‘Tis Christmastime

The winter solstice happened this week. The shortest day of the year is now behind us.

We spent several hours on the road Monday, transitioning from the damp and balmy west coast into the brisk and snowy east Kootenays. There is no doubt we’ll be having a white Christmas.

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As the sun slowly appeared over the mountain beside our daughter’s home, we marvelled once again at the exceptional beauty of God’s creation.

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Outside the family room window there is a patio bordered by trees, and every day dozens of birds arrive, flitting from the branches to feast on what they obviously consider a gourmet granola meal that is always provided for them. On our first morning here I counted nine different species in less than an hour!

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Common Redpolls)

(Common Redpolls)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Steller's Jay)

(Steller’s Jay)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Grey Jay)

(Grey Jay)

God provides for all of his creatures … these birds, and us. It’s Christmastime — in fact, today is “Christmas Eve Day” — and we’re full of praise and thankfulness for Him who was born this night to provide for us and our salvation.

~

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

[Luke 1:35]

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(I’ll be taking a break from blogging next week. I wish each of you a joy-filled Christmas, and a New Year filled with good health and many blessings.)

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How many candles does it take?

He stood on tiptoes, peering at the Advent wreath, counting aloud. Then, “Okay, but if there are four Sundays on the way to Christmas, why are there five candles?”

Advent Candles

His sister had been trying to answer his questions, but with growing impatience she shrugged. “That’s the Jesus candle. Now c’mon … let’s go.” She reached for his shoulder to steer him away, but he ducked from her grasp.

“But Mom told me that one was the Jesus candle,” he said, pointing to the Christ candle which this day sat unused on the communion table pushed to one side of the chancel.

“Yeah, well, that’s the one we use every Sunday to remind people that Jesus is the light of the world. This one, um … this one is his birthday candle.”

“But birthday candles belong on cakes!”

“There’s cake downstairs, remember? If you want a piece we’d better hurry or there won’t be any left.”

“But why is the cake downstairs when the candle is up here?”

“Because Jesus wouldn’t like people to get cake crumbs on the church carpet. For pete’s sake, don’t you know anything?”

As she pushed him ahead of her down the aisle toward the doorway, I smiled at the memory of another little boy in a former church, and the endless questions that had kept a young minister fumbling for answers during a children’s story. There’s nothing more delightful and at the same time more frustrating than a child’s insatiable curiosity.

There’s also nothing more important than satisfying that curiosity, of offering truthful explanations geared to an appropriate level of understanding. In this situation I thought his sister did a remarkably good job. Don’t you?🙂

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Was it “just” another Sunday School pageant?

CamelThere was a realistic-looking camel in our church narthex yesterday; also a wooden donkey in the sanctuary and woolly sheep on the chancel. Later, a baby appeared, nestled in a manger.

Sheep-2A young shepherd rolled on the floor clutching his sheep, while a diminutive angel, minus her halo and with a bent wing and bare feet, watched the proceedings and waited for her cue.

Sunday began the third week of Advent with its theme of JOY — and there was a lot of joy in that service!

Shepherd-on-floor

 

Angel

Every year the church school children rehearse with the adults and come together for an intergenerational pageant depicting some aspect of the Christmas story. This year it was all about comparing the story as it appears in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Storyboard

Performance

What is it about these presentations that makes them much anticipated annual events? They aren’t slick, professional performances, but they always draw ‘a full house’. I think much of their value is in the preparation — the listening and learning, the unravelling of a holy story that is a mystery to children. Is it really so hard to understand that Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem and had a baby in the stable because there was no vacancy in the local inns?  No, but try to explain to children the love that is so integral to the story.

Each year the church confronts them (and us) with the story of God’s incredible love as seen from different perspectives, and then leaves the result in God’s hands. The hope is that within their lifetime, the seed now sown will be nurtured into a meaningful and life-sustaining faith.

So no, yesterday’s giggles and halting recitations weren’t part of “just another Sunday School pageant”, but a joy-filled gathering, an experience of sharing and learning, helping the church convey the wonder of God’s love as expressed in a cradle and a cross.

Baby

 

Tree-Cross

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HOPE in a changing world

This has been the first week of Advent 2015. We begin again to HOPE.

The prophet Isaiah said Jesus would be the hope of the nations, but in our changing world today we sometimes wonder at the reliability of that promise.

The late Christian writer Henri Nouwen emphasized that hope is faith in something beyond our control. While the world around us trembles with insecurity, we crave the kind of assurance that hope can bring. Advent is a time of inner expectation.

I went into this week thinking a lot about the message given last Sunday by the minister of our church, the Rev. Dr. Gerard Booy. Wanting to hear it again, I turned to our church website where there is a page with links to his sermons. It’s a message so very worth sharing. I could provide a direct link for you, but to make it easy I’m embedding the video right here.🙂

His message was based on Jeremiah 33:1-26. If you’d like to read that passage first, you’ll find it here, but you can also follow it at the beginning of the video.

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Hope is deeper than optimism. As we make our way through this Advent season let’s move forward with the confident expectation that HOPE will lead us forward into the PEACE, JOY and LOVE that is coming.

~  ~  ~

It’s NOT Christmastime yet!

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Thanks to those merchants who begin their Christmas marketing before Hallowe’en is over, it’s easy to be duped into thinking we need to keep in step with them and start our own preparations earlier every year.

I love everything about Christmas — celebrations of holiday and holiness along with the preparations, family festivities and traditions. What I don’t like is pushing aside our Canadian Thanksgiving, Remembrance/Veterans Day, and American Thanksgiving in a rush to dig out the creche, Christmas ornaments and coloured lights.

The one exception in our household is when we bake our Christmas fruitcakes six weeks before Christmas. The whole family gets involved, and for that one day, carols provides a backdrop to the measuring, stirring and wonderful baking aroma. But just for that one day.

(Oh, all right, I suppose I also have to admit we bought a poinsettia at the church’s Christmas Bazaar this past weekend. It’s a HUGE event and is always held the third weekend of November. Any later and it would conflict with Advent.)

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A friend reminds me every year that Christmas Eve is soon enough to put up her tree and bring out the few treasured ornaments that will remain in place through the twelve days of Christmas and come down after Epiphany. I don’t argue with her because her tradition is reasonable.

Do I wait until Christmas Eve? Certainly not! The older I get, the faster time passes, so I find it necessary to embrace all of Advent and the twelve days of Christmas to ensure I have adequate time to prepare myself and absorb all the special joys of the holy season.

However, I wait until after my American friends have celebrated their Thanksgiving Day. When the following Sunday ushers in Advent, then I’m set to move ahead into Christmas preparations. Then and only then! Our outside lights will go on to remind neighbours that we’re looking forward to celebrating the birth of Him who is the Light of the world. The miniature porcelain village will be unpacked along with the creche, and by the next weekend we’ll be hunting for the perfect tree.

It’s important to respect each special occasion, and I think it’s difficult to focus properly on their history and true significance if we are rushing past in anticipation of what will follow. So no, it’s not Christmastime quite yet.

This week I join in wishing my American friends a very blessed Thanksgiving.

~

Giving thanks always for all things
unto God and the Father
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

[Ephesians 5:20]

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The Solstice and Seasonal Turnaround

Late dawn. Early sunset. Short day. Long night. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, the December solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year.” *

Solstice Sun

In last Friday‘s post I mentioned Sunday would mark several things — the fourth Sunday in Advent, the beginning of Christmas week, and the Winter Solstice. Someone on Facebook today said, “What? Wait! You mean this is only the first day of winter?”

Yes, it’s the first official day. I don’t mind winter, but it’s the one season here on the B.C. west coast I wish were a little bit shorter. Misty, grey days get tiresome. Still, today we can take heart in knowing that from now on, daylight hours will slowly begin to increase again.

I wish the moody seasons of writing were equally predictable.

Writing every day is a habit for me, but I admit the quality and quantity of my words are often seasonally affected. During November I concentrate on NaNoWriMo, but when December arrives I love to focus on Christmas. The days (and evenings) fill up with special activities and there is less energy leftover for creative writing. With the approach of the New Year I start thinking about my need for a renewed commitment to my W.I.P. (work in progress), whether that means adding new material or revising what I have.

Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but I’m not one of them. I don’t see the point of deliberately setting myself up for failure. Convincing myself that when the calendar page flips over I’ll magically be able to change my ways… well, I know from experience it doesn’t happen. It will still be winter in January. I’ll continue to put words on a page but it will probably be a good time to work on scenes that require darker emotions.

A new season is under way; the year is beginning to turn around. It’s the season for indulging our fictional fancies, maybe starting something altogether new…a different genre, a fresh theme or plot.

Winter is just right, too, for fleecy sweatshirts and cosy sweaters, shearling slippers, afghans and lamplight. Just right for settling in with mugs of sweet tea and hot chocolate. Time to hunker down and survive.

Spring is coming. I promise!🙂

~

“For as long as Earth lasts,
        planting and harvest, cold and heat,
    Summer and winter, day and night
        will never stop.”

[Genesis 8:22 – Msg]

~  ~  ~

*EarthSky.org

What Kind of a Welcome?

Welcome

Many years ago we repainted our front door. Finding the right colour was challenging. I was on a ‘green kick’, as anyone who has been inside the house can attest, but green with the bluish-gray trim didn’t seem quite right. Plus, green is considered a cool colour, and I wanted something warm and welcoming. I didn’t think red would be an option with the salmon tinge of the bricks. I even considered black, which would have looked fine but definitely wouldn’t have been welcoming. The door remained its original sickly off-white during the months of my indecision.

In desperation I finally decided “it’s just paint”, and tried a red. I was surprised at how much I liked it, and I have never been tempted to change it to any other colour. Last June, while attending a garden tour at writer-friend, Katherine Wagner’s home, I discovered she also has a red door and her home is clad in brick almost identical to ours. Her home seems very welcoming to me, and seeing that front door validated my own colour choice.

How we welcome people into our homes says a lot about us and about the hospitality that we plan to extend to visitors. People don’t generally approach a home where they expect to encounter hostility. Of course, painting a front door red isn’t going to change what a visitor will find inside. That’s up to us.

Sunday will be the first day of Winter — the shortest, darkest day of the year — and the beginning of Christmas week. We come face to face with Advent IV, where the focus is on Love. I’ve been thinking about how the world is waiting. We say we’re waiting to celebrate the birth of Christ, but the nature of the world into which God sent His Son isn’t very loving or welcoming.

With 185 villagers kidnapped and 35 killed in northeastern Nigeria, 132 schoolchildren killed by Taliban insurgents in Pakistan, an economic crisis happening in Russia, eight children dead in Australia, the Sony cyber-hacking giving rise to discussions of cyber-war with North Korea — no, I’d say it isn’t a very loving world at all.

We are devastated by the terror, cruelty, pain and poverty of the world, and frustrated because our cries of protest aren’t heard by the perpetrators of hatred. While a few people are able to physically or financially make a significant difference to victims, others are consumed by helplessness.

Then I hear of the $3800 raised by kind-hearted people to pay for prosthetic legs for a dog who lost his back legs when they were frozen to the ground; and others who came forward to help replace the belongings of a family whose house was demolished in a mud slide.

Money is donated to relief agencies, food is given to food banks, people volunteer to cook and feed the hungry — seemingly small and insignificant gestures from a global perspective, but life-changing to individuals in need.

We may not be able to change the entire world, but we can make a difference. As we prepare to welcome the Christ back into our hearts and homes this week, I hope He will approve of our love and how we are demonstrating it.

~

Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say,
‘Master, what are you talking about?
When did we ever see you hungry and feed you,
thirsty and give you a drink?
And when did we ever see you sick
or in prison and come to you?’
Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth:
Whenever you did one of these things
to someone overlooked or ignored,
that was me—you did it to me.’

[Matthew 25:37-40, MSG]

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