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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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Whether hubby is sipping his morning brew with me, or not, I have not had my morning coffee alone in weeks.

We moved the chairs where each morning, we sit, so as to make room for the Christmas tree. This furniture rearrangement has allowed me new morning companions.

As I sit, sipping my brew, awakening to the day, my attention will be pulled to the deck outside the front patio doors. As the sky just starts to lighten, the tiniest of birds will begin their dance of the dawn. They flutter around, stopping to sip water from the deck floor.

As they dance lightly through their morning ritual, I participate in my own. I read the news, and feel the heaviness from around the world.

But, my attention has been constantly pulled from my heaviness, by the delight of my feathered friends, who are unaware, and unconsumed by the lack of peace in this world.

Just days before Christmas, I finally ‘heard’ the message in my petit little visitors daily dance, as I was listening to the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

“And in despair I bowed my head:
There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men

These little birds awaken each day, with not one meal saved for the day to come. They rely on their instincts and on provision every day of their lives. Like our own lives, some days are ones of plenty, and some are days of want.

But, they dance and sing through it all, as though they know the words of John 16:33,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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I love Christmas eve!

I love Christmas morning!

All of the the traditions of Christmas that our family have been able to hold onto, over the years, are tied up in those two days.

My favorite, though, is Christmas morning, after the chaos of days of parties, church services, shopping, baking and wrapping. It is after the breakfast is nibbled, and the gifts are unwrapped, and then quiet contentment fills the room. I often have thought that in that moment, I have the nearest understanding of what peace on Earth might be like. It is like we are bathed in thankfulness that only Christ’s love can create.

It is in those moments that family is truly celebrated, that friends are truly celebrated, that Christmas is truly celebrated.

As you celebrate in the next few days and hours to come, take a moment and just soak in the moments, soak in the love, soak in the birth of the Christ child.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

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Are you tired? Are you weary?

One more weekend, six shopping days, and less than a week before Christmas Day.

Weary is the common word of the season.

It would be a perfectly fitting word for a particular day, just this week, in my life.

In the Bible God speaks to Elijah and to Job in hushed whispers, a still small voice.

Some days I am amazed at how attention-getting that still small voice can be. Days like that particular day this very week, when fatigue was mounting and strength waning, and get up and go had gotten up and gone …

and then, the voice.

The voice through that student who feels safe in your presence, or the one who shares relief in a completed project, or the one that makes ever fibre of you want to reach out and embrace them with a good ‘ol Mamma hug (but you resist because that is so not job appropriate).

During this crazy, long, tiring week I am thankful that God decided to whisper in hushed tones. Through that still small voice of students who try so hard, who are filled with anxiety, who have been so misunderstood for so long that they rarely risk uttering … a whisper.

But, when we are bone tired weary, that can be the perfect opportunity to cease … cease the movement, cease the planning, cease the talking. In our ceasing of movement and noise, our ears are then attuned to the smallest sound, the stillest voice.

On this particular, pre-Christmas, weary day, I came home rejoicing.

God will do whatever is necessary to get our attention … even whisper.

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Luke 2, the well known, oft told story of Christmas.

Even the least likely of those, to read or know the contents of a Bible are familiar with these words.

It starts with talk of a census … order, of the man-made variety. The counting of the people in the land, and all would be counted. Interesting that this is where the great story begins … the remainder of the story orchestrated by Creator God, who was about to send the One who would make every person count, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor.

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph, a man … the law abiding, wife selfless wife-loving, faithful to God man, who also ‘happened’ to be a descendant of David. Mary, a woman who God chose as the vessel through which redemption would come into the world. The babe, born to parents who had not consummated their marital commitment, among filthy barn animals, to a world which would crucify him.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Shepherds, uneducated, unappreciated, smelly boys and men, caring for a most dense beast on this Earth get the scoop on the new baby, by an angel. Despite being able and accustomed to protecting their flocks from the likes of bear and lions, the message from the angel begins with “do not be afraid.” It ends with directions of where to go to find this child, then more angels appear and sing praises to God.

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.”

This familiar text is what Christmas is all about. It is a little, albeit irregular, family, in a foreign land, delivering the King of Kings, in the presence of cow patties and pig slop, and the first visitors were stinky shepherds.

And that is just the beginning of how this babe’s arrival turned all of history and future up-side-down.

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!”
(Luke 2:2-14)

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IMG_1604.JPGThe sign, to the left, perfectly describes my childhood upbringing, when it came to Christmas, and Santa. The rule in our house, growing up, was that if you no longer believed in Santa, you would no longer get gifts from him.

Heck, my younger (but not that much younger) brothers still say they believe in the Easter Bunny, and still get chocolate eggs!

Though I am certain that their are psychological theories about the dangers of lying to your children about such fanciful characters, I am a lifelong believer in the gift of developing imagination, as well as belief in that which is not seen in the hearts and minds of children.

I remember that day. I was about five, or maybe six, when I reasoned that since we had no chimney in our house, Santa must not be real, but that the gifts came from our parents. When I shared my newly found logic with my mum, she replied, “oh, you are so clever! You are right, Santa cannot come down a chimney we do not have. That is why we leave the key to the front door under the mat, so that Santa can let himself in.”

Then, a year or two later when I noticed that wealthier children got better, more extravagant gifts that my brothers and I, and I shared this revelation with my mom. Her response was that “of course Santa cannot afford to give gifts to all the children of the world, so, each year, parents send money to him, and he makes what he can from the money available.

There is, though, a time in the life of each child, when logic erases our belief.

As a decades-experienced adult, I assert that believing in Santa is a healthy foundation.

From this Christmas belief we learn

that not everything can be seen, touched, smelled and understood.

that a time of anticipation, waiting, for something we desire can increase the joy when the waiting is done.

that, writing down what we want can help us to realize what need … what we already have.

that, when we are in deepest need, when the night is darkest, it is a comfort to look up.

that logically hope might seem impossible,

but it is in believing that anything can be possible … with God (Matthew 19:26).

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Though hubby would argue that the first day of school is the most wonderful time of the year (cynical man), I know that the season of Christmas is the real thing!

Though the hustle and bustle of shopping, parties, baking, increased Church schedule and all of the regular activities, can usually drive me to near insanity, the buzz leading up to Christmas day does birth an air of excitement that leaves me wonder-filled.

When I can consciously turn off the noise and movement and schedules.

When I can move away from living in the urgent and towards the emergent.

When I can remember the Psalmist’s sage advise to just,

“be still”

Then,

I am freed to be filled with the wonder of the Christmas season.

The mystery of the first Christmas, first draws us in. Angels making announcements of impossible things to come.

The romance is always there in the shadows, as Joseph stays with his lady, and waits until after the child is born, to love her fully (or maybe loving her fully was what he did when he chose to divorce her quietly, or when he chose to obey the angel’s advice).

The drama of the self-centered, egotistical king, determined to go to any lengths to ensure that this Jewish king never steal his throne.

The science fiction of those from the east, the stargazers, traveling to find the king that had been foretold, a long time ago (but not quite in a galaxy far, far away).

The tragedy of no room available for this first family, after having traveled on foot and riding a donkey, heavy in the final days of pregnancy. Sharing a birthing room with beasts of the farmer.

This is the most wonder-filled story ever!

All we need to do is start with “be still and know”

And it will all enfold, as prophesied:

be still,
and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.
The Lord almighty is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress.”
Psalm 46:10-11

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Remember that classic Christmas ditty with the kid that sang about how she couldn’t whistle, because she had lost her two front teeth?

That song always comes to mind when December rolls around, when everyone from advertisers to little children are talking about writing a list of what we want.

So far, I have received one list by text, from one child, a request for nothing from another, and a request for my list of wishes. In discussions around the table I have learned that one refuses to purchase gift cards, one thinks that anything not useful is pointless, and peace on earth is not an acceptable response to the seasonal query,

“Mom, what do you want for Christmas?”

I remember, as a child, the excitement of the arrival of the Sears Wish Book. My brothers and I would circle, star and check mark the sugar plums that would be dancing in our heads until Christmas morning.

I remember, as a teen and young woman, eager for that special gift from that special guy.

I remember, as a newly wed, eager to see how well my new hubby had studied my heart (and that story is a classic that continues on each and every Christmas).

I do not remember when things changed, but they did, and they have changed.

If I had a wish list, there would be not one ‘thing’ on it.

Oh, it would be a list, but not one thing could be wrapped with shiny paper and a bow.

This list would be strikingly similar to my prayers. It would include health for those who are ill, peace for those who live among conflict, love for the lonely, homes for the homeless, food for the hungry, and light for those living in darkness.

This list would also be about loved ones, near and far, memories of Christmases past, hopes for the future.

It would include joy for our kids, new memories made, and rest for their parents.

I think Dr. Seuss said it best, in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”:

“How could it be so?
It came without ribbons
It came without tags
It came without packages, boxes or bags!
Then the Grinch thought of something, he hadn’t before,
Maybe Christmas, He thought,
doesn’t come from a store,
Maybe Christmas, perhaps,
means a little bit more.”

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In the Waiting

I am not a good waiter,

and by waiter, I mean someone who (has to) wait.

I think that many people are not good waiters. I especially think that today, Black Friday.

Black Friday, the day that follows American Thanksgiving, is a day of reckless shopping, spending and individualism. It is the human behavioral evidence that we do not see benefit from waiting. Ironically, Black Friday falls just two days before the next holy season, on the church calendar, that of Advent.

Advent means coming, and when something is coming, someone is waiting.

Advent is about remembering the waiting for the arrival of the Messiah (as a babe) and the waiting we do now for his second arrival. He is coming again and that coming is Advent.

To know someone or something is coming is a far more exciting waiting than any other. For in this waiting is the promise that our waiting is not in vain. What we must always remember is that there is purpose, there is the attainment of skills and strength, and humility that will make us ready for the day that the promise is fulfilled.

As we walk through this Advent season, let’s try to prepare for the promise of Christ, just as we do in the gifts and food and parties of the other side of this holiday.

When we are in the waiting, ask the question,

What will you teach me through this, God?

The Bible is full of waiting for something to come. It is also full of promises that the waiting would not be in vain.

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