Christmas Lights and Christ’s Love

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcbeth/74350583/in/photostream/

flickr photo by McBeth

I really love the Christmas season. I mean, really love it. My wonderful husband willingly put up the Christmas lights on our house the day after Thanksgiving. He was lying on the couch, relaxing, and he got up to put up our lights.

As a Christian, I attempt to hold in one hand Advent and the hope and expectation that the light of the world has come and will come into our hearts and lives, and in the other hand Dean Martin, Santa Claus, and my Christmas decorations.

The Christmas “season” is the most wonderful time of the year, after all!

But even as I fully embrace the cultural (not commercial) celebration of the season, I realize it is merely a shadow of the real joy of Christmas Day.

I was reading my favorite parenting newsletter, “A-ha! Parenting,” and this part of a note from a parent caught my eye:

…for my kids I try to be relaxed and fun. We make ornaments for friends and family in December and give them out as we see people — [this] gets us into the giving without thought of receiving. We take time to see the lights around town, to decorate and appreciate our tree. We talk about the other festivals of lights and remember that feasting and gifts are to make the darkest, coldest time of year merry. We celebrate the return of the sun. We relax and play and laugh and appreciate each other.

This is a really lovely sentiment, one I try to hold as well. It never gets old to hear my daughter “ohhhh!” at the same Christmas lights that we pass every afternoon. Her joy in this season becomes mine.

This sentiment, while meaningful and important for people, is missing out.

I don’t have a problem with our culture creating celebrations for random reasons. Santa comes to our house, after all! And for most people, Christmas is exactly about fun and love and just a time to celebrate. The “meaning of the season” is giving and caring and being with your friends and loved ones. During this season, even those who don’t celebrate for religious reasons fill the world with the love of God. I think that is a wonderful thing.

At the same time, these ideas point to the glory of Christ’s birth, but stops short of fully revealing the glory of the celebration.

In the northern hemisphere, it is truly a wonder that we celebrate the birth of Christ, the light of the world, during the darkest and coldest season of the year. For Christians, it’s a visceral, physical reminder of the stark difference between a world with Christ and a world without.

This is exactly where the cultural Christmas misses out. The world is dark. The fact that our souls feel nourished from the feasts and giving is because God has created us to be a community and in relationship with each other. These things can be healing. But they can’t change the fact that there are people in our own communities and around the world inflicting pain on our fellow human beings even as we laugh and sing. We can turn our eyes away from that darkness and try to wish it away. The lights and the parties don’t scare away that kind of dark.

For when the party’s over, after the last gift has been opened, we again find ourselves face-to-face with the darkness, both in ourselves and in the world around us.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows— light! sunbursts of light! You repopulated the nation, you expanded its joy. Oh, they’re so glad in your presence! Festival joy! The joy of a great celebration, sharing rich gifts and warm greetings. The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants— all their whips and cudgels and curses— Is gone, done away with, a deliverance as surprising and sudden as Gideon’s old victory over Midian. (Isaiah 9:2-4, The Message)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kismihok/8311002196/in/photolist-dEq4pj-5Cx9va-9zxGhd-7z28L-7z2au-7z26Z-q66zew-7myU37-5A9VY1-dAgaoi-a8Zxo5-5B82xY-4onsar-dtdT9r-4dP9uA-8n4L5G-4JW1CS-6En74J-49L3j9-6WV3EE-aojknJ-6WR3bH-5Sqman-9AcPRX-9228dF-5wanbb-aYTHmp-bb7N96-dwD5jJ-dvuWgM-948i5D-5fHT2H-ehHFdg-6izwSY-7d1JCZ-9hpom1-479nGM-7neZ6R-5JGqLr-8n4Lby-p4bjJ3-4gNnNo-7XzGpE-8QTb96-4s2fmQ-9syCBz-5dD5Yn-5CbcTW-6aGzY-5D1zYV

flickr photo by McBeth

As Christians, we have hope. The light of Christ has overcome and is overcoming and will overcome that darkness. We don’t have to fear even in the most complete darkness. Yet for those who build their hope upon the festivities of the season, the darkness returns once the lights are put away.

What if as Christians we offered the love and compassion of God instead of perpetuating the idea of a war on Christmas? People are hurting and broken – they don’t need war, they need love. Instead of a war, let’s acknowledge the darkness and offer the gift of love, the light of the world. Let’s help people more deeply understand the glory of the season they celebrate. Let’s help people see that their hope doesn’t have to live in a box that gets pulled out but once a year.

What kind of a revolution could we start?

Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. (John 1:3-5, The Message)

While the world feels dark and cold during the Christmas season, we can share the hope of the “Life-Light,” the light of Christ, blazing into the darkness, which even the darkest of dark cannot put out.

Santa Claus isn’t big enough to dim that light.

The Hope of Advent

It was the season of Advent. On December 14, 2012, a murderer walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and gunned down 26 people. Like so many people across the country, I mourned. As a mother to a toddler, there was a new element of pain, as I had some comprehension of the pain the parents would feel. My prayer, over and over, was “Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Last Wednesday, during Advent, two terrorists walked into a holiday party in San Bernadino and gunned down as many people as they could. Come, Lord Jesus, come! 

Today, there are people who will die of starvation. There are Syrians who will flee their homes out of fear of death. There are women who will be raped. There are people who will decide not to receive needed medical treatment because they don’t have the money.

Come, Lord Jesus, come! 

Advent is the time I’m made aware every day that the world is horribly broken, yet God will be returning to the earth to dwell with us and make all things new (Revelation 21:5). 

Before the Newtown massacre, I never observed Advent. Yet a blog post I had recently read, titled What is Advent? Why & How Should You Observe it?,  made me realize the wonder of Advent:

As part of all creation groaning and waiting for the restoration of all things upon Christ’s return, I know I’ve felt this expectant longing in my heart all my life. I’ve heard countless sermons about Christ’s prophecy-fulfilling first coming and his prophesied second coming, but I didn’t know this “expectancy” had its own season and name: Advent.  This season of Advent is a re-enactment of Israel’s wait for the birth of their Messiah, and a symbol of our longing for Christ’s return.

We observe Advent to remember that there was a time when Christ had not yet “come,” when humanity was waiting for God’s arrival. We anticipate with Israel what it must have been like to live in a world without Christ, waiting for the coming of God to earth, veiled in flesh, to set up God’s Kingdom.

Yet we are also awaiting God’s arrival, when God will set up God’s physical Kingdom on this earth for all eternity. 

What will that look like?

There will be no more crying or tears or pain. Our broken bodies will be made new. Creation will be restored.

The best part? God’s city will come down to earth and God will dwell among us. God planned on dwelling with us to begin with, but that plan had to be abandoned for the time being. God’s plan is to dwell with us again, and when Christ returns, the plan will finally be fulfilled.

Advent is a reminder to us that God has promised to bring heaven to earth and fix everything, turn it all back the way it was supposed to be to begin with. Justice and righteousness will reign, and we will dwell with God forever.

Newtown will be made right. San Bernadino will be made right. All the injustice that occurs this very day, injustice that I perpetuate and injustice that others perpetuate, will be made right.

Advent is a concentrated reminder that Christ will come again, a time when we are reminded everyday to pray, Come, Lord Jesus, come! When Jesus does come, every injustice that has ever occurred will be made right.

Yet this reminder isn’t just for the twenty-some days of Advent. This reminder is needed every day of the year. As we seek to be conduits for God’s Kingdom in our daily lives, we bring this prayer and its hope to a broken, fearful, and hurting world.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Waiting for the Coming King

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flickr photo by S.H.P.

I’ve come upon a wide array of interesting advent resources this year. Some are primarily prayer guides, others focus on art or historical traditions to bring into your family, and some are just plain fun. All offer the opportunity to us to deepen our understanding of what it means to wait for our coming King!

Online Resources

The Advent Project, Biola University Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts: this is a really neat, online multimedia advent resource. Music, art, poetry are all used as focal points to reflect on the “incarnation of Christ and his virgin birth,” “prayers inspired by the Old Testament book of Isaiah,” “the Christmas narrative,” “Jesus as a refugee,” and “Christ’s profound proclamations of peace.”

http://guides.library.duq.edu/c.php?g=232827&p=1545893

flickr photo by S.H.P.

Art for Advent 2015, by Seeing Art History: an art historian who shares reflections on advent-related art as a way to further enter the season.

Advent Prayer Guide 2015: Stand Alongside Syrian Refugees, by World Vision: A prayer guide that tells stories of Syrian refugees, with both weekly and daily scripture, reflections, and prayers.

50 Resources to Make This the Best Advent Ever: Self explanatory!

Books

Here are a few I’m enjoying this year.

Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative” by Russ Ramsey. A narrative guide “through a contemplative season of advent – twenty-five chapters, one for each day of December.” [Kindle version free as of this posting on Dec 2, 2015]

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life” by Joan Chittister. This book explains the church year and has a chapter on advent.

Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home (Complete Collection)” Jessica Snell, Ed. This book also explains the church year and has a chapter on advent. Each chapter contains ideas of traditions you can use in your own home to observe the season of advent.

Seeking God’s Face: Praying With the Bible Through the Year” by Philip Reinders and Eugene Peterson. This is a prayer book that takes you through the church year with a section of a Psalm, a scripture reading, suggestions for prayer topics, and a brief prayer.

Music

Most popular songs from the “Christmas season” are actually Christmas songs, not Advent song, so most “Christmas” albums are primarily Christmas songs (celebrating the birth of Jesus) with a few Advent songs as well. So most of the music I enjoy at this time of year have both Advent and Christmas songs on them.

Waiting Songs by Rain for Roots

Silent Night by Red Mountain Church

A Child is Born by Sojourn Music

Salvation is Created by Bifrost Arts

I used to think Jesus’ love was small and now I think Jesus’ love is extravagant.

I used to think ___ but now I think ___ #OutofSortsBook synchroblog

Snowbird Swimming Pool

flickr photo by amishrobot

When I was a kid, we used to go swim at a public pool. It was huge with clear, turquoise blue water, and I was a voracious swimmer. In second grade, I joined the local swim club, and learned how to shallow dive so I could race in the breast stroke.

When I was in third grade we moved to a new town. Since I had learned to shallow dive in the public pool in our old town, it made perfect sense to me to dive in the 5′ section of the new public pool. So I did. And for the only time in my entire life, I got in trouble. In public.

I was completely humiliated. I had to sit out of the pool next to the life guard. I hung my head in shame, vowing to never get in trouble in public again.

Out of the Shadows, Flickr craig Clouter

flickr user craigcloutier

I was a pretty good kid. I went to church every Sunday from the second week I was born until I graduated high school (just ask my mom). All my life, I heard about sin. I knew the things people said were sin. As I moved into teenage-hood, I became more aware that I did things that the church people said were sin. And that’s when I first started wearing the cloak of shame.

“Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
     Guilty of dust and sin….”

I’m not really sure if I was a Christian. But I did believe in Jesus. I knew that Jesus could never, ever, love me because of all the terrible things I had done. I wrapped that cloak even tighter, made sure Jesus couldn’t see my face.

“Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
     Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
     Go where it doth deserve….”

And then, it happened. Jesus captivated my heart. He gently took off the cloak of shame. Jesus showed me that he knew of my sin, that he loved me, that he already had taken the blame for what I had done. I was finally free. I could finally face Jesus and bask in his extravagant, inexplicable love.

“And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?”

To get even a glimpse of that extravagant love of Christ, we have to allow ourselves to look up, to let Jesus see our face under the cloak, which we cannot remove on our own. We have to stop arguing that we are so terrible that the creator of the universe could never forgive or love us.

Just stop talking. And listen. And accept love.

“You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
     So I did sit and eat.”
 
Check out Out of Sortsthe new book by author and blogger Sarah Bessy. To hear Sarah talk about the book, which will no doubt make you a fan if you’re not already, and make you buy the book immediately, check out this interview on the Newsworthy with Norsworthy podcast.
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Poem: Love (III) by George Herbert. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/poem/173632