Advent Wk3 – The Song of Glory

christmas-musicYears ago a pastor-friend shared from the Sunday chancel that, each year during Advent, he awaits the moment when Christmas will arrive. That feeling of wonder, the child-like joy-filled Christmas spirit, or truly, the Spirit of God who dreamed the first dreams of Christmas.

Every year since I’ve readily anticipated that moment and still every year it comes unexpectedly. One sad December I thought I’d missed it altogether; God took His time and my Christmas moment arrived in January. Last year it arrived as I read narration for our church Christmas concert.

This year’s moment was just as unexpected. I was supposed to drive carpool, a mundane-motherhood duty, and so would have to leave our staff Christmas party early. But I got times mixed up and asked the other mom if we could switch driving directions; I drove the first shift before donning party clothes and she took the second shift, dropping Tween at home to do homework while we reveled.

I hadn’t thought I’d be there for the caroling, followed by white elephant exchange, but I was. And as we began to sing Silent Night, suddenly my eyes welled with tears. I looked around the room, and my heart swelled with gratitude–for Christmas, for my job and these talented people with whom I work and worship, for the gift of song. I closed my eyes and whispered, Thank you…

It shouldn’t surprise me, really, that Christmas arrived in song. Music has the power to get past our logical brain and into our soul. Sometimes music is how we experience God, and sometimes music is how we express ourselves to Him. Some very blessed times, it is both.

Mary burst into song upon hearing Elizabeth’s confirmation of the angel’s confusing message to her. She glorified God who had lifted her up from her humble state, from poor small-town girl to Blessed Mother of God. She sang her praise-filled recognition that this miracle was not only for her but the fulfillment of God’s long-ago promise to Abraham, that all the world would be blessed through one of his descendants.

During Advent I look for my Christmas moment, but all year long I look for miracles in the mundane. I pray for eyes to see what God is doing. And I try, humbly, imperfectly, to share those blessings, recognizing that they are not for me alone.

Luci Shaw’s poem, Salutation, expresses that joy, that recognition of God in our midst. May we all look for our Christmas moments–God with us–and seek ways to share it with others.

Salutation
Framed in light,
Mary sings through the doorway.
Elizabeth’s six month joy
jumps, a palpable greeting,
a hidden first encounter
between son and Son.

And my heart turns over
when I meet Jesus
in you.

trumpet-angels

Week 3 – The Song of Glory
December 11-17

Read and light three candles (two purple, one pink): The first candle represents the promise of joy. The second candle represents the promise of a King. The third candle represents the song of glory.

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 1:39-56

Read: Unborn John leaped for joy in the presence of unborn Jesus and Elizabeth newly saw her cousin as the mother of her Lord. Blessed because she believed the Lord would fulfill His promises, Mary sings glory to God her Savior, the Mighty One who mercifully lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things. God promised our ancestors mercy and still He works to fulfill His promises.

Pray: Lord, our souls glorify you and our spirits rejoice in you, our Savior. May we always be hungry for the good things you provide. In the name of Jesus we pray and sing, Amen.

Monday 1 Kings 8:28 Where do you need God’s mercy in your life?
Tuesday 2 Chronicles 7:14 How do you humble yourself before God?
Wednesday Psalm 63:1-5 Glorify God by sharing some ways you experience His love in your life.
Thursday Isaiah 43:10-12 What did God tell Isaiah about who He is and who we are?Friday Philippians 4:4-5 When do you sense God’s presence, and how do you express your joy?
Saturday 2 Corinthians 1:10 How has God delivered you?

Advent Week 1 -The Promise of Joy

road

No matter how far in advance I begin preparing for Advent–and as church Communication Director, that can be much farther in advance than you’d think–the first Sunday of Advent always strikes me as a bit of a surprise.

End-August through end-November are my professional busy season, reflecting on the past year as I compile the annual report and projecting forward as we plan for Advent and the new year. Personally, I lose track of the chronological calendar; I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving, wait, Thanksgiving is over…? I need Advent to locate me in time again.

More than Christmastime, when we decorate and bake and celebrate, I need Advent to rouse my slumbering soul, to reawaken my wonder. I need Advent to remind me to expect God to show up in unexpected ways.

I need Advent to hear God’s promise of joy.

This morning the church was beautifully decorated with Christmas trees sparkling with gold and silver ornaments and twinkling white lights. This morning our friends processed to the chancel and, as a family, read from Luke 1 and led us in prayer as they lit the first candle of Advent.

This morning we made a baptismal pledge to help a young family raise their son in faith. His parents grew up side-by-side in this church; his grandparents on both sides are stalwart members; this sweet boy is named for his grandfathers–John, his maternal grandfather, and Wellwood, his paternal grandfather (Woody). His parents are Eric and Liz.

Pastor handed Eric a microphone and invited him to read a Scripture. He read the verse painted above his son’s crib, Luke 1:13-14:

13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth…

This baby John receiving the sacrament of baptism, his mother is named Elizabeth. His great-grandmother Elizabeth also gave birth to a John, his grandfather for whom he is named. And way back when, God unexpectedly showed up to grant the joy of answered long-prayed prayers by another Elizabeth, who gave birth to John the Baptist.

The story of which just happened to be today’s Scripture text.

God shows up in wonder. We may wait for a long journey; we may struggle in the waiting; we may be righteous and still a little bit sad; we may–we do!–need God to show up in unexpected ways. God is good. God is faithful. God promises joy, the joy of His presence no matter whether the circumstances incline us to happiness. I need Advent to remind me to open my eyes to God’s presence, God’s wonder, God’s joy.

Guy snuggling little John at a neighborhood block party

Guy snuggling little John at a neighborhood block party

Week 1 – The Promise of Joy
November 27-December 3

 Read and light the first candle (middle purple candle): The first candle represents the promise of joy.

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 1:5-25

Read: Zechariah and Elizabeth grew old in righteousness but childlessness had stolen their joy. When they least expected it, the angel Gabriel delivered God’s promise of joy: Elizabeth would bear a son! Their long-prayed prayers would be answered at last. John would be a joy and delight to his parents and cause many to rejoice as he prepared people for the Lord.

Pray: Dear God, we eagerly anticipate your joy as you prepare our hearts for your Son. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday Joshua 23:14 What promises has God fulfilled for you?
Tuesday 1 Chronicles 16:8-11 What wonderful acts has God done? Rejoice!
Wednesday Psalm 40:1-3 How do you actively wait for the Lord?
Thursday Isaiah 12:2-4 What difference does trusting God make in your daily life?
Friday 2 Peter 3:9 When has it felt like the Lord was slow in keeping His promise? What hope does this verse offer?
Saturday Jude 24-25 When has God kept you from stumbling?

Books – The Recent Round-Up

Even though May might just be my favorite month – days slightly brighter and longer and birds and flowers singing and springing – the end of school year seems always to twist me up and set me spinning. Not enough time! Too much to do! You have a what project that requires what supplies and you left it to now? Yeesh!

So I’ve been reading but not posting about reading – one too many steps in a busy season. And I’ve picked up a few books and set them back down again, trying to maintain my year’s goal to put myself in the way of beauty; some books create worlds I can’t inhabit right now, though another time, perhaps.

Let’s start with the novels:

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ishiguro’s voice reads like a graceful whisper, punctuated by the secrets his characters tell, overhear, and discern, dropped like bombs. The full-bodied characters are people you know: the energetic and sensitive boy with a big temper, the every-girl who knows how to calm the boy, the ring leader who manipulates them all. This book is simultaneously a beautiful homage to the human being and a cautionary tale against scientific progress that cares for some at the painful expense of others.

The Hobbit (Middle-Earth Universe)The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first read this book when I was 9 or 10 years old. I’m not sure why I read it – it wasn’t assigned for school, but maybe it was in the classroom? Maybe a teacher or librarian recommended it? Fantasy/sci fi have never been my standard fair. Still, scenes and themes from this book have continued to resonate in my mind and heart throughout my lifetime: an honorable, hard-earned quest, companionship, Bilbo and Gollum and Precious, power and humility…

As an adult I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy – before the brilliant movies were released. The Hobbit movies are a great disappointment in comparison, but I enjoyed rereading the book with my own child, now just past the age I was when I first read it.

I relate to Bilbo’s reaction to Gandalf’s suggestion of an adventure: “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.” Though he reluctantly agrees to leave the comforts of home, he often longs to be back in his cozy hobbit hole; except that adventure as a whole changes him so that when he eventually returns, he doesn’t mind that the townspeople consider him odd.

My own adventures, however reluctantly undertaken, have changed me enough that I might somewhat-less-reluctantly venture forth again.

And now for non-fiction:

And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings (Genesis, #1)And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings by Madeleine L’Engle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At least my second reading of this book, I am taken by her descriptions of the world – the wild and beautiful and dangerous natural world; and the world occupied by humans so full of both good and evil and still image their Creator God. L’Engle reminds me to maintain wonder, in spite of the so prevalent brokenness that is our context, and to let wonder move me to prayer.

“When I look at the galaxies on a clear night—when I look at the incredible brilliance of creation, and think that this is what God is like, then, instead of feeling intimidated and diminished by it, I am enlarged—I rejoice that I am part of it, I, you, all of us—part of this glory” (82).

Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents' Guide to Helping Children with Executive FunctioningLate, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning by Joyce Cooper-Kahn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book after reading an article on twice-exceptional kids that referenced the book. Two twice-exceptional kids and no educator or doctor had mentioned the term “executive functioning”: “…a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.” The executive functions include inhibition, mental/emotional flexibility, emotional control, initiation, working memory, planning/organization, and self-monitoring.

The book is clearly laid out, explaining challenges and providing real-life examples and practical how-to-help tips. Reading as a parent of two very different kids with different strengths and weaknesses, I have lots to digest; reading at the end of school year was not the best timing and I’ll need to review it all again in August as we begin a new year’s regimen.

The gift of this book lies in its practicality and hope: “…we believe that our children’s best hope for the future may lay in the discovery of some strength that blossoms into an island of competence, and perhaps even becomes a continent of possibilities for personal satisfaction and job success. After all, people thrive when they build a life around their strengths. There are many different paths to success, even though this is sometimes hard to keep in perspective during the school years” (202).

Mickey Matters

I love Disneyland!

holiday castle

Not in an obsessive, appareled and home outfitted, pin collecting and trading sort of way (not that there’s anything wrong with that if that’s you), but still, I love it. Having grown up in SoCal, Disneyland was “in our backyard” and a regular excursion several times a year for family trips, youth group trips, school trips, you name it.

Of course, it wasn’t nearly so expensive then. Dating myself, I even remember the days of E Ticket rides when Disneyland was free and you paid per ride. And then the SoCal discount, which for a while got you in for about $25 admission.

Strange as it may sound, as a regular part of my life, Disney also influenced my theology.

*Disney encourages child-likeness and so does Jesus: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The wonder, delight, imagination and creativity Disney imbues into the smallest details lights up my soul and reminds me of the beauty our Creator God created into our world and our lives.

*This sign at the entrance to Disneyland

Disneyland sign

sounds reminiscent of this description of Jesus from Hebrews 13:8 – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Disneyland may change (becoming ever more delightful) yet The Magic Kingdom remains “the happiest place on earth.” For those who believe in Jesus, the Kingdom of God has come and we live in the joy-filled presence of the King yesterday, today, and forever.

*It’s not enough to go to Disneyland; you have to enter the Kingdom. Why wait at the gates and never spin the turn-style? Similarly, it’s not enough to go to church; you must enter into a relationship with Jesus. A whole new world becomes available when you enter the gates, when you say “Yes!” to Jesus. When Guy and I were in our 20’s we had a friend in her 40’s who lost the use of her legs to a childhood bout with polio. She loved Disneyland but, confined to a motorized wheelchair, she realistically thought her Disney experience was limited to shops, parades, shows, and Mr. Lincoln, which she thoroughly enjoyed. Content just to be in the park, she was still on the outside of the Disney experience. During one group trip to Disneyland we convinced our friend that Star Tours would be completely safe and doable. We entered through the exit (a small perk) and several of our strapping young men carried her into a seat. She was completely blown away! Having tasted the truth, what else could she try? Matterhorn, Space Mountain, the log ride, we did it all. The joy of the real Disney experience overflowed. It changed her, and it changed the rest of us as well. God’s hand at work didn’t escape our notice as we witnessed, participated in, a conversion unfolding before us. When you go all in, there is so much more to life in the Kingdom.

*And perhaps the most significant aspect of my Disney-influenced theology: hidden Mickeys. One spring, long before we had kids, Guy and I took five Disneyland trips with friends and family in the course of three short months. By trip three we began to get bored (gasp!) and then someone mentioned hidden Mickeys, the three circles that form the “classic” Mickey Mouse shape hidden in plain sight throughout Disney parks and animated films. The hunt for hidden Mickeys transformed our next trip. We looked for, and found, hidden Mickeys. We swapped stories with other hunters. And we observed that as we trained our eyes we saw Disneyland differently; as we train our eyes – and our hearts – to look for God, we see life differently. In Isaiah 6:3 the angels declare, ““Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” But we won’t see the Lord’s glory unless we open our eyes to see it. We find what we seek.

And so it has been important for me to share Disneyland with my own kids. We moved away from SoCal when Tween was only a toddler; it has since required significant logistical (and financial) effort to create Disney memories. Five years ago we celebrated my birthday at Disneyland (our first trip to California Adventure); this week we spent two days there, likely our last trip while Teen still lives under our roof.

Disney theology aside, Disneyland can be completely over-stimulating, capable of bringing out your very worst self. Amid the happy faces we saw plenty of families fighting and young children screaming. It is real life on steroids. And so we look for miracles in the mundane, as extraordinary as this mundane may be.

Where did we see miracles?

*We put our cell phones away and shared conversation and experiences. We played together.

*We each compromised for the sake of the family. Tween doesn’t cherish big thrills while Teen lives for them. Teen put away his teen pride to ride Dumbo. Tween tried Space Mountain, Matterhorn, Indiana Jones. Afraid of heights, I braved Soarin’ Over California. When Tween decided that Space Mountain wasn’t scary, was in fact his favorite ride, Guy rode it more than once even though he doesn’t like it.

*I enjoyed one-on-one time with Tween while the others rode California Screaming, beyond Tween’s comfort zone. We rode the Under the Sea carousel and the Golden Zephyr, both of which he loved. I commented, “See? It’s fun to be a child!” to which he replied, “It is, and I think you enjoy being a child just as much as I do!”

*Of his own accord, Teen decided that he would bow to any little princess who made eye contact with him. He graciously played the role of prince and added to so many little girls’ wonder-filled day at Disney.

*We told stories from previous Disney trips and both created and re-created memories our kids will be able to share with their friends and family.

If you live in SoCal, you can stop reading now as you probably have your own Disney do’s and don’t’s. If you’re planning a Disney trip, this is for you based on what worked and didn’t for us.

*Never, ever, ever buy tickets from a private vendor. With such a big heart of goodness, Guy trusts too willingly. He bought discount tickets from a young woman who claimed her grandmother bought tickets for the grandkids who couldn’t use them. She lied, took his money, and disconnected her phone. The tickets had been used (Disney takes your picture and associates it with the ticket bar code so tickets are completely non-transferable – which would’ve been good to know beforehand) and we had to buy tickets at the gate, a painful punch to the pocketbook.

*Go on a weekday. Friday Disney was at 64% capacity and it felt doable; Saturday it was at 81% capacity and it felt like 100%. Holiday time is extra-special with all the beautiful decorations.

*Comfort rules, especially, wear good walking shoes. We walked 25 miles in two days and that doesn’t count the hours standing in line. Fourteen+ hour days on your feet will take a toll even in the most supportive shoes.

*Where to stay: two ways to go… since you will really only sleep and shower in the hotel, you can go budget. You’ll want to be within easy walking distance, with an included continental breakfast, and affordable parking. Or save your pretty pennies and stay at the Paradise Pier. You’ll have a shorter walk and get into the park an hour before opening. We stayed at PP last time and I wish we’d made the same choice this trip.

*App at it. Seriously, download Disney’s park app. It will tell you wait times at lines which is oh so very helpful in deciding where to spend your time.

*Go with the flow. Pick a park, pick a direction, and go for it. Encourage everyone to try (just about) everything with an open mind and attitude.

*Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. We walked a fine line, gently nudging Tween beyond what he wanted to do while also respecting his boundaries. He may never go on Indiana Jones again, but especially after the ride broke and we had to be escorted out, it was important to us that he have the full experience before we left the park. California Screaming looks too “traditional coaster” and he knows he doesn’t like roller coasters so we let that one stand. Taking risks and setting limits are both valid options, a good life lesson.

*Lockers cost less than lunch. We stuffed a backpack with bagels and cream cheese, fruit, trail mix, and a water bottle, along with our jackets for after sundown, and stuck them in a locker. As food averages $10-15/person/meal, the locker saved us significantly on lunch.

*Put the cell phones away. Our kids left their phones in the hotel; parents brought cell phones to use as cameras and to keep in contact when we went separate ways. This meant line-waiting actually became family time. We saw our kids faces instead of the tops of their heads.

*Caffeinate the kids. In generally we stay off sodas, but a caffeine jolt can really help get everyone through the day.

*Take advantage of Fast Pass, essentially a reservation to ride, but be strategic: if the wait time for Space Mountain is an hour, you’ll need to wait an hour until you can get another FP.

*Let the wonder captivate you. Disney does a great job creating “moments.” I got a little choked up during the holiday lighting of Small World. Not just me, the kids readily admitted it was cool.

holiday small world

Two days later and we are still recovering from Disney-induced exhaustion, but it was worth it. We closed our Disney adventure with Fantasmic, the show on the Rivers of the World, followed by fireworks. Fantasmic allows us access into Mickey Mouse’s dream where “beauty and love will always reign true.” After defeating his nightmares and dancing with his good guy buddies Mickey exclaims, “Now that’s a dream!” Which is just how I feel – we had quite a Disney dream. Until next time…

Bug bye