In North America, we no longer ask for directions. Type your destination into Google’s “Get Directions” on your computer. A map magically appears. Your journey is laid out with a dark line, the distance and time all calculated. Some of us purchase a GPS system, and listen to “the voice”. “Turn left, drive three miles, turn right.” The voice even knows when you’ve missed a turn. Last summer, Tom and I chose to alter the path our GPS laid out. The voice was relentless. The tenth time it told us to “turn around at the next intersection,” we shut it off. These devices leave no room for independent thinking.
In just a few days, we will be stepping into 2011. Would it be helpful to have a GPS system or a Google map for life? I don’t think so. Life is not the shortest distance between two points. We may have our future carefully laid out, yet experience has taught us that there will be unexpected bends, forks, and obstacles in the road.
God has created us with a desire to discover and free will to make choices. God knows that we need much more than a GPS system or a Google map. God has given us the Bible, the experience of God’s people down through the centuries, and our Christian community. All of these provide guideposts for our daily living. Best of all, Jesus has promised to walk with us every step of the way. We are never alone. When we open ourselves to God, Jesus will comfort us and carry us through the twists and turns of life. Jesus is always within us nudging, pushing, strengthening, inspiring us to use our intellect and our faith for every step of life’s journey.
As you step into this New Year, I encourage you to remember Jesus’ words, “I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
For me, Christmas decorations are symbols of faith. The evergreen boughs of my Christmas tree remind me God is ever present with me. The lights call me to shine with the light of God’s love. Poinsettias add colour to dark corners and speak of the freshness and beauty of God’s creation. Nativity sets made of fine porcelain from Mexico, olive wood from Israel, and hand knitted by a friend, tell the Christmas story.
And then, of course, there are my angels. Over the years, friends have given me, black, brown, and white angels. I have angel children, musician angels, tall, short, fat and skinny angels, even an angel dressed in lace and ribbons
Angels in the Christmas story bring messages from God. An angel told Mary she would be the mother of God’s child. Joseph’s angel brought reassurance and the name “Jesus” for this child. The shepherds heard the angels say: “Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy for all people.” For all people – Sometimes we miss those three important words. Joseph was warned by an angel to flee with Mary and Jesus into Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. Another angel warned the Wise Men to return home a different way for the same reason.
I love my angel collection, not only because it is beautiful and represents the love of friends and family, but because these angelic symbols remind me that God loves me and all of God’s children in this world. When I am feeling defeated and afraid, my angels speak Jesus’ words, “Fear not, I am with you always.”
Today and tomorrow, take a few moments to sit quietly with your Christmas decorations. Listen. They will bring God’s message to you, too.
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)
Snow, we’ve got enough snow to guarantee a White Christmas. So we sit back and smile. In this part of Canada, Christmas and snow go together. Snow is not a part of the winter landscape in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. It may be chilly and rainy in that part of Israel, but snowfall happens only in the northern regions. Because we are human beings, we create the details of the Christmas story in our own image.
I have a friend who has collected nativity sets from all over the world. Each one has a Mary, a Joseph, a baby Jesus, three kings and some shepherds. But the similarity stops there. In some, the figures have shining black faces, some chocolate brown, some milky white. If we were trying to replicate the people of the Christmas story, most of the figures would have swarthy complexions. At least one, if not all of the kings would be black.
It’s not the details, but the story that is important. Jesus was born in an occupied country. His parents, struggling to obey the laws, made a long journey. They didn’t have enough money to bribe their way into the overcrowded inn. On the night of his birth, Jesus and his parents were homeless, relegated to the place where the animals slept.
Yet, even in this place, and under these stressful conditions, God acted. Jesus was born. To the celebration, God invited shepherds, at the time the lowest members of Jewish society, and Kings, their fine clothing and rich gifts out of place in that stable, or cave.
When we focus on the details that come from our culture, we miss the message. The ancient story tells us that God in Jesus was born into the world as we all are. People of every race and economic position are invited to celebrate Jesus and hear his message.
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)
When our life-long friends were coming from Montreal to visit, Tom and I rushed around doing a last minute pick-up and cleaning of the house. On the night table in our guest room, I placed a book of short devotional readings, a box of Kleenex and a chocolate bar, because these friends love sweets. Last minute preparation for company is a tradition with me. When my children were young, they would help. Each of us had our own special job in the process. One time in particular, everything done, we had all flopped down to rest in the living room. My son, Brad, then about ten years old, said, “It’s a good thing we have company, Mom. Otherwise, the house would never get cleaned.”
Every year, many of us spend the Christmas season rushing around getting ready for the visits of family and friends. We buy or make gifts for our loved ones. We clean and decorate our homes, often placing the tiny figures of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, kings and baby Jesus on the mantel or a table. Even if we don’t call ourselves religious, we go to church at least on Christmas Eve.
Although we complain about all this extra effort, an amazing thing happens. At least for the Christmas season, many of us become infected with God’s Spirit of love. We smile more. We care more. Our hearts open up to the goodness in this world. I imagine God, standing with us in our preparations, and saying, “It’s a good thing you celebrate my birth among you every year. Otherwise, some of you might never let go of all your busyness and concerns to open your heart, even a crack, to welcome me.”
The Bible tells us, “Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight paths for him.” (Matthew 3: 3)
Yes, we’re home and grateful. We’ve had a grand trip. With the exception of about six hours of driving through a very heavy winter storm from Edmunston,Nova Scotia to Victoriaville, Quebec on the way home we had clear roads. At one point a giant transport truck passed our little car. Maybe he didn’t see us in all the snow but he was certainly hogging about half of our lane. That was the most harrowing moment. Tom is an excellent driver and seems to have nerves of steel when the going gets tough. So we came through just fine. Tonight we’re tired.
The book launch went well. Tattle Tales book store in Dartmouth is a wonderful place. Anne Webby the owner welcomed us and was tremendously accommodating. I met the children who modelled for the illustrations in our new book, A Place Called Home. We sold lots of books. That is always good. Yesterday, I told the story, “Melchie, the Third Wiseman” from my book, Can I Hold Him, at Bedford United Church. I worried that it might be a little long but even the children were captivated to the end. I do love telling my stories. We sold books at the church as well.
We had a grand visit with the Rhodes family. Tonight we are giving thanks for a super journey. Thank you to all who prayed for us. We felt wrapped in prayer the whole way, especially in the snow storm. Tomorrow, I’m telling the title story, Can I Hold Him, at Cambridge Street United Church. Hopefully we’ll sell books there as well. Life is good and I’m glad that mine is busy and full of purpose. Anyway, that’s my report. We’re home, safe,sound and happy.
We had a wonderful day. The sun shone. We floated over bare dry roads with little traffic, except of course in Montreal. Even there, only a few impatient drivers honked their horns at us. We slipped past the big city like a thief in the night. I wrote a meditation for the paper, worked on my novel, and began the process of learning my story. Tom drove, and drove and drove all the way. We spent last night in Edmunston, New Brunswick at the Quality Suites Inn. We surprised ourselves by arriving at eight o’clock Atlantic time. We had lots of time for a swim, the hot tub, and supper. We might have saved $20 by staying in a smaller place, but our aching stiff limbs were extremely grateful for the pool and the hot tub. We have realized that this is truly a holiday, yes, a working holiday, but a holiday too. Everyone at the hotel, the staff and even the guests in the hot tub were friendly and accommodating. With the sunshine this morning, and the beauty around us, we are reaping the benefits of prayer. Thank you to our friends for wrapping us in prayer for this journey. Today ends with Charlotte, Richard and Lindsay welcoming us in Halifax. The best part of this trip so far is the enjoyment that Tom and I have in each other’s company. This feels like another honeymoon. It’s good to be newly weds after 7 and one half years of marriage. We are truly blessed.
The halfway point
Our week is slipping away quickly. We’ve been welcomed with love here in the Rhode’s beautiful home. Yesterday, we slept in and had a lazy morning. That, of course, is a luxury we both enjoy. On Wednesday, we had picked up a stone chip in our windshield, so Thursday started with a trip to the auto glass place to have it repaired. The second stop was Tattle Tales book store. What a wonderful store. The owner Anne Webby welcomed us with open arms. We made plans with her for Saturday and left her three boxes of books. Back to Bedford we traveled to Bedford United Church. This large suburban church is beautiful. It’s minister David Hart, and I renewed our former connections. Once again we were welcomed with hugs and smiles. We went over plans for Sunday and then came back to Charlotte’s. Tom did all the driving. Charlotte had armed us with a book of maps for Halifax/Dartmouth. Since we did this in the middle of the day, traffic was light. Still Tom was tired when we got back and laid down for a nap while Charlotte and I visited.
Today we have a couple of errands, that’s all. I’ll work again on learning the story of Melchie, the Third Wiseman for Sunday. It’s the longest story in my book, Can I Hold Him, so I want to know it well. Charlotte showed us an article in Atlantic Books Today, by well known children’s author Sherry Fitch, on “Book Signing 101”. She was lamenting the woes for an author of sitting at a table watching people walk by who are avoiding even looking at your books, let alone you. Most people who have sat behind craft tables or at a home show understand that feeling. I’ve decided what happens tomorrow will be God’s gift. At this point we have had such a lovely trip, are enjoying our visit with friends, and met wonderful people. Tomorrow can only be gravy for such a sumptuous meal.
Tom and I are feeling wrapped in your prayers. We head home Sunday, and ask again for prayers of good weather. We offer blessings to all our friends and family back home.