There’s an overused quote by Chesterton that goes something like, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
Let that sink in a moment.
We are in the midst of the Christmas season right now; our annual frenzy of indulgent consumption. According to both popular Christmas carols and the testimony of the Gospels, Jesus’ birth was heralded as the coming Messiah. He was to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy …
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.I)”>
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
This messiah was going to bring peace on earth and good will toward men.
What does that mean? What would peace on earth look like? Our imaginations are dull and we assume that the presence of peace is simply the absence of war or violence. So we think that “his government” is going to be a political enforcement of an absence of war. The rule of this Messiah would take away all weapons.
But that’s not what Jesus did. He came and nothing changed outwardly. The Roman Empire went on about it’s business and at what would be the end of Jesus’ 3 year ministry, crucified him. Giving rise to a secondary frenzy of indulgent consumption (but that’s another story). Jesus did manage to speak a few words that have been handed down to us in the millennia since his birth. He said things like this, “21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Read it carefully. Jesus was talking about more than the absence of murder, but the presence of love. We have laws which punish murderers and keep the crime rate low, but law cannot overcome the presence of hate. When we hate someone, we dismiss their humanity, we find reasons to ignore their thoughts and needs by calling them a “fool.” I am chief among sinners in this regard. But there it is. I cannot turn my face away from the idea that when I dismiss someone as a fool, I have morally killed them in my mind.
This brings me back to the Chesterton quote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
There are many other bits that Jesus threw out in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). I find in my life that I fail those far more often than I succeed. But if I put them all together in a holistic picture of how to live, I find that these bits create a vision of what peace could look like. It would be so much more than the absence of war or violence, but the presence of love. The kind of love which can cast out fear, making violence unnecessary.
Perhaps that prophecy in Isaiah meant not that God would enforce an everlasting peace through government, but that all the humans here would learn to love their enemies without fear, that we would not dismiss another’s humanity, that we would be able to live in peace and harmony with each other, not because of laws, but because our hearts have grown three sizes too large (to quote a more secular source) and we have begun to operate out of abundance, love and harmony. Maybe that is the hope we express every year … that someday soon we will all know peace.
I remember an Advent season 17 years ago. I was expecting our first child and we anticipated the birth in late January. It was a very busy season as I was then working for Prison Fellowship and had found their Project Angel Tree program. I was very inspired by this program and brought it to our church. I loved Chuck Colson’s books, especially The Body. It had given feet to my faith and a place for my passion. I think arch-conservative Chuck Colson would be astonished to know that his book inspired at least one reader to a faith that breathes social justice rather than moral correctness, but that is for another blog post.
I was very, very busy; spending all my free time at our church. I was organizing Project Angel Tree, I was involved with our youth group (Jr. High at the time) and I was working. Since this was the first year our church had done Angel Tree there was a lot of organizing and out right marketing to be done. We could have delivered the gifts to individual homes, but I wanted to have a party (because that’s how I roll). If I remember correctly, the jr. high kids helped me out with this party quite a bit. I don’t remember too much about the party other than that I loved doing it and that the Angel Tree Children were happy for an afternoon … so were the parents and grandparents. They all came in with varying degrees of wariness shrouding their faces, but left wreathed in smiles. We may not have shared the gospel in words that day, but we did it in deed.
As it turned out, I nearly worked myself to death that Advent season. I went for a pre-natal check up two days after Christmas and my blood pressure was sky high; I had all the symptoms of pre-eclampsia, a dangerous condition for both mother and child. It was bed rest for the duration of my pregnancy (my due date was Jan 24) for me. I whined, I cried, I tried reason and logic … but the doctor would not budge. Bed rest. On my left side. This was apparently quite serious. And fortunately for me, LightGirl decided to make an early appearance on Jan. 1, so I only spent about 5 days on bed rest rather than 5 weeks.
My intervening Advent seasons have been no less busy, but slightly less health impairing. This season we have between Thanksgiving and Christmas and which has now seemed to stretch to Halloween, is filled with plans, and gifts, and parties; movies, sparklies, decorating, and food … not just any food, but special food traditions. All of it is good. But the pressure and the process can be overwhelming, as LightHusband expressed the other day, “I hate this time of year. It’s just one more responsibility in a life of unmet responsibilities.”
So I began to think about waiting. What is it that we do when we wait? Waiting involves changing what we do. It involves watching or paying attention; being alert to changes that would signal the arrival of that which we wait for. Waiting means being prepared for that arrival. We will have cleaned the house, tidied the bathroom, prepared a feast, and changed the linens in the guest room. Once those tasks are done, we put music on and we wait … ears tuned, eyes watching the road.
If we are waiting upon the birth of a child, we prepare the nursery. Gifts of vast quantity yet tiny proportion are given. Diapers abound. Depending upon the socio-economic status of the parent(s), there will be car seats and strollers, wipe warmers and night lights, toys and crib danglies to spare. We are raising baby einsteins as our culture reminds us. Mother will carefully put everything away each tiny thing in it’s own special place. As her womb grows more and more unwieldy and uncomfortable, she will slow down and become more alert to the changes in her body that signal the arrival of her baby. She waits.
And I wondered, how do we connect these pictures of peaceful waiting with the frenetic busy-ness that our holiday season has come to represent? The church is no different than the culture at large in this regard. There are special parties, ornament making gatherings to bring your unchurched friends to, extra worship services (and if you’re involved with putting those on – extra practices/development time) … in short, lots of busy-ness. And I haven’t even mentioned the singular craziness of Christmas cards one time in this post!
More and more I was seeing my Advent journey as a road to nowhere, the Advent Sunday mileposts nothwithstanding. Without having the time and space during the season to be calm, aware and alert to changes that signal the arrival of that baby Christ Child, I would plod ahead often distracted by all the shiny baubles, happy songs and pretty parties of a holiday season too busy for waiting. So I learned to build in time. I make Christmas gifts instead of purchasing them and that allows me time to meditate on the recipient, pray for them and love them as I make their gifts. I make food from scratch rather than from boxes and spend time finding recipes … not every day, but some days. Last, I limit the commitments I make to just the things I either absolutely must do, or the things I absolutely love to do. There is only one thing I absolutely must do (in support of LightHusband) the rest are things I love to do.
And I’ve given up on Christmas cards. They were too much for me.
I won’t say this has cured everything. But cutting out some of the distractions has helped my road to nowhere become a little bit more Bethlehem bound; it’s still very circuitous and mostly I don’t know where I’m going (because my donkey does not have a GPS! ). But this has helped my journey be more peaceful and me to be more gracious and kind in a season where nerves are usually stretched thin and fraying at the edges.
This is part of our December Synchroblog series – Advent – A Journey. Please follow some of the links below for some excellent reading on the subject!
Wow … it’s been two months since the last post. If you’ve come around lately you’ll see a new look here. I’ve been doing some housekeeping, and finally upgraded my WordPress from 2.3 to 2.9 … a task that’s been on my list since August. Of 2008!
So I’m working on this space. It’s not finished yet, but it’s good enough for now.
Some things that have happened in the last two months that are noteworthy –
Our beloved Sam died very unexpectedly one late October afternoon. He’d had some gum surgery about 10 days prior and the wound did not seem to be healing quite right. When I took him to the vet at about 3 that afternoon, he was lethargic and his abdomen was distended. The vet ran a test or two, took some x-rays, and came back with a diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma (also often called the silent killer). The only thing our vet had difficulty determining was the size of the tumor and how much it had invaded Sam’s system. He could only accurately make that determination with surgery. So, after a very emotional and troubled two hours, Sam went into surgery. BlazingEwe and her three LambChildren were with all four of us. The vet came out within 20 minutes (teary-eyed and barely able to speak) and told us the devastating news; Sam would not survive the surgery.
We are still recovering from that.
For Thanksgiving LightHusband’s parents came to visit for about 8 days. We were very busy during that time and it ended with LightGirl excelling as her team’s goalie at a nearby tournament. Two days later she was sick and couldn’t eat. She had severe stomach pain, nausea, dizziness. We began the process of attempting to discover what the source was. Ultrasounds, endoscopy, C/T scans all came back normal and/or unremarkable. Nothing was wrong … physically. So we’ve made some lifestyle changes and that seems to help. She finally went back to the rink after a month long absence right after Christmas. It was a hard pull, but I think we’re on the upswing.
In the midst of LightGirl’s mysterious illness, LightBoy had H1N1 flu. And there was one day when LightHusband thought he was getting ill as well. I threatened to run away and that seemed to cure whatever ailed him. LightBoy is still coughing, but is back to his normal, slightly ornery self.
Christmas was the usual blur and New Year’s hit like a train. LightGirl turned sixteen this January 1. So we had to have a party. A largish party that was amazingly fun and there were lots of young folks there with their sparkly faces and snappy wit.
So … Happy 2010 to all and I’ll end with this prayer:
May there always be work for your hands to do.
May your purse always hold a coin or two.
May the sun always shine upon your window pane.
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain.
May the hand of a friend always be near to you and
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.
It’s been an odd year, or I should say an odd Advent season. We haven’t done anything really Advent-y. I feel cheated somehow. It’s no one’s fault, but I missed somehow.
We were late with everything. We didn’t get our tree til the tree people were nearly gone. We just decorated last night. I haven’t waited that late in the season to decorate since I was a kid.
We’ve had a lot of fun. I made a lot of gifts. Not all of them are finished. Some still have to get into the mail (LightMom and BostonAunt).
I’ve gotten a couple of early gifts that are wonderful. One I have to wait til Epiphany to tell you about. The other came in the mail about a week ago. It arrived in an inconspicuous box from BostonAunt. She e-mailed me with a note saying to open it … it was NOT for Christmas. So I did. Inside was a treasure. On top was a packet of my letters to my grandmother spanning about 2 decades that she’d saved. It was funny to read the old me.
Underneath the packet was an old Bible. It had belonged to my great uncle. He died at the age of 98, in 1996, in Woodstock, NB, Canada. He’d lived most of his life in Maine and served as an itinerant Sunday School teacher. That was his ministry. Apparently, he’d also been a Gideon as this is a Gideon Bible from the 1940’s. In the frontispiece is a note which says “Dad’s last verse Deut. 33:25.” There are a couple of other notes in his cramped old-style hand. There are notes here and there throughout. But the best thing about this Bible are the bookmarks. They span decades; from the 1930’s through the 1980’s. There is a ribbon which he wore identifying him as a worker at a Billy Graham crusade in 1953. There is a ribbon which he got as a singer in a choral society in 1930s. There are multiple tiny newspaper cutouts; obituary’s, articles, church announcements, etc. The bookmarks are absolutely fascinating. Finding and deciphering what he was reading when he marked his spot is engrossing. The Bible is, of course, King James and is a self-pronouncing version. That is, there are diacritical marks over all the names. Even simple names such as Moses and for some reason I find that vastly amusing. Yet of all the things that could be done to make the Bible approachable, why not? Why not make it so that those funny names are easy to say and not intimidating?
I think the Gideons were on to something with this version of the Bible. I’m not a huge fan of the King James, although I’ve been known to read it for fun sometimes. When I’m reading for context, I’ll go for NIV or the Message or NASB. But even in those versions, the names can still be sticky, foreign and difficult for those who are not familiar with them. What a great way to bring the whole thing to people who might not be ready …
Now that has a familiar ring to it. Bringing a new thing to people who weren’t quite ready for it. That’s what Christmas is all about after all.
May the incarnational hope, grace and peace that are the tidings of Christmas be yours in the New Year and beyond. From the LightFamily to yours …
Or maybe two or three.
I made a decision last year sometime. I don’t remember when it was. But I remembered it this year and I had time to make good on it. The decision was that I would make our Christmas gifts for extended family members. I think the decision began sometime around “Make Something Day,” but by then it was too late for me. Especially since I had 35 people in my house that day. And it took me … uh … weeks to recuperate.
This year is different. We’re not having a big, ornate Thanksgiving. The day after LightHusband is taking the LightKids to go play paintball with one of his compatriots at work. Most importantly, we are not painting the house all autumn. On the other hand … this means that the house is all wrecky. And making me slightly insane.
So I have spent the last several days pouring through tutorial websites, blogs and magazines finding cool things to make for my nieces, nephews, siblings, in-laws, out-laws, etc. There was a condition though. I had to have most, if not all, of the materials on hand for the project. And it has to be fairly simple. In other words, these gifts have to be made out of stuff I already have and not take too much time or energy. There will be a few things I have to purchase (like some plastic mesh to make a fabric garage & doll house). But for the most part, I will be able to make these gifts with stuff I already have.
Then I spent an inordinate amount of time organizing myself. Making lists of what I would make and in what order. I’m using Evernote to keep track of all the websites and people/gift recipients, and I’m using Things to keep track of the when and how. If you’re also interested in making your gifts this year, start with Sew Mama Sew. It’s a group blog and they’re doing gift tutorials every day this month that link to other blogs, which (of course, branch out to others. For even more inspiration, they did this last year, so if you click on “November 2007” you get even more ideas. Everyday they have gift ideas centered on a particular theme (such as teachers, or books or cold weather) with tutorials, gifts to buy that are handmade, patterns to buy and then homemade food recipes (like homemade marshmallows! yum!).
Mission number two involves the hockey team (what else?). We’re traveling out of state about 12 days before Christmas to play a couple of games. This involves a hotel stay. I usually organize some activity while we’re in the hotel to prevent large groups of young women from roaming the corridors in the evening teeheeing and making too much noise for the other guests. The girls don’t seem to understand that no one else wants to hear them. So for this trip I’m organizing dinner out and then a Christmas party back at the hotel. I thought it would be a good idea (based on some discussions last year) if the Christmas party were to involve some sort of charitable activity/donation to a local shelter. So I have to call them this morning and find out what we might be able to do for them in that situation. That’s just an extra wrinkle in my planning/organizing. I’ve found a bunch of fun games for the tween/teen set that can be played in a hotel setting. We’ll be having fun.
Mission number three is to return to my old tradition of making plum pudding this year. I use my Welsh great, great grandmother’s recipe handed down to me by my grandmother. I dropped it for a couple of years because I was having such a difficult time finding suet, among other things. But I think I can find it again this year. So I’ll be making my plum puddings in a couple of weeks. Ready to go for Christmas dinner. YUM!!
UPDATE: Eureka! I found the suet at a small local butcher shop about 7 miles out of town. When giving directions, the man told it was next to some antique shops and he said, “But you have to spend more here than on antiques,” in a gravelly southern accent. I cheerfully assured him I’d rather have some good beef than an antique (never mentioning that this close to DC they’re likely to be overpriced junk in any case). I’m going to pick it up this afternoon. And dig out my grandmother’s recipe to get the rest of the ingredients this weekend.
In all, though, my missions seem to be taking me away from the computer. In addition, I’m trying to do more reading and I have some quilts that are slowly being pieced as well. So if you don’t see me very much around here, don’t worry. I’m still here. Just trying to be faithful to my missions and get them accomplished. You’ll prob’ly see more of me in the New Year. As I stay off the roads while LightGirl learns to drive!!!