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
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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: 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.

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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 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 ~ 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.

Decking New Halls


I am finishing my coffee before my TO DO list for the day begins and I start prepping for my first holiday season in our new home. I have the food to cook for my little family tomorrow as we tamp down our Thanksgiving celebrations. But now comes the tidying, the cleaning, the preparing, and, after tomorrow, the decorating. I still do not have all the Christmas decorations that I could desire but I know that such stockpiles take time, as I am rebuilding them from scratch since the move.

It feels odd to be preparing to dress up a new house for the first time in twelve years. In our old little cottage–which, by the way, we signed the final sale paperwork for last night (big feels!)–I knew where all my decorations went. I knew how I liked things set up and where things had to go in my living room configuration. Nothing was huge or elaborate, but they were there, a constant reminder of stability. Our tree with its silver, blue, and white ornaments, spattered with sentimental ones, glowed in the living room, crowed with its silver star that Ben and Elizabeth put on together every year. It must be the absolute last thing on the tree. I had the same wreath with its silver and white ribbons and flowers for fourteen years. It had had multiple birds’ nests built into it in early springs and then cleaned out once the babies and parents had vacated. The little potted pre-lit tree (that had been our family Christmas tree while we had a cat and small baby) sat faithfully on the front porch, decorated with flowers, leaves, Easter eggs, etc., throughout the differing seasons by myself and my daughter. The silver stockings hung on their snowflake hangers from the dvd shelf, under the compilation frame of family photos and frame by fir branches with silver poinsettas. The nativity scene that my Erin brought back for me from Malawi was set up on the bookshelf, the camel I found at Levi Coffin Days (an almost-perfect match) tucked in amongst the wise men to complete the set.

This year, I will need to figure out just how things will fit in this new house with its new rooms and spaces. I know where the tree is going, and we have a “glowy star” this year, per my daughter’s request and choosing. I haven’t bought any stockings or hangers for the mantlepiece yet (I have a real actual mantlepiece, you guys!), though truly the only one whose stocking gets stuffed any more is my daughter. She has her new one for her door already picked out. Harry Potter, of course.

So this will be a year of starting new in more ways than one. I am trying not to think about not having “enough” to decorate my house this year. What I really want is for my home to be warm, welcoming, and soothing because this will be a holiday season that is already missing some very important people. So I want my home to be a place of uplifting, hygge, and comfort for those hard moments. I want that Christmas-y feeling. Not to avoid the hard moments necessarily but to help them perhaps be not quite so heavy.

I’m trying, dear ones, I really am. But Target is calling my name…

The Work of Christmas


As Christmas Eve waited on deck this week, I found myself apologizing to my husband. Apologizing that our Christmas hadn’t been more special, more meaningful, more full of sweet, reflective moments. He just cradled my face, kissed me, reassured me that it had been just fine, and, more importantly, my pastor/husband reminded me that Christmas had not even begun yet. And you know what? He was right. Christmas hadn’t begun yet and neither had its work. The work of Christmas starts with Christmas Day. It is literally the first day of Christmas and its work continues on from there.

What does that mean, though: the work of Christmas? Jesus came to live, see the unseen, love the unloved, give His life for all, and offer a place to everyone. His work was love, and that work began with His birth. So how do we do the work of Christmas? We love. How do we love? We love by encouraging. We love by defending. We love by not giving up. We love by not giving in. We love by respecting. We love by swallowing our opinions and listening to the drop and opening of others’ hearts.

We do the work of Christmas by loving, by forgiving, by standing in the gap, by hearing, by listening, by speaking up when necessary. Christmas began yesterday, the old year is on its way towards the door, and we have an entire new one coming in which to do Christmas’s work. Will you join me in carrying Christmas throughout the whole of the year? No matter what you celebrate, what you call it, will you help me do the work of love this year? Will you help me set the world on fire with it in 2019? I could use your help, dear friend. Thank you.

A Winter’s See You Soon


Author’s Note: Back in April, I visited Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. As my companion and I were heading down the walkway to catch the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley from Hogsmeade, I had the distinct feeling and vision of two students, arm in arm, making their way from Hogwarts Castle to Hogsmeade to catch the train home for the holidays. I even wrote it up but I do not think I ever posted it. Perhaps I am wrong but, either way, this is a good thing. I had originally envisioned and written this as a summer holiday leave-taking, BUT in honor of the Christmas holidays of which we are in the midst, I changed it slightly. I hope you enjoy, dear Readers. 

Also, standard disclaimers: All things Harry Potter, Hogwarts, etc., belong to Ms. J.K. Rowling. They are her creative babies and I thank her for lending us all the use of them to enjoy. The image belongs to Pottermore.com

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Arm in arm, they walked down the path to Hogsmeade, much slower than the gaggles of fellow students streaming out of Hogwarts and into the gently-swirling snow. The Christmas excitement was palpable, but, for those two students, it was bittersweet.

“So I can still come down to London for New Year’s Eve?” she asked hopefully.

“Definitely, and don’t forget: I’m taking you to see Celestina on Twelfth Night, right before we come back,” he reminded her tenderly.

She beamed at that. “I still canna believe you wrangled tickets to it! It’ll be the best!” she gushed, at which her Slytherin companion tapped the cold-pinked tip of her nose, causing her cheeks to flush an even deeper shade of the rosy color.

The gold of her cozy scarf lent a softer glow to the emerald and silver sheen of his, and he found himself drawing her closer. She responded in kind, her grip a bit tighter on him.

“We will have the whole train ride, don’t worry,” he reassured her, to which she smiled, completely ignoring the looks some of Slytherin girls gave as they passed them.

“I hate leaving,” she then murmured softly, “Even if only for a little bit.”

“Me, too,” he agreed, gazing at her with those piercing blue eyes, once again marveling at the warmth of the Hufflepuff’s brown ones.

The peaked, snow-capped roofs of Hogsmeade appeared in the closing distance and they could see the hot steam of the Hogwarts Express frothing up in the cold December air, waiting to take the students back to Kings Cross and their families. Professor—excuse me, Headmistress—McGonagall had waved those heading home off from the gates of the castle, warmly wishing them a Happy Christmas and good winter holiday. Now these two drew closer and closer to goodbye, for now, at least.

She drew physically closer to him, her arm around his waist and his over her shoulders, a kiss dropped sweetly on her temple beneath her grey knit hat. Friends rushed by the sedately-strolling pair, calling out teasings and happy Christmases and see-you-soons, to which they replied with smiles and waves. They would be there in plenty of time, and she knew a friend would save a compartment for them; sixth years had a code, after all.

The train ride from Hogsmeade to Kings Cross felt all too short, filled with soft moments, laughter and reminisces and plans made with friends for the new year, last hours of togetherness shared. When they reached snowy Kings Cross and all were about to part ways—him staying in London and her for the platform back up north—he reached out and drew her to him before leaving their compartment. This kiss was deep but gentle, almost chaste and yet still blistering.

“To tide us over,” he murmured, squeezing his lovely Hufflegirl close.

“Just a week,” she agreed, sniffling back tears and clinging to the back of the hoodie he’d changed into.

Donning their coats, they left the train hand in hand. Their families waited in opposite directions and so fingertips lingered and parted, and he watched the lovely coral of her flutter beneath the warm, plummy coat as she moved to greet her parents, a look over her shoulder given just for him.

All around were shouts and greetings and well-mets and holiday greetings; one couldn’t help but smile, for whatever reason. Christmas was here.

Pottermore-poa8

Letting Go of “Lots” for Christmas


Throughout life, but especially right now in the Holiday Season, I am finding more and more each year, that I am having to let go. Not of people necessarily (though that does happen) but definitely let go. I am having to let go of plans and expectations, of details and striving.

I really wanted this year to be different, simpler. Doesn’t that sound odd, though? Striving for simplicity? I tried to lower the number of gifts bought (losing battle, usually, but maybe I’ll try something different next year). I have tried to embrace the quiet moments (difficult with a rambunctious five-year-old and the never-ending work of teaching). I tried to get everything done early (yeah…was still ordering gifts as recently as Saturday morning). I feel like I’m constantly striving for a goal but missing it somehow and then having to let go of what I thought were pretty good plans. Even worse, I’m having to let go of expectations that I somehow managed to place upon myself without even realizing the weight that was settling on my shoulders. You, too? Well, welcome to the club. More and more I am feeling like Cindy Lu Who, wondering what happened to my joy in Christmas, while, all the while, I’m rushing around like mad, the same as every other Who in Whoville. After all, there are still Christmas programs to attend and participate in, pitch-ins to cook for, papers to grade, and presents to wrap.

Every year, I say the same thing and I feel like I fail at that one thing: a simpler, more meaningful Christmas. I feel as though I lose myself in the attempt to make sure that it’s special for my dear ones–which is, of course, important–and I forget to enjoy it myself. Then I blink and…Christmas is gone.  The season is over and the softness of the lights becomes glaring, a reminder that it’s slipped through my fingers again.

Is this you, too, by any chance? Well, then. Trust me, dear one, you are in excellent company. The rush of the world is hard to resist and sometimes we just end up striving anyway and feeling like we never get much of anywhere. But there is good news! Christmas hasn’t passed us by yet. Like Scrooge, we still have a chance. We still have a chance for a glass of wine/hot chocolate/egg nog/cider before the silent glow of the Christmas tree. We have a chance to find those little moments of peace and quiet. We still have a chance to let go of some “lots” for a bit more of “best”.

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Taking the “Should” Out of Christmas.


The Christmas Season is in full swing and I’m already feeling the stress. My daughter is now old enough and aware enough to realize that she wants things, wants specific things, and so, this year, we have been presented with a Christmas list. Two things on that very specific list, however, have proven difficult to obtain: a doll that looks like her Daddy (they just don’t make male dolls with facial hair; tsk tsk, representation, people!) and a talking Pikachu. The latter is this year’s hottest toy, which she saw on a commercial for ten seconds while at Pizza Hut for lunch (curse my love for their salad bar) and is now obsessed with. That day, she spent the rest of the afternoon telling anyone who would listen that her grandpa is going to turn into Santa Clause (honestly, Grandpa is the foremost of the two figures; Santa looks like Grandpa and NOT the other way around) and bring her a Pikachu “that talks out of his tummy”. I have looked and shopped and searched and that Pikachu can be found nowhere for a decent price, “decent” being less than forty dollars at this point. It’s out of stock in all the local toy stores (and Toys R Us apparently won’t ship it from a warehouse, only fulfill the order from a stocked store) and the third-party sellers on Amazon have to be making a mint off these things, the way they have priced them up. Profiteering, I tell you! So, yeah, no pressure there. I am also already freaking out because I still have people on my list for whom I have bought zero gifts as of yet. My Christmas cards haven’t been sent out because I haven’t picked up the prints of our family portraits yet. Yes, I know it’s only the 6th but, in my mind, I’m already way, way behind. I should have gotten most of this done already.

It’s admittedly very, very, VERY hard to stay mindful and focused on the season, never mind relaxed, when you are bombarded on all sides by the STUFF of Christmas.  The doing, the decorating (don’t have those up yet either), the cooking, the socializing, the performing…it’s so much, isn’t it? There have been too many Christmases that I have regretted getting caught up in the stuff and missing the beauty of Christmas, the quiet moments, the mindfulness and remembrances because of all the stuff that I think I should be concentrating on. Wait, there’s that word again. Should. There are so many “shoulds” in Christmas, aren’t there? Should there be so many “shoulds?” I should cook. I should get those cards done. I should have gotten all my gifts already. I should help with all the events. I should get the decorations up before people come over. I should, I should, I should, I should!

“Should” wears me out. “Should” makes me want Christmas to be over already. I want to get rid of “should”. I want “I will” this Christmas. That is what I want.

Yes, I will read you a story.

Yes, I will watch a movie with you.

Yes, I will have another cup of coffee.

Yes, I will listen to you.

Yes, I will take a walk.

Yes, I will sing a song.

Yes, I will sit alone in the quiet for a bit.

Yes, I will pray with you.

Yes, I will laugh.

Yes, I will help you.

Yes, I will let good be good enough.

I want this to be an “I will” Christmas. I will slow down. I will do my best and not push for perfection. I will be happy with smaller decorations, fewer gifts, and quieter moments.

I could blame the rush on being back to work full-time this year and not having as many free hours in the day for all the “stuff”. No, I won’t do that. Instead, I can just say, “I will do what I can”. I will  do what I can to make this a lovely holiday for my family and for myself. I will give myself permission for quiet moments, for time alone, to do things that I enjoy as well as what I think others might enjoy as well.

Let this be a Christmas of “I will”. Let’s give ourselves a break, take a breath of cool, clean air, and gift ourselves with an “I will”.