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It was a Good Friday, it was a Holy Friday

Good Friday.  Why do we call it good?  From all appearances, that day looked like anything but good.

The Passion of Christ

A false arrest in the wee hours of the morning.  Friends who ran in fear.  One denies he even knew Him.  One betrays Him for a pittance.

Accusations that fly in the face where slaps and spit follow.  Soldiers who had any compassion trained out of them, beating Him to near death.

Mocking words that contradict all He ever said.  A crowd jeering, crying out for death.  Religious leaders leading the rabble-rousers.  Political leaders afraid to do what is right.

A heavy, splintered cross laid on a back where the flesh was already torn away.  Crown of thorns piercing the brow with its poison.  A long and hard Via Dolorosa.  Golgotha in view.

Sound of nails in flesh and sinew.  Thud of crosses in deep holes.  Cries of pain and agony that only the crucified know.

A few lone followers, women and John, deep in the throes of grief and grasping for some understanding behind all this suffering and finality to a ministry that flourished only a week ago.

Alone. Forsaken. Separated.   Darkness. Earthquake. Storm. Death.

Sin exposed to the judgment of a Holy God.

Nothing of this day looked good.  This was a day gone horribly wrong.

Or was it?

“The King of the Jews” was written in three languages, a foretaste of the Gospel preached to all nations.

A thief on another cross entered into Paradise, giving us hope that salvation is still offered at the very last hour for those who believe.

Two secret disciples, Joseph of Arametha and Nicodemus, come out of hiding to do the right thing and acknowledge the One who came from God.

Forgiveness offered from a heart only understood by a loving Heavenly Father.

Words spoken from parched and bleeding lips that shout the victory battle cry, “It is finished!”

A veil torn in two so that all people will know they are welcomed into The Presence.

The penalty paid in full, judgment recompensed.

A Redeemer revealed

Blood of The Lamb poured out to take away the sin of the world.

The Plan, laid foundationally eons before by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, brought to completion.

And I see it.  And it is good!

Remembering the cross of Christ I recall my sins and His suffering.  My debt and His payment.  My hopelessness and His free gift.  My searching and His seeking love.  My past and now my future.

Jesus paid it all.  All to Him I owe. 
Sin had left a crimson stain.  He washed it white as snow.

Good Friday.  It was a good day – for me and for the world.

And remember, Sunday is on the way.

Reposted from 2013

Walking toward Passover

The moon tonight will be at her full. I’ve been watching it for days, early mornings as it illuminates still darkened rooms, anticipating. Recently I heard someone say he did not rise until the sun was up. I thought, “Oh, you don’t know what you are missing.” The pre-dawn is my favorite time of day. Perhaps it is my introverted self who enjoys the stillness, with only the flicker of gas logs and perking coffee while all else is quiet. My mind is at rest before an active day begins.

I notice the moon before I’m out of bed, shining through the blinds. It is a sign, a sign of the coming Passover celebration, only a month away. Because Passover always begins on a full-moon evening.

Passover tells the story of the nation of Israel being released from the bondage of Egypt. The traditional meal will be eaten as the events of the exodus are recounted in detail. It is a time of teaching the young, a time to remember past slavery, a time to give thanks for God’s deliverance, and a time to celebrate redemption with family and friends.

I love to think of and celebrate Passover for it has deep significance for me as a Christ follower. Jesus’ last meal with his friends in an upper room was the event of Passover. It was the occasion of Him giving them His last words of encouragement and instruction. It was there He told them to love one another just like He had loved them. That last dinner was a tender time of communion with those who had been with Him through victories and miracles and hopes for the coming kingdom of God.

During Passover, Jesus washed the dirty feet of a dozen men, took a towel and served them on His knees to their astonishment and protests. He was Lord and Master. How could He be doing this lowly, slave-like task? They could not grasp it as He told them they would be blessed if they did the same.

At the Passover table Jesus revealed that one would betray Him, stirring up confusion, suspicion, and self-doubt. Who could possibly do such a thing? And for what reason? Besides, these were able-bodied, strong men who would surround and protect their Teacher? No, that could not happen.

Jesus implored His friends to abide in Him, to dwell in, find their home and comfort in His presence and love like a branch receives life from the vine. Little did they realize that He would soon be taken forcefully from them, with the worst days of their lives on the heels of Jesus’ arrest. They would need a place to go, a shelter under the shadow of the Almighty, as their world reeled and shook with the events during a Passover weekend.

They did not understand, those faithful followers, men and women alike, what Jesus was about to accomplish. Though He tried to tell them on other occasions, they were dull of hearing, listening to their own thoughts of triumphing over their enemies, of securing an earthly kingdom where they would sit at Jesus’ left and right, ruling and reigning with Him. Victory and conquest, that is what they were expecting.

Instead, there would be soldiers, an arrest, a fleeing for their very lives. Denial and forsaking their Master. Darkness and chaos. A mock trial with rabble rousers calling for the release of a criminal instead of the innocent Lamb of God. They could not see Redemption sitting at the Passover table with them, truth unfolding before their eyes.

Before they left the upper room of this Passover finale, Jesus gave them unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, and He called it His body and His blood. He told them to eat and drink it. As they remembered their slavery and emancipation from Egypt, they were now to remember Him. They did not comprehend then, but later they would, and thereafter they would think of Jesus life and death, the salvation He provided, each time they ate and drink in His name.

It happened on a Passover. The Lamb of God slain for the sake of the world. His death would mean deliverance and freedom, the like they had never known.

It is time to remember and prepare for the celebration.

Sunday grace

I wander through the house, wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. It feels like slow motion. I lose focus quickly, moving on without completing the current task. My planner has “to do’s” but I don’t always get them done. And it doesn’t seem to matter.

Life has changed forever with the death of one so dear. It’s not the first time I experienced this lostness, this drifting, this weeping, and it will not be the last. But in this moment of time, with my heart and mind fragmented, God speaks to the woundedness of my soul.

I don’t consider prerusing stores for gifts. I look to Amazon for help or the gift box upstairs that holds previous purchases with friends and family in mind. I hope my people will not be disappointed. I hope they will understand and say “It’s OK.”

Still, I call to mind that this season in December is for celebrating the Living God coming to a broken world to heal and make whole. I lean into His declaration that He Is With Me Always. Sweet relief. Indescribable comfort. I will turn my thoughts to this truth again and again in the days ahead.

On the Sunday before Christmas Day, I retrieve and repeat another year’s post that shouts the unchanging message: Jesus is Emmanuel.

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See the source image

December 2017
I’ve written it in notes and Christmas cards this December, these words I am holding close this season.

Emmanuel God with us.

The hurry and flurry of the holidays keeps us hopping. Our homes are decorated with reds and greens, the twinkling lights gracing shrubbery, windows and trees in our living rooms. Packages appear in brightly wrapped paper and gift bags. We wear our Christmas sweaters with pride.

Friends and family fill the spaces. We drink eggnog and eat too many Christmas cookies. Laughter rings through the house, and we are thankful for these people who gather at the table.

Yet, there are grieving hearts, longing souls, functions that are a little dysfunctional because we all have our own problems to deal with. Sometimes we put on a happy face so no one sees the pain, so we don’t rain on the parade as it marches down the street.

We get irritated with crazy drivers and clogged traffic, long shopping lines and the out-of-stock item we wanted under the tree. Checking accounts are running a little low, and there’s still a week of bills to pay. Our patience is in short supply when demands are made on us that feel more like obligations than celebration. We wonder if our Christmas spirit has gone into hiding.

December is much like every other month on the calendar, fraught with challenges and opportunities. We have a choice on where we will focus.

Emmanuel – In Hebrew: With us is God.

It was the prophecy of Messiah from the pen of Isaiah, re-written in Matthew as a reminder of its fulfilling.

These words, spoken to us by God over and over through our history, as if we are hard of hearing.

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.    — Genesis 28:15

And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.”   — Exodus 33:14

The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.   — Psalm 46:7

Once more with a pronouncement from the angel Gabriel, God came to us wrapped in humanity, He whose name is Emmanuel.

Nativity

Very God grew and experienced life as I do, with all of its ups and downs, with vigor and weariness, with smiles and tears, with joyful celebrations and heartbreak of separation. He came as the “with us God” and demonstrated to us that we are not alone.

As He left this earth in a burst of clouded glory, He gave one final reminder to those who believed:

 “. . . And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   — Matthew 28:20

Then sending the promised Holy Spirit, He remains with us in a way we could not have imagined.

Emmanuel. God is with us.

Do not fret or be afraid. Walk in the power of His presence. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.

Our God is with us. His name is Jesus.

Sunday grace – This was Candi

I remember the day she was born. I was seven years old, sitting on a bed in an upstairs room of my Gramps Lockard’s house, with my cousin Vicki who was five. Someone brought a phone to our ears and we heard Vicki’s mother say, “It’s a girl” from her hospital room somewhere in Louisville. Vicki and I were excited to have another girl in our close-knit family. Her brother Danny, at nine years old, would be the only boy in our band of four.

Somehow, we kids got to help pick the baby’s name, Candi Hope. What kind of parents do that? We were a different family people told us. We only realized it years later. Our mothers were sisters and our fathers brothers, making us double first cousins. As a child, it was hard to understand or explain, but the bond I had with these cousins was strong. Being an only child, they were my substitute siblings, my pals and playmates, my confidantes and comrades. For most of our growing up years, our houses were next door to each other. We kept a path busy between us. We grew up together, went to church together, took family vacations together, spent our holidays together. We became adults, and we built our own houses on the family road.

When my aunt brought Candi came home from the hospital, I thought she was my baby. I wanted to take care of her, and when she was old enough to sit on my hip, I took every opportunity to keep her close. She was adorable, round-faced and happy, eye lashes that would rival a movie star’s fake ones.

As the baby of the family, Candi bore the title well. She was outgoing and fun, almost always smiling, her laughter coming easy. She made friends quickly and kept them for a lifetime. She was popular at school, a cheerleader, member of the choir and debate teams. She peppered her mother with questions and was told she should become a lawyer because she could relentlessly argue her point.

She’s second from the left, with no front teeth.

She had style early on. I sewed clothes for her when she was growing up, and she picked patterns with specifics. She asked me to make her wedding dress because she found two dresses and wanted their features combined. I labored long and prayed to get it just right for her. On the night I finished the dress, I cried from relief. And she looked beautiful on her wedding day.

Sweet William and I gave up our apartment to her and her new husband, Flavius. We moved in with my parents until our under-construction house was livable. I thought on that recently, wondering why I would do that. The only answer could be that she was like my baby sister, and I was willing if I could make her happy.

She was a fashion icon, with a special storage place, build by her Flay, for all her shoes. So many shoes. Her outfits coordinated from the dangling earrings to the bows on her stilettos. Her best feature, when she dressed for success, was her smile, the kind that makes every picture taken of her a keeper.

As adults, we worked together in church, on children’s programs, youth drama groups, Christmas and Easter musicals and plays. We were both planners and into the details. For a couple of amateurs, we coordinated some major productions and high-fived every time it was over.

She loved to sing and became a soloist as a teenager in our church youth choir. The song I remember best is My Tribute. “To God be the glory, for the things He has done.” A song she learned in children’s church became her theme and motto: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” She turned to this truth many times when life didn’t make sense, when sorrow threatened to overwhelm, when God’s ways were hard to accept.

As a young wife and mother, she gathered children around her, teaching them the Word through song and joining her husband in directing children’s church. Many of those children grew to be adults and became her friends.

She welcomed her son’s friends with open heart and open home, providing loads of snacks and a place to spread out and be kids. I remember one video recording made at her house when one of the boys said, “Do not try this in your own home.” Candi and Flavius were gracious with the antics of teenagers, while looking out for their safety and not missing a chance to point them to Jesus.

Candi’s house was party central for family and friends. Any excuse for a gathering was joy to her, never happier than when surrounded by a crowd. She loved it when people filled her home, she and Flavius working side by side to prepare food and make sure everyone had a place at the table. It didn’t matter the mess that was made or the clean-up required later, her door was open.

She became a mother-in-law and welcomed a daughter into her arms. When she became a grandmother, she delighted in having Mamaw day once a week, cherishing special time with her grandboys. She invited their cousins to her house, the third generation of our interconnected families, where they swam in the pool, jumped on the trampoline, created videos, explored the bank to the river, and enjoyed being children under her watchful eye.

She trusted Christ as a child and lived her faith. She testified to her friends who were atheist and non-believers, asking questions, listening and respectfully presenting her argument for Jesus being the only way. After her beloved husband died, she dug into Scripture and studied Heaven, wondering what Flay was doing there, wanting to know the intricacies of the Home the Father has prepared for us. She led our family Bible study for a year, digging into the Word, wanting to know what it truly says, and presenting it to us while giving us room to discuss and think deeply.

In the year leading up to her husband’s death, she and I spent more time together. We were the only ones left on what had been our family lane. I walked to her house many days for what we called “porch chats.” Sitting on her front porch in the early morning, we talked. Mostly I listened as she processed Flavius’ declining health and then his death. Sometimes tears came, and it was OK. We wondered at the ways of God, the hard places of life, what it looks like to trust Him in the dark. In the two years after Flay’s death, our topics spread to politics, theology, business, family, Bible interpretation, the mysteries of life. Nothing was off limits. Mostly we concluded that we just didn’t know all the answers.

On Tuesday, she died too soon for me and our family, and I cannot imagine what the days ahead will be like without her. She was full of fun and laughter and lived life well, even in her widowhood. Her grief did not keep her from participating in the living world around her, in loving and being with people. I cannot imagine another Thanksgiving, Hot Brown Friday, or Christmas morning breakfast. I cannot imagine still being here on this lane and her not being at her house when I walk there. I cannot imagine not ever getting her text again asking, “Do you have time for a chat?” I look at her beautiful home and can’t imagine not ever gathering there with family, with friends, her lighting up the atmosphere with her welcome and smile. I looked at her jewelry collection and can’t imagine not seeing her fashion glam when she dressed up. I cannot imagine not seeing her on the stage of church, leading in worship with the team. I can’t imagine not hearing her voice again sing praises to God.

It’s December and Christmas is near. It will be different this year. I just can’t muster the strength for the holiday flurry. I’ve managed a few decorations for the house, the small fiber optic tree that Sweet WIlliam loves so much, a nativity set and some angels. Somehow I find comfort in the Christmas songs on the radio and I sing along. “Joy to the world the Lord has come” holds me together when I feel like I’m coming apart at the seams. I know there is Truth in the message of Christ’s birth when there are no answers to life’s hard questions. He is Immanuel, the with us God, who gives us the gift of His presence in our deepest despair.

I believe Candi knew something we didn’t. When she got sick, she seemed to settle the life and death issue quickly, while the rest of us wrestled with it and prayed for healing and relief. Just a few days before she died, she texted me her funeral requests, songs she wanted, verses of Scripture that were important to her, especially Psalm 139:18.

. . . all my days were written in Your book and ordained for me before one of them came to be.

She was at peace with God being in charge of her death, the way He appointed her birth and guided her life. I was amazed at her quiet confidence in the One who saved her and the One she followed in simple faith all her years.

We are left with a gaping hole in our hearts. People loved her, cherished her as a friend and mentor. She probably didn’t realize the impact she had on so many. It is the way of a child of God who simply serves and loves and lives to the praise of His glory.

She knows what Heaven is like now. It is wonderful, beyond description. All light, no darkness or pain or tears or separation. Better than any travel destination. Yes. The mortal has been replaced with immortality, and life has never been as real, as wonderful and fair.

She called me “Cuz,” and that cousin relationship will always be our bond. But she was like my baby sister. Until we meet again in our Heavenly home, I’ll miss her always. Yet I grieve with the hope of another Time and another Place. Life without end. Seeing Jesus my Savior. Rejoicing with family and friends who will welcome me. Never separated again. Joy evermore. A continual Christmas celebration. All will be glory and praise to the One who made it possible.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

Fornado Ortega’s lyrics sing in my head as my good day begins.

This Good Day

Fernando Ortega

Morning sun, morning glories pouring down the hill
Through my window I can feel the ocean breeze

Noisy sparrows fill the oak trees, swallows can’t stay still
And in the glad commotion, Lord, You speak to me

If rain clouds come or the cold winds blow
You’re the one who goes before me and in my heart I know

That this good day, it is a gift from You. The world is turning in its place
Because You made it to
I lift my voice to sing a song of praise on this good day

On this July 4, the day the United State celebrates her independence, I am thankful for the blessings of being an American citizen and for this good day. I have been endowed with God-given inalienable rights. He is the One who gives life and liberty.

I count these gifts:

For waking in my own house on my own little piece of land where I live in peace.

For neighbors who do acts of kindness for us out of the goodness of their hearts.

For a house full of appliances making my life easier (especially after a day without electricity, land land and internet).

For bird song waking the morning, their unique beauty giving Sweet William and me simple pleasure.

For flowers growing in the gardens, simple offerings from packets of seed.

For the grandness of trees offering shade, blowing with the winds, speaking to me of resilience and strength.

For children playing in the yard next door, their innocence, trust, gladness and joy.

For church and fellowship, for the people who care, pray, and welcome us with glad hearts and smiles.

For music and singing and books and the Holy Word, and for a mind to understand and a voice to praise.

For freedom, the gift God gave first to Adam and Eve, and for His forgiveness when we abuse that liberty.

May I see with clarity the responsibility of freedom.

May I choose righteousness over unrighteousness.

May I serve with a willing heart.

May I give honor where honor is due and treat others with respect.

May I love like Christ loved all peoples.

May I walk worthy to be called a Christian and an American.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace for the fathers

Abba Father,

I am blessed to call you Father, to be welcomed into Your presence, the holy place of Your essence. You called my name and claimed me for your very own child. This is a high privilege and I am loved.

I thank you for the men who influenced my life and showed me what You are like, especially my grandfather and my dear dad. I am grateful for patriarchs of my family and for men in my life who walked in the faith, were strong and gentle, treated me with respect and honor, protected and provided for me, bent low to serve and held me up with their prayers. I am blessed to know your sons.

I pray for the fathers of this generation. How we need them to be steadfast and sure, standing true in the battle for souls, leading with firm resolve and gentle grace. They need guidance from the Holy Spirit and the power of love. Clothe them in Your righteousness and Your holy armor, for the battle is hard. Infuse Your Word into their minds to remind them what is at stake. Speak to them as you did to the warriors of old, “Be strong and very courageous.” Remind them this is Your battle and You are always with them.

I ask that you purify their hearts. Turn them from evil, the deceitfulness of riches, and the cares of life. Give them eyes to see the beauty of a precious child, the tenderness of a woman’s heart, the reward of being a servant to those in their keeping. Remind them that words can wound or words can heal and build up. Help them choose their words wisely.

Abba Father, I ask that they look to You as their only source, that they seek to be more like Jesus every day, that they live to please You above all and be filled continually with the Holy Spirit. May You shine in them and through them as Image Bearers of God the Father.

I ask these things in the name of Your Son and my Savior Jesus.

Amen

Sunday grace.

Grace for the new year

Sitting in my rocker by the fireplace, window open to the every-changing Kentucky weather, I listen to rain drops and the chirping of birds in the little woods. A few hours in the comfort of home are not taken lightly.

Sweet William and I spent the closing holidays of 2020 in the hospital. Like many, this is a year of remembrance, its strangeness not ceasing even to the final day.

I recognized the seriousness of his health in the months leading up to a sudden doctor’s visit that began a roller coaster of emergency activities and a surgery we didn’t expect. We were on a ride controlled by something other than ourselves and our plans were laid waste.

Christmas presents sit unopened.

It’s interesting how schedules, lists, to do’s and obligations stagnate when life takes a sudden turn and all one can do is take the next step. It was survival mode for days, texting family and friends for prayer, weeping and leaning hard into Jesus. I kiss Sweet William’s cheek and tell him, “You are a warrior.”

Scripture is a promise to hold. Praise music permeates my atmosphere, driving out the darkness and turning my eyes to the One who is strong when I am weak. And I feel so weak, like a child needing to be held in her mother’s arms.

Great is His faithfulness.

In a year where we were distanced from each other, we were comforted from afar by ones we hold dear. Reassuring texts promised prayer and told us we are loved. Sounds of familiar voices, a little laughter and stories were a balm in Gilead. An actual visit in the hospital entrance found me sitting with two who were determined to feed me potato and ham soup that nourished body and soul. Another friend brought two bags of goodies: real tissues, gum, snacks galore, socks, and sanitizer, surprises I needed but didn’t know how to ask.

Hospital staff are kind, behind masks of protection, caring for Sweet William tenderly and competently. The attendant at the cafeteria gave me a cup of coffee yesterday, at first me not understanding when he said, “Just take it.” It was a welcome gift.

And I am awed at the love of God shown us through people. It is His way, His hands extended through His church, which is not a building or a denomination but flesh and blood, in the marketplace and in the corridors of everyday life. The body of Christ is active, living out His commandments to love God and love people. I have seen His glory, shining brightly in the moments of our days.

This morning I write in my joy journal because the gifts are many.

Friends who take care of Maisie while I’m away from home, loving her, feeding her, letting her out as needed, assuring me she is OK.
Music to lift my spirit heavenward, reminding me of God’s everlasting love and faithfulness.
Caregivers in hospitals who work with diligence, even on holidays and weekends, with a cheerful heart.
Sweet William’s doctor, his expertise and skill, his determination to do what was needed.
Greeters at the hospital who recognize me and speak kindly.
Security guard who walked me to to my car late one night.
The newlyweds who brought me a Christmas dinner plate on a frigid night.

The ancient recliner in Sweet William’s room where I slept somehow.
The little black Honda that gets me where I need to be.
The comfort of a good dog.

Neighbors who watch over the house while we’re gone.
Family who are a treasure to this only child, who took us in to the circle of love many, many years ago.

Our dear ones, miles away, brought near by their tenderness and love, and a cell phone with video chat.
Ongoing texts from the multitude who promise to pray, who assure us of their love, who are life-giving to us in these hard days.
The often written promise, “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask. We are here for you.”
Those who come, show up, do what I don’t even know what to ask for.
Learning to love better through the actions of these good people.

It is a new year to remember. I take time to reflect on the past and look toward the future. I have no idea what is to come. What I do know with certainty is my Lord and Savior holds all things in His hands. His is trustworthy and faithful. I have seen it with my own eyes.

I’ve reminded myself of God’s message in the night hours before the frantic days of this last week. “Hope in God.” My good Father prepared the way before me, sent me His Word of invitation. I reach for Him and rest in His promises.

He is strong and He is good. And I am His child.


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.

Tuesday thoughts

The first snow of the season welcomed the last month of an incredible year. Its beauty made our little part of the world look clean and pure, hopeful even.

Driving home in the early darkness the last several weeks, I notice houses decorated well before December 1. A week before Thanksgiving, one of my piano students excitedly told me that her family was decorating the Christmas tree that very night. Lights shine from windows and brightly decorated living rooms are showcased on social media.

Is it possible we all need a little Christmas, right this very minute, candles in the window and carols at the spinet?

We’ve endured difficult confinements, weekly changing regulations of how we live, do business and attend church and family gatherings. Teachers had to learn new ways to reach their students through computer screens while parents act as surrogate instructors and work from home too.

It has been challenging to say the least. I need peace on earth and goodwill toward all people. I need Christmas.

And then I think of the first Christmas, the very beginning of the reason for this season.

In a small village, a young girl found herself pregnant, and the angel-visited-and-now-I’m–with-child-story she told is outlandish. A virgin birth? Who can believe such a tale? Certainly not her parents, her neighbors or her betrothed. Her life was in danger since the man to whom she was pledged prepared to divorce her privately, taking no responsibility for this so-called miraculous conception. His honor was at stake, the reputation he had built and protected.

The place and the time of this old story were fraught with problems for the people of the living God in the land of Judah. Regulations changed without warning, harsh rulers cared little for man, woman or child. Taxes were unreasonable and only got worse. Scratching out a living just to survive was their way of life.

When Joseph took Mary as his wife, they traveled a long, hard journey on foot. They found no lodging upon arriving at Bethlehem. A dark, damp cave provided shelter. Possibly no midwife attended Mary, with Joseph her only help in birthing her first born.

Perhaps like me, these thousands of years later, they needed a little Christmas. And He came, tiny and helpless, crying for comfort and a mother’s milk. It seemed a strange way to save the world.

It still does. And yet it is the way of a loving God, come to the wanderers, the lost and dying, the confused and tired. He came to turn an upside down world right side up.

It doesn’t look like the world is right side up. The work is not completed. The children of the living God still struggle but with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Life is hard but not without hope. Death comes but with the promise of resurrection.

Jesus said there would be troubled times until He comes the second time. When He returns it will not be as helpless infant but as King of kings, Lord of lords. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will roar with power and authority. He will make all things right.

And we will sing Joy to the World, the Lord has come!

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.