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.

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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?

“Come & See…”

Advent is a season of anticipation, and each year I find myself looking for two things: perfect and imperfect.

As I wrote about here, I look for that moment when the Spirit of Christmas arrives. When I can’t shut out sublime tears, when goosebumps shake me with shivers of joy and revelry and hope: Christmas is coming! Christ is coming!

That describes the perfect Christmas moment. I also look for the imperfect, the things that remind me that all will be well even though nothing on earth will be perfect, that my longings will never be perfectly fulfilled, that I myself and all my striving will still result in something less than. I wrote about that here and here, and this year I laughed every time I looked at our evergreen wreath sticking out its silly tongue at me…wreath-silly

I look for these moments, these encounters. I seek miracles in the mundane. And yet, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not all that observant.

My maternal grandmother collected Hummel figurines. She’s gone now so I can’t ask when she got the first one, which one?, or how she decided to collect them. She was my grandma, my Mor-Mor, and Hummels were her precious thing. I never thought to ask.

Mor-Mor gave me my first Hummel, from her collection, when Guy and I got engaged. Over years she gave me one, then another, then a couple; I don’t have many but I have some. Truly, they’re not my taste but they feel like a tangible connection to one of my most dearly beloveds, and so I treasure them.

I wish I remembered the occasion on which she gave me Mary and Joseph. I found them a home in our display case and for many Christmases I have forgotten to put them out, precisely because they have a permanent rather than seasonal home. This year, though, as we were “behind” in our typical decorating game, I plucked and placed them center-mantel.

A few days later a friend asked if I had a creche we could use to adorn a Christmas brunch table; I texted her a picture of my Hummels. She replied (with a chuckle, I imagine), “Except, Mary is holding Jesus, so that might be post-creche…?”mary-joseph

Egads! I hadn’t noticed Jesus! I hadn’t noticed that this wasn’t Joseph and Mary en route to Bethlehem but, more likely, fleeing to Egypt! I kept them front-and-center to remind me that Christmas is not about my vision of perfect but about Jesus who is Perfect.

Sadly, I feel like I fled through this Advent, more hustle-bustle than present to the moment. The To-Do List eclipsed attempts at a To-Be List and I found myself squelching sobs through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, feeling so not ready for Christmas…

I don’t want to flee through life, living on the run. I want to live in the moment, fully present, listening, seeing, full-body sensing what’s going on around me, what God is doing in and around me. The To-Do List will always be longer, but I want the To-Be list to matter.

Mostly, I want To BE with Jesus, the little guy in arms I hadn’t noticed, The Big Guy who holds me close, who holds together all things–including me.

Like the first disciples, I want to hear–and respond, and mostly, to follow–Jesus’ invitation to “Come and See.” I want eyes to see Him. I want to spend time with Him. I want to let Him change up my priorities. I want to be so excited about who He is and what He is doing that it becomes easy, essential, to issue that same invitation: Come and See…

Come & See
Week 1 – John 1:35-51

Connect
What sights would you like to be invited to come and see?

Study
Read John 1:35-51.
Notice all the words that have to do with sight (look, see, find…). What role does sight play in our relationship with Jesus?
What can we learn from this passage, both in how people refer to Him and in what He says/does, about who Jesus is?
Describe the steps of their transformation as these first disciples encounter Jesus (John pointed Jesus out, they followed, they spent time with Him…).
In vv. 43-45, Jesus “found” Philip but Philip tells Nathanael they have “found” Jesus. What truth does that convey about our relationship with Him?
How is Nathanael’s response to hearing about Jesus different than the others (v. 46)? What different responses have you witnessed when people hear about Jesus?
Jesus offers a word of truth to Simon (v. 42) and Nathanael (v. 47). What might that have been like?

Live
What helps you see Jesus? Or, how do you spend time with Jesus?
Compare the first disciples’ “come and see” evangelism approach to contemporary approaches. How is it like/unlike? How might it influence your own style?
Jesus spoke blessing to Simon and Nathanael. Do you think people expect blessing or curses from Jesus? Explain.
Who would you like to bring to Jesus? What would you tell them about Him?
What does this passage communicate about what it means to be Jesus’ disciple? About how to grow as Jesus’ disciple?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Spirit will open your eyes to see God in all your circumstances, and that He will give you opportunities to bring others with you to come and see Jesus.

Meatless Monday – Ginger Stout Cake

I remember the first time I tasted real gingerbread: I was 20 years old, on a college study abroad program. Walking in the English Lake District, we stopped to warm ourselves in a bakery. Of course I’d had gingerbread before–gingerbread cookies, ginger snaps, even the bread–but I’d had nothing like this, so gingery-fierce it seemed to bite back.

I bought a postcard featuring the recipe, their specialty, and sent it to my grandma. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get the recipe to work, stumped by metric measurements and the different quality of flour available in England.

Fast forward many years to Guy and I deciding how we would combine family Christmas traditions to form new memories with our children. Thanks to my Norwegian heritage, Christmas for me has always been a two-day affair: big family dinner (fish and potatoes) on Christmas Eve + presents and more cookies than a child can dream, followed by a small family affair on Christmas morning to open more presents. Because of the tremendous effort that went into Christmas dinner, Christmas breakfast consisted of a big tin of popcorn, chocolates from family in Norway, and lots of coffee. Popcorn and chocolate weren’t gonna cut it for Guy, a breakfast traditionalist.

Cue the gingerbread memory. My kids like ginger almost as much as I do. Ginger snaps are both kids’ cookie of choice and Teen enjoys gingerbread pancakes for his December birthday breakfast. So, for most of my kids’ lifetimes, I have made gingerbread batter after they go to sleep on Christmas Eve and baked it as they wake up on Christmas Day.

All these years I’ve been making a good gingerbread, but it didn’t have that deep ginger bite that first took me by surprise. Until now. I found a recipe that looked like it might be closer to that Lake District specialty. I took a risk and tried it this Christmas, and the kids heartily agree that they prefer this version.gingerbread

Published in The New York Times, the original recipe comes from The Marrow, a NY West Village German restaurant. I have veganized, healthified, and simplified it some (do yourself a favor: use a stand mixer!). Not that it’s health food; of course it’s a treat. But instead of whipped cream I served it with homemade applesauce for a quick and delish Christmas breakfast. Guy also bought several flavors of popcorn and Christmas stockings were filled with chocolate, so we hold on to the old as we make way for the new.

Ginger Stout Cake
Serves 12

3 flax eggs (1 Tbsp flax meal & 3 Tbsp warm water per “egg”)
3 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 c stout
1 c molasses
1 ½ c white whole wheat flour
½ c whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp each ground cloves, nutmeg, allspice
¼ tsp each ground black pepper & fine sea salt
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c brown sugar, unpacked
½ c granulated sugar
¼ c agave syrup
¾ c safflower oil (or unsweetened applesauce)
¼ c candied ginger, chopped fine

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray.

Prepare flax eggs and set aside. Grate fresh ginger (or use a veggie peeler to slice thin then rough chop).

Add the stout and molasses to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat.

Sift together the flour, ground spices, pepper, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix the fresh ginger, flax eggs, vanilla, sugars, and agave on medium speed for five minutes.

Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the oil (or applesauce). Mix for another 5 minutes. Slowly add the stout mixture and mix for another 5 minutes.

Carefully add the dry ingredients in two parts, mixing well in between each addition.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with candied ginger (it will sink and bake into the cake). Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 15 minutes. Serve with non-dairy whipped cream or homemade applesauce.

merry-cheer

Merry Christmas 2016!

In a world of broken promises, a world of broken peace, a world of brokenness, oh how we need the promises of God, fulfilled in Jesus! Today, more than ever, I am praying for peace for people everywhere, especially for those who cannot call Christmas “merry.”

christmas-cluster

Advent Wreath Candlelighting for Christmas – The Promise Fulfilled

Read and light all candles: 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. The fourth candle represents the song of salvation. The center candle represents Jesus, God’s promise fulfilled.

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: Just as the angel promised, Mary had a baby boy. Unexpecting shepherds also received an angelic promise: in the town of David you will find a baby, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. When they found the Promise Fulfilled, shepherds joined the angel’s song—let all who hear it be amazed: A Savior has been born to us, our Messiah, the Lord! Glory to God in heaven, and on earth, peace.

Pray: Dear God, thank you for fulfilling all your promises in Jesus. In His precious name we will sing your glory forever and ever, Amen.

silent night wide version

artwork by Nancy Ingersoll http://nancy-ingersoll.pixels.com/