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The Most Emotional Time of the Year

Is this a First Christmas for you? Are you hanging a special ornament on your tree this year? One that celebrates becoming man and wife in 2017 or welcoming a baby to your family? If so, give thanks! For my younger son, this is the First Christmas when he has an apartment all to himself.  He began making his personal decorating plans in May and has a beautiful little tree of his own this year.

I remember my own First Christmas in an apartment where I put up my Christmas tree and made my bed on the couch so I could fall asleep enjoying it’s lights. In recent years, as an empty nester yet to have grandchildren, I’ve experienced a bit of ambivalence about putting up our tree. Our family’s holiday celebrations are usually held in my hometown, so we lack the excitement of having loved ones gathered around our Christmas tree. That’s why I tell everyone who asks about our plans that this year that we will have both our sons and our new daughter-in-law with us for a couple of days before Christmas. My heart feels happy and full of anticipation.

Still, I admit that even though this Christmas is shaping up to be merry and bright, I’ve found myself experiencing moments of melancholy. It’s tricky to determine what brings the sadness on. I tear up and hear myself saying to my husband, “I don’t know what’s wrong. It’s just that things are quite right.” At least not for many people. Not every First Christmas is celebrated with joy. Twenty-five years ago, my husband and I were preparing for the First Christmas in our home in North Dakota when he got the phone call about his dad’s sudden death. Travel plans were rearranged, children were taken out of school, and that Christmas was filled with grief. My First Christmas without my own dad was in 1979. Even after months, years, and decades have passed, the Christmas season can stir up memories of those who are gone or longings for the “good old days” when kids or parents were younger or times were simpler. I pray for friends who have lost someone this year.

That’s me with Dad’s hand on my head in 1968.

Many life situations can bring anxiety about Christmas. Situations that we don’t write about in Christmas cards or commemorate with an ornament. I empathize with people who are without employment, have separated from their spouse, or are dealing with illness. Some folks were hoping this would be a First Christmas and still have an unfulfilled dream. During this Advent Season, I’ve thought about the people who were waiting for God’s promised arrival of a King foretold through prophets of old. Life was dark and years, even centuries, were ticking by. When would he come?

Then, suddenly, unsuspecting shepherds were awakened to a sky full of angels! Christ the Savior was born!

The gospel of Matthew proclaims, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:16,17)

These thoughts about the emotions of Christmas were triggered by today’s Advent devotional reading entitled Life and Death at Christmas. In it, John Piper says in part, “Each Advent I mark the anniversary of my mother’s death. She was cut off in her 56th year in a bus accident in Israel. It was December16, 1974. Those events are incredibly real to me even today. If I allow myself, I can easily come to tears—for example, thinking that my sons never knew her. We buried her the day after Christmas… Many of you will feel your loss this Christmas more pointedly than before. Don’t block it out. Let it come. Feel it. What is love for, if not to intensify our affections both in life and death? But, O, do not be bitter. It is tragically self-destructive to be bitter.” Piper goes on to talk of homecoming, “Do you feel restless for home? I have family coming home for the holidays. It feels good. I think the bottom line reason for why it feels good is that they and I are destined in the depths of our being for an ultimate Homecoming. All other homecomings are foretastes. And foretastes are good. Unless they become substitutes. O, don’t let all the sweet things of this season become substitutes of the final great, all-satisfying Sweetness. Let every loss and every delight send your hearts a-homing after heaven.”

Perhaps my moments of melancholy come because I am restless for home. For now, our tree is trimmed, the gifts are wrapped, and I’m happy to be just one week away from having my “kids” under our roof for the night.

Yes, that’s a crown on the top in honor of Jesus, the King of kings.

 

 

 

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Come as You Are

When I looked in the mirror this morning, the thought crossed my mind that I might not go to church today. The last thing I wanted was to have people notice the big, ugly cold sore on my face. The tingling pain began on Wednesday, and this morning I faced the impossibility of hiding the raw sore. Still, I wanted to be in church and knew that I would regret missing the worship service.

I remembered a woman cancelling  a meeting with me because her face was swollen from a bee sting and she was embarrassed about being seen. I started thinking of reasons why someone might not come to church because of embarrassment. Perhaps they fear stares because of their clothes, or tattoos, or weight, or blood shot eyes. Maybe their name was in the newspaper or their mugshot on the TV screen. Or it could be that their child has gotten into trouble or their spouse has left them. Maybe they can’t read, or don’t drive a nice car. Perhaps they’re heartbroken and don’t want people to see them cry. The list goes on and on. And it makes me sad.

Here I am with unstyled hair, no makeup, and the cold sore.

I can’t deny that at times it does take courage to go to church. Some have experienced painful encounters in church. Others have the idea that the people there will judge them. I wish I could say that is never the case. Sadly, though, it is possible that an unloving word may be said or that no word will be said. I would be dishonest if I pretended that I’ve never witnessed conflict or unfairness within the church. Please consider, though, that it is very easy for us insecure human beings to assume that others are looking down on us or that we don’t fit in, when that is not the case.

Here’s an encouraging word! Christmas is the celebration of God’s love being demonstrated with the gift of his Son, Jesus, to the undeserving world. When I read the gospel books of the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), I see that Jesus noticed the outcasts in society. He made a point to speak to and even eat with the ones who were looked down upon, including Zacchaeus.  When Jesus went to the temple, his compassionate attention fell on a poor widow (Luke 22:1-4), a man with a shriveled hand (Luke 6:6-11), and even the demon possessed (Luke 4:31-37). Think of the blessing each one would have missed if they had stayed away, fearing the opinions of the rich and powerful people there.

Today, I’m reminded of two points made in the Bible:

  1. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Jesus made this clear in a story he told about a religious man whose way of praying revealed his pride and a humble tax collector who received mercy.  (Luke 18:9-14)
  2. Every person who has ever lived, excepting Jesus, is sinful. We each have an ugly sore spot that we cannot heal. Unlike my cold sore, sin will not go away with time. By God’s amazing grace, those who believe in Jesus can be cleansed from sin and made acceptable to God. Even Christians sometimes feel like hiding when life gets painful, but the support of a church “family” is worth the risk of being known.

I have one last thought to share today. It is not the action of going to church, whether it be once or twice a year or every single Sunday, that saves us. Yes, you can find and commune with God in other settings, and, yes, you may encounter hypocrites at church. People do tend to look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. For me, church is a wonderful place to belong; to be encouraged, taught, and prayed for; and to participate in serving others.

Here is what I looked like after a shower, with blow-dried hair and makeup. I’m sure that folks I talked to did notice the cold sore. Still, I’m glad that I did not allow my embarrassment or pride to keep me from being there to sing Christmas carols, see people that I care about, and hear a wonderful message about the Holy Spirit. I hope that you’ll choose to come to church as you are. There is a song from Sidewalk Prophets that may encourage you. You can listen here.

 

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Stay thirsty, my friends!

Last spring I became more intentional about my drinking. We’ve all heard that we should drink lots of water each day, but what if we’re not thirsty? I finally took to heart the good reasons to hydrate, thirteen of which are listed in this article. Here’s how I did it. Each morning, I filled a pitcher with cold water, added some fruit and a sprig of parsley or a basil leaf, and set the pitcher on my kitchen counter for the day. No matter what else I drank during the day, my goal was to empty the pitcher.

 

During the summer, the infused water was welcome refreshment and my pitcher emptied easily. Now, with colder temperatures and less outdoor activity, I’ve continued with my good health habit (I really do feel better), but find the water a bit less appealing. I might prefer a hot chocolate, tea, or coffee in the afternoon, but choose the better option.

In last week’s post, I shared two things that I’ve chosen to prioritize during the December days leading up to  Christmas. One was to seek and to serve Jesus Christ who for me is the reason for the season. I’m seeking Him by continuing my daily morning habit of reading from the Bible and also reading a free downloadable Advent devotional from John Piper. Throughout the days, I’m trying to be intentional about noticing God’s answers to my prayers and ways in which I can serve Him by blessings others. These practices refresh my soul.

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At times, I get distracted by the “shiny things” of the season. When that happens, I end up feeling thirsty. My thirst might manifest itself in the form of impatience, grumpiness, or discontent. I could say with the ancient writer of Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

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Jesus spoke of living water, saying to the people of his day, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” The account in the gospel of John goes on to explain what “living water” Jesus spoke of.  He meant the Holy Spirit that came to believers after Jesus returned to the Father in heaven (John 7:37-39). Jesus knew what it felt like to be physically thirsty. After walking through the dry land of Samaria one day, he stopped at a well and asked a woman there for a drink. John’s account of the story doesn’t say that she drew the water for him, but I envision him with a cup in his hand when he says to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13,14)

Yes, our bodies need lots of water to function well. But, our souls also need life-giving water. If this season of celebration finds you with plenty of food, drink, and shiny things, and yet you still feel unsatisfied, maybe you’re thirsty for the the gift of God (John 4:10). Will you seek Jesus Christ with me? You might begin by reading the story of his life from the gospel of Luke, which includes the familiar telling of Jesus’s birth – the Christmas story.

My title “Stay thirsty, my friends!” may remind you of an advertising campaign featuring the most interesting man in the world. Who could be more interesting than the Son of God, sent from Heaven to Earth as a baby boy to seek and to save what was lost? His mission seemed to have failed as he suffered a criminal’s death on a Roman cross. Interestingly, that is exactly how it was accomplished! And the One who was resurrected after three days in the grave is the One who offers water that wells up to eternal life.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6 (words of Jesus)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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