Monday, December 28, 2009

the story of a Christmas snow

It doesn't snow in Dallas. It shouldn't snow in Dallas. But somehow, on Christmas Eve, it did. It began in the morning as a steady, chilling rain, the kind that gets inside your skin and rattles your bones. I was walking around with families at a mission center close to home and wondering at how much we all have progressed with scientific innovation and such yet still an ordinary thing such as the weather can simply make life miserable. Families standing out in the cold rain. There isn't a whole lot more miserable than that.

At first when the rain turned to snow, nothing stuck. The ground was having nothing to do with the snow, melting it before it had a chance to make a home for itself. The resistance kept up through the afternoon. Ground versus snow. As the wind picked up and the flakes turned into a flurry, the ground still stubbornly refused to house the snow. With the setting of the sun, however, the ground lost its greatest ally.

It was so peculiar and so mesmerizing to behold the elements from the other side of the window at my house. With the wind howling fiercely and the tree branches shaking violently in response, there was a kind of coziness that you feel only when you stand safely behind a window watching such a spectacle. And a kind of awe, as well.

When the sun drifted away and the darkness began to set in, the ground finally began to acquiesce to the persistence of the snow. It was like watching someone grudgingly decide to do something. The snow took to the ground, slowly layering itself. The dark ground magically transformed into white.

It was like a great picture, a reminder, if you will, of the force of redemption. Here we have the holidays, the old Christmas Story you and I have heard a hundred times, and it becomes harder and harder to enter into the remembrance of the baby Savior Jesus that this holiday is all about. The story keeps persistently trying to make a home for itself in my heart, but I stubbornly refuse to let it have its way with me. It's easier to just let myself become distracted by everything else going on.

But when I finally relent, an amazing transformation begins to take place. The Story has won out. It takes my own story, simple as it is, and redresses it in a new garment, giving it new purpose and beauty.

It doesn't snow in Dallas. But redemption still finds a way to come to us in the strangest of places.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

a few Christmas prayers and wishes

For my imagination to be stretched. For my heart to be expanded. To be transfered from the kiddie pool to the big kids' pool.

To entertain thoughts deeper and more compelling than my selfishness allows.

For the language of the Word to taste like fresh-baked bread. For the creativity and diligence to not separate God from the everyday.

To receive love instead of working to earn it. To give love instead of trying to earn it. To learn the selflessness of love and the exuberance of giving.

To notice. To laugh. To smile. To enjoy.

For renewed hope. For fresh eyes. For a heart of obedience.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Simeon's Hope

Waking up is really an amazing thing. It is something completely out of our control, when it comes down to it, and it is something that we all must do each new day. This morning, like almost every morning in the recent past that I can remember, reminds me of my neediness.

No matter what I'm thinking about before I go to bed, whether it is something stupid or something a few paces from trivial, the undercurrents of sleep seem to wash it away so that when I wake up, I have a few moments where I've forgotten everything. It's a slightly disorienting feeling, until the weight of whatever I'm supposed to be doing for the day comes crashing through the cobwebs and I'm restored to "reality".

In that little moment before reality has set in there is something big at work that I'm not sure I always remember in the moment. It's the little choice to either carry my own burdens or remember I have a Savior.

Do you ever feel like you need to be reminded of hope? I've been feeling it quite often. For whatever reason, my mind and heart wander from the path that is trusting in Jesus and need reorientation every single morning. But there are so many mornings when I just don't care. The day looms and doesn't seem to care either. There are things to be done and places to be. There doesn't seem to be time to sit down and breathe before it all begins.

Simeon, the old man in the Luke 2 version of the birth of Christ, has been teaching me what it means to feel my need to be reminded everyday of the hope I have in Christ. Simeon was a man who was waiting expectantly for the birth of the Messiah, and from the story we can gather that he has been waiting his entire life. He is on the brink of death, but the Holy Spirit has promised him that he will not die until he meets Israel's Savior.

So Simeon cultivates a life of expectant hope. Some days it must have seemed like it would never happen, but Simeon kept pressing on, earning an advanced degree in Hope. How in the world did he do this? I'm not entirely sure, but I think part of the answer is that he submitted himself as a servant to God. He gave himself up, and in so doing recognized his great neediness before God.

I need, every morning, to be reminded of the hope of Christ. I need to have the great Story told to me again, so that my mind and heart can massaged into remembering the radical hope that Jesus has brought to this world. I need it more than I need breakfast.

Hope was the heartbeat that kept Simeon going. Which causes me to think, what's making my heart beat today?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas and Rachmaninoff

So what is the story trying to tell us? Well in order to fully answer that question we each have to create space in our lives to actively listen to the story. And it also helps to hear the story told us in different ways.

I want to introduce you, if you aren't familiar already, with The Vespers. They are a sort of wonderful musical storytelling experience, encompassing such a broad spectrum of Biblical currents and themes, all culminating in and around Christ. Written by Russia's great composer, Rachmaninoff, the Vespers are how we translate Rachmaninoff's Russian title for the work, which most literally means "all-night vigil".

The Vespers are 15 choral movements, with each section focusing on a specific section of the Scriptures, from creation to the resurrection. I've been listening to them over the past few days, and it's been like jumping into a deep, refreshing pool on a hot summer day. With all the Christmas hubbub occurring right now, it is absolutely vital that we each take time to absorb and conform ourselves to the Biblical story of Christmas. This is a great way to do so. It takes a little bit of time, and a bit of patience to let the story unfold, but it is well worth the effort!

Here is the link to the first movement (all 15 are on Youtube, just follow on the sidebar for the next movement)

Here is the link to the text where you can follow along with both the original language and the English translation. it also has some good background on the Vespers.

I hope you enjoy! Find ways this Christmas season to get wrapped up in the real Christmas story.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Snow Angels

What exactly are we getting ready to celebrate as we enter into this Christmas season? Better yet, what are we celebrating now as we live out each day of this month of December?

These kinds of questions always seem to pop into my head as Thanksgiving ends and Christmas season bursts upon the scene. But this year the answers are coming in a very real and tangible form: through the first Christmas story, as described by Luke and Matthew in the Gospels. Here are a few things I think they are telling us.

1. Slow down. We can't be changed by the Story if we don't take the time to enter into the Story and allow our hearts and minds to be gripped by its awesome force.

2. Notice. Luke and Matthew point out different things in their accounts, and each writer calls us to see the broad range of characters in the Story. What was it like for those shepherds in that cold field? What is Joseph doing that is so important? Why should we pay attention to Simeon and to Anna?

3. Sacrifice. The Story calls us to give up ourselves in worship and adoration of the Word made flesh, to pursue a different reality than the one our culture subscribes to.

The Story should be telling us all sorts of different things as we engage it this Christmas season. What is it trying to tell you?