Tag Archives: Christmas

A Baby, Why?

I was lingering over coffee with a friend this week when she suddenly said, “Why did God choose to come as a baby?” Yes, this is just one example of the delicious people I spend time with these days.

I told her I genuinely did not know but nothing could be more surprising, unexpected or tender. She added, “Or, in need of care.”

It somewhat paralleled another feeling I was having lately about my daughter’s pregnancy  Our world seems so divisive, chaotic, fearful, angry and upside down right now and yet, our family has another tiny baby boy coming our way in the spring.  I was thinking, “Thank God for a lovely, hopeful, opposite-of-everything-else, sign of new life.”

My friend’s words just keep ringing in my ears, “God’s revelation in Jesus came in need of human care.” God’s Word came needing flawed humans to keep it alive.  Isn’t that something?

An all-powerful, all-knowing God chose to be revealed to us but packaged that Word as an infant.

So here’s what I’m wondering this Advent,  are we looking in all the wrong places for Truth, Light, Righteousness and Justice? Maybe we are searching for BIG answers or an adult leader to be in charge of the world while God is delivering truth in tiny, fragile, unexpected ways that need us to see the truth, cradle it, feed it, sing to it and help it grow.

When our grandson was born, even though I had raised three babies of my own, I was stunned at how much he needed us. I was struck by the fact that he seemed to thrive and be comforted from day one by sleeping held closely on a loved one’s chest, hearing a heart beating next to his. I marveled at there flex he had to grasp a finger with his tiny hand and hold on.

What if God’s latest Word has already been delivered and it is like that, in need of human nurture, love and connection? What if it’s waiting on us to respond so it can thrive and transform us and our world? Are you looking this advent for some small, infant-like wisp of justice, goodness, grace or peace? Is there some tender piece of Good News that needs to nestle safely in your arms and grow?

It’s happened before…

 

 

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Tree Trauma

Tis the season of gifts. You have your list and I have mine. Retailers are working as hard as they can to make sure we want to give what they have. Thankfully, our family’s gift lists have been trimmed down over the years due to our intentional simplification. Today I found a picture of Christmas from about 20 years. We were in a large room and the gifts were all over the room, a huge pile in front of each person, above our heads. We were sitting down, but still. And, this was just our celebration with one side of the family. Everyone had at least 15 gifts; there were 11 of us in the picture. You do the math.

In the Christian faith, we mark this season before Christmas as a time of watching and waiting. We decorate with the focus on a few candles. Sunday by Sunday we light one candle, then two as we talk about gifts, The gifts we talk about in Advent are the ones God wants to give us: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ. That’s it.

The older I get the less I want wrapped, bought gifts and the more I desperately crave God’s gifts.

Last week, we put up our tree. I love having the tree up and lit early so I can enjoy it for all the weeks leading to Christmas. Because of our empty nest, we are short on labor around here so I decided I could assemble the four pieces of our artificial tree by myself, get the stand and skirt on it, get the lights working, add all the red ribbon by myself and then coax my husband into adding ornaments with me later.

This proved to be a very difficult task for one person. It is still hot here in Texas so I was in a full body sweat by the time I got it all up, MOST of the lights working and ribbon swirling sort of attractively around it. For some reason my dog chose that time while I was distracted and sweating to help herself to a whole bag of pepper jack cheese. This cheese thing, plus the sweating really dampened my Christmas Spirit which comes and goes anyway due to the over-the-top nature of all things Christmas.

When my husband got home I shared my work of art and told him he had just enough time to add ornaments with me before the Cowboy game. He was motivated and moving fast. Then, in the midst of it all, I had a huge wave of Missing My Children which hit without warning as we put up ornament after ornament with their preschool and elementary age faces plus all the baby’s first Christmas ones and the ones we love the most and the ones that always make us laugh. So, yes, I started crying and telling my husband no one warned me about the empty nest tree part.

He coaxed me to move onward mostly because of the Cowboy game. At the last touches the tree seemed to sway a bit, then a bit more. He quietly asked if I’d secured the stand with the three big screws provided. I told him there were no screws provided and that I was sure we didn’t need them as long as no one ever brushed up against or came even remotely close to the tree. He disagreed.

What happened next involved both of us at times prone on the floor under the tree, yelling at each other better ways to do what needed to be done, needing a flashlight, dismantling the whole thing and sweating.

It’s up now, no longer swaying and quite beautiful.

Between the heat, the dog eating the cheese, the Empty Nest meltdown and the after the fact securing, I’m back where I started, just needing God’s gifts: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ.

Every one of us has our seasonal challenges, some are bigger than others, of course. May God’s best gifts continue to soothe you and yours this season.

 

Subtle and Simple

Redundancy alert! For those of you who have been around me a while or follow my blogs, articles, sermons and rants over the years, I’m going there again, to my favorite holiday topic. I almost didn’t bring it up this year but I felt like someone out there might just need to hear this, said in just this way, right now.

Jesus taught us many things. He said he is the “way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6 He said “Whoever wants to be first needs to be last.” Mark 10:44-45 He said to follow him and fish for people. Matthew 4:19  He said “Don’t worry.” Matthew 6:31-34 He said “Let the little children come to me.” Matthew 19:14 He told us to let our light shine. Matthew 5:16 He asked us to love our neighbors and our enemies. Matthew 5:43-44 He told us with God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26

What he never once said was “Celebrate my birthday with as much food, partying, overspending, over scheduling, over decorating and stressful hoopla as you can manage.” He did not say, “In fact, celebrate my birthday so hard and so big that you have to begin in September or October to cram it all in.”  He never said, “Exhaust yourselves, fall off ladders putting up lights, go into debt and over indulge for me.”

For years, I’ve been preaching about this and talking mostly to myself about slowing Christmas down, simplifying it, letting go of pointless traditions, habits and the too muchness of the season. I’ve taken some flack for it. I’ve been called Scrooge. And, honestly, I don’t mind.

When Jesus was born there were no decorations. The only light was the subtle light of a star. The Christmas card was only sent to the lowest ones, shepherds out in the dark fields minding their own business. The gifts, if you recall, were simple ones for the baby, not for you and me. It was subtle, low-key and simple. And, it was enough to change the world forever.

I say all that to say what I always say at this time of year. It is okay if you do less. It is actually Biblical and theological to do less. If you love doing more, do more. If it is not serving you or others, then be brave enough to stop.

Years ago, our family started simplifying Christmas. Our breaking point was that year when we had only 30 minutes to pick out a live tree, rope it to the top of the car, screech home and literally throw it in the yard before our next activity.  That was the year, I woke up and said, “What in the name of Christmas are we doing?”

Slowly, we just started subtracting. We learned it was fine. We learned Christmas still came and in fact we enjoyed it more every year.

Our Christmas, like yours, was so over the top that we’ve been able to subtract some every year and still have more to subtract.

People who are grieving, sick or suffering life challenges of some kind this year need to hear what I’m saying the most. It is OKAY to do less. If you can’t bear the thought of facing the season’s challenges, expectations and traditions, then trim them down.

Maddie in San Angelo taught me this. I was a Hospice Grief Counselor and she invited me to her home in December after her husband died. She said she wanted me to see her decorations. When I arrived there was a votive candle flickering on a small table. She said, “That’s my decoration. It’s all I can do.” We hugged and agreed that her one candle was enough.

Yesterday, I received a sweet text from my sister-in-law. It said, “My co-workers were lamenting the fact of all the gifts they had to purchase for so many factions of their family and how much money they were spending and how little time they had to do it. It reinforces my thankfulness to you for saying several years ago that we should simplify. My holiday is so much more relaxing now….”  

What is important here is that it is not easy or popular to be the one who suggests doing things differently or who says out loud “this is all too much.” Sometimes it takes a lot of angst and tries before something actually changes.

If your family won’t do it. You can. You can say no. You can leave some boxes up in the attic. You can buy less. You can be Biblical instead of commercial. You can do less instead of more. You can simplify something.

When you do turn down the brightness and glitter of the season, I pray you will notice  more of God’s subtle starlight  When you have more space and less noise, I pray you will hear the coos and tiny cries of a newborn. When you buy less, you can give him a gift that honors his real teachings and his life. Be brave enough to light one candle this season and just see what God will do with subtle and simple.

Barely There

Themes for me this year: Removing clutter in order to focus. Going small to be able to see. Downsizing schedule and scope to allow more spiritual space. Having a tiny Christmas.

In the quiet space of this morning, I remembered an infant’s touch. Isn’t it amazing how from the minute a baby is born they know how to touch?  I remember as I was parenting my three children marveling at how physical parenting was. All that constant touching, holding and changing of clothes and diapers; all that drool and contact. You can’t get away from it. You can’t stay clean. You just allow yourself to be one with the child and all that comes with them.

The touch of a newborn…the way the baby wraps a tiny hand around your finger.  The baby can’t hold you there, you are stronger. You can barely even feel it really. It’s this gentle, soft, subtle phenomenon.

It reminds me of some other things. Like being outside when the sun comes out on a gray day and you hardly notice it at first and then you feel something a tad bit warmer on your face. You look up. It’s light. Stars do that. They don’t seem to be there as the dusk heads into darkness. Then, there they are, one after the other; age-old beacons of light and hope.

God went tiny, gentle, subtle, small and star-like for us. When God wanted to grasp our hearts and souls, God touched us like an infant does. That’s it.

Our world is so big, loud, scary and just overblown. Every day, assorted media reports sadden, anger and terrify me. My own life and vivid imaginings do too. Sometimes my heart cries out wondering where God is in all of it.

And then, in a way I can sometimes hardly perceive, the brush of angel wings, the warmth of light and this tiny sweet infant touch, holding me.

The quieter I am, the more I see. When I am still, listening, waiting and open, I feel God’s gentle hold on me. I pray it for you, too, this Christmas; that somewhere in the noise and activity; the much-ness of it all, that you will stop, breathe and feel the newborn hand, barely there, holding you.

A Tiny Christmas

Right now I’m looking at a vintage manger scene I have.  It is about 4 inches tall and has just three figures in it, a camel, Joseph and Mary holding the baby.  The baby is about 1/4th of an inch long.  It is the only decoration I have in the room. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve looked at it with wonder this year.

I keep thinking about all I’ve put out in past years to decorate. I couldn’t focus on anything because I had everything. Now I just keep looking at this tiny quarter-inch baby and it fills me.

Our first grandson was born a few months ago. He was 8 lbs. and 6 ounces, but tiny. I stared forever at the littleness of his pinky fingernail. I don’t even know how any of that works that we begin so tiny, but are pre-programmed to grow.

When God wanted to interject change into the soul of our world, God went tiny. I’m choosing tiny this season too.

I plan to be a tiny bit more rested and refreshed. I want to care a tiny bit more about others’ needs. I want to pray a tiny bit more; write a tiny bit more. I want to savor the sights, sounds and smells of the season a bit more. I want to light one candle and let that be enough.

So much about Christmas is big and loud and overdone. This weekend I was at a store where they ran out of shopping carts. The store was filled with people with every shopping cart the store owned. The people were filling the carts to overflowing. The line to check out looked like Six Flags, weaving to and fro several times and then still almost halfway through the store. Everyone had too much stuff. They are going to take all that stuff home and wrap it up and give it to other people who are going to have too much stuff.

I crave tiny. A quarter-inch baby is plenty to look at and have change my life. Thank you, God, for going tiny.

 

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The Gift of Normal

I’d just like to say “whew” now that the intense frenzy of the holidays is behind us.  This year seemed especially full (in a good way) of decorating; family and friends gatherings; gift exchanges of all kinds; two out-of-town college graduation celebrations; 17 church services in 10 days (I’m not even kidding); welcoming our college graduate back home for a few months which involved among other things putting furniture in the attic, which is not easy; eating too many rich good foods and a total loss of routine for a while.  Seriously, whew!

This year, I was actively aware of feeling relief as each wonderful activity finished and life gradually returned to “normal.”  It felt great to un-decorate for Christmas and see my shelves and countertops again.  I love my simpler, emptier home.  It felt good to return to healthy eating and daily exercise.  It felt great to see my husband off to work this morning after his holiday break.  It even felt great to set the alarm again after a few too many days of sleeping in.

I remember three plus years ago, newly diagnosed with breast cancer, how life suddenly turned upside down for a while; all routines ruined by emotion and too many medical appointments.  I realized then that I hadn’t appreciated enough the gift of “normal” life and health.  Ordinary days and routines are soothing, healing and good for us.

I am grateful for all that is spiritual, special and lovely for the holidays.  But today, I’m even more thankful for all that is simple, spiritual and life-giving about “normal” routines and life.

Light in the Darkness

A couple of nights ago, it was cold and rainy here…and dark too.  Our family was snuggled up by the fire watching a Christmas special and making our holiday to-do lists.  Actually, it was more like a to-do chart.  Our doorbell rang and we looked at each other, startled.  It seemed too late for our daily package delivery but what else could it be?

It was Christmas carolers.  Carolers!  I’ve never had actual carolers at my actual door.  I’ve seen them on tv and in the movies or at the mall but not at my door.  They were young 20-somethings.  They sang a few songs, in the rain, and then one of them read some of the Christmas story from Luke’s gospel from his I-phone.  At one point, his I-phone dropped the scripture he was reading.  He floundered for a minute and then one of his buddies finished it by memory. “…for to you is born this day, in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  I thought I was going to weep right there from sheer delight, wonder and surprise.  They said a prayer for our family and were on their way.

Light.  You never know when or how it will come only that God promises it and promises to find a way to deliver it right where you are.  Imagine, carolers!