Sunday, December 25, 2011

Where the Lambs are Kept

Merry Christmas to you!  This year's efforts for a simpler, more Jesus-focused Christmas have in some ways been successful although the living room was still full of boxes, wrapping paper and new things by 10 a.m. We found great joy in Levi unwrapping things and he found greater joy in wandering around the house exploring.

To start the morning right we read a new reflection on all that happened so long ago.  Hope it can be deep encouragement that the celebration is not over today.  That it is indeed the happ, happiest season of all because of this baby who sacrificed so we could belong to God.
     Down through the ages and around the globe, groups of people joined together by their poverty of reputation have formed communities within their communities in order to work and live out the days appointed for them by their Maker.
      Such were the shepherds of Bethlehem.
     The shepherd's life was ironic.  Their job was to care for the animals that would be sacrificed to atone the sins of the people.  Yet because of their handling of these dirty creatures, they themselves were unclean and thus prevented from keeping the ceremonial law...  The shepherds' lives were, in effect, sacrifices.
     On one particular night, in the pastureland skirting Bethlehem's northeast side, some shepherds sat like sentinels at their posts, keeping watch over their flocks, unaware of the angel regarding them from the skies overhead...  A sudden, glorious light shone in the darkness as the angel of the Lord appeared among them.  The shepherds were terrified.  Of course they were.  So wide was the gap between God and man that whatever information an angelic messenger was dispatched to deliver seemed more likely to be bad news than good.  They were afraid because they knew they had reason to be afraid.  But the angel said, "Don't be afraid.  Listen, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!"
     The angel's words painted a picture of the glorious presence of the promised Redeemer.  He used names to describe the coming Messiah to these shepherds -- names that spoke to the Messiah's purpose.  He called him the Savior, meaning that he would atone for the sins of the people.  He called him Christ, distinguishing him as their deliverer.  He called him the Lord, identifying him as divine.
     The shepherds might have wondered why the angel chose to reveal this to them.  This sort of news seemed to belong to people of influence or nobility.  It was hardly the kind of report they ever imagined would be exclusively for men of their vocation, let alone reputation.  But then the angel used one more expression that brought overwhelming clarity to this moment.  He told them Christ the Lord had been born "unto you."  The divine Savior and Messiah had been born unto them.
     Though they lived most of their lives on the outside looking in, they would not be outsiders to this gift.  They were the recipients of it... But as soon as he announced Jesus' birth, "suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God" saying, "Unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!"
     For the poor, helplessly earthbound shepherds, this was a lot to take in...  But why had the glory of all glories appeared to the lowest of the lows?  Why had the angel chosen to reveal this message to mere shepherds, unclean as they were?
   Because poverty is relative.  Could it be that from the perspective of heaven, the poor shepherds outside Bethlehem were no more or less poor than the rest of the world sleeping under its watch?  Could it be that the poor of the earth were in fact all the people of the earth -- poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness?  Could it be that the Savior's coming was for them as much as it was for anyone, and for anyone as much as it was for them?

     The angels gave the shepherds a sign that left them speechless.  Their Messiah and Savior could be found where the young lambs were kept.  He would be the one not covered in wool, but wrapped in swaddling clothes.
     Where the lambs are kept?  This they needed to see.     When they found Jesus in the manger as the angel said, the very location of his birth was drenched in significance.  The Savior had been born into their unclean world in the same manner as a lamb.  The symbolism was not lost on them.  When the shepherds saw Jesus there, they not only saw that he had come, but they also got a hint as to why.  He came to be the perfect lamb, the ultimate, lasting sacrifice.
     This baby's coming was to accomplish and establish peace between the God of all creation and his image-bearers who habitually rejected him.
     And so it would be all his days.  From the manger in Bethlehem to the cross on Calvary, Jesus moved among the people, came into their homes, touched their blind eyes, and permitted their unfaithful hands to touch him.  He taught them profound lessons from ordinary events.  He defended the defenseless and opposed the self-righteous.  He ate at their tables, laughed with their children, and wept over their grief.  Never did he abandon his purpose for coming, which was to die for a world of spirit-poor outsiders as the Lamb of God who takes their sin away.  Jesus was born poor.  He lived poor.  And he died poor for the sake of his people.
           -Behold the Lamb of God:  An Advent Narrative by Russ Ramsey

From our family to yours, merry Christmas and blessings in the new year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Music, Mourning and Hope

I typed this out yesterday on Jason's iPhone but in the middle of starting to post realized we were lost and I had the map on the phone. So, our update from yesterday now that we found our way to Myrtle Beach and then to our Georgia family...

Perhaps it's rotten timing to share this but playing in our car as we drive and I type is perhaps the best Christmas music on the planet. It's obviously a biased opinion but it was one solidified after waiting a year and a half to hear it live. Friday night we beheld the wonder of Christmas through an exquisite mixture of vocals, strings and percussion. The only thing that disappointed was it being over. But, the good news here is that it's an album crescendoing from the beginning stories of Genesis to the Gospels that totally works to play year round. Good, good news for all, friends.

The extraordinary Jill Phillips and Andrew Peterson
Today we're traveling with a friend down to Myrtle Beach to mourn the passing of a friend and fellow school grad who gave his life for the Gospel overseas.

We grieve deeply for his passing but are incredibly thankful for hope intermingled in the sadness.

Glory to Jesus, ancient and strong
Giver of love and the theme of my song

Glory to Jesus, ancient and strong
Come to your people, carry us home

Behold our broken hearts
And gather us beneath your wings tonight
Son of God, Son of Man

-Andrew Peterson

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Finger, a Firefighter and an Indian Baby Shower

Good evening!  There are a few things to share this Friday as our lobby has gone from a perpetual ping pong tournament to a deserted playing field.  Yesterday was graduation and now (for the most part), silence.  With an insanely full few weeks, the break is coming at the perfect time.

This time last week we were gearing up for a weekend storm of activities that included Jason racing up a mountain for his half marathon.  He comes alive running.  I try to stay alive if I run.

While we sent to sleep late after campus Christmas celebrations and up early for the mountain run, there were exciting things to keep us up on Saturday including a friend returning from China, our RA Christmas party and, as if Jason's body hadn't endured enough, Jason's finger getting slammed in the van door.  Just today, almost a week later, the pain is finally subsiding.
It's looking better!
Then, Sunday.  The story I've wanted to share.  Not including ruining banana bread for firemen or the huge study party and feast we threw in our lobby (sadly, no pictures to share because our camera had not been replaced yet), Sunday was filled with excitement because I attended a monumental baby shower.

For a year I've hoped for an Indian friend and decided the clerk in Walmart would do nicely.  I've gone through her line too many times to count, struck up conversation and time and time again invited her to lunch.  But I had resigned myself to the fact that she was only an "inside the walls of Walmart" friend.  So on Black Friday while shopping for a few groceries, you can imagine my elation when she invited me to her baby shower.  I agreed and tried to pick out the perfect gift for a baby whose gender is still a mystery.  My friend, we'll call her Shanta, is due in March and is seeing the same OB/GYN I did with Levi!  This past Sunday was the shower and to my shock was not an American baby shower given by Walmart employees.

I pulled into the full parking lot to see Indian men, women and children dressed in traditional clothing entering the building.  And I made my first observation:  Indians drive mini-vans and SUVs.  So I fit in quite nicely with my MPV.

Entering the building to loud Hindi music, over 100 Indians sat at tables watching kids play musical chairs up front.  My friend greeted me looking like an Indian princess and welcomed me to a front row seat of all things India for the afternoon.  I was a mixture of overwhelmed and awed.  Only one other non-Indian was there and we became quick friends taking everything in and asking the constant question, "What is happening right now?"  We mostly never had answers for that question.
Taken from my phone.  Wow, pardon my hair.
Then, the other non-Indian left and...

I panicked.  Not wanting to commit any cultural blunders, I slid across the seat to an older Indian woman and began asking for answers to all the questions I had.  She and her husband were incredibly precious even explaining the god statue that sat at the front of the room.

And then, my new non-Indian friend walked in with four other Walmart employees and a huge cake which led to an incredible wedding-like cake ceremony.  This was followed by more wondering of what  exactly was happening and then, dancing.

Dancing could easily give way to cultural blunders or worse, free amusement.  But thankfully my new friend schooled me on the footwork and soon I was dancing around the room with about forty Indian women and four Walmart employees.  Shanta watched with a big smile.  

After the joy of dancing came my next Indian observation:  Indian food is dang spicy.  As I ate the chicken bite by flaming bite, I swirled water around and opened my mouth slightly as if eating a red hot and trying to find relief from the burn.  And with the chicken came the two and a half hour mark and my time to depart for our Stu-B Study party.  The party wouldn't end for five more hours.  Some kind of baby shower, I'd say!  And a precious gift from sweet Jesus to have my first experience with Indian culture.  How I loved every minute (with the exception of the panic after new Walmart friend left)!

_ _ _

And before I go, I'd love to share two more quick, totally unrelated things.

Thing 1:  Jason and I have been thinking a lot about Christmas traditions and how to live in America but focus on Christmas.  This morning I skimmed an incredibly challenging post with practical ideas for a Jesus-focused Christmas.  We're planning to look over it together and take some ideas for our own purposeful festivities.  I love that she took the time to write it all out and challenge so many of us to look closer at our celebrating.

Thing 2:  When our camera broke we sent it off only to find out it couldn't be fixed and were given a large store credit to replace it.  So, now that we have a new, working camera there are so many pictures and videos to come of our little 20 month old.  He's doing SO much...and we're in love.  Hoping to share in the coming week.

Thanks for reading this long one.  Hope your weekend is wonderfully intentional being loved on by your creator and pouring it back out to others.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Oh, Christmas Tree

Those who get Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day will appreciate this post. With our camera currently out of commission and a borrowed camera/iPhone to make do, we've tossed in Webster's words from the week for an interesting, partially fictitious story of the search for this year's lobby Christmas tree. Hope you enjoy the mayhem.

One by one the RA family jumped from their multi-purpose vehicle ready to find the perfect tree fit for a lobby. There were sapphires and pines and firs but mostly questions of where to start.  Plans formed with the tallest taking the scouting lead.  And scout he did with all his might.

The search took the team over hills and valleys to the darkest corner of the lot.  The tallest had not found the gargantuan, perfect tree they so eagerly sought. 

One clever gent decided the measuring compass might offer direction and much needed distraction.  Soon everyone took their turn.  That illusive tree stood somewhere waiting for discovery and each person secretly hoped they would be credited with finding it even if just for the satisfaction of others

genuflecting before them in awe. While some stood bemused by compass shenanigans, a small posse determined they would find the perfect tree before all the others.  And the little one would lead them. He was, after all, always glad to wander where he pleased.

Levi's hand-picked Charlie Brown.
His scouting expertise indeed led him to a tree just his size with branches more artistically arranged.  The adults termed it a Charlie Brown.  But to him it was perfect.  While some scratched their heads, Daniel the non-Wise (as opposed to Daniel Wise) spotted a beauty he thought the group would be sure to pick over the meager Charlie Brown.  In the blink of an eye he had the tree wrapped and loaded before the team could top the hill.  

But instead of coming empty handed and awestruck, the team came into view with multiple midget trees in tow.  Because Daniel the non-Wise, the little one, and multiple other RAs had all found "the perfect tree" this year.

- - -

And so, the two trees and many more Charlie Browns made it back to school where their perfection is currently on display.  One for the lobby, one for the little one's room and one for each RAs room.  Each one perfect in the eye of their beholder.   

The beauty Levi's beholding complete with homemade baked shape ornaments.
And some decorated ratherly perfectly if we do say so ourselves.