Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Gift of Gifts

What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts.
    thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
    my Redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,
    his self-emptying incomprehensible,
    his infinity of love beyond the heart's grasp.
Herein is wonder of wonders:
    he came below to raise me above,
    was born like me that I might become like him.
Herein is love;
    when I cannot rise to him he draws near on wings of grace,
        to raise me to himself.
Herein is power;
    when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
    he united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated and the created.
Herein is wisdom;
    when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
        and no intellect to devise recovery,
    he came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
        as man to die my death.
            to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
            to work out a perfect righteousness for me.
O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
    and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
    and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
    my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
    my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
    to look with them upon my Redeemer's face,
    and in him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart,
    embrace him with undying faith,
    exulting that he is mine and I am his.
In him thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett, Banner of Truth Trust, 2013, pg. 16.
Photo credit: Workshop of Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 15, 2014

Finding What Matters in Christmas

From the 2010 archives of my personal blog.

Even with its candle glowing, the Advent altar looked bare. A new Nativity scene, perhaps? After all, what's Christmas without the baby?

I looked in several stores, finding nothing that fit. Then I remembered my girl's childhood set, given by a friend. It would be just right there.

Can we move it to the altar?

But it's mine. I want it in my room.

And how can a mother argue with that?

I remembered a set in the attic, a small one I don't use anymore. I offered that to her. Once again, I was content to offer my leftovers to this sweet child.  She reluctantly agreed.

When I went to find it, I found another I'd forgotten about. It fit perfectly.

I'm ashamed that I had casually tossed the Holy Family in with other Christmas decorations I no longer use...and there are many. I've tried numerous ways to deck our halls over the years, wanting to find the perfect combination befitting a magazine cover. I ran myself ragged, only to find that shiny baubles and figurines left me empty. Their loud shouts of look at me! drowned out the quiet of the manger.

This season is different.

Yes, there are still a few shiny baubles tucked among a small number of Santa Clauses from my youth.  There are sappy holiday movies. There will be Christmas cookies, parties, and gifts.

But in the hushed glow of the Christmas tree...

I gaze at the past - treasured decorations from my own childhood that bring to mind Christmases gone by.

I see the fiery love that has spanned nearly two decades - beautiful ornaments and trinkets given by my love.

I hear the quiet of the Heavenly hosts holding their breath in anticipation of God becoming man.

I feel the lump in my throat, as I swallow hard & resolve to no longer mar Christmas with my own self-indulgence.

I hear the beat of my own heart as I prepare Him room and wait expectantly for His arrival.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Sure Thing

There was a time in my life when everything was building. I was gaining: more children, a bigger home, further education, a better life. There was hope, not necessarily for big things, but for good things.

But before I got there, the tide turned. The gaining stopped and the losing began: illness, death, and children who wandered. And with the losses came a clear view inside my own heart, because there’s nothing like losing beloved people and cherished dreams to reveal the idolatry in my desires.

This is the way of our world: sin, dark hearts, illness, and death. The whole thing has been cursed. I’ve always known it, but now I know it. I feel it in my chest every morning.

It was here, into this world, a cursed world that steals dreams and makes hearts ache, that the Eternal Son was born and grew and lived. When did he come to understand that so many innocent boys his own age had been slaughtered—and slaughtered in an attempt to kill him? How old was he when he lost his earthly father? How did he feel when his own brothers disbelieved him? When a friend betrayed him? When his people did not receive him? Did the dark hearts around him make his heart ache?

One thing is sure: He experienced more of the darkness of our world than I will. I know the darkness of my own life, but on his cross he carried the whole dark curse.

He carried the curse to turn back the tide. He returned hope, but a better hope—the kind of hope that’s a sure thing. It’s certain hope for big things and good things: healing and life and clean hearts. It’s hope for another world—a new world. Our great gain is a sure thing because God gave and Christ gave up.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can Man Forget This Story?

I was not raised in a Christian home, but I loved Christmas. We didn't have much, but my parents always worked to make it nice for us.

While it was a wonderful time, it was never a time to learn about the reason for Christmas. We had a little crĂȘche in the living room, but that was about it. We had a bible, but it was never really opened. To hear about the real reason for Christmas, I relied on what song and story told.

Back then, in public schools, we learned Christmas carols. Yes, we sang about Santa Claus, but we also sang, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and "Joy to the World." We also read picture books telling the story of Christmas. One year, my teacher was a nun, and we heard a lot about the Christmas story that year. One year, I went to the public library to learn more about how other places in the world celebrated Christmas, and I learned more about the birth of Christ from those books. In my room, I listened to Bing Crosby's Christmas album (yes, long before CDs or cassette tapes), and I heard "O Come All Ye Faithful" sung in Latin and English.

I was thankful for what those songs and stories provided for my inquiring mind. I'm thankful there were songs which sung about the birth of Christ. Sometimes, I feel very sad at the fact that today, children know more about "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" than they do about Mary and Joseph, or that Christmas movies depict nothing of people celebrating the Christ child, but instead focus on ridiculous family situations during the holidays, or sappy romance scenarios. One could go through the whole season if he wanted, and never hear about Christ.

I am thankful for poems like this, by Ben Jonson, who was a 17th century poet. I'm thankful they are still preserved. While as a child I enjoyed stories like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and read them to my own children, I am thankful for the stories, songs, and poems which tell the truth of Christmas. I hope that somewhere out there, a child or young person who is wondering about Christmas will find this poem. I read this to my children when we homeschooled. I seriously doubt it's acceptable to have publicly educated children memorize such poems as a class, but hopefully, an inquiring student will find it on his own.

Can Man Forget This Story?

I sing the birth was born tonight,
The Author both of life and light;
The angels so did sound it,
And like the ravished shepherds said,
Who saw the light, and were afraid,
Yet searched, and true they found it.

The Son of God, the eternal King,
That did us all salvation bring,
And freed the soul from danger;
He whom the whole world could not take,
The Word, which heaven and earth did make,
Was now laid in a manger.

The Father's wisdom willed it so,
The Son's obedience knew no "No,"
Both wills were in one stature;
And as that wisdom had decreed,
The Word was now made Flesh indeed,
And took on Him our nature.

What comfort by Him do we win?
Who made Himself the Prince of sin,
To make us heirs of glory?
To see this Babe, all innocence,
A Martyr born in our defense,
Can man forget this story?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas lights, worn out moms, and the world

One night, fourteen years ago, we piled the boys in the van and took a drive to look at Christmas lights. The baby was then a mere few days old and his mother an exhausted wreck as all new mothers are. How long had it been since I'd ventured out of the house? For that matter, how many days had I spent in my pajamas? My life at that point consisted of a hazy conglomeration of feedings and occasional naps and the demands of not only the newborn but of a 5 year old, 4 year old and a 2 year old. Bless my heart.

That night we drove around the neighborhood pointing out the spectacular and the not-so-spectacular light displays. I can't remember if the boys were impressed or not. I do know I nearly wept from the few moments of rest. And freedom. And shock. Is it crazy to admit that I was surprised to find that life outside my four walls had carried on as usual? People decorated their homes and went to work and cooked supper, all without any knowledge or concern of the life-altering event I'd just experienced. It sounds silly to admit but I suppose I had forgotten there was a world beyond my own. As I said my life had, to that point, been consumed by the needs and responsibilities within our four walls. When we ventured out and I caught glimpse of the world outside I was surprised.

We concluded our little escape at the drive through nativity put on by a local church in our community. There amid the livestock and the mock stable was a baby. And a new mom. As we listened to the cassette tape intended to accompany the live nativity and as I watched the depiction of Mary and the baby I thought of my own newborn babe and I considered all over again the humility of Mary’s obedience and the joy of the Messiah’s birth, the baby Jesus born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

My need was great in those days and the gospel became incredibly precious to me as I struggled with the sheer physical and emotional exhaustion of being a mom to four. The incarnation—that Jesus became a man—was a comfort. He knew fatigue. He understood weariness. He was fully man and fully God and able to sympathize. He saves worn out moms desperate for grace, yes and amen.

That cold night we spent admiring Christmas lights taught me another important truth: the blessing of the Incarnation isn’t only for me. I am part of a wider story, a bigger picture, a greater world. All around me people are living lives desperate for the truth of the gospel, lives untouched and unchanged by the life-altering, world-altering event of Jesus' birth.

Jesus saved me, glory to His name, but He came to save all who are His. This gospel story isn’t merely about me and my need, it is about God redeeming a people for Himself through the birth, death and resurrection of His Son. There is a world outside our immediate context. May we look beyond our four walls and see God’s sweeping purposes throughout history. Mary, me, you--we are part of the joy God brings to the world through His Son. Let us go and tell.

Author's note: this article originally appeared at my personal blog December 2013.