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Light and the Live Nativity

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.

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The first scene was of sheep and their shepherds, who were gathered around a fire, pointing toward the stable.IMG_8710.JPG

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The live nativity reminded me that even tiny lights produce significant reflections.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Rescue (corrected)

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An open letter to survivors of domestic s.e.x trafficking, who are being restored to Light and Life at centers like Wings of Refuge:

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Dear brave Sisters,

I don’t know your names, and you don’t know mine, but that’s ok. I have heard about your courage and the hard work you’re doing in your journey toward healing. Please, don’t quit. Stay on the path even when things get rough.

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Verses in the first chapter of Colossians  (9-14) express some of what I wanted to say. I paraphrased and elaborated:

Since the day I heard about you, I have been praying for you and asking God to fill you up to the brim with understanding of His will for you.

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I pray for wisdom, too, so that you will know how to live your life, how to make good decisions about your future.

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I pray that you will be like a beautiful tree in a garden, bearing fruit and growing stronger and taller each day.

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When the road get rough, I pray the Lord will give you endurance and patience. Then one day you’ll be walking down the path and realize joy is there, walking with you.

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The Lord has rescued you (and me–all of us, really) from the domain of darkness so that now you can live in the kingdom of Light.

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That kingdom belongs to God’s Son (the Son He loves), and we get to be part of it because we have forgiveness in His Son, Jesus.

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The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26   NIV

I pray this blessing for you, one of Light and Love and Peace. Amen.

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My sincere apologies to those of you who received a draft version of today’s post again. I am so embarrassed!

Thanks to Barb Briggs for sharing her photos of crocus and the crown of thorns.

My Nephew

Filtered, morning sun from a single window softly lit the small, rectangular room where upholstered and folding chairs lined three walls.  The members of two extended families, ranging from a toddler to those in their eighties, filled the seats.  All sounds were muffled:  sobs and sniffling, the rip of tissues torn from their cardboard box, subdued conversations in an adjoining room, and the chime of a grandfather clock down the carpeted hallway.

An open casket was centered against the fourth wall.  We had come to see him one last time, to “pay our respects,” to say good-bye.  As the time for the small, family-only burial service neared, everyone left the viewing room and gathered in the main entry area, discussing directions to the cemetery.  I stepped back in and looked at my nephew’s still face a final time.  Oh, Nathan, Nathan, what have you done?

bleeding heart by heather johnson

Our hearts are broken:  every mother, father, brother, and sister heart, each grandparent, every aunt and uncle, each cousin and friend.  We have all fallen with the weight of this loss, and we are scraped and bruised, bleeding raw emotions.

To lose a young man we loved–who was only twenty years old and had such potential and such a gentle soul–is difficult enough,  but in this way . . .

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We are left with nagging questions and regrets:  the should haves and could haves and would anything have?  I can’t imagine the pain and despair and hopelessness that led you to this choice.  I can’t imagine how your mind was painted with the wide, black strokes of depression.  I answer my own question (Nathan, what have you done?):  you became ill.

At the cemetery family members carried the casket from the hearse to the graveside, walking across the green grass sprinkled with sweet clover.  Some sat in chairs, and some stood in the shade of a small, blue awning under the vault of a bright, blue sky.

We commended Nathan to God’s care and final healing.  We listened to the reminder that Nathan’s name meant “gift of God.”  He was.  He is.  We read his favorite scripture and sang his favorite hymn.  Those who wished to share spoke of his life, his character, what he was like as a child, and how we remembered him best.   After a season of dark illness, Nathan now rests in the Light of Jesus.

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If I could have choked out the words at the graveside service, I would have shared this verse.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

If faith falters, and hope slips away, love remains.  Nathan may not have had a life “full of years,”  but his life was full of love–his love for his family and friends and their great love for him.

And over all, covering all, forgiving all, healing all is the boundless love of God.

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Nathan, age 10

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If you are depressed and feeling hopeless, please, please, talk to someone.  I am not a counselor or mental health professional, but I know you need to get help.  Talk to your friends, your family, your pastor.  Find a doctor or a counselor.  You may need to call your local mental health center and schedule an emergency appointment.

If you know someone who is despairing, reach out.  You may need to direct them to professional help.  Offer to go with them to an appointment.  If you have serious concerns,  you may call the police who can go to the person’s residence to do a welfare check.

If someone you love has taken their own life,  you may experience a range of emotions: from anger to sorrow.  You may benefit from support groups and counseling .

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.   Galatians 6:2   NIV

. . . weep with those who weep.   Romans 12:15   RSV

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More information:

When suicide strikes in the body of Christ  — Please continue reading to the end of this article for links to suicide hotlines, prevention and awareness sites, and grief support for survivors.

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bleeding heart photo by Heather Johnson of truelifewithgod.com

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  linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

  linking with Holley Gerth

Essential Fridays Linkup  linking with Essential Thing Devotions

Searching for the Light

The sun had burned off the morning haze and ushered in a beautifully-bright June day.  The warm breeze was gentle, and the deep blue sky was spotted with puffy, cumulus clouds.

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On days like this it’s easy to understand Jesus’ proclamation:

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

The sunshine surrounds me and illuminates everything.  It is  the engine of photosynthesis that provides food for man and animal.  Sunlight heals.  It banishes the deep shadows.

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Sometimes the light is muted, weak.  High humidity at dawn can drape the morning with a heavy haze,

but the sun is still there.

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Sometimes sunshine is hidden, obscured.  Storms swirl and veil the sun.  The word “hide” means “conceal from sight,”  not destroy or eradicate.

The sun is still there.

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When the rainstorm scrubs the world clean, and the light is shrouded in the final wisps of clouds and is captured in rain-washed reflections,

the sunshine is still there.

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Sometimes when the sun has slipped below the horizon, the only light is what is reflected in sunset clouds.

But the light is still there.

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Is your life today as warm and cheerful as a bright summer’s day?  Soak in the rays and rejoice!

Are there troubles on the horizon, making it hard to see how the future will unfold?  Let the light of God guide you.

Are the storms of life–illness and injury, financial setbacks, broken relationships–clouding your days?  Have faith that the radiant glow of the Lord’s compassion shines behind the thunderhead.

Are you facing the loss of a loved one in the dark grief of sunset?  The blazing love of Jesus is a light that will comfort you as you mourn.

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Jesus is the Light you need every day, every kind of day, in every circumstance.  Look to Him.

Seek the Light.

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deuteronomy 4:29   NIV

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Diane W. Bailey  linking with Diane Bailey

Essential Fridays Linkup

 

 

 

 

linking with Essential Thing Devotions

 

 

 

 

 

linking with Holley Gerth

 

 

A Walk in the Dark

Diamond sprinkles of stars sparkled overhead in between the masses of unseen trees. ID-10029928 The lane to the campfire in the clearing ahead was clothed in  warm, black velvet of a late summer night. We had never been to this park, to this site before and had no idea of the terrain between the parking spot and the campfire area.  We switched on our flashlights and hoped the batteries would last, as we pointed one at our feet where the next step would be placed, hoping to avoid holes and outcroppings of rocks. We pointed the other beam just ahead to see if the pathway climbed or turned to skirt unknown brambles, and we continued walking with increasing confidence as our eyes adjusted to the dark.

Our journey through life is like that, as if we’re walking in the dark.

So much of the path ahead is unknown. (It is God’s grace that we don’t have to know all of tomorrow’s sorrows.)

There are potholes to fall into,

rocks to trip over,

mud to suck off your boots,

and prickly branches that can grab and pull you aside.

But there is also great beauty:

constellations spinning overhead,

crunch of leaves underfoot,

and fresh incense of pine needles quietly crushed

sweet smoke tickling your nose,

wafted by the warm caress of a breeze.

We’re given enough light to make the journey a step at a time–to avoid some of the pitfalls and to see some of the glory around us.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.  NIV Psalm 119:105

 God’s words in Scripture and the God himself are our lamp and our light.

For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, Proverbs 6:23 NIV

You, Lord, are my lamp 2 Samuel 22:29 NIV

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, . . .  John 1:1,4,5 NIV

 

It takes faith to step into the dark, to put one foot in front of the other when you can’t see more than a few feet ahead;

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  Hebrews 11:1 NIV

faith that the lamp won’t go out and that there will be enough light for the next step;

faith that, even if the way ahead seems blocked, that a way will open;

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faith that detours are for a good reason, because God sees what we cannot.

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photo by Barb Briggs

The garden path in this photo leads, eventually, to the house of a lovely, Christian woman whose sweet spirit and faithfulness I admire.  I would walk up these steps into the darkness  because I trust who she is and her care for my well-being.

We trust in the one who lights our footsteps, the one who doesn’t want us to stumble over rocks or become mired in mud, the one who has seen the end of the journey.  We all, each day step into darkness, but it’s all right because we trust the one who takes the journey with us.

. . . you’ve got my feet on the life path,
all radiant from the shining of your face.
Ever since you took my hand,
I’m on the right way. Psalm 16:11 The Message

night sky photo by freedigitalphotos.net

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