What Doesn’t Change

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Every year, my family sits together and sets up our nativity. It gained that shiny star one Christmas when we kids decided that that’s what we wanted to give our mom for Christmas. But for the most part, it’s essentially remained unchanged through my whole life. When we were younger, we would squabble over who got to put baby Jesus in the nativity, try and put every figurine on the nativity, and occasionally someone, usually the angel, would end up on the stairs, or the roof. My mom would leave it up for a few days, and then rearrange it so you could at least see baby Jesus.

Now we’re all getting older, and things are changing.

And isn’t that reassuring, that no matter what changes in our lives, the story of Jesus and its message will always stay the same?

Emma Vaughn

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Mary Did You Truly Know?

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“Mary, did you know

that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary, did you know

that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know

that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

The sleeping Child you’re holding is the great “I am”?”

As a mother, I often wonder about Mary. How she handled the usual nervousness of becoming a first-time mom with the added responsibility of being the mother to the King of Kings. Did she fully know what she was being called to do? Did it weigh on her heart like many of my motherly duties often do?

When Jesus was left behind at the temple in Jerusalem, his response to her worry was “Where else did you think I would be?” In that moment, did she think, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out”? Or did she realize at that moment that he was so much more than just her child? Her patience and grace had to be the reason she was chosen to be his mother.

I love looking at my daughters while they’re sleeping and quietly wondering what they will become as they grow up. Will they choose to follow Christ? Will they be loving, caring women that exemplify Christ’s love through their actions towards others? I’ve done that since they were born: wondering, hoping, and praying. Holding them as newborns, honored (and slightly terrified) with the new responsibility I had been bestowed upon.

Mary must have looked into Jesus’ precious, newborn face and known that he was going to be something more. She must have seen the glory and awe that all mothers experience when they hold their child for the first time. She had to have prayed for his safekeeping and acceptance in a broken world. Imagine the love she must have felt holding him for the first time, knowing he was born for so much more and that she had been blessed to be chosen as his mother. What an honor. What a blessing.

Luke 2:19 “But Mary kept all of these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

Carol Badaracco

Mary

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I pushed my wool-clad feet smoothly into the warm boots I had left sitting on the radiator. It was a familiar feeling, this trudging out to the barn in the dark, one I’d had many times before. As I slipped in through the part-way open barn door I could see the shadow of my dad, “Morning, Mary,” at work with Daisy. I walked over and gave her a quick nuzzle on her soft nose. Then Patsy reminded me with her whining moo that I was needed at her side. Pulling my stool up next to her round tummy I began my daily routine. As the warm milk hit the cold pail, steam rose up to my chilly hands and Patsy turned her head around to give me a nod and once more a deep moo, this time in thanks. I rested my head into her furry side and began to think about another Mary. Another Mary, in another time and place.

She, also, was in a barn, although not a familiar one. She had never imagined herself here, never in all of her 14 years would she have seen herself here, with Joseph. The trip had been a long one. Joseph had taken care of her the whole way. How could she ever have doubted him? But now, tonight, now of all nights, this baby had decided to come.

The angel had told her what would happen, but still, all of this was so new. Talking to Elizabeth had helped. Even with the difference in their ages they had a lot to ask each other, a lot to tell each other. The angel had apparently come to see Elizabeth also, because when Mary had first arrived Elizabeth had hugged her with a knowing…that Mary was carrying the Savior.

And now, here she was, lying in the hay, with the cows close by giving off their sweet warm breath and she, Mary, giving birth to the long-awaited for Lord. In the midst of the pain, her soul was at once peaceful… and honored… and humbled that God would choose her to bring mercy to His People. And yet He had.

Pam Mckee

Besides Jesus

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When my children were young they often sat with us through the Sunday sermon. The small church we attended held Sunday school classes for kids and adults at the same hour so the children were always in the main service. Often the preaching was a bit more than their little minds could take in so my husband and I would seek to engage them after church on our drive home. We would ask them questions about the message and we quickly found that their answer to most our questions was the same- “Jesus”.

What did the pastor talk about today? “Jesus”

What do you think was the most important part of the sermon? “Jesus”

—Then we would get the occasional forced variation—

Did you learn anything new from the message today? “Um….that um…(long pause)…To love Jesus!”

In some ways, their one-subject response was encouraging because it pointed to the fact that the pastor made a pretty big deal about Jesus. On the other hand, and probably most often, they knew that Jesus was an answer that would get them out of further questioning on a message they mostly doodled and wiggled through.

Sometimes, in our little conversations about the message, we would add the caveat “besides Jesus” before asking our questions just to try to get a little more from them. Not that Jesus wasn’t a good answer, but we wanted them to engage further. It would stump them and they would stumble for an answer. Usually, other key Bible words would be their response; sin, obey, God, and maybe a biblical name or two. The “besides Jesus” trick didn’t get much more out of them.

It has been several years since we have had those conversations with our kids. They are all grown up and drive themselves to church now. We still talk about the Sunday sermon but the exchanges are much deeper and richer than those of their younger years. But the funny thing is, now more than ever before I realize that their childhood answer -“Jesus”- is actually more accurate than anything else.

As we face struggle or temptation the answer is Jesus. We need him. He is our help and hope. As we face joys and blessings it is because of Jesus. When we endure trials it is because of Jesus. He turns sorrows to joy in ways that often don’t make logical sense. Life may not be exactly how we expected but we can carry on only because of Jesus. And even more, the best is yet to come when we meet him face to face in heaven. One day everyone will know the only answer is Jesus. Every knee will bow in his presence as all things become completely clear. My kids’ simplistic answer was actually the true answer to life’s complexities. The older I get I see more clearly that there is nothing besides Jesus.

This Christmas season many of our children will come away with one message from holiday services- “Jesus”.  As they see nativities, sing Christmas carols, or hear Sunday lessons Jesus will probably be what they take away. It may seem simplistic but one day they too may see more clearly that Jesus is all there is to know.

Eliza Huie – Counselor, Life Counseling Center

I Ain’t As Good As I Once Was

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As I read through the Christmas story in Luke 1 & 2 again on Monday. The story of Zechariah the high priest caught my attention. He was an old man. Both he and Elizabeth were well beyond their childbearing years. Gabriel, the Angel of the Lord, appeared to him as he burned incense the temple. He announced to Zechariah that his wife would give birth to a son, whom we know would grow up to be John the Baptist, the last prophet and forerunner of Jesus.

Although Zechariah was known as a righteous man, he was filled with unbelief when he heard this news and stated it honestly: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

These words reminded me of a line I love in a Toby Keith song, “I ain’t as good as I once was.” It’s a lament that resonates with me more with each passing year and I have all the typical aches and pains associated with aging to prove it. Even as I type I’m literally, painfully, aware that my hands don’t work as good as they once did.

Zechariah’s unbelief didn’t disqualify him from serving God’s purpose, but it did silence him until the moment Elizabeth gave birth. God took away his voice for a season so that he’d have no choice other than to be still and listen. Gabriel’s news was really good news for Zechariah and Zechariah’s story is good news for me. No matter how old we get we are never beyond God’s reach to use us, often in ways we never expected. And I need to be reminded that faith sometimes looks like being quiet and listening.

Jim Mckee – Pastor 

A Child’s Gift

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I recently heard a mother of a child with special needs say, “This child has kept me in His presence.” I sat there and soaked in those words. As hard as it was, I really don’t think that a child could give a better gift to a parent. Her experience of raising an exceptional child brought with it the beautiful gift of her dependence on the Savior. I later read these words of special-needs parent, Greg Lucas, “When people ask me how I became a follower of Jesus, I always tell them a two-year-old, non-verbal, mentally disabled, autistic boy led me straight to the cross and since then has been used to display God’s grace in the most amazing ways.”

Whether a fitful visit to another specialist or sleepless nights or a fifth food allergy or even during a tantrum in the sanctuary, special needs children can be the catalyst that causes their parents to be more reliant on God.

The birth of Jesus was a perfect gift that allowed us to be brought into God’s presence, and these children are the precious gift that has allowed these parents to daily remain aware of that.

Author: Tonya Cherry, Director of Chapelgate’s Keystone Kids

Waiting for my Delivery

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Just one more gift. That’s all I’m waiting for. I ordered it so that it would arrive by Christmas, but its not here yet. The confirmation email says it will arrive by 12/24, but every day that passes I begin to doubt.  I keep clicking on the tracking number hoping that I will see those three little words “out for delivery”. I pause at the sound of every passing truck, hoping that my awaited package will arrive. It’s December 23 – Only 2 days left for it to arrive. Waiting is hard.

In Luke 2, we meet Simeon. A devout and righteous man who was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he saw the promised Messiah. We don’t know how long he waited, but it appears it was a long time. But one day when led to the Temple by the Spirit, Simeon met a young couple who had brought with them their new born son. Simeon knew this was the one. The one he had waited for.

Simeon faithfully believed that that which was promised would come. A Messiah, promised deliverance and salvation. He rejoiced and blessed the child saying:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

What have you been waiting for this year?

A restored relationship?

Physical or emotional healing?

A new job?

Getting out of debt?

finishing school?

pregnancy?

As you wait, rest in the promise of God’s salvation. Rest knowing that our Emmanuel, (God with us) is here. Rest in the truth that our Prince of Peace sustains us. Rest knowing that the end of the story has been written. God’s timing isn’t always our timing, but His timing is always perfect.

Wait is that a UPS truck I hear?

Steve Dallwig

Savior

f60a75b558a14d61052bf9e6b4eba8ceI usually look forward to that November email from Steve asking us to write a blog for Advent. I’m a talker, so I don’t struggle to find stories to share or thoughts to express. Give me 30 minutes and you’ve got a blog post. Now I must admit, it is full of grammatical errors and lacks polish, but it gets done rather easily. For some reason though, this year when I got the email, there was no eagerness. I felt like I didn’t really have anything I wanted to share and instead it felt like just one more thing I had to do.

To be honest, this was not a great year. It was a long year. It was a tear-filled year. It was a very heavy year. This was the year that every counselor dreads. This was the year that I experienced the thing that I had spent the last 25 years trying to prevent. This was the year that I lost a client. This was the year that a young person that I had known and loved and invested in took their own life. This was the year I had never wanted to come.

This year I had to actually believe the words I so often say, “I can not be your Savior.” I always knew these words were true but then when it happened, all I felt was my immense failure to save a life. When that young adult had been a teen, I had spent hours walking alongside them. I had offered countless messages of hope. I had listened to each heartache. But I had obviously never said whatever words they needed to hear so that as the years passed, they would chose life. This was the year that I truly learned that I couldn’t save them all.

“No matter what we say or what we do, sometimes people are going to die,” is what Mike told me that day. I will never forget it, words so obvious and familiar but so unexpected. He looked me right in the eyes and in that moment I was forced to not just hear the words, but to trust the words and accept the proof. Kind Mike, he helped me recognize that I would grieve two losses, one was a beautiful young woman and the other was the knowledge that I could not save.

This year, may these words, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” be engraved upon my heart.

O Come

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O come, O come, Emmanuel,

and ransom captive Israel

that mourns in lonely exile here

until the Son of God appear. 

Can you feel the ache, the longing, the sadness, the darkness? 400 years of silence between the books of Malachi and Matthew, Israel mourning in lonely exile…wondering when it’ll ever change, wondering when God will speak once more.

O come and be with us; we can only mourn until You come.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;

from depths of hell Thy people save,

and give them victory over the grave.

 It’s a little more intense now. Free us from Satan’s tyranny, from oppression and cruelty, from false thoughts and beliefs that rule over us, from the very depths of hell.

O come and free us from evil and death, save us.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer

our spirits by Thine advent here;

disperse the gloomy clouds of night

and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

 Dayspring means the beginning of; dawn; the beginning of a new era or order of things. Dispersing clouds, shadows swallowed by light. Oh heart, be encouraged by what’s coming – by Who’s coming – and bringing a new order of things.

O come, Desire of nations, bind

In one the hearts of all mankind;

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,

And be Thyself our King of Peace

Note the pairing of the words, “sad divisions.” So many things divide us – age, race, money, politics, status… For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

O come, bind us all together and bind us to You. Be our Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Lauren McWilliams

Waiting

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I’ve been staring at that tree since Thanksgiving.

It was decorated the day before, in between the careful simmering of the cranberry sauce and cutting butter into flour for apple pie crust. Seven and half feet tall, white lights, silver and gold glittering ball ornaments with red and silver beaded strands running through its branches. A beautiful angel with open arms and a flowing dress barely fits between the top of that tree and the ceiling. A hand-stitched nativity set is carefully arranged at the bottom.

I’ve sat in front of it every night since it went up. I did my Black Friday shopping on my computer in the chair next to it. I shared tea with friend by it. I watched the Gilmore Girls revival (and cried big tears) in front of it.

I’ve been staring at it for over a week and nothing’s different. I keep thinking that something will change, that I’ll feel the Christmas joy and light and cheer come all at once like it usually does if I just wait here long enough.

I think this is how I’ve been treating Jesus recently. Like I’m staring at the nativity waiting for something to happen, ready to scream “DO SOMETHING!” to the tiny baby Jesus in the manger. In the end I’m left wanting to feel different, better, more connected, more loved, hopeful. And nothing’s happening.

That happens sometimes, doesn’t it? We stare at our faith, waiting for something momentous to come and it feels like it never does. I imagine that’s how the Israelites felt after years of wandering, waiting for something to happen. Or how Sarah and Elizabeth felt after years of being barren, waiting for a child. Or how Joseph felt, wrongly imprisoned and waiting for freedom.

And then Jesus came. He came because no amount of Christmas decorations can cure what ails us. He came because peace can’t come from a Christmas tree. He came because life isn’t found in the idolatry of the perfect Christmas season.

But in his coming, he did do something. In his coming he does make all the difference in the world, bringing the connection and love and hope we yearn for. In his coming, we finally know what joy we’ve been waiting for.

So I’m still staring at this tree, waiting. If the past is any gauge, something will happen. Jesus will move in my heart like he always does, just on his time, not mine. And when he does, oh what joy is mine.

Jessica Bates