Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Favorite Christmas Carol

I've been quiet in this space for a while. This has been a challenging season for me, and I've had difficulty putting the struggle into words. I feel I've found my voice again. Thanks for your patience. 

Y’all, I grew up in church. As in, I can’t remember when I wasn’t familiar with the layout, the smells, and the people at the brown brick building with white trim at the corner of South Wayne Ave and Rudisill Blvd in Fort Wayne, IN.


So when I say I know a bit about Christmas carols, trust me. I’ve sung them since I was old enough to perform in the Christmas program. I’ve harmonized with my family--two altos, one soprano, and a tenor--in the second pew on the right every Sunday for 20 of my 49 years. I heard my parents sing them in Christmas cantatas, including the long version of Handel’s Messiah.


For a few years now, “O Holy Night” has been my favorite Christmas carol. Remember when I said that I needed a tangible expression of God’s love but was having trouble finding it? Well, this carol has played on the radio, in my Pandora mix, and been sung at my husband’s staff Christmas party in the past few weeks. It has made a difference. Why? The words.


It is a well established fact that I’m a words person. And “O Holy Night” has powerful words that speak to my soul’s most challenged places.


O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.


I love how this sets the scene. I’m intrigued by stars and love a studded sky on a clear night.


Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!


If ever I have been forced to stare at sin, it is this year. It has felt as though the entire world is pining to be delivered from its devastating effects. I sense humanity is choking on its depravity and longing. They just don’t know that they’re waiting for the appearing of the Savior.


I sing this stanza with deep conviction. These aren’t just words to me. I agree with the author: until Jesus appeared, my soul didn’t know its worth. What a thrill of hope to know that there is deliverance at hand for my weariness--a new and glorious morn!


Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born.
O night divine, O night, O night divine.


This chorus contains both an imperative and an invitation. Falling on my knees is the a response of worship when in the presence of Divinity, and Christ was both God and human at His birth. The invitation to stop and quiet myself to hear the angel voices, declaring, “Unto you, Jenn, is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” is so welcome right now. Fourteen years in retail can create a very jaded spirit, and it’s easy to be cynical about the “most wonderful time of the year.”


The angels beckoned those going about their normal lives to stop what they were doing and “go see this thing that has happened!” Instead of focusing on the “sleigh bells jingling, ring ting tingle-ing too,” the season can be put in its proper perspective when I accept the invitation.


Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
and in His Name all oppression shall cease.


For a long time (most of my adult life, really), the practice of my Christianity was all about laws and little about love. I have come to know that His love is what enables me to love all others, and that acting from this experience is the only way peace will be found in this world.


Thanks be to God that He will break every chain and I think the world has come a long way in realizing that the slave is our brother. There are so many ways to aid organizations confronting human trafficking and sex slavery. I can’t wait for the day when, in His Name, ALL oppression shall cease!


Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!


Here is the second invitation to action. Raise a grateful chorus. Praise His Name forever. Evermore proclaim His power and glory. Would you help me remember to practice these the other 11 months of each year?

Now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite Christmas carol and why?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Slippers

I've been quiet in this space for a while. I was surprised by the challenges this Advent season brought, and I've had difficulty putting the struggle into words. I feel I've found my voice again. Thanks for your patience. 

I think it was Christmas 1992. The joy of the season had been tempered by the Gulf War and soaring gas prices, and we were still trying to pay off school loans and make the monthly mortgage payment. Bob and I agreed to spend only twenty dollars on each other for Christmas.


He bought me a practical gift. They weren’t fancy but they were well made slippers of felted cotton with leather soles. I’d never had slippers before, except for the knitted pairs my grandma made for me when I was a child. Moment of confession: I never liked those. They hurt my feet when I walked. (Sorry, Grandma.)


This pair was soft and warm and protected my feet from the chill of the hardwood floors of our turn of the century, sparsely insulated home. The only thing I didn’t like was the color: reddish pink. Despite that, I wore them.


And wore them.


And wore them.


As the years turned into decades, I became more attached to them. And that perplexed me because I’m not sentimental. I don’t attach feelings to things. Besides the fact that they're still functional, I’ve often wondered why I can’t bear to part with them.


Deep down, I know the reason: they’re a tangible representation of my husband’s love.


Today, the leather soles are slick, the seams are pulling away from the uppers, and if I washed them, I’m sure they’d fall apart.


The world seems to be falling apart and the depravity of man is tempering the joy I’m trying to find this season. I’ve experienced a heaviness I can’t shake. I feel a deep need for a physical reminder that Love will overcome the deepening darkness.


I know that Love came to this world in the form of a Person, Jesus, the One who came to be physically present with those He created in the midst of darkness that was deep then too.


Why does this physical representation of Love seem so hard to grasp? Maybe grasp isn’t the right word. I'm wrestling with the reality that I don’t have the feelings to go along with that knowledge this year. It’s hard to be in this place when the season seems to demand I be happy and joyful.


What I’m coming to realize is that God’s Advent message for me this year is that I’m not going to get the “feels” to go along with what I know. But that doesn’t mean His Love isn’t real, tangible, the best physical reminder ever given.

After all, He is Emmanuel--God WITH us. If that’s not Love, I don’t know what is.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Christmasy Angstyness

This is what Dakota did to her bed under the blue table this morning. I'm not upset; it's a re-purposed 15-year-old sleeping bag of Michael's. Still, I was confused. Why would she want to rip up her bed? What's going through her doggie brain today?

As I took this picture, suddenly I saw that God might have been wondering the same thing about me as He observed my behavior this past week.

It has been a hard shift from Thanksgiving to Advent this week--slammed seems more like it. My heart was so heavy when I traipsed through Target last Sunday, gathering a few things Bob needed for his business trip this week. I could not, did not want to enter in to any of the festiveness, the Christmasy-ness--(yes, it's a word)--that filled my vision every time I turned into another aisle. I couldn't get out of there fast enough. All week my angst about the condition of the world has invaded my private faith experience and dominated my attempts to fully enter into this season.

When I saw evidence of Dakota's restlessness and thought, "Why did she do that? I was right there the whole time," I sensed God whispering to me, "I've been here too."

I realize that I've been flailing, desperate to see evidence that God is in control in the world so that the weight pressing on my soul would lift, so that I could choose to trust that He is in also in control of my life in all that I cannot see.

I believe that Peace can only be found in Emmanuel. I believe that He is with me, just as He was with the people of Israel when they were feeling oppressed and despaired that their Messiah would ever come for them.

Just as they did not know how close He was, neither have I.

How have the events of this week impacted your ability to engage Advent? Does it help at all to know that God is Emmanuel, that He is in control? I'd love to hear your thoughts.