Freedom to Love

Children Lead the Way – Roosevelt Elementary School

At Christmas we enjoy stories that touch our hearts. In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge’s shift from a man of selfishness and greed to a man of caring and generosity, brings us pleasure. Even though society is telling us that only this particular toy, and that diamond necklace and whatever else … will bring us joy, we know in our hearts that we want to be loving and giving.

As we light the fourth Advent candle of love, we see shopping bags at the grocery store filled with food for the hungry, and we smile and fill one too. We want to buy a toy for a child at the shelter. We want to tell our friends and family we love them. Oh yes, we hear those who complain about commercialism. We know there will be some who take advantage of the season’s generosity. Still, for a little while, it’s more important that the lonely, the needy, the lost, find some joy. The chains of fear, self-righteousness, or whatever, that imprison our natural generosity are broken for a little while, and we have the freedom to love.

Our Christmas story tells us that God loved us so much that God came among us as a baby. God knew that, human or animal, babies amaze us. We hold this tiny bit of life, so perfect, yet helpless and vulnerable, and for a few moments we automatically respond with love. When we light the candle of love, we know that God risked everything so that we would hear God’s message of love.

Let’s soak in that Christmas Spirit. Let’s enjoy our freedom to love as it bubbles up through our busyness and concern, not just for a few more days, but for all of 2013 as well. We aren’t limited to hearing stories of the transformation of others. We can be the story.

“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”  (Matthew 2:11-12)

 

Surprised by Joy

The Candle of Joy

On the third Sunday of Advent, we light the candle named Joy. From a woman’s point of view, the third trimester of pregnancy is not always greeted with great Joy. Make no mistake, I was happy to be pregnant, but my joy was tainted by an aching back and swollen ankles. When I looked into the mirror, my eyes fastened on my swollen awkward stomach. At this point, I needed hugs from friends, compliments from my husband and gifts of flowers. I needed to be surprised by joy.

By this third week of Advent, I need to be surprised by Joy. I feel as if my Christmas has been invaded by commercialism. Parties, shopping, baking, the busyness has taken over. At these moments, I need children’s Sunday at church, so I can experience the thrill of my ten-year-old granddaughter playing the grand piano at her church. I need to hear the grown-up voice of my sixteen-year-old grandson reading scripture. I need to waken to that first skiff of snow enveloping my world in its sparkling blanket. I need the warmth of an unexpected hug.

Two thousand years ago, God surprised us with a beautiful baby boy. When my Christmas preparations become tarnished, I need to search for that child in the people I meet. I need to remember Mary’s Joy, and my own. We need to light that third candle, and be reminded that God didn’t come to this world only once. God continues to surprise us with Joy, every day.

 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”  (Philippians 4:4)

How Can I Find Peace This Christmas?

 

Togetherness is 3 in a two person tent.

 

A number of years ago, we took my daughter and her children camping inAlgonquinPark. On our last day, Tom and our two grandsons, ages 5 and 9, hurried off to the Beaver pond at dusk, the best time to see the beaver’s. They forgot to take a flashlight. As they returned, darkness descended.

Tom tells the tale. “It was so black in the woods, we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. Without a flashlight, we stepped off the rough narrow path, and couldn’t find it again. We were lost. I hung tight to the boys hands and shuffled to what seemed to be a dry place. We flopped down on a bed of pine needles. “If we have to,” I reassured the boys, “We can stay here all night. Once the sun comes up we’ll be able to walk towards the sound of the cars and the highway. … Let’s sing. It will help someone find us.” I thought, it will keep wild animals away.  And so we waited. I prayed and found peace. I knew it was important to stay put. I put my trust in God. Three hours later the forest rangers rescued us.

When we light the Advent candle of peace, we look forward to more than the absence of war. We’re looking for God’s shalom. Individual peace amidst whatever is happening in our lives. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you…my peace I give you., not as the world gives. Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) This kind of individual inner peace requires acceptance, not necessarily endurance but acceptance. Only after we truly accept that the chaos, the violence exists, can we begin to move through it to new life. It’s new life that soldiers fight for in the horrors of war. It’s new life that environmentalists are fighting for in the slime of pollution. It’s new life that doctors are fighting for as they combat illness. It’s new life that we look for even as death descends. That new life requires three things,

  • Acceptance that the situation exists
  • Trust in God’s presence and support
  • Action to do what we can do.

When we follow these three steps we will receive the peace God offers us at Christmas and throughout the year.