Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gloria in Exclesis Deo

"Glory to God in the Highest" is a refrain we hear often this time of the year either in the familiar Latin refrain in the carol, or as the account of Christ's birth is read from the book of Luke. Yet this could be the daily cry of my heart when I reflect upon the mystery of the God-Child being born into our midst, maturing into a man, who humbly gave his life so that we might be forgiven and renewed and restored in relationship with our Heavenly creative Father.

To give God the credit for my life, to honor His reputation-this is the desire of my heart as I walk into the next year with new possibilities and fresh chances to live my life for the One who made me and knows me so well. As I reflect over this past year, I also want to shout, "Glory to God in the Highest"! It never ceases to amaze me how much goes on in one's life during the 365 days we label a year. Why we mark the years is another mystery to me, but it is sobering to contemplate the myriad of breathes I took this year, the serious and not so serious conversations, the moment by moment decisions, the musings of my heart, the actual accomplishments-both mundane and marvelous. All these are gifts from God. I cannot even begin to express the amazement at the opportunities I have been given this past year to either succeed or fail, to grow bitter or to forgive, to mistreat or to love, to offer compassion or to resent. The choice to live or to let the death grip of sin suffocate my heart is there every day. I can only give the glory to God for keeping me in His grace, and giving me the strength to overcome temptations and the humility to admit my wrongs.

Glory indeed!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Joyeux Noel

Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal's death on a cross.
Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

I was reminded recently that Noel means birth. So in French, the literal translation is not our common American greeting of Merry Christmas or even the more generic Happy Holidays, or the really sterile, Seasons Greetings, but Joyous Birth! And that is truly what we are celebrating the joyous birth of our Savior! I am marveling more than ever that Jesus came as a human baby. What wondrous love is this! And to take on our flesh, and to be limited voluntarily to the constraints of the human body is rather amazing. And the equally astounding truth that he is fully God.

Earlier this fall I had the opportunity to have a small role in a play at the community college I have been attending the last few years. As I prepared for the role, I memorized lines, I learned where I was suppose to be on stage and I interacted with the other actors. Most people will comment on how hard it must be to memorize the lines, but in reality that is only one part of the whole. To really "become" the character, it is helpful to think about their characteristics, the time period they lived in, and many other aspects of their person. I really had fun analyzing my character by reading the script, noting what other characters said about her in the script, and how these lines indicated what kind of personality she might have. I did some research into the place where the character lived (Yonkers, NY) and also the time period (early 1940s just as the US joined WWII).

I created a life for the character outside of the script. I imagined who her friends might be, where she worked, what happened to her fiance that her mother had scared away so many years earlier. The other actors were also committed to adding this level of interest to their characters making the whole production a richer experience for each of us, as well as the audience. Once we rehearsed, and got our costumes and I had done all this mental work, it was time to bring our characters alive on stage for a live audience. I realized that in a sense I was offering the character my physical body, and my mind and emotions for the time she was on stage helping to tell the story of the Kurnitz family.

As I was enjoying the discoveries of creating a character, I also was understanding in a deeper way the incarnation of Christ, as well as the admontion to "put on Christ" as believers. First, it just amazes me that Jesus would be willing to live within the limitations of the flesh. He knew how to do it best because he designed the human body, soul and mind. He lived out the completely submissive life that we fight against day in and day out. He knew the subtext of the script because he wrote it with the Father and the Holy Spirit. So much to ponder on that topic.

How we are encouraged to live out the character of Christ through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit took on a whole new perspective in light of my recent experience of preparing to "be" the character of "Gert" this past fall. Just as I analyzed everything I could about her from several perspectives and sources, I can meditate on the character of Christ, and then offer myself to him to live out on the live stage of life the actual attributes of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control because Jesus already has lived them and has given us so many examples of how to live these realities in our own lives.

More than one can fathom, and we have a lifetime to learn our role, and live it out empowered by the Spirit of Christ. Hallelujah!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

As I entered the month of December, snowflakes tumbled down outside my study window. I looked for some comfort and solace in different devotional books around my home. I was looking for one of my Advent books, which has daily readings for the season. Instead I came across "The One Year Book of Psalms", and I turned to the December 1st entry. I was greeted by this hymn and it spoke to my heart's desire for rest, freedom and joy.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus

Born to set Thy people free;

From our fears and sins release us,

Let us find our rest in Thee.

Israel's strength and consolation,

Hope of all the earth Thou art;

Dear desire of every nation,

Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,

Born a child and yet a King,

Born to reign in us forever,

Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.

By Thine own eternal Spirit

Rule in all our hearts alone;

By Thine all sufficient merit,

Raise us to Thy glorious throne

The simple words warmed my heart and helped me to prepare for the day and the season ahead. So far this year I haven't been very in tune with the holidays. I'm not in a rush to put up our tree. I have hardly any gift shopping done. I have been listening to Christmas carols in the car, but that's the extent of my Christmas spirit.

Usually we have family devotions each Sunday leading up to Christmas. I asked our younger son if he would get us started this past Sunday. Since the boys are older, we allow them a turn to prepare and lead our thoughts. We ended up at a local restaurant that has free wi-fi because our internet and phone was out. It snowed on Sunday and apparently this caused our phone to die. That is why we were out, checking email, accessing my online algebra homework, so I could study for finals, etc.

The boys had spent the afternoon doing a fabulous job cleaning their rooms (finally :), so he had no time to prepare a devotion. So as we gathered around the laptop eating our bread and soup, I suggested Bradley go ahead and find some thoughts to inspire us for Advent. He told Kurt to look up the first Advent candle and its meaning. This will go down in history as one of my cherished memories of our advent devotions. We have grown up, no more wiggly bored boys who don't totally get Mom's enthusiasm for this holy season. Just four people who love each other and need the time to connect with each other and be reminded that this is a season of hope. Not just wishing for something, but deep heart joy-knowing that we are loved by an amazing Heavenly Father. Who also had a son, and knows the joys and pains of parenting, and wanting his children to grasp and cling to His enthusiasm as well as longing for everyone to embrace this holy season of remembering the birth of the Savior.

To a crust of bread, the internet and family. Have a blessed holy season watching and waiting for the advent and promised return of the Lord Jesus.