Monday, December 26, 2011

Small Signs of God - First Light

" Jesus spoke to them, saying: I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12)

And today, peace is still here. I can see small signs of God the day after Christmas. Why? Because I am looking and will continue to look as the first rays of light appear through the winter trees. I reflect on a day of service and silence, quiet and gratitude, peace and plenty. It's true. Christmas is believing  that God makes all things right, not me. What a Christmas gift. The birds confirm this thought as they wake and discover the same truth with me. We worship a God of order who makes all things right in a broken world. I play such a small part.
The toy just seemed so exciting and perfect choice for energetic nephews. But it simply did not work. Faulty in construction it was returned to the store before Christmas day and another toy quickly made the substitution. I wonder when Jesus will become the perfect gift and cheap substitutions will no longer vie for first place. I wonder how many small signs I can continue to spot along my journey in a world of broken toys to help me never allow a substitution for the Son of the Most High.

"It is not over,
this birthing.
There are always newer skies
into which
God can throw stars.
When we begin to think
that we can predict the Advent of God,
That we can box the Christ
in a stable in Bethlehem,
that's just the time that God will be born
in a place we can't imagine and won't believe.
Those who wait for God
watch with  their hearts and not their eyes,
listening, always listening for angel words."
(Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem)

Small Signs of God - A Child's Birth

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." (Luke 2:11)

The powerful silence of Christmas morning says "Peace, I am here." I smile and rest in that knowledge. Somehow, the world rests as well. Even as the day comes alive, people are kinder, quieter with the knowledge that today something is different. I feel it. Maybe because I believe it. I believe that peace begins with me. I believe angels sing and stars dance. I believe in Wise Men and a virgin birth. I believe Jesus is the coming of God to earth. Today is Christmas and I welcome it and I reread the story:
"This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." (Matthew 1:18-25)
"Christmas is saying 'yes' to something beyond all emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying "yes" to a hope based on God's initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God's work and not mine. Things will never look just right or feel just right. If they did, someone would be lying...But it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, Savior."(Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak)

Savior who has been born to us,
              draw us to you this day and all days
                  until we see you face to face.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Small Signs of God - The Companion

Christmas Eve. A day to celebrate our journey of Advent. Even before getting out of bed, the gift of the train's whistle arrived through the quiet winter air calling me, saying, "Get ready. The journey is complete. Just get on board. Just thank the Lord."
It seems everything I read this morning has the theme of the journey. Wise men traveling their slow journey across the desert.  Shepherds following a star. Family members arriving to be welcomed home. And we, too,  have traveled together, writing and reading, as our hearts have journeyed to prepare for this Coming - this Advent. And I must ask myself as you must, "Am I different this year?"
Listen to Henri Nouwen's thoughts:
"God Came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy. This is the great mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey. The God of love who gave us life sent us his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us...
Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and let him - whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend, be our companion."  (Gracias! A Latin American Journal)
I love the thought of Jesus walking with us on our life journey. I love the idea that this is our greatest gift - a gift of love offered freely to all who will receive it. I love this annual "renewed invitation" for opening the gift again, receiving it with greater acceptance and deeper humility with each passing year.
As with any journey, we must gather up our traveling things and prepare for our destination. Today, tonight, let us make room for this wondrous event. Let us witness angels singing and stars dancing in the night sky.

Into this silent night
as we make our weary way
we know not where,
just when the night becomes tits darkest
and we cannot see our path,
just then
is when the angels rush in,
their hands full of stars.
(Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Small Signs of God - Quiet Presence

"I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."                       Matthew 28:20

This morning, I sit by the tree that has adorned my living room for three short weeks. I light some candles and sit in this peaceful spot of quiet and greenery and flickering light. I want the clock to stop. I want this season of Advent to stay.
Our Advent journey of preparation is almost complete. It is getting quiet. There is less traffic.  Parties are over. The air is still.  Travelers are headed home for the holiday. Wrapped presents wait to be opened. The stores are showing signs of change, preparing for the "after Christmas" sale. Time - almost -  to clean up and put away. Time to be still and know that  even as the signs of the season will one by one disappear, Jesus is here to stay.
Christmas is the first lesson of faith. Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. Soon we will be considering Lent. We will leave Jesus in the manger and follow him into his very brief three-year ministry and walk with Him to the cross and resurrection. And we will again acknowledge that as that season comes and goes, Jesus is still here to stay.
Month by month, we will move through our new year and be reminded through spring, summer and fall that life moves and we move with it. We will say good-bye to those we love. We will experience illnesses and trials of varying sorts. We will make mistakes. We will celebrate.  We will laugh and we will cry. We will ask "why" and retreat at times to ponder things too hard to understand. We will have to work to remind ourselves that Jesus is still here to stay.
Oswald Chambers says, "We mistake the joy of our first introduction into God's kingdom as His purpose for getting us there. Yet God's purpose in getting us into His kingdom is that we may realize all that identification with Jesus Christ means." (My Utmost for His Highest, December 23) 
And so when the twinkling stars are shielded by clouds and singing angels cannot be heard, we will know they are there - somewhere. Because we trust in the One who came that night in Bethlehem. We study and search and continue to learn to trust this amazing truth - Jesus is here to stay.
Emmanuel, you are with us and you are here to stay. Can I say that of any other earthly thing? But, of course, you are not earthly - you are God .

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Small Signs of God - The Innkeeper

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me." (Revelation 3:20)
We were traveling in Maine and it was late and we were tired and hungry. When the innkeeper opened the door, I knew it was where I wanted my family to spend the night.  It was clean and inviting and  good smells were coming from the kitchen. But the innkeeper said, "I'm sorry, we are full tonight." She must have seen the disappointment in my face. As we turned away, she called, "Wait, I do have one room that might work. Your children are small and it is late."  We accepted quickly, thinking we could all sleep on the floor if we could just have a little space for the night.  She said to go get dinner and when we returned the room would be ready.
Pleased at our good fortune, we returned to find our "one room that sleeps five." The door was opened and we walked into a sight for tired eyes. It was basic with one bed. But on the floor were three small "beds" that had been created out of cushions, pillows and quilts.  The sheets folded back, holding small stuffed animals waiting for three sleepy  new friends.
The innkeeper in the Nativity often gets looked down upon, but there was something that made him stop and reconsider. Maybe he saw the tired weary couple and was moved to help. Those were common people and that was the way babies were born in Bethlehem. Surely there was a spot for Jesus. Basic warmth and safety could set the stage for surprise visits of angels singing and stars dancing.
This Advent, I wonder what kind of innkeeper I am. Can I find room for others? Or will I turn them away? Can I be creative in "making do" when I don't have enough beds, enough time, enough money, enough energy or patience? Can I go beyond the basics of warmth and shelter to offer pure hospitality and love with a few dancing stars as a perk?
Jesus is looking for hearts that will open the door to make room for him this Christmas. Like Joseph, He must be so weary of knocking on hard-to-open doors, just hoping this year, there might be a small place for him to rest his head. Would it be in your heart? Do you hear Him knocking? What will you say?

Everlasting Father,
 Yes, there is room this Advent. Enter my heart and I, too, will hear angels sing.