Friday, December 23, 2016

Advent is Upon Us: Not the 'Inn Crowd'

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi
Ok, I admit it.  The title is a very, very bad pun.

And this is not so much as an Advent musing as a reaction to what's happening during this particular Advent season.

I was never, ever part of the 'In Crowd' growing up.  Something the folks in the 'In Crowd' would emphasize at times, lest I forget.

It's funny, because, you know, that was years and years ago and I thought it was all behind me.

But the news that is so prevalent has stirred it all up again.  Because the same thing is happening on a national level.  I'm not going to get political, but I do have to say this...what I'm seeing and hearing is very very very similar to so much that I experienced in my youth as one of the not-cool-people.

It actually has taken me a couple of weeks to realize that's the echo that's being generated by the current events.  'You're not cool and we aren't going to play with you....'

But, it being the season that it is and all,  I am processing this through the story of a little family from the backwoods...can anything good come out of Nazareth?...who could not find any room amongst caring people.  Not even in a moment of extreme need.  Was it because they were from out of town?  Was it because they were from the wrong neighborhood?  Was it because the rumors of Mary's out-of-wedlock pregnancy had preceded them?  Were they dressed differently, or did they talk funny, or not know the local customs? Or was it just because the folks around them were too pre-occupied with their own busy-ness that no one made it a point to help?  Indifference, rather than outright rejection?

He certainly understands what it feels like to be overlooked, rejected and excluded.  Born in a barn, raised in a small town away from any influential connections,  misjudged and misunderstood...oh, yes, He understands.  But the people who were like Him, the shepherds, the fishermen, even the prostitutes and tax collectors,  all outside of the In Crowd as well, those people were glad of Him.  He didn't even try, really, to win over the In people.  He let them hold their opinions and focused on the folks who followed Him.

The lesson I'm getting from this almost subliminally is that, you know, it doesn't always matter what the 'In Crowd' says and does; my part is to follow Jesus and let Him handle it.

And I need to let every little echo that hammers on that surprisingly still slightly tender nerve to remind me of that.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Advent is Upon Us: Home for Christmas

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

(Micah 5:2, Luke 2:4 - 5, NIV 84)

We have spent our entire married life 3 states away from our parents and most siblings;  generally speaking, December was a time of pilgrimage back to the home state of Indiana.  At first, it was just My Sweet Babboo and me, but over the years we added more kids...and the trip.  We've had issues with cars, issues with weather, issues with illness but somehow have managed to make it there and back safely...if a little travel worn...year after year.  We've even added the son-in-law a couple of times.

But schedules...and vacation availability...don't always cooperate.  This is one of those years in which we are not going to make the trip.  Christmas on Sunday is a tough schedule to work around.  And,  I have to admit, not having to deal with luggage, or worry about weather, sicknesses, car reliability, etc has been something of a relief.

But I miss the family.  I miss the traditional Christmas Eve service in the 100+ year old church in Elkhart.  I miss the sights and sounds and amazing smells that always accompany Christmas.  And, despite hating to drive in scary winter weather, I miss lake effect snow on Christmas.

But today, as I was listening to Straight No Chaser's version of 'I'll be Home for Christmas' play through our stereo, it suddenly struck me that Mary and Joseph didn't spend that first Christmas with family, either.

We have the impression that Mary was in the throes of labor when they got to Bethlehem, but the scripture doesn't say 'They arrived in Bethlehem,  and that night....' it just states 'While they were there....'.  I don't know how long the census taking process took; it may be that they had been there as much as a week or two or even longer.  They may have even thought they would have time to make the journey, spend a couple of days registering, and then make it home before the baby came....and then one day turned into another frustrating day turned into another frustrating day...and then it was suddenly Time.

There's a level of stress all its own when things go wrong on a trip.  There's nothing like sitting in a stalled out car waiting and waiting and waiting for AAA to send a tow truck...when you've got four hungry kids in the back.  Or postponing the trip home for a day...or two...because people are throwing up.  I have a feeling that, from the moment Mary and Joseph entered Bethlehem, nothing went according to plan. They were having to improvise just to have shelter.

At least, it didn't go according to THEIR plan.  God's plan was obviously in place and running right on schedule.

So this brings up my Advent pondering...God has a plan, and that plan will always make a way.  Even if it doesn't appear to be convenient,  comfortable or the way I'd like.

Even in years when 'Home for Christmas' means miles away from Christmas as It Used To Be.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Advent is Upon Us: Resurrection is Coming

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

Another in the series of Advent Ramblings...

In the denominational church we were in for years and years, there was one section of the hymnal that we sang out of exclusively, starting the Sunday after Thanksgiving through the last service before Christmas, whenever that would be.  You know the section, if you're in a church that uses a hymnal.  The Advent and Christmas- themed entries.  The choir would have been rehearsing the Christmas cantata music since early in September.

But in our non-denominational, contemporary-worship-style church, where the musicians play by the Nashville numbers instead of from music staves,   it is rare that we sing traditional Christmas music at all before the last Sunday before Christmas.

Our choir set this past week was right in that pattern; it was not Christmas music.  In fact,  two out of the three songs (and maybe the third one as well; I can't remember for sure) were songs we've used in an Easter set.  I chuckled to one of my co-choir members as we left the  platform after the worship set second service, 'Only at The Rock would we be singing Easter music during Advent!'

I thought I was making a little joke, but that began to echo in my spirit and I suddenly realized it DOES make at least some sense to sing Easter music at Christmas.  Because, as one of my favorite Christmas songs remind us, Jesus, our Savior, was born for to die....

The first song in Sunday's set is soaring, both lyrically and vocally, and is appropriately titled 'Glorious' - 

My God You reign
Forever and ever
How great Your name
Your love remains
Forever and ever
You stay the same

He IS THE SAME.  The same God who took on human flesh and lived among us loves us as much now as he did when He stepped out of heaven and into the limits of physical life with the intention of restoring relationship with us.  The same Jesus who didn't reject any person who came to him but did exhort him/her to leave a sinful lifestyle...whether it was sexual sin or the sins of greed and lack of faith...receives folks just the same.  It doesn't matter who you are or what you've done, just that you're willing to leave what is wrong and follow Him.

But that brings up another's easy for us to get all awe-struck over a baby born in a barn, with angels and heavenly wonders announcing His birth.  He hasn't asked us to do anything hard yet.  But He's the same.  You can't truly embrace infant Jesus if you can't embrace what adult Jesus said...'One thing you lack. Go and sell all you have (or 'go and sin no more')...and follow me'.  What is the one thing (or maybe more than one) that He would say to me, 'That's holding you back from following me fully'....?

The second song in the set, 'Your Love Awakens Me', reminds us that because He is alive, we live.    It leans a little more into the theme of resurrection.. 

Hear the song awaken
All creation singing
We're alive
Cause You're alive
But the closer of the set is full on Easter morning:
The Anthem [Lyrics]
 by Jonathan Hunt, Henry Seeley, and Liz Webber

By His stripes we are healed
By His nail pierced hands we're free
By His blood we're washed clean
Now we have the victory

The pow'r of sin is broken
Jesus overcame it all
He has won our freedom
Jesus has won it all

Hallelujah You have won the victory
Hallelujah You have won it all for me
'Cause death could not hold You down
You are the risen King
Seated in majesty
You are the risen King

Our God is risen
He is alive
He won the victory
He reigns on high

 It's good to remember the why of the manger while we're focusing on preparing to celebrate His birth.  Because...without the 'why', we've really no reason to celebrate.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Advent is Upon Us: Let Your Light Shine

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

Sigh.  Wrong watermark.  Ohwell...

At choir practice last night, our worship pastor made the statement that 'This year has gone by faster than any year has ever gone by!'   I kinda think I agree with him.  I'm shifting all kinds of paradigms now to try and get my spirit, my subconscious, my house and my gift giving preparations all caught up to the fact that it is December 2, the first Friday in Advent.

The antique aluminum tree was the first actual decor of the season that went up at our house.  I've had it for about 6 came from a hoarder's stash... but didn't put it up until last year.  I was waiting on the completion of the sunroom rebuild.  My grandmother had a tree that was the dead spit of this one when I was a kid...and there's just something about it that makes me smile.  My Sweet Babboo will put an American Flyer setup under it and our nostalgia corner will be complete.

Now, I've been mulling what to do for this suddenly arrived Advent season.  I've done a couple of studies in years past, and I still enjoy reading them.  I had an idea for a study this morning, but realized I didn't have enough time to put it together like I really wanted to.  Maybe that's next year's plan.

So, this's going to be a little more, um, inspired. And what has inspired my thinking for today is my rather pitiful little aluminum Christmas Tree.

The passage that got my attention today is Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV 84):

You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they  may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

The Advent season, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, is the darkest season of the year. The days are getting colder and shorter.  In the US, we have had an election that has exposed the deep rift in the beliefs and priorities of the populace.  Anger has surfaced and has sometimes turned violent. The media, in pursuit of notoriety, sensationalism and the accompanying advertising income, has proven itself untrustworthy to proclaim the truth.  Reason and common sense seem to have taken an extended vacation.  It is dark in these parts...very dark.

But what does Jesus tell us? To be light.  No,wait; that's not quite right.  He doesn't tell us to be light, He says we ARE light.    Set on a hill.  Or, like my shiny tree in the sunroom windows, on display.

But here's the kicker, and this is why the aluminum tree inspired this train of thought...look at that photo.  The tree is lighting up the room, not because it is light, but because it is reflecting light.

And the reason it is reflecting light is because it is appropriately located near the source.  And I realized that letting my light shine is not so much about doing as it is about being.

Am I positioned near enough to the Source of All Light that I am reflecting that light out into the darkness around me so that folks will know the Source?