#Welcome

This is Biscuit. She is a joy-bringer. She comes to see us almost every Monday at after school club to encourage the kids to exercise and be active. When the weather permits, kids can take turns holding her leash (and they all get “squirrel training,” because Biscuit loves to chase squirrels) and walking with her around the neighborhood, the riverfront, or the park across the street from the church.

One of the things Biscuit is good at is making kids feel welcomed and loved. And the kids in our program are always glad to do the same for her.

Biscuit belongs to Cindy, Riley, and Adam and today she was wearing this hat. We’re taking pictures of the kids for special parent gifts, and she didn’t want to miss out, so we got her posing by the tree, too.

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7

#Joy

Today, we remember the words of Mary recorded in Luke 1. I think in the midst of the pageants with sweet children dressed in robes with belts cinched around their waists and pieces of cloth on their heads, with tiny arms cradling baby dolls, it can be easy to forget that Mary said these words. Little else she ever said was recorded in scripture, and she nearly disappears once Jesus grows up, but we have these words and the reason for her joy. 

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name. 
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy, 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’  Luke 1:46-55

#Hospitality

The photo is of the New King James version.

This is the New Revised Standard Version:

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34

#Family

Family can mean so many things.

I’m so grateful for all the people who are family to us. God’s love enters our lives through each one of you and your kindness and care for us.

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. –1John 4:11-12

The stockings hung by the chimney with care belong to (L to R) Becky, Jonas, Simon, Jason. The penguin has no stocking.

 

 

#Homeless

As they were going along the road, someone said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ –Luke 9:57-58

Reading between the lines: Following a poor Messiah without esteem or power or even a permanent home does not guarantee security or comfort. Follow anyway.

 

#Purity

I can still picture the credenza in the hallway at my Grandmother English’s home on the Tippecanoe River in Buffalo, Indiana. On it, she kept this nativity set. My mother may correct me, but I do believe it was there year-round, because I don’t remember visiting the river very often at Christmas-time, but I vividly remember this nativity set. Some time in the early years of our marriage, it was given to me. Joseph’s staff broke in storage at one point during the past decade, but you can only tell if you really study the set, because Mary and Jesus are the true focal point (poor Joseph).

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:15-20

I think about the purity of that moment. There is so much that has been cleaned up for the sake of scripture, I’m sure. Let’s not forget that the Christ Child is lying in an animals food dish in a barn where his mother had given birth and in come a bunch of shepherds. I think it can be stated with a great deal of certainty that they didn’t make the barn smell any better or seem any cleaner when they came tromping in with their loud excitement and their flock.

But the message they brought was pure, straight from the lips of angels. And Mary, a woman who had likely been subjected to much gossip and scorn heard these words, which she already knew to be true because she herself had heard them from the lips of an angel, Gabriel. I think they came through the barn door at just the right time, and her pondering is that of a woman who has been called by God, who is hearing that call again, and is grateful for the calling even in the difficult moments.

#Expectation

“Close your eyes and hold out your hand!” Jason commanded me this afternoon.

I closed my eyes and held my palm out. Jason is good at surprises. “No, make your hand flat,” Jason instructed. And I felt him balance something small and heavy for its size on my palm.

Even better than I expected! The cutest little penguin in a tiny snow globe.

God is good at surprises, too.

From Luke 1:

5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ 18Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ 19The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’

#Prepare

img_5482Since Advent began, I’ve been seeking Advent hymns, songs, and songs that seem appropriate for Advent, this season of preparation before Christmas. I started with the usual suspects, the O Come songs, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent, Savior of the Nations Come, etc.

Then I started seeking other songs. And I started thinking about songs I already know that might be Advent songs.

I’ve never been a complete Advent purist. Oh, sure, I understand the reason for the season, and when it’s on me to pick hymns for worship during Advent, I try to keep it in the appropriate section of the hymnal and not wander into the Christmas section. But I’m also practical, and so we do our Christmas pageant during Advent, and I love my husband, so he can listen to the Charlie Brown soundtrack as often as he wants, and I don’t yell at store employees for blasting that Mariah Carey song about all she wants for Christmas is you (although sometimes that might be justified for more than one reason).

As I consider songs and add them to the playlist below, and then sometimes remove them from the playlist below after I’ve listened to them some more and decide they don’t actually work for Advent, it has been a devotional exercise in preparation itself.

#Love

15301254_10153938404181993_1752598169_nIt is the Second Sunday of Advent. (This photo is from an Angel Tree shopping excursion earlier today.)

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, 
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness. Philippians 2:1-7

#Breathe

15301254_10153934313066993_2024866386_nBreathe.

Yesterday was busy. Up at 3:30 (see yesterday’s post), cooked, shopped, finished my sermon, practiced my sermon, ran some errands, did some planning, picked my “little” Katie up from her bus stop and took her to her house…and then, Jason and I decorated the house inside and outside. Jason, Jonas and I went to the town tree lighting, drove around to find the folks who had decorated their houses already, baked cookies, trimmed the tree, watched “Elf,” finished decorating inside and out…and then it was dishes, laundry, and before bed chores. The night ended with me finally writing yesterday’s blog post and Jason and I watching an episode of “Frasier” by the light of the tree.

Yesterday was busy. Today will be busy. This month will be busy. It’s important to stop. To rest. To reflect. To breathe.

This morning, I turned on the Christmas tree lights. And I laid down on the floor with my head underneath its branches. And I looked up into the lights and I listened to my breath.

God is our refuge and strength,
   a very present help in trouble. 
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
   though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 
though its waters roar and foam,
   though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
          
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
   the holy habitation of the Most High. 
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
   God will help it when the morning dawns. 
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
   he utters his voice, the earth melts. 
The Lord of hosts is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our refuge.
          
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
   see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
   he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
   he burns the shields with fire. 
‘Be still, and know that I am God!
   I am exalted among the nations,
   I am exalted in the earth.’ 
The Lord of hosts is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our refuge.
          (Psalm 46)