Monday, December 24, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Light--A Christmas/ Midwinter Meditation

Guest post by Trudy J. Morgan-Cole

I don’t recall how old I was when someone first told me we shouldn’t put up Christmas trees or otherwise celebrate Christmas because the holiday had pagan origins and anyway, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. If you grow up Adventist, you get exposed to opinions like these fairly early, even though such views were by no means mainstream in my church and were dismissed as foolishness by my very sensible Adventist family.

Even as a young person, it seemed to me that the timing of Christmas was far from an evil pagan plot or even an unhappy accident. True, nobody considered the date of Jesus’ birth important enough to record in Scripture, but I think the early church did exactly the right thing in holding their celebration of the Nativity at the end of December, and I think it was more than just an attempt to co-opt pagan midwinter holidays.

The image of light coming in the midst of our darkness is one of the most powerful spiritual pictures we humans have. Whether we’re lighting candles on the Advent wreath or the Hanukkah menorah, or burning a Yule log, or simply stringing up some coloured LEDs on the front of the house, we’re responding to a deep human urge to celebrate light — which is hope, and faith, and joy — when times are dark.

For those of us in northern climates this is especially true at midwinter.  Now, to be honest, I don’t think of the winter solstice, or Christmas, or anytime around the end of December as “midwinter.” Because of our climate, where Christmases are often green but Easters are frequently white, I feel winter is barely beginning in December. My worst “midwinter blues” hit around mid-February when I think how far we’ve slogged through the ice and snow and how far we have yet to go. 

But even in our late-starting, long-lasting Newfoundland winter, in a world illuminated by electric lights, I feel the burden of those dark early evenings, coming home from work with the sky already dark, waking up in morning darkness to get ready to do it all again.  I understand why our ancestors, less shielded from the rhythms of the natural world, felt the need to light candles and celebrate at the turning of the year, when the days began, imperceptibly, to lengthen again.  When the light returned.

God’s promise of light in darkness is for everyone, everywhere, all the time.  And of course it’s true that as a Christian, unlike a Jewish friend lighting Hanukkah candles or my pagan friend burning her Yule log (or a Hindu friend celebrating Diwali, at a different time of the year in a different corner of the world), I believe the truest and fullest expression of God’s light came into the world on whatever night Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Son of God, love’s pure light.  Whether He was born in the bleak midwinter or in spring or fall, He was the light that lights everyone as He comes into the world.

But the fact that I believe this and others don’t, doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m right and everyone else is wrong when they light their candles and logs and fireworks and LED lights, wherever and whenever and whyever they do it.  If we close the stable door and say that only in that one room, on that one night, was the Light of the World fully present and incarnate … well, light will still leak out under and around the stable door.  Light is like that. Grace is like that.  God’s presence is everywhere, no matter how we try to shut Him away or box Him up.  He is present in every light that shines in darkness. The humblest candle burning on a midwinter night speaks of the hope He brings … and so, in a faint and faraway fashion, does even the light-up, blow-up, tacky glowing Santa on the lawn of a neighbour who professes no faith in any god but the God of Shopping, and worships nowhere but at the mall.

We light lights because we believe, or because we want to believe.  And light calls forth what’s best in us — hope, faith, joy — giving us hints of the true Light, that shines in darkness and can never be put out.
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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Giving Up Everything for Love

Guest post by Elvia Miller

 They are a small group of three- to five-year-old children that I teach every Wednesday. There are about eight of them, six who come consistently. We usually cover the same stories. Jesus was born of a virgin. Jesus is God. I learned the stories myself as someone who loved the Lord told of the story… and yet the magnitude of it never really sank in until much later.

“God has a plan” and “Everything happens for a reason” are platitudes we use to comfort or explain. I marvel at the plans of God and how everything fits together. I had known that I was going to teach of Christmas because what else was I going to teach…Easter? That was a no-brainer.

It was in another class that God started to work on my heart. The pastor taught the Cruciform Marriage class. My husband and I made the sacrifice to wake up early on Sundays for this class. I had missed the Sunday School class the week before. I had counted myself lucky that I missed the wives-submit-to-your-husbands lecture. I wasn’t left totally unscathed. This particular Sunday, we learned the second part of the passage, Ephesians 5:22-33, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The pastor painted a picture of the church as a woman. The poor thing never seemed to get it right. She was a Cinderella or Snow White who needed to be rescued. Along came the Prince who would rescue her and elevate her. But the Prince never gave up his kingdom for her. He never pretended to be a pauper to rescue her. I thought of this. It burned within me and cleansed. Jesus came for his church, his bride and it wasn’t easy—it was a sacrifice.

That night I lay in bed and cried. My husband could not console me. I just kept repeating the verse over and over. There was no explanation. The verse said it all. I pictured Hosea, the prophet who was commanded to love a harlot. He was the example of how God loved us even before Jesus made His appearance. We are a fickle bunch, loving everything and everyone except the One we were created to love; God, who saves us even when we are wrong. He is God who saves us even though we are harlots to this world.

As I prepared to begin the children’s Bible lesson, I glanced down at their faces. Their sweet innocence was marked and their eyes were open wide, awaiting the message. I prayed. I prayed that they be like the good soil and understand the story that they will hear so many times. I prayed that it would not just be a story for them but an understanding.

I asked them, “Who is your favorite superhero?” The answers varied: Bob the Builder, Green Lantern, Hulk. I threw in Superman and Batman. They got excited talking about those they considered heroes. We talked about their super powers and what they could do. We talked about how they save people. Then I asked, “What if they had to give up all their special powers in order to save us?” The children looked confused. Why ever would a superhero give up their powers? Why ever would someone give up what made them special and be normal, and be humbled. I told them it was a sacrifice. Who would you give up your super power for? Most of them answered with family members, but it would have to be for a really good reason. What if you had to give up your super power for someone who had wronged you? It was beyond their comprehension. I left it hanging there and hoped the seed would grow in their hearts.

Christmas is about the Son of God, the Prince of Peace giving up more than his super powers, giving up his God-ness, to save us, a people who can’t seem to get anything right.

I learned about Christmas through teaching little ones about Christmas. I wonder about Jesus now. How much harder was it to know that he was God stuffed into the body of an infant? How much harder was it to know that he was King and to be rejected by his own people, his church, his bride? To know, even though he was young, that he was like a lamb sent to the slaughter? This truth is the essence of the Gospel. It’s such a privilege to teach this truth to young minds. It is through teaching that we teach ourselves sometimes. Praise the Lord!
Elvia Miller is a wife, mom, elementary school educator, Bible teacher, choir soprano, jogger, friend, and daughter of God.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Your best love, every day

Guest post by Jo Ann Butler

 A few years ago I crossed the Great Divide. If you are a woman, you know the one I’m talking about. My eggs have passed their ‘use-by’ date, and I no longer need birth control. I faced that aspect of aging with great delight, for many decades ago I decided to remain childless. Perhaps that decision was never mine to make.

I think that personal biology made the choice for me. When you look at our family photos, my sister was holding a baby doll from the moment her arms could wrap around it. I wanted to be a cowboy. One Christmas I got a rocking horse, and also a doll of my own. Photos show a beaming Jo Ann in cowboy hat on her noble steed. My parents insisted that I play with the doll too. After they convinced me that I carry it ‘right’ instead of by one foot, I mounted the horse with my passenger, and stuck the doll’s bottle in my holster.

Years went by and I became interested in boys, and then in men, but not in motherhood. Don’t get me wrong. I like children. Other people’s children. I earned spending money by babysitting, and played happily with relatives’ offspring. But I wasn’t driven to bear a child of my own, and my biological clock never rang its alarm as I grew older.

Now, at the ripe old age of almost-58, I am facing the prospect of becoming a mother. My own mom was diagnosed a couple of years ago with the first stage of dementia. She didn’t tell us, though we’ve noticed that she’s more forgetful. But this summer, when she took 18 hours for what was normally a 6-hour drive from Pennsylvania to New York, we heard the diagnosis from her doctor.

My mother and I have always been very close, and I’ve told her many times that I’d care for her when she needs it. She cared for her childless aunt, who had cared for her own relatives. It is a loving task that I want to do for my Mom. I’ve even had a dress rehearsal, so I know what I’m in for.

For several years my partner and I lived with his aging parents as they needed more help. His mother was an uncontrolled diabetic, and his father had had his first heart attack when he was 39. Modern medicine is capable of wonderful things, and bypasses and stents kept Burt alive until he was nearly 87. However, heart failure made his last few months an ordeal. Using my experience working with severely handicapped children, I nursed Burt until he took his final breath. I would have cared for Virginia, but a fall put her in a nursing home, and infections from diabetes killed her a few months later.

I loved Burt far more than I ever loved my own father, who was a caustic and critical man. Caring for Burt was a sacred experience, and I do not use that word lightly. Watching him weaken, fighting the inevitable, and trying to hearten the rest of his family was gut-wrenching, and an extremely moving experience. Soon I’m going to do it again.

Hopefully Mom’s problems will not go beyond forgetfulness, for her type of dementia is slow to progress. Perhaps it will grow no worse, but perhaps it will. We are preparing now. She is leaving committee seats at church which she has held for years, and I am familiarizing myself with her accounts and papers.

I am also preparing myself to become a mother. Mom’s sister is 95 now, and a stroke has brought her to childlike dependency. I’ve watched my cousin take on the task of ‘raising’ one more child, and the love and respect she brought to the task is inspiring.

When Christy asked me to write this, I said that we were still working everything out. I can’t think of better words to end than what Christy told me: “Nothing is ever perfect or settled. You do your best and love your best with what you've got.” And so I will.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. James 1:27 

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012


By Christy K Robinson

If you know of Mary Barrett Dyer, perhaps it’s the memorial statue at the Massachusetts State House; or that she was the Quaker woman hanged in Boston in 1660.

Mary was born in London at the time the King James Bible was published, and was admired for her intellectual, spiritual, and physical beauty. She and William Dyer were married under Anglican liturgy at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, but in 1635, they emigrated to ultra-Puritan Boston in Massachusetts Bay Colony, and were immediately admitted to membership in the First Church. (Some people committed suicide because their membership was denied.) The Dyers had to conform to Puritan ways to be accepted so quickly. However, Governor Winthrop observed in 1637 that Mary was “addicted to revelations.”

Mary became a disciple of Anne Hutchinson, a religious dissident who claimed that God revealed insights about scripture to her—a “weak-minded” (but highly-educated) woman. She pointed out that instead of trying in vain to earn salvation by perfectly keeping the law, believers were set free from eternal damnation by God’s grace. They could trust divine leading in their conscience, with no need for intercessors or interpreters.

But the Puritan theocracy believed if every man did as he pleased, all would be anarchy. After several ecclesiastical trials, the Hutchinsons and Dyers and about 75 Massachusetts families were exiled for sedition and heresy. They purchased Rhode Island from the Indians, and founded a new colony in 1638.

Mary visited England in early 1652, where she observed several new religious movements, including the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). In some respects similarly to Anne Hutchinson, the Friends believed that Old Testament laws were obsolete, and had been replaced by God’s voice in the individual’s conscience, which was revealed during times of silent reflection and worship. They experienced God as Light and overwhelming love, in contrast to the vengeful Judge who predestined only certain people for eternal life. Some of the scripture they quoted included:
  • God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. … If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7.
  • Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light. ~Jesus. John 12:36.
  • For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Ephesians 5:8
In 1657, Mary returned to America, was accused of being a Quaker, and was cast into Boston’s prison for weeks before William Dyer learned of it and rescued her. Thus began three years of Mary’s repeatedly defying religious oppression to gain relief and freedom for the violently persecuted.

Quakers in New England were fined, beaten, branded, whipped with a knotted cord, banished, tied to carts and dragged from town to town, imprisoned without food or heat in winter, and banished “on pain of death” for their efforts and beliefs.

For supporting Quakers, Mary was arrested and imprisoned at least five times, and defied banishment. Finally, she was sentenced to death. She wrote a letter to the General Court on the night before her execution date. “I therefore declare that in the fear, peace, and love of God I came … and have found such favor in his sight as to offer up my life freely for his truth and people’s sakes. If this life were freely granted by you, it would not avail me to accept it from you, so long as I shall daily hear or see the suffering of my dear brethren and sisters.”
Mary Dyer's handwriting. Letter to the General Court, October 1659.

She believed that her death would be so shocking to the public that it would bring about the end of the severe tortures and repression of Quakers by the Puritan leaders. Many Puritans sympathized with and helped Quakers, and had begun to turn away from their harsh, vicious government. Fearing political unrest, the court granted a reprieve when she was on the gallows. She was imprisoned in Plymouth two weeks later, spent the winter at Long Island, then deliberately returned to Boston seven months later—to obey God’s command, and commit civil disobedience.

She was again condemned to death, and was hanged on June 1, 1660. Because her vengeful Puritan former pastor offered a cloth to cover her face, I believe that the Light was strong on her countenance.

Mary’s sacrifice was successful. Her letters were presented posthumously to Charles II, who ended executions for religious offenses. Her husband and close friends had significant influence on the 1663 Rhode Island royal charter of liberties that granted freedom of conscience to worship (or not), and retained separation of church and state. The charter was a model for the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights, which has in turn been the beacon of light for constitutions around the world.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Season: Taking Notice of Important Things

Guest post by Lawrence T. Geraty

The Christmas season has always been special to me, even though it is often a whirlwind of activities: giving and receiving cards, attending concerts and parties, shopping for appropriate gifts, visiting relatives and friends, and attending special services at church.

Because it comes near the conclusion of the calendar year, it is always a time for reflection as well as making sure that the donations for the various non-profit causes we support have been delivered or mailed before the end of December. But primarily, vertically, it is a time for worship, the Babe in the manger, the Savior who goes about doing good, and being grateful to the One who has transformed my life and who I'm expecting one day to return the Second Time, this time to save us from the mess we humans have made in the world He originally created and vouchsafed to us.

Wow, what would I do without Jesus in my life? He brings balance and is my source of hope. Of course, this year, Christmas was immediately preceded by our national political election—and what a dismaying marathon that was. I think it was Pete Seeger's niece, Kate, who observed that "the world is divided into people who think they are right!" For sure they are divided and it seems that the divisions are unwilling to talk or compromise.

Jesus must be very disappointed in the majority of followers who bear His name. What does He really expect of us in this old world of ours this season?

Horizontally, the Christmas season is a time to "spread the love." There are so many people who always need our love, but especially this season of the year. And it is often so easy to overlook the various categories of people who are systematically marginalized in our society—the poor, the undocumented, the mentally and physically challenged, those who are different from us, gays, singles, even women.

It was Cornel West, one of the most thoughtful African-American scholars I know, who once said, "Justice is what love looks like in public."  

So during this Christmas season, I'm trying to do what I can to "fight" for justice in society—putting in the right word at the right place, supporting organizations who foster the same values I endorse, and seeking out for special attention those who may otherwise be missed.

May the Christ of Christmas help us to spread His love around in every corner that needs it! Merry Christmas!
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Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent is not Christmas

Guest post by Patricia O’Sullivan
 The Mayflower Pilgrims disembarked at Plymouth on December 25, 1620 and immediately began building shelters and fortifications. I learned this as a child and always wondered why the Pilgrims didn’t spend that first day celebrating Christmas. When I was older, I learned that the Puritans didn’t celebrate Christmas because they believed it was a pagan festival adopted by a corrupt Roman Catholic Church.

It’s true that Christmas wasn’t a Christian tradition until the fourth century, when the Church was endorsed by the Roman Empire. Romans celebrated the birthday of Sol Invictus, the Invincible Sun, at the winter solstice. The tradition of marking the birth of Jesus on December 25 comes from this Roman tradition. Pope Benedict XVI confirmed this in 2009 when he said, "Christmas acquired its definitive form in the fourth century when it replaced the Roman Feast of the Sol Invictus." According to the official Church calendar, Christmas begins December 25 and lasts for forty days, culminating on the Feast of the Presentation on February 2. 

 The tradition of Advent was not firmly established by the Church until sometime during the seventh century. Today, Advent occurs between the Feast of Christ the King and Christmas Eve, a period of 23-28 days depending on which day Christmas falls on in the week. Advent marks the end of the liturgical year. For most of its history, Advent was a time of fasting and penance, a time to prepare both for the second coming of Christ and the birth of Christ. Marriages could not take place during the Advent season because fasting included sexual abstinence.

Over the last couple of centuries, Advent has changed from being a time of fasting and penance to a period of joyful anticipation. Though the rituals and spiritual focus of Advent have changed, Advent remains a time before Christmas begins. In cultures focused on gift-buying and holiday parties, where Christmas decorations appear right after Halloween and retail stores and radio stations play Christmas music in November, it’s easy to forget Advent.

What also gets lost in the retail reconfiguration of the Christmas season, is Christmas itself. As people take down their trees and pack up their decorations, the Church is still celebrating the holiday. Some people keep their trees up through the Feast of the Epiphany, marking off the Anglican tradition of twelve days of Christmas. But few people continue to make merry after January 6. The Church observes Christmas another month after that. For retailers, these four weeks are preparation for Valentine’s Day.

When I reflect on how Advent has been consumed by Christmas and how Christmas has been consumed by Valentine’s Day, it occurs to me that the preparation for and expectation of the holiday have become more important than the holiday itself. This shift in focus is significant. It means people are taking joy in the journey, not just the destination.

Sol Invictus was celebrated at the winter solstice because that is when the sun is weakest in the northern hemisphere. The month leading up to the solstice was a time to prepare for winter, the season of death. The original focus of Advent was death as well. Advent was a time to prepare for the physical death that would occur when Jesus returned to earth. Fasting is a means of disciplining the body and suffering physically as a penance for sin. In the Christian tradition, physical death is the path to spiritual life.

Christmas is the Feast of the Nativity, a holiday that merges physical and spiritual birth even as it heralds the season of death. But Advent is not Christmas. Death is certain. Time to prepare for it is not. Advent is the journey, a reminder to live joyfully while anticipating dying. For that reason I don’t mind Christmas decorations in November.
Patricia O’Sullivan is the author of Hope of Israel, a novel about the readmission of the Jews to England in 1656, and Legend of the Dead, a novel about the transformation of the New World and one young man’s attempt to carve his place within it. Her novels explore religious history and religious conflict in the 17th and 18th centuries. Visit her blog at 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Light as a Choice

Guest post by Christy English

 “The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of all kinds.” ~His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

We get to choose whether or not to be light bringers. In every moment, whatever actions we take, we can bring light or darkness. Of course, it is often easier to focus on ourselves, our petty problems, our losses, our defeats.

The shadows are distracting to the point that we think they’re all there is. But light makes shadow, even if the Source is unseen.

The Light that came into the world on the birth of Christ has always been with us, and will always be. Like the green, verdant, ever-living Viriditas that Hildegard von Bingen wrote of, this light fills the world. We carry it in our hearts, whatever our faith or lack thereof. We are a part of this river of light that is moving through the world, whether we know it or not.

In every moment of every day, we can choose to bring light to a situation, or not. In the quote above, I think His Holiness is asking us to think of our daily lives, and how we can do better in each moment. It is an imperfect world, and we are imperfect, but that does not change our responsibility, to ourselves or to each other.

In order to express this light in our lives, however, we must find it.

Every tradition has its own path into this river of light. Prayer, meditation, a walk in a green wood, facing the ocean, the desert, the sky. Any or all of these might work, or they might not.

Only you can discover your own path into the light that lives within you. Even to look is an act of faith. Even to look is to begin to find it.

Our breath is the simplest way to open ourselves to the possibility that this light exists, that it is not a fairy tale told by fools to quiet the masses. Our breath is an ever-moving river, a mirror of that divine grace that lives within us all. You might choose to sit, to let everything else go, and to follow it.

This perhaps is the hardest thing for us to do in this modern world, to simply sit and follow our breath wherever it leads. But know that this task was hard for every man and woman who did it before you. You are not alone in this. You are a link in a chain of seekers that leads from the beginning of time, to now, and onward into a unknown future that none of us living today will ever see.

So you might find a spot, indoors or out. You might choose to stand in place, or sit, and simply breathe. You will find that the breath is not simple, that the shadows are there as well, but keep following it. The light is there, too, behind this world, supporting it, nurturing it, waiting until we all decide that we want to come home.
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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Flesh (A Christmas Meditation)

Guest post by Trudy J. Morgan-Cole

At this time of year we celebrate Incarnation: God taking on human flesh. I dislike the word “flesh.” I try to avoid using it. It’s an unpleasant-sounding word, and I don’t like its connotations. “Flesh” sounds flabby, raw, unhealthy.

It also has negative connotations in the spiritual realm. “Incarnation” comes from the same root as “carnal,” the word St. Paul uses to describe the fallen, sinful tendencies of our human — fleshly — bodies.

The truth of Christmas is that Jesus came all this way to get a human body…but really, who the hell would want one? Human bodies are messy, flawed, fragile and inconvenient. They feel pain. Parts get injured and break. Human bodies overeat and get overweight … or they don’t get enough to eat and shrivel into starvation. Human bodies lead us into temptation. They get sexually aroused at inopportune times. Sometimes they fail to get aroused at opportune times. Human bodies inflict violence on other human bodies. We bleed. We make each other bleed. And if we somehow navigate all the pitfalls of the flesh, our bodies simply grow old and die.

Yet Christianity is not a dualistic religion in which “flesh” is simply bad and soul or spirit is simply good. The Bible teaches that God created our human bodies, cares for our human bodies, and will eventually resurrect and recreate our human bodies. Christianity goes a step farther than any other world religion and teaches that God not only values human bodies, God actually wears a human body. In the Incarnation Jesus took on our flesh — our sinful, fallible, flawed flesh.

Flesh brings us down; flesh also lifts us to our finest hours. Only in human bodies can we know the bliss of union between lovers. Only in a human body can a woman share for a few months the experience of the Creator as she grows another human life inside her womb, pushes out into the world, then sustains and nourishes it with milk from her breast. Only in human bodies can we hold a child, a parent, a lover in our arms. Only with human bodies can we laugh and cry and kiss and taste and touch and participate completely in the world God created for us. And in human bodies–transformed and glorified–we will someday be raised to live eternally.

In this human flesh, fragile and fallen, the Son of God deigned to meet us on our own ground: to become a helpless human infant suckling a mother’s breast; to be hungry and exhausted and weak; to bleed and to die.

 Christmas in the secular world sometimes seems an inappropriate time for Christians to celebrate Christ’s birth. It’s hard to ponder the mystery of Incarnation in the midst of holiday specials and the shopping-days countdown and the flashing lights and Santa and Rudolph and Frosty and the Grinch. At Christmas our carnal nature shows its best — the glowing face of a child opening a longed-for toy — and its worst — the vicious triumph of the mother who literally had to wrestle another shopper to the floor of Wal-Mart to rip the last Furby from her shaking fingers.

I have no doubt that the Christ who loves the poor and oppressed deplores the consumerism that runs rampant at Christmas. I have no doubt that He longs for each one of us to make this a simpler time, to lay aside stress and ridiculous expectations of the “perfect” holiday, to spend more time listening to Him and less time looking for replacement bulbs for the tree lights.

 But I also believe that the God who was not too proud to lie in an animal’s feed box in a barn, wrapped in the fragile flesh of an infant human body, is not too lofty to descend to meet us in the middle of our overpriced, overstressed, commercialized Christmas. He who did not refuse the company of cow and donkey does not exclaim, “Oh, how tacky!” when He sees His own image in the manger scene surrounded by Santa, Rudolph or Frosty. He descends into human flesh, into the carnality of Incarnation, and stoops to meet us in mangers and malls, in stables and supermarkets.

Christmas tells us that our God joins us in the experience of being human, having a human body. But Christmas is only Act I of the story. The grand finale, His resurrection, assures us that while He became truly human and experienced all humanity had to offer, the divine does not enter humanity and leave it unchanged. Jesus not only took on human flesh; He transformed human flesh. His resurrected body was recognizably human — He walked, talked, ate, cooked fish with His friends — but it was also far more than human, far more than the body that was born in the stable on Christmas Eve. God became human, and entirely transformed the experience of what it means to be human, to live within a human body.

So He is humble enough to meet us, this Christmas, in the check-out aisle of Canadian Tire as we realize with dread that the string of lights in our hand -the last string on the shelf –will not in fact connect to the three strings we already have at home. He will meet us in the overcrowded dining room as the uncle we haven’t seen in twenty years asks embarrassing and inappropriate personal questions over a plate of turkey and dressing. He will meet us amid the stress, the shopping, the crowds and the ornaments and yes, even the blinking lights. He will meet us there, enter into the experience of human flesh, and, if we allow Him, He will transform our Christmas, our flesh, our humanity.

He’s not too good for a stable; He’s not too good for a human body, and He’s not too good for Christmas. All He asks is that we meet Him there.
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Friday, December 7, 2012

A Dr Seuss Christmas

Guest post by Patty Froese

In our house, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is one of our favorite Christmas stories. I grew up watching the animated movie every Christmas, and I still sing "You're a bad one, Mr. Grinch" with rare enthusiasm. So when we bought the Dr. Seuss book, it filled me with warm fuzzies.

Dr. Seuss has a way of bringing out deeper thoughts in his children's tales, and as I read the book to my son for the thousandth time, something struck me anew:

"It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more."
~How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Christmas is a Christian holiday, but it's been taken over by the secular world with ease. Christmas is a glorious, sparkly, light-filled holiday, celebrated with gift-buying and huge feasts. It has become more about marketing and sales power than anything else, but underneath all the glitz and tinsel, there is a truth that can't be avoided. Christmas, whether you're celebrating it as a Christian or as a secular holiday, has a spirit beyond the trappings, beyond the store-bought decor.

Other cultures have festivals of lights. I'm reminded of Divali, an Indian festival that I learned to celebrate with friends in university. Human beings, no matter where they reside or what religion or non-religion they are affiliated with, long for light—pinpricks of hope in darkness.

Where there is light there is hope. Christmas trees, Divali lights, strings of multi-colored bulbs that ring the outside of houses, Chanukah candles... And for those of us who are Christian, we think of the birth of the Light of the World. A tiny, flickering flame that came in the form of a newborn baby, heralded by glowing angels and the light of a mysterious star.

From every culture and nation, we look towards light and we hope for more...

You can take away my ribbons, tinsel and tags, but Christmas is still about the night that God bent low and touched this planet, setting it ablaze with Hope. Is it any wonder that we feast, feast, feast, feast?

Merry Christmas! May your Christmas be filled with light, love and a "rare Who Roast Beast."

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's not that I HATE Christmas...

Guest post by Kristina E. Smith

Everybody should recognize this picture: Ebenezer Scrooge is iconic. Known worldwide as the man who hated Christmas, he made the phrase "bah humbug" famous and every year, millions of people go to theatres around the world to listen to the tale of how he finds redemption in changing his mind about Christmas. Make the statement that you don't "do" Christmas and watch how many people start calling you by his name. I happens to me every year right about this time of year.

Now, for the record, I do not HATE Christmas...not in its true, pure form. What I hate is the commercialism and the expectations of others because someone, somewhere decided that December 25th is the day we are supposed to celebrate the birth of Christ. (Y'all do realize that ain't His real birthday, right? He was born in the springtime, otherwise, why were the shepherds out watching their flocks by night?) And with retailers starting to push Christmas toys and sales and bargains in September, long before Halloween (another "holiday" I don't do) and Thanksgiving, it seems like all year long, all people do is talk about Christmas. Well, I say, BAH HUMBUG!!!

Sad thing is: I used to be such the Christmas holiday person - buying the cards and mailing them, putting up the lights, getting little trinkets all through the year for people because I thought they might enjoy this or that, planning holiday gatherings and marking the calendar for others' gatherings as well, buying and listening to holiday music - it was truly "the most wonderful time of the year"...but about 3 years ago, I'd had enough. Not that I'm into the "tit for tat" of it all, but I was mailing out over 300 cards each year and getting maybe 75 cards in gifts to EVERY secretary I worked with on my floor and it not being reciprocated - and yet hearing comments like, "Ooo, I cannot wait to see what she gives us this year, she always gives such good and thoughtful gifts." REALLY? And the running, running, running was wearing me out! So, I just decided one year I wasn't doing it anymore. I wrote up a little notice that I put in all my holiday cards stating, "next year I ain't doing this." and made up my mind that I wasn't.

Can we talk about the resistance I received? You woulda thought I was crucifying Jesus on the cross all over again all by myself! I was questioned about my Christianity and faith in Jesus - I was called unAmerican - and I was definitely called Scrooge - over and over and over again. But I held firm and now, 3 years later, most of my friends have either joined me in my protest of the day or really really wish they could. This year especially, with the hard economic times and job losses, people tell me that they are finding it harder and harder to have the "Christmas spirit". I would propose it is because we have lost the true focus and meaning of the season.

Samaritan's Purse recipients
So, here is my suggestion if you are not quite ready to give up the lights, cards, presents, and all the other busyness of the holiday: take some time to just reflect on the true reason for the season. Jesus and what He might do in today's trying times. 'bout going to the nursing home and visiting with an older person who may not have any family or friends to visit them? How 'bout inviting a single person or parent over to your house for dinner? How 'bout giving your child one toy and not the entire toy store? Or better yet, have them pick a favorite toy and then take the rest of the stuff they receive (and probably do not need) to a local shelter to bless another child or children who might not receive any toys at all? Participate in a feeding program at a church or other outreach center. Make the holiday about someone else other than yourself. Just a few suggestions. (and I'm talking to myself as I write). We need to step outside our boxes of comfort and touch the lives of others in tangible ways. Why not start this Christmas? Baby steps.

Be blessed. 
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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

But Why? Why Do We Celebrate Christmas?

Guest post by Don Keele Jr.

When was the last time you really thought about why you celebrate Christmas? Oh, we celebrate… buy why do we? In this season where it seems the whole world jumps on board to decorate and sing songs of cheer and give gifts, doesn’t it seem a bit odd that though many can mouth the words, “to celebrate the birth of Christ”, they have no idea what they are really saying?

Doesn’t it strike you as a bit curious that when you ask people on the street what the true meaning of Christmas is they respond: revenue to get the end of the year sales up. Or, a time to celebrate with family and friends. Or, it’s where you get a lot of stuff in one day. And if you were to push that idea and ask why we get lots of stuff in one day, you would get, “because that’s what Christmas is all about.” Yeah, but why?

When was the last time you slowed down to really reflect on the why of Christmas?

There is a one verse in scripture that puts it rather succinctly: For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

There it is. Wrapped up in a single line. For God so loved the world that He gave….

Ponder that. God loved…He gave… Not just a little love… He so loved… One version says: God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son.

God was way before Hallmark…but He cared enough to send the very best!!!

That’s good news in itself. God loved us enough to send the very best. Himself. That would be enough to celebrate right there. God comes to town!

Just His coming would be reason enough to celebrate!  But that’s not the end of the verse.  God had a purpose in coming.  He was on a mission.  He loved…and that prompted action.  He saw His newest planet go awry.  He watched as His youngest creation walked away from Him, following another of His wayward children into outright rebellion.

He cried as he heard the words, “We heard your voice and we were afraid…”

He knew, as every parent of a defiant teen knows, that unless drastic action was taken, this young world would be forever lost.  And so He came…  why?

…that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Ponder that.  I know you’ve heard the words a million times, but slow down a minute and reflect on what that means. Stop your conversation with your neighbor.  Stop trying to impress her.  Stop worrying about lunch. Stop your racing mind.  Just stop. //  And ponder the words that are as familiar as Christmas commercialism.

…that whoever believes in Him, should not perish…  What?  Perish from what?  What do you mean perish?  That’s such an ugly word…perish.  According to the dictionary it means to die, for example, because of harsh conditions or accident.  To come to an end or cease to exist.  Perish.

It is both of these definitions that John was trying to encapsulate with that one word.  Without help, you and I will die because of harsh conditions.  Sin created such harsh conditions, that you and I cannot endure it.  We will perish.  Which means that we will come to an end and cease to exist.  Bottom line…there was no hope of getting out alive.

But God wanted us to live.  In the middle of that cold hard reality, stop.  Stop and listen to what God says. 

God is saying—I LOVE YOU!!!  Ponder that.  I LOVE you.  I love YOU!

Let’s look at that whole verse:  For God (the greatest good) so loved (the greatest action) the world (the greatest need) that He gave (the greatest example) His only Son (the greatest sacrifice) that whoever (the greatest invitation) believes in Him (the greatest response) should not perish (the greatest fate) but have everlasting life (the greatest gift).

That’s the reality of the Christmas season.  To find the Christmas you’ve always longed for, you have to slow down for reflection.  Stop in the middle of the madness and reflect.  Ponder the love behind the greatest gift.  Think about the meaning of God coming down to this little speck in the universe.  Reflect on His invitation to you.  Step out of the rush and do some unhurried contemplation.   Reread the story.  Put yourself there.  Look and see the baby.  Smell the smells.  Hear the sounds.  Feel God’s love surround you.  Slow down for reflection.

And celebrate. Celebrate the Christ in Christmas.
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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent and Christmas inspiration

The links below are posts I've written about Christmas and its season. If you'd like to read them for a devotional at a holiday gathering, you're most welcome to do so. If you intend to re-publish them in any way (print or internet), you may NOT, because they are copyrighted. Social media sharing is permissible if you link to this blogsite.

During December 2012, I'm posting a variety of articles on love at Christmas, written by my friends and colleagues. I pray that you'll not only enjoy the stories, but be blessed and uplifted by them. Bookmark this link so you can return each day. Happy Advent and Christmas to you!

The Hanging of the Greens

An Old-Fashioned Christmas

The Best Part of Waking Up 

Eternal Life and Hannukah

Incarnation: Made Himself Nothing

Unto Us is Given

God With Us. Always. 

Immanuel, Full Circle

Word and Wordlets

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Life sketch in memory of my father

Ken Robinson life sketch
By Christy K. Robinson

Kenneth L. Robinson, 77, died Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, at Christ the King Manor's clinic in DuBois, Pennsylvania, with his wife Susanne and their pastors at his side.

Born Feb. 11, 1935, in a log house on a farm in northern Minnesota, he was the fifth child of the late Leonard Robinson and Lorna Opal Carter Robinson. He was the direct descendant of Rev. John Robinson, pastor to the Mayflower Pilgrims, and many of his ancestors were Revolutionary and Civil War veterans. His father served in World War I. On his mother’s side, he had a 200-year history of ancestors in the Seventh-day Baptist denomination.

Kenneth Robinson was married to his first wife, Judith Anson Robinson, for 38 years until her death in January 1993. They met at the Covenant Church youth group in International Falls, Minnesota, in 1953, were married in 1955, and moved to Phoenix, Arizona in late 1956 for Judith's health. They bought a house in 1958 and lived there for 25 years, enjoying the suburban American dream.

In 1964, Ken and Judith joined the Glendale Adventist church by profession of faith, and enrolled their children, Christy and Brian, in the Christian school there. Ken and Judith were active in the church and school social activities. In 1974, the family joined the Phoenix Central church and stayed there for two decades. After Judith died from severe asthma complications, he moved his church membership to Paradise Valley, near his home. He was very appreciative of the fellowship and the music program at Paradise Valley church, and loved the pastors dearly.

While taking night classes in business at Phoenix College, Ken had worked as a salesman for Pepsico, Montgomery Ward, and a dairy co-op. He was so efficient and effective at Pepsico that the company sent time and motion study experts to track him on his route.

Ken was owner of Robinson Distributing Co. of Phoenix, Ariz., for 40 years. Judith set up the corporation and did the accounting and business details, including the personal and corporate taxes (as did Christy for several years), while Ken and his independent contractors provided dairy and frozen foods deliveries to restaurants, institutions, and small markets from Tonopah to Apache Junction. He trained his son Brian to the business, and they worked together for several years before Brian started up for himself.

In 1984, Judith and Ken put their first home up for rent and bought a larger home in Dreamy Draw, where Judith continued to teach piano lessons and paint award-winning portraits, and, with Christy, managed the business affairs for the home and business.

In the same year that Judith died, 1993, Ken was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and it was treated unsuccessfully for the next 15 years, after which it metastasized. He met Susanne Wilson Prontock at a home Bible study, and married her in October 1993, in the back yard of his home.

In 2006, Ken and Susanne sold the Phoenix home and purchased a condo in her home town of DuBois, Pennsylvania, where they lived for seven months of each year, but wintered for five months back in Phoenix in Susanne’s patio house. In Pennsylvania, they had many friends, and attended the Treasure Lake Interdenominational Church in DuBois, as well as the Laurel Lake Adventist Church. He belonged to a men's prayer group, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Kaiser-Frazer Car Club. He was an avid reader and loved flower gardening, as well as restoration and parade-showing of his 1954 Kaiser Manhattan car.

Ken began writing a historical novel, "Dough Boy," the fictional adventures of his father and uncles as young men in early-twentieth-century Iowa and Minnesota. He enjoyed reading about history, and loved talking with his friends from his youth in Minnesota. Christy tracked down his Covenant Church pastor and set up a telephone reunion for them, a few months before Ken died.

Ken had several surgeries and procedures to place radiation seeds, to remove a colon cancer tumor, to remove melanoma lesions from his face and arms, and other surgeries he refused to discuss. When his bone cancer worsened, he was offered hospice care but Susanne believed it better to keep him in the nursing center. He died there on October 1, 2012.

He is survived by a daughter, Christy Robinson, a son and daughter-in-law, Brian and Stacey Robinson of Phoenix, Ariz.; and three grandchildren, Erica, Jacob, and Rachel Robinson. Brian's son, Jacob Kenneth Robinson, is the father of a year-old boy, making Ken a great-grandfather. 
Ken is also survived by one brother, Donald Robinson, of Spooner, Wisconsin.  He was preceded in death by two sisters, Audrey and Carolyn, and an infant brother Dale. His second wife, Susanne Wilson Robinson, of DuBois, Penn., also survives him.

There was an October 6 memorial service for Ken in DuBois, and cremains burial was in Beechwoods Cemetery in Falls Creek, PA. His children were unable to attend that hastily arranged service for distance and financial reasons, but they held a memorial in Phoenix, where Ken had lived for 56 years, and several hundred friends gathered to honor him.


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