The Second Sunday of Advent: Preparation

They wrote, The King is coming, a thousand years before,
He’ll bear the weight of government, royalty, and more;

He said, Your Offspring will crush head, of serpent and of sin,
And though times will be a-trying, the Offspring, He will win.

They heard the Ruler would be born in Bethlehem the small,
Arriving in a tiny town, He’d still be known by all;

Appearing to her one fine day, the angel spoke a word,
He said, Your baby will be holy, note, from God you’ve heard.

But the people were not ready, in Bethlehem that night,
For though they’d grown up hearing tales, they weren’t looking for the Light.

Packing streets, filling inns, eating all the food;
A stable full was all there was to set the birthing mood.

And when the Baby came along, just sheep beheld his face,
Asleep had gone the city, this Bethlehem-town place;

But full of glee, delight, and mirth at all that He had done,
God emptied heaven’s cities full, to herald newborn Son.

He sent the angels, one and all, to shepherds in the sand—
All preparing’s ended now, the King is in this land.

And just like that He came on in, after years of word and warning,
To signal night’s ending now, Him the beginning of the morning.


A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The First Sunday of Advent: Hope

Advent: a season of prayer, fasting, and hope to prepare for the coming of Christ Jesus (from the Latin adventus, meaning “arrival, appearance”)


Birds cry, sunshine shouts, the wind whistles exuberance;
but I, dredged down from sin,
shame, scorn, guilt,
cannot raise my weary head.

Morning brings joy, again and again, but I have no room;
instead it’s a daily reminder of my pain,
insufficiency, heartbreak, failures,
1,000 reasons over not to try again.

And when I thought that all was lost, and the tunnel had no end;
suddenly, with most inconvenient clangor—
light in the darkness, shouts in the hills, cries of a mother—
Something more appears.

Something foreign:
constant, holy, kind.
And it seems He just might be
the answer to all our pain.

It seems He just might bring
hope.


But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. . . . And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be their peace.

Sunday Thank-Yous—Pt. 5, conclusion

Sunday naps
Brisk (cold and fast) walks
New baby snuggles
Breakfast for dinner
Chocolate milkshakes
Love
Christmas jazz
Cheeseburgers
Snow in the forecast

Conclude this week of thankfulness with a list of things you’re thankful for—maybe make it a habit for every Sunday. Gratitude isn’t the answer to all life’s problems, but it’s a good reminder that we’re not in control and that God is good.

The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works.

Late Thank-Yous—Pt. 4

Sometimes the doctor calls with the awful news, your car breaks down on the side of the road for the fifth time in a month, or life just doesn’t go as planned. When that happens, gratitude is never your (my) first response.

One of life’s common complexities is the expectation that you show gratitude when you don’t feel it because life feels unfair.

If appreciation has a scale and thankfulness—showing and expressing gratitude—is on one end, the other end is being unthankful (through apathy and silence). So when you hang up from the call with bad news from a loved one or the mechanic, what do you do?

There’s no formula for expressing gratitude when you’re too numb to respond, so I don’t have an answer here. The best idea I can give: tell your unedited feelings to the One who sees—and years down the road, if time has healed enough to show you any positive outcome from the situation, say thank you then.

Late thank-yous are better than none.

Lists and Thank You—Pt. 3

Thanksgiving is about gratitude (you’re welcome—call me Captain Obvious).

Many people go around the table before dinner, saying what they’re thankful for. Others write thank-you notes to the people who’ve given them things. Some serve Thanksgiving dinner to those in need. All over the country, thankfulness is exuding from families who’ve gathered together to eat and relax.

Gratitude is a reminder to be humble, because we don’t deserve what we’ve been given. But gratitude isn’t just about humility and thankfulness, it’s about Who we’re thanking. Every immaterial and material thing we have is a gift from God.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Happy Post-Thanksgiving.

I’m thankful to God for . . .

Curtis (he’s very wonderful)
Heaven
My job
Both of my families
Nieces and nephews—the brand new ones, and the older ones
Pie and whole milk
Snow
Push-ups
Religious freedom
Food

And lots and lots and lots of other things.

Please and Thank You—Pt. 1

When I was little, please and thank you were drilled into my mindset and vocabulary.

If you remember being a small child, or you have a small child, or you know a small child (covering all my bases here), chances are high that you’re familiar with this principle. Teaching children to say please and thank you makes them tolerable members of society, and more. ‘Please’ trains them to understand that they’re not entitled to things—’thank you’ reminds them of the same while affirming the sacrifice of the giver. Although most two-year-olds probably won’t grasp this complexity, it’s amazing what mindsets people absorb without understanding them.

As a child grows, the things they ask for often grow with them: please may I have . . . two cookies? Cool trendy jeans? Twenty bucks? The car keys? My college tuition? Your daughter’s hand in marriage?

And though we aren’t (at least I wasn’t) explicitly taught that the amount of gratitude should vary with the size of the gift—

thanks for the scarf mom

vs.

HI MOM, THANK YOU FOR BUYING ME A CAR!!!!!!

—it’s easy to get carried away when we get something we really want (cool new gadget) vs. something someone else wants us to have (nice new socks*).

Entering this Thanksgiving with a mindset of ‘please and thank you’ isn’t just spouting vague gratitude for the big things after a turkey dinner (though I do condone this exercise)—it’s using the specific words in everyday interactions with people who might not be please-ed or thanked by anyone else.

Your thankfulness gives you the right mindset this November, but it can also make someone else’s day (work, job, life) better.

* Never understood why socks get such a bad rap, though. I like them a lot.

The Marvel of Christmas

The marvel of Christmas is that God sent His Son to the earth to be human—to breathe like we do, eat like we do, and cry like we do. God dropped His infant Son into a city too full, a temple too suspicious, and a race (the human one) doomed to sin no matter what. He gave heaven's royalty to be earth's sacrificial lamb, so weary, broken sinners could receive eternal life. That's the marvel of Christmas (although there's really so much more).

The marvel of the rest of the year is that it's always true, not just for the month of December. I personally think we should celebrate the meaning of Christmas all year long.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

The Feelings of Christmas

There are two kinds of feelings: the feelings that you feel, and the feelings that you touch. Even though almost one hundred percent of our days are spent experiencing feelings of touch, we focus much more on the feelings that we're feeling (happy, sad, disgruntled, content).

The first Christmas was full of emotional feelings, which we've all thought about before—a virgin feeling wonder at bearing a child, a righteous man feeling responsibility that he would be raising the Son of God, local shepherds feeling terrified at the whole heavenly host showing up at their campground—but we seldom think of the touch feelings when Jesus entered human skin.

The historical assumption is that Jesus was born some time in September, so the Bethlehem climate was warm and dry. Sleeping in the stable with the animals would be no big deal (besides the other obvious hesitations).

Mary didn't give birth on a hospital bed, and maybe there wasn't even a bench or couch. She could have been just sitting on a pile of straw or hay, or even just the dirt. Straw always pokes something—readjust one poke, and you're just getting poked somewhere else. And soon you start to itch.

Mary delivered her baby and wrapped him in a scrap of cloth (whatever they hand on hand) and placed him in a manger. It was likely rough hewn wood, liable to scape his baby cheeks and snag the already rough material.

God, a baby. Mary and Joseph's wonder, befuddlement, and downright astonishment probably left a stronger impression than the itching straw, the warm air, and the wooden crate where they laid the Son of God. But I'm sure they remembered it.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger.

The Smells of Christmas

Christmas is hard to fully capture, for a lot of reasons: we weren't there the first time around, it's rich with significance that's been commercialized by hallmark and tree farms, and there's too much wonder to quickly describe. It's hard to slow it down and capture one thing at a time, but today I'm only thinking about one tiny part of Christmas.

What it smells like.

Inside, there's snappy pine musk, rich spices, cookies in every flavor and scent, the holiday honey glazed ham, cinnamon rolls, maple sausage . . . Christmas inside basically smells like food.

Outside, sniffing quickly can make you gasp. There's still the smell of pine, and a faint scent of fresh snow, sugared nuts, holiday drinks from the closest cafe, and the occasional smoky drift of a winter bonfire.

All the smells we associate with Christmas are pleasant—mostly spices, food, and warmth—but the very first Christmas probably didn't smell like sweet spice and holiday ham. Mary and Joseph were sleeping in a stable because all the inns were full. They were with the animals. The animals. And the stable boys were probably distracted by the hubbub and neglecting their cleaning duties, so it smelled like, well, manure.

And after Mary delivered a baby, she probably didn't take a sponge bath. Apparently having a baby is pretty messy, and a lot of work. So, it smelled like sweat, and all the rest that comes with one tiny human coming out of another full grown human.

In a city full of people walking around all day, there were all kinds of crazy particles kicked up in the air. It smelled like dust.

There was also smoke, likely the remnants of whatever all the neighboring inns had for dinner, hay and straw, and animal breath.

Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger. Nativity scenes are neat and clean, Mary isn't sweating, and there's no manure. In real life it wasn't a sanitary or romantic place to sleep, much less deliver a baby. It doesn't seem fitting for the King of kings—but then, this King isn't like anything we were expecting.

For unto us a child is born, and unto us a son is given . . . And by His stripes, we are healed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I am thankful to God for . . . 

Curtis (he's very wonderful)
My family
My job
Donuts
Peace
Freedom from fear
Books

And myriad other things—but the list would be too long if I kept going.