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Tag: Christmas

The Anticipation Isn’t Over

Grinch

My son calls me the Grinch. I have this weird thing about me that I like to have all the Christmas decorations down before starting the New Year. I’m torn about it. Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, as the song goes. I’m filled with whimsical sorrow as I wrap up the nativity scene and stow away the ornaments for another year. However, part of me gets excited because the anticipation isn’t over.

Jesus came into the world as every baby does—hungry for milk, unable to control his arms and legs, eventually sucking his fist. Our great God donned a frail, tiny human body made in his image. He was born in a dirty stable to a young woman and a modest, hard-working carpenter. There was no pomp and circumstance. The innkeeper continued with his duties, unaware of the miracle in the barn outside. The guests dined and slept peacefully in their rooms while the humble savior of the world lay in a feeding trough. God could have chosen to have His Son born in the Bethlehem version of a Four Season’s hotel or a luxurious palace with parades, singing, and dancing as the world rejoices at his arrival.

But that’s not how it happened.

God chose such humble beginnings to break down the barriers between a perfect God and imperfect man. He didn’t don royal robes. He removed them to cloth himself in swaddling cloth so that we might connect with Him, relate to a flesh-and-blood man, feel His love without shame, and let Him wash away our sins. All because our God is a relational God.

I get excited to put away the Christmas decorations because it symbolizes preparing for what God is doing next. Our anticipation shouldn’t get tucked into a box and stuffed in the attic until next year. We need to ready our hearts for His return because next time, He won’t come as a tiny baby. He’ll return as the crowned King in all His strength, might, and splendor. A single star’s light won’t shine to guide a group of shepherds. Jesus will shine bright in all His glory for all to see. This time there won’t merely be a few magi paying their respects. Instead, every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus as Lord.

In Bethlehem, Jesus was born to be the sacrificial lamb. When He returns, He will come as the Lion of Judah.

Hallelujah, come Lord Jesus!

Lion

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Mary & Jesus

Know Your Source

It was a big day in the Dudley household. My sixteen-year-old passed the written driving test to get his learner’s permit. Shortly after, I handed over the wheel and was out on the road with him, traversing through neighborhoods. Handing over the controls isn’t an easy task. My right foot pumped an invisible break, and my grip tightened on the door handle. Somehow, I maintained a calm voice, “you’re doing well, now break… break… break harder.”

It’s strange to think that Mary the mother of Jesus would have fallen somewhere between my oldest and middle child’s ages when the angel, Gabriel, visited her. Here was a young girl who became the mother of the savior of the world before she’d even could qualify to get her driver’s license.

And talk about relinquishing control. Pregnancy itself feels like something has taken over your body. Add to that, the weight of wondering whether her betrothed would still marry her after discovering she was already with child. Back then, women relied on a man’s support and name. A ruined reputation could have landed Mary begging in the streets.

However, Mary’s only question to the angel, Gabriel, when he foretold what was about to happen was a technical one, “How can this happen? I am a virgin” (Luke 1:34). She didn’t ask about the consequences, what others might think of her, or what they might say. She didn’t worry if her husband would divorce her or her parents renounce her as their daughter. If she was concerned about her abilities to raise the Son of the Most High, she didn’t pose them. Mary told the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true” (Luke 1:38).

Mary trusted God. She even visited with her cousin Elizabeth and rejoiced in song:

Mary holding Baby Jesus

 “How my soul praises the Lord.
  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
  For He took notice of His lowly servant girl,
  and from now on, all generations will call me blessed.
  For the Mighty One is holy, and He has done great things for me.
  He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear Him.
  He mighty arm has done tremendous things!” (Luke 1:46-56).

That is not the song of an anxiety-ridden, frantic with worry, young woman. Mary’s attitude of praise came not from looking at her troublesome situation but by looking back at God’s faithfulness. He was and is the promise keeper. He was and is the way maker. To another, Mary’s circumstances would have looked bleak, but Mary’s source wasn’t Joseph, nor her parents, or her neighbors’ opinions.

Mary trusted The Source from whom all blessings flow—The Lord Most High.

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Girl under Christmas Tree

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Girl making list under the Christmas Tree

“Is it time yet?” A gallon of Redbull doesn’t compare to Christmas anticipation. The merry gentlemen may be resting but the holiday electrifies little children as they countdown the weeks, days, and eventually hours.

My legs used to wiggle under the covers, and my ears strained for the sound of jingle bells or reindeer hooves on the rooftop. My brother refused to sleep until the moment of Christmas arrived. He’d call out, “Is it time yet? Is it Christmas?”

If you enjoy sleep, Christmas Eve at my house was not the place to be. We’d rouse our parents every fifteen minutes to see if it was time to open presents. By the time morning arrived, Mom would drag her sleep-deprived body out of bed and stumble to get a cup of coffee. Dad would get their revenge by making us wait at the top of the stairs while he checked to see if Santa truly paid a visit.

The anticipation was almost our undoing. Permeant smiles fixed on our faces, and the occasional nervous giggle burst through our lips. Our hands gripped the railing and our feet danced beneath us, ready to bolt the moment we were given the okay.

Are we looking for the return of God the same way?

Matthew 24:42 and 44 says, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming… You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Are we prepared?

Do we wait with expectancy, or have we become complacent like the foolish bridesmaids from Matthew 25:1-4? “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.”

Are we staying awake with anticipation?

Sleeping Santa

Matthew 25 continues: “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 
The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.”

Are we ready for the banquet or late for the party?

The decorations are set, dishes prepared, and table arranged for a wedding feast. Jesus awaits his bride. Are we anxiously anticipating the day our Bridegroom arrives? Are our oil lamps full? Have we set our hearts right?

As we prepare to celebrate Jesus’s birth, let us not forget the reason He came.

And that He’s coming again.

Girl with lamp waiting expectantly

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The Duke's Refuge book cover

It’s the Final Countdown

The Duke's Refuge book cover
Less than a month until The Duke’s Refuge will be available. Preordering for paperback copies will be available in the next few days.
Christmas Mall Shopping

The count down begins. Two weeks until Christmas. Thirteen shopping days left. Seven or less if you’re ordering online with delivery. We have our who-to-buy-for lists, a pile of Christmas Cards that we still have to run to the post office and buy stamps to mail, and presents to wrap (but the good scissors keep disappearing, and so we get desperate and start using kiddie scissors much too small for our fingers).  Then there’s always that one person for whom you forgot to purchase a gift. The one that springs up at the last minute. With a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, you dash down to the nearest store, whether it’s CVS, the grocery store, or the gas station and grab anything that looks like it might be somewhat thoughtful. You try to play it off, “Oh, well I remembered that one time when you had a hankering for Slim Jim’s, so I just wanted to make sure you never again went without.”

Christmas can be crazy and unnerving, but things haven’t changed in a couple thousand years. It was much the same the night Jesus was born.

Bethlehem bustled with people pouring into town. The census drew men, women, and children from far and wide. Relatives laid out blankets on the floors and rooftops to accommodate all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who were forced to visit by a decree of the King. Vendors worked overtime to sell their wares, not wanting to miss out on the opportunities provided by the influx of customers. Innkeepers made up beds in every alcove and crevice to accommodate guests. They were much too busy seeing to the demands of their current patrons to make room for a poor couple. Overwhelmed and understaffed, they didn’t have time to care for the needs of a teenage girl about to go into labor or notice when a messiah was born in a nearby barn.

They didn’t miss it because of their evil acts or because they were bad people.

They missed it because they were too busy.

Stained Glass Manager Scene

Life doesn’t slow down or stop around Christmas, it only gets busier, but I don’t want to miss the miracle and blessing of Christmas. I can get caught up in the demands and the hustle and bustle as much as the next person, so I have to make an extra effort to pause and remember why we celebrate. I have to set aside moments to seek God and soak in the true reason for Christmas.

A savior was born.

God took on human form with all its frailties, infirmities, and weakness, so that we could understand the depths of His love, the extreme measures He would take, and how much he would sacrifice not to be separated from His beloved children.

God stepped down from His royal throne and curled up in a dirty and dank manger, so we may call ourselves His children and know His peace and joy for all eternity

Come, Lord Jesus.
Our Immanuel
God with us.

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Annunciation stained glass window at St. Mary's Holdingford, MN

Courage in the Unknown

“I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” 

Those Valiant words came from the lips of a young virgin during a time when there were so many consequences for an unmarried pregnant womanAnnunciation-Stained glass window at St. Mary's in Holdingford, MN. I wonder if Mary considered whether Joseph might divorce her for being with child? Did she have any inkling that she would travel a great distance while nine months pregnant on a donkey without a place to sleep? God told her she would give birth to not only a son but to a savior but did she even conceive of the idea that her son would not be accepted by this world. That he would be beaten and crucified, and she would watch him die?

I’m a gasp-out-loud sort of person, especially during a movie when a truck comes out of nowhere and slams into a person. I jump and suck in a loud gasp. Sometimes I’ll grab the hand or knee of the person next to me in a tight grip. It’s my natural shock reaction to the unexpected moment. It might be because uncertainty puts the fear of God into me, even for good things like vacations, surprise parties, and heaven.

Yes, even heaven. I’m excited to go there someday, and I know heaven is an amazing place with no more pain, or tears, or death. It has singing, laughter, and streets of gold. However, a part of me wisHeaven's opening sky imagehes to see travel brochures showing the houses with many rooms Jesus has prepared for us. Or, a panoramic spread displaying God’s light glinting off the streets of gold. Or, maybe images of the river of life’s crystal waters flowing from God’s throne down by the fruit-laden limbs and strong roots of the tree of life (Revelation 22: 1-2).

With these Biblical descriptions, the unknown can still be scary even if it’s a good unknown.

Yet, here was Mary whom the angel Gabriel approached and said that she, a virgin, would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and conceive a child. Mary heard all this and said, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:26-38)

I’d hate to think of my response. Assuming I didn’t run screaming from the room at the surprise of seeing an angel, I probably would have either said, “You want me to what now?” or “I think you have the wrong address. Check with Natalie next door.”

Are we ready for God’s opportunities? Are our hearts prepared to say, I am the Lord’s servant, may your word be fulfilled?

The Christmas season is a primer to ready us with anticipation. Our eyes, ears, and hearts should have their antenna up for opportunities to show God’s love and spread joy. It’s easy to follow the known family Christmas traditions, but what is God stirring up in your heart this Christmas?

Is shopping, decorating, sending cards, and other busyness overshadowing the prompting to do something nice for that Scrooge - 1984 Actor George C. ScottScrooge in your life? You know, the one person you want to avoid, but God keeps bringing him or her to the forefront of your mind. Are you valiant enough to say, yes Lord, the way Mary did?

It can be scary to reach out to someone who may not be receptive or whose reaction could range anywhere from mild disinterest to an explosive diatribe. But, if God is tugging upon your heart to do something nice for that person, don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you.

Through Mary, God blessed the world. We might not be ready for that pressure, but we can start with one.

In the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone.”

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Coming down the stairs Christmas morning as a child

Do You Still Tremble?

Christmas morning, after a night of fitful sleep, my brother and I used to awake long before dawn. We’d stand at the top of the stairs our knees bouncing with Coming down the stairs Christmas morning as a childexcitement. Mom attempted to brush our hair for pictures as we danced around. Dad checked downstairs to ensure Santa paid us a visit. He lit the fireplace and oohed and aahed over the presents loud enough to start us quaking with anticipation. When he finally gave the okay, we’d barrel down the stairs with peels of giddy laughter.

Today, I use the same methods of Christmas torture on my own kids. There is nothing more precious than a child’s bubbling anticipation and eager delight.

As an adult, gifts don’t seem to hold the same fervent bliss. Over time, the excitement of presents fades, but it’s replaced with a lasting joy that stems from the love behind the gift.

I love Christmas Carols. Not so much pop holiday songs on the radio, but reverent songs filled with hope and rejoicing. My particular favorites are carols written in the late 1700s to the mid-1800’s. These songwriters put into words the desperate need for a new hope and a new joy found in a savior.

Take a look at some of the sections of these lyrics:

God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman

Remember, Christ our Savior

Was born on Christmas day

To save us all from Satan’s power

When we were gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy

 

O Holy Night

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.Lorri and boys sitting in front of Christmas Tree

Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

 

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Born that man no more may die

Born to raise the sons of earth

Born to give them second birth

Hark! The herald angels sing

“Glory to the newborn King!”

 

Joy to the World

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found,

 

While only a fleeting happiness awaits in the presents under the tree. We can rejoice in the eternal joy given in to us that Christmas day long ago. Jesus, in His awe-inspiring grace, took the humble form of an infant, born in a lowly manger, because he ached to save us from the evil of this world and from our mistakes and sins. He chose to endure a mortal life, with its hunger, pain, sickness, and suffering, out of His love for us. So that, on Christmas morn and every day thereafter, we can have His comfort, His joy, and the hope of heaven.

So go ahead and dance around, tremble with excitement, cry tears of joy, delight in the wonder of the miracle of Christmas. For unto us a savior was born!

Merry Christmas!

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. – Luke 2:10-11

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Light of the Bethlehem Star

The Darker the Background the Brighter the Light

There’s a painting technique I like to use where you start with a painted black canvass. When you have a black background, colors and especially whites become Bethlehem Starvivid. They pop out of the artwork. If a pale yellow is applied to an already white canvass, it blends in or seems muted. However, if you apply a pale yellow to a black canvass, it casts a bright glow in contrast against the dark background.

“A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.” Leonardo Da Vinci

The darker the background, the brighter the light.

It was a dark time. The prophets had stopped prophesying, and for four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments, God seemed to have fallen silent. The Roman Empire with their idols and multiple gods dominated the region, and the despotic King Herod ruled over Judea.

Yet in this dark time, light entered the world.

She became pregnant as a virgin. God had visited Mary and told her not to be afraid, but already the whispers about her condition had begun. Her family hung their heads, and neighbors moved to the other side of the street when she passed. Joseph, her husband, had even planned to divorce her in secret if God hadn’t sent an angel to him in a dream.

Dry dust caked her dress and face as they traversed the hot, overcrowded roads. She longed to stretch her aching limbs. Her backside throbbed from the jolting sway of the donkey, but she kept her complaints to herself, for she didn’t want to appear ungrateful. She fared far better on the beast than if she would have trudged the long miles to Bethlehem, her back arched to off-set her well-rounded belly. Another spasm cramped her abdomen. Her fingers clenched the donkey’s mane, not only to combat the pain, but to ensure she didn’t pass out and fall off its back. She pinched her lips to not cry out for her Mama. The ill-timed census drew her away from her family when she needed their wisdom the most. Joseph was the only familiar face, and even though their families had been longtime friends, she knew little of her new husband.

Joseph returned from speaking to another innkeeper and took the reins. She searched his face hoping for a positive answer, but his eyes mirrored the same concerns and doubts plaguing her heart. He shook his head and her hopes plummeted like a bucket down a deep well.  He turned the donkey in another direction as another birthing pain wracked her body. The intervals were becoming more frequent, and when she thought the searing pain couldn’t get much worse it grew in intensity. She fought against tears congealing in the traveling dust within her throat.

God has a plan. He wouldn’t allow this to happen to His son.

Or, had she misunderstood?

Joseph stops to speak to another innkeeper on the outskirts of town. A rumpled elderly man points to a barn and another contraction seizes her body. Mary muffles her scream into a whimpering moan. Joseph’s eyes lock on hers. Lines of worry crease his forehead. He nods to the innkeeper and presses a coin into the man’s gnarled hands.

Joseph helps her down off the donkey’s back. Her legs wobble, and Mary leans heavily on him as he guides her into the barn and settles her into the hay. Curious animals stomp their hooves and turn their heads in her direction. The manger is filled with their earthy smells and bleating noises. Her grip on Joseph’s hand tightens as the pain overwhelms her. Why would God allow His son to be born in a lowly manger? The inns were full. There was no other place to go. Stifling fear smothered her, stealing her breath which rushed across her lips in quick pants. Had they failed God?

His light shines brightest in the darkness.

Mary and Baby JesusExhausted and spent, Mary cradles the precious baby in her arms. The pains of birth are forgotten as love fills her. Tears of joy slide over her cheeks. She arranges the swaddled cloth around his sweet face. The hope of the world… so small… so tiny… so perfect.

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5

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Downtown Boston

Living Christmas with Purpose – Seeing People as Individuals Not Objects

Turns out I’m not a city girl. I lived in Boston for a year while in college. Although Downtown Bostoncity-life was fun and exciting, I drove white-knuckled, swerving around double-parked cars, oncoming trains, and jaywalking pedestrians. I lugged grocery bags six blocks because it was easier to do that than to find a parking space. I packed into a tight commuter-rail car amid a plethora of unpleasant smells. I’m ashamed to say it, but, I knew it was time to move back to the burbs when I began to see people as objects in my way instead of as individuals.

Animal Behaviorist, John B Calhoun, created a utopian society for rats.  Within his barn in Maryland, he constructed the ideal environment for rats to live. No disease, no natural predators. He provided them with food and even kept their pen at a balmy climate. At first, the rats thrived. They congregated together at food distribution and bred rapidly, but then overcrowding began. In the stress of limited space, it didn’t take long before the rats became aggressive and even ate each other.

Now, we are not rats. I’m not worried about cannibalism becoming a problem in cities, but I’ll never forget the horror of people being trampled for a black Friday deal. As Christmas approaches and the stress of buying presents, mailing out cards, and making a dish to pass for the next party overwhelms us, we can become too frazzled. We can lose the purpose of this wonderful season, and begin to see people as a task to check off our list.

John Hambrick, author of Move Toward the Mess, said, “You know you’re too busy when messy people become a problem and not an opportunity.” People are not barriers, they’re not boxes to be checked, or hurdles to be jumped. We (myself Love ornamentincluded) need to take a breath and remember God has placed these people into our lives for a reason. God loves them, and Jesus died for them. So when you’re looking at that Christmas party invite and creatively thinking of an excuse to turn it down, consider if God has a reason for you to attend. As you place stamps on your Christmas cards, take a moment to pray for that family. As you order gifts or bake cookies, ponder who else you might have the ability to unexpectedly bless. You’ll be blessed in return. Don’t just survive Christmas. Live Christmas with purpose.

 And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

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