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On this Christmas Eve

If it had not been for His birth, there would be no Christmas.

Oh, there would be other holidays to acknowledge, other festivals and feast days, but no Rescuer come to save the perishing. We would be the people still walking in darkness, still trying our best to keep the law, continuing to do all the good works we could in hopes it would be enough.

It is never enough.

There would be no gifts to commemorate the wise, star-gazing travelers, no angels sitting atop tall trees, no anthems of joy, no manger scenes, no peace on earth and goodwill to men.

But the mystery of heaven did appear. Majesty and splendor encapsulated into human form. The living Word became gurgling infant. The breath of  Jehovah blew life into the dead.

So whether on not there are presents under your tree; no matter that unsolved problems weigh heavy; if anxiety threatens the atmosphere of the soul; when the future looks scary; even if family members are missing at the table;

Unto you is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord!

He gives melody to our songs. He brings peace in the storm. He offers forgiveness to the sinner and mercy to the outcast. He is hope for the hopeless, joy for the sorrowing, strength for the weak. He is life for whosoever will.

He is the One and only who gives us reason to celebrate the season of Christmas. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Promise, the Image of the invisible God, the Fullness of the Godhead.

He is Jesus, and we have seen His glory.

Let heaven and nature sing!

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A Christmas longing

Sweet William and I savored the bliss of being with our precious ones several times this year. It began with a serendipitous visit, early in the year, from the one and only son when he was on a job near the Wright House. He came and spent the night. The visit was short but oh so very sweet.

The whole family came in the spring, and we attended Easter services together. My pew was full and so was my heart.

We  drove the miles and through states twice in 2016. One for a graduation celebration and one for a sweet sixteen birthday.

And then here they all came for three-day visit at Thanksgiving. It was more than I even dreamed. We have been blessed by companionship in 2016.

So of course, I knew all of us were done traveling for the year. I have accepted the fact

And yet, there is a longing in  my heart as Christmas approaches. Early mornings as I sit and sip my coffee, I remember other years, other Christmases.

I remember when the one and only son was so young and the excitement of the season was almost too much for him. One year he wanted me to put his opened presents back under the tree the morning after and pretend it was Christmas day all over again.

I recall when my mother was alive and how she made the holidays special. She loved to give gifts. After we tore into wrapping paper and boxes at our house, we walked the short distance to my parents’ home where we had more presents to open and a delicious waffle breakfast sitting around their table.

When our son and his family lived in the house next door, we gathered on Christmas Eve to eat a celebratory meal and open gifts. Stockings for each one were stuffed with surprises. My dad and step-mother gathered with us. The big trestle table with two leaves added, bought with the purpose of making room for all,  overflowed with laughter, stories, and love.

At times like this I am deeply thankful for extended family close by, those who open their homes and their hearts to Sweet William and me. We gladly share in their celebrations with gratefulness.

Though I prepare myself for the absence of others I hold so dear again this year, I find tears moistening my eyes as I think of each one. I have a longing to be with them, to give and receive gifts, to see the expressions of surprise and  happiness on their faces, to feel their hugs and be warmed by their love.

I know I’m not alone. There is longing in hearts this Christmas. Some grieve. Death has taken its toll, and Sweet William and I have visited too many funeral homes this month. Distance keeps people apart. Sometimes it is the miles that separate and sometimes it is unresolved differences.

For whatever reason, we are left holding only our memories when we want to hold those we love close to us, feel their warmth and hear their laughter.

It’s a Christmas longing.  A longing that can leave us feeling empty and bare.

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Centuries before, a couple traveled away from home, a great distance for those who journey by foot. The birth of a first-born son would not be celebrated with their families gathered near. What longings did they have? A warm welcome, a comfortable bed, familiar faces, loved ones who would rejoice with them instead of questioning and doubting the angelic message they were given?

This was not how they expected these days to unfold.

Yet, they were in the place God had planned, part of His great design. They were part and parcel of the miracle of Emmanuel. The strong God coming to mankind in a way no one could have envisioned.

The characters of the Christmas story received unexpected favor.

Zachariah and Elizabeth got a son in their old age. Mary’s womb was filled with a miracle. Joseph became a father to God’s own Son. The shepherds were filled with wonder. The wise men were rewarded for their searching hearts upon discovering the King of all kings.

Simeon’s wait for the consolation of Israel was complete as he found God faithful to His promise. Anna’s years of fasting and praying prepared her worshiping heart for this day of discovering the Christ Child.

A heart empty can be filled. Though Christmas longings can leave us feeling lonely and wanting, there is a miracle of love to satisfy all the barren places.  When we give our longings to God, surrender the tears and the wounded heart, open ourselves up in honest hunger for something more, we become vessels to be filled.

Jesus is the gift we need. He is the Gift that gives to overflowing time after time. He fills the hungry with good things. He satisfies fully and makes us glad with the joy of His presence.

Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today. Come in to stay.

Let every heart prepare Him room.

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Be the light

I am intrigued by light and darkness. Perhaps it is one reason I rise early while it is still dark outside. I like watching the new day arrive, the eastern sky growing bright ever so gradually, the sign of a new day.

On a cloudless morning, I am often rewarded with a blaze of color that stretches across the expanse of sky.

When I was a little girl, I was very afraid of the dark. I needed a night-light. I needed reassurance. I needed my Mommy!

As I got older, sometimes my mother would send me next door to my Aunt and Uncle’s house to borrow something – in the dark. I learned to quote Bible verses, memorized in children’s church, all the way there and then back again to quell my fear and calm my beating heart.

Eventually, I overcame the fear of the dark.

As I read the stories of Jesus coming to this earth, clothed as an infant, I see references of light. The coming Light of a Savior was promised. Because who doesn’t want to be relieved of the darkness.

When our electricity goes out occasionally at night, Sweet William and I start scrambling for flashlights, candles, matches, something that will give us the ability to see in a dark house. When we find and turn on the flashlight, strike the match and ignite the candle, the darkness flees and we can see.

Jesus came to be a light to a dark, sin-filled world. He was showing the people who God really is. And He calls us, His followers, to be light. How we do that will be individual according to our personalities and what circumstance we find ourselves in. For some it will be having bold conversations. Other times, it will be a warm smile, a welcoming heart, or a simple acknowledgement of appreciation.

The ways to show light of Christ are only limited by our imaginations.

While we focus on Christmas virtues in December, could we be challenged to show Jesus’ light all year long? A perpetual Christmas celebration! The joy we feel during this month could carry on for the other eleven months. The patience and kindness we offer could be a year-long gift we give to others. We could extend grace instead of a whole host of negative emotions, and it would reward us as much as the other person.

Being the light will dispel the darkness wherever we allow Christ to shine. In our homes and neighborhoods, on the construction site, in the office and the classroom, at the factory or the grocery story.

Jesus the light of the world desires to fill us with Himself so that He shines through us, His children. Our brokenness allows His love to filter through, to flow out of hearts that have been forgiven and filled with glory.

Shine, for our Light has come. The glory of the Lord has risen upon us.

Be the light. Reflect His light. Shine for Jesus.

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Christmas grace

Joseph.  He appears in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. He is in the lineage of kings, but he seems obscure in the small town of Nazareth.

His character shines through when he is confronted with an impossibility. His betrothed is pregnant, and he knows it is not his child. What is a law-abiding Jewish man to do?

While he contemplates a humane way of getting out of his contract and somehow protecting Mary’s life, he dreams a dream. “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “ ‘Joseph son of David.’ 

How long had it been since he thought about his heritage? How long since he felt like someone other than a simple carpenter?

Sometimes we need to be reminded who we are.

To Joseph belongs the honor of remaining true to his calling. He listened when God spoke. He believed the word of the Lord. He obeyed when asked to do the hard thing.

Though we hear little of him after the first couple of chapters in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, he stands tall in courage and faithfulness. He was chosen, just like Mary, to make a family and a home for the Son of God.  He would model what a godly man looks like to this Child come from heaven.

In honor of Joseph, I pay tribute to those who follow in his footsteps.

To all the men who have been father to other men’s children.

To those who accepted responsibility to provide for those in their care, to love them when they didn’t have to.

To the men who said “I do” and committed to love their wives for a lifetime, a covenant that will not be broken.

To those who gave their name, their identity, their heritage.

To the men who taught their children what a good day’s work is, what it looks like to lead lovingly, and how to build character and integrity into a life.

To those who worked with their sons and danced with their daughters.

*   *   *   *   *   *

You are an important part of the story, just like Joseph was in the life of Jesus. Though he was not the birth father, he put on the cloak of duty without concern for himself.  He forsook fear and lifted the shield of faith.  He disregarded the questions about his honor and what others thought about him.   He had been given the truth and that was enough.

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It was enough for Joseph to obey where he was called, to go forward and not look back.

And he, Joseph, called His name Yeshua.

The angel said, “Joseph, descendant of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The baby in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son. You will name the son Jesus.  Give him that name because he will save his people from their sins.”  Matthew 1:20-21

Christmas grace.

 

Revised and reposted from December 2015

Today’s musings

It’s been another busy week. I’m not sure how that happens when I plan for down time during December. But appointments and events and visitors and lunch dates and driving and preparations have been my lot, not to mention the everyday of keeping the household running as smooth as possible. There are always meals to cook and clean up, laundry to wash and fold, bills to pay, and the ongoing task of putting things in their places.

Life is just busy I guess, the daily-ness of living it out. When I stop having something to do, I guess I will just . . .  well, I don’t know what might happen. I pray for strength and a sound mind to keep pressing forward.

This morning, I sit quietly as is my habit, for as long as I can. My two cups of morning coffee have been drunk, the caffeine waking away my sluggish sleep. The gas logs flicker in rhythm to the candle flames of the glass jar sitting on the kitchen table. Maisie dreams on her bed beside me, and Sweet William’s soft snores echo down the hall from the bedroom.

I spot the stray cat sleeping on the cushioned glider outside while it is still dark. He is the scaredy-cat I’ve been feeding off and on for over a year. He disappeared for months and his reappearance this morning makes me smile. That he feels safe enough to sleep and glance up at me through the window that divides us makes me think maybe he will stick around for a while.

I begin to contemplate how I might provide a shelter from the weather for him (or maybe her; who knows with cats). I know I will leave food daily and a dish of warm water. He will reward me by keeping the mice away.

Darkness still shrouds this new day. Nights are long in December. I am already anticipating the 21st. It marks the beginning of winter but also when daylight begins to increase by mere seconds. The lengthening days renews hope. Hope for spring.

While cold temperatures, snow and freezing rain are possible in the coming months, perhaps even tomorrow, spring is coming. I will look for it.

Like the icy cold winter weather, this December has been fraught with sad news. Too much sickness, operations, deaths, heartaches. It weighs a soul down.

In contrast, we’ve had the occasions with friends as the gifts we have treasured. That people would give their most precious commodity – time – to fellowship at the table of communion is the present I value most of all.

As the dawning of this new day begins to faintly light the eastern sky, I am thankful for Jesus. In the middle of grief and pain, the uncertainty of the days ahead for us and those we care about, Jesus is the ray of light in a dark world. He is the constant Good News when we wonder what tomorrow will bring.

The birth of Jesus may not have been on December 25th, and it probably was not, but I am thankful we have set a time to celebrate it. His coming into our world, wearing a robe of flesh like mine, submitting to the frailties I experience, knowing pain and grief like I do, and being the overcoming Savior is cause to rejoice, to throw a party, to commemorate and be glad.

The fact that He came is the hope I need in a world that seems without.

Life on this earth will not last. My body is living proof that the years take their toll. My days are counting higher and counting down at the same time. But I have nothing to fear. Fear is contradicted by the joy that is offered to every person.

The message came directly from Heaven by an angel of the Lord. It was first delivered to a bunch of shepherds doing their job, living out their lives.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  –Luke 2:10-11

The words are still valid today. In these morning hours while I wait for the world to awaken, an angel’s message brings certainty. A Savior has been born to me. He is Christ, Messiah, the Lord of Heaven, the Infant God, the One promised, the Deliverer, and my Redeemer.

No need to fear. The Word from God the Father has come down to earth, and He speaks love and forgiveness, mercy and grace, peace and joy. This is cause for great rejoicing.

His name shall be called Jesus.

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Christmas 2016

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Social media. It’s the way we get our information. We communicate through the internet and cell towers rather than penning letters and going the snail-mail route. In a few years will we even recognize the familiar handwriting of family and friends? Perhaps not.

We have instant gratification, instant information. Photos just snapped are quickly downloaded for our friends to see. And all those “friends?” Who are they really?

Even as inventions pass each other in the bigger, newer, better isle of advertising, life for us moves at almost warp speed. If we are not careful, we will miss the people in front of us as we bow face down into our smart phones.  As we video each of those important activities, we may miss the pure pleasure of simply experiencing them.

As we rush through December headlong toward Christmas Day, perhaps a pause is needed. Pause to listen. Pause to be thankful. Pause to pray. Pause to meditate on grace and mercy. Pause to enjoy. Pause to remember.

Stop the madness long enough to bring your thoughts and your mind back to the present. Right here. Right now.

One of my favorite writers, Ann Voskamp, says, “Life isn’t an emergency.”

Let’s don’t treat it like it is something to be rushed through so we can get to the next event, next activity, next day.

Carpe diem. Make the most of the present time. Tomorrow will come soon enough.

Pause for a few minutes and imagine if Mary and Joseph had lived in the 21st century.

Making room

The heart carries a lot.

Yesterday afternoon, my heart was glad as two friends sat at our table. We ate, talked, and laughed together for hours. It was a gift of time, and my heart filled with the reward of friendship.

My hurt hearts this morning. After hearing of another untimely death last night, Sweet William and I agree that sad news is too much a part of this December .

I ponder the Christmas story in the gospels of Luke and Matthew, trying to see the narratives with fresh eyes. I’ve heard the accounts since I was a child, sung the carols, read the devotionals and commentaries, and written about it in one way or another.

The drama is old yet new. Every year it presents the mystery of a love that cannot be explained. It leaves questions unanswered in my mind. I marvel at the miracles scattered throughout like stars in the sky and angelic visitations as common as the postal delivery.

Never was there such a love story.

But if I am not careful, if I am not intentional, the beauty of it can be crowed out of my heart by the trappings of the season. The shopping, the cooking, the preparations, the events and parties, the busy schedules, and yes, even the heartache and sorrow can push aside the reality that is Christmas. My focus can become clouded by the daily stressors.

I must make room for the Savior.

In our 21st century fast-paced living, there seems to be no slowing down. We live in an age that requires much of us, our thoughts swirling like snowflakes in a wind. Our minds are scattered with obligations and to-do lists, the next project, the next appointment. There are people to see and places to go and any number of things that need our attention.

What am I to do to make room for the Savior?

He longs to be part of this celebration, this party for His birthday. But is He? Is He a Sunday morning thought as I rush about to get to church on time and after I’ve done my duty, is He simply a check off the list so I can continue with my plans?

Jesus will interrupt the plan. He will come in an unexpected, unexplained way. He will change everything.

If we accept His invitation to stop in our tracks and listen to the still small voice, nothing will be the same. Some won’t quite understand. Others might think we are a bit confused in our thinking, gone off the deep end.

If we make room in our hearts and in our lives for the Savior, He will take us on a journey we could not have imagined. It might be hard, challenging, overwhelming even.

But it could be miraculous and filled with wonder.

Let every heart prepare Him room this Christmas. Perhaps the world will witness and be curious. Perhaps some will ask why. Perhaps one or two will see Christ.

And then they also will stand amazed at an amazing grace and make room for the Savior.

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