Monthly Archives: December 2017

Consider the Silence

Consider the SilenceHave you ever thought about the radical changes that occur in silence? When you plant a hard little brown jonquil bulb in cold November soil it makes no sound as it sits there for weeks. As it breaks through the ground in February there’s no big shout of freedom. It pops up and, miraculously, turns into a lovely flower. A butterfly in its cocoon is perfectly quiet and makes no fireworks when it explodes into colorful motion. There’s an awesome silence sometimes before a great storm.

There was a silence of four hundred years between the time that God’s last prophet spoke and the time when Jesus, Savior and Redeemer, broke through as a helpless baby one night in Bethlehem.

On Christmas Eve–after every stocking is hung, after every gift is wrapped, after the pies are baked and everyone is asleep–if you’re still awake you can hear the silence. It’s the silence of memory, the silence of reality, of things that have happened and events still to come. It may just be you, the Christmas tree, and a blanket to huddle in as you consider the silence that turned into a joyful song.

Put yourself out on a Judean hillside on a cold starry night watching your sheep. Other shepherds are there, too, caring for their ewes, rams, and lambs. You take turns sleeping perhaps, leaving one on watch. It’s your turn to be that one. You stir the low fire and huddle around it. You grip your shepherd’s staff and pound it into the hard ground just keeping yourself awake. You look up at the millions of stars and think how very quiet it is out there–only the tiniest little sound of shifting coals in the fire and then a whimper of a little lamb nuzzling its mama.

Suddenly–the sky explodes with light so bright you shield your eyes. All the other shepherds are awake now cringing from the light, trembling with the shock of this sudden change. And then the angel–talking to all of you (you’ve never before seen an angel, but somehow you know this unbelievably bright figure is an angel). The angel says: “Don’t be afraid. I’m bringing you good tidings of great joy for you and everyone.” What is he talking about? Who is this?

Today in the city of David is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. You will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.”

What? Can this possibly be…? Is this about the promised Messiah we’ve heard about all our lives?

And then–out there where it’s been so quiet all your whole life–the sky is filled with many angels, a host of angels, singing (or saying), “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill to men.”

You stare up at them overwhelmed by the light, the brilliant colors, the sounds, particularly the sounds. The sounds of the voices and the rustle of angels’ wings and then music, indescribable music, simply overcome you. You cannot breathe but it doesn’t matter. You don’t need breath. You want to listen from now on and on forever.

And then they leave. It’s quiet again. Except now it’s not so quiet because your sheep are all awake nudging and milling around from the great excitement. And the shepherds begin to come out of their shock and babble at each other unable at first to comprehend what has happened.

Shall we go? We must go! Yes! Let’s not delay.

You don’t want to waste a single minute. Hurriedly, one shepherd is chosen to stay with the sheep and you’re so relieved you weren’t picked. You suddenly become aware that you’re still gripping your staff and you move forward heading into Bethlehem, your heart pounding with unexplainable fear and ecstasy.

The silence now is broken by the quick footsteps of you and all the shepherds.

The angel’s directions seemed kind of vague: “wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger…”  How? Where? But somehow you all know exactly where to go and there, sure enough, in a stable, is a young mother hovering over a newborn babe lying in a manger.

You fall to your knees without even thinking. This is not just a baby. You know in your fast beating heart this is the Messiah. What do you say? You feel light pouring around you. It’s as if the darkness of all the ages is dispelled. Mary and Joseph are smiling down on you as you look up. They understand, at least they seem to. You know you’re mumbling something and you’re not sure it makes sense but as you gaze into the Babe’s tiny face His eyes actually open and you feel a gentle power emanating from that tiny form.

You and all the shepherds leave the stable in the greatest excitement. You know you will never be the same again. Everything is different now, the stars, the dark hills, the humble dwellings that you pass.

The silence is broken and you know you will be telling everyone you meet for the rest of your life about that night in Bethlehem. You will hurry back now to your sheep and tell that shepherd who had to stay behind.

Consider the silence–consider the song!

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they had heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

–Luke 2:17-19

 

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Yes, Joy!

IMG_1802In December of 1997 my 93-year-old mother lay dying in the hospital. I might have been guilty in prior years of thinking that the passing of someone over 90 would not bring forth strong grief as, after all, she/he would have lived a good long life. I was totally wrong. That was the year I learned the deep difference between happiness and joy.

All ten of Mamma’s children and nine chosen ones, as well as thirty-three grandchildren and thirty great-grandchildren expressed ourselves differently, but each was heart-broken at the thought of losing Mamma, Momsey, Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, “Miss Eula,” or whoever she might be to us. We couldn’t imagine ever finding full happiness again without this dear lady whose cozy bedroom had become a sanctuary for all of us, a place where we knew we’d find loving support, challenge to keep our chin up, boosts to our faith, spurs to fulfilling our dreams, or simply a refreshing catching of the breath, a place to lean over a game of Scrabble and lose our other concerns in whether or not we could brilliantly use our “q” (or use it at all!).

It seemed natural to sing around Mamma’s hospital bed. Gradually she slipped too far away for us to communicate in any other way. She’d always enjoyed her children being around her and so we sang, some of the boys strumming guitars. We gathered each night around Mamma’s bed to sing even though for days there had been no response from the still figure in the bed. We sang all her favorite hymns and, with Christmas approaching, felt compelled to sing carols too. It was apparent Mamma wouldn’t be with us at the big Christmas tree at her house this year. In fact, some of her last words had been that she wouldn’t be seen sitting in her big blue chair. “But,” she’d whispered, “I’ll see you.”

It was a struggle, even a battle, for me to sing Joy to the World beside Mamma’s silent form and to the accompaniment of her struggled breathing. But I was determined to do it. When one of us dropped out of the singing, others took up the slack. Nurses, who had ignored hospital rules to let us overcrowd Mamma’s room, told us, their eyes moist, how much our faith and–yes, joy!–meant to them as we sang Mamma to heaven, her flight to perfect peace finally occurring in the wee hours of December 12, 1997.

For over a year I could not sing any of the Christmas carols without needing one of Mamma’s handkerchiefs. But I knew how much she loved Jesus and loved Christmas, how she loved seeing the little ones sitting around the tree singing Away in a Manger. I knew how she’d always beamed as her youngest sons Stan and Charlie took turns emceeing, throwing in a line about how Santa had been delayed by a heavy snow but might still make it through. I knew how she loved to see the incredible awe in the children’s faces when a real live Santa Claus came walking in our big front door, a pack on his back. It would have been a tremendous sorrow to her if she knew she’d laid a shadow forever over our Christmas spirit. So I kept singing. We all did. And the joy of the Lord came to us even in the midst of grief–joy, not happiness.

And now years later I can sing more joyfully than ever. For there are even more memories–memories of Mamma’s sweet concern for us to the very last, of her dreams for each little great-grandchild, of her love of life. I remember vividly my husband’s tenderness throughout that dreadful-sweet time and my children’s thoughtfulness. William pulled on his dad’s boots and went out in a cold dawn to help his cousins dig Mamma’s grave in our small family cemetery, all of them wanting her place of rest to be personally and perfectly right. My daughter reminded me: “Grandmother’s happy now and not hurting anymore. She’s singing with the angels. And you’re just going to have to learn how to make those good green beans she always cooked for us.”

So, yes, joy does spring up in the midst of sorrow. I know that is true. The words to the wonderful carol Joy to the World remind us that Jesus is the source of all true joy.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;

                                                   Let earth receive her King;

                                                    Let every heart prepare Him room,

                                                    And heav’n and nature sing,

                                                    And heav’n and nature sing,

                                                    And heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

–Words adapted from Psalm 98 in 1719 by Isaac Watts

 

 

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Just Around the Corner…

 

My dad’s paintings are characterized by slight paths, hints of trails, or even dim traces of roads once traveled through stands of trees. The trails always curve out of sight. In the distance are the mountains, his beloved Blue Ridge Mountains.

Dad said life is like that–curves, mountains in the distance, and surprises just around the corner.

In nature the surprises may be: a waterfall, a doe in the trail, a hawk winging suddenly across the path. Or, on the dark side, a rattler coiled defensively, or a chasm with no way across. In everyday life surprises may be from an unusual encounter with an old friend, a flood in the basement, or a phone call from someone in dire need. It might be the spotting of a bird you haven’t seen lately. We have a lovely wood thrush visiting our feeder this week. I hadn’t seen one in a long time, his coloring similar to a brown thrasher yet with a beautifully speckled breast, a plumper bird without as lengthy a tail, and one with an unforgettably beautiful song.

For you, a surprise might be an exciting announcement concerning life–a baby expected, a job secured, a move into a new house, a visit from the Tooth Fairy, a good grade achieved. We in our church are thrilled over two of our families increasing their numbers by adopting special needs children, one little Chinese boy to each family. It will be an especially blessed Christmas for them and us–and a big corner turned!

Maybe you’re “down on your luck.” Maybe you’ve seen far more of a hospital this year than you’d ever want to see. Maybe you dread Christmas because it reminds you too much of someone you sorely miss. You’d really like to do like John Grisham and just skip Christmas. Maybe you’re even “between a rock and a hard spot,” a very distressing place to be.

But…just around the corner…

There’s a full horizon-to-horizon rainbow–or a child’s portrait of you in full magic marker color–or you weigh and realize you’ve finally lost those ten pounds.

Just around the corner…God has a new truth to show you, there are hugs for you, there is a “way out,” there is a panoramic view you would have missed if you hadn’t plodded along the rough and discouraging path.

Remember O’Henry’s story, “The Gift of the Magi”? A young couple facing very hard times determines, each on their own, to give an extravagant Christmas gift that will say “I love you” to the other. She sells her hair to buy him a watch fob. He sells his watch to buy her a beautiful comb to hold her hair. When they exchange gifts it’s an “around the corner” thing. They are even poorer than before–but their love outshines the drabness of their humble flat, and they are filled with courage for the future.

God has planned really good things for you. Some are wrapped in shiny tinsel. But many are wrapped in rough burlap. Some are even on the other side of some tough mountain. Be alert. Be aware of every opportunity. Because just around the corner is someone who needs you or just around the next curve is a surprise you will not want to miss!

Bless him, Charles just “came around the corner” with a five gallon bucket of beautiful orange satsumas picked for us by Candace, the new owner of our beloved old house. A taste of “home.”

So–time now to bake a pie, decorate the tree, get out your Christmas card list–and get ready for what is just around the corner!

“Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

Psalms 103:5

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