Advent Week 4 – He Comes – Peace

*I’ve followed an Advent ordered used in some liturgical churches, but in others, the Love and Peace weeks are switched. No matter, really, just a note.*

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“…Christmas is not simply about a birth but about a coming.”

– Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas

 

My parents like to tell the story of the Christmas that Santa delivered a Barbie Dream House under the Thompson tree. It turns out, Santa doesn’t much like staying up to 2am putting tiny sticker decals on tiny pretend kitchens. Santa has never really forgiven me for that. There aren’t enough milk and cookies in the world.

Here’s the thing that I should never admit: (Santa, skip on down) I don’t remember wanting a Barbie Dream House. I don’t remember asking for it. I don’t remember putting it on my Christmas list.

But the gift came and it was perfect, my Barbies and I were so excited. I completely forgot I ever wanted it.

***

This is the first year ever I can’t seem to muster up holiday cheer. This year has been brutal, and brutal might be the nicest word here. Just today, I left a hard, hard meeting, came home and fell on my kitchen floor and wept. It’s December 19th. There should be a little more holly jolly around these parts.

The nativity narrative is messy and chaotic. We’ve done a lot of sanitizing with our manger scenes. The travel to Bethlehem, the birth on a dirty floor, fleeing the country, terrifying angels. This, set against a backdrop of longing and waiting. Years. Decades.

This morning I prayed, “I know you are stretching and growing my faith far greater than what I thought it could be. I’m honestly thankful you have taken so much away so I really only have you left, but I need a break. Relentless faith without sight has wearied me beyond words. I need eyes to SEE today. Just for a second. Can I see you?”

Four hundred years of those prayers. I can’t imagine.

In the middle, there is a baby king. A baby. Right there. He came. He came.

***

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary. She actually carried the answer to decades of prayers in her arms. She physically held a promise fulfilled, the very answer to a prayer she prayed for so long. Years later, she would watch a brutal death of that same promise she once held in her trembling, feeble arms. But a resurrection came. He came.

Honestly, I’m still waiting for life to come from death, as are many friends. It’s ok. Simeon was “righteous and devout, waiting…” (Luke 2:25). Surely Simeon never expected the Messiah to be a tiny baby with a teenage mother. But he came. A baby in the middle of the mess.

This Christmas, many of us will carry a whole heap of longing, not yet answered prayers and a lot of grief through the doors of our family homes. It’s a tender time. We are all nativity-story messy.

When the waiting breaks, when a promise is fulfilled, it may not look like what we think. It may be a hard right turn from what we are praying and – let’s be honest – begging, but he comes. That’s what the Lord does, he comes. He cannot not come to his kids. Light dawning on those of us living in the shadow of death.

***

So why Advent? Why in the world do we celebrate a not-yet-coming? It is only because the Lord’s answer was so perfect that years later we can celebrate the hundreds of years of silence. Without the birth, we would never look back on the dark quiet and be thankful. Sarah Bessey asks, “Would we be so filled with joy at his arrival if we weren’t so filled with longing already?” Maybe not.

I pray that when the Lord dawns light in our darkness – whether it is through yes-answers to prayers or simply that he shows up with buckets of peace to our weary souls – the ache can fade, just a little. The gift of his coming is so perfect we would celebrate the years of longing.

Friends, if you are a little worse for wear this Christmas, if what you feel is too much to bear, if you are limping into the most celebratory time of year, I am praying you will have peace in the simple truth, He comes.

There is a verse in Hebrews that says Jesus first came for us sinners who wouldn’t possibly be able to get it all together (all of us). The next time, he comes for waiting souls who know longing, who are acquainted with grief. That’s me. That’s you. So we say to our voids, “Come Lord Jesus.”

We know you will. You always have.

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Advent Week 3 – A Very Ordinary Life – Joy

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“Don’t be put off by the ordinariness of the means of joy, for in that ordinariness is hidden the extraordinary riches of the Gospel.”  Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas

For years I was the “run into Target for one thing, spend $100″ girl. I need this shirt, laundry detergent, a 500 pack of cards, and new measuring cups. Yeah.

Christmas is the Super Bowl of shopping and all those Target runs were just training for the big game.

But then job leads dry up and so do needless shopping trips.

Not too long ago, I walked into Target for the first time in nearly a year. It felt like coming back to a hometown. I knew how to navigate the aisles, but it all felt so foreign.

Unemployment squeezes a lot of unnecessary out of a life.

I stayed away from Target like an alcoholic stays away from a bar. Pennies were ruthlessly counted. Retail emails had to go. I counted up how many hours I would need to work at my part-time retail job to pay my bills. I bought travel size toothpaste and laundry detergent with the hope that by next paycheck, I would have enough for more. One month, I slipped my rent check in the mailbox and was so overwhelmed with gratitude, I welled up with a flood of tears. I didn’t think I would have enough. I didn’t think I would make it.

(Pause: I understand how very first-world this is. I know thousands of people across the country–not to speak of the millions of people in the world who will never even know the provision of having bills to pay–live this way every day and I feel your weariness in just a small way. If I could carry every burden, to ease this for just a bit, I would. I see you.)

A lot of glitter fell off my life in those months. That’s ok. I was never meant to wear a ton of it anyway.

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Advent Week 1: Next Year Will Be Different – Hope

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My parents kept a basket of my old baby clothes in the attic. Most are handmade, smocked by my grandmother. Others are delicate and cost my family a fortune.

My parents had a garage sale recently and to my surprise, these little pieces were in the pile to be sold. Mom kept them stored away, saving them for grandchildren, my children, children I don’t have. And because too much time and fertility had passed, she was selling them along with the hope she would see me with a family.

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I hope we can hope again – An Advent Celebration

pexels-photo-383646“That’s the sacred intent of life, of God – to move us continuously toward growth, toward recovering all that is lost and orphaned within us and restoring the divine image imprinted on our soul. And rarely do significant shifts come without a sense of our being lost in dark woods..” – Sue Monk Kidd

I have a tiny tree this year. Wreaths and candles in the windows. I even have Christmas decorations in the bathroom. It’s all set.

An Advent candle wreath was a new addition last Christmas, the year I decided that instead of wagging an angry finger at decades of waiting, I would embrace this season. I joined thousands of others in lighting the candles to commemorate eons of longing for what was most wanted.

Advent – waiting with anticipation, “coming” in Latin.

Throw a rock in LifeWay and you’ll hit an Advent devotional – readings for these four weeks leading up to Christmas. Weeks of quiet, stillness, lighting candles, remembering how much the world groaned under the weight of waiting, hoping, longing. Why in the world do we need to embrace that?

Honestly, this practice confounded me. Mostly because Advent is tinged with the hardest and tenderest parts of life – waiting, hoping, longing, silence, stillness. To make peace with pleading prayers and long-dead dreams has never been something I wanted to chase down.

Many of us are starting down years of silence. Many of us have heard whispered dreams and are hoping for something not yet here. A thousand times we’ve given up.

And yet we still believe this isn’t all. But we can’t quite stomach a belief in anything more than what is in front of us. Here we all land in these weeks before Christmas, weeks we have set aside to remember we are all waiting. Nothing is completely finished. Nothing is completely fulfilled. In the face of years of silence, we are scared to hope in anything greater. We’ve become Sara laughing at the absurdity of the promise. Who can blame us?

Soon we will enter into the story of Mary and Joseph who have only ever heard tale of God’s voice but believed him all the same. Of Elizabeth and Zechariah who had all but given up, yet were still at the temple, still faithful in the only way they could barely eek out. And Simeon, who was waiting in Jerusalem and believed this baby who came to his door would save his soul.

But before all of this, there was white silence.

These weeks as we march up to this story of a census, manger, innkeeper, angel choir and mighty baby, let’s honor the waiting. Let us peel back the promise for just a second and remember what it is like to not hear, not see, not know. Let us honor the faith that builds only through heart-sick hope.

I am not an expert in anything, not the smartest, most refined person to know. Most days I feel like the cheese is barely on the cracker. But I have been waiting a long time for a many, many things. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I can point to one area of my life in which I am not waiting. I’ve spent years mourning what I did not have while nearly missing the faith the Lord was building in me – the sturdy kind that won’t break when things like careers, relationships and hearts break. That brand of faith can only come from watching and waiting.

Over the next four weeks, I simply want to tell a few stories to celebrate the pillars of Advent – Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. I want to pull tender, often hidden parts of life, into the light and pray they will strengthen weak faith and renew abandoned hope.

I hope you will come along. Just one story a week, the first one will post this Wednesday.

I hope we all can hope again.

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If you’ve ever been bruised, bloody and pushed back out to fight again….

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The day I lost my job at NewSpring, Katelyn knocked on my door with a bag full of Chick-Fil-A stress food. I was in shock, not yet as sad as would be, not yet feeling anything. I believe I cried a bit, but nothing like what would come.

I lived in a condo on Lake Hartwell and the living room faced the water. Katelyn sat on one couch, me on the other. I remember staring at the water. I just remember looking through the trees at the water.

I worked at NewSpring for nearly eight years. I tight-fisted that idol-job until it broke me. I sported the self-inflicted wounds of pride, perfectionism, fear and I can still smell the relational carnage I left in my wake.

Now, here we were on a day in mid-March watching the sunset over the water, taking the tiniest steps toward healing. Food wrappers littered around and the light fading away, Katelyn broke a silence.

“Do you want an easy life or do you want a better story?”

“A better story,” I said.

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