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It’s possible that doing something for a second year in a row constitutes a tradition. If so, this collection of advent thoughts might possibly be a tradition. It’s the second set of daily Christmas thoughts shared on Twitter (and Facebook) to celebrate the year’s advent season. [I enjoyed sharing advent thoughts for the 2014 Christmas season, and decided to do it again in 2015!]

Advent is the season we spend celebrating the coming of the Son of God to this earth at Christmas. It usually lasts from the first day of December till Christmas Day. For me sharing a short, condensed thought each day during this season is a way to focus my thoughts on Christ, connect with loved ones, and prepare my heart for Christmas–mostly by seeing how the truths of Christmas connect to my life. This year, I was greatly blessed by those who responded to my thoughts and shared with me their own thoughts on God’s amazing gift to us.

Here is the collection of my own thoughts from this past Christmas, thoughts that connect to life as a whole, not just “Christmas.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You know w/all your heart&soul that not one of all the good promises…God gave you has failed” ~Josh23.14b(niv) #adventthoughts (Dec01)

In the time of Judges, God used farmers, tiny armies, simple tools to deliver His people–is a baby that surprising? #adventthoughts (Dec02)

Is My hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? ~God Isaiah 50.2b #adventthoughts (Dec02)

“Were you born in a barn?!”–Things Jesus’ mother could never say to him (even if she’d used American idioms) #adventthoughts (Dec03)

Bethlehem, City of David the king who demonstrated that God has the heart of a shepherd #adventthoughts (Dec04)

Generosity finds NO VACANCY in minds filled by obligations & needs. We give out of hearts that know there is enough. #adventthoughts (Dec05)

The gift tag reads, “I see you and know you, all you’ve done, all you’ll do. This highly-valuable gift is for you.” #adventthoughts (Dec06) . . . You know, how you see yourself really determines how you read the tag, doesn’t it?

When Eternity steps into time, every moment of history–past, present, future–changes forever. Even mine and yours. #adventthoughts (Dec07)

Travel–a Christmas tradition: Magi from afar, shepherds from fields, Mary&Joseph from Galilee, Son of God from Heaven #adventthoughts (Dec08)

Because God loves His Son, He has given Him everything. Because God loves us, He has given us His Son. #adventthoughts (Dec09)

“Expect the unexpected”–sound Christmas advice since the days of Caesar Augustus. #adventthoughts (Dec10)

A gift can only be truly received when it is valued. #adventthoughts (Dec12)

Our value of the giver affects our value of the gift. #adventthoughts (Dec13)

Christmas reminds us we are valued beyond our performance; treasured for ourselves, not our abilities. #adventthoughts (Dec14)

One small gift is enough for the whole world. #adventthoughts (Dec15)

The real gift is the heart of the giver, not the stuff. #adventthoughts (Dec16)

The best gifts are always bigger on the inside than on the outside. #adventthoughts (Dec17)

The good news of Jesus Christ–if we’ve experienced it for a long time–can become old news. ~Pastor Dana Chau #adventthoughts (Dec18)

The good news of Jesus Christ is like the Christmas tree that stays green&fresh amid even the snow&darkness of winter. #adventthoughts (Dec19)

We are Jesus’ gift to the Father. Those who long for children of their own understand the preciousness of this gift. #adventthoughts (Dec20)

When Jesus arrives, it really is “the beginning of the holidays” and of all things good and true and warm and lovely. #adventthoughts (Dec21)

At the 1st Christmas Wise men traveled to the Prince of Peace. Wise men today take Him with them wherever they go. #adventthoughts (Dec22)

Poverty, sickness, broken or tense relationships, losses & helplessness (of all kinds) make a Christmas heart elusive. #adventthoughts (Dec23)

The griefs & the sicknesses, the poor, captive, or broken places–Christ was born for this. Christ was born for this! #adventthoughts (Dec24)

“Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!” ~Father Christmas (in Lewis’s Narnia) #adventthoughts (Dec25)

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” ~Julian of Norwich #adventthoughts (Dec27)

“Never forget that the most powerful force on earth is love.”
~Nelson Rockefeller

I have come back to that quote many times in my life. It’s hopeful. And it’s something that I need to be reminded of.

But today is Good Friday, and even though its name refers to the amazing victory love won on the cross–the greatest good in the world–I cannot escape the fact that today we are celebrating the Day that Love Didn’t Work.

Now, at face value, perhaps, that claim sounds unnecessary and even melodramatic. After all, we know the end of the story. Love wins, right? How can you say that love “didn’t work” when it obviously did?

Because on Good Friday it isn’t obvious.

On Good Friday Love Doesn’t Work.

Love, if it is the most powerful force in the world, is supposed to work. It’s supposed to win. To make the world a better place. To right wrongs, to restore what’s been lost, to bring warmth and light. To bring safety. To draw together. To triumph. To work. To be successful. To come out on top.

But for those of us who choose love over hate, over lust, over violence, over demanding and demeaning, over fear–for anyone who chooses love, Good Friday inevitably comes. A day when love falls short, fails, loses, and leaves you standing holding the bag and paying the price.

A woman’s husband cheats on her. She finds out, he confesses all, she forgives and takes him back. Loves. He cheats again. Love didn’t change a thing.

A brother, a sister, a friend reveals–through words or actions that cut us to the core–how very little we matter to him (or her) when push comes to shove. Of what value is the love that we had poured into that relationship?

Here’s the story that is filling my mind today:
Corrie ten Boom survived grueling years in Nazi prison camps and emerged with a deep desire to help others experience the power of God’s love that had sustained her through some of the worst mankind has ever thrown at its fellowmen. She began to travel and speak of the power of God’s love and forgiveness and to watch other Holocaust survivors slowly recover from the horrors they had experienced. One evening after she spoke a man came up to talk to her. His face was radiant with joy, but she recognized him. He was one of the guards at one of the prison camps. Seeing him brought back memories and intense feelings of shame pouring back into her. Not just memories, but vivid, all-but-relived experiences of standing in line, stripped and exposed before a posse of male guards. He had been one of them. And here he was holding out his hand to shake hers. Here he was with joyful tears in his eyes exclaiming how wonderful God’s forgiveness is. Here he was wanting to shake her hand. And here she was feeling again all of the shame and humiliation and degradation. She couldn’t shake his hand.*

Here is where Good Friday puts us: holding the bag for all of the hurt and injustice and shame and degradation of what has been done to us in return for our love.

I can put myself in Corrie’s shoes so easily. If I shake his hand, if I forgive, I am no longer holding him responsible for this debt. I am no longer holding it against him. He is getting off scott free [I always wonder about the original scott that got away free like that. Where in the world did that expression come from?]. And yes, maybe I don’t want to see him in a concentration camp. Maybe I don’t want to see him ruined, but what about this pain and this shame that I am left holding because of what he did to me? Where do I go to get justice for this terrible injustice?

This is what Good Friday is all about. Yes, it’s about God’s amazing love for us and about the price He paid to have our sins forgiven. But we can only truly begin to understand that love when we stand at our own Good Friday holding the bag for all the things that have been done to us, things that can never be undone. When we stand at our own place where love did not work and are asked yet again to choose love. And when we find that we don’t have enough love to cover this pain. This is where Good Friday finds us.

See, we tend to think of how hard it is to forgive our enemies, but the truth of the matter is that forgiveness is hardest when we have been wronged by someone in whom we see great good. We struggle and struggle to reconcile what was done to us with what we know and love about the person who has done it. How could he do ______ when he promised _______? How could she _______ when I know that she truly did love me? Or how could someone who did _______ ever do anything good again?

We look at the cross from our vantage point of wretchedness and marvel that God could love “a wretch like me.” We see that we have nothing inherently lovable by which to commend ourselves to God. Just sinners saved by grace.

We fail to see that God’s vantage point provides a very different view. We are beings created in His image. We are worth loving because He made us and because He is worth loving. And when God sees our sin, He sees His very image doing things that should never be done. He sees all of the good that He planted within us, all the good that He knows we can be. Good that cannot be reconciled with the evil that we have chosen. We began in the Garden of Eden as His friends; and we turned away from Him, rejected Him. We did something completely inconsistent with that un-eradicable image of God that each of us bears. The image of God turned against God Himself.

Here is where we truly begin to see God’s love: when we stand in our own pain, feeling that love has failed. When we stand in the enormity of the injustice we are left holding . . . and realize that God is standing with us.

Because the cross was the ultimate moment of love’s failure.

Mankind’s failure to love as it has been loved.
Love’s failure to draw mankind back to itself through eons of goodness poured out in sun and rain and harvest blessing.
Love’s failure to keep even His own people faithful, to keep them from straying to other gods like unfaithful spouses to extramarital affairs.
Love’s failure to win the hearts of His people by coming to them in person and letting them see Him in all His beautiful and vulnerable goodness.

The cross is the place where the greatest risk fell flat and the greatest injustice was done when the greatest lover of all time was put to death in proof that love is not more powerful than greed, that love is not more powerful than lust, that love is not more powerful than fear, that love is not more powerful than any other motive you can put in that blank.

The love that conquers all was conquered on the cross.

I know. There’s something in us that doesn’t want to stay here and take a good look. There’s something in us that wants to protest that love really did conquer all, that the defeat of the cross was actually a triumph, that Jesus endured the cross because He knew how it was going to end.

All of which is true.

But we know the end of our story as well. We know love wins. Yet standing at the cross it’s impossible to feel that ending.

And that is ok. Because God did not skip to the end. He stood for 3 hours (who knows how eternal those hours felt to someone not bound by time!) and grieved with grief so deep that it darkened the sky. And perhaps the most healing thing that we can do when we come to the place where our love has been wasted or trashed or killed is to stop and look. To take a good look at the cross and at the Father standing there holding the bag for all the injustices that have ever been done.

This is what we are celebrating when we celebrate Good Friday.
This is the Day that Love Didn’t Work
This is the Day that God died

This.

This is love.

———————————————————————————————————————————————–
*for those who want to read the end to Miss ten Boom’s story, it’s found at the end of her amazing book The Hiding Place

Longing to heal the ugliness in others,
I find my only weapon may be
My own acceptance of my acceptance
In the beloved.
Help me, Father, to express my trust
In You and in Your reconstructive
Work around me by embracing
Your delight in me.
jmc 4/11/12


(C. S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Lucy’s gift from Father Christmas)

for AJB 🙂

When I was growing up, “I love you” meant “I like you”–only on a deeper and safer level. When my mother told me she loved me, it never occurred to me to wonder if she liked me on that particular day. It was all part and parcel of the same thing.

Growing up means learning that not everyone views things the way you do. Like learning that for some people the statement “I love that person but I don’t have to like him” is more than merely a theoretical statement. And that whether or not they like you can change from day to day and moment to moment.

This alternate perspective has taught me that loving and liking are not the same thing and has also brought many questions to ponder. Questions such as these:

~ Can we truly love someone without at some point discovering that we have come to like them, too? Is it really love if it holds the other at at disgusted distance?
~ If someone really truly likes you, will that liking change based on what you do on a given day?
~ Does God like us? or does He just love us?

I have to thank Steve Hong from Kingdom Rice for introducing me to this Mr. Rogers song during a message he gave at my parents’ church. I never watched Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood as a child, though I had seen a snippet here and there to make me familiar with the show and its host. (In fact, I sometimes laughingly told people that the show had made me throw up once. In actuality, it was the flu I had at the time that did the trick. It just happened to coincide with my aunt turning on PBS and Mr. Rogers to entertain the sick girl and her baby brother.) Like Steve Hong, it has only been in my adult years that I have become impressed by Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers has helped me to answer some of those questions in his song “It’s You I Like.”

 

In this song, sung to Tonight Show host Joan Rivers, Mr. Rogers conveys the essence of the way God must look at us. And the way that Joan Rivers reacts to him makes us laugh but also reveals how genuine his message is. The more I look at the interactions of Jesus with other people, the more I watch their reactions to Him, the more convinced I am that God really likes us. Look at Zacchaeus: Jesus went right up to the person that no one else in the town liked at all and invited Himself over to eat with the man! The whole town was shocked at Jesus’ act of friendliness towards this unlikeable man (and for good reason, too, as Zacchaeus himself alluded to after dinner with Jesus). (Luke 19:1-10)

God likes us. He doesn’t just love us out of duty [“I’m God and and I guess that since I’m love and all then I’d better provide for these nasty people I love. But they’d better not come near me!”]. He really likes us. God made us in His image. Each of us uniquely reflects Him in a way that no one else ever will. No one else can be you; you have something to say to the world about your Creator, and no one else can say it as eloquently as you say it just by being yourself. He enjoys the unique person you are. He’s glad you’re in the world. If you could see His face when you enter a room, you’d see it lighting up as you come in. God really likes you.

 

So. I’ve come to these conclusions:

First, loving and liking are two different things, but they belong together. Liking can grow into loving; loving can’t be complete without liking.

Second, Jesus likes me, this I know, for the Bible SHOWS me so.

Three, if I tell you I love you, it means that I very much like you, too. And it means that I will to do my best to demonstrate that to you–even though I will never do it perfectly, I will not stop trying.

Finally, liking you means liking the real you, not just the superficial things such as clothes and hair and charm and wit and friendliness. It’s not how well you play the saxophone or the how well you perform in school. It’s not your carrying my bags or giving me hugs. I may enjoy all of those things; I may communicate that enjoyment to you. All of those are an expression of you, but they aren’t you. It’s YOU I like. You make my world a better place just by being in it. You.

Even on your worst days.

 

Love (III)
by George Herbert


Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

poem is in the public domain
text taken from poets.org (http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/love-iii)
and (http://www.poetryoutloud.org/poem/173632)

 

and Ralph Vaughn-Williams set it to music! a bit operatic, but if you like Vaughn-Williams . . .

 

Broken wounded hearts
Stars seemingly numberless
He knows all their names

jmc 1-30-2011

October 28, 2011
for D.
i
Someone said the test of love
Is making the hard decisions–
Choosing, for another’s sake,
Those necessary actions;
Taking the right path
Though it be
Strewn with rocks,
Watered with tears, and
Fraught with exhaustion or worse.
Love chooses what is best
For the beloved,
What must be chosen,
Shouldered, borne, done,
In spite of what might be
Preferred,
Regardless of what had been
Previously hoped.
ii
Sometimes Love means letting go–
Opening wide the door and
Allowing the loved one to
Walk out
Into a new adventure,
A new phase of the story being told:
Love writes the ending of the last
Chapter (knowing there are some
Parts that will be missed as they are
Packed away to make room for the new)
And turns the page to the next beginning,
Not letting nostalgia rob the future
Of its joy, but not insisting
On walking the next miles of the journey,
Knowing it is time,
Promising to still be waiting
With an open door.
iii
Sometimes Love means letting go–
Throwing open the cage and
Letting the bird go free,
Removing jesses, tethers,
Putting away the scissors that kept
The freedom-loving wings clipped,
Accepting the snappings of the
Wild spirit
And not hindering
The soul from seeking its own,
Perhaps its angry or foolish, way.
Love does not quibble about
What is fair or proper or usual,
But opens its coffers to give the
Requested inheritance,
Opens its arms to release the son,
And watches his form fade into
The distance
Perhaps never to return.
iv
Sometimes Love means holding on–
Standing firm on embattled ground
Till hand forgets how to let go the spear,
Till the fight has been won or
Every last ounce of strength has been
Exhausted in the attempt.
Love refuses to recant what is
True and just and right;
Love refuses to accept in its place
The darkness of deceit,
Fighting on for what is best,
Not easiest.
v
Sometimes Love means holding on–
Refusing to give in,
Refusing to throw away all hope.
Love chooses to remember,
To affirm
All that is noble and worthy and true
In the beloved,
Even when the beloved has forgotten
The meaning of those words.
vi
This love–it is not blind:
It asks of us that we not forget but forgive,
Canceling the unpaid debts,
Knowing they may never be recognized,
May never be paid,
Yet trusting in the One Who pays all debts.
And this love–it is not easy:
yes, this love is hard.
Because it does not feel as love
Should feel, we think–
All warm and soft and comfortable–
We look at it askance,
Wonder at times if we chose rightly.
One thing we can know for certain:
Choosing to make the hard choices
For the sake of the beloved
Proves love’s quality.
vii
Because sometimes Love means both
The letting go and the hanging on.
It asks of us that we open our hand
(That we not hinder)
But requires of us, strictly,
To harbor that unlikely songbird
Hope
In our heart of hearts
To sing in the darkness.
viii
Yes, sometimes Love means both
The letting go and the hanging on.
And that is why Love is . . .
A father scanning the horizon
Day after day
Waiting for his son’s return,
For that speck in the distance
To take on his child’s familiar gait
And then for those beloved features
To come into clearer focus as the
Wanderer returns.
That’s why Love is . . .
The only-begotten Son, the Promised King
Accepting the rejection of His people,
Dying the death
Of a vile criminal at their request
To secure a greater deliverance
Than they could dream for themselves,
Losing His hold over them in order to
Hold onto them forever.

May 2009

Make me human, Lord.
Gentle and soft to the touch,
Quick to find joy in the
Everyday and the commonplace.

Make me human, Lord.
Teach me how to be hurt
So I may heal and forgive
Those hurting humans around me.

Make me human, Lord.
Let those who see me see You
In your humanity—
Weak yet strong,
Humble and wise,
Patient and kind.

You made Yourself human,
Imperviousness taking on vulnerability,
Infinity becoming visible, palpable.
Then You came to live in me.
Make me human, Lord.
Let me so dwell in You
Who lives in me
That I know I’m safe,
Safe to be me,
Safe to be real.
Human.

This last portion of the poem deals with the one word that seems to be impossible–hope. Because that is the message of the Resurrection. Hope. Hope for new life that springs from the inside and changes us for eternity. Hope because the One who knew no sin became sin for us so that WE MAY BE MADE THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN HIM. That’s hope. And not the wishful-thinking kind. It’s the hang-your-hat-on kind. The lay-your-every-waking-moment-on-the-line kind of hope. Expectation.

I’m standing at the tomb
His tomb
My tomb
Your tomb
Dare I hope to see an angel
Announcing over empty grave-clothes
The Impossible has happened?
Where does my heart,
My death-wounded heart go
to find Your Resurrection?
Like Martha, I believe
You are Who You Are—
God, the Son of God,
The Resurrection and the Life.
Can this belief become
the spice I bring to mourn the dead?
Here is where we dwell:
We dwell with Death—
death of loved-ones, hopes, and dreams
Should I really be
Surprised that You should die?
It’s not ok
But I’m used
To it, to death
There’s always one more tomb.

But Yours is empty
Empty, hollow, vacant—
Incomprehensibly absent
Is the corpse I came to find.
“Because I live, ye shall live also”
Was Your promise,
A promise just as impossible,
Just as improbable—
Teach me to believe!
For now, just help me trust
In You, the One I’ve come to know.
I know You’ll read my message
When I send to You saying,
“Lord, the one You love is sick, is dead.”
You’ll come, e’en though he’s dead,
Because You love him, too.
I’m waiting for the glory of God
Promised by You,
Incomprehensibly impossible.
Hoping, waiting, believing
That You defeated Death.

Jesus, I need
Your arms and blessing
Enfolding and securing me
So I can remember
What it is
To be a little child

God reminded me of a piece by Elisabeth Elliot in The Music of His Promises and it was what I needed to remember in my busy day . . .

God can make room for it all–
Responsibilities, concerns, tasks–
I had forgotten to ask.

Don’t give it to me if it’s not mine to keep.
Don’t offer what isn’t my due.
Those terms and conditions that nobody reads?
Not “Nobody” reads them–I do!
If terms and conditions attach to your gift,
Show them to me, and I’ll sign,
So I won’t be surprised when it’s taken away–
I’ll remember it never was mine.

Don’t give it to me if it’s not mine to keep.
Don’t offer what you plan to use.
Or give me some signal to hold in reserve
Those things you don’t want me to choose.
I took what you said at face value and then
Discovered too late what you meant.
I sometimes forget that you’re still merely human–
No matter how kind the intent.

Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be. ~ Langston Hughes

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