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Posts Tagged ‘#christmas2021’

I sit here, in these early morning hours. I am in the middle. The middle of the sofa, in the middle of the week between Christmas and New Years. My middle is aching for it’s had too much of everything rich, and sugary … too much. I awake each morning, unaware of what day it is, for routine and normalcy have gone out the window.

That which I was eager to flee, just days ago, I am now eager to return to.

I sit and soak in the glow of the room. Lights that have been piercing the darkness for weeks now … on at 5:45am, off at 8, then back on at 3:30pm and off again at 11. I soak them in this morning, because they will come down today … it is my first act, each year, in reclaiming normal.

But, this moment, this quiet moment I bask in the glow of the Christmas lights. I hear the songs of the season singing in my memory,

O Little Town of Bethlehem, The First Noel, Away in a Manger, Silent Night …

The songs of the season, songs that reside in my heart, in my soul, for they are the songs of hope that have brought me back to this light that pierces the darkness … not just in this holly, jolly season, but throughout the year … not just in my neck of earthly woods, but all over the world … not just for those of us with a tree, and lights, and walls, and food, but in the dankest, the darkest corners of our cities and villages, warming those who feel the cold not just in their hearts, but in their toes.

Songs of hope … the light of world, the light who shines in the darkness … and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

I ponder this …

This babe who came, humbly, in humble circumstances, who came not to twist our arms, but to untwist the mess we humans have made of the plan … God’s plan, for us. He is the light, the only light, the only one ever born of a woman, who the darkness could not overcome. He is light incarnate. The light in human form … that does not go out!

As the tree gets untrimmed later today, as I unplug my lights from their timer and box it all away for another year, I have certainty that the light of Christmas does not go out, that the darkness cannot overcome it.

For the light of Christmas continues to glow, in the dark places of our world, in the dark places of our hearts and souls, should we open the door for Him to illumine us.

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I am a female, so there is only one person from the Christmas narrative that I can even begin to relate to, that of Mary.

I remember, as a child in Sunday School, when someone would be chosen to dress up as Mary in the Christmas concert. I was on pins and needles, hoping I would be chosen. I mean, other than angels, there were few female roles to play.

That said, she was also the one who gave birth to and raised Jesus, the one who came to redeem the world (including herself) of our sin, born in our humanity.

So …
Mary is also a bit hard to relate to.

Here is the passage where the angel lets Mary in on God’s secret mission for the world, the part she will play and how she responds to this bizarre interaction :

 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:28-38

As indicated by the emboldened phrases, I think that there are three most important parts of this interaction:

The Lord is with you
How will this be?
I am the Lord’s servant

The angel begins sharing what is come with Mary by encouraging her, saying, “the Lord is with you.” There is no more encouraging message for we humans than to know than that we are not alone, that we will not be left alone. Such a message grows our faith, our endurance, our courage. This message is one that we all receive, when we, in faith, give our lives to God and receive the Holy Spirit who sticks closer than any other.

Mary receives all this news, but does not accept it blindly, for she asks an important question of this angelic being who is weaving an impossible tale, “How will this be?” Her wisdom in asking this question cannot go unnoticed. She is acutely aware that there is no physical, no scientific way she, a virgin, could conceive a child. She needs to know how this will all be possible. She also knows that others will want to know (and how this choosing will impact her life).

The angel gives Mary a response to her question. There is no hedging, no hiding of the facts of how this miracle is to occur. Then, as if in a manner to continue reminding Mary that she is not alone, the angel also reveals the miracle of Elizabeth’s pregnancy in her “old age” (lets face it, Elizabeth is probably my age … dried up reproductively maybe, but NOT OLD). So Mary responds, “I am the Lord’s servant.” No more questions. No hesitancy. No delay in accepting this news.

So, here it is, Christmas Eve …

You and I are not Mary. We are not young virgins, in the Middle East over two hundred years ago.

how can we approach Christmas
with the spirit of Mary?

When Christmas plans fall apart … praise God.

When the gift you hoped for did not arrive … praise God.

When the person you hoped to spend Christmas with isn’t there … praise God.

When your life is not where you dreamed it would be … praise God.

When the one you loved is no longer by your side … praise God.

When you are far from home … praise God.

When arguments happen and hurtful things said … praise God.

When the pandemic rules invade your Christmas plans … praise God.

When you are alone on Christmas Day … praise God.

When the power goes out and the turkey is not roasted … praise God (and make a PB and J sandwich).

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Today is the day I celebrate my main man, more commonly known here simply as hubby (for, though he is famous in my heart, I like to keep his identity mostly to myself).

I am thankful for this man, born on the day (usually) following the dark winter solstice. He likes to say that his birth heralded the increase of more light. He does, indeed, light up my life.

I have now spent over 60% of my life with this man and I can no longer fathom life any other way.

Marrying so young, we have learned so much together. Music is an area where we do not often share common ground, except when it comes to hymns. He has opened my eyes to the beauty of the sound and theology that is expressed in ancient songs, usually sung in ancient cathedrals.

So, on this day of celebration of his birth, I thought I would share his favorite Christmas carol sung in his preferred manner (congregational singing … despite the fact that he almost exclusively listens to music sung by choirs … perhaps congregational singing is simply the way this carol is best intended).

Hark the Herald Angels Sing was originally titled, “Hymn for Christmas-Day” and truly it is that, for it is often sung at worship services on Christmas Day.

Written by Charles Wesley, it was first published in a book called, Hymns and Sacred Poems, over 280 years ago. Changes were made to the words, over the years, but the meaning, the theology, the story of the celebration of celestial heavenly choirs at the birth of the Savior of earth remained. The jaw-dropping, celebratory music of Mendelssohn was eventually added, as if it was designed especially for the lyrics.

It is based off of the passage from Luke 2:13-14 :

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,
good will toward men.

When I asked hubby why this carol, he replied, “it is the perfect combination of musical score (Mendolhson) and theology….”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with th’angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Refrain:
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come,
offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th’incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel. [Refrain]

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.

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For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end

Isaiah 9:6-7

This is the week!

Not just Christmas, but, for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, the darkest day of the year is this week. Therefore, we can now look forward to days gradually getting longer, filled with more light.

It is not lost on me that we begin to see the days lengthen during the week of Christ’s birth, the week following the fourth advent Sunday … when the JOY candle is lit and we celebrate that One who brings. who is hope, peace and love.

unto us a Child is born

Six words, that changed the world. The promise from Isaiah that was anticipated centuries before the arrival of the king of kings in a humble stable, to humble parents, in humble circumstances.

This babe, the gift and Son of the God of creation … born so that we might not die to eternity, but that we might have the hope of the presence of the spirit of peace, that we might know and be known by love himself.

There is no other song that can produce the experience of joy like Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee. Though Beethoven, in his creation of his 9th Symphony, never knew of the lyrics Henry van Dyke would construct when he wrote Joyful, Joyful we Adore Thee, he did know of the original poem, written by german poet, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller. It is the final stanza that, I believe, may have inspired both Beethoven and van Dyke:

Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving father.
Do you fall in worship, you millions?
World, do you know your creator?
Seek Him in the heavens;
Above the stars must he dwell.

May we, this day, everyday, know the joy of the child who will lift us to the joy divine.

Ode to Joy (Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee)

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee,
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee,
Center of unbroken praise.

Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee.
Thou art giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Wellspring of the joy of living,
Ocean depth of happy rest!

Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,
All who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us,
Brother love binds man to man.

Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward
In the triumph song of life.

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While it truly is the most wonderful time of the year, it is also the most wearying for many.

Even in this time of caution due to the Covid pandemic, there are concerts, church services, special dinners, presents to purchase and wrap, decorations to get out, lights to be strung, a tree to be cut down/put up and trimmed, goodies to bake and magic to create.

And it can all be so, so wearying.

Even though we know, we know that we do not have to make busy so as to make merry and celebrate the reason for this season … we still get pulled in, convinced that if we do not make our own shortbread cookies, from great grandma’s recipe, Christmas will simply not be Christmas.

I have been noticing a certain demographic this year. It’s the moms of littles, sneaking what will become stocking stuffers, among the green beans and broccoli in their carts. Their littles mesmerized by the lights and the toys. The moms looking like their plates are overloaded and their souls unnourished.

They are weary.

Weary of the regular daily life with littles. Weary of bills to pay, of meals to make, of toilets to clean. All while trying to do it all right, doing it all with a social media worthy smile. All while a million voices whisper, yell into their ears and hearts …

do more! do better!

But, here is what I hear when I see these ladies doing their level best to love and provide for their littles,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

This is the call of Jesus for each of us. He came for the weary moms of littles, for the dads tired from trying to be both strong and vulnerable, for the lonely who are weary of the quiet, for those worn out from fighting for their health, for those exhausted from their life, their job of caring for others (in so many areas from health care, to senior care, to child care), for those drained from the constant pivots required due to the pandemic (such as educators, business owners … restaurant owners).

He came for the weary, for we are all weary.

Weary of the burden of life that has been hard since things went awry in the garden … and toil became our reality.

He came for the weary … he came for you.

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A carol I did not grow up listening to at Christmas time is the oldest known to have been written in Canada (1642). It was written by a Jesuit missionary, Jean de Brébeuf, who wrote it in the language of the Huron/Wendat people of the area on the North Shore of Lake Ontario. Brébeuf immersed himself in the learning of the language, the culture and the spiritual practises of the Iroquois people.

His life’s end came when captured and killed, after the smallpox epidemic claimed so many of these First Nations peoples. Though he and another priest were tortured and killed, so were those of the Huron nation who had followed in the waters of baptism.

A Huron Carol, like his learning of the local language, was to give cultural context to the Christmas story for these people. It was, I think, an expression of love and respect for them. Isn’t this how we explain Christ and the Christmas story to all who do not know? We make it relevant, we show the fruit that is available to taste … in a way that the listener might hear and understand.

No one sings this carol better than Tom Jackson, of the Cree First Nations Band, in Saskatchewan.

My favourite line from the Huron Carole is

The Holy Child of earth and heav’n
Is born today for you

because the power in helping others is to know the power of the gift and to understand we do not know whether or not the child we are helping is “The Child”… peace tom j.”

The Huron Carole

Twas in the moon of wintertime

When all the birds had fled

That mighty Gitchi Manitou

Sent angel choirs instead

Before their light

The stars grew dim

And wandering hunters

Heard the hymn

Jesus, your King is born

Jesus is born

In excelis gloria

Within a lodge of broken bark

The tender Babe was found

A ragged robe of rabbit skin

Enwrapped his beauty round

And as the hunter braves drew high

The angel song rang loud and high

chorus

The earliest moon of wintertime

Is not so round and fair

As was the ring of glory on

The helpless infant there

The chiefs from far before

Him knelt

With gifts of fox and beaver pelt

chorus

O children of the forest free

O sons of Manitou

The Holy Child of earth and heav’n

Is born today for you

Come kneel before the radiant boy

Who brings you beauty, peace,

And joy

chorus

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We humans are a bit cra cra (crazy). We use words that simply do not make sense, or, more specifically, we use words in different situations which makes the word not make sense.

Let’s talk love.

We love our mummy.
We love our hubby.
We love pizza.
We love British Crime Dramas.
We love taking a walk.
We (or I) love math.

So … what does love mean, when we use it to describe how we feel about so many varied things?

Today marks week three of our advent season. The week we begin to anticipate the love that came to us from heaven, through the birth of Jesus.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:9-10

This is love …

not that we loved God … so our kind, or version or use of love is subservient to God’s. This is a really important truth to consider. And our love for God cannot undo our human condition, it cannot save us.

but that he loved us … when God says that he loves you and me (the world), he uses the word love in no other instance. His love is the ultimate love. It is the ultimate in sacrificial. It is simply the ultimate. We cannot out-love God.

and (He) sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins … God’s love for us is defined in how far he was willing to go to prove it, to rescue us. His redemption of us was through the substitute of Jesus for our good, our eternity.

I think Christina Rossetti said it best,

Love was born at Christmas

First published in 1893, Love Came Down at Christmas began as a poem by Christina Rossetti.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

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Peace …

a word that ignites images of a dove, an olive branch, the three lined peace symbol, paper cranes, an image of a lion and a lamb.

Today, this second Sunday in advent, it is peace that we consider, but …

not peace that the world gives

When we think of peace we immediately think of an absence of war, or conflict. This is garden peace. Peace that existed only in the Garden of Eden, prior to the entry of sin into the world, into the human condition.

The peace that the Messiah gives, this is not an absence of conflict or war, brutality or abuses. It is the presence of peace in the midst of conflicts, wars, brutalities, abuses and storms.

It is peace beyond our human understanding, for who can fathom a sense of peace while in the thick of struggle?

This is peace that comes from the knowledge that we are not alone in the storm. This is the peace that Jesus brought to the world, to us. Once he arrived and fulfilled his mission (which he is still fulfilling … in, through and in spite of us) he left us the Spirit, so that we would carry His peace with us.

What was promised in the Old Testament:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Was given in the New Testament:

“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you” (Romans 8:11).

As Jesus was speaking to his disciples on the night before his death (John 14), it is clear that they were feeling anxious about his communications that he was going away. It was clear too, that he wanted them to know that they would be okay (he was offering them peace apart from his physical presence). He was consoling them, encouraging them, equipping them for what was to come.

He was also doing the same for you and I today, reminding us that his death opened the door to the Spirit to be with us, at all times, in all circumstances.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

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This week we moved into our new home. A bit of a whiplash feeling hit me last night, as only two months before (to the day) we decided to just check out a place. Now, here we are in a new location, surrounded by boxes and disorder.

As I have been unpacking the kitchen I have been working hard to fit our goods into less cupboard space than we had previously. It has been a bit like playing Tetris to provide room for our stuff in this smaller kitchen. Believe me, this place has ample space, with a fantastic storage closet down the hall, I just need to prioritize what will take up precious room in the kitchen.

Odd, though it might sound, this process has encouraged me to be focused on a familiar phrase at Christmas and a song from church last Sunday.

prepare him room

This morning I was reading from the Gospels about Mary and Joseph, expecting to read about their preparations for the birth of their son. I am certain that they did prepare, but … they were on a road trip up until the time of the birth of their son. There was nothing noted about baby clothes (or cloths) gathered, prenatal classes, the construction of a cradle, or doctor visits. They simply followed the path that was laid out for them.

As if the preparations were within and completed over the years of their lives.

In this season we are preparing for the celebration of the birth of the Christ child. But, what preparations are taking our time and energies?

Decorations? Baking? Shopping and gift wrapping?

What if the past 365 days have been all the preparing that has been required of us? What if, each day of our lives, our hearts have been open to hearing God’s voice, his call on our lives. What if, like Mary and Joseph, simply living in blind trust of God was all the preparing we did?

“The question, you see, is not to prepare but to live in a state of ongoing preparedness …”

Henri Nouwen

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