Thursday, December 12, 2013
In our Western society, we are surrounded by abundance and wealth. The shops are bursting at the seams with things to buy, cupboards and freezers are filled with delectable foods, the days are filled with activity, and the dark skies ablaze with fairy lights. Our homes are decorated and filled with good things as we try to bring some warmth and light into our lives during these dark, cold months.
Yet - in the midst of all this abundance, there is deep poverty. In these times of austerity cutbacks, our children are hungry - our elders are suffering from malnutrition - many people are having to rely on foodbanks. We can only do what we can - donate money or food, perhaps - lobby our politicians - be agents of change, and pray.
Mary and Joseph knew poverty, fear and hardship. They set off with nothing but faith in God's promises to them. They had no shelter at the end of their journey, had to beg to stay in a stable to give birth to the Baby; they were hunted and fled as refugees to a foreign country. They must have been so desperately worried - but - they trusted, and God delivered them. And through those actions, we too, have been delivered, through the Saving Grace of that Baby, who was the Christ.
Nothing is impossible for God, and everywhere in His word, are images of His abundant grace - inconceivable riches - beyond our understanding. We only must believe, be thankful and accept him into our hearts, and He will walk alongside us.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
I love to hear about how other people celebrate the Christmas season.
When I was young, I imagined everybody did the same things our family did - and later, on learning of different traditions and ways of "doing Christmas" I was both fascinated and ever so slightly horrified - "You open your presents at midnight?!" " You don't open your presents until after dinner?!" "You go out to a restaurant for lunch?!" "You don't eat turkey?!" I went home to my "normal" family Christmas, safe and secure in its familiarity.
As I grew older and took on the Mrs Christmas role myself, I enjoyed keeping many of my childhood traditions, and passing them on to my own children, as well as instituting new ones.
This year is very different for us. There will only be three of us at home this Christmas. It will be strange - a quiet(ish) house - no mountains of torn wrapping paper, no-one hogging the tub as they try out their new bubblebath, no frantic basting of a huge turkey, no mad crescendo of getting everything to the table on time, no slightly tipsy game of trivial pursuit. I don't quite know how I will feel on the day - more relaxed, probably! But it is more than just one day - it is the gradual build up towards Christmas that I love - little things appearing here and there - decorations slowly being put in place, a growing pile of cards, exotic looking tins and packets appearing in the cupboard - bit by bit, Christmas creeps in - to our home and to our heart.
Nowadays, of course, I recognise that Christmas is held in many ways - all equally as valid as ours, and, of course many others celebrate different festivals at this time of year too. I notice, mind you that there seem to be a great many opinions out there, which are very disparaging of others' celebrations, while proclaiming their own to be perfect. We are all here, in the dark, searching in our own way, for the Light. We can enjoy the fellowship, the feasting and the fun of as we honour our own traditions - and we should. But for me, the truth can be found on the road to that Bethlehem stable and in the empty tomb beyond.
It's been a long hard day, and now it's late. I had a lot of quite heavy work to do at both ends of the day, rushing around in between - fielding some unexpected demands. Emotionally it was hard too, as I spent time saying goodbye to my next- door neighbour who moved away today. I know we all have days like this, but we get there in the end. We persevere - we keep going forward in the face of difficulties.
If we look back over our lives and think about the various obstacles we have confronted and clambered over - it is amazing just how far we have come!
I've been thinking about the journey of Mary and Joseph - stepping out in Faith and persevering together throughout the many dangers and tribulations they were to face. They trusted in God, He helped them through, and The Saviour was born.
As we move further into these short midwinter days, I find the extra demands of the season, as well as the everyday tasks I need to do, overwhelming at times. Taking time out to read, reflect and pray is hard to do - its a long twisty road, this Advent path. Oh - but you know, when I think of where this journey is leading, and who is walking with me, it's worth persevering. God will be with us soon.
Monday, December 9, 2013
I failed badly today. I was shouty, angry, and unhelpful. All the things I am trying to avoid being - despite all those things I spoke about last week - this is me today. I am truly sorry - but, I am thankful that, by God's Grace, I can get back on the path and pick up my steps again.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Saturday, December 7, 2013
We probably connect more with other people at this time of year than any other. We send Christmas cards to family and friends we haven't seen for a long time. "Let's meet up soon!" we scribble at the bottom - and we genuinely mean it. Then there are the round robin letters - updating everyone on the highlights of our year, the long distance phone calls, emails, photographs, texts. There are so many ways to connect.
And - we have the parties, carol services, nights out, lunches, concerts, events - so many places to connect.
Sometimes we have to connect with people we'd rather avoid. Family members that you don't see eye to eye with, perhaps, or others you would normally avoid.
As we journey through Advent, we make these connections - some superficial, others more meaningful. For some it might mean a special connection is made, for others, a connection may be severed. Wherever you are on your path, God wants to make a connection with you - he always does. He came to be with us - to share in our humanity - He came as a baby to bring us hope in a new life. As we go forward to celebrate His birth, let us open our hearts and truly connect with Him.
Friday, December 6, 2013
The land is frozen today - the air is cold and crisp, and my footsteps crunch on the frost as I go about my various chores. The storms of the last few days have abated - the howling winds have calmed down and the silence is almost deafening. Everything seems suspended in the stillness.
It's easy to get stuck at this time of year. Overwhelmed by work, lists, tasks and expectations. It is hard to see how we can stop - even for a moment, but however much we try to move on - we can't. We keep finding ourselves back at the same point, time after time. Being stuck is not the same as being still - being stuck can be a noisy frantic place.
In the midst of this tumult, then, pause just for a moment. Close out the jingle bells and flashing lights - and be still. Feel that calm after the storm - feel God's presence in your heart. He is where you are.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Christmas is full of memories. At some point over the season, we will talk about how things used to be. Remember when....? With the current "retro" obsession we have right now, I am constantly being reminded of the Christmases of my childhood. I can scarcely open a magazine or read a blog without seeing something that I recognise from those days. I still have a few things myself - the original Christmas tree fairy from my parents' home, a fabulous black party dress from the 1980s, and this handsome chap in the picture. This is Bernie, one of my very first Christmas presents, and he's been with me ever since. We've done a lot together over the years, Bernie and I - he took the place of a pet dog as I was growing up - his kind face always seemed so understanding. I remember trying to make my fortune with him, selling rides to the neighbourhood children - a penny to the nearest lamppost, tuppence to the end of the street. I loved him as if he was a real dog - and to me he was. When I grew up, my children played with him too - although I do remember Karen crashing into the doorstep and breaking a tooth! Now he is still here with us - a wee bit weather beaten, but always making me smile whenever I see him
Dental emergencies aside - I am lucky that my childhood memories are happy ones. But, now that the years have moved on - particularly with my mother's passing, they have a bittersweet edge and I can feel homesick for a time and place that is no longer there. We bring all kinds of memories with us on this life journey: happy, sad, poignant, long forgotten and half buried. We have been shaped and moulded by these past experiences, and in their assimilation we become who we are.
Advent is about memory. As we progress through the days towards Christmas, we remember why we are celebrating. The birth of the Saviour - the coming of Hope to a troubled world. We commemorate the Nativity by coming together to watch our children in those familiar plays and pageants, sing well-loved carols and celebrate with each other. But it is also a time to look forward to His coming - to remember God's loving promise - that He will always be with us.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
You know that God is a knitter? Of course He is. We only have to look at the intricate patterns, colours and textures in Nature to see that. And if we read the amazing words of David in Psalm 139, we know that we too have been hand-knitted by God. That is quite an incredible thought. Each one of us is knitted to a wholly unique pattern by a Creator who knows every individual stitch within us. We come into the world perfectly complete, with our different yarns, colours, stripes and textures. Along the way, though, we pull threads, snag stitches, and wear holes in the fabric - we lose sight of the pattern. Oh - we might try and patch things up - and we might indeed make a reasonable job of it, but only God knows the original design - and - He can put us right again if we only ask.
Today, I am joining in with Ginny for Yarn Along, and other knitters around the world - sharing what I am knitting and reading.
I am reading Sarah Bessey's inspirational book, Jesus Feminist, and the new edition of The Simple Things magazine arrived today. James and I have just finished reading The Mouse and his Child, by Russell Hoban - a wonderful story, leading up to Christmas, and very much in keeping with the theme of an Advent Journey.
As Christmas approaches, I am busy knitting a few bits and pieces for presents - a pair of socks, face-cloths, a blue and white striped hat. I haven't knitted for a while, but I am enjoying it right now. The steady rhythm suits the way I am feeling these days - knit and reflect, knit and look forward, knit - and let the stitches merge with all the knitting from the past and the future - and one day, I might look around and see the whole glorious pattern that we have worked to God's seamless and eternal design.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
At this time of year, in Waldorf homes, a Nativity table is set up, and is decorated over the weeks with symbols representing the Creation story. Accordingly, the first week of Advent celebrates the creation of the rocks and minerals, and so, stones, crystals and shells are placed on the table. We dont follow that tradition, but It's a nice idea - especially for young children, as it encourages them to think more deeply about the season.
Here, we live on rock that is the oldest in the world - hard rock that has endured since the beginning of the world. Just up the hill is a stone circle that has stood for over 5,000 years - facing whatever the elements have thrown at it over all those millenia. On stormy nights, when the gales howl around the house - thoughts of this are very reassuring.
I've always loved the idea of God as a rock. The feeling that there is something so strong - so enduring at my back, is more than a comfort. One of my favourite hymns is Rock of Ages - one of those tub thumpers that we rarely seem to sing nowadays, and I guess that is where my image comes from.
Advent and Christmas can be difficult times when we are facing storms in our lives - missing loved ones perhaps, difficult relationships, changed circumstances, or just buckling under the (self-imposed) pressure to make everyone happy. I know that, in the past, I have often said that I would like to hide away until January. But - life keeps moving, and where I am this December is different from last year, and will be different again next year. The one thing that is always there is that big steadfast rock at my back. Knowing that helps me to keep going forward - sometimes quickly, sometimes one step at a time, and sometimes sheltering in that cleft until the worst of the winds die down.