Ba-Humbug

john-3-16

These days the Christmas season can bring a variety of “meanings” to the table. There is the commercialized Santa Claus out there distributing toys by the mountain to every “good” little girl and boy. There are the sales, and the commercials broadcasting abundance and the general idea that if you don’t have “X” you will be incomplete somehow. There is also this underlying disdain I have noticed – even among Christians – that because of the greed and commercialism maybe Christmas isn’t so important after all.

Another portion of the population would like Christmas to move away from the commercial and Christian emphasis back to it’s pagan roots as a Winter solstice celebration.

So, it’s no wonder some say, “Ba-humbug.

But what really is the “right” way to view the season? What should we do?

I’m going to be honest, I’m not really sure. How we observe and celebrate Christmas is something my family and I are working on and walking out.

But, here is something that has helped.

Opening Gods Word.

God Chose a young girl to bear His son. The Son who created the world and was with God and was God,* would leave heaven and come to all the squalor of the earth. He would walk with the lowest of the low, he would speak truth into hearts and he would draw on his breath life and hope and joy and peace. None of which were found in a physical item. None of which could be bought with any amount of money.

He just came.

He came to a poor family and watched them do the best they could to live and even save his life. He watched them marvel at how God provided for the deepest needs. He grew as boys do. He learned as children learn, he worked as men worked, he served as and example for us all.

But first he was born to fulfill the promise made long ago. When man and woman took the perfect fellowship they had with God and broke it.

We have observed Advent at our house. Not perfectly. Not religiously. But in reverence and remembrance that we need a savior. If we are to have any hope or any joy. If we are to truly love others, if we are to have any peace. We need more than what is within us. We need a Savior. The savior that took on our flesh, walked in our shoes and paid the price for our own wretched ways.

I think it was fitting that Jesus was born in the family of a carpenter. Not only can a carpenter craft some amazing and useful things, He also know’s how to fix things.

Jesus.

He came. He fulfilled a promise. He restored what was broken. And he did it because he loves us.

 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

~Rita

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John 1:1-4
John 3:16
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Finding Joy

advent-wk-3-john-16-20-22

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;

I can’t sing a lick! It’s just a fact. But, I also love Christmas Carols. So, chances are if you are next to me in church, or hanging in my kitchen this time of year you might think that some strange creature is howling at the moon right next to you, only to realize I’m singing (Ha!)
Also, there is just never the proper punctuation to convey a joke in written form.
Oh well, I digress.

As you can tell, I’m feeling a little jovial this morning. It’s one of those things that happens when I wake up and see that beautiful (even if it is tipping a bit to the east) Christmas Tree.

My memories of hunting the perfect Christmas tree goes back a long way. Back to the days when I was growing up in North Idaho, where our Christmas tree farm was comprised of the better part of a mountainside. Here in the Midwest we actually have farms for Christmas trees, which has always made me chuckle.

Still the memories are fond: Driving up some perilous two-track in the family’s rear-wheel drive car. Trekking through thigh-deep snow looking for that perfect tree, only to catch a glimpse of the expression on my dad’s face change from happy tree hunter, to ax/saw wielding maniac! My sister and I frantically trying to run through the deep snow as he chased us.

This is no joke. This was my family’s tradition until we moved to the Midwest when I was in high school. Ahh, good times.

And so, to the great trepidation of my Midwest born husband, whom I might add, had a family tradition that included a fake tree most of his life.(Please note: this is not a judgement if you choose a fake tree. I’m just stating a fact. ) Yeah on that first year we were married, I insisted we hunt a real tree.

“What’s the big deal? It’s just a Christmas tree.” He wondered.

Just a tree? How could he say it was just a tree? 

We scouted out a local tree farm. For real. Still so odd to me even twelve years later.

What we brought home was a 10 foot Blue Spruce. What transpired next? Well… we proceeded to have our first real fight as a newlywed couple.

I’m not even kidding. That tree almost caused us to renounce our marriage vows, right there on the spot! 

Let’s just say my husband did not appreciate the whole process of slogging through the cold and slush while having his bride carefully inspect every. single. tree.
I knew what I was looking for.  It had to be that perfect cross of Christmas Card Perfect with a touch of Charlie Brown. You get that, right?

I did find it. All 10 feet of it. And of course I would pick one of the prickliest trees in all of Gods creation. We wrestled it into the back of the truck and headed home. Then the thing wouldn’t fit on the stand we had, so we had to get a bigger one. Then there was the matter of getting into the house, and still it wouldn’t stand on its own. Somewhere from under that tree came a lot of words not fit for repeating. Above, I began to resent my insistence on the whole idea. We snapped and we snarled at one another. And just like that this tree had gone from a joyful symbol of  the season, Gods grace, and fond childhood memories, to a symbol of life’s trials.

Sure we can look back at this story and laugh, …now. It honestly wasn’t a bit funny on that day. But, it just goes to show just how easily, how quickly we can let our joy be snatched away. What started as a beautiful continuing of a tradition, and the start of a new tradition, quickly became a trap, and a snare.

I feel like John 10:10 has been a recurring theme this holiday season. It seems like, these days it is harder to hang on to joy. It is harder to feel grateful, it is harder to be happy.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life,
and have it to the full.
John 10:10

It feels like there is a very real thief prowling about looking for those still small, joyful moments and working quickly and often quietly to snatch them away. Gone, is the joy and the peace that we so carelessly flaunted a few moments ago.

But, here is the the thing. This “thief?” He has no right to your Joy. He has no right to your Peace.

That baby in the manger, came to bring “Joy to the World*,” he came to give you peace.* He came that you might have an abundant life.  Life filled with plenty. Not plenty of things. Not a perfect life, or life that would not see sorrow. But, he came that you would have plenty of life. He came so that you could have Eternal Life.*

It’s one of those big picture things.  And when we have our eyes on the big picture, the whole thing is beautiful isn’t it? When we have our eye on Him, there is a whole abundance of Joy isn’t there? But, still we know the big picture is made up of millions of little brush strokes. And some of those brush strokes land wrong, and some don’t follow the line we planned and some… Well, sometimes we think because of those wrong strokes the whole thing is trash.

If I’m honest. It is hard for me to have joy in the little moments. In the moments when the house will never stay clean, when the car is on it’s last leg, when the job is too hard, when the money is too tight, when there is want and suffering and pain and heartache in the world. When I feel I can change nothing. When I am stuck in pajama’s because there was no time to breath today, let alone get a shower.

Joy sometimes seems a distant memory. Joy is sometimes too far away to even hope to grasp. Joy get’s stolen right out from under my nose.

Ann Voskamp did a piece on this 3rd week of Advent. She spoke of Joy being like a woman in labor. She shared John 16:20-22

 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
John 16:20-22

It was such a poignant reminder to me that Joy will come. Even in the moment of struggle, when we think the pain is more than we can bear, Joy. will. come. It already has, and it surly will come again, because HE came, and He is coming. Hallelujah!!! 

May The LORD of Hosts fill you with his joy today. 
God Bless,

~Rita

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John 10:10
Luke 2:10-14
John 14:27
John 3:16
John 16:20-22

Peace

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As the second week of Advent wraps up, I feel the war amp up. The enemy of our souls is bent on pulling us away from every thing, and the One that offers us peace.

I think I’ve written a fair amount about my struggle with worry, and you might think that by now I should be the most peaceful, put together person. Yeah… hate to burst your bubble, (and I’m glad to bring you comfort)  with the knowledge that I’m still a work in progress in this area.

This past year has been a mentally taxing one. If we were to consider only the news headlines, you could probably agree there is a real war on peace out there. Then you add personal stresses like: family relationships, raising kids, finances, job stress, not having a job stress… Marriage, the list could go on and on. We struggle and we worry. And before we know it, our peace? That’s out the window.

John 14:27 is posted on the bulletin board above my desk, it says:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27

Can I confess something? That verse has been posted above my desk for more than a year. But I don’t see it that often anymore. I mean I know it’s there, but I kinda take it for granted. At least I did until a few days ago, when a friend asked me about it.

This friend happens to be going through a rough time. And she commented that this verse was a good reminder for her. As, we chatted, my thoughts filled with the memories of life when I had found that verse. How it felt like Christ himself was whispering these words directly to me. I remembered that in a time where I felt very distinctly caught in a whirlwind of worry and trial, and trouble how these words, His words, calmed the storm around me and all was absolutely still.

Absolutely still, quiet, and calm.

I remembered how I clung to this verse, said it over and over. I did everything I could do, to grasp the peace Christ said he had already given me.

You should know that, my problems didn’t go away, because I read a verse. No. They were still there as large as life. What changed is who was in charge of them.

I have to think that when we own our worry. When we are the ones trying to figure it all out. We are trying to be god in our worry. But, when we let God be God over our troubles, well, then there is nothing that can worry us.

Mary.

She was just a girl who lived in a culture where purity before marriage was very important. And an Angel shows up at her house, greets her, and says:

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever,
and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Luke 1:30-33

Well, that must of been a lot of information to take in.
I mean, I totally get why God didn’t pick me for the job. But, Mary? What was different about her? I think her response says it all.

 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:38

Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Did you catch the exclamation point there. (!) An exclamation is a statement of sudden or strong feeling. She was strongly stating that her very body, mind and soul were the Lords. For him to use as he saw fit. No, if’s, and’s or but’s. She was Gods.

Of course this is easier said than done in our own lives. In fact as I contemplated writing about peace, don’t you know the enemy ramped up his efforts to steal mine! Yep, but he doesn’t win. You see, if there has been one thing that I have learned over this last year, it is that perspective is everything when you are looking for peace. If we can say, we are the Lords, if we cling to the truths that He is the Prince of Peace. If we can choose to trust rather than take on the problems, If we let Christ be our root and our foundation. There is nothing that can shake us.
And during a season where we feel like things are spinning faster and faster and the demands become increasingly great. We can focus our eyes on the one who speaks to the storm and we can walk to him and live in his peace.

Peace be to you all.

~Rita

Looking for Hope

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It’s all around us isn’t it?

Suffering.

Hurt.

Pain.

Overwhelm.

We are ALL broken. In one way or another we are/have been broken. At one time or another we ALL will be hurt, we’ll suffer, we’ll have pain, we’ll be overwhelmed.

It builds high walls around us, and we feel like we are sinking, or gasping for breath or being crushed, or pressed. It’s death. We feel it. I feel it.

And it seems like there is no other time that brings us to our most broken self than the Christmas season.

Everywhere I look, from within my own walls to the expanses of the havens. There is darkness that envelopes and says, It is too much, or too painful. It is sooooo hard. It is too overwhelming.

In the night I toss and turn. I wonder and I pray for hope. I  wonder, can we have hope? Can we hope when the world is on fire and raging? Can we have hope when our own hearts are in so many little pieces that we are not sure we can even find them all, let alone put them back together? Can we have hope when our own lives or livelihoods hang in the balance?

How do we hope? When all seems so hopeless?

And I think of Eve. Eve was borne into a world of light and perfect fellowship with God. Can you imagine? Perfect fellowship with God. And she gave it all up. And the man with her? Complacently gave up with her. They gave it up! And I think of all the choices I make on a daily bases that break the already broken fellowship I have with God, and I wonder about the Hope?

 I Think of Abraham and Sara. Old, childless. Without hope of leaving a legacy. What was all their success worth without a heir? And I think of how we toil and scrape together a living. We don’t have surplus, but we still have so many wants and I wonder where are we placing the value of our legacy?

I think of Moses, David, and the prophets, and all facing challenges much bigger than their own lives. Things that could cost them their very lives. I think of those in my own community. My own circle, who walk brave faced through fire. Wondering if they will really be refined?* 

These are the things I lay at my Jesus’ feet. In the dark my heart calls him. The Hope. 

Our family observes the Advent. Not because there is any sacredness in the practice. But because, for four weeks. Weeks that no doubt turn into intense battle. I need to have in front of our face the hope that is coming. We need to remember the picture and dance that is so much bigger than what we face today. I need that.

As each trial and tragedy begs for my eyes and my heart. And tries to distract and discourage. That temptation that begs me to curse God and die.*
I need to arm myself with the HOPE that was given. A Savior.

HE’S COMING.

 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans[a] of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”
Micah 5:2

A small town whose name literally means “The House of Bread.” this place would welcome the one whose origins are from Old. Who pre-exists us all. The bread of life* would be born there. Hope. A prophecy spoken to a king to give him hope in a trial. 

“But the thief is still out there” you say. He’s still out there terrorizing and ravaging the hearts and minds of people. I know. I read a blog post once that reminded me that the best way to not let our hope or happiness be stolen is to remember that yes, there is an enemy trying to steal from us. We all know what John 10:10 says. He came that we may have life. But remember the first part of the verse? Here, I’ll let you read it. 

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10

Yeah, It’s true, there is a thief trying to steal, and kill and destroy. But hope? Yes, we have hope because He came. Jesus whispered to the world one starry night, and into the existence of the human race. The Ancient one, who pre-existed us all, walked with us. He was born and cried and scraped his knees, and hit his finger with a hammer. He was tempted, and hungered and was homeless. He grieved for loss of those he loved. He grieved for the whole world, for you, for me. 

But, he also, left a blessed trail of hope wherever he went. The consolation of Israel.* He left light, he left his words. He broke death and he did it all so that we can have hope. 

The first week of Advent is about the Hope. Today I invite you to tell the thief, “NO! You can not steal my hope.” 
We have hope because not only did Christ, the Messiah, The Light of the World burst on the scene over 2,000 years ago, he also has gone ahead of us to prepare a place* where there will be no more crying, or mourning, or pain.* Where this broken fellowship that we grasp and cling to will be restored and we will be his people and HE, himself will be our God.* 

So, HOPE. 

~Rita

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Psalm 66:10
Job 2:8-10
John 6:35
Luke 2:25
John 14:2
Revelation 21:4
Revelation 21:3