Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lest We Forget, Part 1--Day 13

Once again I am in the quiet of the morning. I hear the furnace as it works to send heat through long and winding ducts to the rest of the house. I hear a bird on the back deck and I wonder what it is still doing here during winter. And I remember we have not had cold yet. Frigidness and snow have not yet arrived here—never coming for Christmas.

I sit in our back room—the catch-all, junk room of the house. I have a corner carved out among the clean towels and clothes that have yet to be folded. I hear the clocks ticking and the dogs are restless in their crates. Everyone else is still asleep.

My God keeps bringing me to these quiet places of the morning. He has tucked me away in this little corner because he wants me to breathe and to be still with him again.

Stillness is not a one time event—it is a way of life that many of us are quite reluctant to embrace. We are a production-oriented people. We want product and evidence of our busyness and toil. And the product and evidence of stillness is not readily seen. Its affects are not always immediately visible.

Christmas is over.

The anticipated, dreaded, loved, embraced and shunned holiday has passed us by on the calendar.

I wonder in the days after Jesus’ birth did Mary experience post-partum depression. Did she struggle in the dankness of the cave stable with her emotions and moods? Did she look around and second guess all that she had experienced in the past nine months? Did she look at the baby she held in her arms and wonder at his ordinariness? In those few days after the shepherds when she was alone, while Joseph was out looking for lodging, did she cry? Did the emotional weight of her experiences overwhelm her?

Isn’t Christmas like that? We work and work toward this season—planning, preparing and purchasing. We await this incredible day and then it is gone. It dissipates and we are left with these vague, shadowy memories.

Did Mary attempt to remember the exact words of Gabriel? Had he given her instructions for these days afterward? Did she try to remember the lines of the worn faces of the shepherds? Did she look at the donkey and replay the journey? Scripture tells us that she treasured and pondered all the events and things said in her heart. She mulled them. For the days from Jesus’ birth until his dedication at the temple she held all these things close to her heart lest she forget.

And that’s what I am doing this week. This Christmas there were some extraordinarily beautiful moments for me. Moments I don’t want to loose or fade, and so I am pondering and treasuring them.

Lest I forget.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Gift for You--Day 12

Psalm 131:2; Matthew 7:11

After a semester of getting up at 5:15 am every day of the week you would think that during the break I would be able to sleep far past that time. Internal time clocks are very hard to reset.

I woke this morning and my mind was already at half throttle before my eyes even opened. I fumbled for my phone and the bright screen showed me that it was 5:41 am. I pushed down into the covers and against the warm wall of my sleeping husband and was determined to go back to sleep. The gears, however, were already in motion.

Here I am in the kitchen. Mechanically the house is not quiet. The washer is spinning, the dryer is whirring and the bread machine is rotating. My mind is acclimating quite well to the rhythm.

Last night I went to bed and realized I had gone almost the whole day and failed to have any kind of conversation with my Father. Interestingly I didn’t feel condemned. I felt deprived. My whirlwind actions and schedule of the day had taken their toll. My lists, my schedule, my worries, my agenda and my plans had occupied my mind the entire day. Much was left undone and untouched even with my preoccupation.

Stillness is a hard place for me to reach. Often I can get my body still even planted in one place for longer than ten minutes. My mind will slow, but rarely will it shut off. It is triggered by even the most random pieces of information—flitting from subject to task at a dizzying speed.

This morning when the numbers on my phone said 6:00 am the Spirit said to me, “Get up.”

Get up? I have a long (but fun) day ahead of me. Shouldn’t I sleep a little longer? Shouldn’t I attempt to rest for a couple more hours? Shouldn’t I try to relax?

Get up, Tamera.

See, it’s Christmas. And I have been very busy trying to get everyone’s gifts and packages ready. I have been preoccupied with Wow gifts for others. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?

This morning my Father had a gift for me to open.

I am like an adult child. I have had too much sugar, too much caffeine and too much stimulation. I am overloaded.

He wanted to still me. To settle me. To calm me.

He didn’t throw a wrench in my turning gears. He was not interested in giving me whiplash. He didn’t throw cold water in my face. He didn’t scold or yell at me. He didn’t threaten to return my gifts and he didn’t make me feel guilty.

Gently he woke me. Shaking my shoulder ever so slightly and speaking my name.

Get up, my child. I have something for you. Get up so I can give it to you this morning.

Here I sit in the quiet. The bread machine, washer and dryer have stopped. The house is very still. I am sitting at my kitchen table and then I hear it.

The rain against the window pane. Pattering against the glass. I wouldn’t have heard it upstairs. I wouldn’t have heard it in my bed; the sound would have been too muted. I don’t like rain in the winter, but this morning there is something so soothing about the sound. The rain is tapping down the dust that has been stirred up in the past couple of days of my fevered activity.

And I am still.

The rush of my thoughts has slowed. The thread of panic is dissipating.

With the psalmist of 131 the Father has stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

How many times have I held my precious daughters close to me—caught them up in my lap and held them close in the circle of my arms in an attempt to still them? How I savored the feeling of their coiled, energetic little bodies settling, going limp and their weight draping in my arms.

And if I, though I am evil, know how to give good gifts to my children, how much more will my Father in heaven give good gifts to me when I ask?

This morning my Father woke me (there are times that it is good to wake a sleeping child) so that I could climb up in his lap and sink into him. This morning he has wrapped his arms around me—it’s the first chance I have given him to do so all week.

I wonder if in the early hours of the morning Jesus stirred in the manger. Did the Spirit whisper to her, “Get up, Mary.”

Did Mary wake from her slumber and pick Jesus up and pull him close to her? In the stillness and quiet did she recognize who she held? Did she swaddle his little limbs close and tight so he wouldn’t flail and startle? Did she tuck him tight to her breast and soothe him with whispered words? Did she rock and sway him in the dim light of the animal stall?

This Christmas our Father wants to hold us. In this season when our arms flail, our limbs startle and our minds jerk he wants to give us peace. He wants to soothe our agitated hearts. He wants to calm our irritated spirits.

His gift to me this morning was his presence.

He wants to give the same gift to you.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wow--Day 11

Christmas is an incredible time of the year for me. Often it seems I save up most of my creative energies for this month. More art leaves my paper and hands and becomes reality during this season than at any other time of the year.

Every year I try to find or create wow gifts for my daughters. I search for something that is uniquely them-hopefully an heirloom gift that will be passed down to grandchildren--treasures of our family. One year we gave our first born a refurbished 35 mm camera (her father's). We gave our second daughter her first guitar, and our third her first month of private ballet lessons and our youngest was given spy gear.

Wow gifts. The elation on their faces was priceless.

Incredibly all of these gifts have blessed us a hundred times over in return. Our families and close friends have been blessed by the fruits of these gifts. We have been stunned by black and white photography, soothed by the strum of the guitar, awed by many dance recitals and followed by motion detectors.

My daughters are all older now. The atmosphere of Christmas has changed in subtle ways, but there are still lists and plans on my work table. And even this morning I have been adjusting--trying to find the wow. I am still looking for something that will bless the very heart of them. There's only been a few Christmases that have truly been Wow years, but that doesn't mean I don't try every year.

I have a gift I have been working for over three years now. A gift for one of my dearest friends. I have researched, planned, sketched, searched, and gathered. This gift has been created in stages. This gift began as a simple plan on a page in my art journal. Someday it will be in her hands. The tangible reality on my art table does not yet match the plans I sketched. When my art (sculpting or writing) comes close to the vision I have inside my head I am elated. Rarely ever does the reality match my ideal vision. There are times, however, I get close; I am dumbfounded when it happens.

Is this a minute fraction of how the Most High felt two thousand years ago? He had been planning his WOW gift since the foundations of the world. God had recorded the details in his book--obscure and impossible details only He could bring to reality.

God didn't just get close. His vision and reality were the same.

His Son was just as he envisioned; he was an exact likeness of his Father. Every detail, every particular was present in Jesus. God must have been so thrilled the night of Jesus' birth. When Jesus was placed in Mary's arms God must have shouted. Heaven must have vibrated with the intensity of the Most High's joy.

When I plan my gifts I am always adjusting, contemplating, and revising my plans in order to create something that speaks of my love and admiration for the recipients. If this is how an earthly mother and friend feels and considers gifts, then we can only begin to imagine the depth of God's gift for us.

Understand this: God never had to adjust or revise his plans in order to give something that told us of his love. He sent Jesus who is exact representation of himself. Oh, how glad we should be that God's vision is his reality. How glad we should be that at the foundations of the world he was thinking of us.

Wow gifts are not frivolous. They are not random, haphazard, obligatory purchases bought on bored or frustrated whims. God didn't send Jesus randomly. He did not send him because he felt obligated. He sent Jesus because he loved us.

And that is the definition of a real Christmas gift.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Hope--Day 10

Lots of my students bring me wonderful presents during this season—there are several packages on my desk right now. Chocolate, ornaments and home-baked cookies. All of them wrapped brightly and given with hugs. But this week an extraordinary present came and I wasn’t expecting it. Not at all.

First, the back-story.

A couple of weeks ago a horrible accident happened to one of our precious teachers on staff where I teach. She is a beautiful, eccentric practical teacher who teaches a whole lot more than art. And I admire her; I am inspired rather than intimidated by her giftedness. She is a strong, strong woman.

She was in a car accident. A truck came through an intersection and slammed into the side of her car (the car is totaled). Both air bags deployed and her right arm was caught between an airbag and the steering wheel. Her arm was crumpled like tissue paper. Four days later she had to have surgery. The surgeon literally had to piece her arm back together like a puzzle. She has missed the last half of this term. And the students miss her.

Now at the busiest and most stressful time of the year she is without the use of her arm. An artist without her right arm. But she is a strong, strong woman.

Her daughter is in one of my classes. We will call her H. She is truly beautiful, wildly eclectic and quite flamboyant. H. is one of the delights of my day. But one day this week she arrived in class and it was obvious that this was not a good day. Her usual bright eyes and smile were dimmed. Her body language spoke volumes.
When we asked what was wrong she began to tell us that this was just a hard season and this was her mother’s birthday and she didn’t want her mother to be alone on her birthday.

That’s when it happened. The Christmas present came—all wrapped in plain brown paper. No jingle bells. No bows. No frills. One of the other students got up went around the table and sat down by H. and wrapped his arm around her.
The room went quiet. And there was a hushed expectancy.

I looked at the young man and then raised my hands to grasp the student’s next to me. Immediately the students circled for prayer. I looked at the young man who initiated and told him to begin and I would end and anyone could pray between us.

The students prayed—some aloud. Sincere and raw. And the tears seeped between my eyelashes.

Afterwards we called Mrs. M. H. put her on speaker phone and the whole class sang Happy Birthday. Incredibly, wondrously off-key and loud. I sat in my seat and watched the faces of these students and my heart swelled. (This is the same class from my post On Pause—see archives). We hung up the phone and then I explained I was going that afternoon to get a gift for Mrs. M. and if any one would like to contribute I would put it with some from another class. Not a word was said. But purses and billfolds began to open. Quietly. No fanfare. One student even dug a pile of change from his pockets and dumped it in my hands. In the course of about three minutes a whole lot of money accumulated.

And that afternoon we took a gift to Mrs. M.

This was Christmas.

Those moments in that class, from the time of the evident hurt and worry of H. to the student moving to her side, to prayer, to the generous outpouring of quarters and dollars, was Christmas.

And I looked around the room and saw hope. There is hope for this world as long as there are young people like these.

As long as there are young men and women who see hurt and woundedness, who move to comfort, who pray and then move to action then there is hope.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent--Day 9

This week something in Luke's account of the Christmas story surprised me. Luke explains that he has carefully investigated everything from the beginning, and then he begins his account with John the Baptist. He doesn't begin with Gabriel's message to Mary, but with Gabriel's message to Zechariah.

Elizabeth and Zechariah are childless--barren and beyond the age and ability of conception. They have given up hope. To be barren in their culture was a disgrace. Why were they barren? Why had children been denied to them? They were of priestly lines and were upright in the sight of God. They followed the rules, the regulations; they kept God's commandments. And yet the line of Zechariah was about to disappear because there was no son.

How often did Elizabeth mourn? How often did she look at other young women's rounded bellies and nursing babies and chubby toddlers with an ache so large in her throat she thought she would choke? How often had Zechariah questioned his devotion to the Most High as each month, each year brought no children? Their longings and sighings were not hidden from God (Psalm 38:9). He heard them. Zechariah and Elizabeth couldn't see what God had planned for them.

Zechariah went to the temple for his priestly service. This was not an annual event. It is possible (because of the size of the priestly clans) that this was the only time he had to report to the temple for this type of duty. He was chosen by lot. Someone threw the dice and he was chosen. Proverbs 16:33 says, The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. This was no coincidence that Zechariah was chosen. The decision came from the Lord, and his orchestration was on the move.

Gabriel announced that Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a child. Zechariah's old doubt and loss of hope caused him to question the validity of the angel's message. He would now be mute until the child was born.

Elizabeth conceived and was child. They didn't need an ultrasound--they would have a baby boy and name him John. Elizabeth secluded herself (I think to enjoy this incredible, impossible miracle).

Then she had an unexpected visitor. Her younger cousin Mary arrived in her courtyard. And John, within the walls of his mother's womb, recognized Jesus and leaped for joy. The cousins are connected before they are ever born.

John arrived. Zechariah holds this longed-for child-a son given in his old age. Did he feel a bit like Abraham? There must have been tears in his cloudy eyes, and his hands trembled. Awe filled and renewed his spirit. 

And then he talked to his son. Old Zechariah prophesied in the power and filling of the Holy Spirit. He declared that John will be a prophet of the Most High, and he will give his people the knowledge of salvation.

John was sent by God to.pave and prepare the way for his Son. John and Jesus' lives ran parallel and then converged when Jesus began his public ministry at his baptism. John was sent to prepare the way. John laid the groundwork, staked out the building lines. John was the one shouting in the wilderness.

John is Advent. John came as a prophet of the Most High preparing the way for Jesus, the Son of the Most High (Luke 1 :32). John came explaining and giving others the knowledge of salvation and the hope of forgiveness for their sins. Jesus is the fulfillment of John's message.

God made Zechariah and Elizabeth wait. They were being prepared in the wings. Carefully he heard and held their longings and sighings until the fullness of time. They didn't know his plan included John. I believe their waiting was rewarded and their longings completely satisfied.

During this Advent may the sweet spirit of John come and prepare us for Jesus.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Conception--Day 8

Matthew 1:20-21; Psalm 139:11-18

A couple of weeks ago my husband was speaking in church, and he read a passage I have read so many times that I am far too familiar with it. Once you have read something several times you start to think you know what it says. And that is dangerous. .

As he read the words of Matthew 1:20-21 a new phrase was highlighted for me. I was hearing it for the first time, and it was dangerous for me. I knew it was a phrase the Spirit would use to change me.
Matthew 1:20b Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Now, the angel was referring to Jesus—the Incarnate God. The angel was assuring Joseph that Mary had not been unfaithful and had not broken her vows. This manifestation Joseph saw in Mary had not been conceived by the natural ways of man and woman, but the Seed in her had been conceived by the Holy Spirit of God.

This phrase has become my prayer in recent weeks. These ten words have become the underlying whisper in the hidden places of me—the spaces I allow no one else to see.

Heavenly Father,

My spirit has been dark and low in recent days. The thoughts and attitudes that well up in me are not of you. They are not conceived in you because they are not the attitude of Jesus. They are self-absorbed and narcissistic. They are petty, hard pebbles of resentment. My attitude is laced with a deceptive coat of self-pity. I don’t like what is manifesting in me.

Come now, O Holy Spirit. Conceive in me those things that are of the attitude of Jesus. Let what is birthed in the hidden places of my heart be pleasing to you. Knit together those things in the womb of me that when you bring them into the light you will be pleased. Meet me in my inmost places and weave your Son's attitude into the weft and warp of me.
I want the meditations of my heart conceived by your Spirit. If the centering of my heart is to be like Jesus—to give up the equality and rights I so demand, to set aside my personal ego, to shun accolades and shake off criticism—then the Spirit must conceive these in me. I am not capable of doing so.

And, Father, if the Spirit conceives the words, thoughts, attitudes of my heart then the words of my mouth will be honey and bread to those who hear me.

And then, only then, will Christmas be conceived in me.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Revolutions-Day 7

Christmas has been a very slow start for me this year. My tree is still not in my living room. The boxes marked Christmas are still in the garage. My mantle looks the same as any other season of the year. My Pandora Michael Buble Christmas station has yet to play. Only one present has been bought. My creative energy seems to be dormant, and nothing seems to have ignited it yet. I have put off all the traditional elements of the season and turned a blind eye to them.

Every year I struggle during and with the Christmas season: the stress, the expectations, the disappointments, the budget and the schedules take their toll. Struggle might be an understated description.

But this week a shift came in the bend of my attitude. The Spirit brought the shift at the most unexpected time and in the most unexpected place.

This week I was teaching and glanced up at the window of my classroom. Snow was whirling across the field next to us. Blowing at an angle were large white flakes swirling against the background of a weathered barn. Horses and llamas bent their heads against the snow and I bent mine towards it. I stopped teaching and just sat and stared out the window. I know my students thought Mrs. R. was having one of her squirrel moments, but I was unaware. Somehow the silence of that whirling snow penetrated through the concrete walls of the school and settled on me. The real Spirit of Christmas began to push past the crusted exterior of my heart. What an unexpected place for Christmas to call on me.

This week I spoke for a local church’s Christmas Tea. In the middle of sharing and gazing into these women’s dear faces the Spirit whispered to me. In my own message, the one I had attempted to craft out of the Word that had been hidden in my heart for the longest time, I heard His message in my own ear. For a brief moment I forgot where I was because all I could hear was what he was saying to me. And Christmas met me at the most unexpected time.

I shifted one more turn towards Christmas.

Christmas is a holy day. It is the season of celebration for the miraculous, unexpected Incarnation of the I AM.

Christmas is about the manifestation of Immanuel.

During this season we celebrate the Incarnation of God. God sent his only Son to put on the work clothes of flesh. He entered our world, pierced through the thin veil between the holiness of his Father and the profanity of us. God allowed himself to become dirt and he played with us in the mud puddles and got grimy and dirt-streaked in the fields.

He became us.

He didn’t come to be like us. This statement implies a simile. No, he became one of us.

He laid aside the raiment of his Deity. He set aside his status as the Holy One of heaven. He tucked his crown away and hung up his heavenly mantle in order to pitch his tent here among us. He came to become the Bridegroom and take away our shame and disgrace. He came to dress us in bridal clothes. He came to reconcile us to the Father.

Christmas is not just about the Baby in the manger. If we limit Christmas to this one facet then we have missed the purpose. The purpose is about how God Almighty, through Jesus, became Immanuel.

Come, Holy Spirit!  Meet me in unexpected places and speak to me at unexpected times. Shift me again. Shift me until I have made the full revolution to where you want me to be this season.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Orchestration--Day 6

Several years ago my youngest daughter rode with me to do some errands. As we pulled out of a parking lot she asked me to do something. She knew the story of Jesus' birth, but she wanted to hear more, and she wanted me to tell her.

I began with the familiar lines of Luke, and I realized as I looked into her intense little face she wanted more. She joins me in her love of history and detail, and so I talked to her about the incredible orchestration of God.

When we hear these famous, familiar words of Luke and Matthew we tend to see everything in one long scene. Events and days are fast-forwarded or put in slow motion depending on our emphasis. I found my emphasis changing as I talked with her.

After Gabriel's message to Mary and during her visit to Elizabeth, Caesar Augustus was making the decision to take a census of the world the Roman Empire ruled. What was the purpose of sending everyone to their own towns? What reason did Augustus have to command everyone to return to their own city? Did he want the great Roman roads to be used; was he trying to boost the economy? For whatever reason, he sends riders across his domain to inform everyone to register. Little did he know that in his self-absorbed, power-hungry, inconvenient decree was used by the Most High to help fulfill a prophecy given by a Hebrew prophet hundreds of years before (Micah 5:2). The Messiah of the Jews (and the world) would be born in Bethlehem.

When Mary returns home to tell Joseph her news, magi from the east are studying a strange occurrence in the night sky. They had been watching this star for almost two years. They convene, discuss, plan, and pack their caravan for a long journey that most likely will cover over a thousand miles. Caravan camels can travel fifteen to twenty miles a day, and so this journey will require at least two months travel time. Beginning their sojourn across continents, the magi proceed in accordance with the star's coordinates.

I can see the camels plodding along during the day, the magi swaying on their backs. But at night around the fire scrolls would unroll, and instruments would be drawn from their leather packs. The magi would measure, note, calculate, and collaborate to assure their direction and destination. Educated and immersed in the mystical and celestial this group was quite baffled by this new phenomena in the sky. They set out to find a king who had not yet been born. The Most High assures their routes

The orchestration of God was building. He was directing and moving everything and everyone into their proper places for the birth of his Son. Nothing is beyond his reach or his ability to control.

As I explained all of this to my daughter I could see the amazement in her face. I think the story of Jesus' birth changed for her yesterday.

I changed in the telling.

The wings of this stage that we have been discussing reach far and wide. There is a depth and breadth in them that I just can't quite comprehend. The orchestration of God astounds me.

Even now, I wonder what pieces of the orchestration of my life is he moving? What events and people are being set into place so that his plan will be fulfilled? What role do I play in others' lives? When the Spirit asks me do do something, to call someone, to write someone, to talk with someone what is the Almighty setting in motion?

May God teach us to trust his orchestration. May God show and lead us to the people who want to hear more. And may he give us the courage and the wisdom to tell the story and be changed.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mary Kneeling--Day 5

I got up early this morning in order to post today's devotion (written last night), and it is nowhere to be found. I searched and searched. I must begin again.

Quiet is here this morning. As I begin to write it is still dark outside. And the hum of the house in slumber is soothing to me. The tree is twinkling beside me and the Nativity is above me on my computer desk. When I look up I see Mary's face and hands haloed in the bulb's amber light. My little, ceramic Mary snares my attention. Only her face and Jesus' is illuminated by the light. She is kneeling with her hands in prayer. Her face is shadowed by the heavy white veil the sculptor carved around her head.

I am moved. A question forms in my head. It's a question I am almost afraid to ask.

Did Mary kneel?

In the close space of the earthen stable did she kneel before the son she had just labored and toiled to bring into this world? As a mother I connect with Mary. Did she count Jesus' toes and fingers? Did she rub his new little ears and brush her finger across his tiny lips? Did she take him from his manger-bed even when he was sleeping just to nuzzle him into the crevice of her neck? Did she breathe in the scent only babies have and sigh? Was she startled when he cried hungrily? When his little arms and legs flailed did she wrap him tighter in his swaddling clothes to make him feel secure?

And while doing this, did it register fully in her mind who this baby was? In theory Mary knew who Jesus was. She knew what and who he was destined to be. She had been told that her son would be given the throne of David. Yet, when she looked down in his tiny face did she wonder how this ordinary little boy could be the long-awaited Messiah? She understood the theory, but could she get her arms around the reality that her son was to be the savior ofIsrael? This little being she held cradled to her breasts held the salvation of the world within him, and yet he seemed so beautifully ordinary.

Twenty-three years ago I held my first born daughter, and I thought she was anything but ordinary. In my mind she was a perfect miracle. My very first thought was that she looked exactly like her father (still does in a very feminine way). As Mary tried to determine whose features Jesus had did she wonder if he looked exactly like his Father? How extraordinary this ordinary moment must have become. This is the answer to my hesitantly asked question. Overwhelmed by the enormity and immensity of the child she was beholding I think she knelt.

As we continue in this holy season may we ask ourselves two questions: are we kneeling and do we look like our Father?

A Bent Heart--Day 4

I Samuel 16:7; Luke 1 :38

My mind has been on Mary today. In the last couple of years there has been so much material written concerning the women of Jesus' life. Novels, extra gospels, essays, and movies have attempted to undermine what happened so many years ago in Bethlehem and beyond. Everyone wants to have a say in who Mary was and who she was not. We either make her an untouchable saint or just another unwed, pregnant teenager. We seem to be unable to find the reality of Mary.

I am forever amazed at the wonderfully ridiculous choices of God. There seemed to be so many ridiculous choices during the holy season: a virgin being with child, angels singing to shepherds out on the hills, a stable for a birthing center, wise men coming from the east following a star. God's choices are not determined by the same reasoning as ours.

I think of Samuel going to Jesse's boys to anoint the next king of Israel. Samuel thinks each strapping young man that appears before him must be God's choice. And God shakes his head. Samuel runs out of obvious choices and asks Jesse if there are anymore sons. They send for David. He arrives and stands before Samuel, and God nods his head.

I think Samuel was slightly dumbfounded at God's ridiculous choice. But remember yesterday's thoughts about the wings of the stage. God had been preparing David in the fields, in the unseen wings of the pastures with the sheep. Eventually this ridiculous choice, this young shepherd-poet, would become the greatest and most remembered king of Israel.

David was not chosen because of his ruddy handsomeness. He was not chosen because he was the greatest warrior or the oldest son. He was not chosen for his military prowess or his strength and skill with a sword (though He was and could do many of these things) No, David was chosen because of the condition and tenderness of his heart. His heart was bent toward the Lord.

Many have wondered about God's choice of Mary. Why her? Seems like another ridiculous choice. Why not a princess? Why not a wealthy woman? We must understand God Almighty does not look at the outward circumstantial appearances. His choices are not determined by what humankind can measure and see and comprehend. He does not choose who or what seems obvious. God, in his infinite wisdom, reaches beyond our comprehension and chooses the ordinary so that He can make it extraordinary. He chooses the ordinary so we might understand that he will use the willing vessel. He will choose and use the life that is tender and obedient to him. Doesn't matter how ridiculous this choice might seem to our human reason.

Mary wasn't chosen because she was beautiful, wealthy, or from the right political family. Mary was chosen because of the condition and tenderness of her heart. Mary had been prepared in the wings of Nazareth. And when Gabriel arrives with his astounding revelation we see Mary's heart. She tells Gabriel who she is. She is the Lord's servant, and she wants everything (including her own condition) to be as God has ordained. This is the true reality of Mary.

Mary's reality challenges me. I can follow Mary's example. When I read her words in Luke there is a resonating hum in my heart. Just like me she seems to be quite ordinary. She is God's wonderfully ridiculous choice. Mary gives me great hope. The condition of her heart is attainable.

What seems like a ridiculous choice in your life at this moment? What is God asking you to do that seems way out in the left field? way out in the boondocks of Nazareth? far from the obvious? Remember not everything is as it seems. Appearances are not always the reality.

He is looking for a willing, tender heart bent toward him.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Wings--Day 3

Christmas Devotions

As I have considered and pondered the third December devotion, I wondered if there was any possible way I could write twenty-two more thoughts about Christmas. Who am I to think I could possibly shed a new light on this great event? There is no new light. I am called to shine the same light as those of long ago.

Mary grew greater with child; and as she did she and Joseph continued their life in Nazareth. After the whispers concerning Mary and Joseph died down, the couple blended into the fabric of the village. The tiny town was not aware of who was in their midst. Villagers living in Bethlehem were oblivious to the fact that God would enter the portal of humanity in one of their animal shelters. They had no idea that the birth of an unknown baby would change the course of history. While Jesus was entering the world Bethlehem continued to endure the overflow from the census. Bethlehem's inhabitants did not understand that they were center stage.

Today I have been thinking about the wings of the stage. What was happening that could not be seen? Where were Peter and Andrew while Jesus was being formed in Mary's womb? Were they toddlers? Was Simon Peter forever running out the door when his mother opened it? Did Andrew get tangled in his father's nets? Where were James and John? Were they thundering through their mother's kitchen? Was John even a thought in his mother's mind? Where was Mary Magdalene? Where was Martha? Stephen? And where was Paul? They were in the wings—behind the heavy curtains.

Often others ask why don't we know more about these people? Why do we only see a few brief shining moments of their lives? We must remember that they came from the wings. Their stories began there and will continue there long after they leave the stage.

God is telling his story. Whether the world understands and acknowledges the fact or not (just like Nazareth and Bethlehem) this is God Almighty's story. And we are a part of it.

Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the shepherds, the wise men, the inn keeper, and. Herod flared hotly on center stage for a brief time. Each one is like the flaring of an ember—red hot and then absorbed in the greater fire. And in the wings God was preparing others for the next act. Life and activity and orchestration go on in the wings even while the performance is happening on the stage. Often the audience has no idea of the drama that unfolds behind the heavy curtains.

The only one who will forever remain center-stage is Jesus. Two thousand years have passed and people are still considering him. They are still watching, studying, and critiquing his performance. They are still examining his program. His story is still being told. And we are all still a part of it. Don't doubt this fact just because you are in the wings. 

Preparation and maturation happens in the wings. Joseph was righteous before God placed him on the stage. Mary was pure and believed the impossible before God made her the vessel where he formed his Son.

I want to watch the center stage of history. There are incredible people and events there to consider and behold. But I want to be very aware that God is at work in the wings. Scripture says that God sent Jesus into this world in the fullness of time. Time did not just mean center stage. God was also orchestrating the activity in the wings to fulfill every purpose he had planned.

Will my story ever be center stage? I used to long and yearn for that moment when I stepped from the wings into the light. More often now I simply want the ember of my story to become a part of the greater fire.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Righteous Man--Day 2

Matthew 1: 18-20, 24

The Nativity Story was released a few years ago. The story that so many of us have held so precious and dear played in theaters across the country during the 2006 Christmas season. I had not been aware that Hollywood would attempt to tell the story of Jesus' birth. I watched the trailer and viewed the book release of the still photos. I was enthralled. The authenticity of the historical setting overwhelmed me. But I asked would they get it right? Will these people I hold so dear to my heart be portrayed as who they really were? In 2006 I wanted to go see this movie and I was full of anticipation and trepidation.

I was most eager to see Joseph in the film—I have thought so much about him in recent days. While reading the first chapter of Matthew I kept returning to one verse over and over. Matthew says that "Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he has in mind to divorce her quietly ...”

Mary and Joseph were betrothed. They had taken vows. Binding vows. Mary makes a seemingly spontaneous decision to visit an older cousin in the hill country. Days turn to weeks and weeks to months. Joseph's betrothed returns from visiting Elizabeth. She comes with news for Joseph. She is with child. Joseph knows the child is not his. Decisions are imminent.

According to the law Joseph could divorce Mary. He could send her away in disgrace and shame. Actually a stoning would not have been completely frowned upon. Harsh. Yet most of his family and friends would have supported Joseph in this choice. He was the wronged one. He had the right to divorce Mary and find a more suitable wife.

But Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man. And there are implications in the very fiber of that word. We expect something different from Joseph because of this description. And so we see him making a good choice. He chooses to divorce Mary quietly because he didn't want to expose her to public disgrace. This seems to be the good decision. A good plan.

God Almighty had another plan. This plan had been in place since the foundations of the world. Joseph was chosen by God, and God did not want his choice rearranged. God didn't want Joseph to make a good choice. God wanted Joseph to make the right choice. And so once again God Almighty sends a messenger with information to enable Joseph to make the right choice. And in a dream the angel says with great clarity: marry Mary.

Joseph is startled from his dream. He contemplates no longer. He obeys. In spite of her rounding abdomen Mary becomes the wife of Joseph of Nazareth. Joseph understood. This righteous man made the right choice.

A righteous man makes a godly decision. Precious Joseph made a hard choice, but it was God's choice.

Joseph didn't just appear to be a righteous man, he acted like one.

When I sat in the darkened theater and watched The Nativity Story I was hoping that somehow Hollywood would have noticed the difference in this man named Joseph. Would he be portrayed as a righteous man?

Sometimes we will be faced with a situation, and we will need to make a choice. We must stop and not be persuaded until we know God's choice. Will he send us an angel? I am not sure.

I want to be like Joseph. When faced with hard choices I want to have the courage to choose rightly. I want to have the wisdom to choose between good and godly. And that is part of the message of this holy season. God calls us beyond good decisions. He calls us to a righteousness that goes far beyond appearances.

Christmas Devotions 2011

(I wrote these devotions in 2006. I sent them to various friends via email, but thought they would be a good addition to The Chambered Nautilus blogspot.)

December 1

Luke 1:13, 19, 30

Wal-mart has a countdown—three shopping Saturdays left until Christmas. I see this sign every time I walk through the store's entrance. At first the sign annoyed and frustrated me. It represented everything I do not like about this holiday season: panic, chaos, obligatory buying, rush, pressure, and disappointment. Tonight the sign looked different. It caused me to observe, examine, and reevaluate my attitude and traditional approach to this holy season.

Did heaven count down to the revelation and birth of Jesus? Did the heavenly host eagerly anticipate the day that the Holy of Holies would step into history and become one of us? Did they have the eternal time tagged of when the Creator of the universe would stoop low and enter through the door of humanity?

I wonder if Gabriel had the calendar marked? He was summoned into the presence of God, and there he was given a message of good news. The Holy One of Heaven whispered to Gabriel to announce that God was coming. Tell them I will live among my people. And in the fullness of time Gabriel pierced through the veils of heaven to the earth with the message.

Gabriel's message is for us also. Even now the good news he was commissioned to carry extends to us. Gabriel stands before us in this holy season and says, "Don't be afraid. Your prayers have been answered. Don't be afraid, you have found favor with God. Don't be afraid any longer; God With Us is coming to you."

Today may we be pierced by his message. May it change our approach to this Christmas season. Immanuel has come and is coming. We don't have to count down the days anymore. There is no need for panic. Breathe. Slow the rush—allow time to crawl. Cast off the pressure and the disappointment the world inflates.

Friends, He has arrived! Immanuel is present among us.

This is our good news: there are no more Saturdays.

O come, 0 come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.*

*Traditional Christmas Hymn
John Mason Neale

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