Monday, December 24, 2012

Confession 263: Emmanuel

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.  You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.  For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.  Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.  Isaiah 9:2-7

I put in my first Christmas CD of the season the cold Monday morning after Thanksgiving.  It was the soundtrack from The Nativity Story.  As I listened to the songs about the birth of the Savior, I felt something awakening in me once more, blossoming from deep within my soul.  It was the hope, the anticipation, the expectation that this Christmas season brings.  

Christmas reminds me that regardless of the awful things happening around the world, in spite of the havoc human beings wreck, no matter the struggles I or loved ones have faced this year—Emmanuel is here.  God is with us.  And no matter the darkness in which we walk, he is bringing with him the light that cannot be extinguished.

Emmanuel is here.  New life has come.  The things of this world that bind us, that worry us, that consume us, that enslave us have been smashed to pieces.  We don’t have to look for solace or help in food, in drink, in shopping or the Internet.  We don’t have to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders or our backs.  God is with us, and in his love and in his mercy he has brought freedom for our souls.

Emmanuel is here.  A new kingdom has come.  This kingdom cannot be toppled by any human force or act of nature.  God is with us.  God dwells among us.  God dwells within us.  He will never leave us, nor will he forsake us.

Emmanuel is here.  Do you feel him?  Do you sense his wonderful presence?  Is there hope and anticipation and expectation blooming in your soul?  

If so, will you share that with others this season?  Will you remind those walking in the darkness of poverty, of grief, of sickness that God is with them?  Will you share the burdens of those who are hungry, lonely, or worried?  Will you seek to bring freedom to those who are oppressed?  Will you show those around you that a new kingdom has come—a kingdom that cannot be boxed and wrapped and placed beneath a tree?
Emmanuel is here.  Where are you?

Blessings and Peace,

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Confession 262: Peace on Earth

“God is not dead, nor does he sleep.  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men”
“I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day”
I dropped my six year old son off at school this morning amidst a plethora of police and sheriff’s cars.  There was a highway patrol car parked on each corner of the school lot.  An unsubstantiated threat had been made against the school, and the administration wanted to reassure parents with extra law enforcement presence.  As I said I love you and watched my son walk inside, the above song played in my van.  My eyes filled with tears at the great irony of it all.

Like many parents in our small Midwestern community, Chris and I talked long into the night about sending our son to school today.  Many parents did not, and I completely understand and support that decision.  But as I prayed in bed last night, I felt God asking me, “Do you trust me?”  And my heart had to respond, in the midst of all the heartache in the world, “Yes.”

Like many of us across our nation, I have been struggling with the seismic rift in our cultural fabric last Friday’s killings wrought.  I was a first year teacher when the Columbine killings took place.  They changed everything.  What happened in Connecticut last Friday will change everything again.  There are so many issues our society must face.  It’s not just about guns, although it is about guns.  It’s not just about mental illness, although it is about mental illness.  It’s not just about school and public safety, although it is about school and public safety.  It’s not just about our changing cultural values, although it is about our changing cultural values.

And then there are the theological questions.  Why did God allow the shooter to get that far?  Why didn’t God protect the innocent?  How can I trust God to protect my children when He didn’t protect the children of the parents in Sandy Hook?  Scholars much more studied than I have attempted to answer such questions over this past week.  I have found little comfort in any of their responses.  And so, ironically enough, I have gone directly to the One I am questioning with my questions and fears.  I believe God is big enough for whatever doubt/disappointment/anger/frustration/confusion we might have.  And here is what I have heard.  It’s not deep, it’s not studied, it might not even be helpful, but it has brought stillness to my soul.

In spite of all the pain, heartache, and tragedy in this world, I trust God.  I don’t understand it all, and I know that my trust and belief will not make me immune to any of it.  Sickness, accidents, acts of evil can break into my life the same as in any other person’s life.  But I trust God.  And I know that He is working in ways I cannot see or comprehend to bring about peace in this world.  And I know that it is my duty, as His child, to work with Him to bring love and healing to a world so broken and in need.  I trust in God, the One who came down to earth in the form of His creation.  I trust in God, the One who sent His Son to die for me, and in so doing sacrificed a part of Himself.  I trust in God, the One who set the stars in the sky and has counted each hair on my head.  I trust in God, the One who loves me beyond any love I can give.  I trust in God.

“God is not dead, nor does He sleep…”  He has sent us the Prince of Peace.  My we seek to offer that gift to those across our world who have lost so much.

Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Confession 262: Undone

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.”
Matthew 1:20-21

As I’m looking around our house 12 days before Christmas, I realize that nothing is finished.  The tree is up and lit, but only about four ornaments hang from it, haphazardly placed by our boys from early Christmas presents.  Neither of our manger scenes are out, as their respective tables are full of random clutter—a fish tank with no fish, 12 jars of peanut butter that were supposed to be taken to the food pantry last summer, a box of play scripts that won’t be used until February, books that have popped out of my overflowing bookshelves.  There’s a basket full of clean laundry in the middle of the living room floor, as well as a plastic tub that formerly housed Christmas tree lights and which my 4 year old is now using as his personal gymnastics vault. 

Our Advent wreath hangs in the closet as its spot on the dining room table is being occupied by mail and schoolwork.  My Christmas candles are only up because they’ve been sitting in place on the top of the china hutch since last December.  You probably wouldn’t notice them amidst the layer of dust.  The boys’ Christmas tree is sitting on the couch in the living room because I ran out of hangers for their clothes.  And the kitchen has been taken over by grocery bags, newspaper ads, and cups.  The whole house has the appearance of being undone.

And do you know what the remarkable part of it all is?  I don’t care.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d like for our house to not look like a federal disaster area, but I’m perfectly fine with a sparsely ornamented Christmas tree.  I have no intention of making a bunch of Christmas treats that I’m not going to eat.  The kids and I are doing nightly Advent readings without the wreath.  And, Baby Jesus will get to his manger whether the fish tank gets moved or not. 

When you really think about it, having an “undone” Christmas is what the story is all about anyway.  An unmarried couple is having a baby.  Their country is occupied by a hostile foreign force.  The baby arrives far away from home.  There is no mother, sister, aunt, cousin around to help with the birth.  There’s not even a room, just a barn.  And the first people who come to visit are unclean, uncouth sheep herders.  It wasn’t quite the perfect moment we work so hard to make our Christmas celebrations out to be.

We spend so much of our time, energy and money during the month of December trying to get it all just right.  Yet, God the Creator of Heaven and Earth came into a world where nothing was right.  His people were living under the suffocating oppression of the Roman Empire.  His creation was floundering under the devastating power of sin.  The world was a mess.  The world is a mess.  But, God entered into it anyway.  God entered into it because it was a mess, and He remains within it today, working through us (and maybe in spite of us) to set things right.

So, this Christmas, let things come a little undone.  For it is in the places that seem most undone in which God will enter in.

Blessings and Peace,

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Confession 260: Best Laid Plans

To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue.
Proverbs 16:1 

My husband and I tend to be a little weird about Christmas.  Over the past several years, we have worked to bring more sacred and less commercial into our Christmas celebrations.  We don’t do a lot of retail Christmas shopping.  We don’t put our tree up until Advent officially begins.  We don’t put Baby Jesus in the Creche until Christmas Eve, and the Wisemen start out in another room and don’t reach the manger until Epiphany.  We also do not do Santa with our boys.  I KNOW….we sound like a couple of zealots.  But, it’s how we enjoy the season.  We’re not anti-Christmas, just anti-commercial.

That said, we had to have the “Christmas is not your birthday” talk with our boys last weekend as TV watching was becoming increasingly obnoxious with all of the “I wants” the toy commercials brought about.  We had a good discussion about the meaning of Christmas and decided that anytime anyone in our house had a case of the “I wants”, we would gently remind one another that, “Christmas is not your birthday.”  Note the phrase, in our house.  Apparently, we should have stressed that a bit more as later that same evening when asked at the local Christmas parade by a classmate’s mother if he would be going to see Santa later our oldest replied, “No. Christmas is not my birthday.”  Needless to say, she was a little taken aback.
Afterward, over dinner, the boys wanted to know, “Is Santa real?”  Mmmm…. Where to begin?  I fell back on the old tried and true St. Nicholas story.  It was great, until our oldest who never misses anything asks, “Did St. Nicholas die?”  “Yes, honey, St. Nicholas died a long time ago, but people like to remember him by playing Santa Clause.”

Our youngest, who is four, was listening avidly to this entire exchange.  His brown eyes as big as saucers he burst out, “Santa’s DEAD?!”  In my head, I could already hear the angry calls from preschool parents all over town.  I beseechingly looked across at my husband.  HELP!!

My ever-so-rational husband responded, “No.  Santa was invented by a marketing company in the late 1800’s to sell toys.  What?” he asked, catching my look of annoyance.  “It’s true.”

In the meantime, our four year old came to his own conclusion.  “Santa’s in heaven with Jesus, Mommy.  That’s good—hmm, mmh.”  He makes a little “hmm-mmh” noise when he says something he’s really happy about.

In the end, we decided that Santa wasn’t real, St. Nicholas was in heaven with Jesus, people who love them will get them presents, and that they could absolutely, under no circumstances repeat any of that to anyone at school or church under penalty of losing all of their Star Wars toys.

And that was only November 24th.  It could be an interesting month.

Blessings and Peace,

My Family

My Family

My Family 2

My Family 2