Archive for the ‘Celebrating Jesus in the Holidays’ category

A Prayer for Entering the Unknown Waters of This Year

January 1, 2014

O Lord,

Length of days does not profit me
except the days are passed
in your presence, in your service, to your glory.
Give me a grace that
precedes, follows, guides, sustains

sanctifies, aids every hour
that I may not be
one moment
apart from you,
but may rely on your Spirit

to supply every thought
speak in every word
direct every step
prosper every work
build up every bit of faith

and give me a desire
to show forth your praise
testify your love
your kingdom.

I launch my  ship
on the unknown waters of this year
with you, O Father, as my harbour
you, O Son, at my helm
you O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven
with all preparedness
my lamp burning
my ear open to your calls
my heart full of love, my soul free.

Give me grace
to sanctify me,
your comforts to cheer
your wisdom to watch
your right hand to guide

Sunsetyour counsel to instruct
your law to judge
your presence to stabilize.
May your fear be my awe
your triumphs my joy.

(adapted from The Valley of Vision)

Why I Didn’t Kill Myself on Christmas Day

December 27, 2013

Christmas 2013 007Christian radio nearly put me over the edge, however. Driving down to Ocean Beach at midnight, full of despair, and wanting to hear a voice of reason that would give me one single piece of evidence that the world would not be better off without me. Because apparently by the mess I had made of things, it would be. And I was tired, so tired of trying and failing, and I listlessly turned on the radio for reassurance, and quickly turned off the program, a garish and chirpy ‘breaking news’  retelling of the events in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Oh dear. Sometimes Christian culture can be so tone deaf.

When  fatigue is great and resistance to lies is low, and especially during the holidays’ midnight hours, the church can do better than this. Tullian Tchividjian does it right, in his post “Christmas For The Weary And Heavy Laden.” I am a battle hardened veteran of the Christmas wars upon the soul, and so I have learned through many of these skirmishes  the duty which calls me back from the brink –my responsibility for the children who remain in my home, and my allegiance  to my Lord.  God arrested in midflight his AWOL soldier, offered amnesty, and we went back to the front lines, together. As Tullian writes,

Christmas is the beachhead of God’s campaign against sin and sadness. It is the coming of light, life, and love into the occupied territory of darkness, death, and hate. Christmas is a war fought by a Peaceful Prince whose battle plan is to defeat death by dying, fear by forgiveness and slavery by salvation.

And that is why I did not kill myself at midnight on Christmas Day this year, as I sat on the sand at Ocean Beach at midnight, as I stared at that “great wink of eternity”, as I listened to those “silver snowy sentences”, those waves alluring me the way they had Hart Crane eighty years ago in Caribbean Sea, when the poet looked too long at the Southern Cross  and “slid on that backward vision, (his) mind was churned to spittle,whispering hell.” So that tormented soul  pitched himself forward from that ship into what he thought was oblivion.

Ocean Beach

I looked to another Cross with an upward vision, and my mind cleared of this churning. This Cross called me to die to my need for respect. It told me to die to laying down the law. It told me I am not my own, that I have been bought with a price. The One who gave his life upon it speaks in a still small voice, not an evil whisper.  My Lord  says, “Come”,  so I come, I am so weary and carry heavy burdens, and he says, “I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your soul.” He is no liar, and I find that rest.  I turn away from those dangerous midnight riptides, and drive back home.

Because he has rescued me from death, and has so transformed my life, when my Lord says “Go”, then I go where he sends me. I go to tell the world of this glorious being, Jesus, who came down to Earth from heaven two thousand years ago, a little baby who came to die a terrible death for these kinds of terrible days I have been enduring. He rose up from the dead, and now lives in me, and so I know the plans he has for my life are for good and not for evil. The plans he has for you, oh weary reader, are very good too! He will help you put your life back in order, if you trust him. And tell someone you trust about your struggles, someone who will not, because of fear, immediately place a psychiatric hold on you.

I needed to set my life back in order. I asked forgiveness of those I frightened when I drove off, then slept off some exhaustion. And, dear Reader, sleep therapy is proving to be the most promising treatment for depression. In the morning I rose early and was given a necessary and encouraging rebuke in the “Daily Light on the Daily Path.” I reprinted the evening’s reading, and then the morning, in the hopes it will encourage you as well.

He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”—“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”—He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.—“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen

Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

Knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.—As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.—“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”—“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

For you stand firm in your faith.

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Another way I fight fear and forgive, is to  put Josh Garrells  on continuous play during this trying season — especially this song:

Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Secure the Perimeters.

December 10, 2013

A Little Golden Book storybook edition of the ...(A reprise of last years’ Advent call to worship, with some emendations)

Yes, I sound like a bit of a Grinch. But you would be too, if on CyberMonday you sat at the Credit Union filling out twenty-nine forms, one for each separate purchase made on Black Friday by some blackguard who boosted your Visa Debit card. And all the while, “Frosty the Snowman” is playing on the Muzak machine. That was me last Monday. I wanted to bang my head against the wall because I couldn’t plug my ears and write down my sixteen digit account number twenty nine times simultaneously.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, all right. And already I am exhausted by its it’s din and demands.  I’ve  begun to envy the man in the red suit–he only has to check his lists twice. So rather than continuing to be a Debbi Downer at this party that gives my children such joy, I  got out the Advent wreath. I defiantly hung up the handmade Advent banner, a relic of my Martha Stewarty days. Santa may be lurking on the outskirts of town,  but Jesus dwells in my  little house. I will welcome this season that remembers Immanuel’s  imminence. That is what celebrating Advent means — to anticipate and cherish the promises of the Incarnation and Return of Christ.

It is a centering tradition that is well-made for this restless season, and it is my favorite activity, next to gathering stuff to fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Both activities are an antidote to the toxic wastes of Xmas, with all of its orgiastic gluttony and greed. I urge you  to also celebrate Advent as a family. It can be done simply, you don’t need to craft an ornate banner, you just need to raise one. Download John Pipers devotional for free here, and make your own war against Frosty the Zeitgeist.

Last night we set up our own perimeters. We lit the first Advent candle on the wreath, and read our devotional and hung the first motifs on our gorgeous  banner.  One of my sons got out his violin to accompany us on “O Come All Ye Faithful”, and that provided the key for our Rat Terrier to croon along with the rest of her pack . We sounded so terrible we were all convulsing in laughter at the chaotic mess of it– a typical Butler family scene — but we made a  hilarious and joyous noise unto the Lord, and if Jesus liked our worship half as much as we did, he was edified, indeed.

If you want to make your own heirloom banner,  this  book by Ann Hibbard  has a pattern for one — and in this Google preview, you can read some practical tips on avoiding the pitfalls of Xmas. Ann has written a devotional with Scriptures and interesting questions that all manner of ages can discuss, with hymns to sing everyday, all this to accompany the hanging of ornaments on the banner. In the appendix of the book you will find the directions for both an Advent wreath and banner, and also some suggestions for celebrating Epiphany as well. When I made my own banner I gilded the lily–  instead of the suggested felt, I used a pre-quilted fabric, and green velvet for the tree. The tree’s ornaments I copied and outlined with metallic and glittery fabric paint.   I’ll post a picture of it here soon.

Jenn Wilkin’s advice on dealing with the red-suited fat man is just the tactic we used to address the Santa question. She is strategic, and does well to establish her family’s boundaries about him. We too didn’t lie about him, and we didn’t ignore him — we dealt with him diplomatically, considering him the ambassador for that neighboring culture of  Xmas. We wanted to give our children the gift of some silly fun, and to relieve them of the burden of being, in Jenn’s words  “an apologist for an adult view of Santa. In other words, we didn’t want to send him into preschool having to conceal from (or reveal to) his friends the terrible secret that Santa was a fraud. By giving him the chance to figure out the secret of Santa on his own, we bought him some anxiety-free time with his peers in which he could share their excitement over Santa without having been deceived by a parent.”

I share her measured and wise approach — except that our children never sat on Santa’s lap, ever. Yuck. That is a kind of scary-clown ritual I have never understood. But our tribe does not do its hunting and gathering in the malls, and grandma never was interested in subjecting the children to such a terrorizing visit either, so it never presented itself as a problem for our family, as it seemed to do for the Wilkins.

So as these Gospel Coalition writers urge, consider skipping the Christmas season.   Celebrate Advent with your family instead. When your heart is filled with those ancient songs, like the Crusader hymn, “o Come o come, Emmanuel; To ransom captive Israel” you will not be a captive yourself  of the spirit of this age. You will not be exhausted by Xmas. You can actually contemplate with excitement the Billy Graham Organizations “25 Ways to Make Advent a Season of Gospel Sharing” and know that you indeed have resources to share, have that answer for the hope that is in you, the promise of Messiah’s return, when all things will be made new.  Because He is renewing you.