Called to Advent–pondering

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:19

There are times when all we can do is sit back and wonder at what is happening around us. It may make no sense, it may seem completely foreign or irrational. We have a choice to either back away from what is completely beyond our understanding, or plunge in head first in faith, trusting that what counts is that at least it makes sense to God.

Mary was exactly in that position as a new mother. She treasures up, she marvels at and she ponders all that she hears and sees, knowing but not completely fathoming that she has delivered the Deliverer.

We need to spend time in wonder too. We are stunned and amazed at the depth of the Father’s love that brought Him into our arms only to be cruelly rejected just as He pays our debts in full. This is the kind of story that makes no sense at all except to God. We couldn’t have made this up, not in a million years, no matter how hard we tried. It’s just as well–because we are not the Word, and He is.

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.

Madeline L’Engle

Called to Advent–overflowing

photo by Josh Scholten

…continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 2: 6b-7

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.
1 Thessalonians 3:12

Overflowing has always been something I’ve been particularly good at, especially first class in the category of overflowing tears. My family knows it doesn’t take much to get my lacrimal faucets going: saying goodbye, saying hello, listening to a childrens’ choir singing, listening to any of our own children singing, a heartstring-tugging commercial on TV, the whistled “Greensleeves” theme to the old Lassie series, not to mention the whistled theme to the old “Leave it to Beaver” or “Andy Griffith” series–you name it, whistling does it.

I would like to think that I’m overflowing with thankfulness, hope, joy and love but it may just be, as my husband suspects, that I’m suffering from an overabundance of sentimentality and nostalgia. …whatever.

He’s right. My easy tears and emotions run amok are not proof my tank is full or my heart overflows. It is only through the power of the Spirit–through the work of His Word preached faithfully each week, feeding my hunger, slaking my thirst, supporting my weakness, easing my emptiness–that I find my heart filling up, bit by bit.

There was a moment today after worship together as a church and a powerful sermon. I watched the Sunday School Children rehearse their parts for next week’s Christmas Childrens’ Program, as a two year old “angel” clasped her hands in prayer over an imaginary manger. I could see what she “saw”. She was looking into the face of God, watching Him sleep, in her mind’s eye. My heart filled even more. I wanted to look into that “manger” right along with her.

I hope when I overflow, it is with Spirit, not sentiment and I continue to look for His face wherever I go.

When the heart is full of joy, it always allows its joy to escape. It is like the fountain in the marketplace; whenever it is full it runs away in streams, and so soon as it ceases to overflow, you may be quite sure that it has ceased to be full. The only full heart is the overflowing heart.
Charles Spurgeon

A beam of God’s countenance is enough to fill the heart of a believer to overflowing. It is enough to light up the pale cheek of a dying saint with seraphic brightness, and make the heart of the lone widow sing for joy.
Robert Murray McCheyne

Adoration of the Shepherds van Honthorst

Called to Advent–Expecting

The Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli

In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
Psalm 5:3

Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of spiritual life.
Simone Weil

During Advent we are pregnant with anticipated possibility, expectant like Mary and Elizabeth, the new life growing inside us about to change us forever. And like Mary and Elizabeth, we are not in this alone, but are expectant side by side, in a community of support. Together we celebrate the coming dawn of love and life that will overshadow the ever-present darkness of hatred, suffering and death.

Be a womb. Be a dwelling for God. Be surprised.
Loretta Ross-Gotta

I treasure (Mary’s) story because it forces me to ask: When the mystery of God’s love breaks through into my consciousness, do I run from it? Or am I virgin enough to respond from my deepest, truest self, and say a “yes” that will change me forever?

Kathleen Norris

Called to Advent–Devoting

Da Vinci Study of Woman

…and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.
1Timothy 5:10

One of my greatest concerns about our modern age is the misdirected devotion to all things material, trivial and shallow. A walk through the grocery check out line is most enlightening about where our priorities lie. Mainstream magazines have increasingly become tabloids and tabloids have become even worse than before. There is more skin and cleavage revealed in the check out line than on most beaches. And these magazines are not being marketed to men (look for them at the magazine racks reading about sports, the latest hot cars and newest electronic gadgetry).

Why do women revel in stories of other women’s cosmetic choices, fashion fiascos, romantic disasters and heartbreaks, then move on to devour articles on ten ways to *whatever* is the latest pleasure fad, and finally how to lose 10 pounds in five days?

Where is the cover story of the faithful widow who is well known for her good deeds for the poor, her hospitality to strangers, her servant heart in tending to her neighbors, her devotion to caring for children apart from her own? Where is the feature on self-sacrificing individuals who live simply (not because it is the latest trend), eat sensibly (not because their doctor told them they must), who don’t have a magazine named after them (sorry Martha and Oprah), and who give themselves away day in and day out?

For that matter, where is the front page story of two transient travelers refused housing, with a teenage mother having no choice but to deliver her first born in an animal shed with only starlight for illumination?

It just might make interesting reading during those ten minutes in the check out stand.

And is something worthy of our devotion.

What think we of Christ? Is He altogether glorious in our eyes, and precious to our hearts? May Christ be our joy, our confidence, our all. May we daily be made more like to Him, and more devoted to His service.
Matthew Henry– 17th century Presbyterian minister

Called By Advent–Blessing

Photo by Bent Fork

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing…
1 Peter 3:8-9

We are called to be a blessing, even when we are hurt, tromped on, and spit upon. We are to choose compassion, humility and love even when the temptation is to be vindictive, stubborn and resentful.

We cannot resort to hurting back. We must not console ourselves with retribution. We must go beyond our human nature and love those who hate us and comfort those who want to make us miserable.

Being a blessing means letting go of anger and embracing harmony so others experience the beauty of grace.

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.

Albert Schweitzer

Cleaning Up The Mess

Maria mit Jesuskind by Carlo Dolci

For the month of Advent I’ve been studying old masters who portrayed the Nativity in hundreds of different ways, all based upon their individual cultural contexts, the style of art at the time, and their own penchant for symbolism within their work.  As beautiful as the paintings are to gaze at, I strongly suspect none of them come even close to the reality of that first Christmas Eve.  None of these artists could illustrate the dark dirtiness of a cave-like barn and still expect to attract viewers to a gallery wall 500 years later.

The significance of where this birth takes place is lost in the romanticism of the nativity scenes where cherubic angels fly above, obedient animals stand as witnesses, and the shepherds are clean and washed as they peer into the manger.  Many of these paintings make the setting look positively royal with ornate architecture, and the people wearing finery fit for a banquet.    We have to remind ourselves there were no halos, no rose petals, no lace swaddling blankets.   Instead, there was the ambiance of a place where animals were kept.

Barns reek of manure and urine.  They are dusty, have cobwebs, and are inhabited with unwelcome critters along with the ones that are meant to be housed there.  People who have been traveling by foot or on a donkey for several days are not going to be wearing beautiful robes, their hair beautifully brushed and skin pure and white.  Shepherds who spend weeks tending flocks of sheep in the hills don’t bathe regularly, nor get their clothes mended or cleaned.  They would have walked in smelling like the animals they cared for.

What a setting to have a baby.

What a place for God to take His first human breath.

So Jesus was born in the midst of a very earthly mess.   Yet, in the stable, they found safety, they found shelter, they found privacy, and there was warmth from the bodies of the animals.  It became sanctuary for two people who had nowhere else to go and were grateful for even the most primitive accomodations.

And it remains a sanctuary for me.

Every day as I clean stalls, haul manure to the pile, bring in fresh shavings for the bedding, pour clean water and loosen new hay, I think of the fact that God chose a barn of all places, chose animals to be the first witnesses, and chose to announce the birth to the poorest smelliest people around.   It makes my barn cleaning work seem somehow relevant.

You never know when a manger somewhere may be needed again for a grander purpose.

I want to be sure it is ready.

I want to be sure I’m ready.