Christmas: Mystery, Miracle or Magic?

“Did not a great grey servant

Of all my sires and me,

Build this pavilion of the pines,

And herd the fowls and fill the vines,

And labour and pass and leave no signs

Save mercy and mystery?”

                                                –G.K. Chesterton, from the Ballad of the White Horse, Book IV

Fifteen summers ago I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Chicago. This Seattle gal by way of Southern California had never seen anything quite like that big city. The main thoroughfare of Michigan Avenue is umpty-some lanes wide, vast stretches of park hugging the shores of Lake Michigan on the water side, crazy, noisy traffic on the street side and bright sunshine that made my favorite Pacific Coast beaches seem pale.

Our taxi driver offered a few tips of places to visit once my husband was finished with his work day.  Top of the list was the Ravinia Music Festival. “It’s jazz night tonight” he announced, and we love jazz, so off we went. Ravinia is the country’s oldest outdoor music festival on sprawling 36-acre grounds just north of the Chicago Botanic Gardens. We drove through one wooded neighborhood after another, villages (there’s still ‘villages’??) and towns that had been established over 100 years ago, lanes and lush green lawns in either direction. We were thousands of miles away from California literally and figuratively; it seemed like traveling through a magic world of days gone by.

We enjoyed the evening’s concert on a grand expanse of grass, and sighed when it ended. Following the crowds on foot back to our car, we traipsed along train tracks, hushed at the falling twilight. I suddenly noticed hundreds of pinpoint lights hovering in the air all around us. Fireflies! I’d never seen fireflies before. They weren’t make believe—they were real!

Who knew? I felt like a silly kid in this momentary, magical place. That July evening of jazz is forever embedded deep in my memory, thanks to the fireflies.

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We want magic to last forever, especially during the Christmas season.

The holiday weeks are often heralded as the most wonderful time of the year; God knows we also W O R K to make it the most wonderful time of the year.  Unspoken pressures and unrealistic expectations—whether from others outside or inside ourselves—can back us into a corner and leave us, if not defeated, a little discouraged.

Everyone does their best to manage the tricky equation of dealing with the pressure to provide nonstop happiness and endless magic for the kids in their lives.  All the while we try to hold to the heart of Christmas—remembering Jesus.  Most often though, all that fun, excitement and magic-making leaves us feeling exhausted and overwhelmed while the joy and peace we crave are lost.

What we really want at Christmas is a way to remember what matters, and maybe a new attitude about it all. (Lord knows, changing my head AND my heart is no small miracle.)  So, how do we manage the magic? If it doesn’t last through Christmas, how do we hold on to the wonder?

Two ways: We enter into God’s mystery by mining His word and leaning into the miracles in our own hearts.

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In this season of Advent, we’re encouraged to light our wintry way with God’s Word. Reading on the first Sunday of Advent, there’s the explosive promise in Isaiah 64 is to wait for our coming Savior,
64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,

so that the mountains would quake at your presence–
64:2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
64:3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down,

the mountains quaked at your presence.
64:4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you,

who works for those who wait for him.

The Second Sunday’s comfort rings out in Isaiah 40, the Third Sunday’s promise holds us in Isaiah 61 and in Luke 1, we sing with Mary rejoicing in Christ’s birth on the Fourth Sunday.

These passages contain much to meditate on; guided by the Scripture we are provided a place to pause over the mystery of God made flesh.

The reality of God’s word is as long-lasting as eternity, nothing temporary about it.

Another sure thing that will never fade? The personal miracles God has done in our lives. Whether it’s a change in our thinking or our attitudes, a new way of relating, a bigger heart for giving (and forgiving), those are all Godmade gifts that last when we receive His work in our hearts.

Christmastime contains the opportunity for mystery, miracles and magic.

But magic like the flicker of a firefly’s light is momentary, I want memories of a forever light that has not only come into the world, but will never fade away.

The mystery and miracle of Christmas.


Linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee for #TellHisStory link up.

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Living the Season Well Goes Viral {sorta}

Dear friends,

I have been so grateful for the response to my book Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas.** It’s a little bit amazing to me and exciting as well. All the readers that are finding the message about slowing down and simplifying Christmas have a way to more peace and joy this year and that makes me happy.

Getting free of the “shoulds” always helps.

A slow, small start to Christmas begins with Advent, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which was December 3rd. It’s not too late to mark the days by slowing down your Sundays and your celebrations.

While you’re preparing your hearts, your heads and your homes here are the places I’ve had a chance to talk about Living the Season Well–and every one of them goes live the same day–December 5th.  When it snows, it pours, eh?

Little bits of joy in different places–read and listen at your leisure.

Merry Christmastide, friends.

**$4.99 for the Kindle this week on Amazon. Yay!

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How to Make the Days Count {Celtic Advent}

Have you found that when God shows you something there are “sacred echoes” (as Margaret Feinberg calls them) everywhere?

When I wrote “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas” I shared with readers about observing the four Sundays of Advent to slow down the holiday season. Certainly nothing new; people have been doing this for hundreds of years.

But observing Advent is new-ish to me.

Dr. Susan Forshey at the Contemplative Cottage is one of those sacred echoes in my life. Because Advent begins this year on December 3rd (my daughter Leah’s birthday) the days before Christmas are fewer than is often the case. Observing Celtic Advent this year is one way to extend the season. Susan at Contemplative Cottage has designed a calendar that begins on November 15th and marks the 40 days prior to Thanksgiving, through Christmas and all the way to Epiphany, with a simple encouragement for each day.

It’s a lovely way to slow down the days with intentional living. Enjoy!

Less Can Really Be More This Season

Have you ever had to move house during the Christmas season? How much fun is that, eh? Several years ago our family participated in the journey to a new land during the holidays and I discovered something.

It’s impossible to celebrate a “normal” Christmas when your living room is crowded with moving boxes. That wasn’t my discovery. No. The good news I found was that surrendering my ideas of what Christmas “should” look like left space for God to surprise our family beyond what we could imagine. I was forced to adjust to a new season as I viewed things, not as I dreamed they would be, but the way they were. My ideas of what-was-to-come–a new home, settling in, making it my own–kept me going through those few months.

Oddly enough, as I looked around at our temporary rental, the empty walls and barely-furnished rooms greatly improved my mental state, making it easier to ‘see’ the future. Although I felt untethered and impatient, desperate to begin nesting in our new home, the emptiness created room for waiting.

The focus and intent of the Advent season is just that, providing space to wait—physically, spiritually and mentally—to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Maybe like me, your thoughts about Advent are tied to those consumer-driven Advent calendars, the ones that start on December 1st. Actually, the first day of Advent is different and changes every year; this year it’s December 3rd.

I was recently surprised to learn that Advent was originally a period of fasting in preparation for the feast of the Nativity (now Christmas) and was practiced in some form as early as 400 A.D. Unfortunately for us, Advent as a season of fasting and reflection has all but disappeared from many church landscapes. Advent has been defined, instead, as the number of shopping/party/activity days there are until Christmas, and thus, our gift-driven Advent ‘calendars.’

The practice of fasting seems like a shocking suggestion prior to the rich celebration of Christmas. But it makes sense when you think about it. Letting go, putting off or making room for one thing makes space for something else. Like the empty walls in my new rental house, extra space can help us “see” better without all the distractions. When the too-much of Christmas presses in, it helps to make room for the joy we crave by saying ‘no’ to what we don’t need.

Instead of the usual going without food, fasting during Advent can simply be a variation of giving up, putting off, setting aside or laying down. All these provide a way to make room for Jesus in our soul and spirit, where we are hungriest. Because, goodness knows, there are so many other things that want to “feed” us. Too much of anything can fill me so full that I never know I’m hungry.   The Christmas season provides the greatest number of opportunities to drive this lesson home. Thousands of sparkly doodads, an overabundance of rich food, an explosion of visual input from every possible screen in the universe…


To read the rest of this post, join me at the “Simplify the Season” Blog Party. Terryn Whitfield is the host at Just a Simple Home and has rounded up 30 great bloggers sharing messages about the season of Christmas.

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