The Day I Cleaned the Front of My Fridge & Found the Heart of Advent

The arrival of Advent marks the beginning of the church year, anchored  on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. In the year of our Lord 2020, the date is November 29th. Side note–New this year for 2020 FREE PRINTABLE cards for each Sunday of Advent. Just click HERE.

The word ‘advent’ is from the Latin word ‘veni’–adventus–coming. The cornerstone of the Advent season is the idea of making room for God to come.  It is a time of waiting, as Mary did, with the impossible promise that a Saviour would be born, the miracle of light coming to a dark world.

What does that have to do with refrigerators? Let me share.

Several Novembers ago we ordered new kitchen appliances. Everything started when the microwave died. This led to a conversation about the refrigerator which had been humming its way loudly to a definite motor-y end. We dug out the paperwork and discovered it was 17 years old.

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Here’s a photo of our kitchen on Thanksgiving 2000, one year after we got it, all brand spanking new. That’s my daughter Leah the chef basting the turkey. (And no, I will not talk about the psychedelic flooring.)

After a thorough appliance reconnoiter, husband and I decided to join the Black Friday crowds and head to Home Depot to shop the sales. Four hours later, we had ordered for the first time in our 35 plus years of being married, a matching fridge, dishwasher, microwave and range.  In stainless steel. We are so de rigueur.

Maybe my dear readers are already aware of what such a purchase entails, but I don’t think we considered exactly how arduous ‘out with the old, in with the new’ would be under such circumstances.   The ensuing chores involved five hours of cleaning of stove and frig–outsides only–and cleaning of the floors underneath. I was appalled at the debris and gunk on the sides of our range. I blame 16 years of coffee prep. And under the frig? I will also not talk about that.

I had been notified via my daughter in our Thanksgiving conversations a few nights’ previous that magnets do not stick to stainless steel. Oh. I did not know that.  Well, there go the grandkids’ photos and artwork. There go my magnets from Laguna Beach and Yosemite, my favorite of Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory, Scripture cards, quotes I liked.  A veritable bulletin board available 24/7, reminding me constantly of All the Things.

People, places, Bible verses, photographs. Football schedules, equivalent baking measures, an encyclopedia of input and information.  It would all have to go.

So, empty box in hand, I swept the surface clean and windexed it to its glorious, brand-new, former self.

My words are a paltry representation of the change that came over me after that clean sweep. Every time I walked into the kitchen I literally breathed a peaceful sigh. Husband and I remarked many times throughout the next day at how pleased we were with the empty space, that it seemed quieter in the kitchen because all the noise on the fridge was gone.

When God Disrupts Your Christmas Plans on Purpose

IMG_20191216_120837.jpgEmmanuel. God with us. That’s the core of Christmas, that God the Son left his place in Heaven and came to us as a baby in a manger. What an unlikely beginning for a King. Talk about a disruption.

Our pastor spoke last Sunday of just what that Incarnation looked like, how God came into the world at Christmas. There was a visual he mentioned of Jesus putting his hand on peoples’ hearts to “stop the bleeding.” Not physical bleeding, but that dissipation and dissolution that leads to pain and hurt, often making us act like the broken people we are.

Sometimes just being kind during Christmas is all someone needs to transfuse them with life. I know it’s all I need. Which is why celebrating the birth of Jesus is an act of defiance, to choose to live like people who know that He came.

To notice others, speak kindly to them, acknowledge their worth as people made in God’s image. Wish them a “Merry Christmas” but also ask how they’re doing when they look harassed and harried. During this season most of all we are challenged to incarnate Jesus to the world in the face of all that would cause us to do otherwise.  To choose joy in spite of what we see around us.

“Incarnate” means to embody in the flesh. Sometimes (most times) the way we act is more important than what we say. We don’t have to even mention Jesus’ name, but simply act in order that a door might open someday for a conversation about Him.

Of course, there is an enemy of our souls who wants to steal our joy and hijack our message, so it makes sense that it might seem like all Hell breaks loose in the weeks before Christmas. I know, I probably shouldn’t say ‘hell’ in the same sentence where I’m talking about Christ’s birth and all. But I think when God’s kingdom is advancing in the small ways we seek to honor him, there is always pushback.

What’s in a Name? Only Everything {an Advent Post}

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There can be no manner of doubt a name is more easily remembered when its meaning is understood.  –A.J. Macself, from the Foreword, “Plant Names Simplified”

I forgot to plant my amaryllis bulb the week of All Hallow’s Eve. I wrote about the practice in my Christmas season book, how planting a crinkly, brown bulb with antenna-like roots can be a lesson in patience and waiting during the Advent and Christmas season. But I was too busy to remember. Goodness.

So, I potted the inglorious bulb the other day after soaking the accompanying ground-up coconut shreds in warm water, watching them miraculously expand and nearly overtake my 32-ounce glass measuring cup. Amaryllis duly snugged into plastic container, I pondered something while I cleaned up the mess in my sink.

What does ‘amaryllis’ mean, anyway?

I’m fond of learning the Latin for plant names, shrubs and trees. As an amateur gardener, I pride myself on the pronunciation and meaning of the various denizens of my yard and garden. And some of the names are not Latin at all, but simply named for people or a place.

Amaryllis. Well. I went to the bookshelf and took down my slim green volume of “Plant Names Simplified–Their Meanings and Pronunciation,” (A.T. Johnson, 1931, W.H. & L Collingridge, U.K.) No matter the book is missing pages 51-82, duly noted on the inside cover by me in July 2012. (It’s a very old book and was gifted to me when a friend found it at an antique store.) I needed only go to the beginning of this plant dictionary; I knew the A entries would all be there.

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Of the two names given to each plant, the first, which may be likened to our surname (or first name) is the generic, or group name. This can occur only once, as a group name, but the second, the specific (or species) name is only given to one plant of the same genus, as is a Christian name in a family, and may occur in many different genera. (From the Introduction).

The elegant amaryllis, I discovered, has only one name and is neither Greek nor Latin, but a “classical name after that of a shepherdess in Theocritus and Virgil, Greek and Latin poets.” I was pleased to find this entry as I’m an aspiring poet and also was taken by the fact that it is after a shepherdess. The final bloom of an amaryllis can nearly be equated with the crook of a shepherd’s staff, I suppose. And, there is the occasion of planting an amaryllis, during that season that precedes the birth of Jesus, our Shepherd.

I think about the name Christian, which “occurs in many different genera.” ‘Genera’ is of course the root word of generate and generations.

The generations of Jesus have continued for hundreds of years. and beginning with the first root of our family, that stump of Jesse-Jesus, will continue to grow. I am forever grateful to claim Jesus’ name as my own, and identify with the Christ, my Saviour.

The name above every other name.

The Light that is coming in the dark days of Winter.

Emmanuel–God with us.

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Advent-Waiting {a #poem}

shadows smudge on the wall
beside me, gray on red
as I look up, pensive,
pen in hand to write.
how to right this over indulgence,
too full of my own
bloated worry?
I’ve buried my prayers, fed one
saturated heart with cares
not meant to be carried.
fasting from the thoughts that also
fill my brain seems a lifeline
in this season where we’re
drowning in too much.
I shut the door, shutter the blinds
and feast on silence, making
space in my waiting for the
gift to arrive, though it tarry.
it occurs to me, that like
the Christ child’s birth,
answers may look far
different than I expect.
so I make room in the welcome
dark, waiting for the light,
which will surely dawn.

Merry Christmas, Dear Readers

It seems very fitting that Christmas Eve should be on a Sunday, when we gather for worship, wherever that is. A morning to set our hearts right in a posture of worship and thankfulness is a good way to ease into the gift giving and receiving activities before us, whether we gather tonight or tomorrow with family and friends.

As I prepared my head and my heart this morning for church I found Handel’s Messiah on Youtube and through the miracle of livestreaming from my tablet, was able to listen on my Bluetooth speaker while I put on makeup in the bathroom.

Yay, technology.

There are 4 sections in the Messiah oratorio based on scores and scores of Biblical passages. The tenor was heading into a familiar part, “And the glory of, the glory of the Lord, shall be he he he he he he reveal-ed.” He carried out the trills and notes as the music called for and I just shook my head as I listened.

What men and women can do with their voices.

The Messiah’s most recognizable musical passage is, of course, the Hallelujah Chorus. There’s a Messiah Sing-along near our house every year at Christmas time and I’m bound and determined to participate one of these years, just to join in the fun of that chorus. The thought of standing next to other vocalists of all abilities and stripes while we attempt to do justice to the music has always appealed to me.

Of course, we can never do justice to that great music here on Earth, altho’ we may try. It is said Handel saw Heaven itself opened up while he was composing each part. I’d like to ask him about that some day….

My favorite actually-singable Christmas songs change from year to year; sometimes it’s James Taylor’s Christmas or Jewel or Pentatonix or the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree jazz quartet. Then I listen to Josh Groban’s ‘Noel’ or Andrea Boccelli singing with the Muppets and think, “That’s my favorite.” But I forget the classic Peter, Paul and Mary PBS Special recording and there I am humming along with a smile on my face.

They’re all beautiful and inspiring pieces of music, but nowhere near the Messiah. And while I aspire to be able to sing along with Handel (maybe in Heaven?) I am grateful for the more down-to-earth folks that allow me to join them via the magic of recorded sound.

I hope your hearts and homes are full of song and sound this special time of year, dear friends. May I say I appreciate you reading along this year and appreciate your kind words always in this place? I appreciate you more than you know.

Merry Christmas!~

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love,

Jody

 

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

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.

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

Whether you’re a grandparent, an auntie or uncle or mom and dad, everyone does their best to manage the tricky equation. There’s the balance of dealing with the pressure to provide nonstop happiness with that elusive, endless magic we’re sure is just around the corner. 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.

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 of Hope in Isaiah 64 to wait for our coming Savior,
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,  so that the mountains would quake at your presence–
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!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down,
the mountains quaked at your presence.
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 Advent readings for the month continue.

Second Sunday’s Prepare rings out in Isaiah 40, the Third Sunday’s Rejoice pours forth in Luke 1 as we read of Mary singing and rejoicing in Christ’s birth. And on the fourth Sunday we light the final candle to celebrate Love, God’s gift to us in the form of Jesus.

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. There is 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.

*****

This post is taken from a message I gave at Lake Tapps Christian Center in Bonney Lake, WA, December 2019, sharing about my book “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas”.  P_20181114_114840-3663114983-1542741044454.jpg

 

You can order signed copies of LTSW for $12.50 by clicking HERE with your request & info and I’ll be in touch.


 

God With Us, Always

I realize it’s still a few days before Halloween, but unless you’ve been under a rock (or in North Dakota somewhere) you know the Christmas parade has started in stores all across the land. (My apologies to anyone in either of the Dakotas).

Yes, the holidays are fast on the heels of All Hallow’s Eve and we’ll be reminded once again – I hope! – that God is with us. I guess we can blame capitalism and commercialism, but Christmas seems to come sooner every year, doesn’t it?

No doubt due to Seattle’s drizzly weather (and the Costco displays), I started humming this Christmas song* the other day and realized that “Emmanuel, God With Us” are words I can sing year ‘round.

Because God is always with us. And has been with us from the beginning.

– – – – –

Our Home Group has been walking slowly through the book of Joshua, a portion of God’s Word I love greatly for the message of salvation in its pages. God with us, right there in the Old Testament, in the unlikely guise of Rahab, the harlot. Fast forward, or read forward, and the New Testament records Rahab’s unlikely inclusion in the lineage of Christ, revealing the scarlet thread that ran, not only from her window, but all through history to Christ’s birth and ultimately his death.

I love how God’s story is throughout the pages of the Bible, salvation from beginning to end, God with us for all time.

– – – – –

My new book Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas talks about the story of Christmas, not as a single day, but a season. I write about the days including Advent (on December 3rd this year) all the way to Epiphany on January 6th—the observance of the “showing forth” or manifestation of God to the world—and how we can spread out the joy of Christmas over weeks, not days.

I think the real message of Christmas is not that Jesus came, but what we’re going to do with what we know about His coming.

He was manifested to the world—God with us—so we can show others who He is. All year long, wherever we go.

Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas can show you how. You can purchase it on Amazon or from Barnes and Noble. Thank you~

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*We Have a Saviour, Hillsong United Christmas

Ad Vent {a #poem}

Glossy pages proclaim paltry purchases
as life savers for my overrun soul.
I’m run over as they bellow,
beckoning, “buy me! buy me!”

I cannot partake of one more
iota of input–
how can quiet paper
carry so much loud weight
and end up selling me nothing?
This war of words promises joy and happiness
are but a wallet-full away. Enough greenbacks
and I’d have a temporary ticket to  here-on-earth
wealth yet penniless and empty still.

Bare bodies bear needless gifts,
overbearing bling shimmering their
iridescent faux shine.

There is no gleam, no honest light
shining save that announced by the
staggering Star far, far away
heralding His arrival, harking us home.
No neon needed to find the path to peace,
but simply waiting and watching
in the daily, dull, down-to-earth
where our cravings meet the cross
at Christmas.

A Circle of Seasons–Book Review

Halloween has come and gone, the elections are settled. Now it’s begun–the Holiday Season is officially upon us.

How do I know?  Because Advent officially starts on November 25th this year.

I had never before paid attention to the idea of Advent until I met Kimberlee Conway Ireton.

Kimberlee is a lovely Christian author and speaker who also happens to live in Seattle–a rare and blessed thing. We connected online and set a time to meet a few weeks back.  When we got together (in between playing on the floor with her children and drinking tea) she shared her book with me– The Circle of Season Meeting God in the Church Year.
The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year

I’ve been chewing on little morsels of its pages ever since.

Preparing for or even thinking about Advent is an all-new process for me.  You see, I don’t do Advent. Although the liturgies of the church calendar have not been part of my worship tradition, I’ve participated in the observances in other churches and have been very moved by them. This new way of marking time makes so much sense, for “all time is sacred because God is present in it.” (from the Introduction, p.13).

             “ As with much of Christianity,
the church year can be radically countercultural,
a much-needed light showing a better way to live. 
In a culture that is too often hurried and distracted,
the church year helps us pay attention
because it draws our focus continually back to Christ.” (p. 16)

In light of focusing continually on Christ I am finishing Chapter One–Advent, A Season of Waiting. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas–this year it is November 25th. (To remind us once more).

Advent is a slow build of anticipation to the celebration of Christ’s birth.  As the outside seasons slowly turn rather than ‘click’ from Summer to Fall with the snap of a finger, so this time of pondering helps us prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.

I’m learning the days are not just numbers to check off on a calendar.  They can be filled with rich meaning and purpose. Each Sunday focuses on a word–Wait, Prepare, Rejoice and Love. These are observed by lighting a candle, either pink (joy), purple (the color of repentance) or blue (hope).

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The Sunday words of Advent:

  • In Hebrew, the word for ‘WAIT’ is also the word for hope. We are hoping while we wait.
  • To ‘PREPARE’ is to be mindful of–pay attention to, be on guard
  • When we ‘REJOICE’ we can be ‘joyfully aware of the presence of God in our lives’
  • When we remember the fourth Sunday, ‘LOVE’, we are ‘gathered around a promise’ (Henri Nouwen)

From the first chapter alone I can tell I want to read more as Kimberlee has already provided morsel after morsel of rich food for thought. Whether you are new to the church year traditions as I am, or have practiced them forever, you’ll perhaps find a thought shared in a new way or an idea you’d never considered.

Kimberlee also provides some practical ideas at the end of each chapter, giving suggestions of things you might do in your own home that involve young children. How to incorporate the Advent candle lighting into your family’s time is shared in a precious way. These are precious reminders of how to teach the next generation, too, these treasures of the season, in one circle after another.

One thought from Kimberlee,

“The coming of Christ into our midst requires that we rethink our desires and that we learn to hold them lightly, allowing the desire of God to supplant –or increase–our own desires.” (p. 21). 

Increasing my desire for God is one I hold dearly, the particular reason why this #cluelessEvangelical is looking forward to learning more about the Church Year liturgies and traditions. Circle of Seasons is the perfect primer for that~I hope you’ll find it as well.

*header image by Gaelle Marcel, Unsplash