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“We aren’t exchanging gifts this year.  We’re playing rob your neighbor so bring a gift anyone in the family would love.”

Cricket.

Cricket.

Cricket.

A hate shopping.  Hate it.  Really.  That said I’m actually pretty good at buying gifts for other people.  Of course, this means that I’m shopping for specific people.  My father-in-law loves history and works with wood, think Foxfire.  My mother-in-law is into classical music and elegant history, much more Biltmore than Foxfire.

Now try to come up with something any one of 20 or so people would love.  Let’s just say that the only thing my mother-in-law and son have in common is that they both like cats and love to eat.  This is mission impossible!

But then my son suggested buying a can of Flex Seal.  What?  I hadn’t thought of ridiculous made for TV products.  Serious gifts that everyone would love?  Not going to happen.  But the ridiculous?  This just might work.

It is far too easy to let someone’s request dampen our holiday joy.  It is up to us to rediscover God’s presence and the spirit of his grace that not even the thought of shopping can entirely eclipse.

–SueBE

 

 

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It’s a new year! Well, sort of. Advent marks the start of a new liturgical year in the Catholic Church. I suppose it is apropos that the new year begins with waiting. We spend such a vast amount of time doing it, after all: waiting in line (or “on line” if you’re from the Midwest), waiting for doctors and plumbers and cable repair persons, waiting for mail to arrive and children to get dressed and pets to do their business. Waiting to eat, to sleep, to give birth, to die.

All of life is waiting, in a way. Advent merely provides additional practice. But what are we waiting for? For a child to be born into a manger? That already happened. For that child to come again? Yes, but that’s constant, not necessarily Advent-specific. I think we’re really waiting for a change of heart.

Remember how you felt at Christmastime when you were a child? Remember when just seeing lights strung on houses and carols being sung could lift your heart right up to your throat? Somewhere along the line, we lose that sense of wonder. How can we get it back? Maybe that’s the challenge of Advent.

My father-in-law was manning the bell and kettle for the Salvation Army one Christmas, outside of a store, when a little boy — obviously disabled — came struggling up to him. In his mittened hand, he held a clutch of crumpled dollar bills. His mother explained that it was his Christmas money; he wanted to donate it to people who really needed it. My father-in-law still tells this tale with tears in his eyes.

This advent, I am waiting for that little boy — his spirit, anyway — to rise up in me like a tide and wash away my grown-up skepticism and wariness. I want to receive Christmas as purely and joyfully as a child. And I want to give away that pure joy as rapidly as it spools into my heart. I think that’s a worthy thing to wait for. Don’t you?

I have to admit it.  I adore Christmas.  Adore it.

It is the one time of year that I get into glitter and shimmer and WOW.  Otherwise, I’m a denim, battered boot kind of girl.

But Christmas draws me in.  Tomorrow I’m heading into the basement on a quest for our advent wreath.  We’ve had this same wreath since my teen was a baby but then again it is a silver pillar plate.  On it we place votive candles.  Did you know votive candles were first made to light in prayer?  A ring of prayer candles on a plate.  It helps me remember to turn to God in prayer even when things are crazy hectic.

And I’m making a new outdoor decoration.  I love the lights.  Just love them.  But the decorations that draw me in?  Nativities and stars.  Snowflakes and light strings.  Our new piece is a pallet painted with a star and strung with solar lights.  Yep.  I’m even nerdy and green at Christmas.

But what may be the best part of Christmas?  When people remember those who have less.  Who are in need.  Our church helps fill backpacks for children taken into foster care.  We’ve already delivered the crib full of coats.  We always have a food barrel but now is when it gets a real workout.

Take the time to slow down for a moment here and there this holiday season.  Center yourself on the why of it all.   And go into the world with the peace and love that are His call to us all.  When the commercialism gets to you, return to that focus.  Make this Holy season your own.

–SueBE

I’m doing again. Trying to buy Christmas, that is. Trying to bring home God-made-manifest in a series of shopping bags. Trying to echo God’s ultimate gift of love with stuff hauled in from the local mall. It is, of course, an endeavor doomed to failure.

Even the Grinch realizes by the end of the story that Christmas doesn’t come in a gaily-wrapped package. But even knowing that at a cellular level doesn’t stop the rampant commercialism of the holidays. You feel the tug of it everywhere you go. How can I show the people I love that I love them? How about a brand new set of knives! It’s enough to put a damper on anyone’s spirits. Gift-giving becomes a burden, rather than a joy.

So where do we find Christmas if not under a tree? Inside of ourselves. And how do we kindle that spark while being simultaneously bombarded by cookie-baking, house-trimming, gift-wrapping, covert buying and endless card-addressing?

I wish I had an answer to that. Maybe it’s a little like touching a butterfly: You can chase it around, offer bait, call out to it…and nothing is likely to happen. But if you just sit still and wait, quietly and patiently, it may very well land on your outstretched hand.

As the calendar turns to December, let us not chase down Christmas with a net and a cage. Go where the season pulls you — to church, to volunteer opportunities, even to a cozy evening on the couch with Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. Tell your loved ones you love them. Let God find you this Christmas, waiting, ready, snug as a manger filled with fresh hay.

Maybe it’s because we cleaned out my Dad’s house, more or less, this past year.  Maybe it’s because my mother-in-law moved back to town and gave many of her treasures to her children.  Maybe it’s because my house, larger than the one I grew up in, is FULL with a capital F.  But this quote makes a lot of sense to me at this point in my life.

Stuff is not the answer.  Giving back is the answer.

That’s something I’m think about as we had into this holiday season.  What do I want from my husband?  I want the light and fan put up and the patio cleaned up so that we can better use the space.  I want to eagle watch in January.  I want to head out to Osage and visit one of my friends from junior high.  She lives in the town where my grandmother grew up.

So don’t buy me stuff.  Get a poor family a goat.  Contribute to a literacy program.  Make a donation to the local food pantry.

That’s how I’d prefer to celebrate this season.  If you push me for what I want, all that sounds good is some sparkly lights, a plate of cookies and some music.

–SueBE

 

Those miniature mangers we keep around our homes at Christmastime are liars — they make us forget that the three kings (or magi) never hovered around Jesus’ birthplace to adore him along with the shepherds, angels and various ungulates. It took them time to get where they were going. In this, I understand and sympathize with them. It takes most of us time to see the way to God — years and years and years. As such a sojourner, I felt compelled to compose the following.

I didn’t get it
not at first
still don’t, not really
but the portents are present
and I can read them,
the words becoming old friends
to my tongue.
One of these days,
after crossing the desert
or the ocean
or the mountains — any of these
may be —
I will at last decipher the last
of the bent runes,
turn my map counter-clockwise,
realize that where I’ve been
is where I’m going
after all, and then
I will arrive, hot on the heels of magi,
with only my body of stardust to give.
It will suffice.

Often, when I go for my hour of Perpetual Adoration on Friday, there’s already someone there — a little Vietnamese gal who spends so much time in the chapel, I’ve dubbed her “the lady who lives there.” She is a devout soul, spending hours on her knees. But the other week, she actually sat down and nodded off. I have no doubt that she woke full of self-recriminations, but I wanted to tell her not to. It struck me that there might not be a better place to rest than in God’s own presence.

“Stay awake,” said Christ
but surely he knew
how bodies give out, go limp,
sag as if in a warm bath
feeling secure, safe,
safer here than anywhere, ever,
before his presence in monstrance
and wafer.
To sleep before the Lord
is the sweetest of sleep.

The sleep of angels.
The sleep of saints.

Under God’s watchful eye
the soul and body rest,
ready to rise — like bread,
like spirit, like new day breaking.

 

Have a peaceful Christmas everyone!

fpc-front-window“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

In the original, the Word was the Greek logos. Logos in the Greek mind meant much more than “word.” It included the idea of understanding which makes sense. Logos makes up part of many of the words we use to describe how we look at and understand the world including theology and biology.  Faith and science.

Logos. Understanding. In the beginning there was understanding. The understanding was with God and the understanding was God.

On the night that I’m writing this, Pastor Sean preached a funeral sermon on logos.  He explained that for David, the man who recently died, engineering was his logos. Or at least one of his logos. His faith was another logos. When the children did their nativity play and David was a young father, he would stand outside and shine a spot light on the star in our stained glass window so that the star shone for all inside to see.

What is your logos? Your way of understanding the world?

Like David, I have several logos. I trained first in archaeology, a social science that incorporates biology and chemistry.  I’m a writer.  I’m a crafter.  I sing.  I’m a Christian. All of these things fold into my understanding of the universe and my place in it.

What does all of this have to do with Christmas?  Jesus is the Word made flesh.  Jesus is logos made flesh.  Not just adult Jesus.  Not just Jesus on the cross.  Not just Jesus resurrected. Jesus as a whole. Logos became flesh with the birth of a tiny baby.

When God sent us His Son, he sent us logos.  He sent us understanding. He gave us what we needed to remake the world. Lately it sure has felt like logos is in short but logos is in God.  Logos is God. And God is eternal. We have access to the understanding that we need to remake the world. It came as a baby.

All we have to do is look for the Star.

–SueBE

nativityI just had someone at my front door wanting to explain to me why Christ died for us and why we have Christmas. They even had a video. It was a little surreal.

Apparently, Adam is a businessman who steals from his company leading workers to lose their jobs and electricity.  Jesus is the good businessman who pays the bills and gets the lights turned back on — that’s why he died.  That’s why we have Christmas.

Of course, she looked at me and said, “What do you think of that?”

One day I will learn to smile and nod but that day is not today. But I did filter.  It was oh so obvious that this was a message meant to play on people’s fears of the economy and not being able to pay their bills. In my opinion, it rather missed the point but a lot of work had gone into it so I didn’t want to criticize the video itself. “It seems overly simplistic.”

“Then why do you think Christ died?”

After the businessman analogy, I knew I couldn’t give her the entire answer.  Christ died to bring an end to the cycle of sin followed by the sacrifices needed to get back in God’s good graces.  Christ died to bring us grace.  Christ is the ultimate sacrifice.

I decided instead to focus on Christmas.  It’s a prettier story.  “The Christmas season is a time of waiting, of contemplation, of preparing yourself for the coming of Christ.”

“By reading scripture?”

“And prayer and worship and whatever it takes to get you as an individual ready.  I need solitude and music.”

“That’s too confusing. What did you mean by the coming of Christ?  The end times?”

“Eventually, but also the coming of the Christ child.  You have to prepare yourself to accept him and his message and the acceptance and love he brought mankind.”

Prepare the way.  That’s the whole message of the Advent season.  Prepare your heart to accept his message of love and acceptance and mercy for all.  His sacrifice washed away our sins and the condemnation that required blood sacrifice to cleanse our souls.  Prepare yourself for Christ.

He has come not to condemn the world but so that the world through him might be saved.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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