Sunday, December 18, 2016

Advent Sunday #4- Gifting

Image result for gift of christmas

I am getting so excited for Christmas. Though this isn't technically Story's first Christmas, it sort of feels like it is. Last Christmas, she was only six months old. There was a three day road trip and a terrible virus that made for a minimally merry baby girl on the 25th of December. But this year, Story is happy and healthy and into everything. Christmas should be a lot of fun.

 Yesterday, Andy and I finally headed out together to do some Christmas shopping for Story. It was pure joy for me to circle around the toy store, looking for just the right items for my little one. This week, I'll spend time wrapping them, even though I know she's just going to tear it all off.  A couple of gifts have come for her in the mail, so she's starting to get the hang of things. She looks at the package and gives one of her "Wows" and then carefully (with my help) disassembles the paper and tape.

This morning, I'm thinking about God, my Father, and the gifts that He has given to me. I have this image of Him going around Heaven's store-house of blessings, selecting gifts, big and small, that He knows are just right for me. I think His eyes must have welled up with tears when He gave me my black and white puppy in 2002. And I imagine that He was about to bust with excitement when I walked into an Irish pub in March 2009 and met the love of my life. It sort of reminds me of that last gift on Christmas morning- the one that Dad hides away in an unexpected spot. I see my Father laughing a big belly laugh over what happened at Paddy's on March 3.

I don't know if any of those images are real, but I don't know that they aren't. God identifies Himself as my Father. Jesus surely paints a picture of a passionate, engaged Dad in the story of the prodigal son. A Dad who breaks into a sprint when He sees His son on his way home. I think that's the kind of Dad who would also have a good laugh over a surprise gift or weep tears of joy over one that will restore and heal.

I do believe that God gives special blessings of material things and relationships along the way, but what I can always count on God to give me is the Holy Spirit. Christmas is a time for special gifts, but I need to give to Story every day. She needs love, approval, encouragement, and physical care each and every day. Me too. I need the same exact things, and then some.

When I drive to school in the morning, I ask God to give me the Holy Spirit. I ask for patience, wisdom, joy, love, order, truth and on and on. I ask because I'm empty. I ask because the place that I go into is filled with needy, broken humans... just like me. Every day that I ask, He gives. Just like Jesus said He would.

Father, You are indeed a giver of good gifts! Sometimes You pick out something or someone so perfect to be a part of my life. Thank you. I love the gifts that You have picked out and given to me. And thank You for what You give to me every day. The patience and strength and endurance to work with high school students and not completely crumble. You alone provide this for me, my God. Thank you. All glory to You, my generous Father. And thank you, thank you, thank you for the Gift of Jesus. Without Him, I wouldn't know the depths of Your love for me. Help me to receive Him as I ought. Amen. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent Sunday #3- A Mother's Song

And Mary said, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." Luke 1:38

This Sunday, I have been thinking about the Virgin Mary. I've been taught that Mary would have been a young teenager at the time the angel came to her to announce that she was going to have God's Son. Before this totally weird and other-worldly interaction took place, I imagine that Mary, like most young women, probably had plans for her own life that didn't involve becoming a social pariah. But, when the angel came and brought her this miraculous news, she accepted it right away.

I know that I wouldn't have responded as Mary did. I'm a lot older than Mary, and I still struggle almost daily with how other people see me. Scripture tells us that Mary had favor with God, which is why He chose her to be Jesus' mom. One of the aspects of her person that must have charmed God's heart was her willingness to completely buy into His plan. I think this is profoundly stated in Mary's song, recorded in Luke 1:47-55. Verse 48 declares, "from henceforth all generations will call me blessed." Mary was right about that. Future generations have considered her a saint  or, at the very least, a woman of God to be admired. But what about the generation that she was in? Being pregnant out of wedlock in her culture was a big deal. She could have been stoned to death. Fortunately God, through Joseph, stepped in and kept that from happening, but I'm sure her reputation was obliterated, along with the rest of her family's.

Yesterday, as Andy and I were driving in the car, I commented on how I have lived a lot of years with the expectation that my life will one day, magically, fall completely into order. My checkbook will be plump, but not my waistline. My home will be warm and inviting, but not chaotic. My laundry will all be folded at the same time. And I'll be appreciated and loved by the people around me. What I'm finding to be true is that life is hectic, expensive and exhausting. Some people really don't like me, and my laundry is rarely folded at the same time.

What I'm seeing from Mary this Sunday is that the plans that we have are nothing compared to what God wants to do with our lives. Mary's heart was willing to let God come into her life and completely wreck any plans she might have in order that she could be a part of the great thing that He was giving to the world. Not only did she have no trouble of letting go of her own plans, she was beyond thrilled to become an integral part of what God was doing in the world. God's invitation was inseparable from the cost. Her life got crazy, but she chose this wildness willingly. She wanted to be used by God more than she wanted anything else.

Dear God, I am so humbled by your servant, Mary. What a beautiful-hearted young mother you picked for your sweet Son. Lord, I confess that I am so concerned with my plans and how I am perceived by others that I often do not even hear You when you invite me into the bigger things that You are doing in the world. Lord, forgive me. Don't let me miss out on Your greatness because I'm preoccupied with my own little slice of goodness. Let it be to me, Dear Lord, according to Your Word. Amen. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent Sunday #2- Today the manger, tomorrow the throne

For unto us a child is born, 
to us a Son is given, 
and the government will be on His shoulders. 
Isaiah 9:6

I keep up with the news on my iPhone. This week I've scrolled through headlines about the new administration's plans for taxes, leadership, foreign policy. I try to take it in and think through it before saying anything. But one headline I read this week got me thinking about something that I'm just too excited not to write about. What will the headlines say when there is a final shift in government? What will the coverage be like when Jesus is finally the King? I imagine something like this...

Jesus Cuts Military Spending to Absolute Zero as Wars Cease

Holy Spirit Guides Soldiers and Healthcare Workers into New Career Fields 

Slums and Ghettos Restored to Green Space, Former Residents Help Design New Housing Nearby

Taxes No Longer Necessary as Generosity Abounds in the Nations 

When I think about the visitors who saw Jesus upon his arrival, I wonder if they could envision news like this, too? The Wise Men who traveled so far. Or the shepherds who had been commissioned by a choir of singing angels. Or Simeon, who was waiting to see the Messiah before he died. They all knew that there was much more going on than just the birth of a baby.

We picture them in a stable, surrounded by animals. Mary looks serene, her hands clasped together at her breast. Joseph steady beside her. Everyone peers into a manger and looks at a newborn. We gather there with them this time of year. Today, all of us meet at the manger. But one day, we will gather in a throne-room. I love baby Jesus in the manger. I sing about his birth and celebrate the sweetness of this Christmas miracle. But, like these others, I crave His majesty even more.

King Jesus!!! How I long for your rule and reign. How I long for you to come back to this Earth and restore all things! You will repay every injustice- from the great ones that cause millions to suffer, to the smallest that have broken my own heart. Of Your rule and reign there will be no end. In that day, You will guide us into the best life. You will give us peace and rest. You will teach us to truly love one another, and to care for all that You have created. I see You now in your manger, and, though I celebrate, I wait to see You on your throne. Help me to wait well. Amen.