Christmas hymns: a small step

This is Emily's creation, who both took the pic and added the graphic. using the app Rhonna. Merry Christmas, everyone.

This is Emily’s creation, who both took the pic and added the graphic. using the app Rhonna. Merry Christmas, everyone.

We’ve had the morning scramble: lunches, clothes (and accompanying issues), backpacks, breakfasts (with the battle to get Patrick to actually sit down and eat it.) Whew, all set. With instructions to PJ to “Stay right there by the window; watch for Mrs. Kristine. She’ll be here any minute to take you younger ones to school,” I hustle the older ones out to the car.

The car is silent because it’s full of teens on an early morning before school. It will be another couple hours before they really wake up.

But the quiet doesn’t last.

“Mom, can we have music?”

I punch the radio button, and Andy Williams singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” blasts out from the Christmas station Em recently programmed as one of the pre-set stations on my car radio. It plays the same peppy, loud, fast-paced Christmas songs over and over all day. I reckon I have already listened to Andy Williams sing this song at least 20 times.

This morning the song seems even faster than usual, as if the DJ  sped it up. I feel my pulse jump in time to the beat. My shoulders tighten.

“I want a station that plays reflective Christmas music, with hymns,” I say.

As if on cue, the next song begins and it is one of the rare hymns the station plays–one that was recorded at least 40 years ago.

It, too–somehow–is fast!

“There you go, Mom,” Em says.

I glance in the rearview mirror and see Kelly making a face. I agree.

I pick up, drop off, and drive away from the school. I turn the radio off and enjoy the stillness.

I love Christmas–but I refuse to “do” it the way the advertisements and blinking decorations urge me to. These all tell me to move faster in this season of advent, as if rushing and doing more will create a magical moment and get me to it faster.

Popular Christmas music, it seems, has the same message.

It’s false. Advent is a time to slow down, to be still, to rejoice in His first coming and remind ourselves that it is the proof positive that He will come again. We can wait with patient, certain expectation. He came to die; He WILL come to reign.

So I begin my withdrawal from the busyness through music. I place a hymnal in my car so we can sing all the verses of songs about the REAL Christmas, so the rich theology can sink into our souls and satisfy us deep, deep down. I write the titles of some of my favorites on sticky notes and put them on my dashboard, over my stove, on my desk.

In “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”–near the very top of my favorites, I delight in lines like “God and sinners reconciled,” “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” and “Light and life to all He brings/Risen with healing in His wings.”

It’s a small step–this conscious choice of Christ-centered song–but it is a beginning, the right beginning for me.

Would you be willing share some ways you are choosing to slow down and savor this season of Advent?

#Giving Tuesday

It’s “Giving Tuesday,” did you know? The link is to a cute Youtube video about this day that follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I thought today would be a great day to post what I hope to make an annual tradition on this blog: the “gifts that give back” post. I wrestle a lot with our consumer society in general and our “I have to buy everyone a gift” attitude toward Christmas, BUT more and more we have the opportunity to give gifts that give twice: to the recipient AND to a ministry that practices Biblical generosity. If you have already completed all your Christmas shopping, then this post isn’t for you, but if you’re just starting to think about it (I’m in this camp!), then I hope to give you some good ideas in this post.

GENERAL GIVING

You can use Amazon.com’s Smile program and choose a charity to receive a portion of your purchase price. (Mine is locked in at Compassion International currently, but there are thousands on Amazon’s list.) The link above gives more info, and this program is not just for the holiday season but operates all year.

IF YOU’RE SHOPPING FOR PRETEENS/TEENS

Check out www.mudlove.com. This company, based in Winona Lake, Indiana (home of my wonderful in-laws and my alma mater, Grace College), sells made-on-site clay bracelets and necklaces. The most popular version is stamped with a word or phrase, and you can even custom order a word or phrase that has particular meaning to you. Twenty percent of each purchase goes to provide clean water in Africa, and $5 spent provides an African with clean drinking water for a year. My girls (ages 10, 14, 15, and 17) ALL love them. (Honestly, I do, too!)

BIG-TICKET BEAUTY

Hand and Cloth sells gorgeous, one-of-a-kind blankets made from used saris by women rescued from the slave trade in Bangladesh. I’ve featured this ministry before on my blog (https://journeytojen.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/blankets-handmade-by-women-women-handmade-by-god/).  These are perfect buys for the person who appreciates beautiful, handmade artisan items (hmm—maybe that describes you yourself!). They start at $98 dollars and go up to around $200. Check out the blankets at the website—which itself is beautiful—and read their story while you are there. “Blankets handmade by women. Women handmade by God.” Wonderful work! (They also have stockings–each one unique! So cool!)

Renew Project is an incredible ministry. Based in my area (Chicago’s western suburbs), it trains and employs refugee women to make beautiful items from recycled textiles. Bags, baby items, tablecloths, etc., and their work is incredible (these women are artisans!). Best of all, each purchase helps a refugee woman thrive in her new home.

THREE FOR WOMEN AT RISK

If you want something other than blankets made by women rescued from the slave trade, visit WAR International. The acronym WAR, standing for Women at Risk, was started in 2006. You can find jewelry, accessories, home décor, and children’s items made by women in 13 countries, including the United States. AND, during the month of December, if you shop either online or at the Naperville, IL, store and mention New Name as you’re checking out, then 10% of your purchase supports New Name (the link takes you to a past post about New Name).

Narimon employs women rescued out of the sex industry in Bangkok, Thailand. the woman make beautiful jewelry, handbags, and some clothing at The Well, where the women not only work but are ministered to. Narimon is the products division of Servantworks. Seriously, their work is beautiful (I just bought a pair of Treble clef earrings for my daughter’s piano teacher from Narimon).

www.stoptraffickfashion.com has t-shirts, jewelry, and totes/bags made from recycled materials. Many of their t-shirts express the heart of the women who run this website. One with a barcode also has the logo “People are not products” and several sport the logo “free.loved.radiant.”

LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING

Need to shop for kids, men, women—want to spend a little for this one, more for that one? Go to www.tenthousandvillages.com. Gorgeous jewelry, decorative items, and woven/knitted items for women; toys and games for children; even things like chess sets, bookends, and bicycle-chain frames for men. Their website is very easy to navigate and has some very helpful tools. If you click on the “gift ideas” tab at the top of the page, you can shop for holiday items, for men, women, or children, or by type of item.  You can spend a little (items as low as $4) or a lot. They also have shops (there is one in Glen Ellyn, IL) across the U.S. You can find a shop locater on the website.

FOR THE COFFEE LOVERS

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company has “Drink Coffee. Do Good” as its motto. It started with farmers in Rwanda (the founder saw the effects of the genocide and had to do SOMETHING) and now works with farmers in Haiti and Thailand as well. They sell 100% Arabica, fairly traded, fresh roasted coffee. They sell ground, whole bean, and decaf, teas, and coffee accessories.

If you’re in Chicago’s western suburbs, drop in at River City Roasters in Wheaton and pick up a few bags of their Venture blend, which supports Venture Corp (www.entertheventure.com), a small nonprofit started by some young friends of ours. Each bag purchased helps support two wonderful ministries in Africa. (I am privileged to have met both Mary and Ronnie, the leaders of the two ministries Venture supports.)

LOOKING FOR HANDCRAFTED CROCHETED ITEMS?

My husband just told me about this one, and I checked it out and love their website. What a great story! A group of high school guys learned to crochet simply because they wanted unique ski hats on the local slopes. Others dubbed them the Krochet Kids. Long story short (if you want to know the whole thing, visit the website), they taught these skills to women in northern Africa and then Peru, and they sell these handmade items at www.krochetkids.org. Each item carries with it the signature of the woman who crocheted it, and you can visit the website to learn her story.

AND, FINALLY, FOR THE PERSON WHO HAS EVERYTHING

Buy them a goat—bet they don’t have that. Seriously, go to World Vision or Compassion (the links take you directly to their online gift catalogs). They have items like school supplies, ducks, and clean-water wells. You can honor someone with your gift, and that person will receive a card telling about your gift and what it will accomplish. If you want to keep the idea of giving in front of you this season, request that a print gift catalog from either World Vision or Compassion be sent to you. It’s a fantastic tool to use with kids during this season when they are constantly faced with advertisements that fool them into thinking that their “wants” are actually “needs.”

ANY OTHER IDEAS???

If you have other ideas, please leave a comment and share! I’d love to hear and share other opportunities to give gifts that give back.

Thanks for reading! I sure enjoyed pulling the list together.

‘Tis more blessed…

If “‘Tis more blessed to give than to receive” is true–and I believe it is–then on Saturday night I was doubly blessed.

It seemed unfair to use the Christmas gift I gave him before he had a chance to even try it out…

But I did.

Up early and gone all day for one child’s wrestling meet, driving to and from the girls’ soccer practice in the late afternoon, I lost daylight time for my run with the dog.

So I strapped on the headlamp I’d given Dave so he could run in the early-morning dark…

and drove myself and Chai to the dog park so I could try it out in the late.

Snow glittered before me. I ran on fairy dust. In the light of the headlamp, the dog’s eyes glowed weirdly–orange from the side, green head-on, and red when she was close. Pleased with her first off-leash run since before Christmas day, Chai sprinted past me. For a moment, as snow fell in front of me, spotlit in the lamp’s circle, I thought the forecaster’s prediction of next-day flurries had come early and sudden. But when it stopped just as quickly and then happened again when Chai did another fly by, I realized she was kicking it up with her paws.

A siren wailed in the distance, and deep in the woods, the coyotes echoed. Ahead of me, Chai paused to listen. Then–they must have been too far away to awaken either concern or longing–she bent her head and chomped up some packed snow, the canine version of shaved ice, flavored with who-knows-what.

The trees’ tops were lost to the night, but in my peripheral vision, their trunks floated like gray stripes on a dark suit. Hit with the direct light of the headlamp, though, they appeared almost white, bleached of color.

I felt no fear, except that my rule-keeping mind expected a policeman any moment to remind me that the dog park closed at dusk, and it was well past.

When Dave got home from cleaning up after the wrestling meet, I told him I tried out his present. “Thank you,” I said.

“How did it work?” he asked.

“Great!” I told him how beautiful the run had been. “It worked wonderfully. You’ll love using it.”

“Well, then, thank you,” he told me.

‘Tis better to give than to receive.

True.

But perhaps giving and receiving, when done wholeheartedly, are more connected than I’d realized.

 

Word Play: Sacred

This is Emily's creation, who both took the pic and added the graphic. using the app Rhonna. Merry Christmas, everyone.

This is the creation of my daughter, Emily, who both took the pic and added the graphic. using the app Rhonna. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Awhile ago I became fascinated by the interplay between the words “sacred” and “scared,” that with the shift of just one letter, such an amazing change is made. Then I played more with the letters from those words, and discovered I can also spell the words “care/cares/cared,” “scar,” and “red.”

So, though I am NOT a poet, I wrote a poem.

 

 

 

Created sacred, we once walked with the Sacred Himself,

Till, rejecting communion, we chose independence

And broke away from Sacred Life.

The rupture scarred us to our very core.

Scared of the Sacred, we hid, pretended, postured.

But–oh blessed Word work–the Sacred Himself took on our Scar and bled red with lavish care

To move us from scared to sacred,

From scarred to Life.

When death breaks in

This morning I learned of the death of a former student.

Sudden, unexpected death.

Now, in this season of life, when we read verses like Zechariah’s pronouncement about Christ’s birth: “…the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,” death has again triumphed, and a family is weeping. Christmas will forever be changed for them. Even when the great waves of grief have passed, every year, in the midst of celebration, there will be a tinge of sorrow.

Death has broken in.

My soul rages when I hear news like this. Somewhere deep down in me is the knowledge that this is wrong. It should not be like this. We learn to live with dysfunctional families, fallen bodies, mental illness–all the “subtle” reminders of a broken system. But then death breaks in and hauls us up short. We turn the corner from “life is hard but endurable–even good at times” to find that the passage before us is gone. It has dropped off and all we see is darkness.

“This is unacceptable,” I want to say.

But I have no power to change it. In fact, in my own small way, I, too, will wreak death as I walk through my days: wounding those I love most, including my own self.

I don’t always notice this, but then a life that intersects with my own is snuffed out, and capital-D Death makes me wail with a specific-yet-vague knowing of the shadow that hovers over our planet and in our very hearts.

At times like this I get a glimpse into what God must have felt when His beloved image-bearers made that irrevocable choice that doomed all of creation to groaning and travailing in a bondage of corruption.

God sorrowed–far more than we because He could see the great contrast between what was planned and what we chose.

But then He did more! The Lion of the tribe of Judah roared.

We thought it was simply a whimper–an insignificant birth, a controversial life, an ignominious death.

But no! It was a roar! “It is finished!” was a victory cry. His death had swallowed up death itself.

We are in the night of sorrow.

But morning will come.

 

 

From dark to light

I took this in Montana a couple summers ago. Amazing!

Daughter Emily took this in Montana a couple summers ago. Amazing!

With the time change, I rise in grey light rather than pitch dark. By the time I hit the trail, I can see the round walnuts, black against the white gravel. My ankles are thankful.

I run due west, and at my halfway point, I turn around and head back, and the sunrise lifts in front of me.

Glorious!

But the payoff for the morning light is early dark. Earlier and earlier dark. It’s creeping in on us, hemming in our days, tighter and tighter.

It feels as if it’s crept into my soul as well.

I’m reading through Isaiah currently, and I just finished Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel The Road. “Doom and gloom” shrouded my thoughts this last week (hence the break from blogging). In between my times of people-filled activity (parenting/tutoring/teaching/meetings), my thoughts nearly immediately wrestle with the traumas of our trouble-riddled world, and my heart not only aches but wanders, confused and fearful.

At the height of day, with the sunlight brilliant on the lingering yellow leaves, the melancholy recedes a bit, but if I read through major headlines or listened to news talk radio, it returned. From all I can see and hear, we humans are not moving toward peace and goodness and Truth, and we become more and more bent on denying there is a God Who actually determines and is Himself Peace, Goodness, and Truth.

A few days ago I read Isaiah 22, and verse 11 jumped out at me. It summed up all my fears. The prophet Isaiah has told the Israelites that trouble is coming and they will do all in their power to fight against it: fortifying walls, arming themselves, creating a reservoir. “But you never ask for help from the One who did all this,” writes Isaiah. “You never considered the One who planned this long ago” (Is. 22:11b).

That describes us, I thought. We are so bent on finding our own answers to problems. We are so self-reliant and certain of ourselves.

What I missed at first was the irony that I, too, have been doing this.

The verse applies to me in my time-change-induced melancholy.

Though I have not been feeling self-sufficient, I have been trying to discover the “right” view on issues. I have wanted to feel certain and secure, and I have wanted my world to be certain and secure.

My eyes have been on the trouble rather than on the Solution.

What is too big for me to understand and too much for my heart to hold is not too big for HIM.

He is not helplessly wringing His hands over the statistics and news and debates that frighten and confuse me. He does not cry out, “I don’t know what to do!” (or “think” or “believe”)

Last night I drove my girls east to soccer practice. As I turned to head home, dusk kept pace with me. The shrouded sky behind gradually ate up the sunset in front.

But then I noticed that Venus, visible even in the last of daylight, shone even brighter after it was surrounded by night.

I am not left alone in the dark. WE are not left alone in the dark.

The Morning Star still shines, and He will not be overwhelmed.

When I focus my eyes on the Him, my uncertainties and fears shrink in their power. I still have them, but they lose their grip on me. They do not crush me.

So, right now (and again and again in the future), I “ask for help from the One who did all this.” I “consider the One who planned this long ago.” I turn to the Light.

“…Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”

NOTES: SO many beautiful passages that speak of God bringing light into darkness and Christ being light in the darkness. I’ve listed just a few below.

Psalm 18:28 For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.

Daniel 2:22 (H)e reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.

Micah 7:8 Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.

Matthew 4:16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”

Luke 1:76-79 (Zechariah singing a prophetic song over his son John)

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us[h] from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

I John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

our second Advent

Here are the four beautiful girls Dave and I took to The Nutcracker in downtown Chicago (with the Joliffe Ballet--woohoo!) last Friday. It was a much-anticipated event, and it did not disappoint. Best part for Dave and me: watching the girls' faces as they watched the ballet!

Here are the four beautiful girls Dave and I took to The Nutcracker in downtown Chicago (with the Joliffe Ballet–woohoo!) last Friday. It was a much-anticipated event, and it did not disappoint. Best part for Dave and me: watching the girls’ faces as they watched the ballet! The boys spent the night with friends–which they said was the better deal! 

Just past 7 on Christmas morning Jake came into our bedroom—we’d said the digital clock could not have a 6 at the front—to announce that he, Patrick, and Maddie were awake.

As Dave and I sloshed mouthwash, Jake chattered, mostly about presents. Then, in the middle of his ramble, he announced, ““Christmas and Easter are the BEST! They’re God’s plan of redemption.”

Well put and true, though we still laughed at the way he said it.

It is now two days after Christmas, our celebration of the Savior’s birth. We anticipated Christmas through Advent, and then we will expect Good Friday and Easter through Lent. As Jake said: The whole picture of God’s capital-R Redemptive Plan.

Advent means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” Lent is a “season of penitence and fasting in preparation for Easter.” The only reason we are able to anticipate or prepare is because we know the outcome. We know the full scope of the story. So even our Lent preparation is tinged with hope, with expectancy of joy at the end.

But the Redemption begun at Christmas, finished on Good Friday, confirmed at Easter, still has a final chapter. This final chapter will end all tears, all injustice, all war. It will dethrone evil and establish God as the visible King of Kings and Christ as the Prince of Peace.

It will make us individually and collectively right and unbroken.

But this second Advent, second arrival, has not yet happened.

We still wait for it.

It is a waiting sustained by a sure hope, but this is often hard to remember.

For though the hope is certain, we know very little about the details. How could all that we see in the world around us, in our very lives—how could we ourselves, broken and flawed as we are—be part of this final Redemption?

Paul calls it “seeing through a glass, darkly.”

We are in many ways like the people of Israel during the first Advent, unable to see that the promises of old were about to unfold in tiny little Bethlehem—unable to see that Roman occupation, a travel edict, a young girl, a loving, faithful carpenter—and a slew of other details and people we know nothing of—could be used to usher in the Incarnation.

Perhaps the details of our lives are such that we, too, wonder if we are of any purpose in the Majestic Plan. Perhaps we, too, have tried to silence our soul-whispers of grand desire and settled for “the best we can make of life.” Perhaps we are going through heartache that makes us moan and cry out “Why?”

That is the reality of our earth-life. Uncertain at best, wailing at worst—waiting, waiting—because there must, must be more.

We must cling to the promise that there is. That the Promise Himself will return and shed light on this world so that the purposes of all that went before will be revealed. We will be amazed at how all of our lives, even the smallest details, was being used in God’s Plan.

Let’s not be like the sleepers in Bethlehem. As Christ was born yards from their beds, they slumbered and then woke the next morning with no difference in perspective.

They missed the Miracle.

If we fail to cling to God’s sovereign goodness (such a beautiful mystery—that in God “sovereign” and “goodness” are inseparably linked), we, too, will miss miracles, particularly the everyday ones of relationship and personal growth. We will lose sight of Purpose.

Anna and Simeon waited for years for the first Advent. There must have been times when they felt they waited in vain, when it was lonely and painful and hard.

But at the end of it, the Purpose they held in their arms shed light on the purposes of every one of their past moments.

So in this long period of the second Advent, let us wait and endure with the understanding that God’s Plan incorporates even our heartache, even our daily grind. Though we are in the dark involving the purposes, He is not.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. I Corinthians 13:12, KJV

Glory and Goodness: a sure hope.

The God Who Mourns

It is in times of tragedy that we find that the “God” we have created in our own image simply will not work.

As news continues to break about the killings at Sandy Hook elementary school, I have attempted to follow Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” and Hebrews 13:3, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

But I can’t do it.

I’m too fickle.

Right now, after the U.S.’s latest mass killing, I know there are 26 families whose hearts have been crushed. Because of our country’s advanced media, I can know the names and see the pictures.

But I am unable to keep them in my heart.

I pray for them, and I remind myself of them, but then I go about my daily activities. I fix meals and do laundry, I write articles, I carpool and help with homework.

All good, all necessary.

But I also slip into ingratitude. I find myself frustrated with the amount of laundry my family produces and the daily question of “What’s for dinner?” Four kids try to talk over each other at the dinner table, and I think, “I don’t want to deal with this.”

But even as I think that, I know there are 20 families that would love to be dealing with this right now. They long to be making lunches for all their kids, to be doing mundane tasks like writing a grocery list and thinking about Christmas gifts for teachers.

Yet I lose my gratitude over the tiniest, silliest little things.

And I will do this again and again.

For the last several days and for the next week or so we have been and will be faced with these 26 families, but then we will forget.

We are good at forgetting. It’s a survival tactic, a way to pretend that things are okay.

We know they aren’t. Even when we are in the lulls between tragedies—when this summer’s killing in the movie theater faded from front and center and the mass killing in Sandy Hook hadn’t yet happened—things were not right, not here in the U.S. and not all across the world. Injustice is rampant.

I cannot hold all that sorrow.

In the book (and movie) The Secret Life of Bees, there is a character named May who feels others’ sorrows as if they are her own. May’s sisters shield her from the radio and television because a 15-second report of an abuse or death or injustice will make her wail with heartfelt pain.

At the end of the movie May gives up. “I can’t do this anymore,” she writes to her sisters. “I can’t carry any more pain.”

I can’t either. None of us can. So most of us choose not to even try. We don’t continue to pray. We don’t mourn. We distract ourselves with fun or with frustration.

We forget.

But not God.

Tragedies like this remind me that I really, really don’t want a God who is like me.

And this time of year, with nativities all around my home, reminds me that He is not.

The all-powerful, completely just, sovereign God of this universe chose to remember us. He chose to put on flesh. He chose to touch lepers and wander homeless and attend funerals and befriend women and children. He chose to be “a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” to show us that God the righteous is also Savior, Redeemer, and Friend.

And He chose to die so that we might actually know this God who never forgets, never forsakes, never loses interest in us.

I will forget.

God will not.

The Nativity Wars

Besides the five nativities with movable figures, I also have several small, fixed nativity ornaments or sets. Here are two of my favorites (plus a star) that I have hanging on my bamboo plant next to my kitchen sink (I haven't managed to kill it yet!). My sister bought the dark wood ornaments for me in Africa, and on a recent trip to Ten Thousand Villages I treated myself to the carved gourd nativity made in Peru. So beautiful!

Besides the five nativities with movable figures, I also have several small, fixed nativity ornaments or sets. Here are two of my favorites (plus a star) that I have hanging on my bamboo plant next to my kitchen sink (I haven’t managed to kill it yet!). My sister bought the dark wood ornaments for me in Africa, and on a recent trip to Ten Thousand Villages I treated myself to the carved gourd nativity made in Peru.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving we decorated the house for Christmas.

Our three youngest were in charge of putting ornaments on the tree, a chaotic process because the youngest, PJ, gets a little over-excited (I told my sister he was like a bunny rabbit on crack, which made her howl with laughter—not because of my description but because she could easily imagine it.) Plus, since none of them is over 4 ½ feet tall, there are a lot of territory skirmishes over the lower half of the tree, and it ends up a little bottom heavy—until the older ones come in and help them rearrange.

While the kids were busy with the tree, I put out the rest of the “stuff,” which includes a lot of Christmas books and five nativity sets: one I received as a child, painted by my Mammaw (yes, I’m from the deep South); three others Dave and I received for our Christmastime wedding more than twenty years ago; and one that the twins’ Sunday School teacher gave them when they were in first grade.

I arrange them just-so, in careful semi-circles so all their faces can be seen…

And then I wait for the nativity wars to begin.

The first attack this year was sneaky. I didn’t even see it happen. I walked through the dining room and noticed a clump, not a semi-circle, of figures on top of the piano.

He’s been at it, I thought.

I checked the others. Two of the remaining four had been rearranged.

I put them back in semi-circles, but just a few hours later they were all huddled together again, a crowd rather than a scene.

Son Jake and I love nativities.

We just like different arrangements.

So every year we do “battle” during the Christmas season.

We start out with sneak attacks, but pretty soon it becomes open warfare.

Last week we had a longtime friend over. She noticed the crowded nativity on the kitchen counter and began to rearrange it. I noticed what she was doing and laughed.

“It won’t stay that way.”
“What?”

“Pretty soon Jake will come in here and push them all together again.”

“Why?”

And, suddenly, it hit me, the why. I couldn’t understand why I’d never seen it before.

“Because he wants them all close to Jesus, that’s why.” I was stating my revelation more than answering her question.

I tested my theory later that day.

“J-man, why do you like all the figures clumped like that? We can’t see their faces when you put them that way.”

His tone made it clear he thought he was answering a pretty dumb question. “But they can’t see Jesus when they’re all spread out.”

Aah!

After all, what’s more important—that we see their faces or that they see Jesus?

It’s a busy, busy season, and we tend to get a little caught up with the celebration of it—and, often, with how others see us celebrate it.

But what’s more important—that they see us or that we see Jesus?

So gather as close as you can, crowd into Him, stretch high on tiptoes, do whatever you need to do to fix your gaze on HIM.

Because not only is that the absolute best for us, it’s also when others get glimpses of Him, too. When we press close to Jesus they want to see what we’re so excited to see. In our wonder and awe, they catch some of the fascination of Christ’s love for us.

It’s a fascinating love, isn’t it!

From glory, He put on flesh—such limitation!—and then “humbled Himself…” to “death on a cross.”

All for love!

All for us!

 

II Corinthians 8:9 “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.”