the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
Matthew 4:16 NIV
I clasped my grandson’s gloved hand, and together we navigated the dark entryway of our church building and pushed open the heavy main door. Normally the main entrance is well lit inside and out, and a greeter opens the heavy door as people enter, but on this night the door was untended.
The sun had set two hours ago, and heavy rain deepened the darkness outside. We left the brightly lit, warm, and safe fellowship hall to walk around the church parking lot and view the stations of our annual live nativity. Cardboard covered the fellowship hall windows, and the lights of the main entrance were switched off so that visitors weren’t distracted by the activity inside or stray lights when doors open and shut.
We stood on the wet sidewalk, waiting for our eyes to adjust to the darkness and watched the “traffic shepherd” instruct the visitors to dim or douse their car lights and steer their vehicles through the parking lot on a path laid out by rope lights and candles in emptied grape juice bottles.
The first scene was of sheep and their shepherds, who were gathered around a fire, pointing toward the stable.
When no cars were coming, we crossed the tiny stream of lights and splashed through the rivulets of rain to stand near the shepherds. One sheep bleated an alto baaa and a sheep from the as-yet unseen manger scene responded with a bass baaa.
We hurried across the parking lot, back toward the main station of the live nativity, but we had to wait near pine trees while cars parked, paused, and pondered the manger scene. Parking lights from the cars reflected in the rain-splashed blacktop of the parking lot.
We waited for a lull in traffic near an evergreen and were showered by coat-soaking raindrops falling from the tree, until we could safely walk in front of the manger.
We paused briefly at the nativity scene–the rain was still falling–but long enough to smell wet wool, hear the donkey pull on his tether, and see the baby resting in a feed trough.
A baby who was born one inky night to be the light of us all.
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. John 8:12 NIV
I led my grandson back into the chatter and bright lights and steaming soup of the fellowship hall. I wonder what will he remember years from now? What part of the Nativity story will resonate with his five-year-old heart?
I went outside again later with my camera tucked under my coat because the live nativity, for me this year, was about light:
Light that comes into darkness, the darkness of our hearts, souls, and minds,
Light that creates beautiful reflections when shining on the seemingly insignificant events in history (and their modern-day recreations), events such as a baby being born, gifts being offered, and the baaing of shepherds’ flocks. The sheep calling to sheep was really deep calling to deep, another kind of reflection.
The live nativity reminded me that even tiny lights produce significant reflections.
We always invite the viewers of the live nativity to park their cars and come inside, to have a bowl of soup, or to wear a costume and be a part of the nativity recreation.
We invite them to come in from the dark and cold, to come in to the light and fellowship, but few do. (Eyes accustomed to darkness should find it easy to enter the church building.) I hope you have seen the light shining through cracks in opened doors this Christmas season. I hope you have seen God’s light reflecting into a dark world. I hope you have left the “dark and stormy night” to bask in the light.
He is calling you . . . and me. Let’s come in from the inky, dripping night, leave our sodden shoes at the door, and celebrate the light this Christmas. Let’s go inside where it’s bright and warm and savor a bowl of hot soup.
that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9
My prayer for us all this Christmas day:
May we recognize Jesus as the Light of the World.
May we let His light illuminate our everyday lives.
May we reflect that light in a dark world.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2 NIV
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all the good photos are by Barb Briggs
Will they like it? Will it be enough? I wished I had more to give, and I held my breath, as I watched my family open gifts. Unforseen circumstances had eaten into the Christmas budget that year. We had a Charlie Brown type tree and had given a very few, hand-made presents that year. Would my family know how much I loved them?
Have you felt that way, too, that your gifts to your family, much less to God, were inadequate? Do you think you have next to nothing to give to God? No skills in singing or playing an instrument, no ability to speak in front of a crowd, no advanced education or intellectual talent, no fortune. We exchange gifts at Christmas, remembering the gifts given to the Christ child, but do you share the sentiments of the fictional drummer boy in the Christmas carol, “Little Drummer Boy?”
I have no gift to bring . . .
That’s fit to give the King . . .
But perhaps we all have something to give, after all, something that’s more important that we realize. Let me tell you about a gift that doesn’t have to be wrapped, won’t put a dent in your budget, and will certainly be remembered.
My church was blessed with a lovely woman named Wilma, who extended hugs and kisses to all during a time of greeting before worship service began. No one questioned the motivation of her “holy kisses,” one of the benefits of being a great-grandmother. When walking around the church foyer became difficult, she “held court” on a bench near the door to the fellowship hall, and we bent down to receive our hugs and kisses.
I miss Wilma. As her obituary noted, “she went home to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” at the age of ninety-five three years ago. Her son told me that she hugged and kissed everyone and always told them she loved them.
We all felt loved by Wilma and through her affection gained an inkling of how God must feel about us.
Some time ago, I took a photo of a plaque on a park bench in Glasgow. It said simply, “Express Love Clearly”. . . I was struck by how un-Scottish the sentiment seemed to be – the Scots are a reserved people, generally speaking. And I felt strongly that this is the most important thing: to express love clearly.
Wilma expressed her love clearly.
Another woman, eighty-three-year-old Elizabeth, is known as the “Hug Lady” of Ft. Hood (an Army base in Texas). She hugged every soldier as they left the base.
She is the last person they see before they are deployed to the battlefield, and hers are the first arms that embrace them when they return. Laird is there to hug each one of them, unfailingly, every single time.
Elizabeth is now on the receiving end of many hugs. She is battling breast cancer, and many of the soldiers she embraced have visited her in the hospital.
There is another example of someone generous with hugs and kisses: our Heavenly Father. In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus described how the father was filled with compassion and how he demonstrated it.
And he [the son] arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 NIV
I understand expressions of physical affection may make some people uncomfortable (giving or receiving) and may not be suitable for all people. Shaking hands or a giving a pat on the shoulder might be more appropriate. Our pastor, acknowledging this reality, ends his messages on Sunday morning with “If you’re a hugger, hug. If you’re a shaker, shake.”
I grew up with the kind of reserve that Christine described as being typical of the Scottish. (Yes, there are many Scots in my family tree.)
But I’m sensing God working on my heart to be a little more like the Heavenly Father in the parable, and I’m thinking about the gift of affection that Wilma and Elizabeth so freely gave. With these wonderful examples, my reserved Scottish heart is learning to express love more clearly. So maybe I’ll “wrap” up some Xs and Os as Christmas presents this year. That’s a gift I think God will be pleased with, too.
* * * * *
photo of park bench and tulips by Barb Briggs
photo of park bench in snow by Rachel Nieuwsma
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows— light! sunbursts of light! Isaiah 9:2 MSG
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 NIV
Merry Christmas from our family to yours!
Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool. Isaiah 1:18 NIV
During the sermon last Sunday our pastor shared part of his family’s Christmas letter.
It was a different kind of letter, not chock full of their kids’ accomplishments, but full of their hearts’ desires. This Christmas season they were struck by how much we need a Savior and acknowledged their failings. They included these two scriptures about Jesus, instead of the usual story from the second chapter of Luke:
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21 NIV
Jesus is the Greek form of the name we’re familiar with from the Old Testament, “Joshua,” and it means
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 1 Timothy 1:15 NIV
In his family Christmas letter our pastor wrote:
I am still selfish; I’d like to be better at sharing.
I still regret my lack of patience when parenting.
My children have come to me for mercy and found a mad man instead.
He came to save me from my sins.
The pastor’s wife added:
While in the privacy of my home, I yell at my kids and my husband.
I struggle to find contentment.
I struggle with self sacrifice for those who are truly in need.
He came to save me from my sins.
From the older children came these words:
Instead of responding to inquiries with openness and compassion, I respond with anger and then point out mistakes.
I could show more patience and caring to those that challenge me by speaking only words that are true, necessary, and kind.
I often treat others and myself poorly. I put too much value on money, and I love worldly possessions.
I worry. I always have to have something to worry about, which prevents me from truly enjoying the many blessings God has given me.
He came to save me from my sins.
The cross is often lost in the shadow of the Christmas tree. The gift given at Christmas, boxed in a manger and tied with a bow of swaddling clothes is the present I least expected, but needed most.
Jesus came to be born as a tiny baby and to die on the cross to save me from my sins: my impatience, my indifference, and my ingratitude. My sins–more than mistakes, greater that mere errors, offenses of a self-centered heart–that are guilty blood drops on white, winter ground. I need a Savior.
He came to save me from my sins.
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Psalm 51:7
linked with Jennifer Lee Dukes
When I saw the golden glow of light spilling in through the east windows of the house, I suspected the sunrise might be special. Still in my pajamas and bathrobe, I threw on an extra pair of heavy socks and old slippers (with a split in the sole) and crossed the creaking boards of the front porch until I could see the southeastern sky.
Yes! The colors were gorgeous, so I hurried back in the house, hung the camera around my neck, and poked my arms into the sleeves of a winter coat and my feet into my son’s several-sizes-too-big chore boots. Early morning colors change so rapidly; time and sunrise wait for no woman.
If you drove past my house just before sunrise a few days ago and were startled to see a wild-haired woman, shuffling through the snow, bathrobe flapping under a down coat, I apologize for my appearance.
My predawn dash was motivated by excitement, anticipation, and awe–I didn’t want to miss any of this sunrise, so I didn’t wait to get cleaned up and dressed.
Neither did the shepherds in the Christmas story. They didn’t stop to make themselves “presentable.” They hurried.
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. Luke 2 :15-17 MSG
Don’t wait until you’re “presentable” before you hurry to Jesus.
Run with your broken sole/soul,
and unwashed heart.
Run to the manger to see what God has revealed.
But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Luke 2:10-12 NIV
God has invited you to a Christmas party, and it’s “come as you are.” Hurry. You don’t want to miss a thing.
Photos #4 and #6 by Barb Briggs
linked with Jennifer Dukes Lee
linked with Emily Wierenga
Christmas is a season of shining lights, glittery ornaments, and glowing candles. We celebrate Jesus’ coming as the light of the world, but it can be a dark season, a time of tears for some whose hearts are still tender from a recent loss. Even if we’re not feeling the “Christmas joy,” God is right there with us. Today I’m sharing a story about loss and comfort written by Brockie, one of the women in my prayer group.
Ever have those moments that come from nowhere. You know, those moments of grief and loss that are overwhelming, and you couldn’t have seen them coming from a hundred miles away? I had one of those today in the coffee shop. Frank Sinatra music was playing, and I found myself lost in my dad’s voice, singing with his quartet . . .
“and then I go and say something stupid like I love you.”
I sat with my three-year-old daughter by my side, wishing Dad was here to hear her sing “Away in a Manger” a hundred times this season. I kept thinking how much he would love to watch my high-school-aged daughter make that left handed lay up that looks so smooth in her basketball games.
How proud Dad would be of the older boys and their academic accomplishments, as well as the wonderful young men they have become (all the while wearing the great socks that he would give them at Christmas time). So if this is your first Christmas without a loved one or your 50th, I pray you will find the words of Isaiah, repeated by Matthew to be comforting:
The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’). Matthew 1:23 NIV
May you find God’s presence near to you in the middle of your grief and sorrow, and may you know you are not alone. Blessings!
Photos by Barb Briggs