Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Girl in the Morning

The first thing she felt as she slowly awakened, was the slight, sharp point of a feather sticking through the bedcover. She shifted and opened her eyes. Early spring cold seeped in around the edges of the leather skin covering the room’s one window.

She lay there, quiet. Outside, the faint voices of birds could be heard in the almond trees her father had planted before she was born. Three of them stood between the house and the dirt street. They were budding now, softening the stark silhouettes of winter branches.                                                                                                 almondblossoms

In the stillness she closed her eyes and thought of her mother and father. Gone. They had been taken so suddenly by a virulent winter illness two years ago that she still could hardly believe it. They, so loving and devoted to one another, and to her, their only child. She felt tears threatening.

Words of scripture began to drift through her consciousness. Her father had been her teacher. Recognizing in his bright, intense young daughter an uncommon hunger for knowledge, he taught her to read. This, too, was uncommon. He ignored the remarks of friends and family about the waste of time. He copied down texts memorized from the synagogue onto stiff pieces of leather and shared them with her. The histories and the psalms, the poetry and the prophets.

He told her the ancient stories of betrayal and war. “When our people turned from the true and living God, daughter, terrible things followed.” She learned of blessing. “God rewards obedience. God blesses those who serve Him with a pure heart. Keep a pure heart always for Jehovah.”

They were as living things, those words. She sat and read them in every spare minute. They wove into the fabric of her mind and flowed from her memory through her days. She sang them as she cleaned and gardened and sat at the loom.

“God will send a Deliverer.” Her father’s voice rang in her mind. “We live in dark times now with the occupier. But, God will send a Child, a Son, a Ruler. Never doubt it.”

In the difficult days and months that followed her parent’s deaths, it was their devotion to God that had been her greatest comfort. Her father’s brother and his wife had moved into the house. Kind and attentive, they did their best for the grief-stricken young woman now in their care. She spent much time alone in those early days with the old leather pieces, reading, praying.

When a local man came calling, her aunt and uncle were thrilled. Joseph, with an unblemished reputation and a good livelihood, would be a fine choice for their niece. And she was happy, recognizing the hand of God in His provision of an honorable husband.

This morning, she prayed from the Psalms as she lay still and warm in her bed: Your righteousness, O God, is to the height of heaven, You who have done great things. O God, who is like You? She suddenly felt a joy expand throughout her very being as she had not felt since her parents died. I may worship Him, the true and living God. I, even I, may worship Him.

Slowly, she rose and reached for her wool cloak. No one stirred in her aunt and uncle’s room. A few minutes later, her feet in sturdy leather shoes, she walked into the cooking room.  Stirring ashes in the clay oven, she added sticks until a good fire burned steadily. The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children.

She stood for awhile, warming her hands. Her aunt would be up soon. Tea would appear, and fig cakes.

Reaching into a small sack by the door, she took a handful of grain. Pulling her cloak tighter, she walked out the door into the chill dawn air. Chickens scattered around the small courtyard, clucking in alarm. She tossed the grain onto the packed earth and they began their frenzied pecking.

It was light enough now to see the dark form of their cow in the tiny stable. Her big, friendly face hanging over the side of the stall seemed to smile a welcome.  “And good morning to you, soon-to-be-mama,” she greeted the heifer. Stepping through the wood crosspieces she walked to the cow and laid her head on the wide back. A calf would be born within a fortnight.

She loved the creaturely smells of hay and barn. Thankfulness welled in her.

When, as a small girl, she had heard the story of Hannah, her heart had thrilled at the sorrow and sacrifice and joy. She had memorized Hannah’s song long ago and it washed through her mind this morning especially clear: My heart rejoices in the Lord. For there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God. The Lord makes poor and makes  rich. He brings low and lifts up.                                                                                                                                                              

A shadow appeared on hay stacked in a corner, a slight shimmer, a presence. She stared at it, mystified. It slowly took form, filling the dim interior of the stable with an impossible radiance.

The Being spoke: Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you.

And it began.

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Our Family Letter 2013

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Dear friends:

Of all the delights in the world, family is sweetest.

This past year was a remarkable one for our family. We welcomed our second grandchild, Isaac Samuel, on May 16th.  He and his 2 year old sister, Natalia, have proved to us that the rumors are true: there is nothing in the world more wonderful than being a grandparent.

In August, our son, Nicolas, was installed as Lead Pastor of our church, Christ Tabernacle. He and his wife, Dana. are moving our beloved fellowship into the future with joy and a great framework for growth.

Sam holds the position of Elder Pastor. No, we aren’t retired, and, no, we can’t imagine leaving Sonoma County. But the vision and direction have been passed to the next generation of anointed leadership. These changes have been gratifying for us and the church and we thank the Lord for His hand in every detail.

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Since the transition, Sam’s artistic talents have blossomed. Our church lobby glows with his LED creations.

You just never  know.

Our daughter, Jessica, continues to live and work here in Santa Rosa. We were so thankful to have  our lovely girl with us at Christmastime, as the others were out of town. Together we went to a performance of Nutcracker (or, “Men in Tights” as Sam called it) and to see Les Mis. Yes, we got a little teary.

On September 29th, our Aaron married his Jennifer in her hometown of Crescent City, CA.  The wedding took place in a beautiful outdoor ceremony near the beach. Sam performed the vows.

We are unsure how we managed to acquire two of the most wonderful daughters-in-law anywhere. Our sons have exquisite taste.

Debra had several articles published in 2012. Maintaining a blog has been a great writing discipline and great fun.

We wish you, our dear friends and family around the world, a blessed New Year. In all of the challenges that await us, we have a magnificent God well able to help us succeed.  So let’s look to the future with glad hearts.

Sam and Debra

Ideas for Leftover Christmas Cheer

 That's the plan.

That’s the plan.

What will I do with Christmas now that it is over? All that leftover love, joy, peace, and good cheer? I certainly don’t want to forget those good wishes I distributed throughout the season.

Let’s see.

  • Perhaps I could take the love and share it with my neighbors, those folks I knowbut not really. Get to know them better. Ask them how I can pray for them. Invite them to worship with me.
  • Joy is easy enough to take shopping. Grocery store, returning wrong sizes, stocking up on staples that vanished over the holidays. Throw in some patience with cranky fellow shoppers. My face lit with a smile is like a walking light bulb. It’s also cheap and easy to operate.
  • Peace. Well, there are those family members, those challenging family members, who need some. Words of peace, deeds of peace. I can do that, can’t I?
  • Good cheer? This phrase always comes up at Christmastime. Those old English carols, you know. And Dickens’ Scrooge showing the way. A pleasant countenance at all times. Good cheer is like a vitamin I need to take every morning. Just do it and eventually I’ll feel better.

Jesus eventually left the manger, grew up, and lived these things out every day of His life.

Now it’s my turn.

Do you have ideas for other Christmas leftovers? Leave a comment and share them with us.

Mary and the Angel, Scene II

gospeloflukeThen Mary said, “How can this be since I do not have a husband?” Luke 1:34

The story of Jesus’ birth seems to have been little known in the early days of the church.

Those first believers believed and taught His life and miracles, His death and resurrection. But as thoughtful, often learned, men and women came to the faith, they acknowledged the need to have the details of the Lord’s birth authoritatively written down.

The physician, Luke, set to work. Scholars think Paul encouraged him. Mary and other women in her company could have helped with details.

So we have 80 verses in the Luke’s first chapter. Angels and magnificent announcements. Doubt and obedience. Glorious praise, and much more – details so familiar to us now.

And Mary seems to be a rather serious, self-possessed young woman. You can’t help but admire her reaction when Gabriel appears. Notice that she is chosen, not deified.

  • She does not scream.
  • She does not faint.
  • She does not run away.

Most important, she was not doubtful. Ready to say, “yes,” she asked only for a little more light on the life-changing predicament before her.  How will this be since I have no husband?

Ask the right questions”, Pastor Nick challenged us on that Sunday morning.

Sometimes we are too quickly overwrought. We default to emotion and anxiety. Or doubt. We could be asking questions that would provide clarity, such as: What is God looking for from me right now?

It is a question that will please God at Christmastime and all the time.

My Writer’s Group assignment for December was to write a Christmas story you would like to read. My story, “Girl in the Morning,” will be posted tomorrow.

Zechariah and the Angel: Scene 1

Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plain.                          

Actually, the Bible does not say the angels were singing, but let’s not quibble. We want our singing angels at Christmas.

My son, Pastor Nick, preached a message recently about Zechariah that got me thinking about the very human responses to the angel of Christmas. What can they teach us?

Scene 1: Zechariah

Even after 430 years of Divine silence, the priests continue in the temple rituals. A faithful priest and devoted husband, Zechariah’s name comes up in the temple service rotation. He is this day performing his duties in the Holy Place with great care.

Suddenly, an angel appears. Four centuries of holy blackout end. An angel! And he’s not singing o’er the plain. He’s standing between the altar of incense and the table of showbread.

 Gabriel. Serious. Artwork by Ron DiCianni

Gabriel. Serious.
Artwork by Ron DiCianni

We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of this scene. Nor should we underestimate the importance of Zechariah’s response.

Anytime God appoints a human being for a particular task, He takes a great risk. We can always doubt. We can always say no. Or argue. Or try to bargain.

The Angel Speaks

You will notice that when angels appear in the Bible, their first words are, “Do not be afraid.” I need not elaborate.

The angel has a fair amount to say, which you may read for yourself in Luke 1:

  • Your elderly wife will bear a son.
  • You will call his name John.
  • You will be very happy about this, as will many people.
  • He will be a great man, filled with the Holy Spirit from birth.
  • He will prepare the way for Messiah.

How will Zechariah reply? What would I say? What would you say?

Zechariah Responds

Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman. (Msg)

One of my favorite commentaries comments: “There was something evidently blamable in this hesitation on the part of Zacharias to receive the angel’s promise.”

Evidently.

The angel, Gabriel by name, Mighty One of God, special messenger of good news, finds this reply plenty blamable. I see him drawing himself up to his full angel height, boring the priest with his fiery angel eyes, and saying in unmistakable angel terms: “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. But since you seem to have trouble believing it, you will be deaf and mute until the baby is born. Not good, my brother, not good.” (My paraphrase, obviously.)

It is interesting that Abraham and Gideon got away with responses full of doubt. No deafness or muteness or angelic scolding.

Why does Zechariah suffer such consequences?

Perhaps because there is no time for doubt. The clock has run out. Messiah is on the threshold. Doubt must not overtake any of the players in the Unfolding Mystery.

C.S. Lewis suggests that, “We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

It is something to think about at this Christmastime.

Thursday: The Angel, No Doubt: Scene 2 (Mary)

Light at Last

I am sitting here today thinking about Jesus as the Light of the world and reading through Isaiah 42.1-6. And I am struck (no pun intended) by the hard edge of truth in the Old Testament Messianic prophecies. This one, written in a vivid form of Hebrew poetry, is no exception.

 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.

Grab your Bible. Here is my take:

  • Vs. 1: The character and mission of the Christ are clearly stated. No equivocating or hedging here.
  • Vs. 2:  His voice will be quiet and gentle and He will not seek attention through noisy demonstrations. The Christ will not do celebrity interviews or make movie deals.
  • Vs. 3:  With the weak and depressed in spirit, Christ will deal tenderly, not violently. This is a precious promise. Where the flame of devotion burns weakly, He will take care not to quench it. He will tend it until it burns more brightly. His love for you will fan the flame of your devotion. Guaranteed.
  • Vs. 4:  His tenderness is not weakness. He will be firm and unbroken. He is a man’s Man. Stop with the doe-eyed Jesus thing already.
  • Vs. 5:  The prophet makes it clear that the announcement of the Servant and His mission are from the Almighty. Thus says God, the Lord. Is this clear enough?
  • Vs. 6:  His light will now shine on all mankind. No second-class citizens. Repeat.
  • Vs. 7:  He will cure physical and spiritual blindness and deliver from spiritual bondage. Bam!
  • Vs. 8:  He is all that the name Jehovah signifies: eternal, omnipotent, impossible to recreate. Period.

The Light from the stable will grow and spread and purge and purify. It will never be extinguished. If I am willing, it will illuminate and love through me. That is my challenge.

O Savior, illuminate and love through me.

This One Shall Be Peace

Messiah comes. He will be peace.

In the late 8th century B.C., a prophet named Micah, wrote a small book. And in chapter 5 is a great Messianic prophecy.

I must say that one of the charms of this little book is the beautiful poetic style of the prophet:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,                                                  bethlehem

Though you are little among

            the thousands of Judah,

yet out of you shall come forth

            to Me

The One to be Ruler in Israel,

Whose goings forth are from of

            old,

From everlasting.

Eight hundred years before the birth of Christ, the specific village of His birth was foretold.  Tiny Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem was known primarily as the birthplace of David, and the spot where Jacob’s beloved Rachel died hundreds of years earlier.

But its minor status was about to change. It would be the birthplace of Messiah. And a scene of slaughter: all baby boys under the age of 2.

Sharp Focus of Truth

I try to remember that Christ’s advent is not just about a star and a stable, a manger and shepherds and animals. It is also one of rejection and exhaustion, of the messiness of birth in dirt and darkness.

And months later, it is a story of massacre and the horrified screams of young mothers just like Mary.

This One Shall Be Peace

And yet, look at Him there in verses 4 and 5:

shepherdHe shall stand and feed His flock

in the strength of the Lord,

In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God

And they shall abide,

For now He shall be great

to the ends of the earth

And this One shall be Peace

Messiah, standing tall as the Good Shepherd, guiding His flock, watchful and ready to defend. His strength is displayed in the care of His people. He is clothed in the majesty of the Name of the Lord. He reveals the power of God.

And this One shall be our peace. This Ruler will not only bring peace, but He Himself shall be peace.

  • Siege, invasion, war? He is our peace.
  • Sickness, loss, uncertainty. He remains our peace.
  • Horror, tragedy, the unthinkable. He stands in the majesty of the name of the Lord as our peace.

It is something to ponder. To turn aside for a time from the shopping and parties and baking and busyness, and ponder.

Take Him. He is peace.

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