Monthly Archives: December 2020

The Hope of Mary

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During the season of Advent, we wait in anticipation for the arrival of Christmas. Weremember with hope, peace, joy, and love that Jesus was born long ago and that he still brings light to the world today. But hope has been a little harder to come by this year. We haven’t had as many things to anticipate, to look forward to, to get excited about. So many events have been canceled, and planning is virtually impossible. The spread of Covid-19 has created fear and anxiety and has dimmed our hope.

We have such abundant hope about Christmas, in part, because we know what happened. We know the familiar story around Jesus’ birth with angels, shepherds, wise men, and a star. The savior of humanity came into the world that night.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ mother Mary. Mary didn’t know exactly how everything would play out. Honestly, she didn’t have many details. The angel Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would cause her to conceive a son who would reign over a kingdom that would never end. Gabriel said, “So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35 (NIV).

With all of the unknowns, I wonder about Mary’s hopes and dreams. Maybe she simply hoped to survive childbirth. Perhaps her hopes centered around having a healthy baby. I’m sure she hoped to be a good mother. She probably hoped that this crazy situation, becoming the mother of a savior, would work out well in daily life. I bet she wasn’t making plans for how Jesus would eventually become a leader but was more focused on the family she was creating, the baby she would raise with Joseph.

Mary lived with uncertainty and probably a good deal of fear as she waited for the birth of Jesus. Even though Mary did not know the future, she said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” Luke 1:46-48 (NIV). Before she knew whether her hopes would come to fruition or not, she praised God and expressed her gratitude because God had her in mind. She believed that God cared about her while still living in the unknown.

This year we should take a lesson from Mary in how to have hope in the face of the unknown. Mary tied her hope to the fact that God had her on his mind. Mary found favor with God in an extraordinary way. But could we also believe that we are on God’s mind? It’s hard to make that leap at times. We often feel insignificant and small. We don’t feel worthy.

But Mary didn’t see herself as holy or magnificent either. She said that God was mindful of “the humble state of his servant.” While she acknowledged that generations would call her blessed and we see her as God’s most blessed woman, she probably didn’t fully realize her significance until long after the birth of Jesus. But she based her hope on God’s love and mindfulness.

God is mindful of us as well. The Psalmist said, “The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us.” Psalm 115:12 (NRSV). How would things change if we had confidence that God is mindful of us? Mary faced many uncertainties and so do we. Let us rest assured that God is mindful of us, and we can place our hope in God.

We Need a Little Christmas Now

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I love Christmas music and tune my radio to the Christmas channels this time of year.  But sometimes the songs simply become background noise because they are so familiar.  We’ve all heard them a million times and know most of the lyrics by heart, so we don’t really listen intently.  But the other day, I was surprised to hear an old classic anew.  The peppy, upbeat “We Need a Little Christmas” began, and the singers belted out the first two lines: “Haul out the holly/Put up the tree before my spirit falls again.”  I thought, what did they just say?  They wanted to stop their spirits from falling again, indicating they were in the midst of recovering from a bad situation.  

Of course, I had to research this song – why did it sound so cheerful if the lyrics suggested possible sadness?  Jerry Herman wrote the song for the musical “Mame,” which premiered on Broadway in 1966.  “Mame” was made into a movie in 1974, so I decided to watch it.  While the musical itself felt somewhat dated to me, the song that became a Christmas standard and has been covered by many artists over the years captured a special moment in the movie.     

The show centers on a little boy named Patrick who must go live with his Auntie Mame after his father’s death.  Mame is stylish, a bit wild, and living large in New York City at the height of the roaring 1920s.  Then, the stock market crashes and ushers in the Great Depression.  After losing most of her possessions, Mame decides that they should pretend it’s Christmas a month early because they need to feel better.  They pull out their old decorations and march around cheerily to belie their sad circumstances.  Mame sings: 

“For I’ve grown a little leaner
Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder
Grown a little older
And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder
Need a little Christmas now”

This song could’ve been written about 2020 instead of the 1920s.  This year has been so difficult for so many people in so many ways.  A heaviness hangs over almost everyone and everything.  We feel tired and weary.  And while the trappings of Christmas provide some glimmer of normalcy, they don’t erase the pain and isolation that we endure right now.  We may have hope that next year will be better, but we understand that we will still face some of the effects of 2020 and the rifts that exist in our world.     

Maybe this year, more than ever, we need a little Christmas, but not the shiny and perfect kind of Christmas.  We need the Christmas that centers on Jesus, the poor kid born into the world in humble surroundings to save us.  We need to focus on our Redeemer, who taught that we lead best by serving others.  We need to remember that the Word of God who became flesh does not value us because of our wealth, influence, or standing in society.  God loves us and cares about us no matter our circumstances.  God stands with us in the valleys and the darkness.  God will not leave us even in the toughest of times.   

We need to channel God’s love when we feel despair and heartbreak.  We need to spread God’s love to others when we see they are struggling.  We need a little bit of the true meaning of Christmas to sustain us.  Let us believe that Jesus came into the world to bring light and that God still shines light in the darkness today.     

Imperfect Light

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“Why is it wet?” I demanded.  As my fourteen-year-old son Jed and I began to place the top of the artificial tree on the stand, I felt a wet spot.  I knew the tree had been dry in the box in the garage.  Jed looked at me and then said, “I think the dog peed on it.”  I’d put the three sections of the tree on the floor for only a few minutes, but the dog had seized on the novel concept that a shrub had appeared in the living room.  My sixteen-year-old daughter Riley started laughing uproariously, and said, “this is so 2020.”  

We decided that the defiled tree had fulfilled its purpose after many years of service to our family, and the clear lights that originally adorned the tree no longer worked.  The new tree we purchased also came pre-lit, but the lights on this updated model could change from clear to rainbow colored.  Thus, began the subdued light war between Jed and me.  He likes the multi-colored lights, but I prefer the clear ones.  So, I change them to clear, and when he goes through the living room, he changes them back to multi-colored.  Back and forth we go.  We don’t say anything about it, we just surreptitiously act.  It’s a little like that scene in Disney’s animated classic “Sleeping Beauty” in which the fairies magically change Princess Aurora’s dress from pink to blue over and over again.   

Neither Jed nor I are wrong, we just prefer different displays of lights.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which color lights decorate our tree.  They both feel festive and look quite lovely.  It’s become a running joke between Jed and me.  Sometimes in life though, we let our preferences get in the way of things that don’t actually have a right or wrong answer.  This can manifest itself in silly ways, such as rearranging the dishes in the dishwasher when you don’t like how someone else has done it.  But at other times, our desire for a particular outcome or for another person to behave in a certain way turns into an expectation for perfection that we can’t shake.  We impose those standards on ourselves as well.  All of which often leads to disappointment.  

I’ve read a lot of author Gretchen Rubin’s books on happiness and personality types, and she frequently quotes Voltaire, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  One of my favorite themes of the Bible is how God uses imperfect people and imperfect situations to further his work and demonstrate his love.  We don’t just read about the best days of the Biblical characters, but we see their weaknesses and the ways they messed up, sometimes repeatedly.  God doesn’t allow our human failings to get in the way of the good he can accomplish through us.  And we shouldn’t allow any unrealistic expectations to blind us to the good we can find in others.        

If we focus on the light that shines in others, then we can help them gleam whether they shine in a serene manner or in a brightly colored way.  God simply wants our lights to glow in the darkness for him.  

Digging Deeper

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We keep our Christmas decorations in our small, side garage.  We don’t park a car in this garage because it serves as a storage facility and an extension of my laundry room.  In order to reach the decorations, I have to move quite a few items out of the way – laundry hampers, coats, wrapping paper, a lamp, a box of old framed photos.  I feel like I’m digging a tunnel to get to the decorations so I can excavate the boxes.  Then, I take each box out through the newly created maze one by one to the dining room where we unpack everything to decorate the tree and the rest of the house.

I love all of the trappings of Christmas – the songs, lights, decorations, movies.  Many Santas and snowmen adorn our home.  But sometimes we have to rethink the more commercial and secular aspects of the holiday in order to find the deeper spiritual meaning.  We must focus on the nativity scenes that point us to the true purpose of Christmas.  When we worship during the Christmas season, we remember God’s gift of his son Jesus to save humanity.  When we concentrate on God’s love for us, we grow in our faith and our understanding.    

And hopefully, that understanding will lead us to dig deeper to get to the heart of the matter in other situations as well.  In this age of information and disinformation, we must search to find the truth.  When we feel unhappy or upset, we often must dive deep within ourselves to identify the root of our discontent.  At times, we must look past others’ behavior to discover why they act or speak the way they do.  If we can clear away the emotional and mental clutter of our everyday situations, we can better see the humanity in the mirror and all around us.   

If only digging deeper to discover more about ourselves and others was as easy as mining through my garage to find the Christmas decorations.  In order to go beyond the surface and find true connection with another person, we must reveal our own vulnerability.  So, first, we have to unearth our own feelings, which is not always a simple endeavor.   Many of us stay busy and fill our time so that we don’t find our blind spots.  Then, once we know what we want to express to another, we must take a risk and expose our own emotions and thoughts to the other person.  But that can be terrifying.  We don’t want to look or feel weak.  The fear of rejection and the desire to avoid pain are strong and palpable.  

While we cannot always skirt emotional discomfort, we need to take chances sometimes because our God-given yearning for human connection is powerful and unrelenting.  King David said, “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually.”   1 Chronicles 16:11.  God can provide us with guidance and comfort to help us strengthen our bonds with others.

At this time of the year, let us dig deeper to celebrate the love of God as demonstrated in Jesus’ birth and the authentic relationships that God helps us build with one another.