Worry Warriors

Did you know that over 40 million people a year struggle with some type of anxiety disorder? From Generalized Anxiety Disorder to PTSD, there are many types of anxiety disorders, and it is the most common mental illness. And for the most part, it is highly treatable.

While most of us probably don’t fit in to an Anxiety Disorder category, it can be said of all of us that we worry. And some of us worry too much. Worrying is both a symptom and a catalyst for anxiety, and can absolutely overwhelm you to the point of paralysis. When we worry, our joy is stolen, our peace is non-existent, and our well-being suffers, along with those around us.

The root cause of much of our anxious worrying is fear. When we are afraid of something, we turn that fear into negative thoughts and run through multiple scenarios of what could go wrong. And there are so many things that we fear!

Rejection

Failure

Abandonment

Exposure

Being manipulated

Losing someone or something precious

Losing control

Accidents

Not getting things finished

Being hurt in a realationship

And on, and on, and on.


Did you know that God does not give us fear? Nope. Fear is not from God. We manage that all on our own.

2 Timothy 17 (Modern English Version)

For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and self-control.

I think a clue for how to battle worry is found in what God DOES give us. Instead of fear, he gives us power. His power is available to us to help us in our problem-solving. Instead of fear, he gives us love, the strongest emotion a human can give or receive. There is strength for the battle in love. And perhaps most importantly, he gives us self-control, so that when worrying begins to overtake us, we can clang shut that nonsense and focus on things that are going right and the many places we have been blessed.

Power, love, and self-control. Next time you find yourself starting to worry, remember that you have these weapons in your battle bag. You are a worry warrior.

Fear Not, for God is With You. Photo by Michelle Robertson

Still Waters

You’ve probably noticed that for the most part, I default to The Message when selecting a Bible translation for my devotionals. I read several translations before I select one, looking for the one that is the most readable and easiest to understand. That often brings me to The Message. Eugene Peterson spent years with his ear pressed to the dialect of today as he transcribed the ancient words of yesterday. It always seems to speak directly into a situation. I was sad when I learned of his passing just over a year ago. I resonate with his lifelong desire to make the scriptures accessible to everyone. On a daily basis.

As much as I adore The Message, the one place where I steer away from it is the Psalms. Call me old school, but there is nothing that satisfies my need for rhythmic poetry better than the King James Version or the New King James Version. With the New King James Version, the fluidity is maintained while all the eths are dropped and the thees and thines are changed to you and yours. Thus “He leadeth me beside still waters” becomes “he leads me beside still waters,” and “For thou art with me” becomes “for you are with me.” Same rhythm, updated words.

Hey, imagine if there was a New King James New Jersey Version! The thees and thines would be youze and youze guyz. But I digress.

I took a run in my neighborhood a few weeks ago and ended up at the marina that overlooks the sound. It was one of those mornings where the water was impossibly still. I could see the reflection of the sun mirrored perfectly in the glassy surface. Naturally, I thought of Psalm 23.

Psalm 23 (New King James)

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Psalm 23 is a song about God’s steadfast protection in our lives. It sings about God’s promise to lead us in righteous paths. It reminds us that he accompanies us on every journey…even into death. We learn that he sits beside us when we face our enemies.

And he leads us to the still waters.

I think this is a reminder today that if you find yourself in turbulent waters, God did not bring you there. Thankfully, he is IN the storm with you, but he doesn’t lead you into tsunamis. No, we do a pretty good job of finding our way into rough seas all by ourselves. God’s desire is to lead you out of your mess and into the still waters, where peace is found.

Ask yourself this: in the chaos of your situation, in the disruption of your circumstance, were you following God, or did you get there on your own? Is he trying to lead you out of a destructive habit, a dangerous lifestyle, or a demoralizing relationship into a better place?

Look around. God will lead you out. Have faith and be courageous. If you follow where he leads, he will restore your soul in green pastures, beside the still waters. You just have to get up and walk.

Still Waters in Colington Harbour

Turning the Corner

I live on an island off an island off an island. My commute to work requires me to travel over two bridges and drive on an incredibly curvy road for three miles. At one point the road curved around a small Methodist church that was large enough to block your view as you drove around it, causing several accidents. The DOT finally came along and straightened out the road after centuries of curviness. As we traverse Colington Road, we all have to be alert to what is just around the corner. It might be a political sign, a muddy rut, or even a chicken. Turning each corner is a challenge of staying alert.

As we say goodbye to an old year and welcome a new one, we have an opportunity to “turn the corner,” offering us a time to reflect on the trajectory we’ve been on and possibly change direction. It is not uncommon to see people back in the gym, (regular gym-goers hate January with its crowded classes and busy weight rooms!) starting new diets, pledging to be more thoughtful and intentional, and otherwise making changes that promise to turn the corner on some aspect of their lives that needs fixing.

You know, Jesus was all about the turning-the-corner-life. God sent him to get us out of the muddy rut humanity was in, and offers us a way out through belief in him:

Acts 3 (The Message)

19-23 “Now it’s time to change your ways! Turn to face God so he can wipe away your sins, pour out showers of blessing to refresh you, and send you the Messiah he prepared for you, namely, Jesus.

For the time being he must remain out of sight in heaven until everything is restored to order again just the way God, through the preaching of his holy prophets of old, said it would be. Moses, for instance, said, ‘Your God will raise up for you a prophet just like me from your family. Listen to every word he speaks to you. Every last living soul who refuses to listen to that prophet will be wiped out from the people.’

The act of turning toward God and having him wipe away your sins results in God pouring out showers of blessing to REFRESH you. In all the ways we will seek a refreshing this new year, this soul-refreshing is the most significant. And we need to be alert to what is just around the corner. If we meet heartache, illness, betrayal, despair, or even death there, we had better be prepared with God at our side.

Want to lose weight? Take off the heavy burden of sin. Want to get fit? Exercise your belief. Want to be more intentional and thoughtful? Immerse yourself in scripture. Ready to turn the corner? Give your new year over to God and see what HE will do with it.

The showers of blessing that come from turning toward God are peace, hope, joy, and contentment. Wouldn’t that make for a wonderful 2020?

Colington UMC on curvy Colington Road

At the Center

I spotted this picture on a friend’s Facebook page and immediately asked if I could use it. I have never seen a “hanging nativity” scene before. Isn’t it clever? You have to hang them in a certain location in order to tell the story. Jesus has to go in the center, and everyone else, including the lamb, has a particular place to be.

At the heart of it, nativity sets are all about telling the story, which is why every house, especially homes with children, should have one. And, if I may be so bold, they should be made of something unbreakable so that the children can play with them, acting out and retelling the story themselves.

I have to confess that I am a bit of a nativity snob. A very long time ago a friend and I were traveling through Israel together and she mentioned to me, “I hate those nativity sets where Jesus is all alone in the manger, reaching up with his arms outstretched. It’s like he is saying, ‘Somebody pick me up!’ I know that is meant to be a kind of ‘glory’ moment, but he just looks cold and lonely to me.”

BAM. From that point on, I never wanted a nativity set unless Mary was holding Jesus. If I ever found a set with Joseph holding Jesus I would probably lose my mind.

The order of the characters in a nativity set helps to reinforce the lesson of Christmas. Shepherds take their place off to the side as invited guests. The angels float high above in all their reflected glory. The wise men, late arrivals to the scene by about two years, usually place themselves on the opposite side of the shepherds. (Kings and servants know their place.) Cows and lambs, displaced by all these humans intruding into their home, are scattered about according to height. Mary and Joseph flank the manger, looking downward adoringly at their son.

And in the center of it all is Jesus.

If Jesus isn’t at the center of Christmas, we are totally missing the point. All the rest of the nativity set is just window dressing.

When people are hungry, they fill their stomachs with food. Often with unhealthy food. When they are thirsty, they fill themselves with drink. Often with unhealthy drink. When they are sad, lonely, angry, depressed, disenfranchised, pushed aside, etc., they fill themselves with anything that makes them feel full. Often with unhealthy fillers. Christmas can be used in such a way…we fill our homes with tinsel and gaudy things, fill our time with overspending, fill our bellies with overeating and over-drinking, and use the season to try to complete a void in our lives. Then we wake up in January and realize that the void has become even bigger.

That can happen if we forget to keep Jesus in the center of it all.

I have a young friend who took her family to the mountains this year in lieu of a big gaudy Christmas. She was inspired to make memories instead of making a hole in her bank account from purchasing things her children would quickly outgrow. The trip was a revelation to her. Time spent together in the beauty of God’s creation was the greatest gift of all, and when her sons are old men, they will always remember this Christmas. That what happens when you put Jesus in the middle.

What changes can you make to your approach to Christmas that would put Jesus back in the center of your life? Where is God calling you to place yourself in the nativity set at the foot of the manger…and stay there all year? Going to church on Christmas Eve is a wonderful practice, but how about making a commitment to go every Sunday?

Let this Christmas be a beginning of your coming home to the nativity. With Jesus in the center, you won’t need any of the other trappings.

1 John 2 (The Message)

15-17 Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.

A Precious Nativity by Patti Kohl Koehler

Blue Christmas

When I was a child, my family’s Christmas lights were red, yellow, green, white, and orange. I don’t recall when blue lights came into vogue, but I remember being stunned the first time I saw a tree vibrant with blue LED lights dominating the color scheme. Blue is now my favorite Christmas light color. After all, blue is the liturgical color for the season of Advent.

Then I experienced my first “blue Christmas,” a phrase now used to define a sad, lonely, and sorrowful Christmas. Not everybody has a holly, jolly Christmas. The loss of a loved one, a divorce, a family member not being able to come home, having to work over the holidays, and just plain disappointment can all lead to feeling blue during the most wonderful time of the year. My blue Christmas was due to three things. I had moved away from my church of 16 years, and I was on leave with no Christmas Eve services to look forward to. My oldest daughter had just gotten married and was spending Christmas in another state with her in-laws. Worst of all, my father passed away suddenly two days after Thanksgiving.

I wasn’t just blue, I was black and blue.

Have you ever felt like a holiday could smack you right down? Holidays can be sneaky little buggers. They can come up behind you without any warning in the mall or at a party and poke you so hard from behind that it knocks the wind right out of you. A flash of memory, a familiar song, a taste of nostalgia, and suddenly, unbidden, you are feeling the pain of your loss with such intensity that you can’t move or breathe. The unhappy irony of that is that Christmas is the celebration of the Prince of Peace, the Comforter:

Isaiah 40

1 Comfort, O comfort my people,

    says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

    and cry to her

that she has served her term,

    that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

    double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,

    and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

    and the rough places a plain.

5  Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

    and all people shall see it together,

    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Even in the bluest of Christmases, God comes into our valley of sorrow to lift us up and level us out. Grief is a natural expression of a life that was well loved. It is the heart’s way of dealing with the unthinkable void that death creates. God longs to bring comfort to his people who mourn. He longs to comfort you in your blueness. And here is the good news: he will stay by your side until you begin to feel just the smallest and slightest bit better. And eventually you will.

He won’t leave you or grow tired of comforting you, for he is the everlasting God.

28  Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

    his understanding is unsearchable.

29 He gives power to the faint,

    and strengthens the powerless.

30 Even youths will faint and be weary,

    and the young will fall exhausted;

31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

    they shall walk and not faint.

Are you having a blue Christmas this year? You are not alone. If you look around, you will probably find others in the same color scheme as you. So don’t feel ignored or left out of all of the “have yourself a merry little Christmas” celebrations…others are faking it, too.

I hugged a friend last week who just lost her mother. I know she is dreading this Christmas. I have experienced that same dread and the feeling of disconnect with the joy-to-the-world spirit that others were feeling. I even felt resentful and could not wait for Christmas to be over. As I held her, I heard myself saying, “Every time you miss your mom this season, try to get up and do something for someone else. Think of someone who needs a prayer, or a card, or a casserole, and focus on that.”

I don’t know if that will help. I do know that when we push our way out of our circumstance, we survive for another day and live to tell about it. Sometimes that’s all we can hope for. Blue Christmases are a game of survival. And when grief finally loosens its stranglehold on us, we can begin to feel joy again.

So look around. Others are blue, too. Somebody you know is having a bleak mid-winter this year. Find someone who needs their pain to be acknowledged, and let them know that you see them. When you do that, blueness begins to fade….theirs, and yours.

Blue LED lights

Here is a resource that might help, or be the perfect gift for somebody blue on your list: Mourning Break-Words of Hope for Those in Grief

December Birthdays

Raise your hand if you are among the unfortunate ones who have a December birthday. Those of you born in the other eleven months don’t have a clue. Who else gets “combination birthday/Christmas presents?” Nope, that is reserved for us December babies. I can give you a list of such combo-presents: every bike I ever received, a fancy cowgirl outfit (with boots), a black and white TV for my teenage bedroom….yes, my parents would do the combo thing when they were debating a somewhat expensive present that they were struggling to afford. Bless them!!

On the other hand, I do share a birthday with Walt Disney. I found that out when I was in High School, and have always loved it. It makes me happy to share a birthday with a man of his creative genius and genuine expertise in story telling. Happy birthday to us, Walt!

The most important birthday in December of course is Jesus’ birthday. I had a childhood practice of either staying up past midnight on Christmas Eve or waking up early on Christmas morning to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus before the day began. I would look out the window from my bed at 5 Chatham Rd. and see the street light shining in the dark, and sing to baby Jesus. More often than not, I could see the snow falling on Christmas morning in that light, and snow on Christmas was EVERYTHING. This is possibly the only benefit of growing up in New Jersey.

I wonder what Christmas would look like if we had kept it as just a birthday party for Jesus, instead of the giftpalooza-partypalooza-spendtoomuchpalooza-shoptillyoudroppalooza that it has become. Imagine it: we would wake up, talk about how wonderful Jesus is, plan a nice meal, bake a birthday cake, have the celebration, blow out the candles, and call it a day. And it would truly be just about him.

How can we make Christmas just about Jesus again?

First, we can care about the things that he cares about. The widow, the orphan, the children crying for their parents at our country’s border…he cares about that. Giving to the needy and sharing our abundance is something he cares about. He cares about the people who are ill, in hospital beds, or nursing homes. He cares about things that are lost: souls, marriages, teenagers, car keys, runaway pets, and your will to resist temptation. He cares about the planet his father created. He cares about YOU.

Micah 6:8 Amplified Bible (AMP)

8 He has told you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

Except to be just, and to love and to diligently practice kindness (compassion),

And to walk humbly with your God, setting aside any overblown sense of

importance or self-righteousness?

This Christmas, let us focus on getting Jesus the perfect birthday present. Let us dive deep into his word and grow closer in our relationship with him. Let us stand up for justice, diligently practice kindness, love one another, offer compassion, and be humble before him. Or, as Christina Rossetti once wrote:

What can I give Him,

Poor as I am?

If I were a Shepherd

I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man

I would do my part,

Yet what I can I give Him,

Give my heart. (In the Bleak Midwinter)

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Mountain Snow by Mary Anne Mong Cramer.

Singing Hallelujah

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (NIV)

“The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

a light has dawned.

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.

Of the greatness of his government and peace

there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

will accomplish this.

It is so tempting to hit the “Publish” button right now. What could possibly be added to the glory and beauty of that Isaiah passage? It gives me chills to read it. I can hear the echos of Handel’s Messiah as I read it: those gloriously phrased notes of “Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God! The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!”

I had the unexpected blessing of standing next to my sister-in-law and singing the Hallelujah Chorus at the end of a performance of the Candlelight Processional at Disney World this week. Yes, Virginia, they do read scripture at Disney World. It is accompanied by a full orchestra, a 200-plus choir, six herald trumpets, and a deaf interpreter signing each note and word from the stage. All hope is not lost in this world. My sister-in-law is an excellent alto, and our voices combined in harmony with hundreds of others as we sang the truth about why Christmas happened.

It is important for us to sing the truth this season.

In the midst of the world’s cacophony, we need to sing, and sing loudly. We need to be that light in the darkness of commercialism and secularism. It is good for us to remind each the world that Christmas is still Christ’s Mass, a celebration of his birth. We need to complain to school boards that remove every sacred song from school Christmas productions and feed our children a sugar-diet of “Jingle Bells,” “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” and “All I Want For Christmas is my Two Front Teeth.” OK, I get that the last one is relevant to the Elementary School set, but still….

Where is the truth? What is the truth?

Handel knew. He wrote Messiah in just 24 days. He wrote from morning to night. Given the sheer volume of the 259-page score, it is estimated that he wrote 15 notes per minute. In total, he wrote roughly a quarter of a million notes in a little more than three weeks. That is insane. That is the power of the Holy Spirit.

Messiah is in three parts. Part I begins with this prophecy by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the “Hallelujah” chorus. Part III tells of the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven. The story is complete, a reminder to us that when you sing of the truth of Christmas, it is good to tell the whole story, from the Old Testament promise of his first coming at the manger, to the New Testament promise of his second coming.

So go and tell. Go and sing. Go and speak the truth, using both words and actions.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the zeal of the Lord Almighty accomplished it. Hallelujah!

Candlelight Processional by Kenn Haas

Mary Poppins’ Bag

Do you remember the wonderful scene from the original Mary Poppins movie where she plops her large carpet bag on the table and begins to pull out things like a hat stand, a large wall mirror, a potted plant, shoes, clothing, and a very special measuring tape? I remember as a child being fascinated by her bag. Can you imagine being able to reach in to your carpet bag and get whatever you needed?

Many decades later, Hermione Granger one-upped Mary with a small and elegant beaded bag that had a lot of useful things, including a large multi-level tent and an invisibility cloak. And her bag was small enough that she could hide it in her sock.

This notion of magical bags is something that children innately understand. Think about it; how many times does your child expect you to instantly produce what they want, often making unreasonable and unrealistic requests? And when it’s possible, don’t you make every effort to respond?

In the same way, we can treat God as though he has a magical bag. We operate under an assumption that we can make requests and God will supply them. All of us are guilty of treating God like a big ATM machine in the sky at one time or another. We use him when we need something, but when our pockets are full, we pass on by. Is this a good practice? Do you ever feel guilty about asking God for things beyond your ability to provide for yourself? Check this out:

Luke 11 (NRSV)

5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Good gifts. We know how to give good gifts to those whom we love. In most people’s minds, this season is all about getting and receiving good gifts. Look at the advertising all around you. Lexuses wrapped in big red bows, overly expensive and lush outfits that dance across your screen, flashing diamond jewelry featured in commercials where the husband/boyfriend gets a big reward of love for choosing the right piece…and in each case, the bigger, the better.

But the question remains, should we/may we/might we treat God like a department store Santa, and go sit on his lap with a big list of “gimmes?”

The answer is yes. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus-like aspect of God. And that’s all right.

You see, God longs to hear the desires of our hearts. God wants the intimacy of a trusting child who goes to a parent in the hope and anticipation of getting a Red Ryder BB Gun. Will he give you things that might harm you? Nope. Will he give you what you need instead? Yup. It is the relationship of love, trust, and honesty that blesses the Lord. When we ask, seek, and knock, we are demonstrating our belief that God is able to respond. That demonstration of faith is vital to us, and to God.

So in this season of preparation, while we anticipate the greatest gift to humankind that the world has ever known, go to God in prayer. Ask away. Watch him reach into his carpet bag and pull out the very thing that you need, even if you didn’t ask for it. God invites us to ask, seek, and knock. It’s pretty much in the bag.

Well, Hello There by Mary Anne Mong Cramer

The Great ADVENTure

Come along with me on a great adventure. One that doesn’t require time in the malls or searching Amazon, but one that ushers in the ADVENT of the Kingdom of God on earth. This breaking-through of the holy presence did not get cleaned up by hospital nurses and handed to his momma wrapped in a hospital print blanket and matching hat. This presence did not receive a baby shower with brightly wrapped presents from his adoring family. This presence didn’t even have a gender reveal party…can you imagine?

No, this presence was birthed in dirt and spent his first night on earth sleeping to the sounds of a mooing cow and a snoring donkey. The stink must have been noticeable, but he was too little and much too polite to mention it.

This miraculous presence came straight from heaven above, intended to take root in the hearts and souls of humanity. God sent his only son to walk among us, to experience temptation, to feel hunger, pain, disappointment (lots and lots of disappointment), anger, and friendship. When God deigned to be one among us, he went whole-hog. He didn’t just tickle his toes in humanity-water, he went for the deep dive and didn’t come up for air for 33 years. God with us, Emmanuel.

The great ADVENTure we will embark on will lead us straight to that manger scene, where we will find ourselves standing among dirty shepherds, regal wisemen, a couple of sheep, vibrant angels, and his parents. Like a piece in a nativity set, we will freeze there in worship and adoration.

But not just yet.

In the meantime, we must prepare. Advent is a season of preparation. Not with decorating, buying, baking, and decking all our halls, but by making our spiritual heart-homes ready to receive the awe that is coming.

In Matthew, we are reminded that we didn’t know the hour of Christ’s first coming on earth, nor will we anticipate the timing of his second coming. So we have one job: to be ready.

Matthew 24:36 (NRSV)

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

KEEP AWAKE. You don’t know. You must be ready. The hour will be unexpected. You don’t want to be caught unaware.

How can you get ready for the greatest breaking-in of heaven upon the earth? How can you prepare to receive this incredible gift of the infant God, who came to save, heal, forgive, teach, help, rebuke, serve, and love?

Maybe it’s time to clean out the musty attic of your heart and create a space for the manger child to have a room there. Do you carry any unconfessed sin? Repent. Do you harbor a grudge with someone? Forgive. Are you estranged from a family member? Reconcile. Are you lazy in your discipleship? Begin a new discipline, like reading this Advent devotional without fail every morning.

Advent kind of sounds like Lent, doesn’t it?

This season heralds the greatest adventure humankind has ever known. If you keep stressing about gifts, cookie baking, parties, cleaning, and entertaining, you are sure to miss it.

Don’t do that again this year. Be still. Listen. Breathe deeply of the fragrance of the Evergreen that brings both life and eternal life into your nostrils. Settle yourself down so that you can be open to receive him.

See you at the manger.

Pennsylvania Snow by Becca Ziegler.

Black Friday

The history of “Black Friday” includes several versions of how the day after Thanksgiving was named. For a long time, the story was told that retailers operated at a loss all year (written in the books in red ink) until the Friday after Thanksgiving. On that day, holiday shopping pushed profits into the “black,” i.e. written in black ink. This is not entirely accurate, but it is true that with the advent of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade heralding the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, (cue Santa’s arrival at the end of the parade) the holidays are indeed the most profitable time of the year.

But another account has emerged that tells a different story. Back in the 1950’s, Philadelphia police officers dubbed the day Black Friday due to the chaos and crowds that poured onto the streets of the city in advance of the Army-Navy game, which was held in Philly every year on Thanksgiving Saturday. (Go Navy!) The additional traffic and crowds meant that all the police officers had to work that day, and were scheduled for extra shifts to manage the large numbers of people. In addition, shoplifters took advantage of the situation, making law enforcement even more challenging.

Whatever the true reason, Black Friday has emerged to be a day of chaotic shopping, where people arrive at stores as early as 2AM to score that one must-have for Christmas. And coming on the heels of a day full of prepping, cleaning, cooking, baking, and serving, we end up absolutely exhausted after Thanksgiving “break.”

Even retailers without brick and mortar locations are jumping into the shopping frenzy. We have received offers of Black Friday deals on hotel rooms and rental cars this season, and many of us will be scouring Amazon for those incredible deals that are the make-or-break of our Christmas season.

Since we are talking about Fridays and gifts, wouldn’t we be smarter to take a beat and focus on the gift of Good Friday instead? If any day should be called Black Friday it was that day. The day of the crucifixion was black indeed, even to the point that the sky went suddenly dark and the sun did not shine from the sixth hour to the ninth hour. The tomb was sealed shut in blackness for three days. But on that third day….on the third day, he arose, and everything changed forever. So how dare we call any day black, when we have the resurrection to look forward to? Once he arose, all the darkness of the world shrank back in respect for the Light. That’s why we call the day of Jesus’ death Good Friday. It was good indeed.

Lest you think I am jumping the gun straight to Easter just days before Advent begins, consider this. What was Christmas for, if not for Easter? Why did the angels sing and the shepherds rejoice? Because the Messiah was born, and he came to save us. Easter arrived wrapped in the swaddled cloths of a cooing baby lying in a manger. In the fullness of time, he turned black days into good days. All of them.

So how can we turn Black Friday into a Good Friday? Maybe by finding some way to do good:

1 Timothy 6:17-19 The Message (MSG)

17-19 Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow.

Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.

Do good and be rich in helping others. Be extravagantly generous. This is the way to build up an everlasting treasury that brings life that is truly life.

On Black Friday, you can either be a buy-out or a sell-out. Sell yourself out for the one who made all Fridays good, and go after God with all your gusto. Buy someone’s groceries, pay for someone’s fast food order in line behind you, hold all the doors open, smile more, donate to your favorite charity….find a way to bring light into the black. And if you are brave enough to go shopping, please be especially nice to the store clerks!

In giving, you receive all the things you will ever need. God indeed piles on all the riches we could ever manage. Do you, and the people you are buying for, really need any more?

Early Light by Patti Kohl Kohler.