On a Cold Winter's Night…

One of the great classic Christmas carols, “The First Noel,” describes the night of Christ’s birth as a “cold winter’s night, that was so deep.”

It is dreamy and dramatic to think of Jesus coming into a cold, dark, dreary (and even snowy) world, bringing angels, glorious stars, kings bearing expensive gifts, and joyous songs.

In the past two posts, we’ve looked at Jesus as the Light of the World, and the Word of God; we’ve looked at Advent as a time of darkness and silence, in anticipation of the coming light and the Gospel. The idea that the world before the Birth of the Savior was cold continues the pattern of absence. Darkness does not exist independently. Neither does silence or cold. Each is the absence of something else– Light, sound, warmth–and it can only be known by the degree to which its opposite is reduced, distant, or absent.
In contrast, the light, sound, or warmth is made more evident in contrast with its opposite–we may not notice a slight difference in lighting on a sunny day, or a slight difference in temperature; but a candle in a dark room, or a whisper in a silent auditorium has a dramatic effect.

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

We don’t actually know the exact date of Jesus’ birth, and while December falls during winter, that doesn’t always mean a cold night in every part of the world. If shepherds were watching their flocks in fields just outside of Bethlehem, it is not likely that the temperatures were below freezing, or that there was snow and ice all around. The Middle East is not known for icy winters, after all. Nighttime generally brings colder temperatures, and it may be close to freezing by the middle of the night if you have no fire or protection from the wind, but a “cold winter’s night” is more likely to be found in Minnesota or Finland, not in Bethlehem, and usually in the middle of winter– January– rather than the beginning of the season.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

However, just like the darkness and silence, the cold of that first Christmas was spiritual in nature. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+1%3A9-12&version=ESV). Jesus entered a frigid world– a world of closed-off people, suspicious, oppressed, angry, sick, and world-weary. Hatred can be cold, but colder still is apathy and disdain and hopelessness. The world of Advent is a world desperate for the light and heat and sound of God’s love– not because God is absent, but because people have moved so far away from Him. The light becomes dimmer, the songs become a series of indistinct noises, and the cold and damp of night creep into our souls. Today, even with the hope and light of the Gospel story, we take our focus off of the true light of the world, and the true source of warmth and love, and too often focus on the lesser warmth of a new jacket, or the glittering lights of a shopping center, or the strident sounds of greed and envy.

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Jesus may not have come in the cold of midwinter. But He came into a world of cold hearts as a helpless baby in a strange and unwelcoming land. And he was wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough– the warmest place that could be found. But even in this tiny, shivering baby, there was the warmth of Pure Love. And it was felt by all who came in contact with Him– shepherds rejoiced, Mary pondered, Wise Men knelt in adoration.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I love seeing candles and firesides at Christmas time– I love coming into a warm house, full of laughter and love, or singing carols on a cold night, and being invited inside to share the warmth. I love fellowship at church, and sharing a hug and a smile with those I meet. Imagine the warmth of God with us–All of the warmth and life of being wrapped in the arms of Grace, and held by the nail-scarred hands, never to be cold or alone ever again. Can you feel it? Can you anticipate it? Imagine passing that on to someone who has never known such warmth…on a cold winter’s night…

Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Christmas is a time of joy and light. But the time of Advent is often a time of somber reflection. We remember a time we have never known– a time before the coming of Christ the Messiah– a time before the mysteries of Heaven were revealed and before the victory of Salvation was accomplished. Advent reminds us of the spiritual darkness that existed before God, in human form, in humble obedience, and in sacrificial love, became the Light of the World, and the Hope of All Nations.

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Pexels.com

Before the bells rang, and the angels sang; before the kings brought gold and the shepherds ran to tell the news; before there were Christmas Carols, Christmas decorations, or Christmas pageants– there was solemn silence, fear, dread, and waiting. God had been silent. The prophets had been silent. The world had grown hard and cold.

Jesus stepped out of the unfathomable glory of the Highest Heaven– surrounded by armies of angels all worshiping Him and ready to do His bidding. In an instant, He became a helpless fetus inside a helpless young woman, a subject of the Roman Empire, and at the mercy of her culture. Her fiance could have repudiated her; her parents could have disowned her; her community could have had her stoned to death, along with her unborn child. No one, even those who were anticipating the arrival of a Christ, was expecting this tiny baby growing inside the womb to change the course of history.

Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

He was born in obscurity, in ignominious squalor. He was the Lord of All Creation, wrapped in rags and laid in a feeding trough in an overcrowded city at tax time. There were no bells or carolers, no glittering trees or festivals of lights, no sounds of joy and celebration– not in that manger in Bethlehem. Instead, there were strangers pushing and shoving, shouting, and snoring in the inns and houses and streets, being watched by soldiers and pickpockets alike, as they made their way through narrow, unfamiliar streets and tried to lock out the worry and danger and dread. There may have been silence in the fields and valleys outside of town, but not near the stable where Jesus was born. No. The “silence” we sing about during Advent is the silence inside our own hearts– a call to “be still,” and know that this baby we celebrate is God Incarnate. He is the One to whom every knee will one day bow, and every tongue confess that He is LORD.

Photo by Luck Galindo on Pexels.com

In the stillness and silence of Advent, in the darkness lit only by candles and faint hope, we being to understand the contrast. We re-imagine what came before the joy and hope and eternal clouds of witnesses shouting, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” We remember the days and years before the angels sang, and the star danced across the night sky– before the shocking crucifixion and the glorious resurrection of this still unborn Savior.

Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

Let us spend these days of Advent preparing our hearts for the true wonder of Christmas. It doesn’t come in the wrapped packages under a festive tree, or in the feasting with friends or family. It doesn’t come with sirens and parades, or speakers at the mall blaring out favorite tunes. It doesn’t come in the majesty of a Cathedral ringing with the voices of a choir and organ. It comes when the silence and darkness of our sin and dread are pierced with the overwhelming glory of God With Us– Emmanuel is coming! But for now, for these moments, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.

Love Lifted Me

I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and I have been saved from my enemies.
The cords of death entangled me;
    the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
    the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came before him, into his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
    and the foundations of the mountains shook;
    they trembled because he was angry.
Smoke rose from his nostrils;
    consuming fire came from his mouth,
    burning coals blazed out of it.
He parted the heavens and came down;
    dark clouds were under his feet.
10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
    he soared on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
    the dark rain clouds of the sky.
12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
    with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded.
14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
    with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
    and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, Lord,
    at the blast of breath from your nostrils.
16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me
.

Psalm 18:1-19 NIV (taken from biblegateway.com)
Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

I grew up hearing hymns– lots of them. My mother and grandmother and aunt all played the piano or organ for church, and often practiced during the week. My father led the congregational singing sometimes, and my grandfather taught himself to play many musical instruments, and used hymns to become familiar with the chords, notes, and fingerings of the instrument du jour. The congregation at our small church sang with more gusto than musical talent, but we sang during the Sunday morning service, the Sunday evening service, the Wednesday evening service, and at any special occasion.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Two things happened as a result of this: one not-so-good, and one very good thing. The not-so-good thing was that I became somewhat inured to the songs and lyrics– I knew what the songs said, but I didn’t really understand or internalize the truths they contained. However, the very good thing was that the hymns stuck in my memory– years later they came back like the best of friends to comfort me, challenge me, and remind me of sacred realities in the midst of mundane frustrations and worldly confusions.

This old hymn, neglected, out-dated, and seldom sung in our current services, was my lullaby growing up. My mother would sing it over and over as she rocked me to sleep, often running out of verses and words and just humming or filling in with “la, la la, la,” until she reached the chorus.
“Love lifted me. Love lifted me. When nothing else could help, Love lifted me.”

As a young child, I experienced the loving arms of my dear mother lifting me to her lap and rocking me for what seemed like hours until I drifted off to sleep. As a teen, I scoffed at the lyrics a bit–what need had I to be lifted and helped, when I was invincible and young and ready to conquer the world. As an adult, this old hymn came back with power and comfort when my own efforts and life’s stormy circumstances left me with little hope and lots of confusion, doubt, and regret. It reminds me that help and hope can be found even in the raging storms of grief, depression, oppression, and pain. “When nothing else could help…” God could, and did! He can and will!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Love lifted me”–such a simple phrase, and by itself not a solid foundation for hope and victory. In fact, there are many popular songs that speak of love lifting a person up, making one feel buoyant and hopeful, joyful or young. But this song speaks of a different and everlasting, all-powerful love– the Love of Christ. And it doesn’t just lift us up from one pleasant place to another. It reaches down into the depths of sin, despair, and even death to lift us up beyond all hope, beyond any strength or effort we could generate or receive from any other source. And this great Love reaches down to lift me–even me! It does not belong only to the elite, the wealthy, the beautiful people, the gifted or the powerful. In fact, this love is especially close and available to those who have done nothing to deserve it; those who have been bypassed and ignored and left to drown in their own shame and sorrow.

Photo by Edward Eyer on Pexels.com

Love. Lifted. Me! My prayer is that this same Love will surround you today, lifting you up, and helping you, just as it helps me and brings me life and hope, to the Glory of Christ our Savior.

How Great Thou Art

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee; How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

wild-flowers-flowers-plant-macro-40797.jpeg

Clouds dot the cerulean sky,
A gentle breeze whispers,
And flowers nod as I walk
A country path.
Then sings my soul.

photo of buildings near ocean
Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

Trees bow and rain coils,
Gales roar and city streets
Shiver as I wait
In sheltered awe.
Then sings my soul.

pexels-photo-539944.jpeg

A newborn nestles in my arms
Making sucking noises
In its slumber,
As arms and legs
Learn to measure open space.
Then sings my soul.

trees in park
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Families gather in black
Murmuring comfort
In somber tones
As they learn to
Measure the empty space.
Then sings my soul.

How Great Thou Art!
How awesome in power!
How glorious your Creation!
How mysterious your ways!
How lavish in Life,
And triumphant over Death!

animal avian beak bird
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

My souls sings;
Sometimes sweet and low,
And sometimes keening.
My soul dances;
It reels and skips and sways.
My soul cries and laughs and trills.
But always, it says,
“How Great Thou Art!”

sky space dark galaxy
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Praying in Tune

I have a song that Jesus gave me,
It was sent from Heaven above;
There never was a sweeter melody,
‘Tis a melody of love.

I love the Christ who died on Calvary,
For He washed my sins away;
He put within my heart a melody,
And I know it’s there to stay.

‘Twill be my endless theme in Glory;
With the angels I will sing;
‘Twill be a song with glorious harmony,
When the courts of Heaven ring!

In my heart there rings a melody,
There rings a melody with Heaven’s harmony;
In my heart there rings a melody;
There rings a melody of Love.

Hymn by Elton M. Roth (1891-1951)

My grandfather had perfect pitch–he could hear a musical note and tell you what the note was or whether it was “in tune”.  He loved music and taught himself to play several musical instruments, including trombone, ukulele, auto harp, thumb harp, saxophone, violin, flute, banjo, dulcimer, trumpet, penny whistle, ocarina, and harmonica.  My grandmother played piano, organ, and a host of percussion instruments.

close up of ukulele

brass classic classical music close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

My grandfather could hear perfect pitch, but he rarely sang.  He could make wonderful music with instruments, but not with his own voice.  He might have done so, but he never bothered to practice.  In fact, while he could play a multitude of instruments, he never became proficient on any of them.

music note book and silver soprano flute close up photography
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Prayer is accessible to anyone, as is music, but tuning and practice are required if we want to pursue prayer as a discipline and a means to develop a more harmonious relationship with God.  Prayers that are out of tune can be sharp– nagging, complaining attempts to bargain with God; or they can be flat– lifeless and empty of trust and affection.  Prayers that lead to growth, healing, and change are those that are “attuned” to the heart of God.  What a sweet song of praise when we live in harmony with God and others– working, growing, sharing, and singing together.

pexels-photo-730588.jpeg
Photo by Blue Ox Studio on Pexels.com

I don’t have perfect pitch– I can usually hear if my voice or my flute seems out of tune with another instrument or other voices, but sometimes I need help.  The same is true of my pursuit of prayer.  I need help to keep in tune– a prayer journal is one tool I use.  But it also helps to have a prayer group or prayer partner, a prayer list, or a book of prayer.  For more ideas, see:  Proactive Prayer Points  and Prayer Journal.

ancient antique architecture art
Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

 

 

I Sing Because I’m Happy

There is a great old hymn– His Eye Is On the Sparrow– and the chorus says:

I sing because I’m Happy,
I sing because I’m Free.
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Full lyrics here

It is a great reminder that, as followers of Christ, we always have a reason to be happy and to sing his praises, even when circumstances are confusing or situations are trying.

pexels-photo-145378.jpeg

I love this old song, but sometimes, even though I have reason to be happy, I don’t feel like singing.  The same happens with prayer.  Some days, I’m just not feelin’ it.  It’s not necessarily that I’m miserable or angry.  Sometimes, I’m distracted, or even happy doing self-centered things.

I find it easier to pray when I’m sad or needy– my brokenness brings me closer to God.  When things are going along just fine, I sometimes forget the true source of my joy and strength.  I take for granted that God and I are close, not realizing that I haven’t spoken to him lately, or that I have whispered a quick, shallow prayer, but I haven’t spent much quality time with the lover of my soul.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says: “I don’t sing because I am Happy– I am happy because I sing.”

pexels-photo-462442.jpeg

At first, it may sound like this is a contradiction of the beloved hymn, but really it is a complement.  I sing because I’m happy, but if I sing no matter how I start out feeling, I find myself happier!  I pray because I want to be close to God, but I stay closer to God because I pray.  When I was younger, I used to base my prayer life on how I felt.  It’s yet another reason I now use a prayer journal. Read more about keeping a Prayer Journal  It keeps me disciplined and helps me maintain a stronger prayer life.  We all know that prayer is a key element in building a strong relationship with God and others, but it has to be practiced to be effective.  Other key elements are:

  • Reading the Bible/doing a Bible study
  • Fellowship with other believers
  • Obedience– Actively following God’s example
  • Confession/Forgiveness

Any of these elements can become lackluster and difficult, especially if we aren’t practicing them daily.  And all of the elements will become stronger through practice.  Not only that, but they will blend together better, and the end result is a stronger, healthier, happier you.

pexels-photo-236149.jpeg

And that’s worth singing about!

Can You Hear Me Now?

We experienced some storms last week, and while we didn’t have a lot of damage from the winds and rain, my husband and I lost our internet connection over the weekend.  No wireless internet meant no Facebook, no WordPress, no e-mail, and no cash register at our little shop downstairs.  We had to do every transaction by hand until we could rig up something so our smart phone could accept cards; no new chip cards, no Apple Pay or PayPal.  And while our phone could begin to accept limited credit payments, it could not provide any printed receipts, nor could it do double duty– we either had a phone or a point-of-sale device, but not both!

It was an inconvenience, but not a disaster.  I thought about thousands of people who are stuck in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and blizzards who have no electricity, no phone lines, no cell service, no roads, no water or sewer lines–cut off from common necessities and basic communication.  Suddenly, an emergency becomes even more tragic because of the isolation, and the inability to ask for help or to hear any message of hope.  (Of course, my husband would like me to put in a short plug here about the advantages of amateur radio– the radios can run on battery power and still connect over hundreds of miles!)

sound-speaker-radio-microphone.jpg

Isolation is an earthly concept.  God is eternally Triune.  He created us for relationship; from the very beginning, he declared that it is not good for “man” to be alone (Genesis 2:18)  God instituted marriage, and families, and communities so that we would stay connected, and he himself came to walk and talk with mankind in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.  It is mankind who hid from God and broke off communication– one of the effects of Sin is the desire to run away, to separate, to isolate and cut off relationships and break off contact.

That is one reason that prayer is so basic; so essential.  It is a lifeline to the one who loves us best, who knows what we need, and has the power to hear us, to help us, to lift us up wherever we may be, whatever our circumstances.

pexels-photo-787452.jpeg

But sometimes, even when we want to talk to God, it seems impossible to speak or feel like he hears us.  Sometimes, we are the ones who can’t come up with words, or can’t settle our minds to seek his face.  Sometimes, we pour out our hearts and wait in silence for an answer.   Why should it be that just when we need it most, prayer seems the hardest?

I wish I had a pithy, perfect answer.  I don’t know.  I have a few incomplete thoughts, though:

  • what comes easily has less value to us.  Cheap and pointless conversation doesn’t make us work hard, but it also leaves us empty and unsatisfied.  Crying out to God is hard–it humbles us, it strips us bare and uncovers all our pretenses and subterfuge.  The true depth of our need is ripped out of us like a tumor, and it hurts, but it is a healing hurt.  Waiting in silence can cause us to become restless and to doubt, but it also can cause us to listen more attentively– we strain to hear the answer; we stop the white noise of busyness and half-hearted hand-wringing, and listen with our whole being.  And the smallest whisper– that still, small voice– has the power of the first rain after a long drought.  We are revitalized and our strength renewed as never before.

pexels-photo-546657.jpeg

  • sometimes, though not always, we find prayer difficult because we have not really prayed for a long time (if ever)– we have developed a habit of saying words to the empty air and thinking that the words themselves hold some power of hope or magic or self-fulfilling prophecy.  When life’s realities cannot be wished away with simple words, we search for distractions, for other types of words, for other “realities”, when we should be searching for our maker and the lover of our souls.
  • sometimes, it is a matter of unacknowledged or unconfessed sin that keeps us from breaking through in prayer.  However, there are many people who will use this as a default position, and that, too, is wrong.  Jesus had such difficulty in praying at Gethsemane that he sweat drops of blood— NOT because of unconfessed sin, but because his heart was that overwhelmed.  Still, we should examine ourselves to see if we have started to move away from God– better to turn back than to go father afield.
  • sometimes, as with Christ in the Garden, our hearts are just overwhelmed in the moment– it’s hard to breathe!  It’s hard to go on; it’s hard to ask for help; it’s hard to keep the faith.  Just because it’s difficult, don’t give up– even if all you can do is groan or whimper–even if it feels like God has closed up the heavens and left you alone–don’t give up.  God DOES hear, he DOES care.  Sometimes, we are inches from victory– don’t give up!

And what can we do during those times?  Again, I wish I had better answers, but what I have, I want to share– some from my own experience, some wisdom from others, some of both:

  • Learn to “pray outside the box”–
    • Sing–sing the blues, sing an old hymn, sing along with the radio, sing like nobody else is listening
    • Write it out– write a letter, write an angry letter if you have to– write a rant, write a poem, write out all your questions
    • Move– dance, pace, run, punch a pillow, do some sit-ups, mop the floor, scrub the sink– as you get a rhythm going, add your thoughts or questions to your movements
    • Cry it out– it’s ok to cry, moan, sob, weep, or just stare into space and rock yourself to sleep after all the tears have dried up.  Jesus wept (John 11:35)– what makes us think that we can’t?

landscape-nature-man-person.jpgpexels-photo-256658.jpeg

  • Count your blessings
    • Make a list of what you have; what you have to be grateful for; what you have experienced and enjoyed now or in the past
    • Make a list of your questions, concerns, needs, wants, wishes–Now think back ten years and make a list of what you wanted then, and how many of those concerns have been answered, altered, or forgotten.
    • Put yourself in another time or place– what do you have here and now that others lack?  How do your present troubles compare to what others have had to deal with?
  • Ramp up your pursuit of God in other areas–
    • Search for answers in His word
    • Seek the companionship of someone you trust who will help you keep on going
    • Seek out counselors, web sites, and/or a church group or family who can keep you from becoming isolated

pexels-photo-935944.jpeg

 

The single most important thing is to continue the pursuit– seek God with all your heart–and you will find him sufficient through the silent times, as well as through the roaring of the fiercest storms.

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑