the Giver

I went to the funeral of my dear friend’s mother last week.  She was an incredible woman- beautiful, wise, kind, hospitable.  She will be deeply, deeply missed.  At the service, the pastor read a letter written by Rosy- and her words affected my profoundly.  She was such a wise woman.  I am so glad I was blessed to know her.

One thing she said has stuck with me.  It was so simple it seems obvious, and yet, it was profound.

If we acknowledge it as a gift, we must acknowledge the Giver.
– Rosamound Hodnett Jenkins

There is so much here.  I am only just beginning to unpack it.

A gift…
What IS a gift?  Christmas is a time of year when we are inundated by the word “gift.”  In a way, it has become a euphemism for the rampant consumerism our Western culture has chosen to embrace.  When we think gift, we think products.  Merchandise.  Something tactile, wrapped up and presented with a bow and a card.  And yet, isn’t the true value of the gift not the thing itself, but the thought and love put into its purchase?  My hope, with each gift I give, is a message of affection.  I choose my gifts carefully, wanting to validate who they are as a person with something they would like.  Not just stuff to clutter up their lives.  My hope is that the gift says not only “I love you”  but “I see you.”  Isn’t that what we want from God as well?

If we acknowledge it as a gift…
We have all been given gifts.  In fact, everything we have is a gift.  Our lives, our loved ones.  Our experiences, memories, possessions, the era of humanity we occupy today.  The breath of air you just took.  We are so richly, deeply blessed.  Beyond anything we can imagine, and impossibly beyond anything we deserve.  And yet, how often do we stop and marvel?

Funerals can be one of those times.  Have you ever noticed that funerals are often called A Celebration of Life?  Why do we wait until someone dies to celebrate life? Shouldn’t we make celebration a part of our practice as Christians?

As a mother of 2 little ones, I am blessed with 100 miracles a day.  The giggles of my baby girl.  The kisses my toddler gives.  Mispronounced words and the opportunity to hear the world interpreted through the eyes of a 3 year old.  Lingering meals neccessitated by the slow pace spoon feeding requires.  Tiny socks.  I want to resolve to begin celebrating my life more.  Living a life of thankfulness. Acknowledging the precious moments I am given each day as a gift, and in return, thanking the Giver.

If we acknowledge it as a gift, we must acknowledge the Giver.
The Bible makes it clear: we are all created as individuals, and each of us has talents, interests, and capabilities that make us unique.  There has never been anyone like you, and there never will be.  Yet, I have spent most of my life trying to blend in with the crowd.  Following trends and social mores instead of celebrating my uniqueness.

Too often, we hide our lights under a bushel.  We are afraid to sing, or to paint or to love math because we don’t want to seem proud.  We don’t want to brag.  We know there is someone out there in the world who is better than us, so why act like we are good at something in the first place?

And yet, our talents are not truly our talents.  They are gifts.  Abilities and passions given to us by God.  Given to YOU- on purpose.  So therefore using that gift, owning that gift, sharing that gift with others isn’t an act of self promotion or pride, instead, it is an act of worship.

So go.  Play baseball.  Build a table.  Write a song.  Bake cookies with your children.  And do it with joyful abandon, knowing that you are using the gift given to you by the Giver.  You were created that way on purpose.  God knows the things you love to do.  Doing them, and doing them joyfully, is an act of thanksgiving.  giftCenterPresentBow

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a Great Light

A thought exercise:  Imagine this time of year without Christmas.  And by Christmas,  I am not referring (for the moment) to the Nativity story, but to the whole shabang.  The lights, the music, the food, the presents, the songs.  What would December be like if Christmas were not a holiday?

My thoughts are summed up in one word: dark.  Winter solstice is tomorrow.  The sun will rise at 7:28 AM.  It will set at 5:10 PM.  A scant 10 hours of sunlight.   For weeks now the darkness has been invading.  The sun has set by the time I pick my kids up from daycare.  The only daylight hours I spend inside, sitting at my desk, illuminated in the blue glow of my work.  There is even a new moon tomorrow- nothing to light the night sky.

Except.

Except for the Christmas lights.  Hundreds of them.  Clinging to lamp posts, dripping from rooftops, wrapped around porches and bushes and stair rails.  Moravian stars hanging from doorways.  Candles illuminating windows.  In the great darkness of winter, light is invading.

We have a whole set of novelties built into Christmas lore to combat the doldrums of the darkness.  New music to listen to, the lyrics filled with messages of joy.  Presents chosen and given with abandon.  Parties.  Parades.  Movies, TV specials.  All ways that we mark this season as different, joyful, the most wonderful time of the year.

What if Jesus’ entry into the world was the same?

the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned
Matthew 4:16

Christ’s advent was the dawning of a great light.  It brought hope to an increasingly dark world.  His message was one of redemption, of forgiveness, of freedom from the restrictive system of sacrifice.  Before, we were bound to the Law.  In Him, we have been redeemed.  We are free to give of ourselves, give to others.

How is your world lately?  Is it growing darker, busier, more repressed?  Or have you been gazing at the Light?  Are you living in drudgery, or in wonder?  What do you need to do to be able stop and marvel at the Hope that was born on Christmas day?

christmas_downtown_ws-1

Advent

Truth: By this time last week, I was already sick of Christmas.  Those of you who know me may have a hard time believing that.  Christmas has always been my thing.  When my husband and I were dating, we had to have several (heated) conversations about when the appropriate date to start playing Christmas music would be.  (me- October 1st.  him- December 23rd)  However, working at a church makes Christmas your busiest time of year.  I have two MAJOR church events I am coordinating that happen between December 21st and 24th, involving most of that week and about 200 people.  Overwhelming.

And then there is the fact that I have two children.  All of a sudden, there is so much pressure to create Christmas memories.  Pictures with Santa.  Tours through the lights.  The perfect tree.  The decorated house.  The Pintastic holiday cards.  The music.  The cookies.  The candy.  The parties.  The Christmas PJs and Christmas dresses and angel breakfast and nativity plays and presents for daycare teachers and… And… AND…

It was December 8th.  My house was not decorated.  I had no tree.  No Christmas cards.  No energy.   I hadn’t been able to go to worship at my church for 2 weeks because I was too busy doing OTHER things for church.  I wanted it done.

Amy, my pastor/supervisor/friend, gave me great advice.  Advent is about celebrating the approach of Christmas, not its onslaught.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed that Christmas is only 3 weeks away, savor the fact that you still have 3 weeks to prepare for the coming of our Lord.

ad·vent
ˈadˌvent/
noun
 The arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.

Advent is the discipline of anticipation.  It is about arrival, not about adherence.  It is the practice of preparing our hearts and minds to meet the Lord.  It is not about decorations, trees, or creating new memories.  It is instead, about savoring the shared memory that we as Christians hold together.  Christ has come.  As a baby, as a Savior, as our Sacrificial Lamb.  This season is about privilege, not obligation.  And for me, it may not be about the date on the calendar.  I can celebrate the miracle of the birth of Christ just as honestly the week after Christmas as the week before.  And perhaps that needs to be part of my personal spiritual walk, at least in this stage of life.

But that doesn’t resolve what to do with the STUFF that comes along with Christmastime… And here is where I have landed.  I am going to try and mine the original intent from these practices.  I want to see these things as part of the celebration of advent.  The lights can remind us of Christ, the LIGHT of the world.  The parties, a way to celebrate this miracle with those who we hold dear.   The cards, a way to send our thoughts and love to our people far away.  The gifts, a chance to remember the Gift we have been given.  And if something robs me of my joy (*cough* ELF ON THE SHELF), it gets eliminated.

And now, from a better place of mind and heart, I can say,

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Let your heart be light… 

nativity

And then there is this… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgOIYvDgSLg