Christmas

Celebrate That! Part Four

I love a good mystery.  Give me a movie with a puzzling storyline or a big twist delivered right at a crucial point and I’m hooked. The unexpected fascinates me. The story in this fourth and final post of the “Celebrate That!” series, does not disappoint.

Maybe you know the Christmas story? The virgin Mary conceives a Baby by the Spirit of God. Her fiance decides to stay with her because he has bought into the idea that angels give out assignments and unscripted events change life plans. Now we are in the final scene.  Joseph and Mary were hunkered down in some obscure place. Then the Baby comes.

In the very next moment we are out in a distant field with shepherds and their flocks. (Read about it here.)

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Plot twist.

What? Where did they come from? What do they have to do with anything?

The main event was back in a crowded place and now we are outside of the city, in a field, at night. There were a lot of predators in the area who would love to come and nab one of the sheep for a midnight snack. So the shepherds had keep a careful watch to make sure that didn’t happen. It was another day at the office for them. They were used to this.  It was part of the job. They were on the lookout for signs of trouble.

Until then.

Suddenly the sky and fields were transformed. Ok, it doesn’t really say that but it must of happened.  An angel shows up, remember, angels always come at Christmastime. This time he comes with glory. Whatever glory is, it was everywhere.  The exact words are, and the glory of the Lord shone all around them. So I’m pretty sure it was spectacular and unsettling. The things of God usually are.

The shepherds were afraid. I can’t imagine what the flocks did?  The angel said he had good news that will cause great joy for all people. He tells them about the Baby that was born back in the city. I imagine there was more than one baby born that day so the angel describes where to find the Baby of good news.

Heaven came down and put on a show.

Right as he was talking a huge gathering of heavenly beings appeared. They were singing.  An outdoor concert. The night sky, a holy cathedral.

Sacred sounds.

Glory dancing.

The moon and stars paled in comparison. Ordinary night becomes extraordinary. Mundane to exquisite. No longer mere shepherds doing their job but mesmerized, frightened souls coming undone by what was happening.

Christmas had come and made them human. Christmas had come and showed them they were more than a job. Christmas had come and told them their one life held a bigger story.

Christmas had come! 
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These shepherds and their flocks were in the right place at the right time. Of course they were.

And that’s the thing. The angel knew where to find them. A dark and ordinary night in a field; at a temple where a priest was praying, in the dream of an anxious groom-to-be and before a young girl.  Heaven always knows where to find us.

Shepherds and their flocks pushed into the wilderness looking for food. Fearing the danger. No one goes there because they really want to. Some wildernesses really can’t be avoided. But there they are. The place God decides to be discovered.

Sometimes I wonder if God pushes me into the wilderness?

Sometimes I wonder if the wilderness is the place He wants me to discover Him?

Sometimes I wonder if the wilderness teaches me how to move on, with God?

Wilderness Christmas.

And isn’t that Christmas? God knowing where we are and coming to be with us? Coming to tell us we are wonderfully human and make us so? Coming to move us from our fields?

It had to be the shepherds and their flocks. They are us.

Everyday people living everyday lives. In a divine twist and the story takes a turn.  The story is for us. Christmas tearing open the dark and scary night to let heavens light in.

Christmas is not exclusive. It’s inclusive. We are the reason Christmas comes at all.

Earthly people intermingling with the Holy and all that it means. Miracle Baby born as God had decided long ago because we had moved so far from Him that He would not stand for it. Christmas was coming whether humanity wanted it or not. Jesus comes whether humanity wants Him to or not.  God does not forget His promises.

And isn’t that grace? Unmerited favor?

It’s always Christmas. Christmas is a new kind of story. It’s meant for us.

If you look closely today you can see the dazzling display of glory in the night sky. Filling the air with sacred sounds telling us that Christmas is here. Christmas is always here. Here for the everyday people living everyday lives.

I don’t know what Christmas is for you?  The celebrations, gatherings and presents are a lot of fun and honestly they do represent the spirit of Christmas if we let them. But Christmas comes to us, it comes for us.  It’s the twist in our story where things take a turn.

Do you have a Christmas in your story?

May we this season be curious about this Baby and they crazy way He came to us.  May we long to have our dark scary nights break open to let heavens light in.  May we find contentment in becoming human as God first had hoped for us.  May we discover Emmanuel, Jesus with us, through the up and down storyline of our everyday ordinary lives. O come O come Emmanuel.

When Jesus was born, God sent the sheep into the fields.

Celebrate That!

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Celebrate That! Part Three

I love a story within a story. You know, a narrative that has a smaller but crucial story woven inside the bigger one.  The Bigger narrative wouldn’t be as rich or meaningful without it.

Take Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer for example. You know the story within the story right?  Think on it a second.  What is it?  That’s right…the Island of Misfit Toys!  It’s a mysterious place filled with not quite right toys that children didn’t want.  Santa learns about their plight and rescues them in the midst of the bigger story of Rudolf saving Christmas with his red nose.

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There was another story within a story.

A man named Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth had a life altering event unfold right inside the Christmas story. Their tale enriches Jesus birth story, it gives it richer meaning and significance.

They had been around for a long time and were getting up in years but were still a vital part of community. Zacharias was a priest. Everyone knew them. Everyone knew they were getting older. Everyone knew they did not have any children.

In that time children were e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.  A symbol of significance and blessing. An inheritance from God. You needed them for survival.  You needed them in your old age.  You needed them for your self-esteem.

Time was moving fast, Zacharias and Elizabeth were feeling it. There was a void. This was not how it was supposed to go.

Everywhere Zacharias looked he saw fathers with their children. He watched as they taught their kids the responsibilities of daily life. It didn’t matter what he did, he was surrounded by scenes of what he was supposed to have done in his younger years. At this point, grandchildren should be running around him. All he could see were families. Everywhere. It was like he was on his life stage but his storyline didn’t fit the scenery. Zacharias faithfully fulfilled his role as priest in the temple. He was busy doing his work but it was getting harder and harder to do.

Elizabeth was also a woman known in her community. Each day she was confronted by women with round bellies; children scurrying around the feet of their busy mothers. Life was bustling everywhere but inside her. Haunted by everyday life. She was making herself crazy with all her suspicions that others were talking behind her back. Each day she’d put on a bright face but inside she felt dark with the shame of not being able to bear a child. Maybe she had committed some great crime for which she didn’t know and couldn’t amend? Maybe that’s why this has happened? At least that is how she felt.

Do you look around your life stage right now and feel your storyline doesn’t fit the scenery? Everything looks Christmasy but inside you don’t feel it?

One night Elizabeth patiently waited for Zacharias to come home as she always did.  But he was late. Very late.

While at work in the temple he had a visitation. Not from a person but an angel.  (Angels always come at Christmastime.) This angel told him that he would have a child. A miracle.

Sound familiar?

Zacharias was no dummy.  He knew his wife was barren and even if she could have children she was well past her prime and so was he.  (Read the whole story here.) He didn’t mean to doubt the angel but he needed a guarantee. They had been through too much.  Elizabeth had been through too much, he couldn’t watch her suffer all over again. They had a nice thing going in life finally. They knew their place. They had made their peace with their situation. He wasn’t going to upset things now and he needed this angel to guarantee it would work out like he was suggesting.

Angels don’t make deals.

From that moment on Zacharias was dealt an unusual blow.  He was silenced.  Unable to speak.  He had to use hand gestures to explain what had happened. A big game of charades.

Now heres the story within the story:

Elizabeth and Mary, Jesus mother, were related. Before Jesus was this other baby. His name was to be John. His story also started as miracle. His parents also an unlikely duo; two old people surrounded by all the things that they longed for but could never have. Biology wouldn’t allow it. The backdrop of the Jesus story is the foreground of this story. A shocking conception before the really shocking Conception. A miracle that would set the stage of the Miracle. What the natural order of things couldn’t produce the supernatural is amused by.

I think it’s amusing that Zacharias is silenced.  At first it seems cruel.  The most amazing thing that has ever happened to him and he can’t even talk about it? Come on!  But then when I thought about it more I realized that perhaps it was a gift.

Silence can be a gift if we let it.

This old couple lived in a world where they were plagued by all that eluded them. They were diligent and sincere. But everywhere around them were triggers.  The expectation that they should have had children was a weight around them. The shame Elizabeth felt; that she must bear children in order to be worthy, a dagger in her heart each day. The constant reminders around them of their broken bodies and loss were like a nagging ringing in their ears.  It was no one’s fault. This was just how it was.

This angel had come to tell them their world would turn upside down.  Keep on praying and living, it will happen because God said it would happen. Zacharias couldn’t take the angel at his word. It was too difficult. So a quiet hushed his voice.

He couldn’t say one thing.

Sometimes it’s best to not say a thing.

Sometimes it’s just what we need.

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Look around. Do you feel as cheery as all the Christmas decorations, music and sentiments?  It’s great if you do.  But what I’m getting at is does this time present triggers for you?  Do you feel an expectation that you just can’t meet?  Are you supposed to make everyone feel magical and warm?  Are you supposed to find the exact right gift, prepare the perfect meal or cookie, decorate the house in the most inviting way….and inside…it’s not there?

This time of year can be brutal.

Striving for it to feel and be wonderful, we lose wonder and we feel nothing. Like Zacharias demanding a guarantee from the angel, we do the same.  We demand from ourself and others that each holiday delivers the good “feels” as we call them in my house. You know, the lights, decorations, traditions, foods, friends…it all has to make us feel Christmasy and if it’s not working, well we must be doing something wrong. Shame.

So inwardly we feel frustrated, crabby or filled with angst.  Outwardly we write the most amazing Christmas cards and bake the same old cookies and hang the stockings by the fire place hoping or at least pretending that it gives us the “feels” we so desperately want to feel.

But somewhere on the stage of life we need to be hushed.

Quiet makes room for the Spirit of God to still the soul. When we stop arguing with angels we can hear better. Hearing is a gateway to peace.

Zacharias was quieted to find peace.

Peace with himself and his aging body. Peace with his suffering wife and her aging body. Peace with his void. Peace with the expectation and demands that he and society had levied against both of them, which they could do nothing about. Peace with feeling helpless. Peace that God had heard their prayers all along. Peace with what the angel said. Peace with the timing of God and how different it was from his.

When the weight of unfulfilled expectation was more than he could take an angel came and silenced him; silence was the relief from the pressure.

Silence is holy.

Have your buttons been pressed yet this Christmas season?

Do you feel the anxiety of everyone else expectations? Do you feel you are supposed to be magical and you are fresh out of pixy dust?  Are you afraid of change, that the family won’t be together like they always are, that maybe someone is missing this year, that it can’t be the way you’ve always had it? Are you afraid you don’t have enough money or energy to make things special?  Is your body, mind or heart broken or sick?  Is your family broken or sick?

Is it more than you can take?

Shhhhhh

Let the angels quiet you this year.

The Holy is in the silence.

Impose intentional quiet.

Let silence bring you peace. God does NOT expect you to make Christmas magical. Your unfulfilled expectations have NOT gone unnoticed by God. Your prayers are heard.

The quiet teaches us that God is God and we are not. That His timeline and purpose is often far removed from what we are thinking, silence enables us to hear clearer. When we don’t have to waste verbal energy defending, coercing, explaining and conjuring ourselves, others and God, there is room for the peace of God. The miracle before the Miracle, the quiet in the silence.

Silence is an act of trust. Trusting allows our storyline to meet up with the scenery.

Impose intentional quiet. Silence was the gift Zacharias received and it can be ours too.

Before God sent His son, He sent silence.

Celebrate That!

 

 

Celebrate That! Part Two

Have you ever had a hard time getting out of bed?  Maybe there has been a moment in time when you wanted to take a long nap and not wake up for a day or three? Life has become unexpectedly complicated and if you could just sleep your troubles away, well that would be perfect.  Who doesn’t like sleep?

I can remember being a teenager and having a reoccurring dream. In my dream I would wake up from a dream to find that I was still only 4 years old sleeping in my tiny little bed.  All the things I had seen and done were just a dream.  I wasn’t 16.  I was only 4.  All that was troubling me was only a dream and I could simply just be 4 and not worry about anything.

It’s funny, I can remember thinking, what an odd thing to dream.  Now I realize that it was a subconscious way of dealing with my typically normal adolescent life.  Life gets bumpy. Sleep removes you from the turbulence.  Dreams help you cope.

In the Christmas story Joseph, Jesus earthly father, is found sleeping. His life had become unexpectedly complicated and bumpy. Things with Mary, his soon to be wife, took a sharp left turn and now sleep was the only place he could get away from the turbulence. Joseph was so plainly human. His struggle was real. No one could blame him for what he was about to do. He had to let Mary go. The wedding was to be called off.  His hope for the future had been crushed.

It was too much.

His world was shattering right in front of him.

All he could do was sleep and hope it was all a dream. But dream he did.

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We think we are all alone when we dream. Not so.

God has access to our dreams and He sent an angel to Joseph’s dream.

This angel told Joseph to stay the course, take Mary as his wife.  God had big plans for them.  He would need them to be together, unified, for this assignment. Mary was holding God’s Son in her womb but Joseph would hold God’s dream with his hands.  Joseph needed God’s confidence.

Joseph woke up. Sleeping must always come to an end. There was no need to slumber any more. Sleep would help Joseph hide from his troubles but he could never hide from God.  The Dream Maker is also the Dream Giver. Dreams given in love, for love.  Love never needs an invitation. God is drawn to our wounds and patiently soothes, even when we are unaware, so Love can reform all that has become distorted. All that was ailing Joseph found healing through a divine dream. The angel explained to Joseph about what was happening and what was to be but Joseph…..he heard, I believe in you, Joseph.

Are you having trouble getting out of bed? Do you feel that if you could take a nap and not wake up for a day or three, things would be much better? I know how you feel.  Somewhere deep in our dreams God is whispering. I believe in you.  For all the things that have become distorted and troubling in your world God whispers, I believe in  you.

Like Joseph, it will take all of your energy to face your future and hold whatever God is asking you to hold. Like Joseph we have to wake up to whatever is troubling us and arise. Leave behind doubt, solving things “our way”, self-preservation or fear.

You cannot live out the God dream and hold onto pride.

You can be assured that in spite of your troubling, distorted and complicated world, God can meet you in your dreams. Each time your eyes open from slumber, remember God whispers, I believe in you.

Before God sent His Son, He sent a dream.

Celebrate That!

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Celebrate That! Part One

My family likes to follow a certain football player in the NFL.  Last week he was mic’d during the game. We watched the video with all his comments.  It was very entertaining. Every time something positive happened he would say, “Celebrate That!  Celebrate That!” to his teammates.  He wanted to make sure that everyone experienced the success together.  He wanted to make sure that everyone was aware of the good.

Today in church the pastor told a story of 4,400 South Korean Army troops hearing the story of Jesus and getting baptized this past summer.  FOUR THOUSAND-FOUR HUNDRED!!  The pastor remarked that we wouldn’t hear about this in the mainstream news so as a church we needed to Celebrate That!

The Christmas season is upon us.  Christmas by definition is the celebration of Jesus birth.  I realize that this time of year has become a blending of many things for most Americans.  It’s the celebration of peace, joy, family togetherness, giving etc.  It’s all good. Honestly, we need as many reasons to encourage love, giving and kindness that we can get.  Lest we forget, the roots of Christmas has always been about Jesus.

We need our attention to be turned toward the good in the Jesus story so we can Celebrate That!

This is part one of a four part series of posts focusing on celebrating the Christmas story from different angles. My hope is that it gives you something new to consider; that it peaks your curiosity and inspires your soul.

Celebrate That!

 

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Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:    Isaiah 7:14

Have you ever had a sign?  You know, something weird happens and you think, that must be a sign. We all look for something other to happen in order to affirm what is currently happening.  We need a reason, albeit foreign to us, to understand the inexplainable or unfamiliar.

The gas pump stops at $10 on the dot, the exact amount you had in your pocket. All your socks have mates when you’ve done the laundry, this never happens.  The clouds open up and sun beams directly down on a couple as they share their wedding vows.  You think, it’s a sign.

Something pointing to a supernatural occurrence, meant just for you.

Someone is trying to get your attention.

Someone wants you to notice.

Long before Jesus was actually born, a prophet gave word that a sign would be given initiating His birth. A precursor to His arrival. Something other would happen that would be a sign of the inexplainable birth of God’s son.

We don’t often celebrate the fact that before Jesus was born we were given a sign, meant just for us.  (See here.)

God getting our attention.

God getting us to notice.

God sending a sign is reason to Celebrate That!  God desiring our attention.  God not wanting us to miss the inexplainable and unfamiliar because there is something special in it, just for you and me.  The sign is like a big flag waving in the air, begging our eyes to see, urging our gaze to look away from the ordinary and consider the extraordinary.

There is something in the story of Jesus birth meant just for you.

Before God sent His son, He sent a sign. 

Celebrate That!

Grasping for Christmastime

 

It’s close to that time.  You know, “that” time.

They call it Christmastime.  Yes, it’s a real word.

It’s the time we work so hard to make space for, to create, to celebrate, to forge new memories as we honor family and faith traditions, to conjure up a little more magic for the kids again this year.

I was looking at this old star.

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It belonged to my grandma. She had a flare for the colorful when it came to Christmas decorations. Her style would definitely not be found on Pinterest. But it was colorful and full of imagination.  It was grandma.

I remember as she got older it became more of a chore for her to set up her Christmas village.  What once was an exercise in celebration and fancy became a duty of deliberation.  She did it because of the kids.  Something compelled her. She did it because it was Christmastime.

But isn’t that like Christmastime?  It urges something inside.  It says, “Wake up, something special is about to begin.”  The senses are lured with smells, sounds and lights.  We are drawn to the brightness of Christmastime.  We are convicted that light doesn’t live very long in our soul.

We grasp for Christmastime.

Isn’t that a good thing?  Christmastime brings us to a place in our year where we accept that we are longing.  Longing for that which fills us, brings us peace, holds us near or sends us on a wild adventure.  Christmastime reminds us that we are human and long for something Divine.  We can almost taste it we are so hungry.

Awake my soul to see all that Christmastime brings.  Awake my soul to know the riches that Christmastime told. In the brightness of your light, you beckon me to find, the wealth of Christmas cheer that comes from Love drawn near.

With each bite of your Christmastime treats, may you hunger for richer delicacies.

Every party you attend, may you know loves embrace.

Each time you see Christmas lights, may you realize you were made for brightness.

When the sounds of Christmas fill the air, may a melody deep inside you resonate.

May we together grasp for Christmastime.

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“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son,” ~ Galatians 4:4