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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.

December ending

December ends and so does another year, and my mind runs amok with a multitude of thoughts.

The month ended in a frenzy of unexpected stress, unplanned events, things I didn’t see coming. In a way, it felt as if I were blindsided.

As I opened the Scripture this morning, seeking a word of comfort, my ribbon marker opened to Psalm 100, a short chapter I memorized as a child.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

The familiar words of the King James Version came easily to my mind. I was refreshed with their ancient newness, words of assurance and love, reminding me to praise no matter what the day produces. I kept them in my heart throughout the day, believing that God is who He says He is and He meant every word that He preserved for me to read.

December was joyously spent with friends and family. Tables filled to the brim with few and many, shared meals or simply a cup of hot cocoa. Conversation was always the prime ingredient. It was beautiful, and I’m grateful for the gift of relationship that lasts all year long.

The holiday season was busy with a recital, a craft fair and birthdays added to the hustle of gift buying, cooking/baking, and opening our home every chance we got. I’m always down to the last wire getting the Christmas boxes to the post office in time for delivery to our dear ones. I have settled it in my head that I’m a late gift-wrapper. I can’t seem to do it ahead of time in spite of the wrapping paraphernalia setting out in readiness since the first of the month.

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In contrast, there were quiet days for contemplation, shared devotionals with Sweet William, time to sit by the fire and sip slowly of life. I appreciate days like that. Too much, my younger self spent all her days in frenzied activity. I’ve learned that slow is a good speed for me.

I re-read an old book, Two From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes. It’s a fictional account of Mary and Joseph in the days of their betrothal through the birth of Jesus. While much of the story was imagined, the Biblical details were accurate. I enjoyed thinking about the young couple, the love they might have shared, the criticism they endured from Mary’s unique pregnancy, and the hardships of a long trip to Bethlehem ending with birthing in a stable.

The drama came alive to me, a real story with real people living out an unusual calling. I was reminded that God’s ways are different, to say the least. His ways are higher, too profound and deep for me to completely understand. And yet, He is so near, so involved in history and our daily lives. He came to be with us so that we could know Him. Amazing.

And so we begin a new year. In an odd sort of way, I like endings and beginnings, the closing of a book cover only to open another, finishing a project with the satisfaction that I can move on to something else. It is the anticipation of starting fresh and new, like the untouched page of a new journal or notebook. It awaits the imprint of inked words.

As I reviewed my bullet journal and prepared the new one, I saw that I didn’t complete many of the major projects I’d planned to do this year.  Which presents me with a conundrum. If they were not a real priority, what shall I do with them in the coming year?

I haven’t decided yet. Perhaps I’ll just go like a butterfly, take each day as it comes, feel  for the wind of the Spirit and go where He is moving.

I kind of like thought.

Happy New Year 2019! 

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It was a holy night

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The small fiber optic tree on the corner table, a loan because I could not make the effort this year, twinkles its changing colors.  All is calm, all is bright.

Friends have graced table, us sharing joys and sorrows, memories and hopes mingled.  Learning to be content with less takes time. Learning that Jesus is enough is my calling.

In the season of giving gifts, I receive what God gives for it is alway perfectly suited, though sometimes it melts me. The molding and pressing and changing of a life into something more akin to the Son, it can be a painful process.  Yet there is no other way to reflect His light, His love.

Jesus is Lord.  Lord over all.  Lord of my days and my years.  Lord when I laugh and when I cry.  Lord and King, benevolent and gracious, always bestowing the gift of Himself.  The greatest present.  His presence.

He is the with us God, Immanuel.

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 His own law.

The breath of God, His very Word was formed into flesh and tabernacled among us.

The unutterable name of YHVH was wrapped in a blanket and called Yeshua.  Jesus.

The 400 years of silence was broken by a newborn baby’s cry.

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, 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.

It was a holy night.

This moment, it is holy still.

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Sunday grace

The stillness of early morning comforts me. The moon is brilliant in its fullness as Christmas morning slowly approaches. The coffee in my cup is hot and strong, and the fireplace warms away the chill. I sit in my rocker and breathe.

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I didn’t expect last week to be so busy, but it became that way. Sometimes I create my own busy, me with the lists and projects. We shared time and space with ones we hold dear, and the gift of presence was more than refreshing and a thing of beauty.

My thoughts have been frenzied with things still to do and with the pondering of Christmas present and Christmas past. Sweet William and I talked about years before, when our parents were alive, when our son was small, when the grandchildren lived in the house next door.

Memories are sweet. Longings are undeniable.

We’ve received prayer requests by text and phone in the last several days, these in addition to the names of people we pray for regularly. Those spending this year with one less person at their family gatherings have been on my heart. I feel their pain.

At breakfast on Thursday, the burden of empathy overwhelmed me so that I wept at the table. I reminded myself that I was not meant to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I am meant to carry our needs to Jesus who is fully capable of bearing the burden, strong enough to hold each one in His hand. He is the fullness of God’s love come to earth for each of us, offering Himself to any who will receive.

And this is Christmas. Not whether I got the perfect present for everyone. Not whether the cards were mailed in time. Not whether we have an elaborate tree. Not whether my decorations are enough.

Christmas is Jesus. God’s love wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger for the world to behold, for the outcast and the kingly. God of all creation loved us so much that He made Himself small, vulnerable, and helpless, so that He would be accessible to all of us who are small, vulnerable, and helpless.

Jesus. He came to carry the weight of the world on His shoulders, to carry our sins to the cross, to carry us in our joys and our sorrows. He is Christmas.

O come let us adore Him.

Sunday grace.

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Sunday grace

Early morning I read a book of Advent, and Kathleen Norris gets my attention with this:

“When our lives are most barren, when possibilities are cruelly limited, and despair takes hold, when we feel most keenly the emptiness of life — it is then that God comes close to us.”

For those grieving at Christmas, whether it’s the first or the fifth year without a loved one, whether it is death taking its toll or a relationship gone wrong, whether the life in front of us is not what we expected at all and we dread the tomorrow, there is good news still.

We are not alone. God came wrapped in skin like ours to be with us.

His name shall be called Immanuel, the “with us God.”

Take heart, dear one. Jesus fills the emptiness, the longing, the lonely days. He gives joy in heartache, peace in trouble, provision in want.

His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Sunday grace.

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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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