Preparing the way?

This weekend we began the observance of Advent. The Coming. I heard a lot of teaching and songs about getting ready, preparing ourselves. My mind wanders back to a cold December night in Oswego, NY. I scrape frost from the window and watch snow falling in the street light. A white Christmas must make it better, at least that what the songs says–dreaming of it. And sleighs can’t be jingling their bells that make everyone happy unless there is snow to slide on. But when I drop the curtain and return to wrapping gifts, I wonder what I can do. How do I prepare enough to make Christmas right? To keep us all safe?

We are one-less this Christmas, though his name is never spoken. Mac’s stocking is missing when we unpack the ornaments and decorations. My three-year-old brother, who drowned last summer, loved everyone. He always sang “Jesus Loves Me” while he played. He begged us to sit in the front pew in church so he could greet Jesus (and sing with gusto, though his hymnal was upside down and he was one syllable behind the choir). What did Mac do wrong?

In my ten-year-old mind, if we please God, then good things happen to us. So if bad things happen, we must be doing something wrong.

What did I do wrong?

And what can I do this Christmas to get the baby back in the manger?

It has taken many decades to purge my thoughts of the lies about being able to do it all right, and make it all right.

But it is easy to slide back into polish-yourself-up-and-get-presentable thinking.

When you hear, “Prepare the way,” do you go there, too, either by decorating beautifully, or baking up a storm, trying to create the magic that we wish is Christmas? Or buying the best gifts ever? Singing fantastic Christmas music, or decorating the church, or taking food to the poor? By being nice when you want to curse or helping someone you might usually ignore? Maybe you even read the Bible more or go to church when you don’t feel like it?

We have a million different ways to try to pave our way to the manger.

Or perhaps you shy from the light, feeling you don’t deserve to go in there, where candles flicker, and “Come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” drifts out the open door?

Maybe you are the one closest to the truth.

We don’t deserve to creep up the manger.

We don’t deserve a Redeemer.

We don’t deserve Abundant Life.

It’s all a gift.

Once again, I go to my favorite prophet, Isaiah, who calls to us from the very distant past.

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought GOD’s saving power would look like this? Isaiah 53: 1 MSG

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am GOD, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you…That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you. “So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.
Isaiah 43 2-5 MSG

Reassured, I flip forward, spanning centuries, and land on the book written by the youngest follower of Jesus, John. He called himself the one Jesus loved.

How loved he must have felt to write that!

Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light…whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.
John 1:3-4,9,12 MSG

Tonight, I’ll our Advent candle in peace, knowing I can’t, and don’t have to make myself, my home, my family, my writing — anything perfect for Christmas. I can give up trying to make everything right (again).

I don’t need to try to be the savior.

He came as an infant over 2,000 years ago, and made the way for us that we could never reach on our own.

That’s why those angels were singing!

I think I’ll hum along.

For the Hurting, Fresh Air

Pain arrives on our doorstep, pain we cannot control, no matter how hard we wish, try, or work. I’ve heard from many in the last couple of weeks who are hurting, some from physical ailments or limitations, some from the sickness or deterioration of a loved one, some from unloving and selfish acts on the part of someone close, or who should be close. Some from their own weaknesses or errors. The good news is, there is hope. There is one who loves us, who knows what it is to be betrayed, hurt, in pain and anguish, even to death.

bird in morning light by Jack H Thompson, Jr

Keep your eyes open for God, watch for his works;

be alert for signs of his presence. 

Remember the world of wonders he has made,

photo by Jack H Thompson, Jr

God spread a cloud to keep them cool through the day

and a fire to light their way through the night;

He opened the rock and water poured out;

it flowed like a river through that desertPsalm 105: 5,40-41 MSG

waterfall in Africa by T.L. Bollier

Would you believe that thousands of years ago a prophet predicted what God would do for us in times like these?

Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.

But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole.Through his bruises we get healed.

We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.

We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.

And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him. 

Is 53:1a-2-6 MSG 

sheep near Otavalo, Ecuador by Jack H Thompson, Jr
sheep in Ecuador

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!   

God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

I Peter 3-5 MSG

Cross on dunes on Pensacola Beach
Pensacola Beach
flower in Maui by Jack H Thompson, Jr
flower in Maui

water birds in Isabella, Galapagos by Jack H Thompson, Jr

birds in Isabella, Galapagos Islands

God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening.

Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, But their silence fills the earth:unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.

God makes a huge dome for the sun—a superdome!

The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed, The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape.

That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset,

Melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith.

The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together.

Ps 19:1-9 MSG

sunrise in the Abacos, Bahamas, by Jack H Thompson, Jr
Sunrise in the Abacos, Bahamas
Morning light, Santiago, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, by Jack H Thompson, Jr
Morning light, Santiago
sunrise by Jack H Thompson, Jr
sunrise
Sunset in Bartholomew, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador by Jack H Thompson, Jr
Sunset in Bartholomew, Galapagos
View of snow-topped volcano from Quito, Ecuador by Jack H Thompson, JR
View of snow-topped volcano from Quito, Ecuador
blossom in the dew by Jack H Thompson, Jr
blossom in the dew

Have you felt your life being pulled together?