A Nativity Telling

christmas poster 1 cropped

The Cornerstone children and I sharing the Christmas poster during yesterday’s service

Merry Christmas, everyone! I made a script for this telling a few weeks ago (from Luke 1 & 2 and Matthew 1) and shared it first at the 2nd Annual Walk Across the Street Christmas Celebration, held at Christ Tabernacle Church, right here in my own neighborhood of Austin in Chicago!!

I’ve told it a couple times since, and I thought I would share it with you. It’s a long one–about 10 minutes–but oh, what a wonderful story. After so many years of silence, God broke in, with one angelic appearance after another, with each one beginning with those very needed words, “DON’T BE AFRAID!!!”

It’s an amazing story. I hope this telling makes it fresh and new for you.

Blessings, everyone.

Jen

The Nativity Wars (a re-post)

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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 the Peruvian carved gourd nativity is from Ten Thousand Villages.

 

Along with a tree, our family decorates our house for Christmas with lots of Christmas books and five nativity sets: one I received as a child, painted by my grandmother; 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.

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

And then we wait for the nativity wars to begin.

The first attack this year is sneaky. I don’t even see it happen. I walk through the dining room and notice a clump, not a semi-circle, of figures on top of the piano.

He’s been at it, I think.

I check the others. Two of the remaining four have been rearranged.

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

We all love our nativities.

But son Jake likes them arranged a little differently than anyone else.

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

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

But we’d never talked about why he liked his arrangement–we just thought it was one of Jake’s quirks–until a few years ago.

A longtime, long-distance friend was visiting during early December. 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 was almost surprised by my reasoning. “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.

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.”

Note 1: I first wrote this several years ago, but I love posting it at Christmastime. We still continue the nativity wars at our house, but we let Jake win!

Note 2: Ten Thousand Villages has many beautiful nativities (from small ornaments to large sets). They make wonderful Christmas gifts! The link above takes you to a page with JUST nativities on it.

From dark to light

DSC_0743Daylight saving turns

The dimmer knob of the day,

And the afternoons are cut short.

Dusk chases my children in.

They stare through

windows at the settling gloom.

They are no longer young.

They remember what autumn brings.

“When?” they ask.

“When will daylight grow again?”

“Around Christmas,” I tell them.

They sigh. Still so far away!

With a more gradual movement,

A global twisting,

We lean away from the Sun.

Darkness now pursues

us home from school.

Outdoor hours are few

And precious.

Suddenly, new light!

Not much—small, twinkling,

Strung in trees, across porches—

But shining bright with hope

against the encroaching shadows.

My children’s eyes sparkle.

Though tiny, these pinpoint lights

Remind us: Christ did come!

They proclaim: He will come again!

True Light will return

Triumphant

Once and for all!

Until then, my children,

Even as dark presses close,

Let us, filled with True Light,

Shine as small beacons,

Gleam like tiny stars

Beam as heralds of Hope.

Christ has died.

Christ has risen.

Christ will come again.

The gift of Soli Deo Gloria

soli deo gloria

I got my necklace from Etsy and I love all the work this artist, Mandy England, creates. She’s closed for the holidays, but here’s the link to her business: http://shop.mandyengland.com/

The phrase Soli Deo Gloria, meaning Glory to God alone, is used often at Wheaton Academy, where I have worked for over nine years. In the last year, it has taken on new meaning to me, so much so that I requested a necklace with the phrase on it for my birthday.

A few weeks ago, in a meeting with my boss at WA, we were talking through upcoming articles for the Wheaton Academy website. In a pause in our conversation, we both jumped in and said, “I have a story idea!”

“You go first,” she told me. As I read to her what I’d jotted down in my journal about Soli Deo Gloria, she got excited and finally broke in. “This fits in perfectly with my idea. I want a piece up for Christmas, a gift piece.”

A gift piece. Oh, the two ideas did fit together! Christ’s birth, followed by his life, death, and resurrection, gives us the incredible, unimaginable gift of living for the glory of God!

I expanded my ideas for a piece for the Academy, but what follows are those original thoughts in my journal. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Soli Deo Gloria

This phrase, meaning “Glory to God Alone,” is generally seen as a charge, a challenge, but what we sometimes forget is that, most of all, it is a gift.

A gift from God to us.

You see, we all live for the glory of something: comfort, success, popularity, power, love. At the root of all of them is the desire to glorify self.

What we don’t understand is the pursuit of self will always end in misery.

But when we pursue the glory of God, we experience magnificent joy and immeasurable fulfillment.

Soli Deo Gloria is a gift of God extended through the sacrifice of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, with the Spirit, we can let go of the self-glory that destroys us. We can be captivated by God’s glory, which is great and wonderful and encompasses all. When we give ourselves over to it, we find our lives take on a larger purpose. Every part of our lives and beings, even our failings, weaknesses, and sorrows, is transformed by the glory of God. All will be used for ultimate good. We gain a true perspective of all talents. We learn that in the kingdom of God, kindness, mercy, faithfulness, and thoughtfulness are highly prized.

When we grasp this, we are able to look beyond ourselves to others. We can see the interconnectedness of all our lives. We gain a vision of working with fellow Christians. We value their talents, for we see how they complement our own.

In the light of God’s glory, those old pursuits—comfort, success, popularity, power—are revealed as pale substitutes, and what the world views as “small”—loving relationships, kindness to neighbors, concern for the least, consistently ethical decisions, a choice to live on and with “enough”—these shine with the bright light of eternity.

When we live for the glory of God, we ourselves receive a glory that is out-of-this-world—literally. This is the gift we proclaim. This is the paradoxical truth that sets us free to live each moment with joy and purpose.

In the words of the late Henri Nouwen, “Our little lives become great—part of the mysterious work of God’s salvation. Once that happens, nothing is accidental, casual, or futile any more. Even the most insignificant event speaks the language of faith, hope, and above all, love.”

I simply had to share this with you! I saw this in our neighborhood last week and fortunately had a couple minutes free to pull over and take a shot! Can't you imagine some little one asking for this!

I simply had to share this with you! I saw this in our neighborhood last week and fortunately had a couple minutes free to pull over and take a shot! Can’t you imagine some little one asking for this!

 

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.

 

 

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 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.”