Monday, December 23, 2013

The Little Shepherd Boy

It's been much too long since I wrote in one of my blogs - a full year since posting in this one! But tonight I had a story, and a picture, to share, so decided it's about time.

Recently I learned that my 4 year old grandson, Noah, will be a shepherd on Christmas Eve.  What are the typical reactions?  a smile? a nod?  Not me. I cried. It was amazing, even to me, the depth of emotion I felt at this news. Crying took me by surprise and I had to think about it a little bit to understand my reaction. Let me provide some background, and then explain.

In the first place, Advent has always been extremely special to me. Outwardly, from organizing the annual Hanging of the Greens celebration at church, writing Advent devotionals, and participation in Christmas Eve services, I've been a part of the action. There have been countless Nativity plays. I've directed plays some years, watched my children do various plays, and done my share of making shepherd and angel costumes.

This wasn't just a church activity either. Advent took over our home as well. Until recently, I decorated full-sized Christmas trees - one in each room - all with different themes. I collect nativity scenes (mangers, creche`, whichever term you prefer) and display them throughout the house. Week by week, just as the number of lighted candles in the Advent Wreath increased, so did my excitement.

But there's an inward part as well. Advent, even with all the activity, brings me peace and joy. I love the connection to those that heard the ancient prophecies in Isaiah and waited for Emmanuel. The anticipation increases each week until Christmas Eve. While I liked it before, once I became a mother, I could relate to Mary and how she felt holding her newborn. The songs of the season filled me in ways few other lyrics can do.  Christmas is not about Santa to me. He's just a "by the way" we threw in casually because the world does. Christmas is about the anticipation during the Advent season leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ to me. Even my many trees pointed to this.

Then there's the other part of the explanation - which is probably a factor in my reaction as well. Not long after we found out my daughter was expecting Noah, I learned my health was delicate and I wasn't guaranteed to make it to meet Noah, or at least, certainly wouldn't be with him long.  This, plus him being the only local grandchild for four years, made me very appreciative of the time we have together.

As it turns out, Noah likes Advent as well. Of course, all kids love Christmas, but the past few years, he helped me set up some of the Nativities. We acted out the story using the little figurines over and over. He has known about Baby Jesus as long as he could talk I guess. Chances are, I probably told him about it when I rocked him as a newborn. In addition to my nativities,  I've also been drawn to Advent Wreaths, probably because they serve as a clock of sorts, organizing the season into weeks, each with a special emphasis. A few weeks ago, he and I made a picture of an Advent Wreath out of construction paper, reviewing the meaning of each candle as we did it.  I enjoyed that time together. He's learning about Advent and the Nativity at his new preschool, too.

Then came the news that he'd be a shepherd.  Oh the joy! It is as if the cycle of life has turned full circle and a new generation takes the stage.  He'll be in the processional at the Christmas Eve Mass, one of the most holy times of the year. Being 4, it won't seem holy at all... he won't understand that generations before him did the same thing. He'll just think it's fun.

The past few years have been an unexpected gift. Living long enough to not only enjoy Noah, but his brother and cousins, has been a joy. Perhaps I was taking it for granted, because one of the first thoughts I had when I learned he'd be a shepherd was, "I never thought I'd see this."  I don't focus on the idea of not being around, and guess I didn't know that it was there below the surface. But it really touched me intensely.

 Watching the young children, their eyes full of wonder and joy at the often repeated story, is very special to me. To have Noah be a shepherd is a step in that direction. It is as if no matter what, I know that the next generation will be shepherds, and there will be Nativity Plays, and Advent Wreaths, and all is well.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


January 6, Epiphany...  It's interesting to me to notice the variety of ways this date "is" or "is not" significant.  To some, it's a minor notation on the calendar, to others, it's the event of the season. Then there are those that say, "Huh?" to the entire conversation. I guess I'm somewhere between the middle and extreme, if middle means I've heard of it!  :)

To understand, let me back up a bit.  First of all, there's Advent. That's the time counting back the four Sundays before Christmas.
(Personally, I love Advent.) This is the time we remember the waiting for the promised Messiah, the one foretold in prophecy.  It is the time of preparation for Christmas, the weeks of hope, peace, joy, and love. Then there's Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  MOST people, even those without faith, celebrate Christmas, even when they ignore the meaning.

"On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...."
  Just a song? 12 days of Christmas? What's THAT all about anyway? When you look at the calendar, you notice that there are 12 days between Christmas and January 6.... you guessed it, the 12 days of Christmas.  Some celebrate the 12th Night with celebration and parties.  This brings us to Epiphany.  Traditionally, this celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men, the Magi, when they visited Jesus. Most historians agree that this took a while, and that Jesus was a toddler by then.  In some countries, Epiphany is celebrated more than Christmas, and the children get gifts, just as the Wise Men brought gifts. They believe that the Wise Men bring them, not Santa Claus. It's often called "Three Kings Day."

Looking at the word, many use the word Epiphany to mean
a newfound awareness, or an "ah-ha!" moment, when something suddenly becomes clear. If you think about it, the arrival of the Wise Men, after their journey to find Jesus, was definitely an Epiphany. It suddenly became clear that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, the Savior they were waiting for!

They brought gifts, such as gold, that you'd bring an earthly King. They also brought frankincense, used for temple worship, a gift for the Son of God. And finally, they brought myrrh, which was used for healing and embalming, remembering His ministry and time on the cross. What an Epiphany this is! This
IS most certainly, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, our Savior.

While many hurried and got their Christmas things put away, some by New Years, and some the days that followed, mine remains up until Epiphany, until Christmas is finally really over.  Is it my love of the Kings? Not really,  In my case, it's a convenient excuse... a deadline extension  that allows me to celebrate Christmas just a little bit longer. But I love the holiday anyway. There are Wise Men on my Christmas tree. While they weren't present at the Nativity, they were soon on their way, and are an important part of the story.

Early Christians celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany before they celebrated Christmas. In another post, I'll share another connection Epiphany has.... you just might be surprised.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Candle is Burning

A Candle is Burning

sung to the tune of "Away in a Manger"

A candle is burning, a flame warm and bright,
A candle of HOPE in December's dark night
While angels sing blessings from heaven's starry sky,
Our hearts we prepare now for Jesus is nigh

A candle is burning, a candle of PEACE,
A candle to signal that conflict must cease
For Jesus is coming to show us the way
A message of peace humbly laid in the hay

A candle is burning, a candle of JOY,
A candle to welcome brave Mary's new boy
Our hearts fill with wonder and eyes light and glow
As joy brightens winter like sunshine on snow

A candle is burning, a candle of LOVE,
A candle to point us to heaven above
A baby for Christmas, a wonderful birth
ForJesus is bringing God's love to our earth.

We honor Messiah with Christ's candle flame
Our Christmas Eve candles glad tidings proclaim
O Come, all you faithful, rejoice in this night
As God comes among us, the Christian's true light.

 A Candle is Burning  Words are a song by Sandra Dean, a former Director of Music at Southminster United Church in Ottawa, Canada. It is used with her permission and blessing.  It was the inspiration for my Advent book by the same name.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Linus Understood the Light of Love

Sharing two entries from my Advent book, "A Candle is Burning."

The Light of Love

 Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, the week that represents Love. As we light the last purple candle, along with the other candles, the light reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world.  His birth brings light to the darkness of despair.
John 1:1-5
 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
In the beginning, was God, and He sent His Son to became flesh, in other words, man. Jesus showed us how to put God’s love into practice, even dying to do so. God wants a relationship with you, just as you are.
John 1:14
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
 As we begin the last week of Advent, the waiting is almost over. Soon, we’ll celebrate the birth that changed everything, when God’s love arrived as a newborn.
When the candle of Love is lighted, remember God’s love for you and share it with others.

Linus Understood

 One of the most familiar Christmas traditions is the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. It has been almost 50 years since it first aired in 1965. Charles Schultz insisted on using the voices of real children, which was a new idea. He also insisted on using average children, not professionals. The CBS executives had serious reservations about this. They were especially concerned about Linus quoting from the Bible on network television and almost refused!
50% of the television viewing audience watched it that night and it got wonderful reviews. They related to Charlie Brown’s question, “What is the real meaning of Christmas?” The children’s play, the overly-decorated doghouse, and search for the perfect tree represented the false emphasis of the holiday then, and still happens today.
 Luke 2:12-14
“And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
When Linus quoted the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke, he touched the hearts of viewers. It is my favorite scene from any movie. You may want to share it with someone today..

Away in a Manger

  Luke 2:4-7 tells us, "And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."  

Away in a Manger

It may be called a manger, the nativity scene, or a crèche.  During the Middle Ages, people set up living crèches in Italian villages.  Whatever name you use, you probably have one.
The word Nativity has to do with birth, but this was not just any birth, but a birth that changed the world then and now.  The manger used by Jesus was most likely a food trough in a cave, as that is where they kept their animals. (Sometimes animals were kept in a cave during this time, other times, a lower level of a house, like a lean-to.)
Traditionally, most people have one under the tree.  I have several, close to 20 actually, yet rarely put there under the tree because I like branches to the floor.  Mine are set up around the house.  The more delicate ones are put up in a safe place but others are on tables to be enjoyed.
Our children were familiar with the nativity story and enjoyed “acting it out” using the mangers kept out for them.  Each had particular ways of arranging the manger, according to individual interpretation.
When she was about five, Elizabeth declared, “Who put all these animals in here?  I moved them outside where they belong.  You can’t have dirty animals with Baby Jesus!”
Andrew moved all the animals to one side and added Matchbox cars to the manger like a garage.  It was possible to identify which child had touched it last by the position of the pieces!  Occasionally, Fisher-Price animals managed to join “the regulars” as well.
I do not remember which son did it, but one day I noticed that Baby Jesus was missing!  I asked about it and he took Jesus out of a pocket.  Apparently, Baby Jesus had wanted to see the large Nativity scene at church so he showed him.
Why did I allow the kids to play with the Nativity scene?  I wanted it to be real to them.  After all, it IS a real story.  Young children love the story of the baby in the manger.  Reenacting the story gave them joy.
A prayer for today 
 Dear Lord, I want to keep the story of the Nativity real in my heart, just as a child.  Help me keep the love and wonder alive.  Remind me to show MY life to Jesus and include Him.  Amen.

sharing a reading  from my Advent 
devotional called,  "As We Wait" 
a book that looks at the symbols
 and customs of the Advent season, 
written for the entire family.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joy and the Angels

Like many of you, the events in Newtown, CT just overwhelmed me. The idea of celebrating Christmas amidst such tragedy seems impossible. Yet, while I had so much to say.. at the same time, felt there was nothing I could say and the blog has been silent.  One thing I wrestled with is the complete lack of joy that will be possible there, while at the same time, being the third week of Advent, we remember the joy. 
There are tragedies surrounding the birth of Christ, yet we don't focus on them. For one, King Herod had all the male babies age 2 and under killed, just to try to remove the threat he felt from Jesus, who was born King of the Jews. What sorrow. But life does go on, and there is within me a search for normalcy. It will be a long time coming, if it ever arrives, in Newtown, but even they will be going through the motions for the children that survived.


And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.
                             Luke 2:13-14

On the Third Sunday of Advent,  we light the pink candle, the candle that represents JOY.  Joy is an overwhelming sense of happiness.  One very special example of showing joy is of the angels that proclaimed that Jesus was born.  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men” they said.
Angels are God’s messengers.  They are used throughout the entire Bible to inform people of things.  An angel spoke to Zacharias and Elizabeth when she was to have a child.  An angel also spoke to Mary and Joseph.  They informed them of the upcoming birth and reassured them that it would be all right.
Once Jesus arrived, the angels were sent to tell the shepherds that were in the fields.  What an amazing sight!  No wonder the shepherds were frightened by the bright light at first!  It was certainly not something that had ever happened to them before.
A few years ago, the children and youth did a play called, “The Angel Alert” that presented a light-hearted look at what might have occurred the night Jesus was born.  They were “on alert” so that they would be ready to announce the birth.  They had practice drills and choir practice in order to be ready.
It was a fun play that reminded us of the excitement looking towards that important birth.  More importantly, it reminds us of the need to be ready to do whatever God leads us to do.  Sometimes, maybe it will be something as significant as the angels telling of Christ’s birth.  More often, it may be something much more routine, but still a part of God’s bigger plan.

A prayer for today
 O Lord, I want to be mindful that angels are not the only ones capable of telling of the good news of Jesus’ birth.  Give me the wisdom and courage to approach others, sharing with them the joy that I have found in Jesus Christ.  My heart grieves for those that have lost loved ones,  and for those that have seen things they will never forget.
Remind me, O Lord, that I too, should be ready for you.  Ready to listen to your insight, ready to follow your will, and ready when you return once again.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Deck the Halls

You've heard the expression, "His eyes are bigger than his stomach," when it comes to someone taking more food than they can eat. Well, when it comes to Christmas decorating, I have more "want to" than "can do" it seems. It's a common problem for many people. Part of my frustration, also like many, is that the "can do" is a smaller amount than in years past. 

It seems that I need to sit back and take some of my own advice. This weekend, I came across something I wrote many years ago, back when I had kids at home and was working full-time, but it rang true for me today. It's from my book, "As We Wait," an Advent book that shares about the symbols and customs of Advent, while at the same time, reminding the reader of the real reason for the season.

Deck the Halls 

There are many decorating traditions.  One of my absolute “must-do” traditions is the official “Hanging of the Greens” at church, marking the beginning of the Advent season for me as long as I can remember.

My mother’s rule was that decorations could not go up until December.  The boxes of decorations lined the downstairs hallway after Thanksgiving, but they were just waiting.  She was just as picky that it be put away by New Year’s Eve in order to start the year “fresh.”
She must have worked nonstop on December 1st.  When we got home from school, the house would be totally transformed.  There would be wreaths on the front door, candles in the windows, the crèche was set up, stockings were hung, and Christmas music would be playing.  She even changed the curtains in the kitchen.  We had red curtains used only at Christmastime. 
Some families decorate their houses to look like magical fairylands.  Others have a calmer approach.  I liked putting up garland and red bows on our picket fence and a wreath on the door because most of my decorating was inside.  (It looked wonderful when it snowed!)

On Christmas Night, my mom would say, “Let’s go look at Christmas lights,” as if it were a new idea.  Since we did this every year, it was hardly a surprise.  My dad drove us around downtown Nashville to see the store windows with animated decorations.  I loved seeing the tall office buildings with messages spelled out with the darkened rooms.  Then we always drove around looking at decorated houses.  I tried doing this with my own children but it was harder to find as many decorated houses during the years people cut back on energy so we never developed that tradition.  More people do it now. 

The process of decorating is sometimes a part of the joy.  Others may dread that part but enjoy the result.  I have always enjoyed relaxing in a room lit only by the lights of the Christmas tree.  It is so pretty and peaceful.
In the centuries before Christ was born, it was common to decorate houses with evergreens, holly, and wreaths as a symbol of life.  To the ancient Romans, evergreens such as holly and fir trees represented peace and joy.  These were adopted by the early Christians to symbolize eternal life.  We still use these things today.

It does not matter what you do or do not do when it comes to decorating.  It may suit your lifestyle best to put a wreath on your door or lights on an existing ficus tree if anything.  Perhaps you know of someone that would like decorations but cannot put them up.  You would probably enjoy it as much as the other person would if you offered to help put them up.  (Return to put them away when the season ends.)

My parents had a real tree but only for a week.  My lifestyle is different.  I work full time, run all the errands, we traveled after Christmas, and we prefer to enjoy the decorations for a longer time.  For me, artificial trees are used and they may be up until Epiphany.  I wait until after December 1, but it may be days later.

The important thing is not to follow a tradition for the sake of following it.  Traditions offer a certain sense of order and stability, but if they are followed only because you always have and they have become a burden, it is time to consider alternatives and find your best fit.

A prayer for today

Lord, be in my heart this season in all that I see and do.  Help me remember that it is the spirit of the season that matters.  Thank you for Jesus who brings us such joy.