Musings of My Mind

"To a great mind, nothing is little." Sherlock Holmes

Month: December, 2014

On the First Christmas

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan…

While perhaps not one of the most historically accurate carols (it didn’t snow much in Bethlehem), this centuries old hymn evokes perfectly the imagery of my Advent and Christmas seasons. This has been a bleak year for me. Had you asked me at this time last year, I would have told you that 2014’s biggest challenges were adjusting to a new job and turning thirty. How simple those things seem now.

Losing my mother was a plot twist, breaking point, cliffhanger moment for me. Everything in my life is categorized as before or after. Mourning her has been ugly, and messy, and difficult. It has forced me to face all of my demons and then some. I have learned how (poorly) I deal with stress in my life and that compartmentalization is not always healthy.

More than anything, I have learned to be a woman without parents. I have learned to be an orphan. It’s no easy thing, being an orphan. You lose the ability to say where you’re going for the holidays or in what part of the world your family lives. Originally, I thought that losing my mother meant that I would stop being a daughter; that I would stop having a place to belong.

The lessons of Advent teach us about anticipation. We immerse ourselves in the darkness of the world without Christ and see how desperately the world needed a Savior. We look at the darkness in our own world and acknowledge the aching for His return. I understand darkness and I understand ache.

A wise man once said that you cannot fully appreciate the light until you have lived in darkness. My life growing up was not easy, and things have not changed much since adulthood. I have experienced hunger and cold and homelessness. I have experienced loss now more than even before. I am a person in darkness.

Then Christmas comes. God made flesh come to us in human form so that we may fully understand God’s love for us. Jesus, who becomes our brother and invites us into the family. Paul’s letter to the Galatians says that we are no longer slaves, but children; and not only children, but heirs. Do you know what that means for me? It means that I am an orphan who has been adopted. While my biological parents may be gone, I need not fret for I have been pulled into an eternal family. My mother knew most of my secrets and loved me anyway. My Father knows my secrets before I do and still decided I was welcome in His family.

This Christmas was easily the hardest Christmas I have ever faced and yet it has also been one of the best. I am thankful today for a God of paradoxes, who understands that heartbreak and healing can happen simultaneously. The people in darkness have seen a great light.

On The Second Sunday of Advent: FAITH

Semantic satiation (n):  a psychological phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener. Basically, this is the phenomenon of hearing a word so many times that it loses its meaning.

For the Christian community, I think that word is FAITH. We write it on coffee mugs and greeting cards. It’s on t-shirts, Bible covers, even people’s bodies as it is a popular tattoo choice. Having faith, man, that’s what it is all about.

Okay. But what is faith? The author of Hebrews tells us it is the “assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen.” Defined in the OED as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something,” we use faith as the banner of our belief system. We tell one another to have faith, to keep the faith, to seek faith. It’s all words.

The second Sunday of Advent is known as the Sunday of faith, but it is also the Sunday of the prophets. God began sending prophets to His people beginning with Abraham. Prophets are the deliverers of God’s message. They are the people standing before us, proclaiming that we just don’t get it. God used the prophets to explain how He wanted us to live. He used his messengers to tell of the love He had for us, and that’s why He so wanted us to live rightly.

Sometimes, people listened to the prophets and would walk the straight and narrow for a little while. Sometimes, people loathed the prophets. Usually, these were the same people. God’s mouthpieces often faced torment and ridicule and threats of violence. Not to mention they had the unenviable job of saying to their friends, family, and neighbors, “Hey guys? You need to cut it out. Not cool.”

Who would like that guy? No one. No one likes that guy.

The other day, a friend told me about a problem she is having in her office. Her coworkers all got a little rowdy and distracted, and she was the one that reminded them how important it was to stay on task and stay focused. She was met with snide comments and plenty of rolling eyes. Simply put, people don’t respond well to being reminded of the rules.

The prophets kept going. They knew it would be hard. Some of them (looking at you, Jonah) even hated the people to whom they were delivering a message. Yet, they pushed through. They persevered. Because they had faith. Hope in their unseen God; that all of this was worth it. Anticipation in the unseen Messiah that they were telling people about. A complete confidence in a boy from Bethlehem.

I think this Advent, the story of faith is not just about trusting God, but about believing His messengers. What ways is God speaking to you? Through choirs singing carols? Through Christmas cards? The voice or encouragement of a neighbor? Maybe through a sweet boy who put down his blanket long enough to ask, “Lights please!”

May we heed the words of the Collect for the second week of Advent: “…give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer…”

On The First Sunday of Advent: HOPE

Despite the fact that November seemed to not last long enough to be considered an actual month, we have reached its end. Thanksgiving has come and gone and people are finally allowed to listen to Christmas music without the risk of facing my wrath/annoyance at rushing ahead. It is the last Sunday in November which means one very important thing.

It is the first Sunday of Advent.

I’ve learned over the years that there are many people in my life who don’t observe Advent or really have any idea what in the world it might be. So first, a primer.

Advent, in simplest terms; is anticipation. The season of Advent waits on two things. We remember the waiting of the people for a Messiah and we acknowledge our own waiting for His return. Each of the four weeks has a theme, and the first Sunday is all about hope.

The Oxford English Dictionary (delight of my heart) defines hope as ” a feeling of expectation and desire; a feeling of trust (archaic).” A feeling of expectation. I understand desire. Wanting is the easy part. Expecting to get what I desire is something else entirely. I usually expect to get the opposite of what I desire. Seems safer that way.

The people of Israel had a pretty good grasp on wanting but not expecting. They’d been waiting on a Messiah for approximately ALL THE YEARS. All the Prophets spoke of one being brought up to rescue the people. He was going to bring light to the darkness, hope to the hopeless. He would set things to rights. Things were bad. Things were dark. There was 400 years of slavery in Egypt. There was the destruction of the Temple and the diaspora at the hands of the Babylonians. Read Lamentations. Read Psalms. People were stressed and unhappy and longed for a Messiah that had been hundreds of year in the making and yet had never come.

It is no wonder that they often got tired of waiting. I don’t think I would have lasted as long as they did. But, God spoke through the prophets and encouraged the nation. Isaiah tells of God wanting to comfort His people; reassuring them that someone is coming. “Behold, the Lord God will come with might…’ (Isaiah 40:10). Despite generations worth of waiting, God wanted the Israelites to still have hope. He wanted not only their desire, but their expectation. They needed to assume that things would be okay in the end, even if that seemed silly or irrational.

Well over two thousand years later and I face God with desire but without expectation. I see around me darkness. I outline all the reasons that hope is lost; that it will never work. God reminds me that when the world was darkest, He sent a light. Not a king or a warrior, but a baby. His solutions may not look like I expect them to, but He will always provide one.

As the liturgical church begins its new year, as you look out your window and see more darkness than daylight, as the world seems to crush you with overwhelming despair; remember that a star pointed the way to true Light in the darkness and that we should anticipate, we should desire with expectation, we should HOPE that light is returning to our dark world.