Thursday, December 13, 2012

Small Signs of Advent #12 - Staying Alert

     If Advent is a time of waiting, then shouldn't we always be alert to that for which we wait? The funny 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 personal 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.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Small Signs of God #11 - The Visitor

      My daughter called laughing, "There's a bird in our house. What do I do?" After instructions were given for shooing the feathered friend back to his habitat, I called back a few minutes later to check the status and had to ask, "What kind of bird was it?" She said, "It was a cardinal, Mom." Stunned, I hung up the phone. Stunned and pleased that the shy, quiet red bird came close enough to my door to enter, sit on the arm of my sofa, circle the room and exit gracefully.
For sixteen months I observed the movement of cardinals. I watched the rhythm of life outside my window move through the seasons while life inside stood still. Always, there would be a cardinal to cheer me, to offer solace and hope. Each time they would visit a tree branch or the feeder, some message would come forth and I would write my thoughts:

     "There is a canvas outside our living room window that Nature has painted. The river birch leaves are the color of mustard and closer to the window a holly loaded with red berries. As Megan and I view our “painting” it comes to life with a bright red cardinal, working among the berries in the holly tree. I wish I knew more about birds, but I do know that the cardinal spends the winters here in Atlanta. Yesterday, there must have been 1000 birds overhead, fleeing for the winter. Other birds, like robins, sort of stay around, but hide themselves. I always felt bad for the robin, remembering the child’s verse, “The North Wind will blow, and we shall have snow, and what will the Robin do then – poor thing? He’ll sit in the barn, to keep himself warm, and hide his head under his wing – poor thing!”
     Could the winter habits of birds be teaching me something about suffering? Warren Wiersbe says that in suffering we tend to fall into three categories of coping. We can escape – flee when the cold winds come. We can endure – hide ourselves under our wings – poor things! Or we can enlist – find an evergreen loaded with nourishment to shelter us from the storm. We, unlike birds, have a choice.
     I will choose the cardinal this winter. Escaping is out of the question, enduring is drudgery, but enlisting is taking the winter on, finding the bright, red berries in the cold, singing when the wind blows cold, and trusting that Spring will certainly come. I am not surprised at wonderful and amazing God – He not only gives the wintering cardinal the instinct to nest in the protected denseness of the holly, but also provides food right outside the door of his nest and places it all for us to view. How much more does he provide for us? As the song says, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me." (taken from When God Comes Near, Chapter 7)
      For a cardinal to actually come into my house was a visit out of the ordinary. Maybe you have had such a visit. Others had those visits. Isaiah was visited by God's counsel 700 years before the birth of Jesus. He must have been so profoundly moved by his vision he wrote in Isaiah 9:6, "For a child has been born for us." Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and wise men all had visits out of the ordinary. But the smallest visit to earth was Jesus himself - a tiny, out-of-the-ordinary child who came for us. And He still calls us today, saying, "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me." Revelation 3:20
                      I open my door today with hope - even in the cold - and invite Him in.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Small Signs of God #10 - On the Bridge Between The Sacred and The Secular

The Bridge of Angels, Rome

Millions of people celebrate the Christmas season, but not all of them are Christians. They shop and decorate. They attend the politically correct "Holiday" Party and participate in the music of the season. Some will say they are Christian, but just have trouble with a virgin birth and a resurrection - the two, really big mysteries. They say they believe in God and sometimes they go to church. They think there might be something after death - possibly a Heaven, but surely not a place called Hell. How could a loving God send someone to Hell? That's not very Christmas-y.
And then Advent comes and asks us to look again at the message proclaimed. The time is here when prophets warn, stars move in the sky  and angels proclaim. Those who are unsure in their faith find themselves in another Christmas quandary. They find themselves on the bridge between the sacred and the secular and the choice becomes one of confusion and distraction. Back and forth they go - we go. The immediate often reigns over the important. Sometimes it is the good over the best.
I heard a speaker who made a strong point about this division. She said there are two voices inside of us. Deep inside each of us there is God's Spirit calling. Outside, there is the world calling - usually pulling in the opposite direction. Somehow those voices gear up for our attention during the time of Advent. The world pulls us to material pleasures and God's Spirit pulls to one, holy silent night. It becomes a battle and Advent can leave us feeling sad and depressed.
The conversation between Charlie and Lucy in the movie A Charlie Brown Christmas explains our frustrations:
Charlie Brown: I just don't understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I'm still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed."
Lucy: "Charlie Brown, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem."
Christmas is not the problem. Christmas is the solution. Christmas is the voice that calls to us throughout the year. Maybe it's because during this beautiful season for celebrating, we find ourselves still on that bridge of indecisiveness, still wondering, still watching for some small sign of God.
God whose infant cries call me to your holy night,
                                Guide my steps to your sacred manger,
                                                                     For You are the solution.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16    

Monday, December 10, 2012

Small Signs of God - Day 9 "The Part I Will Play This Christmas"

Small Signs of God  - Day 9 "The Part I Will Play This Christmas"

When I was in 2nd grade, I was chosen to play the part of Mary in the Nativity Play. It was not because I was a budding actress, but simply because I was very tall like David Herrington who played the part of Joseph and the audience could see us better from a distance. I remember being excited that I got to bring my favorite doll to wrap and hold while the story unfolded on stage. I also liked the pale blue gown and the way the scarf draped over my head and fell in folds to the floor. I had to hold my head very still though for fear of it falling off. I hope you're smiling just picturing this event.  Most of us have acted out the scene at some point in our lives. My youngest daughter was a sheep one year and the way her ears flopped when she baa-ed made my sides burst when I REALLY wasn't supposed to be laughing. Oh, and one year six children in our home donned bathrobes  and acted out the scene to four proud parents. That one got a little out of hand when the two shepherds got in a fight with their broom-staffs.
Today I am asking myself: what part do I play in the Nativity? If I am the angels, well, then, I am already in Heaven and have the privilege of telling others not to worry. I can fly around and sing joyfully. If I am Joseph, I am dazed and confused, thinking about the newly defined family I have been asked to support and must find a hotel quickly because a baby is about to be born that is not even mine. If I am Mary, I am tired and weary, bearing the weight of the world, facing an uncertain future. If I am the innkeeper, I am busy making money and  knowing these people from Nazareth can't pay, should send them on their way - or on second thought,  offer them the shed. If I am the shepherds, I am looking for a little action - something in the sky is different and tending sheep can be such a drag. If I am the Wise Men, well, I will come later, but I do see something happening different in the  stars and I start shopping. If I am the animals, I can sense that something is different and I simply stand very still.
You see: all of creation plays a part in this mystery and wonder of the birth of Jesus. No one is exempt from the reality of the divine child in the stable. All Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of that night - when God became flesh. It is how we "play our part" in the story.  And in the end, scripture plainly tells us that every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. (Romans 14:11)

God who becomes flesh among us,
              I want to be the angel, glorifying you
                                     or the lowly donkey, simply standing very still,
                   but you have made me the human with a mind of my own to choose my part;
                                 Give me the wisdom of the wise men to search for you with every breath I take.