Winter Solstice 2016

Today is officially the first day of Winter — the Winter Solstice — although the snow and below-freezing temperatures arrived two weeks ago. The first snowfall was powdery and dusted everything in the picturesque way that my imagination always likes to remember.

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First 2016 snowfall — the back deck at Wildwood

Unfortunately this is the mild west coast of Canada and before long the reality of our winter always hits. This week temperatures have been climbing, and thick wet flakes quickly doubled the amount shown here before changing to rain showers. Now we have ten inches of snow packing down under an icy crust and it will probably all wash away before Christmas.

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Icy snow crystals melting on the windshield

Still, on this first day of Winter, it’s beautiful to look at from indoors. This is what I’ll try and remember when it all turns to slush and mud.

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We’re preparing hearts and home
for the coming celebration.

May rich blessings be yours this Christmastime!

~  ~  ~

 

Is it December? (Er, I mean “It’s December!”)

dsc05371It IS December! It’s been December for almost two weeks and I’ve been doing December things, just not blogging about it. I’ve been “M.I.A.” while rejoicing in the arrival of Advent, accompanying hubby on a tree-finding outing, digging through storage boxes for Christmas decorations, beginning the traditional baking spree, writing notes and addressing envelopes — all those seasonal activities that accompany the anticipation of “the most wonderful time of the year.”

This Christmas our entire family, including several dogs, are coming here to celebrate with us! It will be a faith-filled, festive, and perhaps somewhat chaotic holiday together.

Given the snowstorms here this past week and now the forecast for two weeks of frigid sunshine, there is every possibility that it will be a White Christmas, too. What more could one hope for on our usually balmy west coast?

That’s a timely question. What is our hope this Christmas … indeed, every Christmas? Throughout Advent we wait for the miracle of God’s coming, both as a babe in the manger and again in our time. Why? What are our expectations? A good question to ponder as we prepare our homes and our hearts for Christmas.

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 Hope is a star that shines in the night,
leading us on till the morning is bright.
When God is a child there’s joy in our song.
The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong,
and none shall be afraid.
Joy is a song that welcomes the dawn,
telling the world that the Saviour is born.
 ~  ~  ~

 

Advent I – Waiting in Hope

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In church Sunday morning the children were asked what they saw that was different in the sanctuary. One youngster immediately pointed to a banner on the chancel wall: “Hope”. Another acknowledged the Advent wreath with its candles. Hope was our focus on the first Sunday of Advent. As the first of the candles was lit, we read the liturgy…

We wait.
We wait in hope.
We wait for God to be revealed.
We wait for God to tear open the heavens and come down.

 

“We wait in hope for God to be revealed … for God to come down.”

~  ~  ~

 

‘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]

~

(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.)

~  ~  ~

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? 🙂

~  ~  ~

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

~  ~  ~

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.

~  ~  ~