Christmastide reflections

It is four o'clock in the morning on the sixth day of Christmas, and I am up - against my will and against my better judgment.  I can't sleep, and I can't figure out why - but as I've been sitting here, reading, thinking, trying to get past my frustration, I have realized some things.

Christmas, as I've shared before, has always been my favorite time of year.  Even before I truly understood the gift that this holiday is, there was something about the lights and the quietness and the colors and the smells and the hope (even on an ocean coast) of snow - that was simply magical.  Mysterious.  Right.  It was special; it was different; it was something I waited for all year.

I was so hopeful this year that the magic and the mystery would still capture my soul - and it has, in moments, here and there.  But the pervading sense of joy and peace and happiness that filled my soul on December 23rd has gotten lost somewhere in the craziness of the past few days.  The rest of the world has moved on past Christmas, and to a degree, I feel like I've been moving on right along with it.

But I'm not of that world, and as I've come in the past half hour to realize all the ways in which I've forgotten that this week, I have made a decision.  I refuse to be swept by that tide any longer.  It is Christmastide yet, and it is only half over.  There is still waiting and watching to be done.   There is still worship to offer.  Praise to bring.

And so here I am, at what is now almost five o'clock in the morning, watching and praying, enjoying the lights on my tree and a cup of chai, and thanking God that He's stopped me in my tracks for this moment.  I am, at last, putting down all the things that have distracted me all week, and am instead kneeling in my heart beside a manger, in awe of the tiny, quiet, perfect miracle that was actually the beginning of the greatest thing that has ever happened in the whole world.  The very Son of God was born - to us, the Scripture says.

To us.   For us.   With us.

He was here.

He is here.

...and He is coming back.

In this quiet moment, there is nothing more real or more true, and I am filled with gratitude and wonder.

Merry Christmas, friends.

comfort and joy

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him; and He helps me.  My heart leaps for joy, and with my song, I praise Him." (Psalm 28:7)

As we've been reading along in God's word and in The Uncluttered Heart this week, reflecting on joy, there is one idea that I've felt God driving home to me all week: whether or not you have joy is not dependent on whether or not you feel joyful.

It started with the reminder from Monday's reading about joy being a fruit of the Spirit.  "Hap, you have my Spirit; therefore, you have joy."  It isn't something I can produce on my own - it's something He grows in me.  I may not experience the emotional benefits of it all the time, anymore than I experience the benefits of wearing my favorite (and very warm) sweatshirt while it's in the laundry - but just because I'm not aware of it, doesn't mean I cease to have it.

Because Jesus is my Saviour, I have the Spirit of God in me (John 14:16-17).
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Therefore, I have joy.

Awesome, right?  But it gets even better.  The Bible also tells us two other things about joy:

1. that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  (Nehemiah 8:10)
and 2.  that joy replaces sorrow.  (Esther 9:20-22, Isaiah 35:9-10, Isaiah 51:11, Jeremiah 31:12-13)

And this is a part of the good news of great joy that we wait for in this Advent season. (Luke 2:10).  Emmanuel, God with us - Jesus - came to this world for a little while, experienced first hand what life is like for us, paid the price for our sins, and rose from the dead.  Then, when He went back to His Father, He asked Him to send us His Spirit to help us - and one of the things the Spirit does is produce joy in our hearts - joy that strengthens us when we are weak and beaten down by the sorrows of this world; joy that foreshadows and is a promise of the lasting joy that will be ours, when all things fade away, and we are finally Home with Him.

Sorrow - no matter how deeply felt - is only temporary.  Joy will come.  Indeed, it is already here!

There is so much comfort in that.

"God rest ye merry, gentlemen" (and women).  It's been my favorite Christmas carol for ages, and I love those words.

"God rest ye" - may God cause you to rest.  "God rest ye merry" - may God cause you to rest with gladness in your heart.

Wherever you are today, friends, whatever the sorrows that burden your heart - my prayer for you is that you will remember the deeds of the Lord and His kindness toward you, that joy will flood your soul as you do, and that you will find at the end of this day that God really has rested ye merry.

on seeking peace

All week long, the Spirit has been whispering the same half of a verse, over and over again, to my soul:  "Seek peace and pursue it."  (Psalm 34:14b)

Seek peace and pursue it.  Seek peace and pursue it.

I've been trying.  In this week of Advent Peace, I've been pursuing peace as if it were the elusive White Stag of Narnia.  Every now and again, I've glimpsed it.  I've found it in some unlikely places: Christmas shopping, driving around in my car, cleaning the house, charting Christmas carols.  I've found it in likely places, too: the quiet moments when I've paused to worship, decorating Christmas cookies with our Tuesday night Advent group, having dinner with one of my best friends.  But then something would happen, and I would find myself wondering where that peace had gone.

Seek peace and pursue it.

I will not go into the details of why this week was so incredibly difficult.  I will simply say that I am so glad for the respite that this morning brought.  Saturday is my Sabbath day - a day to worship and rest and simply be.  For the first time since last Saturday, I did not roll out of bed with a task list.  There are things to do today - grocery shopping for the holiday dinner I'm cooking tomorrow, Christmas shopping, etc. - but they can happen whenever I get to them, and it doesn't really matter to anyone else.  Today there are no pressures, no demands, no responsibilities.  Today I am free to finish decorating my tree, and to be my introverted self.  Today... I can rest.

I am so glad God built Sabbath into our lives.  He knew how desperately we would need it.  A day to stop.  Breathe.  Remember Him.  Reorient.  Reprioritize.  Oh, wait - life isn't actually about all that stuff that seemed so important last week.  It's about glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.  Right.  Okay, let's try that, then.

And again, I find myself so grateful for Advent, and a week that forced me, by its liturgical rhythms, to remember peace.  I needed the daily reminder to be a shalom-bringer, and to look for the ways in which God was at work in the seeming chaos that was this week.   I needed that constant whisper: "seek peace and pursue it."

One of the things I am learning (again) is that peace and rest go hand-in-hand.  It is possible to be at peace in the midst of insanely busy seasons, to be internally at rest in the midst of complete craziness.  I don't always live that way - and at the end of weeks like this past one, I am extremely grateful for mercy and grace and the promise of a new day!  But if God tells us to seek peace and pursue it, it is because peace is something we need... and it is because peace is something that will be found for the seeking.

Our responsibility is not to "achieve" peace somehow - but to simply pursue it.  And as we seek it, peace will come.  For He himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), and it is His promise that if we seek Him, He will be found (1 Chronicles 28:9).

There is so much comfort and joy in that.  So God rest ye merry, friends - as we, with Hope and Peace, lean into Joy this coming week.

love, hope and habit

"May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you." - 1 Thessalonians 3:12

I read this verse this morning, and I'll confess - my first thought was, "what does this verse have to do with Advent?"  But as I reflected on this verse a little longer, it became clear to me that it might actually have everything to do with Advent.  And here's why.

This week, we're thinking about Advent hope, right?  The hope that we have because Christ was born - because "the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14, The Message).  Now think for a minute about the people you know who know this hope.  What kind of people are they?  What adjectives would you use to describe them?  (What adjectives do you think should describe them?)

People of hope have a positive outlook.  They're the staff you meet in the store in the middle of the Christmas rush who take the time to smile at you, and make you feel like you're their only customer, even tho there's ten people in line behind you.  They're the people who ring bells for the Salvation Army on street corners and wish all the people who don't seem to care a merry Christmas anyway.  They're the people who get really bad news and yet try their level best to find a bright spot in the middle of complete horrible situations.  They're the non-complainers.  They're the people with whom you find yourself wanting to spend time because just talking to them is incredibly life-giving.  They love you.

Are you a person of hope?

I'll admit it.  I am - but I don't always act like it.  But my attention was captured today by the words in the prayer from today's Uncluttered Heart post.  The idea that hope is something that I actually need to practice hit home.  When you practice something, you usually tend to get better at it over time.

So what will it take for me to practice hope today?  And in so doing, will I "increase and abound in love" for people, as so many people of hope have abounded in love for me?  Yes.

So that Scripture really does have everything to do with Advent...

One of the things I love most about Advent is that it isn't just about waiting for Christmas and remembering the Story.  It's also about remembering that the Story isn't over yet.  Here's another passage, written by the apostle John, that has everything to do with Advent, too:

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: "Look, look!  God has moved into the neighborhood, making His home with men and women!  They're His people; He's their God.  He'll wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death is gone for good - tears gone, crying gone, pain gone - all the first order of things gone." (Revelation 21:3-4, The Message)

This gives me so much hope.  And today, I'm going to remember it, and with His help, try to love Him and love people better simply by practicing a positive, hopeful outlook - no matter what this day may bring.  And if I keep at it, one day being hopeful will simply be habit.  (I'm hoping for it, anyway.)  ;)