Merry Christmas – The Messiah Has Come

“O Lord, you are the musician, and we are all your instruments. You breathe, and we come to life. You breathe, and we are horns for your glory. You blow through the world the winds of the spirit, and we like chimes cannot keep silent. You pluck the strings of our hearts, and we become a psalm. You come, and we must sing.”
–Walter Wangerin, Preparing for Jesus

Read and light all candles: The first candle represents the Child of the Virgin. The second candle represents the King. The third candle represents the Prince of Peace. The fourth candle represents the Savior. The center candle represents Jesus, the Messiah.

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 2:1-20

Read: Hello, sweet baby Jesus, lying in a manger. We’ve been expecting you, Messiah! We’ve prepared for your birth, Child of the Virgin. We’ve anticipated the arrival of our King Jesus. And oh, how we have been longing for you, our Prince of Peace. Now it’s Christmas Eve, and here you are, announced by angels and guarded by shepherds and livestock. We’re so glad you’re here, since we need you now more than ever. We’re not very good at waiting, but we will keep expecting you, preparing for your next Advent, when you will gather your people to be with you forever.

Pray: Everlasting Father, thank you for sending us your Son, our Messiah Jesus. In His precious name we will rejoice forever, Amen.

Advent 3 – Longing for the Prince of Peace

When I chose “recreate” as my 2017 word of the year, I anticipated keeping on keeping on with my creative life pursuits while engaging more playfully. I did not expect the mess, the dusty piles that result from taking things apart in order to make something new. I didn’t expect the directions the word would take me, or the year to be so difficult.

I find myself longing for peace, every ounce of me aching with longing. I try to keep perspective, to make healthy choices, to put one foot in front of the other, one word followed by another. Sometimes I succeed. Other times I nap.

This world is not peaceful. This life is not peaceful. Yet… I read recently: “Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.” Yes, that.

We live between Christ’s coming and coming again. He is the Prince of Peace–He offers peace unlike anything the world can offer–and yet we struggle. I know I’m not alone in my longing for peace, for the Prince of Peace.

Yesterday, a friend I haven’t seen since college wrote and posted the following:

Ode to 2018

I failed myself this year.
And last year.
And … honestly, it’s been so long, I don’t remember my last victory.
I have decided to dismantle this rock wall I built to protect myself from seeing and feeling the loss.
It has only kept me in the pain, apart from where I want to be.
Where I’m meant to be.
And I’m breaking through.
From rock bottom.
From beneath these boulders.
I am crawling out from under the rocks and suffocating depths that kept me pinned and stuck for so long.
From the heaviness that left my spirit crushed and unable to breathe in fully.
Love fully.
I am gently and compassionately wiping off the mud and filth from being buried.
Stomping and shaking it off my boots.
Wiping away the soot and grime on my face.
Cleaning out the silt in my ears and nose.
Surrendering my arms high, and letting the cleansing and healing waterfall of God’s love wash over me.
I am taking responsibility.
I am wrapping my arms around my failure and giving it the warmest hug I can muster.
And in that embrace I will identify my wrongs, admit my shame and whisper how truly sorry I am.
And then …


I will let it go …

And exhale.
And breathe in the crisp, cool air of new birth.
Of mercy.
Of hope.
Of love.
I refuse to sabotage myself further.
Never again.
I will no longer live in fear of falling in and risking everything.
And I know it will take everything to change.
Everything I got.
And I will give it.
It will require meditation, faith, discipline, prayer, grit, self compassion and living mindfully.
Everyday.
And the next day.
And the next.
And the next.
And I will squeal with the delight of a toddler and the gratefulness of a 90-year-old woman for the privilege to give it all again this day.
And the next.
And the next.
And I will I will pick myself up when I stumble.
And see how beautiful and strong I am.
Even with the scrapes and the bruises.
And because of them.
I will not fear what will be, but focus on who I am becoming.
I will choose joy.
Make joy.
Give joy.
I will run and skip and romp and frolic and catch my breath and clutch my chest for the sheer wondrous awe of God’s grace that covers me.
I will love fully.
I will drink it in from my overflowing cup.
I will spill it everywhere and dribble it out of the corners of my mouth as I smile big.
And laugh it out of my nose.
And leak it out of my shining eyes.
I will no longer hide from discovering how bright my light can shine.
I was made to shine.

Thank you, Kara Schwab, for taking the risk to live and write and create so vulnerably, to encourage me and others that we aren’t alone in this struggle to become the people we were created to be, to fully live the life set out for us. Yes, So Much YES, to the cleansing and healing waterfall of God’s love, the wondrous awe of God’s grace that covers us all.

Photo by Alice NG on Unsplash

Advent Week 3 – Longing for the Prince of Peace 

Read and light three candles (two purple, one pink): The first candle represents the Child of the Virgin. The second candle represents the King. The third candle represents 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: Isaiah 9:6-7

Read: We do not live in a peaceful world. War. Shootings. Discrimination. Crime. Illness. Divorce. Job stress. Division, lack of unity, in all its forms. Jesus is the Prince of Peace yet we struggle beneath the weight of the world. Without God we have no chance at peace or hope. With God, the Prince of Peace, we have both. We long for, cling to, Jesus our Peace.

Pray: Prince of Peace, hold us tight as you work out your justice and righteousness. We long for you, Jesus. Amen.

 

Monday Psalm 93:1 How do you hang on in faith that God is in control?
Tuesday Isaiah 26:3-4, 12 What worries do you need to put in God’s hands?
Wednesday Ezekiel 34:24-26 How might you participate in God’s showers of blessings for someone else?
Thursday Matthew 5:9 What can you do today to be a peacemaker?
Friday John 14:27 Let go of your troubles and receive Jesus’ peace.
Saturday Romans 15:13 Pray this verse for yourself and for anyone else you know who feels peace-less.

Advent Week 2 – Anticipating the King

My family will attest: I enjoy having people over. I enjoy cooking and serving and spending time with friends in the comfort of my own home.

My family will also attest: In the last hour before company arrives, more often than not I transform into a dragon.

I could blame the family but, truth, it’s me. I’m a mess. I lack the gene for good organizational systematizing and tidying. Even at my home’s cleanest, you can still find stacks of things to be filed or sorted. I hope you can ignore them as well as I do.

Show up day or night, and I will gladly welcome you in and bite my tongue trying not to apologize for this mess. Because apologies only draw attention, and you didn’t come over to admire my housekeeping.

The more comfortable I am with you, the more comfortable I will be letting you see my mess. If it’s your first time over or we haven’t been friends very long, if you’re Bono or Jen Hatmaker (or if I know you’re an interior designer or neat-freak), I’m going to fire-breathe more fiercely at the piles. Or hide them more carefully–laundry baskets full of all the desk contents stashed in the garage? Don’t peek!

I don’t think Jesus really cares all that much about the piles on my desk or in my closets, except as they reflect the chaos in my soul. I think He cares a lot about what’s going on in there, though. And sadly, I’m often as messy on the inside as the outside.

Last week I had a cool opportunity to work serving food/drink at an event celebrating people using their gifts, resources and experiences to make the Bay Area a better place to live. Their projects ranged from early childhood literacy, to offering dignity (and food) to homeless people, to services for those in abusive relationships or seniors who desire to age in place, and sailing the Bay with at-risk teens and police officers.

I got teary with inspiration, and wondered, What do I do to make my community a better place? Sure, I volunteer here and there. I do my best to be a good neighbor. I try to love my family well. It adds up to something, but is that enough?

Making our communities a better place to live, noticing those who make our communities a better place, seems to be a great way to anticipate the King. So I’ve been pondering and praying, evaluating my activities and noticing others’.

Yesterday we took Tween with us to run some errands. He was a good sport about it, and I gave him an appreciative hug. As we waited to exit the crowded Costco parking lot, a guy sat on the curb, snuggling his dog, and holding a sign indicating that they were homeless.

Not my proudest moment: I turned my face.

My proudest moment: My kiddo didn’t.

He said, “Hey, can I get out? I want to give that man the $2 in my wallet.”

He grabbed his money and the door handle as I choked back tears. I watched the man’s face as he earnestly looked my boy in the eyes and thanked him for the help.

Tween got back in the car, lamenting that the line of cars hadn’t been longer so he could have spent more time talking to the man and petting his dog.

Another not-proud moment: As we drove away, I realized I had $4 in my purse. I hadn’t given it to the man who truly needed it, but I immediately handed it to my surprised son.

I wanted him to understand that sometimes when you give, you get more in return than you’d have expected. He received genuine thanks from the man, and he received more money than he’d given away. And I got another lesson in how much I have to learn about anticipating the King.

Week 2 – Anticipating the King

 Read and light two candles (purple): The first candle represents the Child of the Virgin. The second candle represents the King.

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 11:1-10

Read: We plan appropriately when we expect company, picking up the house and preparing refreshments. When we anticipate the arrival of someone important, we might also brush up on discussion topics or customs which will make our guest feel more comfortable. So too as we anticipate the Root of Jesse, the coming King, we clean up our hearts and faithfully commit ourselves to His righteous ways.

Pray: We anticipate the coming of our King Jesus and pray in His name, Amen.

 

Monday 1 Samuel 8:6-7 How can you honor God as your king today?
Tuesday Psalm 24:8 What battle do you need the King to fight for you?
Wednesday Psalm 145:10-13 What mighty acts has your King done for you?
Thursday Isaiah 6:1-5 Draw a picture of this scene and talk to God about it as you draw.
Friday Mark 1:14-15 How would you explain the good news of God’s kingdom?Saturday 1 Timothy 1:17 What other words could you use to describe your King?

Advent 1 – Preparing for the Child

Having babies didn’t come easily for us. Before each of our two successful pregnancies, we endured months of waiting and praying, regular heartache, and celebrations of the births of many babies to family and friends. Our boys arrived almost six and eleven years into our marriage, definitely not on our timeline.

In both cases, we prepared for their conception and their births. I committed myself to overall health and wellness and, once pregnancy took, we also prepared our home and our lives.

Our first baby arrived on his due date, just before Christmas, just as I had finished writing a paper for graduate school (or so I thought…I had to rewrite all the end notes because, as it turns out, writing end notes during labor is not particularly effective). Our second baby threw us a serious curve ball when he arrived five weeks early, mid-term of my last graduate school course.

You can buy a crib, clothes, and all the equipment. You can decorate a room and baby-proof a house. You can read all the books and blogs. But can any parent ever adequately prepare for how a baby will forever change their life?

The arrival of a child will change your life in ways you’ve never imagined.

Even after they arrive, it seems you never stop preparing room for your children. My kids are now in college and the tail-end of middle school, and I’m still preparing for who they are now and helping them towards who they will become. As we do life together, they also shape me.

In Advent we prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Could anyone have imagined the truth of how the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah would change the world? Could we imagine how He would change our lives, at first glance and daily from then on? Can we imagine even yet what His second-coming will be like?

Immanuel, God with us. Let’s prepare for His birth, and strap in for the wonderful wild ride of life with Him.

Week 1 – Preparing for the Child
December 3-9

Read and light the first candle (middle purple candle): The first candle represents the Child of the Virgin.

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 7:10-17

Read: Parents actively work to prepare for their child’s birth. They visit the doctor, assemble a crib, purchase and wash clothes and fill a nursery, all in anticipation of the child’s arrival. Similarly, in Advent we prepare not only our homes but our hearts for the birth of a Child. While some, like Ahaz, will reject God’s sign, we joyfully wait for God to fulfill His promise.

Pray: Father God, prepare in our hearts room for your Son. In the name of Immanuel we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday 1 Kings 8:56-58 Pray that God will make you aware of His presence with you.
Tuesday 2 Chronicles 13:12 How does God lead you?
Wednesday Psalm 46:1-3, 7 How can God’s presence with you free you from fear?
Thursday Ephesians 1:4-6 What difference does it make in your life that God chose you to be His child?
Friday 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 Is there a hard-to-love person in your life? Ask God to increase your love.
Saturday Jude 24-25 When has God kept you from stumbling?

Advent 1 – Expecting Peace

Stating the obvious: we do not live in a peaceful world. War and rumors of war. School shootings. Crime in all its variety. Job stress. Illness. Divorce. Even in my everyday mundane suburban life, peace seems elusive.

So today’s title made me wonder: do I expect peace?

Maybe my faith is too small. Maybe my focus is off. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and I’m a tightly-wound stress ball.

Maybe I’m operating with the wrong definition. The peace promised in Scripture is shalom, wholeness. It has less to do with lack of conflict or strife and more to do with God’s presence. Emmanuel, God with us.peace

Filled as it is with gatherings of family and friends, candlelight, holiday food, gift-giving and receiving, Christmastime may be the busiest – and least peaceful – time of year. Celebrating Advent helps us to refocus on the Prince of Peace, to be intentional about Christ in Christmas. During Advent (Latin for “coming”) we celebrate God coming to dwell among us in Jesus. We open our hearts to how God wants to come into our lives now. And we look forward in hopeful anticipation of everlasting life with God.

The Advent wreath candle lighting tradition is one meaningful way to celebrate God’s coming. The wreath (a circle) signifies eternity – God is, was and always will be. Three purple candles represent royalty and repentance; one pink candle (for week three) represents joy. The white center candle represents the divine nature of the baby Jesus. Evergreens represent everlasting life in Jesus and His everlasting love for us. The candlelight itself symbolizes Jesus, the Light of the World. Each week we light one more candle, lighting the center candle on Christmas to signify that the light of Jesus Christ has come into the world.advent wreath

 

My prayer for this season? To expect peace as I set aside time to worship the Prince of Peace. As The Message puts it in Philippians 4:6-7, “Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness [peace, shalom], everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” I want Christ to displace worry, for me and for you, and so I offer these Advent readings. May Peace be with you!

Advent Week 1 – Expecting Peace

Read and light the first candle (middle purple candle)The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring 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: Ezekiel 37:26-27 and Isaiah 9:6-7

Read: The prophets spoke God’s words of promised peace to distressed people. Walking in darkness, living in deep darkness, the people had lost their joy. Hold on, declares the Lord, I’m coming. I will shine my light in your darkness. I will establish my peaceful kingdom in your midst. I will send the Prince of Peace to rule over you with justice and righteousness. I will do this because I am your God and you are my people. I am zealous for you. Expect my peace. It will come.

Pray: Dear God, we look forward to your arrival and we eagerly expect your peace. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

 

Monday Psalm 40:1-3 How do you actively wait for the Lord?
Tuesday Isaiah 9:2 How have you seen God’s light during a dark time in your life?
Wednesday  Isaiah 9:6 What does it mean in your everyday life that Jesus is the Prince of Peace?
Thursday Ezekiel 37:26-27 How can you remain aware of God with you?
Friday Micah 7:7 How has God responded to your hopeful watching?
Saturday Luke 12:40 How do you prepare for the Son of Man’s return?