The Christmas Garden

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This third original Christmas story is close to my heart because I have entertained a few “angels unawares”, especially this time of year. I hope you enjoy it, dear readers, and will be ready for your own angels when they turn up. 

 

Nella reached the end of the street before she remembered the shopping list still stuck on her refrigerator. She sighed wearily, turning back to face the chill wind and driving snow. Another fifteen minutes of precious time and energy wasted because of her forgetfulness. She contemplated calling a cab but knew she couldn’t afford it and buy groceries too. Her pension check just didn’t stretch like it used to. She pulled her hat down over her ears and trudged back the way she had come.

Snow on the overgrown hedge next to Nella’s back door fell down the neck of the lean youth as he stepped through into her yard. He shivered, glancing nervously over his shoulder before cautiously approaching the door. He figured this would be the easiest house to break into on the street because the old place obviously hadn’t been touched in years and the lock would likely pop without difficulty from its rotted wood frame. John had never broken in anywhere before but he had seen enough TV shows to figure out a few things first. He sure hoped the long, chilly wait behind the hedge would be worth his while. He pulled a flattened piece of pipe from under his jacket and began to pry at the door.

The tears freezing on Nella’s cheeks weren’t just from the cold. She tried to stay cheerful but sometimes she just missed Arthur so much. Especially in small ways, like how he used to be ready with the door open as she came up the walk with the grocery cart. Now as she fumbled with her keys and the cart, she felt like throwing it over the railing and forgetting about shopping. But the cat needed food, and she couldn’t do without her evening tea, particularly on Christmas Eve. She turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open.

A silver picture frame slipped from John’s fingers at the sound of Nella‘s key in the lock, its glass shattering on the hardwood floor. He froze beside the dresser, his heart pounding fiercely.

“Sammy, are you up on the dresser again, you naughty cat?”
The old lady’s shuffling footsteps came closer, but John had no place to hide. He should have bolted when he had a chance, when the old lady let out a startled cry at the shock of seeing him in her bedroom, but he didn’t. He stood there shaking, not knowing what to do, just knowing he’d blown it again. They stared at each other for a long moment;  John seeing a small round woman bundled in an old-fashioned winter coat and hat, her hand to her mouth, and her eyes wide behind thick glasses. Nella thought later that she should have run for it too, but something made her stand her ground. His long lank hair, his thin awkward shoulders; he really was just a boy, and suddenly she wasn’t afraid anymore.

“Can I help you, young man?”
“No….no…I mean, I needed some money, see, and…”
“Well, as you can see,” Nella said, gesturing around the sparsely furnished room, “I don’t have a lot to spare.”
She scrutinized him closely.
“What do you need money so badly for, that you would rob an old lady on Christmas Eve?” In spite of his fear, John took a defensive stance and replied in as manly a voice as he could muster, “I just need it, is all. You gonna call the cops?”
“I probably ought to, but maybe we should have a little talk first.”

Nella unbuttoned her coat and took off her hat, forgetting all about her shopping trip. A stillness in her spirit made her act contrary to what was logical, but she had learned to listen to that quiet inner prompting she knew to be from God. She turned her back on him and walked down the hall to take off her boots. She could get a blow to the back of her head at any second, but somehow she knew he wouldn’t do that.

John found himself stepping over broken glass to follow the old lady down the hall. He could still make a break for it if he needed to, but it seemed to make sense to hear what she had to say. Besides, it was warmer in here than outside where he had spent the last few days. Then he stopped in wonder where the hall opened into a small living room. It was a bower, an abundant garden of flowered furnishings, draperies and ornaments, a surprising contrast to the austere bedroom. Slightly shabby, yet clean and carefully arranged, the room spoke of past seasons, tea served on wicker tables, bird song through an open window. It even held a faint scent of crushed rose petals. The walls were lined with framed pictures of blossoms and botanical prints.

“Take off your shoes, young man,” Nella ordered before he walked on the faded oriental carpet. He obeyed, wondering how the little old lady had achieved an upper hand in this situation.

“Now, before we go any further, have you had anything to eat in the last while? I have a nice little meat pie I can heat up in just a minute.”
John stared at her. “Why are you doing this? I broke into your house to steal from you….you don’t know me….I could be dangerous. Aren’t you afraid?”
Nella tilted her head as if listening for a moment, then smiled gently.
“A book I like to read says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so you may be entertaining angels unawares.”
“Ha! You need to clean your glasses, lady! I am no angel. In fact, I’m heading in the other direction.” He flinched when she patted his arm.
“Come now, young man. As long as you’re still breathing, God hasn’t given up on you. Now how about that meat pie?”, and she bustled off to the kitchen, leaving him to stare after her. He stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, trying to recover some of the bravado it took to break into this place. Instead, he felt himself succumbing to the peace of this modest home

His artist’s eye took in the carefully arranged groupings of photos and prints on the walls. Close-ups of perfect, velvety rosebuds wet with dew, stately irises, blowsy peonies. The botanical prints looked to be originals. He studied the water color details of root systems and rhizomes, each signed in the corner by “A. Stuart”.

“Those were done by my late husband, Arthur,” Nella said, setting a full plate down on the dining table. “You see, Arthur was an invalid and couldn’t get out much, so the back yard and this house became his world. So I made him a garden, and he made me….these.” She smiled fondly at the photos and prints.
“They’re good,” John said frankly.

Nella studied him for a moment, noticing a sensitive mouth beneath his scruffy days-old beard and an intelligent brow above shadowed eyes. She guessed this Christmas stranger was more than just a common thief. He sat obediently at her table, consuming the meat pie and warm rolls with absorption born of two days without food. She occupied herself in the kitchen, opening a can of tuna for hungry Sammy and fixing herself a cup of hot water and lemon. She moved aside the little nativity scene on the table and joined him.

“That’s right, it’s Christmas Eve, isn’t it?” he said, watching her tenderly handle the tiny figurines.
“Why aren’t you home with your family on such a night?” Nella asked. He shrugged.
“They wouldn’t want me there. I don’t fit in to their uppity neighborhood anymore. I’m an embarrassment to them since I decided to follow my Muse.” His smirk held more pain than amusement.
“And what would that be?”
“I want to be an installation artist.”
“Is that where someone drapes a bridge in orange fabric and calls it art?”, she asked. He was impressed she knew what he was talking about.
“Yeah, only it doesn’t pay very well, as you can see. My last job in a pizza joint fell through two weeks ago and I’ve been on the streets since then.”
“Does resorting to robbing elderly women and possibly ending up in jail fit in with your future dreams?”, she asked sternly.

“Not really.” He ducked his head for a moment, then looked her squarely in the eye. “I’m sorry, ma’am. You’ve been very kind, though I don’t know why.”

He got up from the table, turned to go, then heard her say softly, “Because I see you through the eyes of another artist. My husband was an artist. He would look past the weeds and brown leaves in my garden and see the beautiful lines of a simple daisy or daffodil, then capture them like this.” She looked thoughtfully at the flowers framed on her wall.
“But Jesus Christ is the original installation artist. He can take a common bag of bones like me or you, look past the flaws and brokenness, and clothe us in forgiveness and grace, and suddenly we’re not common anymore. Like a bridge draped in orange fabric, we’re changed into something beautiful, something new. That book I like to read says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
She smiled warmly up at him.
“You wait here a moment, young man, and I’ll be right back.” She returned a few minutes later with her arms full of clothing.

“These were my husband’s. I think they’ll fit you and I have no need of them anymore.” She held out a warm winter coat, a sweater, hat and gloves.
“When you wear these I want you to think about Jesus, who was actually God draped in flesh. He can help you become the best installation artist you can be, if you let Him transform you first.”
John put the clothes on, then Nella pressed a few folded bills into his hand.
“No, I can’t take this.” He tried to give the money back but she gently eased him to the door.
“Maybe there’s enough there to buy bus fare back to your family. You could be the best present they get this Christmas.”
At the end of the walk he looked back. The light behind flowered curtains blurred into a warm orange glow through his tears.

Nella gasped in wonder when she looked out her kitchen window Christmas morning. Her overgrown garden, long neglected since Arthur’s passing, was transformed into a sparkling paradise in the pure winter sunlight. Trees were draped in swaths of silvery paper and crowned with foil stars and moons. Prisms of coloured glass suspended from branches twisted gently, sending rainbow glints like diamonds across the snow. Tissue paper birds like open-winged doves fluttered on the shrubbery. She rubbed her eyes and looked again to see if what she saw was real, then she saw some writing in the snow, scrolled beautifully in silver painted script.
“Thank you, dear kind lady. From John, a new creation.”

Abel’s Advent

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“Abel’s Advent” is the second in a series of original short stories I am posting with a Christmas theme. The biblical Christmas story has for me an air of mystery about it, more than any other, which I wanted to convey in this piece. Another gift for my treasured readers.

                                                                                      

The fields lay locked in the frozen stillness of a mid-winter day. Glorying in the tingle of frigid air on his cheeks, Abel stamped the frost-hardened trail alongside his grandfather toward the low hills cradling their farm. He had no name for the exquisite joy singing through his veins; all he knew was he could not wish to be anywhere else. No roof but endless sky, no lessons but what the wind whistled in his ears, his legs strong beneath him and his grandfather’s shadow keeping stride with his.

They were on their way to check on the sheep flock wintering in the shelter of the hills. It was the day before Christmas and if Abel and his family were going to enjoy tomorrow’s festivities, they needed to know all was well with their livestock. Abel whistled through his teeth to his dog Tip, exploring the trail ahead. She ran back to him, seeming to laugh up into his face with lolling pink tongue and eager eyes. She too felt the exhilaration of a perfect winter’s day sparkling through her limbs, and away she raced again.

Abel’s grandfather chuckled at Tip’s antics, swinging his arm around his grandson’s shoulders as they began their hill ascent. Perhaps he didn’t have the vigor of the boy and dog, but his seasoned gaze took in the winter beauty with quiet gratitude. Bare branches finely etched against an azure sky, the white winter sun glinting on frosted grass and trees. Creation called him closer to his home in heaven, his heart responding instinctively in praise to his Maker.

They glanced at each other at the first jangle of a sheep bell. It was reassuring to know the flock was nearby. Of all the farm creatures, Abel loved the sheep the most. Perhaps it was their gentle spirits or the peaceful way they had of grazing on a green summer hillside. He enjoyed caring for them and believed they gifted him with their trust. The next hours were taken with checking fences, water supply and the condition of the flock. When the two shepherds were satisfied with their tasks, they lit a warming fire in the shelter of a bluff and ate a simple lunch. Abel waited expectantly, for he knew what was coming next. At home with the family, his grandfather kept his own quiet counsel , but when they sat out under the open winter sky, the setting seemed to call out the tales and legends he remembered from of old, and Abel was a willing listener.

With his feet stretched out to the fire, the old man chewed contentedly on the stem of his pipe and squinted through the smoke at his grandson.
“There’s an old, old legend, my boy, about the animals on Christmas night. Have you ever heard what happens to them?”
Abel shook his head, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.
“Some say that at the stroke of midnight, in stables and barns and fields around the world, God’s creatures kneel and pray in homage to the Christ Child. ‘Tis not to be proven, but many a generation has said it to be so.”
Smoke wreathed around the old shepherd’s head, lending an air of sacred mystery to the tale.
“When you think on it, the beasts in the stable were the first to see the Child, besides Mary and Joseph. Interesting that innocent creatures were there to welcome the Innocent One into the world. I wonder if they had a sense that He was the one who made them?”
He sucked on his pipe as he contemplated the sheep flock grazing peacefully nearby. Then shuffling stiffly to his feet, his grandfather exclaimed to Abel, “Ah, my boy, we are fortunate fellows to be out on a hillside with the flock on the eve of Christmas, just like those blessed shepherds long ago. Now keep your eyes open for the heavenly host!”
His grandfather laughed at Abel’s quick glance at the sky.

Tip’s sharp bark sounded in the distance. At first Abel thought the dog must have found a rabbit, but the barking grew higher and more frantic. Together he and his grandfather hurried up the hillside towards the commotion. The plaintive bleat of a sheep in distress joined Tip’s bark. Coming over a rocky outcrop, they found the dog circling round a ewe wedged between two boulders. Not only was she stuck, but she was about to give birth to an unexpected winter lamb. The experienced old shepherd quickly took stock of the dilemma, giving orders to Abel to bring the rope and burlap bag from their camp.

They worked intently to free the distressed ewe. Finally as she grew weak and tired, Abel and his grandfather maneuvered the rope around her forequarters and pulled her free. Minutes later she expelled a tiny tangle of legs and wet wool onto the cold earth. The old shepherd grabbed the burlap sack and briskly dried the tiny lamb until it bleated weakly and struggled to stand up. Wrapping the newborn in the sack, he gently lifted it into Abel’s arms.
“Keep her warm”, he instructed, then turned his attention to the prostrate ewe.

Abel was captivated by the tiny creature in his arms. She was scrawny and weak, yet fresh from her Maker’s hand, her new little life had the power to call forth all of Abel’s protective instincts. With the ewe on her feet now, they made ready to take her and her lamb back to the farm, where they would be safe and warm in the barn. Night was closing in and the temperature was dropping. Beneath them a blue twilight filled the valley bowl to its uneven rim and from there the night sky rose like swaths of silken fabric scattered with stars.

Carrying the tiny lamb in his arms, Abel tipped his face skyward with a sense of expectancy. In his spirit he knew this was no ordinary night. He wondered if the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth had a premonition of what was to come? That night must have begun as a thousand nights previous, yet before it was over their lives would be changed forever. The glory of the Lord shone from the sky around them in the glow of a great company of angels. The Savior of their souls showed himself in the helpless form of a newborn baby. How could the two be the same? Abel wondered. He knew the reality of God coming to earth as a baby. The truth of it was the foundation beneath his feet, yet the mystery of it expanded in his soul beyond knowing.

Night had descended completely by the time the shepherds and their flock of two reached the farmstead. They settled the ewe and her lamb on a bed of fresh hay in a corner of the barn, then went into the house to be warmed and fed themselves. Abel’s family was gathered around the table enjoying a Christmas Eve meal. He felt oddly reluctant to join in the noisy, warm circle, as if part of him wanted to linger under the cold night sky. There was a supernal air out there he wanted to breathe in a little longer, but he allowed his mother to draw him close to the fire and put a heaping plate of food in his hands. As he ate, he felt the knowing eye of his grandfather upon him. The old man nodded. The draw of this night was not new to him. He could see its power at work in his grandson.

Long after the household had settled around him in slumber, Abel lay awake. His uncovered window framed the cool, clear light of stars and moon, and it seemed the earth held its breath in anticipation. He would check on the ewe and her lamb again, although he had done so several times this evening. Tip rose from her mat by the back door to faithfully accompany her master across the yard to the barn. Its thick timbers held the warm aliveness of its occupants as a rock absorbs the heat of the sun. The farm beasts stirred only slightly in the soft glow of Abel’s lantern, for they knew him well, accepting his presence with gentle patience. He breathed in the wholesome scent of earth, hay and healthy animals and settled himself close to the ewe and lamb, with Tip by his feet. The little lamb blinked solemnly at Abel from near the protective flank of its mother. Though he could see all was well, he still lingered. His thoughts had the clarity of a midnight vigil and it seemed the walls between the ages had been removed in the magic hour, for he found himself imagining that long ago night of Jesus’ birth as if it were here and now. The cave-like enclosure of the stall became an ancient stable; the ewe’s feed trough, a manger of stone. Through a window high in the hay loft, he thought he saw a singular star gleaming brighter than all the others.

He dreamt on with open eyes until that strange false dawn when cocks crow and animals stir. A bell in the nearby town tolled midnight. On the first strike a quiet peace stilled the farm animals, yet they were all awake, their eyes uncommonly bright in the lantern light. The tale his grandfather had told him earlier became more than legend as he saw the draft horses and oxen lower their great heads. He could not watch. Struck with a holy awe, he threw his arm over his eyes and fell to his knees in the hay.

The twelve strokes of the bell seemed to keep time with the beating of his heart. This heart which was home to the Savior born on this night long ago…. this heart expanding in worship to the Holy Child…. this heart still young enough to experience the mystery of the Incarnation, yet wise enough to know it to be the purest truth ever told. He had no right to be here at the hour when God’s creatures gave Him honor. But he did not leave. He stayed kneeling by a stack of hay, then slept a deep peaceful sleep with his head on his arms.

His grandfather came to the barn at dawn. He was not surprised to find Abel there, asleep on his knees in the hay. He looked into the wise eyes of the farm animals and nodded knowingly. Then he took a pitch fork to the hay which lay flattened in front of where each animal stood, and he sang his grandson awake with an old Christmas hymn.

Before the paling of the stars,
Before the winter morn,
Before the earliest cock crow
Jesus Christ was born.
Born in a stable,
Cradled in a manger,
In the world His hands had made, born a stranger.
Jesus on His mother’s breast in the stable cold
Spotless lamb of God was He
Shepherd of the fold.
Let us kneel with Mary, Maid
With Joseph, bent and hoary
With saint and angel, ox and ass
To hail the Lord of Glory.  *
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* “Before the Paling of the Stars” by Christina Rosetti; Lyra Messianica pub. 1864

* “The Evening Glow” painting  by Joseph Farquharson; Scottish landscape artist 1846-1935

A Nest for Herself

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A Nest for Herself is the first of several original seasonal stories I am posting to endeavor to convey the truths of  Christmas in a subtler form. These are my gifts to you, dear readers. I hope these small stories draw you into the greatest Story we are looking forward to celebrating.

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It was the lights which first drew her, glowing warmly from tall arched windows. Snow swirled thickly where the yellow beams lay across the sidewalk. Laurie Kay stood just outside their reach, her pale face turned up to the high colored windows set like jewels in the stone facade of the towered cathedral. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth to catch the falling snowflakes on her tongue. They melted on her cheeks, cooling the hot tears trickling down. How did she come to be here in this unfamiliar part of town, where well-dressed people carrying glittering packages rushed past her? Why had she come to Christ Church Cathedral?

A peal of bells cascaded from the top of the tower, ringing out a joyous Christmas carol. In a few hours the carved double doors would swing wide to welcome in people for a Christmas Eve service. She would be far from here by then, maybe at the shelter or on the corner by Tom’s Bar; anywhere she could find a little warmth. If it got colder she might even knock on JD’s door. A few bruises were the price she might have to pay for a warm place to spend the night. He was still mad about her having the baby. She pulled her thin coat as tight as she could around her swelling stomach.

Someone came out of a small door at the base of the cathedral tower and hurried down the street. Laurie Kay caught a glimpse of warm wood paneling and soft yellow lights. Without thinking, she crossed the sidewalk and slipped inside before the door closed automatically behind her. The hush of this holy place fell around her shoulders like a blanket, muffling the clatter of the city beyond its doors. Warmth, stillness, a sweet scent of burning candles and polished wood; she knew this place. Maybe not this actual place, but she knew the atmosphere. She grew up in a place like this, it was like home. She couldn’t go home but maybe she could stay here for a little while to warm up.

Across the city the windows of a simple old church grew increasingly bright with a flickering light. A man inside made his way patiently around the sanctuary, lighting candles tucked in greenery on window sills and walls. At the last pew he blew out the taper in his hand and sank down with a sigh. The old church’s scarred walls and stained ceiling took well to the forgiving candlelight. This gentle light would help hide the sadness in his eyes and strained lines around his mouth. When he stepped up to the pulpit shortly to lead the Christmas Eve worship service, Pastor Randall would need to work hard to project the joy of the Christmas season he wasn’t feeling.
Where was she? Was she warm? Safe? Even alive?

Thoughts of his daughter Birdie wore their weary way through his mind once more. After her mother’s death two years ago, Birdie had turned a hurt and angry shoulder on the life she grew up in. He remembered her as a little girl perched on the edge of the pew below him, her feathery head of dark hair and round brown eyes giving him a focal point while he preached. His wife would gently hold her hand to keep her from fluttering from pew to pew in the middle of his sermon to visit the church family who loved her so much. After his wife’s death he spent long hours alone in his study, unable to deal with Birdie’s despair along with his own. He was helpless against her anger and rebellion, rising from her broken, motherless heart. His feeble attempts to comfort her barely touched the passion of her grief. She flung herself against the loving arms of family and friends until they could no longer hold her. Then she flew away, a crippled bird, into the night.

Laurie Kay caught her breath when she stepped through the recessed door into the vast vaulted chamber of the cathedral’s sanctuary. It was as if heaven’s floor had dropped away so she could gaze up into its glory. The frescoed ceilings far above gathered the glow of a myriad of candles and jeweled scenes in stained glass windows seemed to come alive in their flickering light. There were a few people dotted among the rows of oaken pews. She went unnoticed as she stole up the side aisle to slide in beside one of the tall stone pillars. She leaned her head wearily against its cool surface, gradually relaxing into the warm, quiet hush of the great church.

A rich tapestry hung near the high altar, with intricate threads weaving a picture of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus. Thoughts of her own mother came crowding in to her mind. She was too tired to stop them so she let them flow, remembering the sound of her mother’s laughter, her eyes alight as she held Laurie Kay up to put the angel on the top of the Christmas tree. With the house darkened except for the twinkling tree lights, they would wait for Laurie Kay’s father to come home, and each time he would exclaim how beautiful everything looked. But his gaze was only for her mother and for his little Birdie snuggled close to his side. Such comfort and belonging seemed so long ago, shattered by the sound of sirens in the night and men in white taking her mother hurriedly away. The pain was so great that Laurie Kay had only one urgent desire; to fly, to escape, to lose herself in a life so opposite to what she had known, she would never be reminded of what home used to be. She had succeeded for a time, up until tonight when she turned a corner to see the windows of the great cathedral gleaming through the snow. If this lofty chamber was as near to home as she could find, then she would rest here a while.

She noticed a carving of a small round bird on the high arm of the pew in front of her. Looking closer, she saw a bronze plaque below, with words inscribed.

“Blessed Are They That Dwell in Thy House”
“During the construction of Christ Church Cathedral in 1895, a swallow’s nest with eggs was discovered at the peak of this Gothic arch. Work was halted in this section until the eggs hatched and the fledglings left the nest. When the arch was completed, the nest was preserved in plaster and remains there to commemorate this house of God as a sanctuary for all His creatures.
“Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even Thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” Psalm 84:3”

Laurie Kay’s gaze followed the length of the stone column, seeking out a tiny gray nest tucked in the embrace of the curving arch.There it was, the one spot a little mother swallow had chosen as the safest place to have her young. In the midst of the formation of this mighty cathedral she found sanctuary, and God had protected her.
“Will I not do the same for you?”
The words came fully formed in her mind, settling in her heart just above the warm round form of the child within her. There was a safe place she knew of, much like this. She remembered the warmth, the refuge, the love she once knew there. Could she go back…like this? In all her migrations in the mire of this sickened world, she never forgot the sound of her father’s voice calling her his Birdie. Perhaps it was time to wing her way home.

Pastor Randall was reluctant to extinguish the candles yet. Their glow tinged the edges of his heart with a little warmth and he found solace in the quiet of the empty church. There was just enough light to read the banner hung above the pulpit.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
He prayed for God’s good will to reach his daughter, to bring her peace, wherever she was. His requests for her became more simple the longer she was gone, yielding all his anxiety into a single prayer of surrender.
Candle flames guttered in a sudden draft sweeping through the opened church door. Before he turned around, he heard a sound like wings beating the air, becoming the patter of light footsteps running up the aisle. The weight of the child was forgotten as Laurie Kay flew into her father’s arms.

Advent – N is for Newborn

On this final day of the Advent season, we are eager to celebrate the birth of Jesus tomorrow on Christmas Day. May His love be made new in your hearts and lives as you worship the newborn King.

The baby rested on her breast, dark hair still damp with birth fluids, his body curled as in the womb. She inspected each limb as best she could in the wavering lamp light, cupping his head in her palm to gaze into his face. He bleated like a little lamb at being held away from her. He would need to be washed and wrapped, but for now she just held him close. His breath came light and quick on her skin while his tiny mouth made sucking motions. She absorbed his warmth, the scent of him, knowing how brief these moments would be when he was just her newborn baby. He was meant for all mankind, but not yet.

Though centuries separate us, I feel a connection to Mary, Jesus’ mother, because I too, vividly recall the first moments with my newborn baby. The sweet, warm weight of her small body so recently birthed from mine sparked a new kind of fierce, primitive love I had not experienced before. I felt that this was what I was made for. But then, I did not know the destiny of my newborn as Mary did.

I wonder, did she look into her baby’s eyes and see God there? When his fingers curled tightly around hers, did she think of how he created the world? Did his infant cry echo the sound of heaven in her ears? Could she even begin to grasp the paradox of the Ancient of Days being manifest as the child in her arms?

The Lord God fashioned a miraculous plan to rescue His people, using a simple peasant girl and a newborn baby to bring it about. Mary’s gentle acquiescent faith made for a perfect nursery for the Son of the Most High.

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Gal. 4:4 NIV)

After this baby boy grew up to be a man He used the picture of procreation, which He had conceived of and crafted before time began, to illustrate man’s need to be born again of the Spirit. “Men can only produce human life,” Jesus told Nicodemus, “but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven; so don’t be surprised at my statement that you must be born again!” (John 3:6, 7 TLB)

When a newborn draws its first breath, it is beginning life on this earth. When spiritual birth occurs, the spirit within us recognizes Jesus Christ as God in human flesh and invites His Spirit to give us new life, causing us to be “born again”. We are newborns, no matter what age we are when our spirits break forth from the womb of darkness into the light of Christ’s love and grace. He has made us “like newborn babies, craving pure spiritual milk so we will grow into a full experience of salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT)

The very way Jesus entered into time as a newborn baby is a symbol of how we may enter His kingdom. Often our spiritual birth is a painful, exhausting process, but what joy erupts when we are first held in our Father’s arms!

Hark! The herald angels sing.
Glory to the newborn King!”

Advent Week 4 – Enlightenment

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This last Sunday before Christmas, using the word “Advent” as an acrostic for a series of devotionals, E for “enlightenment” reveals the coming of the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. May His light shine into your heart this blessed season.

When I was tucked into bed as a child, I insisted my bedroom door be left open a precise amount; not too much or the hall light kept me awake, but just enough for a little comforting glow to shine in. Like most children, I was a bit afraid of the dark. Things which were familiar in the light became strange in the dark.

As a biblical metaphor for sin, darkness accurately represents aspects of a life lived outside of relationship with God. Darkness makes it difficult to find direction. It is a place of confusion where wrong seems right and up is down. Things are hidden in darkness; wrong and evil things. Death, the final darkness, severs every cherished bond.

How very like God to preface our coming salvation with a picture of light breaking into spiritual darkness. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isa. 9:2 NIV)  This light would not just disperse the darkness; it would come in the form of a Person. When Isaiah foretold this light, he continued with a description of the long hoped for Messiah coming as a child born unto us, a son given. (Isa. 9:6) A Light was destined to break into the dark lives of sinful men, and it would appear as God in human flesh.

Not only was the promised Messiah portended as a light, His birth was pinpointed by a light. Wise men from far away saw an unusual star in the eastern night sky, which they understood to be a sign of a coming Jewish king. Informed by prophecy, they traveled to Bethlehem, where the light of this rare star shone over the place where the child was.“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matt. 2:10) Why? Because they understood the significance of the light and who it shone upon.

When the Light arrived as a human child, grew and became a man, He described Himself using the same figure of speech. “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) Such a grand claim can be irrefutably verified when our life is given over to Christ, for then we are delivered from the darkness of sin, given guidance to walk in this world well, and pointed to a new purpose. The light which came into the world now can shine from within us. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)

Light of lights! All gloom dispelling,
Thou didst come to make thy dwelling
Here within our world of sight.
Lord, in pity and in power,
Thou didst in our darkest hour
Rend the clouds and show thy light.
~ St. Thomas Aquinas ~

Advent Week 3 ~ V for Vessel

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Entering week 3 using the word “Advent” as an acrostic for a series of devotionals, my prayer for each reader is for God to fashion you as well, into a willing vessel for His glory.

The seaside park blossoms with booths and tents showcasing the richly diverse talents of artisans and craftspeople. My favourites are the potter’s works; earthenware, stoneware, ceramics and porcelain made for beauty as well as functionality. I like to carefully handle the pieces that interest me, feeling where the potter pressed his thumb into the wet clay on a mug handle, or used her hands to narrow the neck of a vase formed on a potter’s wheel. Simply put, they make vessels, hollow containers for holding something but it is obvious that their creations are so much more.

In the nativity story, Mary, the mother of Jesus, became a human vessel to receive the Spirit of God. In His infinite, mysterious wisdom God chose this poor peasant girl to carry His beloved Son in her womb. She asked the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 NIV) It is a question pondered by many since. The angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

What qualities did God look for in a human vessel for His Son? Did He lovingly hold His creation, Mary, in His hands, turning her this way and that, looking into her soul for those certain attributes only He knew would suit His purpose? What set her apart from all other young women of her time who could have borne the Son of God? I cannot fathom the answer to these questions but I can rest in the certainty that He chose the perfect vessel.

God chose a vessel, first of all, who was pure. In order for His Son to be born a sinless man, He could not be conceived in sin, but would be born of a virgin. As Isaiah prophesied centuries before, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel, God with us.” (Isa. 7:14b)

Mary was highly favored by God, according to the angel, so the purity He required in the mother of His holy Son was not only physical but spiritual. In her simple faith Mary exhibited qualities which pleased God, such as trust, faithfulness, humility and obedience. All these traits are evident in the telling of Mary’s story in the first chapter of Luke. Most noticeable is her unerring faith and willingness to believe that what the Lord had said to her would be accomplished. “ ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’” (Luke 1:38)

Not only was she a willing vessel to carry the Son of God, she also would have realized that judgement and condemnation would come with her role. Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph but they were not yet man and wife, so her pregnancy would bring with it shame and reproach from those who knew her. No one would believe in her purity, except Joseph, who had it revealed to him by an angel of the Lord. She graciously accepted the damage to her reputation for the singular privilege of bearing God’s Son.

A vessel is open at the top to receive the contents intended for it. I picture Mary’s spiritual posture as open, receptive to whatever her Lord would pour into her willing heart. I have much to learn from the mother of my Savior by her servant attitude and humility. The treasure of God’s Spirit is contained in this body of mine, this earthen vessel, so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from me. (2 Cor. 4:7) My supreme privilege is to be poured out for Him.

Advent Week 2 – D is for Dwell

Christmas houseThis is the second in a series of devotionals using the word “Advent” as an acrostic for each week celebrated. My prayer for you, dear reader, is that it would help draw you closer to the heart of the One whose birth we celebrate this blessed Christmas season. 

The night is cold, the stars bright in the sky as I leave the city behind to make my way home. The inhospitable darkness beyond the car headlights makes me eager to get there. When I round the corner I see the lights of my house twinkling golden through the trees. Breathing slows, shoulders relax as I close the door behind me and step into the warmth. This is more than just a house; it is my dwelling, the place where my life is lived in the everyday of waking and sleeping, dreams and decisions, loving and learning.

That night long ago, when Mary and Joseph were far from their home, God came to earth to live. He wanted so much to be with us, to dwell with us, that He came as a baby, in the same way we did. The mystery of the incarnation, God dwelling in a human body, broke into history when eternity invaded time. With the frail cry of a newly birthed baby, hope came to dwell.

There is something about the word dwell that evokes so much more than just habitation. When someone dwells somewhere they live fully in that place, to such an extent it becomes part of who they are. To dwell somewhere involves making it a home, putting a personal stamp on it, investing emotional energy into settling there.

God demonstrated His desire to identify with His creatures when He sent His Son to dwell with us. He could have spoken to us through angels or from the clouds of heaven, but He chose instead to live as one of us. Jesus knew what it meant to have intimate conversation with friends over a meal, to rest His tired body in a bed at night, to see His mother waiting to welcome Him.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV)

Those many long years ago He came to dwell as a man. Now He can be invited to dwell again as God’s Spirit within our hearts. Jesus said, “Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23) To think that my small human heart is “a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” (Eph. 2:22)

Anyone’s heart can be a dwelling for Him. He came first to earth as a baby in a borrowed manger bed; now He wants to come as a permanent dweller in your heart. The rooms don’t have to be spotless or the meals perfect. Just open the door in a warm welcome and He will move in.

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” ~ (Rev. 21:3)