Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

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I started writing this post on October 18, inspired by the jazzy strains of Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire floating out of our Senior Pastor’s office. He’d actually started playing Christmas music the week before by way of a “sorry Lauren” apology, but news was slow to trickle to the rest of the staff. Coworkers would stand at my door, incredulous, mouthing “is that CHRISTMAS MUSIC?” and I’d just smile and nod.

There was a time when listening to Christmas music so early would have been unbearable to me, but not anymore. I’ve learned that there are some perks to hearing it before the season even begins. For one thing, when it’s being played in October it doesn’t stress me out. Christmas still feels a long way off and I’m able to listen to the tunes without the accompanying panic of year-end shopping. It also makes me appreciate Mike and his love for the season. I know he’s working hard on his Advent Series. Third, Mike’s taste in music spans many genres. Every year, I hear a song or two that I’ve never heard before. Bonus!

What’s hard for me, though, about Christmas music is the ache that it stirs in my heart. The words and familiar melodies bring about a haunting feeling that something sweet and beautiful and good is missing from this present moment. It makes me long for Christmases long ago and for the love of dear ones who have died or moved away. But it’s more than a longing for the past; it’s also a longing for what should be, what’s meant to be, but isn’t. It’s a deep sadness over the evils, diseases, injustices, and abuses of this world and a longing for it all to be mended. The joyful songs of Christmas stand in stark contrast to the pain and suffering I see, and that’s hard.

In his poignant book, Lament For A Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff writes the following about Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Blessed are those who mourn. What can it mean? … Why does he hail the mourners of the world? …The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence. …They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one falsely accused and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly…They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who suffers oppression and who ache whenever they see someone beat down. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is neither death nor tears and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death. The mourners are aching visionaries. Such people Jesus blesses; he hails them, he praises them, he salutes them. And he gives them the promise that the new day for whose absence they ache will come. They will be comforted. 

Lauren McWilliams

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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

A Light in the Dark

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“For the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”

(Isaiah 9:2, Matthew 4:16)

There is no doubt that many people are struggling with one form of personal darkness or another in their lives, and sometimes this struggle seems greater during the holiday season. There may be expectations of joy, happiness, being merry! When oftentimes in our own hearts we feel anything but that. We see the lights, hear the music, we paste on a smile, we frantically try to feel something that looks like Christmas Joy…but instead we are faced with a darkness of the soul. I know I have had some years when I went through the season with a pasted smile, particularly right after my husband had died. There seemed to be no light within my heart, even though I showed to my children and others that Yes! Let’s be joyful, it’s Christmastime!! I felt mired in grief and disappointment, and felt this would be my reality for a long time. I had temporarily forgotten how pervasive light can be; stealing through the dark cracks in my broken heart, doing away with the shadows, pursuing me steadily, lovingly.

Let us not forget in the very first chapter of the Bible, in Genesis 1:3, when darkness was “over the deep” – God said, “Let there be light.” Our Almighty Creator was not content to let darkness remain on the earth, and He is not content to let darkness remain in our hearts. Instead, He comes down to walk WITH us through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4); Jesus comes down to BE the light, declaring “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(John 8:12) He is the “Word made flesh”, who made His dwelling with us (John 1:14). The book of John also stated, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

My Friends, as we prepare our hearts to welcome our King, Jesus the Almighty God, let us remember that He did not remain that baby in a manger – He entered into our humanity in order to enter into our darkness; to take it upon Himself, to eradicate the black suffering and evil and to bring us into His marvelous light – may His light shine on you this Christmas season!

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (I Peter 2:9)

 

~ Heidi Bertaux

X-mas… Is Christ still in Christmas?

Santa-Claus-and-presentsHe’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out whose naughty and nice… Rocking around the Christmas tree, have a happy holiday… I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus …okay okay, maybe we’ll throw in Silent Night for the religious folks.

WAIT!!!…this is our holy holiday, our sacred celebration. Yes, us—the CHRISTians—CHRISTmas is about Christ.

What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?

I know…it’s Charlie Brown. No wait, maybe Tiny Tim…or Macaulay Culkin?

CHARLIE BROWN AND LINUS DISCUSS THE FORLORN LITTLE CHRISTMAS TREESorry to be the “Grinch who stole Christmas”…well, Christmas as the world knows it today. As I reflect on all that Christmas has become, it so easy to get caught up in the commercialism of this season. Christmas wish lists, letters to Santa, ugly Christmas sweater-themed parties… While all of these things are fun, they miss the real meaning of the season. When we dig deeper, the noble themes of giving and charitable acts also tend to mask the true essence of what it is that we are celebrating. In that sense, we become distracted and quickly forget about the magnitude of the miracle that took place some 2,000 years ago: God in human form entered the womb of a human vessel to accomplish the redemptive plan of reconciliation between God and man. That alone is heavy for me; God…God entered the womb of a human vessel!

In the midst of decorating the tree, exchanging gifts with loved ones, and donating to our favorite charities, let us remember that

 This, this is Christ the King, 

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;

Haste, haste to bring him laud,

The babe, the Son of Mary…

The King of kings salvation brings,

Let loving hearts enthrone Him. 

     ~William Chatterton Dix

Maame Yaa Manu

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

All is Calm, All is Bright

“All is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin mother and child. Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”

silent night

 

When you look at the photo of the keys below, what is the first thing that enters your mind? Maybe nothing, or maybe it reminds you that you misplaced them this morning in the hustle of leaving the house. Or maybe you recall the moment that you locked your keys in the car or, if you are like me, maybe you have one set of keys for work and one for home and you remember the time you got to the office and realized that your home keys would not open your office door.

Keys
The keys have a very different meaning for a homeless family that recently enrolled in the Rapid Rehousing program I lead Baltimore City. A mother with three children under the age of five fell upon hard times when she had sudden job loss. As a single mother, this meant as a result that she wouldn’t be able to afford childcare or provide adequately for her family. Even though the relationship with her family was very estranged, she bravely asked if she could live under their roof just until she regained employment. Only four days after being in this household she was told to leave; no reason was given, just that the family member had changed their mind. Unable to secure a hotel for the evening because of finances and with the weather being so cold for her and her children, she snuck into her storage unit. She and her children slept there every evening for 12 nights. Yes, you read it right—a mother with her three children stayed in their storage unit for over a week. On Day 13 she was referred to our program and was put in a hotel, and on Day she moved into her new apartment.

The keys above in the photo are her keys—to her very own apartment. The keys that will unlock a safe, secure place for her and her children to land every evening after a day of school and work. Keys represent so much.

What does this have to do with Advent? I challenge both myself and my readers to say, ‘what doesn’t this have to do with Advent?’ As we await the birth of Christ, the story above reminds me of the hope that the birth of the King of the World brings. The hope of the already and not yet. As in the beloved ‘Silent Night’ Christmas hymn the night was silent, yet holy—all was calm and all was bright.

Isn’t this the way that it is with our God? Stories of hope; awaiting, trust and often silence as we wait on our Lord. The family in the above story did the same thing: she did what needed to be done to provide protection and care in anticipation of what the future would hold—which has now led to a new beginning and a trust in what God may have in the coming moments as each day, more and more, ‘all is calm and all is bright’.

Author – Laura Starsoneck

 

Immensity Cloistered in Thy Dear Womb

 

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Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

The Annunciation – John Donne

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