Gaudete

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Expectation.

Preparation.

Hope.

Rejoice.

In one week the stockings come down and the presents unwrapped. A brief moment of cheer set against the bleak backdrop of encroaching winter. The days get shorter, the nights, colder. Twinkle lights and fires glow, pushing back the dark.

It doesn’t really matter that nobody knows exactly when Jesus was born, or that He probably did not pierce a winter’s night sky with His first cry. Celebrating Christmas near the time of the solstice makes sense. Nature itself provides the observant with a handy display, a physical manifestation of the weariness that we have all felt at one point or another. Bare tree limbs poke at the drab sky. First snowfalls have long turned to mush or melted away entirely, leaving a sickly-colored earth behind. Animals, when they stir at all, move slowly, as if gravity has become stronger.

What better time to stop and remind ourselves of the wonder that is the Incarnation?

I have often wondered what it must have been like for Jesus to fit Himself into a tiny baby body. He never stopped being God. He never forgot what it was like to be limitless and glorified. How odd it must have been for Him, to find His voice, the one that said, “Let there be light!,” reduced to the helpless squalling of an infant. How odd it must have been for Him, the first time He felt the pangs of hunger. I wonder if He ever looked at His mother and felt just a little sad, because He knows what it is to love the way mothers do and He knew her heart would be broken. I wonder if He ever experienced frustration over His lack of limb control or hated to have His diaper changed.

It doesn’t make sense, does it, that He would do this for us?

Yet He did.

He who heard the sound of angels now heard the snarfling of a donkey. He who breathed in holy incense now smelled the sweat and blood of a young woman. He who felt the weight of majestic robes now felt His earthly father’s beard brush against tender skin. He who rightly rules over all found Himself hidden away in a cave-barn.

I wonder if the angels stared at Him for a good long while before breaking into their song. I wonder if they were truly baffled at what He had done. I wonder if the animals in that cave understood that they were in the presence of the One who had made them. I wonder how the Father felt. I’m sure Satan laughed at the absurdity of it all.

The Incarnation will never be fully understood by us, this side of Eternity. Any question we might have answered will only lead to more questions. This is something that we accept on faith. God became man without sacrificing His Godness. This just is. We have to relinquish control and embrace the mystery.

Gaudete, my friend. Rejoice. Your King has drawn near.

Signature

Photo Credit: Walter Chavez
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Merry Christmas

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

The snow falls gently, pushed here and there in the slight breeze. The street is quiet. The tree continues in its long, silent vigil.

In my heart, anticipation builds.

Advent winds down. The day is coming. Our minds draw back to that night so long ago, when the cries of a newborn pierced the air. The Word, whose voice called all of creation into being. Whose hands hold the atoms in place. He set aside His rightful glory, His awesome majesty, to save His people from their sins.

To save us from our sins.

I wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope that you allow yourself time and space in order to reflect on the amazing mystery of the Incarnation. I pray that you are blessed with a renewed sense of His lovingkindness and intimate presence. May you be surrounded by loved ones. May your days be filled with joy and peace.

My journey to faith. (15)

Joy in the Simple

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Benny the obese PomChi breathes deeply next to me, lost in whatever dreamland dogs enter in sleep. Blue the wiener dog slumbers as well, in the recliner across the room, curled up in what we call the “crabby ball.” Potato soup simmers in the slow cooker, ready to take its place at dinnertime; a nice hot meal on a cold, gray day. Neatly wrapped presents (full disclosure: my husband handled those) nestle next to colorful gift bags topped with delicate tissue paper (my work) beneath the tree. Clear twinkle lights cast warm light, reflecting off of the white glitter snowflakes my parents purchased for their first Christmas tree. I tried having a decorative theme at one point, but its all lost in a jumble of homemade ornaments, obnoxious nutcrackers that Chris collects specifically because they creep me out and, of course, Batman.

Because who wouldn’t want Batman on the tree?

In my denomination, this third week of Advent focuses on joy. We tend to hyper-spiritualize that word. Joy is somehow “better” than happy, because joy transcends circumstance. Happy is an emotion. Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit.

Except that the word is defined as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.”

God cares about our happiness. He wants us to experience a feeling of great pleasure. This matters so much to Him that His Holy Spirit actually works to develop this quality, this feeling, inside us. No, He doesn’t give us what we want all the time. As they say, He is not a vending machine. Nor does He function as some fearful, boundary-less parent who has given His children free reign. Instead, He gives us new eyes. He shifts our perspective. We begin to see blessing in each day. We begin to feel joy even in the darkest moments.

It’s not automatic. The indwelling of the Spirit does not render us robots. We have choices. We can reject the beauty and the light. We can decide that we’re just going to be cranky and hate everything and nothing will ever be good again and it all sucks so why even try? I do that more than I like to admit.

But God will not be denied. As we have choices, so does He. We may choose to close our eyes to Him and throw a fit, but He’s still there. He does not leave us. He stands ready to show us something wonderful in every moment. Willing to hold us close. More than capable of whispering precious things into our souls, things that keep us buoyed throughout the tempest.

Chances are very good that an upper gastrointestinal scope is in my near future. I woke up with a slightly sore throat that has worsened throughout the day. It’s difficult not to give in to pessimism and despair.

My eyes linger on the lights. My ears are soothed by the rhythm of canine breathing. My nose is tantalized by the scents coming from the kitchen.

My body is still falling apart.

So it will be this side of Heaven.

But in this moment, I choose the joy. I choose to see what He sees. I am thankful for the warmth of my small, cozy home. I take pleasure in the Christmas tree. I wiggle my toes inside the heavy socks and lined slippers. I’m always cold these days, so I’m glad for the fuzzy blanket and the puffy vest. I appreciate disgusting herbal cough drops.

All very simple.

All very good.

My journey to faith. (15)

I Should, I Must

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Strike the match. A scent, the barest whiff, of burning wood. Lay flame to wick. Spark, flicker. The darkness illuminated.

The candle of hope. Now the candle of peace.

I sit and watch the little lights shining, my mind filled with “shoulds.” If anxiety was a country then overwhelmed would be it’s president and should would be the law. Should go out and walk. (Even if it is raining. But I don’t really mind that). Should deep clean the refrigerator. Should go through all the papers in the filing cabinet. Should find a good deal on and install (by myself, of course) new flooring for the whole house.

I lost sleep last night, thinking of all the “shoulds.”

The Martha voice won’t win today. I’m tired of her. Tired of her unending demands. Yes, there’s always work to be done. And that’s kind of the point: There’s always work to be done. There’s always a chore or a project. While ignoring them is no good, neither is letting them master me.

And all too often, they do. Call it a personality mark or a sin issue, but whatever it is moves me to slip easily into workaholism, growing more and more fearful the harder I push and the more I take on. The mountains grow. The piles get bigger. No matter what I accomplish, no matter what I check off of the list, it’s never enough.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

– Augustus M. Toplady, Rock of Ages

Today I rebel – against myself. Against my natural tendencies. Against the worry and the woe, against the struggle and the strife. As soon as this publishes I will grab my iced coffee (yes, even in December because hot drinks are gross 98% of the time) and my Bible. I choose to tell Martha to shut her mouth and chill.

For it is peace I crave, the peace that is found only in the presence of the Lord. Sometimes I find that in the middle of the work, but today I turn away from the “should” and latch on to the “must.” I must curl up at His feet. I must remember that He judges me not on the carpet stains left by the previous owners that I can never get out no matter what cleaning agent or method I try. He doesn’t care about that stubborn spot on one of the shelves in the back of the fridge that remains despite my best scrubbing efforts. He doesn’t shake his finger at me if all the DVDs don’t get cataloged all at once.

He sees me through the overlay of Christ, in whom my life is hidden. Purchased at great cost. He sees me in a way that I can never manage to see myself. He takes my hand and, in the quietness and authority that characterizes the voice of His Spirit, says, “Come sit with me, little one.”

In that is peace.

My journey to faith. (15)