest present.  He is the closest presence.

He is God with us.

The mystery was revealed and angels gazed in wonder.

The prophecy foretold was fulfilled.  

The Promise became living, breathing Infant.  Child.  Savior.

The Creator surrendered to the constraints of creation.

The Lawgiver fulfilled the law.

The breath of God, very Word, became flesh, dwelling with us. We see His glory.

The unutterable name of YHVH was called Yeshua.  Jesus.

And thus . . .

The lost is found.  The prodigal gets to go home.

The impure is cleansed.  The sinner is called righteous.

The ugly is redeemed and clothed in beauty.

The war-torn is offered peace and a place of rest.

The needy receives grace.

The orphan is welcomed into the Father’s house and invited to call Him Abba.

Those thousands of years ago in Bethlehem, it was a holy night.

This day, this time in history, this moment, it is holy still.

Christmas grace

As I read the first chapters of Matthew and Luke, the ancient story becomes new again. I live in it, wondering about the details between the lines.

Were Mary and Joseph in love or was it strictly an arranged marriage? What was it like visiting Elizabeth and Zechariah? Did anyone in the community of Nazareth, any family member, believe the wild tale of an angel’s announcement and a virgin conception? Did a midwife attend Mary or was Joseph on his own? Was it a stable or a cave where Jesus was born? What was the reaction when a bunch of grubby shepherds showed up?

To fuel my imagination, I read Two From Galilee, by Marjorie Holmes, and I watched The Nativity on DVD, both of them making Biblical characters come alive to me, creating a story line that just might have had some truth to it.

Of one thing I can be fairly certain, the players in this extraordinary chain of events didn’t have any idea of their future. They got a teacup full of information for a tsunami narrative.

And with that I can identify.

Thinking of my life, I had no idea where the road would lead. In some ways, I’m glad. I might have hidden in the closet, refusing to move forward. God in His infinite wisdom does not give us much of a preview of how our lives will twist and turn, how we will be challenged to climb impossible mountains and travel deep, dark valleys, how joy and sorrow will intermingle.

However, He does say He will go with us. In fact, He offers to take the lead.

Christmas day draws near and we are a flurry of activity, making preparation for celebrations with family and friends. It is right that we should be joyful, for Christ the Lord is born to us. Let us sing, give gifts, enjoy choice food, and lavish love on those dear ones in our presence.

After Christmas, we look toward the new year, a time of reflection and goal setting. We really don’t know what is ahead, though we make lists and plan our actions. It is the Lord alone who guides our way.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track.
Proverbs 3:5-6, The Message

The year winds down, like the 31-day clock on the wall, and this I know for sure: I want to walk where Jesus goes, to know He is leading me, holding my hand. He says “Fear not,” even when the path looks very scary. He says “Take courage,” and I cling to Him for strength. He says “Follow,” and I draw near not seeing but one step ahead.

In the first chapters of Matthew and Luke, I read about the Creator of all who came to us as a helpless infant, God in flesh and bone, glory contained so the created can hold and behold.

His name is called Immanuel which is God with us. God with us.

God. With. Us.

Oh, come let us adore Him. He is Christ the Lord.

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.

Little things

It’s the little things that can do me in sometimes.

The mini items on my daily to-do list. The niggling pain in my knees. Losing my keys again (or phone or purse). The small and inconsequential that builds and can become a mountain.

I recall the huge events in my life, the impact they had, how they changed me and life as I knew it. But the daily small can chip away like the persistent dripping on rock. Imperceptible until a depression in stone appears. And I see the shift.

Making the bed, preparing breakfast, doing endless mounds of laundry, shopping for groceries, paying bills, sweeping Maisie’s hair from the floor, running errands, filling the tank with gas. The mundane of an everyday existence can put me on overload.

Then I remember the small things that have greatly impacted.

  • A young woman who happened to come to a Bible study I was leading, how she has become a daughter of my heart.
  • A chance drawing of a name paired with mine, a home-school mamma who agreed to pray with me early mornings and has been my prayer partner for over a decade.
  • A doctor who moved his practice but kept Sweet William as his patient despite the incongruity of it, how he has been an instrument of healing.
  • The neighbors who bought the house next door, after renters came and went, and are like family to us now.
  • The appearance on a computer screen of a little tan and white dog with a flop ear, looking like she needed a home, her presence giving us laughter and love.

The small occurrences in our lives make big impacts, changing our story, making it a rich tapestry. We don’t see it at the time, how dailiness is weaving colors and design. Even the dark threads that we would rather leave out give depth and beauty to a life’s overall glory.

The story of Christmas is full of small things: an engaged couple; a long journey; houses and inns full to the brim; a rough feeding trough; an old man at Jerusalem’s temple looking for someone he hadn’t met.

Put together the small create a miracle. Prophecies are fulfilled.  Life as we know it changes forever.

There are miracles around us, wonders we are yet to see. Because some things take awhile. TIme reveals the potential of the events of a life, how they build upon each other to create a work of art. A life well lived.

Christmas can become full to the brim. One thing stacked upon another, filling the days too full to enjoy. Pause and take a breath to notice the small, the ways of wonder in and through it all. This day, this hour, this moment is packed with potential to change your life and those you love.

Christmas grace.

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The prayer

I do enjoy the re-reading of a good book. This morning, it is the account in Luke of a couple of old folks with whom I can identify. The words are anciently familiar, yet they are fresh like a sip of pure spring water on a parched tongue.

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I opened the Book to the story of Zachariah, the aged priest, who just so happened to be chosen on this particular day for a special assignment. He entered the Holy Place of the temple to offer incense on an altar that represented prayer and petition to God. The people were praying outside while the priest prayed inside.

As he offered up prayers, the smokey fragrance of incense encircling him, I wonder if Zacharia thought of that one prayer he had prayed again and again through his many years? That one prayer for blessing, for a child, a son from his loins?

Yet here he stood, an old man whose wife was equally well along in years, childless the two of them. Because Elizabeth was barren.

God’s timing for answering prayers are so often out of sync with what I envision.

The angel’s appearance was awesome, causing fear, but his announcement must have been confusing to Zachariah. “Your prayer has been heard.”

Which prayer was that? You mean the one I stopped praying years ago? The one I stopped expecting to be answered because I’m old now? The prayer that would have been on a timetable more suitable for me? That prayer?

Zachariah and I, we have things in common.

The prayers I am grappling with sometimes grip my heart with their urgency. I cry out to my Father, my eyes filling with tears, longing for an answer. And please, can it be today?

How many times have I read that God’s ways are not my ways, that His time is not my time? And yet, I want Him to do it according to my prescription and on my schedule.

Faithful Zachariah and Elizabeth had lived blameless lives, following the commands God gave to His people. Surely their prayers would have been answered. Undoubtedly their desire for a child would not have gone unheeded.

After so many years they must have become resigned. Head shakes and whispers behind their backs would have been hurtful. People can wonder when trouble beats us up and we are not being blessed in the conventional sort of way.

And yet, on this day in an old man’s life, the angel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, was on a mission to proclaim wonderful news to Zachariah. “Your prayer has been heard.”

Praying Hands Image
Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer

God declares in His word that my requests, petitions, prayers are heard. He answers when He gets good and ready, in His own sweet time, because He alone knows when all the pieces are in place.

So, my fellow traveler, don’t let discouragement weigh you down. Don’t give in to doubt and unbelief. Throw off the lie that you are forgotten and forsaken. Keep believing God. Keep bowing the knee. Keep trusting in a faithful God who hears your every plea and preserves your tears in a bottle.

Believe that your prayer has been heard. In the fullness of time, and according to the perfect plan of God who does all things well, there will be an answer.

And it will be spectacular.

See the source image

Revised and reposted from December 2018

Breathe

It’s been a full-plate kind of week, me reminding myself to breathe. We’ve had places to go and people to see, things to do and plans to finish. I’ve been up and down the stairs of our house too many times to count.

My morning devotion reminds me I am blessed. Blessed to be a blessing.  I know this in my head. Sometimes my heart forgets.

In the season of holiday frenzy, we tend to pour out, giving gifts of time and energy, until we are depleted and empty of soul.

“You must feel the fullness of your own pitcher before you trust the pouring out of yourself,” says Ann Voskamp.

Running on fumes, I call it. Sweet William reminds me to fill the gas tank in the little black Honda before it gets to a quarter tank. It’s not good for the engine, he says.

Running on fumes is not good for me either. I need to refill, refuel, reignite with the passion of love that is true Christmas.

I cannot face the day well if I have not first faced my Savior. He came to bless me with His presence.

Immanuel, God with us.

And His presence is the present I most need, the gift I want more,  the one thing I cannot live without.

In the still dark of early dawn, I quietly rest and inhale Him who is life. I absorb the Holy Word and breathe in His truth. His peace, beyond all understanding, fills my lungs. Before the day’s agenda unfolds, I am assured that I am adored and redeemed, chosen and called. I am blessed beyond counting. Blessed to be a blessing.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  — John 20:21-22

The Creator breathed into Adam’s lungs and he became a living soul. Jesus breathed on the disciples and said “Receive.” The Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, has come to me, to be with me, to live in me, to give me power to serve and be a blessing.

I remind myself to breathe.

Christmas grace.

 

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Seeking for Him

In the stillness of the early morning, I turned on the lights where my ceramic carolers sit on the piano. I made them for my mother one year for Christmas. The small village that nestles behind the carolers were a gift from my son when he was a teenager. The vignette holds memories as I watch the lights twinkle.

I read today’s devotional to Sweet William. God came searching for Adam and Eve, calling “Where are you?” while they hid away, afraid of Him who came to walk in the garden for fellowship.

All the time I was seeking, He was seekIng for me. The song title stirs a melody in my mind. I’ve known His seeking.

In a season of looking for just the right gift, for browsing the internet for a better price, for looking to see if I can add another something to the calendar, Jesus is seeking.

“Where are you?”

Where is  my mind on a frantic day of appointments and meetings? Where is my heart when I’m flooded with thoughts and emotions? Where is the center of my Christmas plans, the focus that points me clearly to what is true?

Where am I today?

I know where I want to be. At His feet, like Mary of Bethany, listening to the words that give life. Soaking in a love that is like no other. Worshipping His majesty. Amazed that grace came looking for me.

Where are you today?

Christmas grace.

 

2013 Christmas (5)

Sunday grace

It seems like only yesterday though it has been closer to 50 years ago.

I reached to take Sweet  William’s arm, and as I did his muscle flexed. I could feel the strength in it, in him, and I knew I was protected.

I felt the same way growing up with my dad, who was a carpenter by trade. The muscles in his arms were big and powerful from swinging a hammer all day long. With my dad close by, I was  not afraid.

Isaiah prophesied of a coming rescuer,

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (53:1)

When Mary went to the home of Zachariah and Elizabeth, she and her elderly relative had a moment of praise and she said,

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;”

The arm of God represents His strength.  His power and might come to the aid of His people by the representation of His strong arm.

See the source image

And in a small village called Nazareth the might of Creator God was nestled in the tender womb of a young girl. At five weeks of her pregnancy, there was evidence of arm buds. Sinew and muscle slowly formed around a tiny bone, and by mid-point of the pregnancy, baby could move his arm to suck his thumb.

The strong arm of God came to rescue us in an astounding way. Who could have expected this?

God wrapped in flesh, blood flowing through a human body. He made Himself like us so He could redeem us by an outstretched arm on a wooden cross.

The arm of the Lord was revealed to us, His love the most powerful strength of all.

There is no other like that. He is Savior Christ the Lord.

Sunday grace.

 

 

Christmas grace

Over lunch this week, we sat side by side. In between bites of pork loin and vegetables, we chatted, our conversation never faltering. It was like a tennis game, each of us taking our turn talking and listening.

It is the way of women.

As I meditate upon Mary’s visit to Elizabeth her relative, so many questions circle in my mind. I want more details. What is left untold is left to the imagination.

Mary hurried to the town in the hill country of Judea? What was her hurry? I have my thoughts. People didn’t believe her story of an angel’s visitation, of the Holy Spirit coming upon her, of a pregnancy before she and Joseph were husband and wife. But perhaps Elizabeth would. She was the recipient of her own miracle.

The long journey on foot would have been weary for young Mary. Perhaps she sighed with relief when the house finally came into view. Longing for some refreshment and a place to rest, she knocked on the door.

Elizabeth greeted her and then the joy happened all around them. The presence of the Holy Spirit surrounded the young and the aged and the babes in their wombs. The atmosphere was electric, and their faith in a God who works wonders united in explosive praise.

“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” — Luke 1:45, NIV

When we believe, we are blessed. When we believe, we honor the God who promised. When we believe, we encourage one another. When we believe, the Holy Spirit is powerful in us.

What are you believing for this day? Does it seem impossible? Have you been waiting long?

“Who has believed and confidently trusted in, relied on, and adhered to our message of salvation? And to whom, if not us, has the arm and infinite power of the Lord been revealed?” — Isaiah 53:1, Amplified Bible

Sometimes we need to gather together and believe with each other. Let faith arise. Let God be exalted Encourage one another with words of confidence and trust in a Mighty Savior.

“My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” — Luke 1:46, 47, KJV

Sunday grace.

 

Image result for google images mary and elizabeth