Some Angels Only Whisper

She holds onto hope, there among the branches, her painted face smiling brave, and wings out-stretched. (Here at the beginning of Winter…as the Christmas season launches headlong into its race to be bigger, do more, shine brighter… as one year crosses out its last days and another looms large ahead.) I put her carefully into the tree full of angels, and nod to her silent message: there is Hope for every longing heart. For God Himself has come down to us, and the world cannot ever be the same again.

I have held onto the bare branches of Winter and searched hard for Hope; listened long through the night for answers that never seemed to come; looked at the blank expanse of a new year with nothing but dread at its enormity. And the lights on the tree shine through the window like little beacons lighting the way. The beauty of this Season calls to the spirit, somehow– whispers what we are straining to hear all year long– that there is magic in this old world, something More than what we see and touch, something of eternal value and immense meaning hidden behind the glittery trappings. And the angel holds out hope in her hands: “See, the Sovereign Lord comes….He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:10-11)

But this season of frantic Joy to The World can grind you down to weariness, take away every last shred of peace if you are not looking for the One who brings it. Ironic, isn’t it, that the very way we celebrate the birth of the Savior only serves to underline our need for deliverance. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah seven hundred years ahead of time to reassure us about His coming: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice…” (Isaiah 42:3) The Creator stoops to our need, bends to lift up a fragile broken world and make it new with His own flesh-and-blood hands. There is help for the burdens we carry, and hope for restoration of every crazy situation we face; the future may be unknown to us, but it is not so to Him, and He will bring justice (in the old-fashioned sense of protecting the innocent and vulnerable, and righting of wrongs). The words of the old hymn resound, “Fear not to trust my mighty arm; it brought salvation down.” (JW Howe) 

The angels who filled the sky over Bethlehem shouted until they shook the heavens, and I am sure it was magnificent and glorious when they announced Jesus’ birth, but I have always been drawn to the laments of the prophets, waiting for God’s promises to come true and reminding God’s people of His faithfulness. Thus saith the Lord…“By Myself I have sworn, My mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before Me every knee will bow; by Me every tongue will swear. They will say of Me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’” (Isaiah 45:23-24) This is a solid Hope to hold onto, a compass point to steer by so we don’t get lost amid the shopping and baking and partying; this is the depth of meaning that underlies every sparkle of Christmas. God is with us, and He is for us– if you listen you can hear the angels: “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

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” So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

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“He has come for us, this Jesus
He’s the hope for all mankind
He has come for us, The Messiah,
Born to give us life…”
(Jason Ingram and Meredith Andrews)

 

The Perfect Christmas

I wake up the day before Christmas Eve with the stress oozing out of me before I even brush my teeth. The weight of cards not sent, gifts still to wrap, last minute errands, that one present I haven’t been able to find, the empty fridge, Christmas Dinner and stockings to stuff, and all the children not even home yet makes it hard to breathe– presses and constricts till a person might break with it. Christmas expectations raise the bar impossibly high for a recovering perfectionist.

Somewhere between cutting grapefruit for breakfast and feeding the cat, I hear the Still Small Voice: “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36) And I realize I could get everything exactly right and the holiday trimmings could be perfect for everyone in this house, and me broken and empty in the midst of it. What do you benefit if you gain the whole holiday and lose the essence of it in the rush? None of us will enjoy Christmas if Mama is ragged and shrill by the evening of the 24th, no matter what else is in the house.

So I breathe a quick prayer, standing in the middle of the kitchen in bare feet, knife in one hand and the other open to Heaven. If I miss Him in this Christmas, I’ve missed the whole thing. If my soul is not turned up toward Christ, it is no better than the inn that turned away His mother long ago. No room…no room…no room…because I’ve filled up my time and my thoughts with preparing for the big party.  No room for the birthday child Himself? Forgive me (yet again, because this is not the first Christmas to learn this lesson).

Lord, show me what things are most important in the next two days, and what things can be left undone. Give me wisdom to approach the holiday plans in new ways, and eyes to see You at work all around. We have no Christmas at all, if we do not have You…Come, Lord Jesus.

 

 

 

 

“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)

 

 

 

 

“We’re ready for Christmas,  not when we have all the gifts, but when we are ready for Christ — when we’re ready to give all of ourselves to Christ.” (Ann VosKamp)

 

 

 

All Things Big and Small

“The Lord is bigger than I am,” the old farmer said, shaking his head, cheeks red with the cold, blue eyes looking out over his fields. “He’ll figure it out.” And he bent again to his work, brown coveralls stained and worn, boots patched up with blue Duck tape right there on the toe. I watched him, our breath blowing white in the almost-Christmas air, and felt a bubble of joy rise as the world righted itself, the simple truth untangling knots of worry and lists of things to do and problems without answers. God is bigger than we are. God can fix all of this.

It is something all the tired stressed-out Mamas need to hear a week before Christmas: the ones hoping that grand-kids will come to visit; and the ones staying up late to wrap presents and decorate and bake cookies after working all day; the ones planning for huge family get-togethers and wondering how they will ever get everything done in time; and the ones who just wish everyone could get along for once. The gift in the small dark stable is bigger than the whole world and our crowding stresses dwindle small in the light of His presence. It’s just a matter of perspective: What really matters, and Who is really in charge.

And tonight I finally lift my eyes from a long day of lists and cookie sheets and phone calls to see bare-branch shadows on the snow in the light of the full moon, and I pause by the window, breathe deep the peace of the silent night, and think how easily the small things can eclipse the very large. How easily my world can turn inside out till I’m looking at the wrong side of things. How the old farmer was right to keep his eyes on the simply obvious: The Lord is bigger than I am, and He who hangs the moon and orders the stars, forms the snowflakes every one…well, He knows what concerns me today and can figure out what to do about it.

So I stop and watch, listen to the sound of quiet inside and out, and know what really matters is what He is doing, and He is (and always has been) in control. And suddenly there are wide open spaces, and peace.

 

 

 

 

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King…
And heaven and nature sing:
Joy, unspeakable joy
An overflowing well, no tongue can tell;
Joy, unspeakable joy
Rises in my soul, never lets me go.”
(Joy to the World, Chris Tomlin)

 

 

 

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being….Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth….” Philippians 2:6-7, 9-10)

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Christmas

To women with aching hearts, praying through the night,
And fathers watching long for prodigals,
The prophet speaks Comfort:
“Comfort My people….make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” 

To every home that has an extra room, waiting to be filled,
And every heart that needs a place to belong,
The angels sing Peace:
“He makes beautiful things out of the dust.”

To the sheep who have lost their way and perhaps their hope as well–
To all of us who need a fresh start,
The messenger says Jesus:
“He will save His people from their sins.”

Christmas is foremost the story of God fulfilling His promises to make all things new, announcing “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) Envy the prophet Isaiah, given the Good News to proclaim that the time has finally come: “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed….Here is your God!” (Isaiah 40:2,9) At Christmas God answers the waiting centuries with His “Yes!” Whispered in the dark stable, blazing overhead in the constellations, weaving music in the wind over the rocky hills of Judea, passed from mouth to mouth on dusty roads by faceless nameless travelers: “For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) 

This Christmas the money we spend and the lights we drape could make us forget for a while that we are only dust underneath, and all the gaiety and greetings might cover up the howl of the ages: “Meaningless, all is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 12:8) But if we dig deep beneath all the distractions and see God’s “yes” of Mercy and Grace at the heart of the season, we would find a more real and sober Christmas, something solid and true and everlastingly beautiful. This is Christmas in its essence, that Someone sees us, Someone hears us, and Someone came to find us. “This is Christmas… Emmanuel, God is with us, tell all the world– We have a Savior, we have a Savior.” (We Have A Savior, Hillsong) 

 

 

 

 

 

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” (Isaiah 40:3-5)

 

 

 

 

 

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground

Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us”
(Beautiful Things, Gungor)

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas

Life changes: children grow, people move on, circumstances shift– but God’s Beloved Son who came at Christmas remains unchanging. May the light of Christ shine in your heart and in your home this Christmas Day, and in the coming year.

“Hallelujah, we’ve been found
A child is born to save us now
Hallelujah, light has come
A Savior who will set us free
A promise for those who believe.”
(
Barlow Girl)

For Unto Us A Child Is Born

The Christmas Story became earthly-real to me the year I gave birth to my first child, a son. By Christmas he was only two months old and neither of us knew what we were doing yet. But I understood what it is to grow a child in your own body, and how you know him after nine months in a way without words, and how your life is intertwined with his in ways you barely understand yet.

I thought about Mary traveling in her ninth month, knew the heaviness of her body and the discomforts of her burden, but any mother would bear those willingly for the sake of the little one to come. The delivery of a child in the stable became startling fact, and the making do with little in the cold rough night felt the ache of a mother’s heart to provide for her child. Was she hungry? Was she tired? Did she wonder if she would survive the delivery, alone in a cave? Shepherds, animals, straw, the night-time pastures, the crowded streets of the rural village– all lifted right out of the gilt-edged storybook and into this created world of dirt where it could be touched and smelled and remembered by a mother’s heart.

And in the night, when I was awakened yet again by the cries of a newborn, in the dim light of the nursery we would rock, and I would look at the tiny face and think of the Savior who came like this: so small and weakly dependent on someone to care for every need, to love Him. And I understood how Mary’s heart poured out to her baby as only a mother’s can, and how those tiny fingers entwined with hers day after day. A child, innocent and dependent, who would carry His mother’s heart and her sin to the cross someday– something no mother should have to face, and yet earthly grim and unflinchingly real. A Child dependent but so desperately needed here: innocence in exchange for our guilt, grace poured out from heaven for our wrenching pain and chaos. As the prophet foretold hundreds of years before, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful…Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

This is the miracle of Christmas, new again every year in its mystery and wonder, that God came down a Child. That the Eternal entered into the flow of time to be with us from the beginning of life to the end. That the omnipotent God became a fragile and needy newborn. How can a mother’s heart help but worship at Christmas-time, when she sees her own children and thinks of the Christ-child? How can a mother’s heart help but make sure there is room for Him in her home, and call her own children around the manger to see the Child that is born for us?

 

“The God who needs nothing, came needy. The God who came to give us mercy, was at our mercy. And He who entered into our world, He lets us say it in a thousand ways– that there is no room at the inn.” Ann VosKamp

 

“Who, oh Lord, could save themselves,
Their own soul could heal?
Our shame was deeper than the sea;
Your grace is deeper still.

You alone can rescue, You alone can save,
You alone can lift us from the grave;
You came down to find us, led us out of death–
To You alone belongs the highest praise.” Matt Redman

The Light of the World

It was just another kids’ Christmas program with barely-audible childish voices tumbling over rehearsed lines, and last-minute melt-downs among the nativity figures in the back, when they caught a glimpse of the crowded auditorium.  A stray baby in a stiff red dress escaped from the manger scene and toddled around in the aisle beneath the fond gaze of the audience.  And when the music played, enthusiastic little voices joined in the song, not always with the correct words or notes, but with the appropriate amount of gusto to please the director and delight the assembled parents, friends, and grandparents.

Just another adorable Christmas program until the very end, when a clump of children lined up at the mic, and the littlest one stepped out in her red-knit hat with the flower on it, and piped up in her tiny voice: “We praise You, Jesus, for being a light in this dark world.” As clear and perfectly enunciated as that truth could possibly be, and suddenly it was worship. Hearts hushed as rosy cheeked innocence announced that Christ was come to shine in our darkness, the darkness that has overtaken those grieving families this week before Christmas, the confusion and fear of every parent’s nightmares that rise up in the dark when least expected. The auditorium stilled and the little voice rang out like a bell, and spirits lifted in prayer, knowing how desperately our world needs the light of a Savior. We praise You, Jesus– “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord.”

In the face of tragedy and war and abuse and violence that affects the littlest and most innocent ones, we celebrate the birth of a Baby who is named Prince of Peace. Amid a society so carefully made independent of age-old beliefs, we declare the Advent of Emmanuel, God with us. “Come and behold Him, born the king of angels…Oh, come, let us adore Him.”

And when we hold our candles on Christmas Eve, passing the light from the Christ-candle throughout the darkened auditorium, till it glows with hundreds of tiny lights, our hearts will weep and rejoice together: “We praise You, Jesus, for being a light in this dark world.” Not just at Christmas-time, but forever and ever. “Highest, most holy, light of light eternal, born of a virgin, a mortal he comes…O come all ye faithful…let us adore Him.”

 

“Lord God, as Your plan of salvation unfolds before me this Advent, may I be still and silent before the miracle of the Christ Child. Amen” (Branches of the Tree, Jeff Stone)

“…how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles? Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding….those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:27-28,31)

What We Need This Christmas

Bits of thought have been muddling around in my head for a couple weeks now; it wasn’t till after I had eaten two pieces of chocolate cake with my fingers, mid-day, and announced that I couldn’t wait any longer to get the live Christmas tree for the family room, that the restless push started shaping into words. I need Christmas, and I need it to be wonderful– that’s the bare bones of the thing.

See, I love everything about Christmas and I always have this feeling that there is so much celebrating to do in a month that it will never fit. I don’t want to miss any part of this magical holiday because it won’t be back for another whole year. This year especially it feels important to get it all in, because our family is changing shape and we are letting go of familiar traditions, and the whole Christmas season is rocking on its pedestal.

 Beauty….. Joy….. Meaning…..Miracle….. Wonder….. Peace.

That is Christmas in a nutshell and one of the few times and places on Earth that they all come together for more than a few moments. No wonder we all want to capture it, hold onto it, get as much of it as we can. After another year of pushing on and persevering in this Faith-journey, with death and disease and financial need in the world right down the street, the heart needs a month to contemplate the beauty of Christmas, revel in the sights and sounds of this holiday, hear echoes of the angels’ song: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.” It is a grander story than we could have imagined ourselves, that God would come to dwell in the skin of what He made; that God Himself would come down to bind up our brokenness, declare hope to the whole world.

At Christmas we get a glimpse of glory, get to remember the miracle-story and anticipate all over again– “unto us a Child is born!” We get to look beyond the everyday into the extraordinary and celebrate. “We are no longer lost; He has come down for us. We have a Savior…we have a Savior!”  At Christmas-time it is all on display, and everyone joins in the party whether or not they understand why.

But like many good things the harder we try to grasp it, the more elusive it becomes, and our very striving gets in the way of the experience.  I need to slow down enough to enjoy the holiday festivities. Look at people instead of projects. Keep the food and decorations simple enough that they remain fun and don’t become an overload of stress. Wonderful can turn into overwhelming in the space of a few hours, if I am not mindful.

The best part of it is that I could Keep It Simple and know that I am not missing out on anything, because Christmas is here to stay, a year-round truth not dependent on the accessories of the season. Maybe different this year, but never ruined, as long as we remember the reason for the party. “His love will reign forever…We have a Savior.”

 

“A child has been given,
King of our freedom;
Sing for the Light has come–
This is Christmas.” (We Have A Savior, Hillsong)

Waiting for Christmas

We didn’t celebrate advent when I was growing up, didn’t know anything about that centuries-old tradition, and when I became a mother and heard other mothers talking about making an advent wreath it seemed like just one more thing to do in a busy season. Later when we started celebrating Advent as a church it was a way to unify the church family’s celebration, focus on the meaning of Christmas and spread out our joy over a whole month.

But somewhere along the way the meaning of the word seeped into my heart and became a lifeline in that mad push to make Christmas picture-perfect (because it only comes once a year and somehow it matters so very much), a still whisper running beneath the season: coming. All the decorating and the baking and the bright wrappings and the music are only preparation for that one special day, and when it comes it might even seem a disappointment, unless you are looking for the right thing….prepared for what is coming…waiting with all the world for a Savior…He’s coming.

Advent is really just a way to make visible the words of the prophets, the collective longings of people in darkness, the long centuries rolling on, the hopes and cries of the suffering. We light the candles and see it..He’s coming…the Christ-child is coming to set everything right in the world…and the flame is burning brightly and nothing is impossible any more because God is with us.

So we light this first candle and our hearts quiet to listen for His voice: “A voice cries ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.'” (Isaiah 40:1,4-5) And we count the days, pull out the boxes of decorations, trim the tree and the windows, deck the halls of our homes with hope; we rejoice in this month of preparation as we wait for Christmas, that one special day when we stop the world to remember His first coming and wait for His second coming. When the presents and trimmings are gone the promise of this day will remain…“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Isaiah 40:8)  He is coming!

 

“A child has been given,
King of our freedom,
Sing for the light has come:
This is Christmas…”  (Hillsong)