the Ultimate Oxymoron

“So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered”.Lk.2:6 

I look at this verse and I wonder, how many days were they in Bethlehem before the birth came. Why couldn’t they have found family or something else.

Ahhhhh, the lesson of pure humility stares back at me when I consider a birth within an animal’s fold.

A couple of years ago, well, more like 4 yrs ago, I wrote a page from the animal’s point of view of that night. So I wander back there to take a second look…

“Haut-haut! Come on, haut-haut…ummph” grunted Joseph as he gave the oxen one last shove. Slowly the team moved forward again towards the entrance. Joseph and Mary had been led to this cave a couple of days ago. Every morning it was the same, Joseph had to wrestle with his stubborn partners to reclaim the extra space for his family.

“Joseph, be gentle with your encouragement. They were here first…” Mary said. She knew it was very close, she hadn’t slept most of the night. “…today, surely he would come today” she thought.

“Well, I’d like to encourage them all the way to the altar Mary.” Joseph was clearly frustrated and why wouldn’t he be? He knew in his heart Mary was only hours away, maybe a day at the most from going into labor. She wasn’t breathing the same, she couldn’t lie still but for a moment or two. “Father, I feel like I’ve failed You…” A simple man of trade, he felt so inept in all of this.

And so Joseph plunked himself down next to Mary. He tried to help her settle, had gotten fresh rushes and straw. He managed to prepare some food and now- “what next?”

As Joseph ate, he stared off towards the entrance of the manger. “What are you looking at?” he called out to the ox. He made an effort to get up but Mary’s hand stayed him. The ox was anything but a dumb beast as Joseph was thinking. Broad and heavy of form, and able to pull great loads of weight. Joseph took a good look at the ox, noticing its eyes. Almost a trace of sweetness in the one good eye it had. “…looks like that bad eye has been your savior there ol’ boy, no altar call for you”.

And if the ox could have spoken?

Would the ox have said to Joseph, “because of that child, no more altar calls for any of us”. Ironic, that the Savior of the world lay in the midst of those who were so often chosen as sacrificial animals? And as perfect as they were judged to be, sheer perfection was missing. Over and over again the altars ran red with their blood. Time and time again the priests said the atoning words, blessed the animal and then offered it to the Most High God.

In just a few short hours, perhaps a day, this would be the beginning of the end for many of that kind. For those who would come to realize that what God had said had been fulfilled in this child – “for it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin…”.

Lord there is no substitute of perfection except Jesus. Because of Him we sing “Glory to God in the highest”, for there’s peace finally in the gift You sent-

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Into Bethlehem’s fold

“Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered”. LK.2:4-6NKJV

            Joseph and Mary were outside Bethlehem, the many days on the road over. God, may His Name be ever praised, had seen to their needs and the travel had been uneventful. Joseph looked at his wife, “oh dear,… you do look rather uncomfortable…”

          “Joseph?” she called. “Why haven’t we seen your family yet?”

“I don’t know Mary.” he answered. He was a little concerned, if only he could bump into one of them, they could share space, but no luck.

“Of course the city is going to be awfully crowded with everyone coming in to be registered. First things first, we have to find someplace where we can stay. Then we’ll probably run into someone we know when we go get registered. We can always pack up and move again”.

“Joseph, the only thing moving around here is this child. If we find someplace we’re staying put. Oh how I wish the child would settle, my back hurts, my feet hurt…” “… and my head hurts from all this thinking” thought Joseph, “a place, Lord? Please…somewhere for Your Son”

           And so Joseph made his way off to the side of the roadway. A blanket and two poles later, Joseph helped Mary to be seated under the shade by the cart.

“You do look so tired Mary. Here, you take some food and rest. I’ll go on ahead and see what can be found close to here.”

“Joseph, I don’t think I’m going to be able to get backup”, she argued.

“Well good, then you’ll just have to rest then won’t you. Look, I’m going over there to that family and see if they would watch over here- just a minute…” And Joseph went over to the other side of the road where he had seen an older man and woman with two others. Obviously pilgrims like them, he thought, they would surely afford Mary a little more security.

Next thing Mary knew she looked up to see a little group of people headed towards her. “oh Lord, now what has Joseph done?”

           “Mary, these folks are going to stay with you, while I find us a place, and…” But before he could finish his words the woman knelt down and placed her hand on Mary’s shoulder.

“Oh dear, dear… any time now isn’t it? Tell me about your…” she asked.

           “You’re free to go now son, my Hanna will be all about your wife. But look, finding someplace is going to be extremely difficult. Why do you think we’re camped here on the roadside?” the man offered.

“I know,” replied Joseph, “but surely HE, whose name should not be spoken, He will provide.”

“Well, if you’re on such intimate terms with HIM, have Him find us someplace too…”

With the mountains all around Bethlehem, a caravan could be easy to spot. Find a group of animals, and you’ve probably found a place of resting. Certainly this would be no Holiday Inn by any means, but it did afford some security. Within these walls the caravans could stop from their travels, find rest, use a common well and even see to a little commerce.

God would provide, and He most certainly did. We look upon Christ’s birth in such a place as being so unkind for the Savior of the world. In reality it made perfect sense. And such places were actually preferred, for what they offered.

Within the cave, they would be sheltered. The animals in the front room of the chamber would lend their heat to their guests in the back. Such caves were called mangers. And in this manger there was no rain, and no prying eyes or sideways glances from strangers when the labor of Mary would begin.

To Joseph and Mary, what God had provided for them was more than enough. It just incredible to think that as God became flesh and dwelt amongst us, that such a place would be the throne room of the King.

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A hard time to say good-bye

It came as a shock to many of us, a good man suddenly gone. His funeral was last Saturday. There are no easy words for anyone or their family when a loved one ceases this life and moves on into the next. There are too many left behind, and joy is nowhere to be found. To happen now, well it’s a hard time to say goodbye-

A hard time to say goodbye, as if when this happens it ever is.

What did God feel when He looked down from heaven upon that tiny boy in a manger? Did He let a tear fall realizing why He had sent His Son? Did a tear fall to match the cry of this newborn child who was only drawing his first few breaths? Did Mary’s joy fall from her eyes as she held Jesus close to her heart? Had Joseph cried in relief for a safe delivery?

Tears, the silent expression of joy, and sorrow – polar opposites and oh so common to all of us on this ol world. Oo the grief that is borne out of so great a love, it is a magnificent tribute and a miserable existence for those left behind. And this is where we fail at all the so-called proper things to say or do, but we have to try.

I remember standing next to a young woman at the graveside of her child. She turned and asked, “Now what do we do?” It’s just as vivid to me as on the day it happened, it was a hard time to say good-bye, and a tear falls as I write this. This year many of my closest friends have gone through multiple good-byes in their families. It’s tough enough for one passing, but Lord bless them they have travelled that road 2 to 3 times. So hard, so very, very hard.

My only consolation would be that all of these loved ones have been received into the kingdom of God. And to my friends left behind, yes- let the tears fall, you know that weeping will last only for the night, but joy comes in the morning. it’s okay if that morning doesn’t dawn for quite some for you. You are not alone, You’re in good company with the Lord, He knows it’s a hard time to say goodbye-

We pray for those who’s heart is torn with grief, for severed lives and lost loves. We lift them up to You Father and ask for You to embrace them in Your loving kindness. Use us as instruments of Your peace, even if it’s only to sit with them and share in their sorrow. One day You will wipe all the tears from our eyes, and the tears we shed will be of joy, but not today, we pray for those who now hurt so terribly- bring grace, bring peace we pray- amen.

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O, what kids will say!

December 19th

“Well I’ve got joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart; down in my heart- oh down in my heart. Well I’ve got joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Down in my heart today!” A very happy little Sunday school song we would as kids sing. Usually at the top of our lungs, and all trying to outdo each other as to the decibel level. Well the Bible does say. “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord”, so we were just following biblical encouragement. One of the other verses says “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart”… try singing that with a couple of front teeth gone. A whole lotta holy spittin going on, let me tell you.

So are you smiling” Are you kindof chuckling to yourself in reading this. I hope so, because we all need a little laughter in our days. And maybe today is the day you need a good little chuckle. A friend sent me some things the other day and there was one which really got me laughing.

A little boy is at his gramma’s house, and the time for the evening meal came around. The plates were passed, and the food was all ready and the little boy dove right in and started eating. His parents were much surprised at his behavior. Calmly his father reminded him “We always pray before we eat son, you know that?” To which the little boy replied, “I know but we’re at gramma’s house and she can cook!” Out of the mouths of babes’ right?

I’m sure though that God smiles on us, and shakes His head at many of the things His children say or do. He’s got to have a sense of humor doesn’t He? When I read in the Bible the story of how Jesus went to a wedding feast, or how he went to Zacchaeus’ home one day, what took place? Let’s see, unless someone starts a family argument, dinners and feasts are good times. We laugh, we sing, we dance.

Now why on earth don’t we picture Jesus in this manner? There’s an artist who has drawn a picture of Jesus, and his head is thrown back in laughter. Another artist shows Jesus with children and he looks like he’s actually tickling one.

The third week in Advent is typically all about joy. Christmas is but now a little more than a week away. In the Advent wreath, this candle may be a different color, kind of a reminder that we’re almost there! For children as we draw near to Christmas their anticipation builds, they get just a little bit crazy while they wait. We get a little bit crazy too, but it’s because we tend to stress ourselves out during this part of the season.

Maybe this week we could all have a little more joy down in our hearts. We know that we’ve all got a lot to do, and maybe the hours fly by way too fast. Could we just start small in practicing joy?

Whatever it takes- do what’s necessary to bring that little crinkle of a smile to your face today. Perhaps we need to join the kids in Sunday school and sing at the tops of our lungs?

 The hours are few and fleeting, we have so much to do, help us Lord to be at peace and to find our joy in You. Make us laugh, make us smile if it’s only for a moment. We were given tidings of a great joy which was to be for all people. Great joy Lord, and for us- we should be smiling now, and if we can’t, let us receive the embrace of You within our spirit. In Jesus’ name Amen.

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from the net, a post script on joy

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The definition of Joy

December 18th

“a :  the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires :  delight[1]

Or maybe this is your definition of joy: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”[2]

Depending on how your day is going, your definition of joy may be one of the above. Personally, I love Kay Warren’s definition of joy. It is a statement about joy as seen from an overall biblical perspective.

Joy is mentioned as the part of the fruit of the Spirit.[3] Here, joy comes from within, a result of your relationship with Christ. It is part of us just as is love, peace, self-control, kindness, gentleness, patience, or faithfulness. Joy is part of our character now that we belong to and in Christ.

Joy is asked of us when life becomes difficult, we are told to “consider it all joy when you fall into various trials,”.[4] Joy is an action we take, but it can only be taken if we have come to see joy as defined by Mrs. Warren.

Have you settled in your mind that God is in control of all the details of your life? Do you have this quiet confidence in the ultimate resolution, as yet unseen by you? Can you accept it when the  “everything is going to be alright” doesn’t mean that it will be as you would have it? Have you chosen to praise God in every situation?

These are some very tough questions to consider. True joy is more than just a happy and exuberant response. The joy of the Lord is definitely a cultivated aspect of our lives. Most often it is cultivated when on the outside there seems nothing to be joyful about. Confidence and assurance are like that, we gain it by experience. The lessons we carry are added to our faith, and thus begins the realization that in the midst of a turbulent, we have that quiet confidence to carry us through. We’ve seen God work, we have felt His presence before, He is our joy in our journey.

Lord we ask that You would begin growing joy in us. If that growth comes through the unjoyful, enable us to lean into You and learn that which You want us to understand. Let joy become more than just a response, but the way of life that You desire~ in Your name we pray-amen.

[1] merriam-webster.com

[2] From “Choose Joy Because Happiness isn’t Enough” Kay Warren

[3] Gal. 5:22-23

[4] Jms. 1:2

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The 3rd Sunday in Advent- what Joy!

December 17th

“Light another candle, say a little prayer, for Christmas will soon be here-, Turn your thoughts from buying toys, to the angels song of joy, for Christmas will soon be here.” These are just some words from a Christmas song I wrote back in my high school days. I don’t write much music these days, but the song hasn’t left my heart. It’s one of the things that brings me joy.

I often hum to myself as I drive to work in the mornings, sometimes the words I have yet to write down tumble out of my mouth. Let me tell you some of the best stuff comes when you’re least prepared to jot it down. But the song still lives in the heart.

What song are you going to sing today? We are about a little more than a week away from Christmas Day proper, are you ready to sing the Hallelujah chorus or ” I just got run over by a reindeer”?

Maybe it’s a good thing we light another candle today. Way too easy to get anxious or “worry-full” as the holiday progresses. We need more light, we need more lightness to our steps sometimes don’t we? Instead of being a bad imitation of Ebenezer Scrooge, we need that time of laughter and joy. We need to turn our Bah Humbugs into small smiles of contentment. Tall order? Yes for some, no for others-. But let me share just one little thing that may just help replace the scowl with a little happier countenance-

Just for today- do something for yourself- JOY- seems a little self centered but “Just Only You”. Too often we try to be so many things to so many people that we don’t take care of ourselves. Then we get all cranky and anxious and stressed out trying to be perfect for all and it just ain’t gonna happen. So just for today – do something for yourself, and mend your spirit. If it were me, I’d be headed for the kitchen and my cookie scoop-

Lord too many times we are self-centered but today is not that day. I pray for all those who are the perfectionists in the world, the ones who are the people pleasers extraordinaire- Help them Lord to take a break today and be calm and restful in You. Jesus set the example by going out by Himself to pray and have time with You, may we follow His example. Just for today Lord, just for today we pray Amen.

 

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