The Babe, the Son of Mary

Christmas is coming soon as night falls on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

The anticipation has felt a little more near this year with a snow fall and a cold snap that has kept the snow and ice from melting. When I look out the window and see my landscape bathed in white, I feel the closeness of Christmas a bit more acutely.

The snow as a harbinger of Christmas has been a kind blessing, especially as so much else this season has not been the same. I flipped through photos from this day a year ago, and was reminded of memories and celebrations traipsing through a decorated D.C. with colleagues and friends and a holiday dinner date with my sister, in 2019.

Who knew what was coming in 2020, then? No one. I certainly did not. If we knew the suffering that is soon to ensue we would not choose it. I would not. And yet, my year of pain, has brought much gain to my soul. While the weight of struggle still feels heavy, the freeness of release and the reliance on trust beyond myself has changed me in ways that I know are good.

2020 has been a year of life, interrupted.

But Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, who came to this earth in human form in the humblest of ways, is still Lord.

That is the crux of Christmas—that God came to dwell with humankind. The incarnation and the Trinity are great mysteries of the Christian faith. We cannot fully understand but we can fully know it is true. The life of Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, is real. His death and resurrection are historical events. Christmas is not just a feel-good time of fairytales and lights, it is a time when every person must reckon with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and choose to make him Lord of their life.

He is not a distant king or an unfeeling god. He is our Creator, who came to earth, in human form to rescue us from the sin and shame which separates us from him.

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

He arrived as a baby, to live and know the life we live in our bodies. He knows our pain.

He was born to give us second birth. By his physical wounds on the cross we have been healed.

He came to save all those who believe. His resurrection promises resurrection for our redeemed bodies, too.

Jesus is Lord. That is good news!

My Advent reflections may have rambled a bit these past weeks, but I have taken the risk this year to write from the heart, in hope that others might know. And even so, I don’t write for the “clicks” but rather to witness to beauty and the truth of God, no matter the audience. Well, my affinity for alliteration has wound its way into this series too, but they are words that God has written on my heart as this hard year, for you and for me, comes to a close:

God is—

Light of life.

Living waters.

Love, divine.

And, Lord of all.

I often write of the peace and comfort that my relationship with God brings me. And yet true Christianity is not a therapeutic religion. God will change your heart and his consolations are many. But it does not mean a carefree life. Oh no, my friend. Trials and tribulations still come. This Christmas season I pray that you, dear reader, know Jesus as Lord, the King who came to save us. Our trials may not leave, but He alone, will never forsake us. He is with us in the waiting.

Merry Christmas!

After many attempts and pieces of popcorn, this was the best I could do as our digital Christmas card! But it’s 2020 so I’m just grateful and glad I am still laughing and smiling!


Joy of Every Longing Heart

A deep blanket of fog lay thick all morning Saturday. The afternoon sun burned it off, with the December day becoming mild and bright.

Morning fog lays low,
Lifts, allowing sunshine on
Streams of liquid light

Despite the beautiful weather, my weekend was battered with burdens. The sunshine could not keep me afloat. Nor a brisk hike. They were good for me, but not all I need.

I need the light of life.

Living waters of renewal.

And—love. Love, divine.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Our sanitized Nativity scenes during Advent sometimes obscure some of the facts about the birth of Christ. Or rather, the weight of the incarnation gets lost.

This long expected Savior is God—come to this earth as human, as flesh and blood. Divine love came to save us, to save you and me. For love. To set us free from our sins and shame and fears and failures. It could only come from love, beyond our understanding; the divine love that is working out redemption through history.

This love flows from the Creator who loves me and cares for me, knows my every thought, my every burden. This divine Love sent his son to be born and die, that I might have life. That I would be filled with his love, steadfast, sure, and secure.

This love divine is a free gift to those who believe. It’s the season of wonder. Believe and be free, let love divine transform your heart. And if you do believe, lean into this love. I need to remember this, in every moment. His love is the hope and the joy that my longing heart needs.


Pour Over Me Your Holiness

It’s beginning to feel a lot like winter!

As I wandered the woods this weekend, the wind whipped, and the chill cut to my bone. But beams of sunshine and a brisk pace brought warmth to my face and core.

With the trees completely bare, except for a few pines and holly plants, and the leaves crushed along the trail, I was aware of the death all around me. Gone is the vibrancy of summer; it has broken down into this necessary phase of the seasons, the rhythm of renewal for the flourishing of the forest. For new life in spring time, death and detritus must come first.

The woods in winter, is a place of death. Like the world, without Jesus.

As I walked, the Christmas song that danced through my head was one of my modern favorites, Breath of Heaven, by Amy Grant.

Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy

I came upon one of my favorite spots and was struck by the contrast—a little pool created by a mini cascade of fresh water before it forms a creek on its way to the bay.

Watching this little waterfall, was a perfect moment of serenity. Of peace (an answered prayer from last week). The sound of the constant flowing of streaming waters felt true and holy and life-giving.

It was a reminder of gratitude for the living water that is the gift of God.

The spirit of God, the breath of God, is like a well-spring deep within the hearts of those whose believe.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.””
‭‭John‬ ‭4:13-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬

There is too much death and destruction in this world to live without this living water. Even the good things won’t ultimately satisfy; they won’t quench the soul’s thirst for God.

This living spring, signed with a seal at baptism when water is poured on the body, is a renewing source. A well of rest and regeneration, supplying the soul with a source for sanctification, each and every day.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:16-18 NIV‬‬

In the wasting-away woods, the wilderness, and in this world of woes, one needs Jesus.

This Advent season, if you are looking for rest and renewal, strength and serenity, hope and holiness, draw on the living waters of Christ. It is a well that will never run dry.

Savoring every second at this spot of serenity (except for a quick selfie!)

Disperse the Gloomy Clouds of Night

And all of a sudden, Advent is upon us and Christmas is right around the corner.

The mild weather this weekend allowed for a few hikes crunching through fallen leaves, as waning light led the way through bare trees, and across cold creeks.

The nice temperatures were also a good opportunity, apparently, for many to put up Christmas lights. As I drove home from the woods on Sunday evening at dusk, my neighborhood was adorned with house upon house of Christmas lights. It was lovely!

As Advent begins at the end of this difficult year, there was something about these lights appearing tonight that moved me and brought tears to my eyes—tears filled with sadness but also great hope. Tears of gratitude for the simple beauty and tradition of twinkling lights upon trees, sparkling reindeer, and light-lit nativity scenes.

I’m feeling the tension this year. Isn’t that what waiting is about? The tension between the here and now and what is to come, for whatever we are waiting.

As I joined with my fellow, spaced-apart congregants in a masked but no-less meaningful singing of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” this morning, I was feeling the tension. The tension of those minor chords, noting the lonely exile, and the longing of Israel for its promised Savior, Emmanuel.

I was feeling the tension of the joy of the knowledge of the incarnation, with the weight of the sorrows of this present world, as believers everywhere await the return of the Lord of Might, once and for all, setting all things right.

The tension of waiting is weighty, filled with grief and groans. It pushes and it pulls, punctuated with joy and goodness along the way. All along, it’s underlaid with longing.

But we have the light.

O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel

While I have been feeling the tension, I am praying for peace this season. For myself, of course, for my community, this country, the world. But true peace only comes from Jesus, the one we await in Advent. Christ came, “through the tender mercy of God,” to show the way of salvation. He came as the day-spring, like a rising sun,

to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Luke 1:78

The light illuminates the pathway of life, as we live as exiles, again, in a world filled with gloomy clouds, and dark shadows of death.

The day-spring lightens our loads, and lifts our tension.

The light leads the way.

Emmanuel, who has come once, and will come again, is the prince of peace.

He is the light of life and love, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Peace and blessings as we wait together this Advent, in the year of our Lord, 2020.

Emmanuel, who has come once, and will come again, is the prince of peace.

Some helpful reads on “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

Desiring God
Ligonier Ministries
Mere Orthodoxy
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Theology of the Carols


The Fullness of Time

Merry Christmas!

I’m thinking of my time in Israel today.  I neglect this blog far too much, and have not even found time to write about my incredible trip to the Holy Land, but here are some pictures from Bethlehem, where our Creator, Lord, and Savior came to this earth, in the flesh, as a humble servant!

Israel 2014 281

Church of the Nativity, built upon the spot where tradition claimed Jesus to have been born.

Israel 2014 288

Israel 2014 270

The hillsides of Bethlehem

 

Israel 2014 240

One of my favorite Scripture verses about Christ’s birth is written by Paul in his letter to the Galatians.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons [and daughters].”

From the very beginning, when God created the Heavens and Earth, he set the world in motion so that his Son would be born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem at the appointed time. God sent His son to send Him to the cross to redeem His children from our sin.

Israel 2014 185

The Garden of Gethsemene on the Mount of Olives.

Israel 2014 391

Skull Hill, otherwise known as Golgotha, or Calvary in English–the hill where many Christians believe Christ gave his life for us on the Cross. A bus stop sits next to it.

The gifts under the tree tonight are wonderful gifts, but the gift of salvation is the sweetest one of all!

Advent Now and 'Till He Returns

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans 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

I’m not an Old Testament scholar, but from what I understand, 400+ years transpired between the prophet Micah’s prophecy –  that the awaited King, the Son of God, would be born in Bethlehem. This is just one of the many prophecies that the people of Israel were waiting upon to be answered.
But God was faithful and He sent His Son to earth. The years leading to the time may have been dark, and filled wih questioning of his intent but The Lord fulfilled his promises.
The beauty of Christmas is celebrating the birth of our Savior and treasuring that season of Advent – of waiting for Him. Let’s not forget we are now in another stage of waiting – for His return. The world is dark and evil, but our Savior – who came to earth as both God and man- has a perfect plan for all of history. His birth was foretold and The Lord knows when he will come again.
We can’t lose hope, but must press on for His Kingdom. His Birth is cause for reflection and celebration as his period of Advent concludes. May our hearts always be in a state of Advent for his second coming.

 

Christmas in the OBX

Snow on the beach is a very funny thing – actually, it’s quite beautiful! While tradition is comforting, and I’m so thankful to have spent most of my Christmases at home with my family, it was really a neat experience to spend Christmas in Duck, North Carolina. We went out to the beach three different times – at sunset, to see the stars, and to see the snow!

The sunset was beautiful – not exactly the vibrant colors you might see during the summer, but beautiful pale blues, pinks, and purples. Our God is amazing with watercolors in the sky!

Nigtht-time was equally magnificent. Earlier in the evening we stepped out on the porch of our beach house (well, one of the four decks!) to see the stars, and they were absolutely vibrant. That was actually Christmas Eve, and I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like on the night of our Savior’s birth. What would it have been like to have been a lowly shepherd out in the field, to have an incredible host of angels visit you declare the arrival of the King? What would it have been like to have seen the awaited star of Bethlehem?

Later we walked down to the beach that night – the stars weren’t as vibrant because the moon had lit up the dark sky. In fact, we could see our shadows the moon was so bright! The waves were powerful and never missed a beat. It was an awe-inspiring reminder, the the God of the universe, who created the stars and the moon – which controls the oceans – also cares for, and loves me.

On Sunday, the 26th, we were snowed in! When the blustery winds had subsided, a few of us went out to the beach to see the snow and sand mixture. It was quite a sight – incongruous yet beautiful. Although I must say, I prefer sand when the sun is out, and the thermometer is far north of 20 degrees!

The beauty of the beach brought peace to my soul. It helped me to remember the absolute audacity of Christ coming to the world he created as a human – a mortal, yet without sin. One of the lines from Hark the Herald Angels sing, especially stuck out to me during our family’s makeshift church service in our beach house on Christmas Eve – “born to give us second birth!” He was born to die – to die and be raised again, so that I – you – we, can know Him as Savior and have our sins washed from us – like the pure-driven snow I witnessed on the beach.