Advent 2021: The Beginning of Christ (Christmas Eve)


Despite the well-known Christmas song, we can be fairly certain that the night that Jesus was born was anything but quiet. Between a city full of people, a stable full of animals, a sky full of angels, and a woman full of pain, “silent” was likely not a word one would have used to describe that night in Bethlehem. And yet, into all that noise, the Lion of Judah came in the form of a tiny, squawling, lambsoft baby. In the midst of her exhaustion, I imagine that Mary cuddled him close, using what she had learned from helping her cousin Elizabeth to clean, swaddle, feed, and rock her holy son to sleep, her lamb slumbering in a manger. Amidst all the clamor of that night, this most important of events was definitely not center-stage, but, tonight on Christmas Eve, we celebrate it first and foremost. We celebrate the work of Christ that was begun on that night in a solitary stable and ended on a seemingly hopeless hill 33 years later. Tonight, as Advent ends, we celebrate Christmas’s beginning. We have expected, we have prepared, and now we rejoice.

Let Heaven and Nature sing, joy to the world. The Lord has come.

Merry Christmas to you all, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.

Art by Jay Bryant Ward

Advent 2021: How Great Our Joy


My mother’s favorite Christmas carol is “Joy to the World”. Joy to the world! The Lord has come! This is one of few triumphant traditional Christmas hymns. Most of them are songs of hope and expectation, but this one…oh, this one! This is a song of celebration! Of adulation of God’s plan accomplished, of the banishment of sorrow, and the raining down of blessing. It is a song of literal joy, both in its tone and in its directive.

As Advent comes to a close this week with the beginning of Christmas, let’s allow ourselves some joy. In the midst of all that must still be done, let’s pause and breathe and let joy glow within us, no matter what form it takes.

As I put my daughter to sleep recently, I sat on the edge of her bed and, before I could sing her a lullaby, my mind cast itself back into my childhood Christmases — the concerts, the programs, the recitations — and, automatically, a familiar childhood voice began to remind me of just what Christmas is all about: “And there were, in the same country, shepherds abiding in the fields…” As a child, I memorized this section of Luke 2 through Linus’s recitation in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown, frustrated by his seeming failure at Christmas, demands to know just what Christmas was all about, and so Linus tells him. As I recalled his smile at “I bring you tidings of great joy…a Savior which is Christ the Lord”, I felt my heart swell with that self-same joy. And I found myself wanting to linger there in that silence, in what Shakespeare calls the “perfectest herald of joy”. 

As we embark upon the beginning of Christmas week and celebrate the work commenced by Christ’s birth, in all the hustle and bustle, let us not lose sight of the joy — both silent and exultant — that filled that corner of the world and Heaven on that night. If we allow it, it can overflow our hearts today. Let Heaven and nature sing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.

As you move into Christmas, dear Friends, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Card image by Hallmark

Advent 2021: Love is Not a Moment, It’s Movement


As children we are often taught that love is a noun, an idea, an emotion. I prefer to believe–and teach myself, my daughter, and my students–that love is actually a verb. An action. A choice. Love is not only what we feel. Love is actually what we do. We love others through the choices we make. Choices to do what will help, uplift, and encourage them, and not to tear them down. Love is in our doing, not merely in our feeling. 

    Throughout Advent we do many things. We decorate houses, trees, lawns, gingerbread cookies and cottages, and cakes. We take family pictures and send out Christmas cards. We buy and wrap a gaggle of gifts for a plethora of people. We go skating and to Christmas, parties, markets, and concerts. In all of this doing, though, are we leaving room for doing in love? Are we holding space for the sweet little acts and services that we can lovingly perform? 

How can we verb Love in this Christmas season when so much can feel dark and grim? How can we live out Jesus and show Him to those around us, folding His name into the work of our hands as well as the words of our mouths? Often we forget that moving and doing in love can be the small, simple things and not only the grandiose gestures. A little card left in your mailbox thanking you for the beautiful lights display that you worked through that blustery day to put up. The cookies that you baked and gently left for your neighbors. That perfect sweater you found for your child that just makes them smile all over. Love in action leads us to Love as Life Practice. And as Advent moves us through this season of expectation and preparation, may Love be the guiding star that is leading us to the joy and glory that is Christ Jesus.

As Paul Williams so brilliantly wrote–and Robin the Frog so beautifully sang–in his song “Bless Us All”, “Let us always love each other. Lead us to the light” (The Muppet Christmas Carol).

Advent 2021: Peace in the Small Spaces


It is early morning as your eyes open. You can see the square of light around the curtains, lending just enough light to see the room by. No one and nothing else is stirring yet, and the world is quiet. As you lie there–not moving yet–in that moment before your brain can begin to work, there is utter calm. It is that Christmas morning anticipation or the feeling of lingering in a sweet dream. It is what feels like the rarest of moments these days: a peaceful one.

Our world is one in turmoil, off-balance–unequal, inequitable, at odds and conflict constantly. Peace often feels like an ephemeral dream, untouchable, ungraspable, unattainable. But it is not so dire. Often peace is a moment, not a movement. Sometimes where we find peace is not always the same place. Sometimes peace is found in a glass of lemonade on a shady summer porch. Sometimes it is found in the paragraphs and pages of an often-read book or one’s favorite Bible verses. At times, it is found in the early-morning stillness or the late-night settled quiet. Peace may be ushered in by candles and quiet prayers, a dog’s snuffly cuddle, or a child’s loving hug.

As we move through this Advent season, let us not overlook the small, slow moments and slices of peace in our rush to make Christmas what we think it should be. As it says in Romans, God is willing to fill us with His peace, if we are willing to trust and hope in Him. Let us be willing to pause in all our going to remember Christ’s coming and arrival. Let us rest in quiet, just as Mary and Joseph were made to rest in the simple stable into which He was born. As we arrange our Nativities on mantle pieces, tables, and shelves, let not forget one of the dearest names for our Lord: the Prince of Peace.

He will hold us in that peace, in those moments, and speak His whispers of love into our hearts. This Christmas season, things may still feel a little unsteady, not yet “normal”. Even in that difference, peace can be found. It can be found here our places of worship and reflection, in the music, the prayers, and silent worship. In the remembrance that God has never left you alone. Not for a moment, even the darkest ones. He is here to fold us in close, hold us in His peace, and give us hope that continues beyond Christmas.

= = =

Right now, She Reads Truth is offering this beautiful 8×10 art print that reads “I Will Provide Peace in This Place”. A gorgeous, loving reminder for the entire year round. Gift orders placed by Dec. 7 will be shipped in time for Christmas.

https://www.shopshereadstruth.com/products/peace-in-this-place-art-print

*I am in no way partnered with She Reads Truth. This was just a lovely coincidence. ^_^

Advent 2021: The Light of Hope


It seemed impossible to fathom that 2021 could be harder than 2020 in any way and yet…it is easy to see that it has surpassed all those non-expectations. In many ways, 2021 has proven indelibly harder on our hearts, minds, and bodies than the previous year. In that difficulty, hope has often seemed to wane. As we enter this season of Advent, of preparation and arrival, let us not allow despair and difficulty to rob us of that most blessed gift: hope. 

Hope is an everyday treasure. In Neil Gaiman’s famous series The Sandman, two characters have a contest, a seemingly simple game but with dire stakes.  It is The Oldest Game, a game of imagination with each character trying to best the other, to come up with the Final Idea.

One character claims, “I am the dark, the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds…of everything.” 

Into the bleakness they painted, Dream of the Endless replied…simply, powerfully:  “I am Hope.”  

To this there can be no reply, no defeat, no destruction because hope is everywhere to be found. In every heart and mind, in every space in life. As the poet Alexander Pope wrote, hope springs eternal. No matter how we suffer, how we hurt, or how little light can be seen, our eyes will always seek out and find it–even the merest pinprick of light in the darkness, the tiniest bit of hope to cling to.

“I am Hope,” is God’s gentle whisper to worn and weary hearts at this onset of Advent. As we begin this journey into the Christmas season, Hope is at our side. As we wend towards the end of 2021, sometimes with tremulous steps, Hope is under our arm, supporting us. Even the merest mustard seed of faith that things will get better and that God will show us the way lends strength and power to Hope. Hope is in a hand outstretched to help, in celebrating a hard task done, and even in the quickest of kind notes and gentle acknowledgements from our dear ones. Hope is in the bringing-together words of “Me, too. You aren’t alone.” 

Hope is what holds us aloft and all together. Hope in life, hope in God and His love, hope in His light. As the first Advent candle glows, may we find hope in its flame and in the Word it prepares us for.

Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Advent 2020 ~ Wrapped in Love


As Advent wanes and Christmas draws nigh, we look to the pillar of love. Where does gentle love begin? Is it in the things we buy, package, and donate? The wishes we try to fulfill? Is it in the hours we give to rehearsals and practices? Is it in the presents tucked away with all the hopes for them bringing joy when opened? Is it in the moments when we let the To Do list fall by the wayside, when we just sit in the glow of the lights with the warmth of our dear ones in our arms? Is it in our voices lifted still with cries for mercy and justice?

Yes. This is where gentle love begins. In any of it. In all of it. In the small moments, the little things, in the corners of our hearts that we open up, in the generosity that we show, and in the quiet moments that we are mindful of and cherish. When we open ourselves up to let these beautiful things out, we let love and gentleness in as well. It refills us, reinforces us, and reminds us that we are dealing with very human hearts in a very humanly-flawed world.

The world, as we look at it today, is hard, uncertain, and frightening; it batters and beats and berates and bruises those who most need its mercy. We take that in day after day after day and fight not to let it make us hard in turn. We fight back with love and mercy, grace and gentleness. Let’s hold tightly to Love and hold each other gently, Friends.

As Christ showed love to the lost, the rejected, the ill, and the forgotten, let us do the same in this Advent season and on forward forever. Let us not lose that gentle love that makes humanity humane.

Let’s remember the love of our Lord who gave all He had for all of us. May we accept that fierce and gentle love, press its flame to our hearts, and share its light with those around us. May the world, and our Lord, know us by our Love.

Advent 2020 ~ Surprised by Joy


Have you been surprised by good things this year? In those moments when we laugh and smile and, for a glorious little while, things feel…normal? The word normal feels like a dangerous one these days, as though we are afraid of it because it might not be graspable, at least not the way we remember it. But, even if normal feels fleeting, joy is still here. Advent is a season of hope, of expectation. What are we expecting, though? We are expecting joy. Whether it be in the transcendent meaning of the Christmas season, the beauty of our homes, neighborhoods, or houses of worship, or the elation of children on Christmas morning, we normally expect joy to come from somewhere. This year, perhaps we are hoping rather than expecting. Perhaps we are praying, pleading, yearning for joy. Romans 15:13 blesses us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

No matter where we are in our lives this year, joy is still here. It may not be where we expect it to be. Rather joy can be where we choose it to be, where we need it to be.

Joy can be in a child’s thoughtful prayers for others who are suffering or have less than they.

Joy can be in the belly-laugh of your partner, their face bright with a smile.

Joy can be in the wrapping of the perfect gift for a loved one, no matter how simple it may be.

No, Friends, joy may not be where we expect it this year, but it lingers where we need it.

Joy is still here.

Advent 2020 ~ Fashioning Peace Piecemeal


In the world in which we live, peace seems like a far-fetched dream. Peace in a world of sickness, fear, worry, and dread? Peace in a world of struggle, suffering, loneliness, and inequity? Yes, peace is hard to find. Yet it can be found. Jesus holds it in His hands, its tiny flame dancing and throwing just enough light to glow in our eyes. Here, His heart says to ours. Here is a bit of peace.

A bit of peace in a glorious sunrise filling the sky with painted fire and jeweled clouds.

A bit of peace in a quiet house after little ones are abed, the fireplace or the wind outside the only sounds for a few moments.

A bit of peace in an unexpected card or gift that brings a smile to our faces.

A bit of peace in that favorite comforting song coming on the radio.

A bit of peace in the right words said at the just the right time.

Here is peace built piecemeal, one bit at a time. We may not be able to see peace on a large scale, but we can find it in its bits and pieces all around. We can find the tiny dancing flames and press them warm to our heart and soul. If only we know how to look for the little bits, the hidden bits. We can cup our hands around Jesus’s hands and smile with Him over peace built piecemeal. Together all those little flames can cast light in the darkness, enough light to warm every heart.

Advent 2020 ~ The Flicker of Hope’s Flame


2020 has barreled its way through our lives like so much of a stampede, seeming to batter and crush anything in its way. Our days have often been swathed in worry, upheaval, pain, and grief. We have spent this year living in the space between breaths.

We acknowledge the losses, the pain, the change, the struggles, and the sadness of this year. We take 2020 to heart because it has affected every corner of our lives.

But there is something else that we take to heart, Friends. In all of the struggle, in all of the hard, we take Hope to heart. We grasp the Hope that we now celebrate today. We grasp the Hope of Jesus’ Coming. We grasp the Hope furnished by His birth, His life, His death, and His rising again. We take to heart the Hope that is grown and nourished by His Love, His Joy, and His Peace.

We can take that Hope to our heart and soul. There may not be much or anything that we can do on a large scale to stem the tide of struggle seemingly inherent within this year, but we can do our best to live in Hope. We can do our best to live in Peace. We can love, hold, do good unto, and care for others, for those who surround us. We can forgive. We can give grace instead of sinking into bitterness and despair.

We can hold on to Hope.

The Advent of Gentleness


As we enter the Advent season today, I have been pondering just how gentleness ties into Advent. The words normally associated with this reflective yet celebratory season are: hope, peace, love, and joy. Advent is known as a season of hope and expectation, where the long-awaited comes to pass. But where does gentleness begin? I’m not necessarily thinking of the rush of the season, though it does come to mind. All the shopping, prepping, wrapping, and decorating. I myself am full of these plans, and I know their possibility to make this season an ungentle one. But that is a whole other blog post.

Where does gentleness begin? Is it in the things we buy, package, and donate? The wishes we try to fulfill? Is it in the hours we give to rehearsals and practices? Is it in the presents tucked away with all the hopes for them bringing joy when opened? Is it in the moments when we let the To Do list fall by the wayside, when we just sit in the glow of the lights with the warmth of our dear ones in our arms? Is it in our voice lifted still with cries for mercy and justice? What about the moments spent alone in contemplation over the year as it makes ready to be consigned to oblivion?

Yes.

I believe that this is where gentleness starts. In any of it. In all of it. In the small moments, the little things, in the corners of our hearts that we open up, in the generosity that we show, and in the quiet moments that we are mindful of and cherish. When we open ourselves up to let these beautiful things out, we let beauty and gentleness in as well. It refills us, reinforces us, and reminds us that we are dealing with very human hearts in a very humanly-flawed world.

Yesterday, I watched my daughter run up to a charity worker in front of one of the entrances to our local mall. You know, one of the people ringing the bell. Now, I don’t agree with this particular charity’s stance on several things that are important to me, but I know that these people are trying their best and sacrificing comfort and warmth to do what they hope is good. Therefore, I will never begrudge them. The lady ringing the bell smiled and bent near my daughter, offering the bell to her to ring with one hand and then holding out the other to shake her free hand lovingly. I saw gentleness in that moment, in their bright “Merry Christmases”, and in their holding the doors for people coming out and going into the mall. It’s moments like these.

The world, as we look at it today, is hard and harsh and frightening; it batters and beats and berates and bruises those who most need its mercy. We take that in day after day after day and fight not to let it make us hard in turn. We fight back with love and mercy, grace and gentleness. As Winn Collier points out, gentleness is subversive; gentleness is preposterous.

God comes to us with a preposterous gentleness that will always be a scandal in this rough-and-tumble world. And God invites us to join the scandalous subterfuge. Advent, these watchful days, asks us to see [sic] the world anew, to watch the alternative possibilities. Advent invites us to become gentle people again (Collier).

As we enter the Advent season today, let us join that “scandalous subterfuge”. Let’s hold fast to gentleness, refuse to let it be torn or pushed from our hands or hearts, speak it, and spread it. Let’s check ourselves, give ourselves a 5-second timeout, before we speak or react ungently to our loved ones. Let’s be willing to let some things go in order to hold on to what is most important. Let’s be willing to bend down, offer our bell and our hand, and give a smile to someone.

Whether you celebrate (or even like) Christmas or not, let’s embrace that preposterous gentleness. That gentleness that will undercut the dark and hard and the harsh and remind us to send our spirits out into the world among our fellow men. We only get one shot at this life, dear ones. Let’s make it a good one, starting with today.

“The Gentleness of Advent” by Winn Collier – http://winncollier.com/gentle_advent/

gentle3