Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Twinkling Star

"We have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him." (Matthew 2:2)

Something draws me to gaze at the night sky. Last night there was an opening in the clouds with  one very bright star twinkling down. In my quick and limited research, I have concluded that it could be Vega, the brightest star in the Lyra constellation.  Lyra, according to Greek mythology, is associated with the myth of Orpheus, the musician whose music was so sweet that Zeus  placed Orpheus and his harp in the night sky. Lyra has been known as Kind David's harp. But did you know it is also known as the Manger of the Infant Savior? That's all the research I needed for my Advent journey.
Why do stars bring tears? 
Looking into the night sky is a discipline I learned during a time when nothing made sense in my life. I would go outside during the night and feel the darkness suffocating me. As I struggled for breath, I would turn from the darkness and look up. Tears would fill my eyes. Strength would flood my soul.  Courage would  pump into my depleted heart. As I looked up, grace came down and filled me until the next night when I would return depleted and needy.
To look up and "see" the Manger of the Infant Savior shining down - oh, not shining, but dancing and twinkling, strong and pure, fixed and secure in all of time and space - well, tears are fitting. Tears of joy. Tears of gratitude. Tears of awe and wonder.
I love the way one pastor talks about star-gazing:
1. The Star leads to God.
2. Only those who look, see.
3.Only those who follow, find.
4.Not every one follows.
5.Those who follow, always find.

Jesus, You who are the Bright Morning Star,
                when I look I see you,
                      when I follow, I find you and I worship you.  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Small Signs of God - Lost Sheep

It happens every Advent. I begin peaceful and calm, resting in the start of the season of joy and peace. I pace myself. Then I look at the calendar and realize the time is passing and I still have things to do. A few presents to purchase.  Cookies to bake. Letters to write.  I begin to wander off in my rush and the frenetic pace to December 25th beckons me to stray. Even in worship,  I still have things to do. Things to think about more deeply. Things to ponder over and over in my heart.
I turn to Isaiah 53. It is about the serious role Jesus would play in our lives. There is nothing about silent nights or peace or beauty or calm; instead Isaiah points to the future about an unattractive man who people will despise. Isaiah writes about people who will hate so much they will kill the man and sell his clothes.  Even friends will desert him. Isaiah brings it closer to home and points to the reader and says that all of us, like stupid sheep, wander off and this man - this Jesus will be the one who will take our wanderings and stupidity, forgive us and perfect us.
Hard things to think about at Christmas time. We'd rather bake the fruitcake and wrap presents than consider the cost of Christmas in God's economy. And yet, He came. He took thirty years from His reign in Heaven and humbled himself to be Jesus, the one who would love perfectly. The one who would offer his life so you and I might live forever. He comes today as the good shepherd looking for his lost sheep.
I remember the music of Handel's Messiah proclaiming the very words:
"And He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arms, and carry them in His bosom and gently lead those that are with young." (Isaiah 40:11)

Great Shepherd,
You have experienced 
more than I can comprehend,
and here you are this Christmas - 
feeding me, gathering me, carrying me.
                 Lead on,  Gentle Shepherd.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Small Signs of God - December Sky

The sky is beautiful in December. It has something to do with the shortening of the days and the distance of the sun as the earth spins on its axis. Funny how the busy colors of the season and the shortness of the days can prevent me from ever looking at the sky during Advent.
But last night I did. We were traveling south on the interstate at rush hour. Both directions - a sea of candy cane red and white lights moving ever so slowly for home after a full day. Lucky for me, I was the passenger and kept watching the western sky with the strong pinks and corals that seemed to put on a show just for me. At one point, it was as though an umbrella was over all of us, calling all sojourners to look up and see the wonder of this December night.
Looking up is hard to do when there is bumper-to-bumper traffic. Looking up is hard to do when cars are shifting lanes suddenly. Looking up is hard to do when focusing on the immediate is more important than focusing on the exquisite beauty and calm of a December sunset. But it's there.
Morning comes and the sky is just as beautiful. Pinks and lavenders dapple the blue. Still, there is much to do. Appointments, phone calls and work all create a new kind of traffic and can steal the opportunity for looking up. Oh, it only takes a second - just  a glimpse is reassuring. Just a quick wide view calms and refreshes and renews.  Try it.
Luke 21:28 says to "Look up and raise your heads." We are asked to become new people at Advent. Look up when your gaze if fixed on earth. Look up when you are disappointed. Look up when your eyes are heavy with tears. Look up and be filled with the wonder and nearness of God.
God who remains constant with us through Advent - always looking down from sunrise to sunset and through the beauty of the starlit night - all we have to do is pause and look up and we are made new. Thank you for making it so simple.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Small Signs of God - Tiny Hands

This morning I set aside my morning Advent readings to help my young friend pack her car with suitcases and preschoolers for the long drive home to Texas. I took the two-year old to the piano  and we sat and played and sang songs together. At one point, the curly-headed toddler placed both of her tiny, pink hands on my hands and for a few moments, we were one - playing  music  together.

I looked down at those little hands resting on mine, felt the warmth of young tender flesh depending on me to play the notes, and I experienced Advent worship.

How can it be? She is speeding west in her car seat, but those baby hands still linger, resting on mine, comforting my soul this Christmas.  Like the baby's hands in the manger that rest on a world of  hurting experiences, that soft touch of God presents itself  through my tiny houseguest for my own personal Advent experience. And to think I could have missed that if I had remained upstairs in Advent worship.

Warren Wiersbe in his book Real Worship says:
"There is today such an emphasis on Bible knowledge that we are in danger of ignoring, or even opposing, personal spiritual experience. While we must not base our theology on experience, neither must we debase our theology by divorcing it from experience. If true worship is the response of the whole person to God, then we dare not neglect the emotions."

Today, I challenge you to allow yourself a personal touch from God. Might they be the tender hands of a baby? Might they be the aging hands of a homeless person? Might they be the hands of a friend, or a teenager, or a sales clerk?  

Who will depend on you to play the music for Christmas?

"The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Small Signs of God - Alertness

If Advent is a time of waiting, then shouldn't we always be alert to that for which we wait? The silly song we hear on the radio reminds me that I, too, need to focus on the one right thing. Alvin, the chipmunk, has the same trouble that so many of us have each Advent. The director is preparing his group to sing their Christmas song. Simon is ready. Theodore is ready. But then we hear, "Alvin....Alvin.....ALVIN!"  Alvin is looking off, busy with other things, maybe good things, maybe not. Time is spent getting him back on track to sing his Christmas song. (The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late) 1958)
How much time do you spend getting yourself "back on track" to sing your own Christmas song?
Today I read:
"Be Alert, be alert, so that you will be able to recognize your Lord in your husband, your wife, your parents, your children , your friends, your teachers, but also in all that you read in the daily papers. The Lord is coming, always coming. Be alert to his coming. When you have ears to hear and eyes to see, you will recognize him at any moment of your life. Life is Advent: life is recognizing the coming of the Lord."(Henri J.M. Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal)
But you say, "But I don't see the Lord in that person and I look and look, but can never find the Lord in the news."  We keep looking for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And guess what, we find the Lord either in rejoicing because of the presence of those things or the lamenting the great need of them. We rejoice with finding the Lord or we search and wait for Him to be found. Either way, we recognize him and our great need for him.
Even the Chipmunks in Christmas Don't Be Late recognize their need for Christmas when they sing:
"We've been good, but we can't last.
Hurry Christmas, hurry fast!"
Try as we might, we just can't be good in our own might. We can't last. We need the coming of Christmas to bring us the perfect Christmas gift - grace, wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Pay attention! We have a song to sing!
"Keep awake - for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else me may find you asleep when he comes suddenly."(Mark 13:35-36)

Baby of Grace who comes to us,
 give me ears to hear and eyes to see without distraction.
 I want to recognize you every moment.