Merry Merry

silent night wide version
In my work as Church Communication Director, I have the privilege and honor of working with a talented graphic designer, an artist in her own right and also thankfully, my friend, Nancy Ingersoll. She gave me permission to share her beautiful Silent Night which she created for an Advent art display of peace-ful imagery. Please check out her work here.

tree

Feeling merry? For some Christmas does not feel like a merry season. For some it is hard, lonely, depressing. For most it can be exhausting.

Good news (Christmas is always at its center good news): “Tonight, at the foot of the cradle… there are no big people, no powerful people, no proud people. Tonight we are all children who straggle to the manger with nothing. Tonight we are all just raggedy manger stragglers – fathers who lay down all their work, mamas who lay down all their weariness, children who lay down all their wants. Tonight we kneel down before Jesus and reach out our hands that need little – because we want more of God.” Ann Voskamp, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

My prayer for you and for me today, tomorrow, next week, is that we will take a break from the do-ing to focus on be-ing – being still, being with God and loved ones, being at peace, being joyful. It will take an act of will, this intentional be-ing, but be strong. It takes strength to lay down our burdens when our muscles have become so accustomed to carrying them. Let’s adopt a new posture of strength: kneel. Empty our arms, then hold them out for the baby. It’s that easy, and that hard. The do-ing can wait.

 

advent wreathIt’s time to light the Christ candle! Merry Christmas, friends.

Announcing Peace

Read and light all candles: The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us. The third candle represents the call to make peace with one another. The fourth candle represents the Gospel of peace. The center candle represents Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 2:10-14

Read: The angels announced: There is so much fear on earth, but do not be afraid. We bring good news of great joy. Your Savior has come! The One you’ve been waiting for, the Answer to your prayers, the Salve for your wounds. He will be your Lord and your lover, the One on whom you cast your cares, the All-Sufficient One. Sing with us: Glory to God and peace on earth. Come, let us worship the Prince of Peace!

Pray: Dear God, thank you for the gift of your Son who is our peace. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace on earth, Amen.

Advent 2 – Finding Peace

Ironically, during a week in which I’ve intentionally focused on expecting peace, I’ve found distress more often.

The same hour I learned about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, I also heard that a neighbor, husband of an acquaintance, was in a suicidal stand-off with police. He alternately pointed a pistol at his temple and his mouth and, after hours of negotiation during which a nearby elementary school – his son’s school – was on lock-down, he pulled the trigger. He leaves behind his beautiful wife and four kids, his youngest only six and four years old.

Heart breaks. Lord, have mercy. Send your peace!

Far less dramatic: Traffic. Rushing. Deadlines. Botched plans. Carpools, worse, no carpool. Kid stress (aka, school stress!). Appetizers for two different functions. Overly full calendar. On and on.

Thank God for His Word! A few of our church staff did a Bible study on Philippians 4:4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Interestingly, I’d most often read those few verses as three different points: 1- Rejoice. 2- Worry less, pray more. 3- Think about good things.

This week I realized they are One Point (as Peterson translates in The Message): “It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

When we rejoice, we put Christ at the center of our hearts and minds. When we present our requests to God, we put Christ at the center. When we think about good things, true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy things, we put Christ – the author and perfecter of all things – at the center. When we fix our eyes on Christ, Christ displaces the worry that has us spinning like hamsters on a wheel and in turn gives us peace.

Phew! Hopping off the hamster wheel as my head spins…

This hasn’t been an easy week. Looking back, however, I felt most at peace when I intentionally focused on Christ. Engaged in friendship, worship, Bible reading, serving loved ones, diving deep in fulfilling work, walking our dog, I can pray and allow Christ to displace worry. Sometimes peace “just happened” as I had already scheduled life-giving activities; other times Grumpy Me made a decision to pray and pursue peace (the dog got a few more walks this week).

Bottom line: The Lord is near. So much better than tossing sleeplessly or numbing the anxiety, we can rejoice, pray, let our loving God care for our needs, and think on God’s good things. As the angel declared to shepherds watching their flocks by night, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Peace be with you!advent wreath

Week 2 – Finding Peace

Read and light two candles (purple)The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Isaiah 26:3 and Philippians 4:4-9

Read: How many times today did you think about yourself: your fears or worries, your wants and needs? How many times today did you offer to God your fears or worries, your wants or needs? We get so easily distracted, so quick to neglect the peace God offers us in His Son. God invites us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us. Set your heart and mind on Jesus and live in peace.

Pray: Dear God, help us to trust you and to let go of everything that keeps us from you. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace, Amen.

Monday Isaiah 26:3 Where do you need peace in your life?
Tuesday Matthew 6:31-34 What worries distract you from seeking God, and what will you do about it?
Wednesday Luke 12:25-26 How does worry sap your time and energy?
Thursday Philippians 4:6-7 When have you experienced peace in response to prayer?Friday Philippians 4:8-9 What are some of your favorite “whatevers” to think about?
Saturday Colossians 3:1-2 How do you actively set your heart and mind on God’s priorities?

 

Another blog I’m enjoying this Advent: lessnerismore. Grab a mug/cup of something warm and tasty and set aside a few minutes to check out her daily Advent blog.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava LavenderThe Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Are you a bird, an angel, or what?”
…I didn’t have the answer. I certainly wasn’t a bird, as far as I could tell. But in the same breath, I couldn’t say I was human. What did it mean to be human anyway? I knew I was different, but didn’t that make me as human as anyone, or was I something else? I didn’t know. And at only eight years old, I hadn’t the time, the energy, or the mental capacity to form a more adequate response than “I think I’m just a girl.” Which is what I said (128).

I had been reading another book, but felt an uncomfortable voyeuristic gnawing in my gut as I read. I didn’t care for the characters and the way they lived.

So I picked up this enchanting book.

Ava’s story begins in Manhattan generations earlier with her great-grandparents and their very unique children, Ava’s grandmother and her sisters and brother. Before her own mother arrives, Ava’s grandmother moves to Seattle, where the rest of the story plays out.

This is a very human fairy tale, strange and beautiful indeed, with odd and exceptional characters doing curiously interesting things. Despite the hardships the unusual must endure, they love – and seek and reject love. Like the rest of us, ordinary as we may be, they pursue meaning purpose and connection despite their remarkable abilities and circumstances.

The novel could have benefited from one more solid editorial pass, but stands as an extraordinary first novel. I look forward to Leslye Walton’s next book.