The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
May you blink in the radiance of his light,
bask in his increase of your joy,
and rejoice with abandon at his coming.
Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones.
It’s been a rough month.
There are plenty of ways that could be said, but let me just say it that way.
I’ve been out and about some the last few weeks, but without feeling like I could settle down for a cup of coffee anywhere. It’s felt more like looking through frosty windows to the amber glow of warmth, and love, and maybe just plain old holiday cheer.
While I have plenty of words, I’m not sure they’re best shared beyond the nib of my pen right now. But all the same, I’ve missed talking to you all, and listening to you talk to each other. I’ve come to really love and appreciate the exchanges that happen in the comment box here, whether rapier wit banter, or nonsense, or penetrating insight and questions.
I had a cold morning on the road. Thanks to a miscalculation on my drive time, I had an extra hour between appointments. I pulled off the interstate and sat in a parking lot scrolling through my Twitter feed to burn some time. I felt the familiar weight drop in my lap — that one that comes from scanning headlines promising me that I can attract a thousand readers to my blog in just weeks, order my home life, produce mature children and achieve intimacy with God, each in just five simple steps. Or three. Or sometimes six.
Simple steps multiply exponentially on the Twitter. It starts out as five, but by the time one reads them all, it’s a good 826 steps to follow.
Sunday morning after Christmas I hunkered down under the blankets in the Murphy bed my dad built for the guest room. Instead of getting up for church, I buried my head in the pillow looking for a few more winks, but found none.
The Rev. Whitesheets preached a harsh sermon that morning, and I couldn’t will my eyes to stay closed.
Besides, I had a granddad to visit.
And God roared and crooned and whispered His name, all of them at once.
He formed sounds and strung letters to make words wide enough and high enough and deep enough and long enough that to simply speak them brings Him unspeakable glory. Still, each is simple enough for even the smallest among us to wrap tiny hands around Him.
“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel”
— which means, “God with us.”
May you experience His presence with you today.
My Uncle David recently asked me to take a look at an article he’d written. I asked him if we couldn’t publish it here. He’s graciously consented, and just in time for me as I’m still feeling my way around John 9.
Known at family gatherings (and the comment box here) as Uncle Weird, he is a bi-vocational pastor, shepherding a flock in Wisconsin as well as providing leadership to the field of social work.
His voice might have a familiar ring. He’s the guy who gave us, in response to the Apostle Paul’s question, “Does this tunic make you look fat? I’m thinking you may need to buy a threenic next time!“ He is also my dad’s brother, my grandfather Al’s son, and my uncle. We’d never say he’s objectionable (unless we were alone or with somebody), but today he speaks out as a Conscientious Objector in the War on Christmas.
Guest post by David Willingham
The “How to Celebrate the Birth of Christ” Committee
The word Christmas has a very specific meaning, and we know where that meaning comes from. So in fact does Holiday (Holy Day). When I say have a Happy or Blessed Holiday, I’m referring to a Holy Day.
Not all people who say Merry Christmas mean Christ’s Mass, or are honoring the Birth of Christ, while at the same time not all people who say Happy Holiday are not honoring the birth of Christ. It’s all between each one of us and who we are or are not honoring.
Has God appointed any of us to the “How to Celebrate the Birth of His Son” Committee?
Well, he knew one thing.
This one thing he knew: that he would live long enough to see Hope.
It opened his eyes in the morning. It eased him into sleep at night.
He knew one thing.
He lived for one thing.
And when the time came, he wrapped aged arms around fresh life and breathed in the fullness of that One.
Simeon was about one thing.
And that singular focus garnered him a moment with God in his arms.
God in his arms!
Can you imagine?
Go let your heart be warmed, in a cold Iowa field of all places. Stop by her place on your way.
Again, a merry Christmas to you and your loved ones. Thank you for being a part of my life this past year.
A few nights ago as dusk dropped its velvet draperies over my neighborhood, I gazed out the window at my neighbors’ homes, nestled in the snow. For the first time all year, I saw the Christmas lights twinkle and knew I was home.
We erected our Charlie Brown tree — a four-foot discount store wonder — last night and limited decorations to lights and tinsel. Even that was enough to send the cat into a nervous tailspin. This morning she climbed up inside and removed two branches so she could lay down inside more comfortably.
The boys went online to do their Christmas shopping, purchasing gifts for us at WorldVision. They made their selections, printed cards and wrapped them to put under the tree. I closed my eyes and handed over the credit card.
At some point, you have to trust your kids to do the right thing. Even with your Discover card.
The blizzard is cancelling Christmas Eve services all over town, we’re hunkered down to wait out the storm, the makings of an amazing pork loin roast are in the kitchen, and whether I know how to do it well or not, it’s Christmas.
I’ve been a million miles away from my house long enough that I’ve started to refer to that place where I live as “back home.”
And back home in my church this Advent season, folks are focusing their worship through an exploration of names — those unique words God wrapped around Himself.
I haven’t heard them calling out His name; it’s been weeks since I last worshiped with my own people in the sanctuary, surely by now appointed with greenery and ribbons for the season. No, God’s been meeting me these last Sunday mornings in a hotel lobby, speaking through through pixels, headphones and my leatherbound.
But I do know the names by which they have been calling to Him, despite my absence. For before I left, God met me at the rear of that same sanctuary, darkened at midweek, while I built the computer graphics that would spread a backdrop for their worship. I dragged and dropped elements and tweaked colors and typefaces while Agnew’s bass reverberated in the shadows.
And God roared and crooned and whispered His name, all of them at once.
Not on parchment, anyway.
In fact, as a girl in her middle teens living in Nazareth in days before we began to mark time in increments of “the year of our Lord,” it’s likely she didn’t even read or write.
But she did soak herself in some of those same practices that many of us who journal do: She pondered. She treasured. She observed and absorbed and processed.
Mary’d traveled quite the winding road since her engagement to Joseph.
As though angel-meetings and world-flippings were commonplace, these words slipped from Mary’s mouth after Gabriel revealed God’s plan to pass Immanuel through her womb on His way to walk among us.
May it be to me as you have said.
Seems she could as easily have said May my reputation be destroyed as you have said.
May my fiancé abandon me and my family reject me as you have said.
May I be a single mother in a male-only world as you have said.
May I be responsible to safeguard the Savior of the world until He’s old enough to take care of Himself as you have said.
May I be ruined as you have said.
But she didn’t say all that. What she really said was this: While whispers behind me rustle through my shame, I’ll hear the shouts of joy in the streets. All generations will call me blessed. Blessed!
She looked through swirling dust down the bumpy road of her future, imagined likely outcomes and still replied, May it be to me as you have said.
I have no other explanation. I conclude that it had to be the hunger.
A paltry effort, I know. But it’s something.
I’m not very good at Christmas.
Not sure the reason, but it doesn’t come so easy. Seems for most, Christmas dances in amber glow. For me, the lighting seems more a bluish fluorescent. It can be a little twitchy and sometimes it makes that buzzing sound.
Perhaps my middle name is Ebenezer.
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)
So many people had life altering encounters with the Child that first Christmas. We know Mary did. No question there. From the moment the angel first visited and told her she would bring the Messiah into the world, her life was never the same. She faced the shame of an unmarried pregnancy, was mother to the most phenomenal Child ever to walk the earth, and faced a deeper loss than any of us can possibly imagine when her Son hung, battered and lifeless on rough hewn wooden beams.
Joseph did. He was called upon to stand by his betrothed, while all around would see their shame and dishonor, and he would have no reasonable explanation. Yet he would love the Child as his own, teach Him his trade, pour his heart into Him and protect Him into adulthood.
The shepherds, privileged to be amongst the first to hear of His arrival, had an experience that was beyond their wildest imagination. The Magi would travel miles and miles to see Him, never giving up on their journey.
They were all touched in such significant ways. Life changing ways.
But there was one other guy that has caught my attention this time around. A guy that doesn’t get a lot of attention. If we read Luke’s account of the Child’s arrival, we hear of him, albeit very briefly.
I have a new appreciation for Simeon this season.
What’s so great about Simeon? He gets all of eleven verses in the Gospel of Luke. What’s all the fuss?
Take a look at those eleven verses. Simeon was quite a guy. And he had an experience I can only dream of.
He was, according to Dr. Luke, a “righteous and devout” man who was waiting for the consolation of Israel. He feared God and he had his eyes on one prize and one prize only: the consolation of Israel. I love how the Message translation tells it, that he was “a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel.”
This was his purpose. He awaited the arrival of Messiah.
But wait, there’s more.
The Holy Spirit was upon this man, something that didn’t happen in that time to just anyone. It happened for a particular purpose. Simeon was all about the purpose. He had just the one.
Prayerful expectancy of the arrival of the Messiah.
The Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would, in fact, see the Messiah before he died. Before he breathed his last, he would see the Messiah. He was all about the waiting, all about the expecting. He hadn’t seen him yet, but he knew that he would. He would continue in prayerful expectancy until it happened and until his purpose was fulfilled.
And on that amazing day, forty days after that other amazing day, he was led by the Holy Spirit to be in the temple — presumably to be there when the young parents would bring the Child according to the law. He took Jesus in his arms (that’s another story altogether — he took Jesus in his arms! What was that like?), and before he pronounced his famous blessing, he praised God for fulfilling the promise. He knew, from the moment he saw and held the Child, that this was the One. This was the Messiah. God made good on His promise, and the one who waited in prayerful expectancy now had seen the object of his lifelong hope.
This was the moment he lived his life for.
How do I know that? Listen to what he tells God: “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You now dismiss Your servant in peace.” He knew this was the One. “For my eyes have seen Your salvation.” Here, in the eyes of this Child, Simeon knew that he had seen the Messiah. He knew that redemption was close at hand.
And he knew this was all he needed.
The moment he had lived for had come. And he was done.
“You now dismiss your servant in peace.”
Simeon lived for a single purpose. And when that moment came, he knew. He was complete. He was done.
I want to live for a single purpose. I want to know when that purpose is being fulfilled.
And when it’s done, I want to be dismissed in peace.
I want to know that I’ve completed what I was made for.
“Isn’t there anyone…who knows what Christmas is all about?” (Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Christmas)
My Christmas tree is up. Since Saturday. And only because the guys broke down and got it set up for me. But it’s not decorated. And under the tree still looks pretty sparse.
They’re starting to get a little worried since there are only two shipping days left until Christmas and there are still a few known gifts out there that they’ve ordered, but have not yet been delivered. (No typo there, remarkably. I meant shipping, not shopping. We do most of our Christmas shopping online.)
When I asked at dinner yesterday what we should have for Christmas dinner, I was told a few things that folks didn’t want, and had one bet five bucks he could go the whole day without eating a thing, suggesting we just skip Christmas dinner.
Christmas has been a little slow in coming to our house this year.
Between work, blizzards and a short season since Thanksgiving, we’re just running a little bit behind. Even the Christmas program at church got postponed for a couple of weeks.
Tonight, as I debate spending some time on Christmas preparation and going back to the office, the thought I’ve had frequently in recent days returns to me, that I’ve not only postponed the material preparation for Christmas, but also the greater preparation.
The pondering. The meditating. The reflection.
In all the static buzzing around me, mostly not even related to Christmas, I throw up my hands in a last ditch effort to try to connect to the specialness of the season, and call to the heavens, much like Charlie Brown, “Isn’t there anyone…who knows what Christmas is all about?” Isn’t there anyone who can tell me?
Truth is, there are plenty who can tell me. The angels can tell me. The shepherds can tell me.
Mary can tell me. Joseph can tell me.
Simeon can tell me.
My kids can even tell me.
But two videos I watched today told me. Two videos as different as night and day. But they both tell me something so very important. Two videos remind me in vastly divergent ways just what Christmas is all about.
First, Linus can tell me. It doesn’t get any simpler than this.
But then, Jesus can also tell me. He tells us, He shows us. In a way that nobody else could.
The significance of Jesus’ arrival into our world.
Don’t delay its hold on you.