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

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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

 

Christmas for the Outsider

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Luke 2:8

We matter to God.  Inexplicably.  Undeservedly… God is watching, listening to us, speaking promises into the cacophony of our worries and the certainty of their fulfillment into our most deeply buried hopes.” – Patty Kirk, Confessions of an Amateur Believer

Blog PicThis Christmas has begun differently from any we have celebrated. At this date (November 29) we have yet to purchase a tree or put up a single decoration or light.

It isn’t that we are any less enthusiastic about the season or that our philosophy of Christmas has changed. It is that we have been sick, Katherine before Thanksgiving, and me since.

And it’s killing us! It is as though Scrooge lives in our neighborhood – and he is us!

But it gives me pause.

Each Christmas I try to remind our church community – and myself – that for all who celebrate the season with joy, there are many who are barely hanging on, observing from the edges, grieving, struggling, even hiding. Family pain, broken relationships, shame, illness, death and financial pressures bring isolation rather than festivity.

It occurred to me that this is why the shepherds are my favorite characters in the Christmas narrative. When it came to the common life of the broader social structure, they were always observing from the margins.

They were outsiders, and yet God found them and invited them in by making them the recipients of the first announcement of Jesus’ birth.

Interestingly God didn’t turn them into kings, executives or land barons. He simply came to them and ascribed value to who they were by virtue of His Son. Upon seeing Jesus, they were tasked with sharing His birth with the rest of the world.

So I take heart in the shepherds’ story – On that first Christmas they were isolated but not unnoticed by God.

Neither are you.

What good news of great joy.

grace & peace.

Mike Khandjian

 

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

Lament for Aleppo

WARNING: This video contains distressing, graphic images from Aleppo. I recommend watching it but muting the sound, as the images alone are very powerful.

I caught sight of a friend’s post this afternoon that linked to a news report about Aleppo. The quote in the article read, “Aleppo is a place where the children have stopped crying.” My eyes rose to the movie that had begun to play. I was at work, so I muted the sound. A little boy of maybe three or four sat on a table in an orange sweatshirt, his hair tousled, eyes full of horror, lips pressed together, a wound on his forehead. His small hands touched, the fingers brushed against each other. He stared sadly at those examining him. Oh, be gentle, I pleaded silently.
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Oh dear God.

A mother wailed that she had lost all of her children.

A teenage boy sobbed as he clasped the body of his infant baby brother.
Oh God, these dear ones made in Your image… There are thousands.

I cannot ignore this. I weep for the horrors they have seen, the terror on their faces, the agony and despair. I weep because while I have never experienced their specific losses, I know what it feels like to be shattered, traumatized, lost and overwhelmed. My heart breaks, spills over.

I sit alone in the darkness with Christmas lights overhead, and I believe with my whole heart that my God sees and knows and cares, both for them and for me. He knows the depth of their pain and He understands mine. He was here.

Here.

My God came here into the mess, the horror, the sadness, the chaos of this world. And He didn’t come with walls and barriers to shield Himself from it all – no, He embodied it, He suffered, and then He conquered it. So in all the sadness I cling to Him, my hope.

I ask, Oh God, who will care for them? Who will help them? Can I? Will You? Please show me how. Please show them mercy. Please, please, please save them.

Save us.

Save me.

Lauren McWilliams

Prepared in Love – Designed in Eternity

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Each week as people walk into church they are greeted by friendly people who hand them bulletins stuffed with announcements, prayer lists and cards. There may be anywhere up to five or six extra pieces of paper in these handouts.

These packets are assembled by some of my favorite people (some are pictured, but not all) – Church Elves who voluntarily come to our office all fifty-two Fridays, to give of their time in making possible our Sunday mornings. They laugh, cry, talk, tell their stories, rehearse their weeks, love one another, and even offer the preacher a few jokes for consideration.workers-jpg

One Friday as I quickly passed through the workroom, undetected I realized that one of these dear people was reading the coming Sunday morning quote from the bulletin to the others. It warmed my heart. Our Members and Visitors would be the beneficiaries of packets that were prepared in love.

As one reads through the Christmas narrative it is evident to see that a small group of people, many of whom were strangers to one another, who made their way to Bethlehem, did so without a clue that behind the scenes God had laid the groundwork.bully-people-2

A Prophecy

Two Family Lines

An Empire

A Census for the purpose of Taxation

An Overcrowded City

A Star

A Field

A Tyrant

Unrelated? No. Random? I don’t think so.

Mysterious? Absolutely!

Whenever life doesn’t make sense (which is often), my initial reaction is to get lost in thinking that God may have not thought through His plan carefully enough on my behalf. Sounds horrible, doesn’t it. But it’s true. My inability to see the end product can be maddening, and all those control issues surface in the ugliest of ways.

But where’s the fun in that? What I forget is that God has invited us into an adventure that involves mystery, suspense, the wild unknown… and Incarnation.

I think in terms of pieces fitting together in a moment – but God is always being born into my life, messily, mysteriously – and personally.

Unbeknownst to the players involved in the first Christmas, they were the beneficiaries of a redemptive story that had been prepared in love and designed in eternity.

God was coming.

Every Friday, through these amazing people, I am reminded that I don’t have to know how He makes it happen, but that God’s plan unfolds exactly as He has designed it.

Friends, what good news of great joy.

Mike Khandjian

Fear Not

 

Ever watched the scene in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where Linus tells about the angels appearing to the shepherds? Blogger Jason Soroski points out that Linus, who has spent the entire film being ridiculed for his security blanket, drops the blanket at the exact moment (00:38 in the above clip) when he recounts the ‘Fear not’ of the angels. It’s a beautiful picture of what happens when we get caught up in the story of God’s rescue of the world in Jesus. Not that our fears disappear, but they lose their grip on us.

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But as Linus finishes telling the story, he picks the blanket up again. For me, THIS is the most powerful moment in the movie. As much as I’d like to be done with my fears, they are constant companions, dogging me as I walk the path Jesus has laid before me. I have glimpses of the future, when I am so caught up in the beauty of the story of Jesus, that my fears lose their grip and I forget they’re there. Often, like Linus, those moments tend to come when I’m retelling what Jesus has done. But then I forget, and grab for the blanket again. I’m thankful that Christmas is about God come to be with us amid the fear that we can’t seem to let go. And I look forward to the promise of Easter in a few months: fear is not the last word in my life.

Dan Passerelli

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.