Category Archives: Holidays

Advent of Peace

Prince of Peace is one of the names given in Isaiah for the coming Messiah. Thanks to Handel’s oratorio, many of us know that verse by heart:

 

The Prince of Peace. Prince as in: chieftain, chief, ruler, official, captain, prince. He has authority. He rules. He is the last word. Strong’s shows the translation of peace is shalom. Shalom is peace, of course, but it’s more than that. It’s defined as completeness, soundness, and welfare. It means prosperity, tranquility, and “contentment with God, especially in covenant.” So you put those together and He is the one who has authority and dominion over our completeness. He is the chieftain, the protector of our peace.

But like the rulers of the day, who had a hard time seeing that Jesus was the Messiah–because he didn’t look like they thought he should–this chieftain of peace looks a bit different than what we think he should, or even, admittedly, what I want him to look like. He told his disciples before he died that his peace was different:

  “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you;

not as the world gives do I give to you;

Do not let your heart be troubled,

nor let it be fearful.”

But the key to this verse lies in the verse before, John 14:26:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit,

whom the Father will send in My name,

He will teach you all things,

and bring to your remembrance

all that I said to you.”

Jesus is telling them, “You will have peace, because the Father is sending the Helper/Comforter/ Advocate/Counselor to you, not to walk beside you, but to live in you. Not to bring absence of conflict, but to bring contentment in your covenant with God, to be the Keeper and Lord over the shalom within you. To steward the everlasting peace that comes from Me, not as fleeting as any peace the world tries desperately to find or manufacture.  Tranquility that allows sleep through a storm in a rickety fishing boat. Peace that passes understanding, that you will only understand in glimpses and moments, that will surprise you with its depth when you encounter it in moments of great external strife or battle, and when the deceiver tries to steal, kill, and destroy.” Shalom always comes in the presence of the Prince.

From the first time the people of this world heard the Messiah came, a bunch of ragtag shepherds in the middle of the night:

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

         ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'”

The Deliverer had come, not with a sword to force peace on an unwilling, fearful people, but as a frail human, God in baby-fine skin and enrobed in swaddling clothes in a stable, gazed at with awe, love, and devotion. And Jesus’ words to his disciples 33 years later, are an echo of those the angels told the shepherds: “Don’t be afraid, peace has come.”

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Advent of Hope “The Light Shines in the Darkness and the Darkness has not Overcome it”

DSCN1227The first week of Advent is Hope. Who doesn’t want some of that? The Old Testament is full of the promises of God to His people.

Why? To bring them hope for the future. Hope was coming in the form of a baby.

I have been without hope. One of the parts of the depression I have dealt with this past year was the lack of hope. I had no hope that things would change. None. I would simply have to live like this in my situation and it would never be better. Never. It was awful. “Without vision, the people perish.” Of course they do–without a vision of a better way, a better life, a better faith, there is nothing to live for, no hope for the future.IMG_2914

No wonder Mary sang the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord!” What the people of Israel had hoped for, through the exile, return, the prophets, and the 400 years of silence–it was finally coming to pass. What He said, was really happening!

So many times this past year my prayer was simply, “I believe, help me in my unbelief!” It was all I had, the faith that hope was there, whether I could see it or not. And I would search for any gift from the Father–a sunset, a walk with a friend, any good and perfect gift, however small, from Him. For any flicker of light in the darkness. And the seed faith and hope that He was “A light shining in the darkness and the darkness could. not. overcome. it.”

So if you are without hope, or if you are hanging on to hope by a thread, or if you are full of hope, let’s usher in a week of hope with praise and thanksgiving! Thankful that hope is here. Hope is coming. Hope in the form of Jesus lives in you. Even if all you can muster is a tiny whispered “thank you,” shine that light in your darkness.IMG_0179

So expect the Advent of Hope. This is not exactly a traditional song of Advent, but quite appropriate for the Advent of Hope: “Come as you are…come taste the grace, there’s rest for the weary…rest that endures, earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t cure…” 

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Advent: an Invitation

Setting up the Advent wreath

Setting up the Advent wreath

It is one of my favorite times of year. I love Advent. Love. It. I love the oldness and the newness of it. The five candles in church. The ring of 24 candles at home. The Jesse Tree of printed ornaments that became the tree of homemade ornaments. The devotionals. The quiet time. The hymns. The Advent Book. All of it. Even the wiggly children, the songs sung off-key or with a nose flute or djembe, the arguments about who gets to light the candles and snuff them out. The dripped wax, smoky snuffer, candles burning out before the 24 days are over and having to be replaced. (Just keeping it real, people.)

The year the candles had a mind of their own...

The year the candles had a mind of their own…

This is an invitation to Advent. Make it look like you want. Go on Pinterest. Go to Michael’s. Go to the Catholic Bookstore. Make your own wreath or candle set. Or buy them. Find an online free download. Buy a book. Just read the Bible. But this year…between the parties and the presents, the family get togethers, the caroling, the trimming, the baking, the shopping…come and and be quiet and “Be still and know I AM.” There’s no better time to get to know Him.DSCN6431

Here is, really, one of my very favorite songs for Advent. I wish I could link it better, but click and listen to Jennifer Martin’s “O Come Be Born Again.” You can even download a free mp3. Here are the lyrics:

O COME BE BORN AGAIN
Baby born in Bethlehem
Come be born in me again
Since You don’t mind dirty stables
Here’s my heart not fit or able
To receive such majesty
Still, You humbly come to me

O come, O come
O come, O come, be born again

Chosen One who chose to be
Suff’ring Savior, Servant King
Since You don’t despise the broken
Here’s my life laid bare and open
To receive Your mercy
As Your Spirit calls to me

And all who struggle, all who sin
Come and become born again
Come and lay your heavy burdens
At the cross where alls forgiven
At His feet new life begins
Come, O sinner and enter in

O come, O come
O come, O come, be born again

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A Struggle for Lent

I will admit, I don’t really know what to do with Lent this year. “Umm…shouldn’t you have thought about this sooner,” you say. I have. I’ve thought about it a lot, long and hard and I’m still not sure as I write these words.

I didn’t grow up in a culture that practiced Lent, but I have participated for several years as an adult, however. This year, I’m just not sure how to approach it. Since last year, I have experienced Inner Healing Prayer and have been freed from co-dependency in a most amazing way! There is a new freedom in Christ and in me that I love!

So now what? I know Lent is not a biblical command or even suggestion. I know participating in Lent doesn’t save me, make God like or love me any more or “get” me anything from God—no extra star in crown. Got it. I also already know I was a sinner, loved by my amazing Creator, and saved from eternity without Him, and that my eternal life started the minute I cried out to Him to save me. I don’t want to wallow in my sin and be sorry for them. They are done. If He doesn’t see them or remember, why should I? And I am no longer that same orphan. I am a daughter of the King, a co-heir with Christ!

So back to Lent. What to do? I can participate or not. My college friend mentioned an online Lenten Retreat she was interested in attending. Hmmm…an online retreat? What on earth? I checked it out and enjoyed both the website and the author, who is a Methodist priest and artist in residence. I LOVE her work. Love it. It resonates within me and makes me want to run to my palette knife, canvas and easel. What I appreciated about her intro to the retreat were Jan Richardson’s words about Lent:

 From the rending of Ash Wednesday to the resurrection of Easter Sunday, the path through Lent encompasses every aspect of who we are. Most of all, Lent invites us to know how completely God loves us, and to let go of all that would keep us from recognizing, receiving, and responding to that love.

 Letting go of all that would keep us from the Love of God? Yes, please. This is a Lent I could get behind, that I could be a part of, meditate upon. Not giving up wheat, sugar, caffeine, fast food (I already did that last month!), but giving up that which I try to hold onto that keeps me from “recognizing, receiving, and responding” to the complete love of God.

And in Ann Voskamp’s words that I nod in agreement:

 Let the things of this world fall away so the soul can fall in love with God. 

I pull my favorite Lenten Devotional, Bread and Wine, off the shelf and read the introduction.

“We ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not a requirement. After all, it is meant to be the church’s springtime, a time when out of the darkness of sin’s winter, a repentant, empowered people emerges. …put another way, Lent is the season in which we ought to be surprised by joy. Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart’s deepest longing: unity with Christ…Lent is a good time so…let go of excuses for failings and shortcomings; a time to stop hanging on to whatever shreds of goodness we perceive in ourselves; a time to ask God to show us what we really look like…He (Jesus) reveals the appalling strangeness of divine mercy and the Love from which it springs. Such Love could not stay imprisoned in a cold tomb. Nor need we, if we truly surrender our lives to it.”

 And so, I am ready to let go. I am ready to let go of what is holding me back from receiving all He has for me—all His love, His promises, Him. I want all that He is willing to give, if only I will receive it. I am ready to celebrate Lent–to admit my weakness and rejoice in His power and strength; to acknowledge my lack in all I do on my own and marvel at the abundance of grace and mercy in all He does; to confront my shortcomings and realize His overcoming. I am ready to meet the One who Isaiah prophesied (Is. 61:1-3):

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.

 

So today, on Ash Wednesday, I am ready for him to give me a garland instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of fainting, so that He may be glorified. I am ready to decrease so He may increase. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

 

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Intentional Holidays: Celebrating Advent

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;

Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.

For me, Advent is this verse, Isaiah 40:3–clearing the way for the Lord, smoothing the highway in the desert. In a season that is often over-commercialized, hyped beyond anyone’s expectations, this is it. Clearing a way for Him. Smoothing the desert or wasteland of the world. Loving Him. Preparing myself for His coming.

My children look forward to this every year. It’s a big deal at our house. Last week I heard them discussing who was going to get to open the last door of The Advent Book on Christmas morning, trying to remember who got to do it the last previous years.  We started a long time ago, when we only had one child. My brother-in-law, who is a preacher, was astonished to hear my two-year old recite from memory almost the entire account of the birth of Christ. When you hear it everyday, a little at a time, it is hidden in your heart.Caleb and the Advent wreath

We started simply. A prayer, a Christmas carol (just one a week with wee ones), four candles, and a book. That was it. For a two-year old, that’s all we needed and it was a good place to start. We had pink, purple and white candles as some wreaths traditionally use, but we didn’t really even talk about the symbolism of the candles. Just the candles, a song and the story. That’s all you really need. We moved up to a circular wreath a few years later. Just plain and wooden and I decorated it with greenery and ribbon. The candles made a lovely spiral by the end of the month. A few years ago I received one of Ann Voskamp’s son’s Cradle to Cross wreaths that we use during Advent and Lent as well. I love it. Very simple, with Mary on a donkey circling her way around. It all culminates on Christmas morning. After we open our stockings and have breakfast, we light the wreath, sing, and open the book for the last time. Because this door is only opened once, it seems even more exciting to our kids. It’s a beautiful way to usher in Christmas!DSCN1227

We still use The Advent Book. In addition, after Advent, we read other books as well. Jotham’s Journey was exciting to read, as well as the sequels in following years. It’s a story of a boy who ends up in Bethlehem and witnesses what happened there. There are all kinds of stories you can read to add another layer to Advent. One of my favorites is an anthology of stories and poems, A Christmas Treasury of Yuletide Stories and Poems edited by James Charlton. The book belonged to my great-grandfather, and I love to sit down with a cup of tea and a candle and dive in. It seems to be out of print, but you can get them, starting at a penny on Amazon. I have a link in my Amazon store, along with lots of other lovely books.DSCN1243

Some of my fondest memories of my children’s childhood is Advent. They aren’t perfect.  There’s been arguing about who gets to light the candles, pick the song, turn the page (I have 4 kids!). There’s been wiggly babies and toddlers, sick kids, you name it, it’s happened. But it’s worth doing. Start to think now about Advent and what you want to make it in your home.

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An intentional holiday season…

Yes, I know that Thanksgiving is still a couple of weeks away, but as you can see if you enter ANY store, or turn on the TV or radio, Christmas is a’comin.  It’s annoying that Independence Day is almost time for retail stores to put out Halloween decorations. I hate rushing the holidays and prefer to celebrate one holiday at a time, really enjoying it. There is however, merit to planning. You can just float along if you’d rather, but when I do that when it comes to holidays, I miss out on some things I’d like to do and end up settling for things I’d rather not do. While I’m not advocating pulling out your Christmas tree yet, it’s not a bad time to think about the coming weeks. Intentional living is a gift to yourself and your family, and no time is better for this than during Thanksgiving and Christmas.DSCN6269

Sit down by yourself, with your spouse, and then with your kids to think about what you want your holiday to look like. You might be surprised when you ask your kids what they really want to include in the holiday season. What’s been special to them in the past? What do they want to do this year? What have you done in the past that you might want to skip this year? This is not a post trying to tell you how to live the holiday season from now until the end of the year, just one to encourage you to think about what you want and need to do ahead of time.DSCN1227

Something that has helped my is FlyLady’s Holiday Control Journal. While I wish I adhered to her all year round, I often lose my Flylady wings. Christmas does really go smoother with a plan, and she has a great list to keep you organized. She also has a list of “Holiday Cruising Missions” to get you ready for the holidays-a quick daily activity that will help everything be done on time and you a happy mama. It keeps you from spending the last weeks frantic and harried. I am behind on the list (I think we’re supposed to be on Mission 16 as of today!), but some things I’ve already done. I purchase wrapping supplies at the end of the season, so I don’t have to get paper and bows full price, and keep them all together in my attic.  Many of my gifts are already purchased or made. With many wee little nephews I keep my eyes open on the clearance racks of Target and Michaels year-round and by this point I’ve found something for all of them. Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local, and Style Blueprint offer great places to pick up gifts at a reduced price as well. I also make a good number of gifts–photo books (using coupons from sites listed above!), homemade vanilla, and sugar scrubs as well. Most of that is done.DSCN6431

I really encourage you to think about your holiday season this year, starting now. It will make the rest of the year less harried and more enjoyable. Look for posts in the coming days about Advent, Jesse Trees, and some favorite recipes.

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Repost of “I will not abide in death”

A shofar made from a ram's horn is traditional...

A shofar made from a ram’s horn is traditionally blown in observance of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish civic year. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.  He who does not love abides in death.” 1 John 3:14

Over twenty-four hours after our Shabbat meal with friends, where we celebrated a simple (and late) Rosh Hashanah, I am still scrubbing honey and caramel off the tablecloth and chairs.  We’ve incorporated Passover the last few years, but, as we’re studying Old Testament history this year, I wanted to add in other Jewish holidays as well. No, I’m not Jewish, nor am I trying to be.  But I am grafted into the vine and want to experience some of what God commanded in the Old Testament that has disappeared in the New Testament Church. There is something to be learned from these High Holy Days.

We dipped our apples into raw honey, a gift from a dear Messianic Jewish friend.  As she and her family were out of town and no one else I know in South Nashville has a shofar, we listened to the traditional Rosh Hashanah shofar on the internet while we ate.  I lit the Shabbat candles and stumbled through the Kiddush my friend wrote out on a yellow legal pad.  We broke the challah and drank the wine,  blessing the Lord of the Sabbath, and husband-fathers blessed their wives and children.

What amazing symbols! Blowing a ram’s horn to call people to the new year and to repentance–a ram’s horn as a reminder of the ram God gave Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son of the promise, Isaac.  There is always sacrifice in this life, is there not?  Apples and honey celebrate the sweetness of a new year given by the Lord.  The challah bread, coiled tightly before rising, baked into a swirl to remind us of the endless cycle of the seasons and the eternal reign of the Father.

As I read up on Rosh Hashanah I learned it begins the “Days of Repentance” or “Days of Awe” or turning to God. Ten days to ask for forgiveness and to grant it as well, before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a solemn day when the Jews would fast and pray the Lord would forgive them for the sins of the last year.

All this leads me back to 1 John this morning.  If I show love by asking forgiveness of those I have wronged, I abide in life.  If I forgive those who have wronged me, even if they didn’t know they hurt me, I show them love and abide in life.  If I do not forgive, I abide in the death of resentment and unforgiveness. When a disagreement or misunderstanding grows to a cold silence, when I harbor my anger and end up taking it out on others in my life, I abide in death.  Don Finto preached on forgiveness many years ago and I have never forgotten it.  “Even if it’s 98% the other person and only 2% your fault, you must ask for forgiveness and forgive.”

So today, I choose to answer the call to repentance and abide in life.  It is hard.  I will ask for forgiveness.  I choose to grant forgiveness to people who do not know.  I will not abide in the death of unforgiveness any longer.

A repost from 2011’s Rosh Hashanah celebration.   This year Rosh Hashanah began sundown September 4; we ate challah, honey and apples at church in the Fellowship class before our evening classes began.

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