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

 

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Fear Not

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Luke 2: 10 – “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy . . .”

It was dark. The sheep were doing whatever it is that sheep do once night falls. The shepherds were keeping a watchful for eye for any signs of danger, as shepherds had done in this region for centuries. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared them. The glory of the Lord illuminated the area around them. Think about it. In the dark shadows of the night, the invisible suddenly becomes visible. The veil that separates heaven and earth is pulled back and they see something few mortals have ever seen. There was nothing in their collective experience that would have prepared them to make sense out what was happening. In the face of this unexpected and supernatural occurrence they were understandably overcome with fear.

How comforting it must have been that the angel’s first words were, “Fear not!”. It was exactly what they needed to hear to stop them in their tracks, calm their hearts and keep them from running. There must be something viscerally terrifying about an encounter like this, because these were also the first words uttered to Zechariah when the angel appeared to him. He spoke these words because he knew something neither the shepherds nor Zechariah knew. Somewhere on the eastern frontier a boy was born who would be their Savior!

Life can be terrifying. It’s full of uncertainty. Bad things happen to people we love and care about. We are mugged by circumstances that are beyond our control. People we count on disappoint us, even betray us. It’s easy to be overcome by fears from within and by fears from without. After all, the world is a very dangerous place and there is no lack of evidence to belie our concerns. It’s in these moments that I need to hear the words of the Angel of the Lord echoing in my heart and mind saying, “Fear not! … For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The birth of a boy in a manger in the city of Bethlehem announced to the shepherds the good news concerning the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. The arrival of the One who brings true healing, renewal and peace has come to pass. Expectation has given way to fulfillment. As we celebrate Advent, all the scenes and signs of the season are pointers to this new reality. The true King of the world has come! He is the one will rescue us from the curse of sin and death. And if we are His, we have nothing to fear. May we hear the voice of the Spirit shouting those words, “Fear not!” in the face of all our fears.

Jim Mckee

A Christmas Letter to the Mother of a Child with Special Needs.

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For Christmas this year, I would like to put many presents under your tree. There is so much that you deserve.

I would give you a box wrapped in bright red paper and tied with the big gold bow. In that box there would be strength. Strength so that you could continue advocating for your child to have the same opportunities as other children. Strength to sit through one more doctors appointment where the doctors are just not quite sure what the appropriate diagnosis is.

There would also be a big box adorned with silver bells and filled with patience. Patience for all those evenings when your other children want you to help them with homework but you can’t stop what you’re doing. Patience that allows you to listen when other moms tell you how hard it is to carpool their child to so many different sports and birthday parties as you seek to find just one playmate for your child.

Another box would be tightly bound with shimmering emerald paper and inside that box would be hope. Hope that would see you through another day of watching other children on the playground run and jump and skip while longing for a time that your child will walk. Hope that enables you to wait for a teacher who will hopefully understand what your child CAN do.

A large gift bag tied with scarlet strings would be filled to the brim with wisdom. Wisdom for you to understand how the new diet or medicine works in your child’s system. Wisdom to respond to the ridiculous questions that people ask you about why your child seems different.

Wisdom to complete forms and look at research. Wisdom to budget an already stretched bank account.

The biggest box would be decorated with snowflakes and inside you would find an XL portion of resilience. Resilience to bounce back after setbacks. Resilience to smile after stares. Resilience to do the same thing over and over, day after day.

You would find an enormous red and white stocking hanging by your chimney stuffed with joy. Joy for little steps that are really huge milestones. Joy for moments that allow you to feel cared for and understood. Joy in knowing that you have truly been blessed by the love of a very special child.

Merry Christmas!

Tonya Cherry

 

A Very Nice Nativity

IMG_2965I had a long day at work and when I walked in the house and saw that my husband had put the lights and decorations on the tree that we had chosen with the kids this past weekend, I was overcome with thankfulness. There was so much that I needed to do before Friday when Han would be bringing her college friends home for a Christmas sleepover and Joe had just done a huge job on my list! It was an enormous surprise and relief.

His help in getting the decorations up inspired me to set up our nativity later that evening. Once again, he surprised me by jumping up to help me unpack the big box that held our nativity. The nativity meant a lot to me. My wonderful mother-in-law had bought it for me years ago when I had told her that I thought it was important to have a “very nice” nativity displayed in a home. It is my favorite Christmas decoration. As we unpacked the pieces I saw that the angel’s arm had broken off. I was devastated. My perfect, expensive, big, NICE NATIVITY was ruined and I ran for the superglue. When I returned and began gluing the angel’s arm back on, Joe tried to calm me down and reminded me that we had used it for many years and that it was not the end of the world. I ignored him and fumed that my nice nativity was now damaged.

FullSizeRender_1Then something even worse happened. Joe
unrolled the bubble wrap and tissue from around Joseph and we saw that his face was broken. JOSEPH HAD A BROKEN FACE!!! “This is not acceptable! At all! Not at all! My nativity Joseph, my very nice treasured Joseph… can NOT have a broken face!” I yelled. Then, I literally threw the tissue paper in the air and proclaimed, “Christmas is ruined! We cannot have a freakin eighty five dollar perfect tree next to a freakin broken nativity!!! Priorities Joe!!! Jesus before Santa!” We needed to show that the nativity mattered more than the gifts.

Joe just kept on tending to my nativity as I loudly lamented and he put my Joseph front and center facing the child in the manger. He then turned all the others so that their backs were to the room and their faces were towards Jesus. He changed the way we had always set up my very nice nativity. We could no longer see the carefully hand-painted front details but the angel’s missing arm was now hidden and Joseph’s broken face was out of view. Even the cracked donkey ear could not be seen, for he was facing away from us and looking at the newborn. As my husband finished creating the scene he said, “Tonya. It is ok. When you have them all look at Jesus you can’t see their cracks. Just like us, if we just face Jesus, our brokenness doesn’t matter. It’s really ok.”

I smiled at my husband and ran upstairs to take a picture of my VERY NICE nativity.

Tonya Cherry

A Light

ii_151929b60106a543One of my favorite Christmas memories from childhood is driving around after the Christmas Eve service to look at all the Christmas lights. The lights at Christmas are so magical, aren’t they? It’s as if the whole world decided to light up in celebration of the season. It is truly one of the most beautiful parts of Christmas.

Have you ever noticed how dark it seems after Christmas? Driving home after 5pm suddenly seems so much gloomier. The celebration ends and it’s time to put away the light.

But Christmas tells a different story. Jesus’ light didn’t shine only for a season, only for a month before it was put away – it continues to shine now, even when we can’t seem to see it through the fog of our sometimes-gloomy world.

And so dear friend, when the lights are put away, don’t let the darkness of our world take over the light that Jesus brought to us on the first Christmas. He is “the true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9), our long-awaited King, the Savior of our hearts, and he’s here!

Maybe you need to be reminded of that light today, or you know someone who could use a little light. That’s the thing about light – it draws you in.

“A Light” by The Brilliance

Jessica Bates

This Christmas

citylights

This Christmas is strange. I don’t feel like decorating. I don’t feel like making cookies. I don’t feel like doing anything but opening presents for myself and quilting the day away. As my friend encouraged, “Nothing wrong with a Mary Christmas in the aftermath of who knows how many years of making Martha Christmases.” Oh, the reminder that sometimes we need to sit and be and enjoy and reflect and see all the sweet mercies God has given in the birth of Jesus.

While thinking of such things, I happened upon this RaVonda Dalton-Rann poem presented by the Baltimore Choral Arts Christmas concert heard on 88.1 WYPR. See God’s mercy?

It is time to rest and ponder so we can “Raise our eyes and See the Child.”

This Christmas, By RaVonda Dalton-Rann
THIS CHRISTMAS…
Raise your eyes
Look beyond yourself
Call His name
Out loud
And sing the song of wisdom

THIS CHRISTMAS…
Give a child a coat
Buy that man on the corner a meal
Slow your walking pace
And
Look into the eyes of that woman who pushes that cart
Ask her what she needs
And give it to her

THIS CHRISTMAS…
Open your home
And share the warmth
Start a fire of love
And carry it with you throughout each day

THIS CHRISTMAS…
Love your neighbor
Speak to strangers
Hear the same river in each of us
Call each man a mountain

Raise your eyes
and See the Child

Debby Sutton

Heaven on Earth: We Need it Now

The other night I was working, getting ready for our high school gathering, Breakaway, listening to iTunes , studying, writing, and praying. A song I don’t usually listen to came up on my playlist, usually I skip over these hoping to find something more current. The song gave me pause, because while it’s not a Christmas song per-se, it is all about the longing for Christmas in a fallen world. The song is “Peace On Earth” by U2. The very first stanza of the song says this:

“Heaven on earth

we need it now!

I’m sick of all of this
Hanging around
Sick of sorrow
Sick of pain
Sick of hearing again and again
That there’s gonna be
Peace on earth”

At some level this is true. “Peace on Earth” as a platitude doesn’t really offer much hope for those who are hurting. But this is not what Bono, or the Bible for that matter, has in mind. When the Old Testament talks about peace or Shalom, it means human flourishing in all of life, not just the absence of conflict in our lives. Isaiah 9 says that Jesus is our “Prince of Peace”, that he is the one who brings peace to every square inch of our world and this gives hope to those who are hurting.

While I was in Japan, the violence in Paris erupted. Our team got the news at various times in the late night and early morning. It was difficult to follow all that was happening. Shots fired, terror ensued. I think most of our team gave a collective groan at the brokenness of our world.   We pray.

“Heaven on earth we need it now!”

Just this past week a young couple decided to violently attack their co-workers at a training session in San Bernadino California. Fourteen people died, several more were critically injured. We Pray.

“Heaven on earth we need it now!”

A cursory reading of the headlines today reminds us that we see children and families fleeing for their lives because of terrorism.   We pray.

“Heaven on earth we need it now!”

In our own church, we know many who are hurting, dealing with, disease, depression, disappointment and longing. We pray.

“Heaven on earth we need it now!”

The good news of Christmas reminds us that our Prince of Peace has come. God is with us. God hasn’t forgotten us. He hasn’t left us. He has brought peace. When it was all said in done, evil doesn’t win. Jesus does. He has conquered death, crushing the serpent’s head giving us all something to hope for. Peace has come to earth and this is why we celebrate!

Patrick Allen

Of Advent, Christmas Trees & Rocky

Trees“The Advent tension is a way of learning again that God is God: that between even our deepest and holiest longing and the reality of God is a gap which only grace can cross; otherwise we are alone again, incommunicado, our signals and symbols bounced back to us off the glassy walls of the universe.”

Rowan Williams, ‘A Ray of Darkness’

The other night Katherine and I saw Creed, the latest installment of the forty-year Rocky series. Without spoiling the story, it turned out to be arguably one of the top three of the series (but it would take a huge for-Rocky-fans-only conversation to explain). As we watched, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion throughout, and it dawned on me that it was because Rocky (played by Sylvester Stallone) is getting old, and he has been part of my entire adult life. Don’t laugh. In 1976 four of us were on a double date. We ate at a local favorite called LUMS on US-1 in Miami. LUMS was where I had my first beer with high school friend, Chris, after turning 18 (I can’t speak for Chris). On this night we planned on seeing King Kong, but dinner took too long and we ended up going to an unknown film (Rocky). And thus began the shared journey with this very down-to-earth boxer – until last night.

Okay the Christmas Tree thing. Two weeks ago I posted a pic of this year’s tree. Another lifelong friend, Cookie, posted a comment that it was the same as last year. I was puzzled until I looked, and amazingly she was right! We basically decorated the tree exactly as we had a year ago.

And then there is Advent. Advent is about arrival, and it is accompanied by waiting and longing. We celebrate that Jesus has come, while longing for Him to return. Because the world isn’t right – all one has to do is read the headlines. The world is in torment and the fall is reflected in every violent, tragic and broken expression. So while we celebrate that Jesus has inaugurated God’s Kingdom by coming and having conquered the curse of the fall with His death, resurrection and ascension, we also anticipate that one day all Creation will be healed and heaven and earth be one.

Which leads to putting the three together…
In some sense, Advent too is always the same thing. Just as with our tree, each Christmas season is adorned with the same longing and decorated with the same songs of hope. It is supposed to be this way. As our storylines unfold the big story remains the same – and we need this. I need this. I need something that I can look to and find that it has not changed or the deep, unchanging consistency of God in my life – we all do.

So back to Rocky. You have to know that in the story he is old. Some say that Stallone should get an Academy AwardRocky for his performance (I’ve been screaming this for 40 years!). In nuanced ways, Creed, though a very unique movie, is beautifully and hauntingly similar to the first Rocky movie. And I think this is why I was emotional. Rocky got old. But the story didn’t.

So in a few weeks the ornaments will come down and get packed away until next year, one day after Thanksgiving when they are unpacked and put on a fresh tree for the new season.
It will be beautiful.

All over again.

And the story we have been invited into, though accented with fresh twists and turns, will still be about Jesus, who came and who is coming.

And this is good news, friends…

peace.

Mike Khandjian
http://unfinished1.com

As Far As The Curse is Found

Far_As_The_Curse

It wasn’t a normal weekend with the family. What made it different from other weekends is that we actually had time to spend together. It was one of those beautiful times when the calendar smiled on us and we all had a free Saturday with very little obligations or responsibilities. It was wonderful. The cold weather made for a nice cozy day in the house and we spent the day just doing the little forgotten things and enjoying one another’s company. When dinner rolled around it seemed like a good ending to our time together would be to share a nice meal out. With everyone loaded up in the car we were off to enjoy a relaxing climax to our casual day. Not long after being in the car something began to happen. It was nothing significant; in fact an onlooker would probably not have even notice it. But it was there, a slight change in the way we were relating to one another. Maybe we were hungry or maybe we were lamenting the reality that tomorrow would start another busy day. Whatever the cause, subtle changes could be felt, a shortness, a curt tone, an irritated sigh all began to steal away the peace and harmony of the day. It wasn’t long before offenses were exchanged and the mood of our day was altered. Our dinner out as a family became an indirect battle of wills and personal pride. Little exchanges of sarcasm or a bristled response led to the abandoning of gracious replies and made the evening more miserable than enjoyable.

Later that evening I began to talk with my husband about what happened. There was, from both of us, explanation and defense at first. But thankfully after we talked for a while we realized that we were facing what makes us long for heaven: The reality of the curse of sin in our lives here on earth, the sin that divides families and friends. We live marked by all that is cursed. Cursed with the sorrow that comes when we hurt those we love. Cursed and longing for the cure. As we both reflected how much we desperately need help to love each other and our family it led us to the only hope we have; Jesus Christ.

The Advent season is such a hopeful reminder that Jesus, whose birth we celebrate, will one day lift the curse when he comes once again to this earth. One day we will be able to experience, not just a single day of peace but an eternity of days where we love people the way we ought. Where we no longer hurt others or are hurt by them because the curse will be replaced with blessing and joy.

As we celebrate this holiday season with friends and family be reminded to hold on to the hope that there will come a day when sin and sorrow will end. His birth was the beginning of the promise to come.

No longer will there be anything cursed, but the throne of God and the Lamb will be in that city and his servants will worship him.

Revelation 22:3

Eliza Huie – Assistant Director of Counseling, Life Counseling Center

Christmas in Chronicles

I know.  I know.  The story of Christmas doesn’t seem feasible in Chronicles.  But, as I came upon this verse it hit me like a load of bricks!  Here’s the story: King Jehoshaphat just died.  He had seven sons to whom he had designated gold, silver, costly things, and rule over fortified cities.  There was one assigned to be king: Jehoram.  You’d think Jehoram would be satisfied with his new seat of power.  Instead, once firmly established as king he killed all his brothers, reported as better than him, and some of the other rulers in the kingdom.  While horrible, this isn’t the end of his work.  Jehoram later led God’s people to worship idols.  He lost regions of land as uprisings occurred.  His wickedness caused all of his family with the exception of one boy to be killed.

But Christmas shows up just after Jehoram killed his brothers.  2 Chronicles 21:7 – “But the Lord did not want to destroy David’s dynasty, for he had made a covenant with David and promised that his descendants would continue to rule, shining like a lamp forever.”   Jehoram isn’t killed to make sure David’s rule will continue.  God spares him to make sure Jesus would be born.  The wicked Jehoram evens shows up in Jesus’ genealogy!  Matthew 1:8 “Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat.  Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram.  Jehoram was the fatherof Uzziah.”

It shouldn’t surprise us.  Throughout Scripture we see the thread of God’s plan in motion.   All the while He knew the end game.  He knew the plan.  He knew what we needed:

We needed a Savior;

I needed Jesus;

You needed Him.

So, yes, even in the midst of a horrible story of a one man’s greed, wickedness, and deplorable actions God stays the course.  God never stops his pursuit of redemption for His people.  He keeps his focus to bring us back to him through Jesus.  That’s his end game – us with him.

He promised.  He kept it.  It’s happening.   Merry Christmas!

Debby Sutton