Tag Archives: Christmas

A Simple Advent Reflection

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light WILL shine. Isaiah 9:2

     The journey to Christmas is about hope.

     Hope that God has not forgotten us,

     hope that we will see him show up in a real way.

But God had so much loving-kindness. He loved us with such a great love. Even when we were dead because of our sins, He made us alive by what Christ did for us. Ephesians 2:4,5

     The journey is also about love;

     God’s deep, purposeful love for all of his

     creation and everyone throughout history,

     but also right now – today – for you and me.

Be full of joy, O people of Zion! Call out in a loud voice, O people of Jerusalem! See, your King is coming to you. He is fair and good and has the power to save. Zechariah 9:9

     Joy. Not a word we use every day.

     Maybe that’s good since meeting the Child-King who

     will save us counts as a pretty big deal.

     Feel free to experience joy today.

For to us a Child will be born. To us a Son will be given. And the rule of the nations will be on His shoulders.

His name will be called Wonderful, Teacher, Powerful God, Father Who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

     The journey to Christmas is not complete until

     we allow Christ’s peace to invade our lives…

     our past, our present and our future lives.

     Where do you need this peace? And…who needs it from you?

He made all things. Nothing was made without Him making it.  Life began by Him. His Life was the Light for men.

The Light shines in the darkness. The darkness has never been able to put out the Light. John 1:3-5

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes… John 1:14

 

     In these days of lights, music,

     and truly unnecessary calories and activities

     may we feel our “madeness” all the way to our bones.

     May we unveil the brilliant and intruding light of Christ

     and let it take our breath away.

 

scripture excerpts taken from:

New Life Version © Christian Literature International

The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group

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Christmas Blessing, bless on

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Thoughts about Michael

I can’t get passed this season without returning to a painfully vivid childhood memory every year.  As many of my friends know, my amazing parents were foster parents to dozens of kids across two decades.  Growing up, I did not know anything but a noisy, chaotic, Christmas with presents stacked so high in the living room that we could barely see the tree – and usually 6-10 kids tearing into those presents with a frenzy on Christmas morning.

Four of the kids were my biological siblings, my big brothers Terry and Doug, and my little sis, Tami.  The other children were my emotional and spiritual siblings.  Our lives were tied together by the intersection of their need for a safe, stable home and my parents’ open doors.  We learned much from each other and the daily routine of cranking out necessary chores, walking to and from school, and sitting around a crowded dinner table made “family” happen for many of them and certainly redefined what family meant for me.

For eighteen months, one foster child captivated all of us – my parents and all the kids in the house.  His name was Michael.  His mother had actually been a foster child in our home for a few years.  When she was unable to care for him after graduating from high school, he stayed with us.  Then she left town and no one heard from  her for over a year.  It looked as if Michael might suffer the same foster care fate his mom did as she began a cycle of repeating the mistakes that her own parents had made.

At some point, it looked as though my parents might be able to adopt Michael since his mom had disappeared and we were the only family he really knew.  I was overjoyed at the thought of a baby brother.  Already invested in his life – I helped feed and care for him, posed him for funny pictures with hats and sunglasses, and just loved his sweet and gentle spirit.  He was my little brother.

One day, I came home from school and sensed a shadow of pain and loss in the house.  My mom had been crying and my father could barely find the words to tell us that Michael was gone.  There had been some court hearing that day. His mother actually made a surprise appearance and in a matter of minutes, Michael was literally taken from the arms of the only parents he recognized and given into the care of a confused, wayward mother that he did not know or recognize.

I never got to say goodbye.  And, because of the legal parameters of foster care at the time, rarely were foster families able to stay in touch with foster children after they leave.  So, I never saw him again, either.  Not a Christmas goes by that I don’t find a picture of Michael, wonder where he is and pray for good things in his life.  I also pray for  his mom, because even though she wounded us terribly, I understand the past she struggled to escape.  I know that when she and Michael left our lives, there was much help and healing left to be done that could not happen. 

It’s amazing how such losses can become driving forces in our lives.  I find that my days can be defined by the “Michaels” that I don’t want to see leave my life with unfinished spiritual and emotional business.  After years of walking alongside adolescents as a youth minister, I still want them to know they can return with their questions, doubts and struggles and I pray they won’t run away from those who care the most about them.

That is the good news of God’s kind of salvation.  Coming home to him after a long time away is not only allowed, it is celebrated.  And, we find relief and help in unpacking whatever baggage weighs us down from our travels. He never looses track of us and the invitation to return home is always before us. Oh, and he also gives us a spiritual family where we can belong.

So if I could talk to Michael today, I would tell him that we never stopped loving him.  I would remind him that even though we could not go where he was going, God never lost sight of him.  I would ask him if always felt connected to the prayers, thoughts and love of a family hidden in his childhood memories.

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Outgrowing Jesus

I meet lots of people who used to believe. 

They used to put their hope in something bigger than themselves.  They once followed a path that gave them answers, made sense of life’s nonsense and gave them a deep well of joy and purpose.  These friends once believed in Jesus.

But something changed.  Somewhere along the way, the wear and tear of growing up and facing more complicated issues, wrestling with deeper struggles, and enduring more profound loss caused the fire of that faith to be smothered.  And even if they desperately want to believe, they have forgotten how to live in that belief.

Just a few days ago, I heard “Where are You Christmas?” from the movie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  I’m a lyrics girl, so I’m always listening to what the song is trying to communicate through the music and the words.  As I listened to the child’s voice ask the searching questions, it dawned on me that in most places of this song, you can replace the word “Christmas” with “Jesus.”  Take a second to listen to the song as Faith Hill sings it and insert “Jesus” wherever you hear “Christmas”:

That might be the faith heartache of your life.  Where are you Jesus?  Where are you when I have so much to face.  Why did you go away?  My life looks very different from the days when it seemed easy to believe and follow you.  Things have been turned upside-down in my life.  I’ve got a lot more questions than answers, now.  Does that mean all that I had hoped in gets turn upside down, too?

For some of us, maybe the questions of the next verse sum it up.  Where are you Jesus?  Do you even remember me?  I’m not the same as I was – I’ve made a lot of mistakes.  Is that why it feels like  you’ve let me go?

It’s almost as if we are supposed to outgrow believing in Jesus, just like we eventually stop believing in Santa Claus.  Many give up on the childlike notion that God could love us no matter what, meet us wherever we are, accept us regardless of what we’ve done, heal the wounds that have been inflicted upon us and be big enough to answer our toughest questions.

It is an absurdity, I’ll admit.  It doesn’t make much sense to the logical mind to believe in Jesus.   Just like the story of Santa is rooted in the real life events of the amazing St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra who lived around the 3rd century, it would make more sense to acknowledge that yes, Jesus was real person, and a great one at that, but that his redemptive story of saving us with a not-of-this-world kind of strength that actually brought him back to life, really just became a part of the sweet children’s tale that evolved about him through history.

Here’s the catch though.  All those fun details of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer and red suits and of course, the supernatural ability to get around the entire world in one night, well that’s all folklore that’s been added by us, the people who love the  story.  And, many of those details have been added as recently as the last few centuries. 

But, the miracle of Jesus being “God with us”, healing people from miserable diseases, feeding crowds of thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread, dying on the cross for us and then kicking death in the pants so he could come back for us, and offering to be our way, our truth and our life – all those were real-life God-powered events that people really saw over and over again.  The details of his life were written by those who actually knew him or lived as a contemporary of him.  And even more amazingly, things like where he would be born, how he would die and the kind of power he would have were all foretold and written about long before he even lived.  His life story needed no magical embellishments.  This real life story has been retold not because of how much people loved the story of this man, but because of the outrageous way that this man loved us.

The truth is that Jesus is here.  He hasn’t gone away.  He hasn’t let go…and he won’t.  He knows your life is different – and by the way, he does recognize you.  He misses you and would love nothing better than for you to embrace your belief again, realizing that a whimsical story cannot outlast childhood, but the extraordinary, living, breathing hero of the story can withstand whatever doubt or circumstance you face.

We may outgrow a limited understanding of who Jesus was and still is, but he will never grow out of his persistent desire for us to know him in deeper ways, and still see him  with the strong, believing eyes of a child.

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.  John 20:30-31

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Floodlight of hope

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine…For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called:
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Who do I know whose life is cold or weary?  Who in my daily encounters has lost their way on a dark path?  Who is longing for some real assurance about their life being worthwhile?  Who needs the floodlight of hope to be switched on today?

Incredibly absurd as it may seem, that hope can be found in a baby whose name means “The Lord Saves”, and whose nickname (Emmanuel) means “God with us”!  These names, the story that goes with these names are all very familiar.  I’ve gotten rather used to them.  Too comfortable sometimes it seems.  When that happens, my spiritual light goes dim – so much so that the story of Jesus no longer illuminates my soul or enables me to offer a lantern of hope to anyone else’s darkness.

But the words of Isaiah 9, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ light shined on the earth, remind me that my hope is in these remarkable, highly unlikely promises.  I have to remember when I am guilty of unbelief for my own heart or for someone else that God loves to make the unrealistic, real.  He delights in shock and awe.  In our own limited human experience, he longs for us to recognize that he is without limitation.

So, he asks us to enter into a small stable and put our hope in a baby.  A baby whose life story is possibly the most well-known in history.  A baby who would grow up to serve, give, heal, encourage, challenge, and sacrifice.  A baby who would know both human frailty and God’s boundless power.  A baby who would one day say yes to a cross he did not deserve – all to keep the light of hope burning in our hearts.  All so we would trust that God is there, he does love us and longs to walk beside us.  All so we would step into a life that lives, breathes and finds sustenance in the warmth of that light.

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God with us…really?

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[f] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

Isaiah 7:14

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust.

God with us.  Trying to unpack those three words is a bit overwhelming.  With no verb, there is not a time frame to when God is with us.  Wherever we are in our lives – our vast geographies, our span of experiences, our unique situations – God is with us.

 

God with us in our distractions.

God with us in the things we cannot control.

God with us in our celebrations.

God with us in the mundane things.

God with me in my loss.

God with me when I am searching.

God with me when I fail.

God with me in my frustrations.

God with me in a moment of utter joy.

God with me, nudging me, loving me and coming after me when I choose to not be with him.

 

Denise McKinney

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