Tag Archives: Christmas

How Will We Experience Jesus This Christmas?

Christmas 2015

Our Christian Christmas story talks about a young woman, Mary, probably a teenager, pregnant before marriage. The culture and religious beliefs of the time offered only judgment. “She is guilty. Cast her aside. Have her stoned.” And yet, Joseph loves her. God intervenes, and they are married. The emperor’s decree orders Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Homeless, they find shelter in a stable and Jesus is born. This wee babe, vulnerable, fragile, needing our care, comes into the world. Christians believe this child, so full of potential, came as God to live among us.

How will Jesus enter my world this Christmas? All three of my children and their families will gather around the table in our beautiful middle class home. Will Jesus be there?

Maybe Jesus will come in Vanessa, our beloved 26-year-old granddaughter, as each one of us takes special care to ensure nothing is done to increase her anxiety. Even though her mind cannot comprehend all the rules, her cousins will include her in our family games because they love her. I wonder will we experience Jesus in our Vanessa’s vulnerability?

Maybe Jesus will come in the form of my middle son, who easily tells us he’s not a Christian. He’ll remind us of his pain with our society that can treat animals as inanimate products to be exploited.

Factory farms that ignore the blessing of life within animals horrify Dave. Will we see Jesus’ caring in Dave’s commitment to animal rescue?

Maybe Jesus has already come with grandson Chris. We welcomed him home for Christmas almost a month ago. Delight dances in his sister’s eyes every time she greets him. Have we realized that Jesus has come in Chris’ love for all of his family.

Maybe Jesus is a spirit winding itself in and through our blended family. Maybe we’ll greet him on Skype when Tom’s daughter calls and we see and hear our two youngest grandchildren. Will they bring us the  laughter and innocence of the Christ child.

I must remember that Jesus is present in the beggar I see at the corner of Water and Parkhill Streets here in Peterborough or the clerk who gives me a smile and a Merry Christmas at the grocery store. He is present in the grief of my beloved friends as he weeps with them over the death of their son. Yes, Jesus will be born all around me this year as he is every year, if only I make room for him.

I suggest you look for Jesus in both the sparkling eyes and the glistening tears this Christmas. He’s there, I guarantee it. Watch, and listen, for Jesus is truly God with us.

Christmas Blessings to you all.

 

 

 

 

 

The Reluctant Shepherd

This morning, I woke early with “The Reluctant Shepherd” running through my mind. I had intended to tell it at the Fenelon Falls UCW Christmas gathering. Instead I was in Montreal. Today it feels necessary to share the story on my blog. Some of you have bought my Christmas book, Can I Hold Him?, and therefore will have read this story. That’s ok. It’s good to read stories and whole books more than once. I think I will share several of the stories over the next few days. For today, sit back, take a rest, and enjoy the story.

THE RELUCTANT SHEPHERD

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It’s Christmas Eve. The church is packed with strangers, and I’m wearing Dad’s old bathrobe. Mom’s tea towel is fastened on my head with a rope. You guessed it. I’m a shepherd in the Church Christmas Pageant. I scanned the crowd and spied Eddy from my class at school. Why is he here? Oh no, I thought. I’m too old for this and too tall! I turned 13 last summer. How did I get myself into this mess? It’s a long story.

Last September, I was ready to quit coming to church.  It’s not that church is awful or anything. In fact, I kinda like it. At least, I like Mr. Woolacott. He’s my friend Jamie’s

grandpa. He always seems to find time to talk to me on Sunday mornings. He likes to tell stories just like my Papa. I miss my Nana and Papa. We moved here two years ago. Now, my grandparents live three hours away.  We don’t see them very often, so it’s nice to talk with Mr. Woolacott.

Anyway, as I was saying, last September, I decided that I was too old for Sunday School and not old enough to sit through the adult service. I planned to stay home with Dad. He hardly ever goes to church, so why should I?

Then Mr. Green, the chair of property, called and asked to speak to me. That was a surprise. He’d never called me before.

“Kevin,” he said, “the Harper’s have bought the church a digital projector. Would you be willing to run the power-point during the church service, please? You won’t be the only one. We plan on having several people take turns. I’ll be drawing up a schedule. Now that you’re a teenager, I thought you might be willing to stay in church for the whole service.”

I was pleased to be asked, but nervous about it, too. “Ummm,” I said, “I dunno.” I didn’t want to tell him I had decided to quit coming to church altogether.

“I’d like you to think about it, Kevin, and pray about it,” he said. “Talk it over with your parents as well.  It is a big commitment. Our committee thinks you’re old enough to take on the responsibility. Tell me on Sunday what you decide, okay?”

“Okay,” I stammered. “I’ll talk it over with my parents. See you on Sunday.”

That was last September, and I’ve been running the projector ever since.  There are other people on the list, but I like doing it, so I do it most of the time. I like being considered a grown-up. I feel as if I’m making an adult a contribution to our church family. Besides, I like sitting at the back in the sound booth with Mr. Woolacott. I was sure this job would keep me safe from being in this stupid pageant. After all, I’m never in Sunday School.

Two weeks ago, Mrs. Rintoule, the Sunday School Superintendant, came and talked with me while I was putting the projector away.

“Kevin,” she said, “I need your help. We’re don’t have enough older children for the Christmas pageant. I know you no longer come to Sunday school, but we need a shepherd, one who can take care of the other two shepherds, the Kingley twins, Sam and Shelley.  They turned three last week.”

“But Mrs. Rintoule” I started, “I already have a job, I’ll be running…”

She interrupted, “Greta Franklin said she’ll run the projector for you. I really need you, Kevin. Please.”

“What about Jamie? Can’t he lead the twins down the aisle?”

“I’ve already asked Jamie to be Joseph.”

What could I say? I like Mrs. Rintoule. She’s fun.

So here I am, with a twin on each side, walking down the church aisle and listening to the people sing, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night.” Sam’s yanking on my hand. “What is it?” I whisper, just as the Christmas carol finishes.

“Look,” he yells and points with his pudgy hand, “There’s a big star.”

The whole congregation laughed. I can feel the heat creeping up my neck. I wish I was someplace else, anywhere else but here in this overcrowded church. I stare at the screen.

A huge star is pulsating. How did Mrs. Franklin get it to do that, I wonder?

The angel Gabriel, little Susan Filbert, shouts, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. To you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. You will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Hey, I thought. She did that very well. That was a big speech and she’s only seven. Now, it’s my turn.

Shelley is yanking on my robe. She’s crying. I lean down to find out what’s wrong. “There’s too many people. It’s dark in here.” She sobs.

I pick her up and say with as much enthusiasm as I can muster, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us.” My voice sounds like thunder in the silence. We run right up to the front of the church. Well, Sam runs. I just walk fast because Shelley’s heavy, and besides, Mom’s never let me run in the sanctuary when I was a kid.

When we get to Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus, Sam sits down right in front of the manger.  I set Shelley down beside him, and then kneel.

The baby Jesus wrinkles up her little face and starts to cry. No, she wails… at the top of her lungs. She’s Jamie’s little sister, Melissa, born just a month ago. That’s the neat thing about being born close to Christmas. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re a boy or a girl. All you need to be Jesus is to be a baby. Anyway, Melissa is yelling so loudly that no one can hear the narrator talk about the kings.

I look at Ashley, our ten-year-old Mary, and whisper. “Pick up baby Jesus.”

“Oh no,” Ashley whispers back. “Mrs. Rintoule said I was just to sit here and look peaceful and beautiful.

Behind me, the chuckles ripple across the church.

I turn to Jamie, who didn’t want to be Joseph any more than I wanted to be a shepherd, and whisper a little louder. “She’s your sister. Pick her up.”

Jamie’s eyes are huge. His face is white. No, it has a greenish tinge. He swallows and stares at his hands. I’m not sure whether he’s afraid of his sister or the crowd, or he has the flu. It doesn’t matter. “God,” I pray, “make somebody do something. Make Melissa stop crying.

Into my mind marches the thought, Pick her up. So, I do. I put her on my shoulder and begin patting her back.  That’s what I’ve seen Jamie’s mother do. “Sh, Sh, Sh, it’s okay,” I say to her very softly. I sit back on my heels and then roll over onto my bum, so I can rock back and forth. I begin to sing the only thing I can think of, “Silent night, Holy night…”Actually, I’m a pretty good singer. At least, that’s what my mom says.

I’m all the way to “in heavenly peace,” before Melissa stops yelling. Sam reaches up and helps me pat. Three-year-old Shelley stands up and gives Melissa a kiss and then joins me with “Weep in hebbenwe pea.”

I start to hum, and then I realize that the kings are at the front, and the narrator has stopped talking.  All eyes are on Melissa and me. I hear the choir humming, too. Oh no! My microphone is still on.

Melissa squirms, so I lift her down from my shoulder and cuddle her close to my chest. Her hands are so tiny. She feels so warm and soft and alive. I look at her and say, “Jesus, long ago, you were just like this. Wow!”

“Joy to the world” comes blasting out of the organ, and everyone stands, even me. I hold the baby Jesus and sing to her, at the top of my lungs.  “Joy to the world, the Lord

has come.”  My smile is so big it feels as if it stretches right around the church. Joy, yes, Joy, Jesus is born. I look over at Mrs. Rintoule. “Thank you,” I mouth. “I’m glad you asked me to be a shepherd.”

It’s all over, and Jamie’s mom comes for Melissa. “No,” I say. “We’re fine. You take care of Jamie. I think he’s going to throw up.”

Sure enough, the words aren’t out of my mouth two seconds when I hear him. What a mess! I shift Melissa back to my shoulder. I can’t help, I crow to myself.  I’m busy with the baby Jesus.

There’s Mr. Woolacott heading my way.

“Merry Christmas,” I say to him.

“Merry Christmas, Kevin. Thank you for being a shepherd. They needed you. Baby Jesus needed you. You took care of them all. And you sing beautifully. You made the Christmas story real for me. I’m glad you’re my friend.”

 

*****

 

 

 

Faith and Fear Walk Hand in Hand

Courage
Courage

I’m not sure what is happening. I know only that I have been reading Psalms, traditional and modern, something new. And now poetry is flowing from my pen onto paper, my fingertips onto the keyboard. I’ve been listening to the confusion, the fear, that is filling our hearts as we hear words of intolerance and isolationism shouted at us through the media. Today, as we approach the first Sunday of Advent, I have two poems for you.

Prayer
Prayer

Lament

Hate is spreading.
Intolerance growing.
The icy fingers of fear
are creeping in
through the cracks of our being.
What can I do?

I teach your love.
I write. I speak.
Some listen.
Your love touches a few.
Hatred has gone viral.
Money and knowledge lead the way
Manipulate the media.

One at a time
That was Jesus’ “way”.
A finger in the dyke.
Can that hold back the flood?
Of evil unleashed.
Destruction, murder, genocide
It’s happened before.
It continues to happen.

God says,
“Only love can defeat evil.”
I know from experience,
God’s love can overcome.
God’s love is stronger than death.
God’s love does bring new life.

Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer,
Help us! Please!

Trust
Trust

Advent/Christmas?

A baby is born?
Bringing Wisdom, Compassion
Is there time?

Intolerance grows.
Fear festers.
Evil’s response to love.
A last gasp.
A last grasp for total power.
How big? How long?

I will trust in God,
who walked on water,
healed the sick,
brought sight to the blind.
I will trust in God,
who died in love,
defeated death
brought new life.
I will trust in God.

I will continue to love,
to love this world into new life.
I will trust in God.

This is my faith.

GOOD NEWS!!!

The second edition of Can I Hold Him? Christmas Stories for All Ages,  has arrived. It’s available on Amazon in both print and ebook form. It’s already selling well. My mystery novel/grief resource, Fireweed, is also available on Amazon in print and ebook form. If you order a print copy of both Fireweed and Can I Hold Him? through Amazon you will qualify for free shipping. Every time I have an opportunity to do inspirational speaking, people line up to buy my books. I am slowly beginning to feel like a “real” author.

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"Fireweed" by Janet Stobie
“Fireweed” by Janet Stobie

Thought for Today

christmas-1023851_1920The Work of Christmas

Christmas – the actual day is past. Most of us have enjoyed our family gatherings and opened our gifts. My sister Anne told me today that all her decorations are put away as well. For her everything is back to normal. Not so at our house. We’ll have our tree up for at least two more weeks, maybe even three. It’s merry lights and statuesque beauty greet me every morning. I love it. I’m in no hurry to see it gone.

There is a song in our hymn book, titled “I Am the Light of the World” by Jim Strathdee. The first verse says,

“When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and the shepherds have found their way home,

the work of Christmas is begun…

For us as Christians, Christmas is so much more than a family celebration that lasts at the most a few days. Christmas is a beginning. Christmas, like the new baby born in the stable, is filled with potential. Each year we travel to the manger. Each year we have the opportunity to begin again our attempt to live the “way” of Jesus.

This year with our response to the refugee’s as individuals, groups, and a nation, the work of Christmas has begun. These families that have come and are coming will need our help, will offer new experiences, new stories, new learnings all year long. This year we won’t put Christmas back in a box and get back to our familiar normal. For that normal is changing every day.

This year we will need to open our hearts to God’s strength and leading for “the work of Christmas has truly begun.”

Thought for Today

 

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Friendship Is a Special Gift.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a lunch with two of my long-time friends. We talked. We ate. We exchanged gifts. We shared what was happening in our lives. For two hours we ignored the world around us and found comfort and laughter together. Today, Tom and I are having another good friend for dinner. Sometimes, particularly at this time of the year, we begin to think that the special Christmas lunches, dinners, and parties are unnecessary. Why do we do this? After all we’re busy enough without squeezing in one more gathering.

Friendship is a precious gift that requires nourishment. In our chaotic world, with all the demands on our time, it would be easy to let friends slip away. We don’t mean to, but it happens. Christmas reminds us, pushes us, to reconnect. It’s Christmas and we haven’t seen our friends for months. Let’s make sure we get together. And because it’s Christmas we make that special effort. I’m grateful.

My thought for today is rather than complaining about our busyness, let’s use today to connect with one special friend. Make a phone call or send a text to set up a couple of hours together sometime over the next two weeks. Give yourself the gift of friendship for Christmas.

FRIENDSHIP IS A PRECIOUS GIFT.

Check Out the Story!!!

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“Live the Story. Let Love Enter Your Heart.”

Part of my preparation for Christmas is attending our Keene United Church’s live re-enactment of the Christmas story at Lang Pioneer Village. This year as always, the service was well attended. It’s become a Christmas tradition for many.

Whether you claim no religion, or Christianity or another religion, the magic of the Christmas story can make a difference in your living. During these last few days before Christmas, I encourage you to seek out a variety of ways of learning more about the traditional Christmas story. Google “Live nativity presentations”. Consult your local library or bookstore. They’ll have lots of books to choose from, that tell the Christmas story. Dust off your Bible(or borrow or buy one) and find the Book of Luke. Open it to Chapter two and read the story together as a family. Once you’ve heard the story this year, use the following guide to think about the story.

1. What would it be like today to be Mary, 9 months pregnant and unmarried? Imagine travelling a long distance on a bus, using all your money for the ticket. When you get to family/friends, there is no place for you. You go to the homeless shelter.

2. Who are the Mary’s, the innkeepers, the shepherds, the Herods, the Wisemen today?

Thinking about the characters as real people like you and me will make a huge difference in your Christmas celebrations, secular or religious. Let the story speak to your life. On Dec. 25, 2015 make room in the Inn of your heart for love to enter.

“…the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” (Luke 2:15-16)

Gifts of Love

                    
United Church Gifts With Vision Catalogue
A gift of $50 in your loved one’s name will help build
a  7 room school in Duplan, Haiti

I Can Make a Difference!!!

My son Dave, his wife, Joanne and granddaughter, Jenna, are not coming home for Christmas. We’ll miss them. We want to include them, but how? We can’t mail gifts to them because the mail where they live is not as reliable as it is in Canada. Packages tend to be opened and their contents shared long before they get to our loved ones. It would be easy to send money, and I’m sure it would be appreciated, but for me, that leaves Christmas out of the equation. I need to honor my faith in my gift giving.

The United Church’s “Gifts with Vision” Catalogue and Kiva’s Microloan Catalogue and others like them provide a wonderful smorgasbord of gifts that will help change the world through love. Every year we give each family on our list one of these gifts. This year, shopping in these catalogues will be even more fun. We’ll have more money to spend because these gifts will make up our entire package for Dave’s family.

We can support building a water treatment and supply plant for Duplan Secondary School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We can provide clothing, basic personal care, and pastoral support at St. Matthew’s-Maryland, West Broadway, and Oak Table community ministries in Winnipeg. We can stock a medical clinic in far off Africa. We can join with others to enable Domitila in Bolivia start a business making clothing so she can support herself and her family.  In a very real way, we can act to feed the hungry, care for the poor, and to change systems that perpetuate resource inequities.

Our faith calls us to make a difference. If you’ve never seen one of these catalogues, or experienced the joy of this kind of Christmas giving, it’s time you did. They’re available on line and at your local church. Make sure that this year, that at least some of your gift giving makes a difference in the world. For today, keep the thought:

This year, I want to give a gift that will transform someone’s life.

“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.” (Matthew 2:11)

Thought for the Day

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Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.

The second week of Advent begins today. Traditionally in the church, this is the week in which we focus on peace, peace in the world and peace within our individual lives. Today, my prayer is based on transformation of each one of us as individuals. Jesus refused the “devil’s offer” of using power to control the world. He chose to work with his presence, his love, his teaching. Today, I want to be God’s peaceful presence everywhere I go. Today I suggest that the goal of our words, our actions, our thoughts be based on being a channel of God’s Peace. This is our faith. I give thanks to God for coming to our world through individuals like you and me. Today I’ve used the words of that wonderful hymn:

Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.

A Thought For Your Day

Thank you God for...

During Advent I’m using a resource titled The Uncluttered Heart by Beth A. Richardson. She talks about an ancient tradition of the Christians Church in which pilgrims would ask of their spiritual leaders, “Give me a word of life.” Following in this tradition, I will be offering you “A Thought for Your Day” throughout the season of Advent as part of my preparation for Christmas. My hope is that you will carrying this thought with us will help us to keep centered on
opening our heart to Jesus. I’m starting three days in posting these so today you are getting three at once. Choose the one that speaks to you. Think about it through the day. Please let me know what effect focusing on God does for your day. Blessings Janet

Advent – Week 1    Hope gives power to life’s journey.

December 1      Give God 5 minutes today. God is waiting.

December 2      Thank you God for…