Happy New Year!


Posting late because I was at the Happiest/ Most Expensive Place on Earth (oh, this can be several blog posts on its own) instead of somberly thinking about my life and the passage of time and everything about myself I need to change but won't for one reason or another.


As a student, my major reflection time comes in August before I start a new year of school, but I like opportunities like January 1 to sit down and re-evaluate how I've been doing.  Jonathan Edwards' resolutions always provide a nice starting place, so this year, I decided to write out a few questions for myself partially based on them:


  1. Do I seek opportunities to glorify God in my life?
  2. Do I seek opportunities to serve others?
  3. Do I seek those opportunities in the same way that I seek my own profit and pleasure?  (Do I realize that, ultimately, they are the same thing?)
  4. Do I follow-through on those opportunities without regard to the cost of time, resources, or my personal comfort?
  5. What would it look like if I did?
  6. After becoming aware of my sin (either by commission or omission), do I automatically repent, or do I "sit on it" and wait awhile first?
  7. Do I make the most of my time?
  8. Do I cherish life and make the most of it, or do I let time pass me by?
  9. When things don't go my way, how do I respond?
  10. How do I respond to difficult people or situations?
  11. Do I have the desire to learn more about God and become closer to Him?
  12. Do I live in such a way that I will not regret what I have or have not done?
  13. Do I live Gospel-centered and pilgrim-minded?
  14. Is my Christian walk deliberate and active?
  15. In what ways can I become more deliberate and active in my relationships with Christ and others?
  16. How do I view Christ?  My own sin?  Does the way I act or feel align with what I know to be true?
  17. Do I praise, pray, and confess boldly?
  18. Am I faithful to God, the doctrine I profess, and my brothers and sisters?
  19. Do I act as my own person, or as one who has been bought at a price?
  20. And when I realize that I utterly failed last year, will I mourn my sin and be blessed by the comfort of God's grace for past sins and grace for future strength?

Mixed Metaphors and Feelings



A reminder


Encountering the Divine


I smile at a passerby; by his clothes and demeanor, he must be a merchant.  He stares, fingering his money satchel for a brief moment, deliberating, before moving on.  The city has been busy lately, and we’ve had a lot of people passing through.  Business has been good.


Someone grabs my shoulder; I gasp and spin around.  I need to be more careful sometimes.  Not that it’s a luxury I can afford.  However, instead of a large man with grubby hands, I see Samuel.  He’s something of an old friend, if someone like me can have friends.  Abashed, he started to stutter out an apology, but I cut him short.


“Sorry, I’m just a bit jumpy.  You on your way to the fields?”  He’s carrying a young lamb in one hand and his staff in the other.  I’m stating the obvious, but it’s the best I can do to diffuse the awkward atmosphere.


“Yeah, I was just heading out.  You, um,” his eyes dart around, “You’re going to work, too?”  He doesn’t wait for a reply.  “Well, uh, be safe, OK?” he nervously adds, as he turns around, waving over his shoulder.


Flustered, I shout after him, “You too,” and more softly, “good night.” 


I turn around and continue towards my destination and my partner for the night, Steven.  I don’t mind him so much as the others.  He was very in love with his wife, and it was years after her passing before he even thought to see us.  Only 20 and a few years older than me, he probably could find another wife, but I think the loss was just too great.  I delivered the stillborn the night she died.  That was back before I switched jobs for the extra income.  Now he asks for me when he has the money, and I help him the best I can.   He helps me the best he can, too.  It’s not unusual for me to come back with a little extra food from his kitchen to share with my daughter.


I go through the alley connecting to the back of his inn.  Sneaking around doesn’t suit me, but when I took this job swearing to provide for my little girl, I set my pride aside.  He has a respectable business to run, after all.


“I’m sorry, I really am.  There really isn’t enough room.”  I hear his apologetic voice from around the corner.  I stop just before coming into view.  From the looks of it, the man he’s speaking to had been traveling for quite some time.  I continued watching and didn’t even notice the woman behind him until he started raising his voice in desperation and pointing to her.


“But my wif…my betro….she…she’s pregnant.  We need a place to stay.  Please.  Don’t you have an extra bed?  Just give one to her.  I can sleep outside or something.  Please, just…just…don’t leave her in the cold.”


The man is urgent, and I can see why.  His companion is pregnant.  She gasps and clutches her rounded belly.  I’ve seen that look many times before.  That woman is very close to giving birth. Judging by her age and the age of the man with her, they probably don’t know just how close she is.


They continue talking, and then I see the couple turn away, perhaps to try the last few inns down the street.  I try to forget the incident, quickly combing my hair, being careful not to let it snag on my gold earrings.  I feel sorry for the couple, but I have troubles of my own and mouths to feed.  Might as well look presentable.


I come into view just as Steven is about to close the door.


“You heard that, didn’t you?”  I nod in assent.


“How long do you think until she gives birth?”


His question surprises me.  We hardly make reference to my old life anymore; it brings up old wounds for the both of us.  I’m prepared to conclude our business for the night, but clearly he has other concerns on his mind.  I answer as best I can.


“Maybe a day at the most.  Maybe a few hours.  It’s hard to tell without actually touching her.”


“He reminds me of myself,” he whispers, partly to me and partly to no one in particular.   “Sorry, give me a sec,” he continues, half-turning to me, and half-turning to run out the door.  I’m not sure what he plans to do exactly, but I make myself comfortable inside and wait for him to return.


He finally comes back, but he’s running around and grabbing supplies.  “Towels.  We need towels.  And a basin.  And water.  Herbs.  I don’t know if we have it, but what do you need?”  He looks right at me in earnest.


“Wait, what?  What’s going on?”  After I second, I recognize the tools of my old trade.  “No, no, I can’t.  I haven’t in ages.  That was a long time ago.”  The people I work with aren’t exactly happy to give birth.  I can’t say that I haven’t bent to their wishes on occasion.  “What about Martha?”  The town’s midwife would be a much better choice.


“Her husband’s from Bethel, remember?  They’re long gone by now.”  In my head I curse the census and the Empire.  I also wonder if I’m going to get paid tonight.


“Hurry!”  Steven shoves a pile of blankets into my arms and pulls me out the door.  I have no choice but to follow him, but I realize I don’t know where we’re going.  Before I can ask, Steven shouts over his shoulder, “Remember Old Man Zach?  I convinced him to lend his stable.  Well, I had to pay for it.”  With all the rushing and the running, I must have heard him wrong.  A stable?  Who would give birth in a…


We reach the stable, and sure enough, the couple is inside.  The woman’s is screaming in pain.  We got there just in time.  I take a deep breath to compose myself.  I will be this woman’s midwife tonight, whether I like it or not. There’s no other choice.  I regain my senses, and my constitution grows stronger.  Old habits come back into place.


“Get him out of here!” I snap at Steven, pointing to the woman’s husband.  Or was he her betrothed?  I can’t quite remember from his conversation with Steven, but I don’t have time to linger on it.  I hurriedly spread the blankets on the floor.  What a horrid place to deliver a baby.  She shrieks again.  I remember that I’m not the only person on the planet.  No, what a horrid place to give birth.


I start to massage her.  “Breathe.  Breathe.  What’s your name?”  I try to calm her down.  “I need you to remain calm.  Keep breathing for me, OK?”


“Mary,” she replies, between gasps.


“You’re doing great, Mary.  My friend’s name is Mary.  We call her Magdeline.  Mag for short.  She’s around your age, too.”  I make pointless smalltalk.  She nods.  Good, the distraction works, at least for awhile.  Poor girl, she’s giving birth to her first child, and it has to be like this.  Then pain replaces the fear in her eyes.


The next few hours are a blur.  Screaming.  Breathing.  Sweating.  And finally, the smell of blood.  Mary’s cries cease, and another one pierces the air.  “It’s a boy.”


“I know,” she whispers with her eyes closed.  She’s at peace. 


I hold the baby to clean him off, but as I do, I hear a great shout from far off, maybe from the fields.  Or maybe I don’t.  My senses are confused, and all I know is that I am afraid.  I almost drop him because when I touch the baby, I am filled with a sense of guilt.  Who am I to deliver this baby?  These hands…I don’t deserve to hold him.  I feel so dirty, so shameful.  Tears stream down my face, but I don’t know why.  It doesn’t make sense.  I don’t like this feeling, so I hurry to put the baby in his mother’s arms.


She looks up with a smile.  “Joseph, God is with us.”  Steven and the man, apparently Joseph, stand at the mouth of the stable.  I don’t know how long they have been there.  Joseph rushes up to Mary and the baby.


“Thank you,” she says.  Still emotional, I reply, “Mary, you have been favored by God.”  I don’t know why I said that, but it just felt right.  Steven and I take our leave.


Not a word is exchanged between us.  I’m still crying, but I try not to show it.  “You hear that?” he asks.  Footsteps.  A lot of them, and coming closer.  Who are these people?  Their faces come into view, and I pick one out.


“Sam?  Sam!  What’s going on?” I ask, as he almost rushes past.


“Angels!  Shouting!  God!”  He’s excited and out of breath.  Maybe even delusional.


“Slow down.  What happened?  Why aren’t you in the fields?”  It’s Steven’s turn to ask the questions.


Sam then tells us how he and his friends were tending the sheep when they heard a great shout and angels approached them.  He describes the brilliance that filled the sky and the fear that filled their hearts.  I nod.  That must have been what I heard.  And the fear?  I felt that, too.


But he smiles.  “It’s the Messiah.  Peace on earth and goodwill to men. That’s what they said.  We’re going to see him.”  He looks around; the others have already gone ahead.  “Well, they’re probably seeing him now.  I should go join them.  Tell the others!”  With that, he runs off to the stable we just left.


The Messiah?  Peace?  It sounds fantastical.  Is that what Mary meant when she said “God is with us?”  God is with us in Israel?  In Bethlehem?  In a stable?  I don’t understand any of it, but I allow myself to hope.  Maybe that child really will grow up to be the Messiah.  Who knows?  What I do know, is that the more I ponder the mystery, the more fear gives way to a peace I cannot explain.


We reach the inn.  Quietly, we sit down, facing one another.  After a few minutes, Steven breaks the silence.  “That was really something, huh?” he asks, pensively.  He fumbles through his belongings, and takes me by the hand.  “I need to tell the patrons about what happened tonight, but don’t you have a little girl to take care of?”  I feel the coins he presses into my palm.  I hesitate, but he smiles and leaves the room to start down the hall and knock on people’s doors.


“Thank you,” I reply, and I let myself out the front door.

Behold, the lamb of God


Note to my readers:
My aging grandfather has developed his fourth cancer and will yet again undergo chemo, that side of my family isn't saved, and I don't speak the language.  Please keep us all in your prayers.



Photographer: squiggle of flickr under CC2.0 and is released under a similar CC3.0 license.

Peace- how big is your Gospel?


Photobucket

Click once to open the thumbnail, and again for full size.


Image taken from the first page of hits from Google when typing in the phrase "peace on earth" (no quotes)  on 12/16.  Besides the five screenshots merged together for the different enlarged photos, the image shown is "as-is," and there was no further tampering of the background image.  I've actually been wanting to do a post like this for awhile (but with a different subject), and I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out.

I thought of the topic of this post after reading a guest post on SCL.  I thought it was a good reminder to take time off and establish peace in our lives.  We have crazy hectic schedules, and giving ourselves time to rest and pause is important.  Even God rested on the seventh day to show us the importance of rest.

However, I hope that this season (and always), that "peace" will not simply be time carved out of a hectic schedule.  I hope our Gospel is larger than that.

Incarnation


Photobucket

When working on today's post, I fell in love with the stock photo I used and decided to make a wallpaper for myself.  Since there have been requests for wallpaper in the past, I decided to make two sizes available for you guys.  They're uploaded to deviantart because it was the easiest way to make the large files available.


1280 x 800
1920x1080

The photographer is dyet of stock.xchng.

I'm still working on that first wallpaper request  because I can't get the typography quite right, but if you want wallpapers for any of my other works, or if you would like today's image in another resolution, please comment below :)

Jargon


I normally do posts like this on Fridays, but I have my last final on Friday.  I figured I would use this for Wednesday's post instead.

I went to a Christmas dinner and candlelight service the other day.  It was nice.  We sang songs, held hands, lit candles, and ate.  And something the pastor kept talking about was the "miracle" of Christmas.  The "joy" of Christmas.  The "peace" of Christmas.  He kept saying that these were all supposed to be things for us to think about and appreciate.  Oh, he briefly ran through the Gospel in a sentence or two, but left feeling like I wanted more.  Why is Christmas a miracle?  Why is there joy?  Where's the peace?  I supposed to reflect on the ________ of Christmas, but what about Christ Himself?  Where was he in all of this?


Not a carol, but a hymn



Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most bless├Ęd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.
Have you heard this song before?  It's the first verse of an old hymn.  I'm not sure if I've even sung it at church before, but I used to play this song on the keyboard when I was part of Bible Study Felowship's children's program.  I was trying to explain the incarnation to a friend of mine, and this song came to mind.  What it describes is basically everything that baby Jesus didn't have.

Immortal?  Jesus was born to die on a cross.
Invisible? The Spirit God took on human flesh.
Wise? Not only did Christ take on human flesh, he started off as a baby.  He drooled and spat and had to be cleaned up after.  He babbled, like any baby does, trying to grasp the right phonemes that corresponded to Aramaic.
Inaccessible?  Jesus was born in a stable, where shepherds and fieldhands rushed to greet him.
Almighty and victorious?  Oh, He will be.  But not until thirty-three years later after he had led the country, come back, was threatened with stoning, was beaten, mocked, and killed.  His almighty and victorious rise from the dead, and later his ascension, would not be for a very long time to come.


Scandal


It's been said that the most scandalous point of human history was the day that Jesus was killed.  I don't dispute this, but I think the second most scandalous point was the day of his birth.  That's where the miracle lies.  Not that a baby can be born of a virgin.  That's nothing to God.  It's the thought that Christ would come to earth at all that floors me.  That's where the miracle is.  The joy.  The peace.

May you truly appreciate the miracle of Christmas, be filled with joy and peace, and that you will not only embrace the jargon of Christmas but you will have an encounter with Christ Himself.

Not Crazy. Just a Little Unwell.





Photographer: D Sharon Pruitt, Pink Sherbet Photography of  flickr under CC2.0.

Note: Sorry for not posting on Friday or Saturday.  I have had a post on the Incarnation stewing in my mind for awhile, but my final was on Friday.  Up until Friday, the worst test in my academic career (including college exams, all of undergrad AND the LSAT) was my makeup AP Computers exam (it was originally scheduled the same time as AP Spanish, thus the makeup) in a dimly-lit, highly air-conditioned and cramped storage closet adjacent to a rowdy classroom watching a movie.  True story.  After last Friday, though, I'm not sure which one was worse.  I could have still typed out my post, but I really want to take the time and sit down to do it justice.

In the absence of my post on the Incarnation, I was considering not posting at all, but then I remembered that I'm not the only one with a life.  Some of you, like me, are dealing with academics, some with work, some with family situations, some with sickness, and it's highly probable that some of you are dealing with some combination of these things all at once, not to mention bearing the burdens of someone else dealing with their own issues.  Christmas is a stressful time for everyone.

Consider this post a prayer for my readers: Don't get distracted.  Focus.  And may you experience and understand the height, depth, breadth, and width of the peace and goodwill with the Father that the Son established through becoming a man, our priest, and our sacrifice.

A Tame Lion


Photobucket

Click to enlarge, click again for full size.

Photographer: John Pavelka of flickr under CC2.0.

The Canary Test




Photographer: pereguine blue of flickr under CC2.0.

My Favorite Christmas Poem


I hope you will be patient with me these next couple weeks, as I will be studying/ taking my finals.  (Expect another coffee-related post soon!)

Today, I will leave you with my favorite Christmas poem "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" by Milton.  I have to expect that your schedules are as busy (or worse) as mine, so I'll just post the first two stanzas for you to meditate on.  Here, Milton focuses on the sacrifice of the incarnation: the glory, majesty, and power that Christ gave up to become human "that our deadly forfeit should release" and bring us peace with the Father.


I

THis is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav'ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.

II

That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherwith he wont at Heav'ns high Councel-Table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside; and here with us to be,
Forsook the Courts of everlasting Day,
And chose with us a darksom House of mortal Clay.

Our Worst Enemy





Photographer: Peter Palander of flickr under CC2.0.

See also: Christ is Deeper Still.  "What are you doing, in obedience to the Word of God, that positions you for either God or total collapse?"

I'm also reminded of this old post of mine, even though that was before I settled on my current vertical graphics format.