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As I looked across the table, last Friday, at the birthday boy, I realized that this was a different Christmas indeed.

With hubby on a medical leave, there was a palatable absence of something …

busyness.

Though hubby is tired (so tired), he is not pre-occupied. The ring of his phone, the ding of a text or email is silent, peaceful. He is not rushing off to … anything.

Our most difficult decision on Christmas Eve was, where to attend church. For hubby, being with groups of people are fatiguing, so I chose a small Anglican church, offering a “Holy Eucharist with Candlelight”. It was to be a first time experience.

As we entered the small sanctuary, we sat in two of the last available seats, one in front of the other, and the service began. It was traditional, liturgical … probably the same as it had been done there for much of it’s over one hundred years.

And there was comfort in it’s traditions, that have stood the test of time.

Looking toward the front, my eyes and mind were captivated by the large stained glass window at the back. The focal image was that of Jesus, holding a lamb … the Good Shepherd. It reminded me of a similar stained glass window in the church my grandmother had attended, and I remember, so fondly, from my childhood.

I am not sure if the one speaking recognized the significance of her homily, when she began by describing the shepherds … in the Christmas pageant held earlier.

According to Wonderololis the profession of shepherd is probably one of the oldest professions, and practiced all over our world. They work long hours,  roaming deserted countrysides, enduring all forms of weather, and always needing to be on the alert for predators, who seek to destroy the sheep in their care. Plus, by all accounts, sheep are … not very intuitive (aka, they are thick as a brick).

The work of the shepherd can be long, tiring, lonely.

The term shepherd can also be attributed to those in the role of pastor, priest, minister. They too can experience their task to be long, tiring and lonely … especially at this high expectation and busy season of Christmas.

When Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd, the Greek word, kalos, is used, and it means noble, wholesome. It is a goodness that comes from the inside out, not a behaviour but character. In a sense Jesus is a shepherd unlike any other, real or metaphorically. For he was not just born for this role, but conceived for it.

The Good Shepherd,

  • who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11)
  • tends His flock … gathers the lambs and carries them in His bosom (Isaiah 40:11)
  • he calls his own sheep by name … and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice (John 10:3-4)

He is the true Good Shepherd, who leads his flock in the power and grace specifically given to him.

All others (even priests, pastors and the like) are followers … sheep in need of the shepherd … and he carries us close, knows our names and gave his life for us.

 

 

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We have shopped, and decorated, and baked, and travelled, and wrapped, and dreamed, and planned, and partied, and ordered, and sung, and …

it is here … it is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.

As Christmas Eve dawned today, all that has been done is done. The grand event to celebrate has come, and our weary world rejoices.

It is not just those of us who celebrate this Christmas season amongst shiny paper, excessive gifting and glutenous behaviours around the table, for whom he came so that the soul felt its worth. Christ came for all the weary world … and his only bling was a star sweetly gleaming.

On this eve of a new and glorious morn, I cannot imagine any better message than that gives the world reason to rejoice more than Luke 2:8-12:

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

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This Christmas season, writing this blog has been more challenging. So, I have (mostly) re-posted my cheerier Christmas words from years past.

I didn’t want to put a damper on the season of hope, joy, love and faith.

With the joy of a new job and co-workers I love, came the loss of a large community that I adored. With our kids growing and starting new adventures, comes the end of their need of me. With hubby being on a medical leave that stretches into the new year, comes more question marks about the future, than certainty.

Then I read an article called Celebrating Christmas with a Broken Heart. Towards the end of the article, the author, Brittany Salmon, wrote:

“Believer, God came to earth to make broken things whole. It’s okay for you to be broken this holiday season because of the baby in the manger.”

The Christmas season does not simply celebrate picture-perfect nativities, with clean animals, angels, a contented baby and peaceful new parents. It is the bloody mess of a baby born to an unwed mother, a homeless family in a strange town. It is the story that begins in blood and must end that way … to redeem the mess of humanity.

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The words that Jesus spoke to his disciples the night before his death, echo in our hearts in the Christmas season. You see Christmas is not Christmas without Easter.

We are not made holy by Jesus’ conception,
but in his crucifixion. 

And his crucifixion was the once for all blood sacrifice, to make the broken things of our lives whole. To make us whole … even when we are cracked, bruised and broken. Even when we are lonely, weak and wandering. Even when our past is past and our future uncertain.

And so, in brokenness, I will look to that babe in the manger, who came to overcome the world … and make my broken heart whole.

 

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18642I remember a Christmas ‘pageant’ where I did a ‘recitation’ when I was still a preschooler. It was at the church of my grandmother, and it was she who taught the poem to me. I remember how very many people were staring back at me (the church probably doesn’t hold more than seventy people, but as a preschooler, it seemed like hundreds). I also remember her voice whispering the lines to me (memorizing has never been a strength for me).

The poem I had recited many years ago, was the final verse of a poem written by Christina Rossetti. Later music was added and it is known as the Christmas carol ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. The poem goes as follows:

In the bleak midwinter frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom cherubim worship night and day,
A breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay:
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air –
But only his mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give him –
Give my heart.

The final (bolded) lines are from my recitation of many years ago (the fact that this is called a ‘recitation’ is evidence of that fact). And, although I was not so very successful at memorizing them, they have stayed with me for all of my life. There is something beautiful, dreamy and haunting about both the poem, and the music that was added to it. I have to say my favorite version is by Sarah McLaughlin, a few years ago, on her Wintersong CD.

Although this is not just a question of Christmas, I am asking myself this season the same question that Ms. Rossetti asked of herself. What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a poet, I would write him a song.
If I were a carpenter, I would build him a home,
If I were …
But all he wants,
Is my heart,
And your heart too.

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holyAt this time of year, I am looking for many things … free time, peace, relaxation, togetherness as a family, and a holy night experience.

This holy night experience is one which the Christmas Carol describes. It is one when “the stars are brightly shining” (that means no rain).

It is one that, if you go for a nighttime walk, you can almost imagine being there, in Bethlehem. The stars are brightly shining, and you follow quietly behind that young couple; he leading the beast who is as burdened as the young woman atop it, both feeling the weight of what they carry.

You see them enter the town gates, you see the relief flash on Joseph’s face, the relief that allows him to breath deeply, just as his lady beside him, breathing as the women in her hometown instructed her to, when the pains began.

As you follow along behind you feel the disappointment from the lack of vacancy in the first inn that Joseph inquired. Ah, but there are so many, he will just try again … and again … and … again.

There is no room for them. Mary tries to put on a brave face through the physical pains, feeling hope slip away. Joseph tries to put on a brave face, through the feelings of discouragement at not being able to provide for his increasingly suffering wife.

Finally, an option. An innkeeper offers a warm, dry, safe place … I wonder if Joseph felt the relief of finding a place, and the regret of having to tell his laboring wife that all he could find was a cave-like stable … I wonder if he felt thankfulness for the provision or failure that he was only able to offer a dirty animal refuge for the arrival of the son of God.

“Oh, hear the angel voices” … could Mary and Joseph hear and what was happening on the hillside outside of Bethlehem as it flooded with the light of the angelic chorus singing “sweet hymns of praise”?

As I imagine crouching in the corner of the stable, I try to read the expressions on the faces of the new parents. Their eyes filled with relief, and delight, no longer aware of their rustic conditions, no longer aware of anything except each other and the beautiful new child in their arms.

What were they thinking as they gazed into his eyes? Were their thoughts simply the thoughts of all new parents since the beginning of time, or were they looking at this child and seeing him as Christ?

Then the shepherds arrive, falling on their knees, telling their story of angels on the hillside. Praising his name, as the one who will “break the chains … cease oppression.”

If the new parents showed no acknowledgment of their son’s paternity and purpose earlier, I can almost imagine them looking at each other with wordless acknowledgment of what the other was thinking. Oh, the holy ground that they were on!

“Oh night divine,
Oh night,
Oh night divine”

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maryThe Royal announcement of the engagement of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle this week has captured the attention of people world-wide. The images and interview of the couple have been endearing and sweet.

As I listened to the couple speak of their love story, as I enjoyed their lovely glances at each other, as they spoke about the media scrutiny that they have endured so far, I found myself thinking about duty, service and about another young woman, in love, and standing at the edge of life change.

As a matter-of-fact, it was something that Prince Harry said, that took my attention completely away from the interview of the young lovers,

“the fact that I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly was conformation to me that all the stars were aligned, everything was just perfect.”

… all the stars were aligned … an idiom referring to something unexpected and rare that happens, out of nowhere, or by the direct hand of God.

The book of Luke (verses 26-38) reads of the meeting of the young, engaged, virgin Mary to the heavenly angel, Gabriel … the stars were aligning.

Though Gabriel initiated the conversation with affirming words, he scared her out of her skin! Then, to assure her (?) he tells her that God has a surprise for her … she’s about to become pregnant … with the son of God!

There was no ring, no slow start, no polite interview, just a declaration that she was to about to physically house the Messiah!

He then goes on (and this was supposed to relax her?) to tell her about just how great her progeny would be.

But Mary gets down to practical business, stating something to the effect of, um, I have never been with a man … you know, like never!

I expect that Gabriel was finally understanding the emotional and mental whiplash that he had inflicted upon Mary. So he then explained that her conception was an other-worldly one (as if the stars were aligned) and that she was not the only pregnant lady in her family, for Elizabeth was also in the family way. Gabriel stated, “Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.” 

That statement seemed to cinch the deal for Mary, who replied,

Yes, I see it all now:
    I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
    just as you say.”

She understood that her role, for the rest of her life, was one of service to her king, that she was not main event, but that she was to be the vessel, through which greatness was to pass, and that her role was simply to be willing, to be ready to serve.

What came after this royal proclamation of her involvement with the royal family of all time was nothing to do with crowns, gowns and a life of ease. Instead it was one of shame, hardship and a sword that would pierce her heart.

The stars were aligned, and Mary was about to step into a life of  service born, not out of endearing and sweet feelings of love, but out of dedication to the king.

Luke 1:26-38

“God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:

Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.

She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.

He will be great,
    be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him
    the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever—
    no end, ever, to his kingdom.”

Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”

The angel answered,

The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
    the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
    will be called Holy, Son of God.

“And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”

And Mary said,

Yes, I see it all now:
    I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
    just as you say.

Then the angel left her.”

 

 

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“It gets darker and darker and then came baby Jesus.”

Ann Lamont shared the words, above, spoken in her presence by poet and author, Wendell Berry. It was a dark and stormy December day.

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Today is a rather dark day, as the sound of rain falling interrupts the Christmas music playing in our house. Or is the music interrupting the rain falling?

In our world there is much darkness, much hatred, much too little peace … too little peace on Earth.

Darkness is the backdrop of our world and our lives, today, as it was that first Christmas, when love and light came to us in the form of baby. The innocence of a helpless, dependent baby, in the arms of his mother, who he came to save.

Delivered in the arms of a world, who he came to save, to redeem.

And, as a helpless babe, he was entrusted to a dark dark world. A world given the choice to love him, or reject him. To embrace him, or abandon him.

But, this celebration of Christmas is about how the light of that helpless babe still shines.

It shines in his birth foretold so long before fulfilled.

It shines in the Christmas story fulfilling the prophesy.

It shines in you and me, those of us who claim his redemption, who live illuminated by his love within us.

Merry Christmas is not a message for red cupped retailers, or turkey dinners or reindeers with lit noses.

Merry Christmas is the message of the word, become flesh, in the form of a baby, arms stretched open towards all of humanity, giving light to a dark world.

CHRISTMAS hath darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
For all Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.”

Christina Rossetti

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