She Said Yes

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Only the humble – those who know and are honest about who they are and who they are not – can be trusted in the presence of great power. The temptation to usurp it for self-aggrandisement is too great otherwise.

This quote came to my attention again today: “It is easier to be an excessive fanatic than it is to be consistently faithful, because God causes an amazing humbling of our religious conceit when we are faithful to Him.”
– Oswald Chambers

Of all the millions of women alive at that time, why did God choose Mary from Nazareth to carry and deliver the most important Word ever given to people – the Word Himself?

The angelic messenger greeted a person on the cusp of adult life with the acknowledgment that God saw her as a woman who was full of grace. In spite of the fact that being pregnant outside of marriage was a demotion reputation-wise and would probably set her up for the heart-breaking loneliness of being misunderstood, she recognized purposes of her Lord. She trusted him.

The most profound expression of faith ever spoken may be found in her response to an angelic encounter:

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

There is not a drop of religious conceit in her powerful yes.

 

Re-gifting and Re-joicing

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“It’s pretty and all, Lord, but I miss the flowers,” I told God while out on a walk in the winter garden. Then I walked past this cluster of snow flowers and felt him smile. It was as if he was saying, “Here ya go!” I smiled back and thanked him for the gift.

I took a photo and now I pass it on to you. My gift to you.

I love getting gift cards for Christmas, especially for coffee shops. One day I was with a friend who was popular among the many families she worked with. She collected a pile of gift cards on her desk in the days before the holiday. Then I saw her do the most surprising thing. She took a some of the cards, re-wrapped them and wrote other names on them.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Re-gifting,” she said. “I have been given so much I just want to share. These are going to people who live alone or just need some cheering up.”

Today I was reading about the fruit of the Spirit and how joy comes from God because he delights in us. He is the source of joy. Re-joicing is like re-gifting. It is taking from the abundance of God’s delight and giving back to him as well as to others.

The good news of Jesus Christ is a gift of abundant love, joy, and peace. Pass it on.

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What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?  Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?

(Romans 8:31, 32 NLT)

Just ask.

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Christmas? It’s Complicated

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My relationship with Christmas is complicated.

I’ve been in four car accidents in my life. Two were on Christmas Eve and one was on Christmas Day. The first one left a lasting impression as a man stepped into the icy street in front of a vehicle my father was following. Neither could stop in time and drove over him. Years later I learned the investigation showed the man chose this method to commit suicide. (I wrote about it here in The Sorrow of Christmas.) I was very young, but I never bought “the magic of Christmas” after that.

On the other hand I was a singer and some of the best music in the world, especially choral music, is performed at Christmas.

On the other hand I love food. Cooking for her family and friends was how my mother expressed affection and she dished out the love at Christmas. I enjoy making cookies and Santa Claus pie with my grandchildren. Even though I can’t eat  it anymore shortbread in the oven still smells like love.

On the other hand I love art and crafts and creativity and pretty baubles that serve no purpose whatsoever other than to say “Here I am in all my sparkly Modge Podge glory.” Where’s my glue gun?

Christmas Eve at our house always included a decorated tree. It always included hot chocolate and new slippers and pajamas. Christmas Day always included an over-heated house full of relatives and the smell of roasting turkey. Aunt Jessie always brought her pineapple marshmallow whipped cream salad. Uncle Joe always piled his plate so high there ought to have been avalanche hazard warnings posted. Christmas afternoon always included a crokinole tournament for the men and a card table with bits of a thousand piece puzzle scattered on it for the women. It always included a plate of Aunt Doris’ maple fudge and a bowl of nuts still in the shell with dangerous-looking implements sticking out that little kids weren’t supposed to touch, but did. It always included a political rant or two from opinionated patriarchs-in-training.

Frantic cleaning and cranky words usually bracketed the arrival and departure of guests. That was a tradition too.

When we married and had our own home we always honoured the Christmas season script with tree and lights and presents and turkey. The season included weeks of shopping on a tight budget whilst dressed up like a sweating Eskimo in a store with yuletide carols [badly sung] piped into every aisle. (Let’s just say it’s a good thing it’s not a Canadian tradition to carry guns into Walmart or there might be one less looped tape of Santa Baby and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree in the office.)

Christmas included saying no to kids who saw far too many commercials on TV. It often included travelling long distances in horrid weather on icy roads. It involved little kids in emotional melt-down Christmas Day because the tradition on one side of the family said gifts must be opened at midnight. Sometimes it included cancelled flights and sleeping in airports and midnight rides on Greyhound buses because one simply did not risk breaking with tradition. Christmas frequently included Kleenex and cough drops and aspirin. Flu is also a Canadian seasonal tradition.

Christmas included shopping in a town with only two stores for white shirts so kids could sing in the school choir (and bringing baked “goodies’), obligatory parties for every club or group anyone in the family attended (and bringing baked goodies) and finding dates for student concerts and recitals that didn’t conflict with all the other events (and bringing baked goodies).

Christmas makes me feel emotional, but it doesn’t always bring thoughts devotional. Man-made traditions tend to accumulate and open branch offices. Don’t blame the old stodgy churches for being mired in ritual. Sometimes it takes only one repetition to create a tradition.

One thing I have learned is that you can discuss theology until the Arminian/Calvinist debate is actually settled amicably but you don’t mess with people’s traditions. Neglect to take part in the Lord’s Table for weeks and folks will hardly notice. Accidentally double book the hall for the third annual mother/daughter Christmas tea and someone may question whether your name is actually written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Christmas for me has always included stress -good stress, bad stress. Stress is the most consistent tradition. It wasn’t until the year that baby Jesus, or parts of him, went missing from the nativity scene for who knows how long (puppy?) that I noticed the disappearance of Jesus as the center of the creche looked a lot like the absence of Christ at the center of many of our traditions and rituals. I had to ask, “Is this actually “Christian?”

Tradition can be a memorial stone that helps us remember important experiences, but rituals can also become a burdens that miss the original point entirely. There is a difference between the traditions of God and the traditions of man.

Some ancient traditions started with spontaneous expressions of joy or sorrow around certain events. Jeremiah wrote songs of mourning when King Josiah died. They became traditional laments in the Jewish culture. The people in exile  inaugurated the feast of Purim to memorialize the victory told in the book of Esther. Man-made tradition and rituals can help us to remember and to teach our children. I love liturgy for the same reason. The church calendar can be like a lesson plan that reminds us to examine the whole of scripture and not merely our favourite bits. But forms without flexibility to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead can also become a burden.

Some ancient traditions are God-ordained. Moses said to the people:
“This annual festival will be a visible sign to you, like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. Let it remind you always to recite this teaching of the Lord: ‘With a strong hand, the Lord rescued you from Egypt.” (Exodus 13:9 NLT)

The protectors of an established way of life that came from extrapolations on the law of Moses said to Jesus: “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”

Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ “(Matthew 15:2-9 NLT)

I’ve made progress in neutralizing my acid pen in the past few years, but I lost it in November. The nasty protests on social media against commercial outlets that don’t follow “Christian traditions” started up again. (Has no one noticed that holidays is just the traditional spelling of Holy Days?). There is no command in the Bible to celebrate Jesus’ birth on an arbitrary day with holly on a coffee cup or nativity scenes on city hall property. How can we demand that people who do not know the Lord honour our man-made traditions when we ignore what He actually demonstrated? How did it get to be alright to demand protection for “our way of life” when that act itself violates a command of God to love your neighbour and treat those in authority with respect?

How is it alright for our car full of Christmas traditions to run over the lonely, the depressed, the oppressed, the sick, the grieving, the desperate as we rush home to celebrate the birth of the One who showed us what love is? How is it alright to lay burdens on ourselves that resist the message that Christ came to set us free?

Jesus Himself said that if we love him we will obey His commandments which are simply to love others as we love ourselves.

I’ve had to apologize for attacking people for attacking people and for being intolerant of the intolerant. I’m not one who says you mustn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th. I’m saying don’t make this season of worship a farce.

I’m saying it is for freedom that Christ came to set us free and we need to be careful not to take on another yoke of bondage.

I’m saying God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. That is joy. That is love.

Anything else is unplugged tangled Christmas tree lights that bring no light at all.

Tiny Tiny Faith

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It was twenty years ago. I told the counselor I didn’t know what I believed anymore, or even if I believed anything anymore.

“I just don’t have enough faith,” I said.

Is there one thing you can still hold on to?”

The traffic in the street below whizzed by and the warm air blew quietly through the heat register in the floor as I squirmed in my chair. Finally I said, “This much. A children’s song. ‘Jesus loves me, this I know.'”

“That’s all you need.”

“But I don’t have faith in church, or prayer, or eschatology, or Calvinism, or Arminianism, or Catholicism or any of that stuff…”

“I’ll have faith for you,” he said. “You just hold on to that one piece in your hand and enjoy it.”

This is a photo of my grandson’s cat McGyver. He loves to climb into the tree and bat the baubles. He loves it so much that nobody who loves him even tries to convince him to come down anymore. He has no understanding of Christmas trees or traditions or the meaning of carols playing in the background. He just sees an opportunity for a moment of joy and seizes it.

Sometimes the only faith we have is that momentary sense that peace and joy and love exist somewhere in the universe. All that is required of us is that we enjoy the glimpse that one tiny seed of faith gives us. It’s about God’s faithfulness, not how much we can try to talk ourselves into something. It’s about learning on a deeper and deeper level that Jesus loves us and taking the opportunity to enjoy him -a little bit at a time, being grateful for the sun on our face in the day or seeing the twinkling stars at night.

Twenty years later his kindness and goodness and gentleness amazes me.

Twenty years later I can say with a degree of faith I never knew could be mine: Jesus loves me. This I know. This is all I really need to know.

Have a blessed Christmas. Jesus absolutely adores you, you know — big faith or tiny, tiny faith.

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.

Mother and Child

Mother and Child
Mother and Child
Hooked rug by Margaret Forsey of Newfoundland

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will make a blind man see?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the mute will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

-Mark Lowry

 

Upon a Midnight Clear

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Yet with the woes of sin and strife The world has suffered long; Beneath the angel strain have rolled Two thousand years of wrong; And man, at war with man, hears not The love-song which they bring; O hush the noise, ye men of strife And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow, Look now! for glad and golden hours Come swiftly on the wing. O rest beside the weary road, And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on, By prophet-bards foretold, When with the ever circling years Comes round the age of gold; When peace shall over all the earth Its ancient splendors fling, And the whole world send back the song Which now the angels sing.

 

-from “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Marcus Tidmarsh

May the Peace of Christ be with you today and always!

And a very special blessing to a friend of Jesus (and friend of mine) who, just this week, donated a kidney to someone she doesn’t even know. Many, many blessings on you!!!! You are already famous in heaven!