One long night…

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger. ” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us. ” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told. ~Luke 2:8-20 (CEB)

Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy. Isn’t it? TV shows and commercials illustrate Christmas time as the … “most wonderful time of the year…” So if Christmas makes you blue… (now I have Evis singing in my head) or even flat out depressed it can be isolating in the sea of celebrations. It can leave some people gloomy finding the holidays anything but jolly, while still others will have experiences that make it difficult to be merry and bright.

When I think of the Advent story it seems to me to start out in the dark and cold, even in the midst of hopelessness. But it is also part of a bigger story of God’s grace waiting our discovery. It is a story of hope.

Sometimes the hype and clichés of the season distract us. The clever marketing ploys succeed in making us desire tangible things we can hold in our hands. Marketing gives us false illusions of how we can find happiness. However all the marketing efforts, hype and catchy logos cannot answer the deep questions of the heart, or address the pain that might reside there, explain the mystery of God’s presence, or even comprehend the meaning of our existence. It also does not help us to understand why bad things happen.

Advent can give us hope though in the midst of our isolation and false illusions because it tells us a story of how God humbled himself, intimately and personally through the birth of Jesus. Sometimes we blow off Advent as just another blip on the church calendar but it is meant to be something more. It is meant to lay a new path of faith for the new year ahead.

In the remembering and retelling of the magical story we are reminded that God loved us so much he allowed Jesus to come down here in the form of a fragile infant to be born in the lowliest of places. The retelling of the story is to remind me why Jesus came into the world in the first place, so that I might have life and live in the light.  I am reminded with the Advent story that God is a hands-on God willing to become vulnerable just so that I might catch a glimpse of how much He loves me. This story tells me that Jesus loved me so much that he came down to earth to be in the darkness with me and to walk with me as I search for the light.

Advent is meant to confront me once again with God’s unparalleled effort to communicate the message that I am embraced and held by a God of love. The Advent season is the time that I can shake off the failures, the victories and the sorrows of the past. I am given a new clean page. Again and again we see in the Bible that God is a God of second chances and the healer of broken hearts. Jesus Christ has come, is present with us, and will come again in final victory when all darkness, pain and evil will be no more.

Heavenly Father, it gives me great comfort to know that You are big enough to handle all my sorrow, all my questions and all my fear. I am thankful that You are a God who is willing to come down to earth and be with me where I am, even if the place You find me is darkness. Even in the darkness I am not hidden from You. I may be worried that I will put others off during this “happy season” with the questions and fears that are hidden in my heart, but I know that You will never turn from my sorrow. You will never brush off my questions. You will never be upset with me if I have the “wrong feelings” for the season. You simply tell me that feelings just are.  Dear Lord, I thank You for sitting with me here right now, waiting with me through this long night, reminding me that there is always a dawn. Amen.

The faith of my actions

I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth. God won’t let your foot slip. Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job. No! Israel’s protector never sleeps or rests! The LORD is your protector; the LORD is your shade right beside you. The sun won’t strike you during the day; neither will the moon at night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; God will protect your very life. The LORD will protect you on your journeys— whether going or coming— from now until forever from now. ~Psalm 121:1-8 (CEB)

There is no need to multiply examples of what is so patently and essential condition of the Christian walk. We are saved through faith – an unflagging, unwavering attachment to the person of Jesus Christ.

What is the depth and quality of your faith commitment? In the last analysis, faith is not a way of speaking or even of thinking; it is a way of living. Maurice Blondel said, ‘If you want to know what a person really believes. Don’t listen to what he says but watch what he does.’ Only the practice of faith can verify what we believe. Does faith permeate the whole of your life? Does it influence the way you read the newspaper? DO you have a divine sense of humor that sees through people and events into the unfolding plan of God? When things are turbulent on the surface of your life, do you retain a quiet calm, firmly fixed in ultimate reality? As Therese of Lisieux said, ‘Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God alone remains.’ Does faith shape your Advent season this year?” ~From Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning

Heavenly Father, as I wait, I pay attention, keeping my focus on You. Help me to see You in the little things so I can be bolstered for the big. Help me be ever watchful as I wait for Your plans to unfold. Hold my hand in the dark moments as I look to the light of this season. Amen.

Truly to trust

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. ~Jer 29:11-12

I have a dark secret. I worry about my children. Sometimes it is that deep dark crippling kind of worry where I find that the air has stopped flowing through my lungs. God has recently confronted me about these fears I have for my children.

I have embraced God’s promises and I know that He will take care of me and provide for me. I know deep in my heart that there is nothing that can separate me from God’s love and that He will take care of me. But do I have enough faith in God to think the same things for my children? Apparently not. I so worry about the hurts my children have sustained. I worry over the choices that they make. I can see the long term effects cut deep into them and how it could follow them through life.

God asked me one day. Do you not think that my promises are for your children too? Do you not think that I can use all of these things, their hurts and choices for their future? Do you not believe that I can use all these things for their good?

Despite the choices that my children make, despite the hurts they incur, God is holding them in His hands just like he has me in His hands. God has used all my pain and suffering and turned it into glory for Him. He will do the same for my children. That doesn’t absolve me of training them in the way they are to go but it does release me of the control and give control to God.

Heavenly Father, again I turn my children over to you. Protect their hearts, lead them in the way they are to go. I know that You will use all things to their ultimate good. I know that it will all be for Your glory. I trust that You love my children even more than I do. Amen.

 

To still hope

One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.” ~Luke 1:8-20 CEB)

Have you ever thought that it was a little harsh that Zachariah was told he would not be allowed to speak for the next 9-10 months? What great sin did he commit to receive such a punishment? It struck me today when discussing these verses with a group that Zachariah forgot, in all his obedience, to continue to expect a miracle. He had prayed for years for a child and over time came to accept that it was not meant to be and had begun to believe it was not going to happen. Maybe Zachariah continued to pray for a child but had somewhere in his waiting stopped believing that it could happen.

In times of waiting, we have to be careful to still be watching… to still believe in miracles. I have to admit it is difficult for me to accept my circumstance and yet still believe in a miracle. After 20 years of diligently praying I have come to accept my circumstances. I have been aware of this and struggle with how to come to terms with it. I have assumed that the long silence on this matter has meant that God’s answer to me is a “no”… and I have adjusted my life in such a way that I have moved on.

Is this what Zachariah is guilty of? Accepting his circumstances and going through the motions of obedience? Did he stop looking for the miracle? In his waiting did he forget to watch… to continue to hope?

My questions are how do I live expectantly while waiting and patiently obeying? How do I believe in the possibility of a miracle, still hope for it and yet go about my daily life? In trying to live above despair I have stopped looking for the miracle. I am sometimes afraid to still hope when each day starts again with disappointment.

Lord, help me to live expectantly and yet still have that “peace that passes all understanding.” Help me claim that Hope and that Peace while I still wait for a miracle. I am looking Lord. I am watching. I am expecting mighty things. Help me in my unbelief. Give me the strength to face each day… knowing that even though today wasn’t the day, there is always tomorrow. Amen.

He will wipe away the tears

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~Rev. 21:4 (CEB)

“Christmas is the promise that the God who came in history and comes daily in mystery will one day come in glory. God is saying in Jesus that in the end everything will be all right. Nothing can harm you permanently, no suffering is irrevocable, no loss is lasting, no defeat is more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Jesus did not deny the reality of suffering, discouragement, disappointment, frustration, and death; he simply stated that the Kingdom of God would conquer all of these horrors, that the Father’s love is so prodigal that no evil could possibly resist it.” ~ From Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning

During a time of waiting it is important to hold on to the reality that every trial is just a moment on this journey. Some moments are longer than others. Some more painful than others. But in waiting I have that peace that passes all understanding that should not be mistaken for living in denial. It is a confidence that God hears me when I pray and that eventually God’s Kingdom will come and this too will be just a moment.

Heavenly Father, through Your Word I know that a time will finally come where death will be conquered and our tears will be dried. The struggles I have will pass. I have Hope where once there was darkness and the confidence that all will be made right through You. Amen.

An abundant God

They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one mind so that they may worship me all the days of their lives, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to stop treating them graciously. I will put into their hearts a sense of awe for me so that they won’t turn away from me. I will rejoice in treating them graciously, and I will plant them in this land faithfully and with all my heart and being. ~Jer. 32:38-41 (CEB)

“God’s apparent lack of restraint when it comes to creating things is but a symptom of a deeper” problem”: God lacks restraint when it comes to loving, too. In fact, God is most unrestrained when it comes to loving. Put another way, God cannot love except abundantly.

We see this abundance of God’s love demonstrated throughout [Hebrew Scriptures]. The Chosen People turn away from God again and again. What does God do? Does God throw up his divine hands in disgust and cry, ‘Enough already!’ and zap those Israelites into kingdom come? No, God continues to love them, taking them back again and again and again. There seems to be no end to God’s love. There is no end to God’s love.” ~From Abundant Treasures by Melannie Svoboda

From beginning to end, God has only wanted one thing from us, a relationship. This theme runs throughout the Bible. God is a God of relationships. That is why He sent His son into the world to physically show us how to have a relationship with Him. During Advent I always marvel how He chose to come into the world: as a defenseless tiny infant, completely dependent on the humans around Him.

Heavenly Father, you are a God of relationships. You came into the world to model how we are to have a relationship with You and Your children. Help me today to remember those around me, help me foster relationships with them so that Your Kingdom can be realized here and now. Amen.

In the silence

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. ~Proverbs 29:25 (NIV)

Sometimes in my waiting I become anxious. Especially if during my time of waiting I feel that God is being silent. In the silence I still must trust that He is busy working all things to come together for my good. I forget that in His silence He can be doing some of His mightiest works. Fear of the silence only lays traps for my heart, stumbling blocks for my feet. Even in the silence my eyes should be trained on Him, trusting Him. In my trust I find comfort and the realization that despite my perception of things, I am safe in God’s hands.

Advent is that time of quiet expectancy for me. Outside can be dark, cold and bleary but I know that God is sending His Light to bring hope to the darkness. Light is coming to warm my heart. I shouldn’t be afraid of the darkness for it is just a time of preparation.

Prepare my heart O Lord, help me welcome the silence. Calm my anxious heart. I know that You are doing a might work and that because I place my trust in You I am safe. Help me to see reality and not my perception of the way things are. Give me strength to bear the silence knowing You have not abandoned me, just that You are busy working in those secret places of my heart, readying me for that Light You have promised. Amen.

What pleases God?

So then, brothers and sisters, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus to keep living the way you already are and even do better in how you live and please God—just as you learned from us. Aim to live quietly, mind your own business, and earn your own living, just as I told you. That way you’ll behave appropriately toward outsiders, and you won’t be in need. ~ 1 Thes. 4:1,11-12 (CEB)

1 Thessalonians 4 verse 1 says you ought to live a life pleasing to God. I think that is one of those universal statements that is easily accepted by any of the religions based on belief in God. But then the observation prompts a universal question~

“How do I live a life that is pleasing to God.”

As always, if you keep reading the Bible, answers come to the questions we have.  Starting in verse 11 we begin to find our answers… We are to aspire to live quietly, to mind our own affairs and to work with our hands so that we can behave properly and be dependent on no one.

That just seems too simple…  another universal question arises, “What does God really require of me?” In Micah I find another simple answer. God requires of me to love Him, to be fair and to be compassionate (Micah 6:1-6:8).

That is pretty simple and straight forward. Sometimes it amazes me when I am looking for the complicated answers to “what pleases God” and “what does God require of me” to find that it is really so simple that even a child can understand it.

Heavenly Father, help me this day to live a life pleasing to you. Help me aspire to the quiet, life minding my own business. Help me to be Your hands and feet to others, loving as You would have me love. May I always be fair in what I do. May I always work hard for myself and others through the strength You freely give. Amen.

Pay attention!

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. ~Matt 5:13-16 (CEB)

One of the dangers of waiting is forgetting to let my light shine while I wait. I have never been one to wait patiently. It almost paralyzes me. I have had several reminders in the past few days that I have been hiding my light. Reading this passage from Bread for the Journey was just another reminder that not only am I to be patient but active in my time of waiting:

“How do we wait for God?  We wait with patience.  But patience does not mean passivity.   Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise.  It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.

The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means “to suffer.”  Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants.  Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God’s glorious coming.” ~From Bread for the Journey by Henri Nouwen

Heavenly Father, help me to shine for You. May I continue to be active in my time of waiting, continually seeking the ways that I can serve You this day. May I pay attention to what is happening here in these moments and live them to the fullest. Amen.

Waiting

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil. “When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’ “Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’  “But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut. “Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’  “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’  “Therefore keep alert because you don’t know the day or the hour. ~Matt 25:1-13 (CEB)

“Waiting is essential to the spiritual life.  But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting.  It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for.  We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus.  We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory.  We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.

Waiting for God is an active, alert – yes, joyful – waiting.  As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.” ~From Bread for the Journey by Henri Nouwen.

In my time of waiting, I must still be prepared… looking for the time when circumstances will change. I must be working and preparing myself accepting the changes as the come; piece by piece, moment by moment… alert… finding the joy… active in this journey that God has sent me on.

Heavenly Father, help me to not become impatient in my time of waiting. Help me to feel Your Presence as You make my heart and mind ready. Keep me alert with the Hope You have hidden in my heart. Amen.

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