Merry Strawberry Season! Wait…. what?

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Someone sent me a wish for a happy Hanukkah this week and mentioned that it is officially strawberry season (in the Middle East). We are singing songs like “See amid the winter snow, born for us so long ago,” and “In the Bleak mid-winter,” and “Let it Snow” and “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” Strawberry season couldn’t be farther away.

I keep running into slogans on social media: “It’s Merry Christmas, not Season’s Greetings or Happy Holiday!” I don’t know if the intent is to come across as being rigid and somewhat less than gracious about this, but it doesn’t exactly exude warm wishes. I’m particularly concerned that it is aimed at poor harried store clerks who are just following store policy. It is a Christian’s job to bless people who don’t know about the love of God, not theirs to give us “the proper greeting.” When I talked about it some people told me that the issue is that they feel an attack by governments and lobby groups to deny their traditions and they’ve had about enough of this political correctness stuff that denies folk the right to express themselves freely.

Ah. That’s the reason for the defensiveness — defending tradition. One simply does not mess with someone’s traditions. Someone told me that saying Merry Christmas was standing up for Jesus. Hmmm. I have found that putting myself in charge of God’s public relations by using my own disgruntled methods seldom puts him in a good light. He’s more likely to say, “Thanks, but I’ve got this,” and then he just pours out his goodness on those who speak ill of him.

There is a difference between “standing up for Jesus” and “standing up for our traditions.” I don’t see any instructions to say “Merry Christmas” anywhere in the Bible. In fact I don’t see any command to celebrate Jesus’ birth on an arbitrary date chosen to give an alternative to winter solstice rituals. (A good case can be made for Jesus’ birth being around the time of Sukkot, or the Jewish Festival of Booths, by the way), but I consider every day a good day to celebrate Jesus, so why not Christmas Day as well? I’m good with that.

To me “standing up for Jesus” is about standing up for what Jesus taught and acknowledging that he is who he said he is. I have a hard time seeing him scold someone for not upholding the traditions of man according to some unwritten rules. In fact, the only people he scolded were the ones who burdened people with the traditions of man to the point where they no longer accurately communicated the nature of God.

Our tradition in northern Europe and northern America is that Jesus was born amid the winter snow. It’s a rather self-absorbed man-made tradition that does not take into consideration that in other places in the world, it’s strawberry season. Whether it’s winter or summer where you live, whether Jesus’ birthday was on December 25 or September 25, his law is love and his gospel is peace. Putting Christ back into Christmas means being Christ-centered in all our choices and extending his love and peace.

May the love and peace of Christ be with you this day and every day. He absolutely adores you, you know.

A Thrill of Hope

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Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
‘Til he appeared
And the soul felt it’s worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

(From Oh Holy Night by Adam Adolphe)

I wonder if a thrill can be a quantity, like a pride of lions or a murder of crows. A thrill of hope. I like that.

My prayer for the past year is to be able to comprehend in some small manner how God sees me. It’s been an adventure, and sorry, much too personal (and embarrassing) to tell here.  So many people are searching for their true identity. I think that’s why things like which-Disney-princess or which movie-character-are-you quizzes are so popular. While none of us like to think we are just like anyone else we read the information that assigns our butts to labeled personality boxes with fascination. The fun part about God telling you who you are is that he doesn’t confuse you with your sin or your temptations. Sometimes it is easiest for us to identify personality types by their weaknesses -or at least imbalances. Imagine being known only by your strengths -especially by the strengths that he knows about before you have ever seen a scrap of evidence of them yet.

While Gideon was still hiding out in a wine-press trying to thrash grain (which must having been frustrating because the exercise needed a breeze to carry away the chaff) the angel messenger called him, “Mighty Warrior.” That’s not how Gideon saw himself at all. He saw him as the least influential in a family of insignificance. That didn’t faze the angel. He wasn’t talking to a coward because the message was for the man Gideon was to become. Once assured, he did become that man.

These words in the second verse of Oh Holy Night caught my attention this week. We are way-laid by the identity sin has hung on us like a scarlet letter. I am an alcoholic. I am a gossip. I am a sloth. I am an incorrigible approval-seeker. I am a rigid perfectionist. I am a coward. What would we say if a winged messenger showed up in our in our basement while we were doing laundry and said, “Hail Mighty Warrior!” or “Hey there, favoured one so full of grace!” Most of us would probably turn to see who he was talking to. But God sees his children with different eyes than we see ourselves.

When we begin to comprehend that God sees our worth, that he actually likes us and takes pleasure in us, and that we do have significance to him, we desire to live up to his image of us. We can start to lay down our own burdens of pits of despair, clouds of darkness, or predictions of failure as we see him approaching carrying a thrill of hope meant for us.

And that’s a good time to fall on your knees and worship him.

Peuple, à genoux, attends ta délivrance! People, on your knees! Pay attention to your deliverance!

Thanks for the Memories

 

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“...The Lord showed me the reason I didn’t think he answered my prayers. It was simply that I was not thankful when He did. Without an attitude of thanksgiving those memories were lost to me.” -Lara Merz

The new book While He Lay Dying is touching some sore spots for some people. I understand. The story hit a lot of mine as well -sore spots that God was putting pressure on, like a kind doctor who looked into my eyes while asking, “Does that hurt?”

The intent of the doctor is not to torment you, but to heal you, but first he needs to identify the source of the pain by having you acknowledge it.

I do believe that prayer is more about learning to listen to God than handing him my Christmas wish list, or a job description of my design with expectations I think he needs to meet. Still he invites us to come to him with all our cares and needs and with prayers and petitions – with thanksgiving – and present our requests. The thanksgiving is actually for our sakes, because being grateful for the things he has done for us already helps us remember and come in faith.

I met a woman a few years ago who, like I had been, was mired in chronic depression. Healing from depression can involve more than one avenue since this wretched condition affects every part of our lives – mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, relational. But one of the glimmers of light in that cave of darkness begins to shine when we are willing to be thankful for one thing. Thanking God for just one thing is like picking up the first crumb that leads to a trail of crumbs -more things to be thankful for. The trail leads to the exit of the dark cave. I asked her to tell God one thing she was thankful for. She refused. She could think of nothing -as she sat in a large warm house, in a free country, with a good meal, and all her expenses cared for by a generous family member, comforted by friends who constantly tried to reach out to her. “My life is too bitter,” she said.

Another person said, “Sure. God healed your son-in-law. How nice for you. But why be thankful? There is no guarantee he’ll be here next Christmas. He could be hit by a bus, or another tragedy could strike your family. It happens all the time. Where was God when this happened and that happened? Look at the news this week and what about the time I prayed and he didn’t give me the answer I wanted?”

Do you see how quickly we can lose the memory of a miraculous response to prayer and forget God’s goodness when we refuse to be grateful and choose to focus on disappointment? It was like turning away from the spot of light in a dark cave and saying, “So you saw something that might point to a light, or maybe even an exit of some sort. How nice for you. But my experience is that it is dark in this cave. Look at all the places where there is no light. Don’t remind me of my pain. There is no hope.”

Of course we all die. Miracles are not about having perfect circumstances and a care-free life. Signs point to something -or Someone. Signs are not the destination. Don’t park there. Keep moving.

A friend reminded me yesterday that those of us born in the 50’s have lived in two centuries and two millennium -and people we knew in our youth had been born in the 1800’s. He made me think. One of the most influential people in my life, my grandmother, was born in 1909. My granddaughter was born in 2009 -100 years later, and yet these two people are central in my memories. I am so thankful for them. I am especially thankful that my grandmother told me the stories of God’s provision, even through the most horrible experiences -from the death of her kitten as a wee girl to the death of her two children as a young mother. Yes, she found herself in dark places sometimes, but she always came out singing, because she remembered her answered prayers, and thankfulness pinned those memories down for her. She knew the God she appealed to, and the longer she knew him, the more she loved him. A few weeks before she died she told me, “Death holds no fear for me. It is a wide-open door to the light. And my dear Jesus is standing there, arms open, waiting to wipe away all my tears.”

 

Into the Gaps

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There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”

― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Happy Monday Morning!

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I love the way little kids can’t wait for the day to begin. We had a family gathering last week and my little five year old grandson was amazed that I could still be asleep at 6:45 a.m. He and his buddy, Harvey the bull dog, jumped on me with an affectionate early morning enthusiasm I haven’t experienced for a few years. Harvey even gave my ears a good licking. It wasn’t long before the other kids were wrestling on my air mattress and in my sleeping bag because that’s what they were designed for, right?

The next morning I was helping two of the kids get ready for school when one of them noticed the brilliant rosy dawn out the window. I grabbed my phone and snapped a photo as a school bus went by, driving into the sunrise.

I’ve decided to adopt their attitude. It’s Monday! It’s morning! We can get up and sing Raffi’s brush-your-teeth song ch ch chch ch chchch ch!  Or for my taste, Stuart Townend’s “Christ Be in My Waking.”

Thank you, Lord. It’s good to be alive!