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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas 1989

I can't help it. It's been 22 years ago and it is still my favorite Christmas photograph.
Can you see the excitement? Can you tell which one just found the Santa stash, which one knows a secret and which one is about to pop with giggles? Where did those days go?
Someone said I became a writer the year I wrote my Christmas letter and described the blue lights high up on a snowy hill on our farm in Kentucky. That was a hard year. My mother had died and I was missing her Christmas traditions that I now try to keep going in my own home. I was sad and nostalgic, letting my heart travel to new places, unfamiliar places. A new depth entered my realm of thinking. I could embrace the pain and in embracing it, something transformational happened.  When I decided to share my sadness and loneliness with others through writing, it became a fragrance for others to receive. Little did I know I was being prepared for other events that would take me  even further in my journey of life. Gifts come in mysterious ways, that is for sure.
I guess I would ask you this Christmas: Have your life events moved you in a direction of transformation? Oh, I love hearing about your experiences: births, weddings, trips and accomplishments, but I wonder more about your thoughts and how you love your family and friends. Tell me what is was like when you lost your job and your neighbors rallied round. Tell me what is was like when you were told there were no more treatment options. Tell me how you long for your son or daughter to return from war or estrangement. See, what happens to most of us is this: when the hard days come we shut down, retreat, worry and refuse to share our hurts. Pride closes the door to transformation while others wait for your story. There is always someone who needs to smell the fragrance of human life by simply sharing a memory, remembering a special time, talking over a concern or maybe, just being silent together.
May these days of our coming Jesus explode in wonder and grace as you ponder his gift. May you find hope when you think there is none, peace when you feel unsettled, and love always abounding. Just for you. May you share the excitement of Christ in your lives and rejoice with laughter like children anticipating Christmas Day.
                                                                                                  Merry Christmas, Marcia, Mike, Owen and Blair

Small Signs of God - Valleys and Mountains

 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
  “A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
      ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
   make straight paths for him.
5 Every valley shall be filled in,
   every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
   the rough ways smooth.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation. ( Luke 3:4-6.)

The meltdown came. I thought I had done everything so perfect this Advent. I had slowed down and made time for true worship. I had kept my home modestly adorned and in order. I had given to the poor and served the needy. I had baked the family favorites, seen the people I love and filled the birdfeeders with a Christmas blend.  And yet, hot tears came streaming down my face at the kitchen sink - somewhere between blending the pate and mixing the fruitcake.  I couldn't identify their source. Was it brokenness or was it sheer Christmas joy?
My analyst- husband suggested I think in terms of an investment article he had read earlier in the day about  Aristotle (he reads Aristotle?) and his ancient theory of The Golden Mean. The Golden Mean is defined as " the desirable middle between two extremes, one of deficiency and the other of excess."
This Advent frame of mind took me directly to Jesus who came right in the middle of the history of time. The world had been deficient, struggling, looking for the One who would set the world straight. And that night, 2000 years ago, God's "Golden Mean" arrived. And since He came, that same world paused and wondered for a night, and since has gone on looking, unsatisfied and excessive.
I ask you - how deep are your valleys this Christmas? My valleys are deep. And my mountains are just as high. My life spills over with the fullness of life - gathering and giving away, embracing and letting go. It is what Solomon talks about in Ecclesiastes. A time for everything. And then, one day it will all be smoothed, straightened and made straight.

Great God who sets my world straight,
    I rest in your promises and consider your tears for your world,
          My tears join with you in Advent worship.