Merriest Christmas

Merriest of Christmases to you, my friends! From my family of gingers, we wish you many blessings as the hope of Advent ushers us into the joy of Christmas! We look forward to the light of coming Epiphany, for the light of the nations has come. Sing loud, sing long, sing with gladness ~ sing of this joy, come to all the world!

“Then let us all with one accord,
sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
[who] hath made heav’n and earth of nought,
And with His blood mankind hath bought!”

“Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.
Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!”

Feasting Through Advent

A practice that I have enjoyed with my family in the last few years is focusing on feasting and hospitality for the duration of the Advent season, and actually right up through Epiphany when possible. I think it stemmed from two different traditions: one, with family; the other, with friends.

The first, with family, stems from my childhood. I grew up in a Silicon Valley suburb in California, living within two miles of my entire maternal side of the family, which consisted of five generations for almost a decade. Many of us attended church together every Sunday morning, and I still love remembering the long pew we filled in the balcony of my childhood Bible Church. A pillar for about a dozen years in my formative years, that place still makes cameo appearances in my dreams and holds a tender spot in my heart. But even the relatives who didn’t join us in worship on Sunday mornings, joined us for Family Dinner on Sunday evening. There was always a standing invitation (and, honestly, expectation) for family members: 6pm Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s house. Those evenings of food, loud table conversation, helping in the kitchen, reading the funny papers with my Great Grandpa, watching America’s Funniest Home Videos with my uncles, and pitching in with my little cousins planted in me the love of tradition, family dinners, and generational living. After we moved away from CA, and all of our relatives, the tradition died – and it was dearly missed.

The second tradition root is the annual habit of sharing an Epiphany feast with friends (alternating between their home and our home). As a way to reconnect and celebrate with longtime friends at the conclusion of the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany narrative, we have actually managed to keep this annual celebration for roughly a decade already, and I thought it would be fun to extend that idea to other friends as well.

Those are the two backstories which grew into my current practice of Advent weekends. It makes for an intense month of hospitality – but what is the Incarnation about? Ultimately, it is about the most intense hospitality imaginable. It is my joy to nibble at the edges of that glorious example of generosity and grace.

On Saturday evenings, we have an open invitation to family to join us for our Advent feast. This is the uppercrust version, where we have fancier foods, use goblets and china, sing hymns, read Scripture & a liturgy, have candles flickering all over the room to light the darkness, and light the candles in our advent wreath. We also give a group gift to our children after the meal, reminding them that the reason we give gifts is because we have been recipients of the ultimate gift of Christ. The gifts this year have been Advent calendars (the classic chocolate-a-day), matching flannel pajamas, a board game, and an outdoor game. This year, my parents and my grandma have joined us every Saturday evening, and it has been an enormous gift.

On Advent Sundays after corporate worship, we have a family over to share a simpler meal and fellowship & play & rest together, in the wake of Jesus coming to make all things new and spread the Gospel to all peoples. We usually have some variance of soup and bread and dessert to share, although a casserole in lieu of soup has been just as simple this year. We set up the meal buffet-style, often use paper plates/bowls, and have no set liturgy (but are always glad to hand out hymnals and carol together).

These four weeks of hospitality, fellowship, feasting, and anticipation are something our family looks forward to throughout the year. And each year, I think I grow personally in my skill & joy of hosting. Be not deceived: it is hard work! But by God’s grace, I am learning to focus on the aspects of it which actually matter (filling bellies, fattening souls, engaging minds, encouraging hearts), and letting go what is unnecessary or selfish or perfectionistic.

The hope of Advent is almost fulfilled… the joy of Christmas is almost here… the light of Epiphany is on its way…

We are Christmas people! Let us feast together & rejoice!

Celebrations

Why do we celebrate? Why do we have traditions around things like birthdays and holidays and seasons and the Church calendar? These are not commanded celebrations or traditions, to be sure, but they are gifts to myself and my family and those whom we embrace in hospitality. God loves to show abundance in His kindness and mercy in His remembering. As image-bearers, I think it is particularly beautiful when we seek to copy Him in this abundance and mercy. If I have an opportunity to be kind, let me be showing it with abandon. If I have an opportunity to remember, let me do so with an active mercy to all around me.

As the wife and mother in my household, I get to set the tenor and timbre of most of the family traditions and celebrations we pursue (especially those we ultimately keep), and this is a huge privilege as well as honor. I want to do it with joy! But does that mean that, in order for it to bear good fruit, I also need to have a facade of happy whimsy or only put my hands to this work when I am feeling full of glee? No indeed.

As the tradition-maker, tradition-leader, tradition-keeper in our home, I get to set my hands, my mind, my heart, and my attitude toward the principle of joy in these things whether it comes naturally or not. I won’t seek to cultivate traditions that nobody likes or enjoys or remembers fondly, nor will I seek to be legalistic about traditions. Birthdays happen whether we have a cake, blow out a candle after singing a certain song, give gifts, or not. The only thing necessary for a birthday is to have a birth followed by a passage of time. My husband turns 38 today regardless of whether or not I made him a cake and gave him a gift. But I did those things because I love him, and we happen to keep those traditions in our family… I knew it would bless him if I kept those habits.

And with other traditions, this is likewise true. Tomorrow is the first day of Advent (which begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas), although some of our Advent traditions won’t start until two days later, because some things just do 25 days in December. Both work just fine for me, and help me lead in gently. I can wade in each year without just throwing myself off an unseen sandbar. Advent does not necessitate nor imply drowning.

The Church calendar still begins the new year tomorrow, whether I mark it or not. There will be a candle lit in its honor at our morning worship service whether we light one at home or not. Christmas is still coming! We can’t keep it back! Even the world around us knows that they can’t stop it from coming. Just ask the Grinch. The Light has come: darkness has been shattered.

But in my love of Advent, I have gathered up some traditions through my years as the keeper at home. Keeping in line with our family’s deepest loves and culture-cornerstones, our traditions with Advent center primarily around books, music, food, and hospitality.

I am going to share some of our Advent traditions here this year. From recipes to poetry to devotional stories artwork, it is good to Mark what one’s own pursuits are as well as to learn from those of others around you.

One of our Advent traditions that starts today for us is our weekly Advent Dinner. On Saturday night, we kick off the next week of Advent with an upscaled dinner complete with chocolates, wine, readings & singing, and a group gift for the children. My parents live next door, so they have an open invitation to join us, and sometimes my grandma comes as well. It is full of candles and sparkle and my great-grandma’s china dishes. Then on Sundays after corporate worship at church, we have a family or two over for a simple lunch coupled with robust fellowship.

To start off my sharing this week, here were our menus:

Saturday Advent Feast:

•buttermilk biscuits with peach jam
•roasted Brussels sprouts, asparagus, carrots, & onion
•southern fried chicken
salted caramel brown sugar cheesecake

Sunday’s Hospitality Lunch:

•lasagna (gooey, cheesy, beefy!)
•sourdough bread with soft butter
•salad with bright balsamic dressing
•buttered carrots
•pecan pie
pumpkin cake with cinnamon icing

Holy, Lowly

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Christmas swept into our midst again in its quiet, slow, lowly way. It began to seep in around the edges right after Thanksgiving, as it does, and it simply grew – the days more pregnant with glory and hope and sparkle and holiness after each subsequent night. Advent was minimalistic for us this year, out of happenstance rather than purpose, but in its own lowly way that too showed us the beauty of Christmas Day itself and the glories of this holy week following that holy day. With simple chocolates each night and reading Advent Scriptures & stories when I managed to sneak them in, with a small amount of baking and wrapping of gifts little by little – suddenly it was Christmas Eve. Worship on Christmas Eve morning was bright and sweet, joyful and peaceful. Being on this side of the story gives so much joy even in the here-but-not-yet atmosphere of a day like Christmas Eve. We know what follows on the heels of the Eve.

We spent the day with our church family, eating pizza and cookies and popcorn, ice skating on a hilltop in a backyard rink that made something simple utterly glorious. That evening came with our annual “webcam Christmas” of opening gifts and sharing joys across the miles through the gift of modern technology, followed by watching a movie as a family and flitting around accomplishing last minute touches on food and gifts for the following day.

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Once I had four little ones tucked into bed with books and flashlights, and strict instructions not to leave their beds until 7 o’clock the following morning, we filled stockings, sprinkled chocolate coins around the coffee table, and piled festive gifts around the base of our Christmas tree.

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The tree that is topped with a star, reminding us to follow the light of Jesus wherever it leads. The tree which reminds us of where our story began with Adam & Eve, and where our story will end with the Tree of Life. It reminds us of the fig tree, of the cross on which our Lord was crucified. It shows us so many things. The abundance of pretty packages simply a tiny foretaste of the abundant grace our Holy God pours upon us each day as His lowly children.

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And in the morning: cinnamon roll bread, reading, singing as a family (in three part harmony!!), opening gifts, sharing joys and generosity with one another, words of thanks and humble gratitude spilling everywhere, innumerable hugs and indomitable laughter.
When we said that it was time for presents, and our two year old ran to the tree and started grabbing for gifts and handing them to his siblings, Steven and I looked at each other: there is holy glory here in these joyfully lowly moments.

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I am a rich woman, given tremendous treasures. I am a lowly steward of incredible jewels. There is a holiness here as we celebrate the birth of our King, as we recall one of the earth-shattering events in history that God used to alter both time and creation. The dichotomy of holy and lowly, glory and gore. In a conversation with our children on Christmas morning, we mused about the idea of delivering a baby in a stable… the place where animals lived, ate, shed, and made all imaginable messes. No wonder Mary chose the feeding trough for the baby’s bed! At least it was only the animals’ mouths that frequented that spot! But even our little children, when thinking about it conversationally, could see the lowly humility Jesus willingly enfleshed. The Word Himself, going to sleep in the manger after growing within the body of a human girl and pressing into the world of oxygen through all the pain of a birth canal.

Our Jesus.
Our King.
The Holy Baby.
Savior and Servant.

Lewisquote

Ordinary

There are some days that, while filled with nothing but the ordinary, feel truly extraordinary nonetheless.

In the liturgical Church year, incidentally, today is the last day of Ordinary Time prior to tomorrow launching this year’s Advent season. Well, perhaps it is less than incidental: in fact, it may be the precise reason I thought of this in the first place.

One of my friends is at the hospital in labor today with her first child, after years of longing to be given the gift of motherhood.
One of my friends, who I babysat & taught piano to for years and then who was a flowergirl/maid in my own wedding, is getting married this afternoon.
And my one and only Grandpa will have his bones laid to rest in a couple of hours.

The intersection of some of life’s moments of highest pinnacle!

And here I am at my home, living in the very ordinary routine of my life.
Dishes, laundry, feeding my people, changing diapers, loading up crockpots, listening to a podcast while I walk around in circles between my own needy little people and my weary old brown boxes of Christmas decorations that I’m trying to unload into a semblance of celebratory beauty around my home.

Ordinary.

But just because it is ordinary does not mean it has no value. Some of the most monumental and majestic of events rely fully upon those who are holding down the forts in the world of the ordinary!

And so as I chop onions for chili and cut fat into flour for pie, as I transfer laundry loads and sweep up pineneedles from the family room rug, as I interact with my children and scatter Christmas decorations around my home, I wait for my ordinary little phone to buzz. I get updates from my friend waiting for her body to be delivered of her tiny son. I get updates from my mama who is waiting for her father’s body to be laid to rest. I watch the clock as I anticipate the covenant-making of my friend as two shall become one.

This is ordinary yet it is majestic.

On this last day of Ordinary Time prior to Advent, I am thinking about the power of the ordinary.
Ordinary things like life, birth, death, marriage, parenthood, homes, food, tangible, physical things.
And tomorrow when Advent bursts onto the scene, I anticipate one friend’s arms will be filled with her little son; another young friend entangled with her husband; and my grandpa will be planted in the earth awaiting the harvest of the Resurrection.
I will go to worship, partake of communion, sing, pray, and rejoice because the majestic King of creation came to earth in the ordinary form of a baby with human DNA just like me and lived a life full of ordinary, tangible, physical things.

Maybe it is the ordinary things, after all, which are the true pinnacle of the majestic.

The Printed Word

The five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation in Europe is kind of a big deal right now. As in, I feel like I have seen it pretty much everywhere online, I attended a conference themed on it, I know local churches with Reformation Day parties this year (even ones that wouldn’t normally have gone to the trouble), etc. It is pretty amazing. Now, while I was trying to focus on United States history with my kids this year, for a two week period (last week and this coming week), we are putting it all aside and replacing it with a unit study on the Reformation. What a great time we have been having! Our focus in this Reformation unit is primarily art and literature, which necessarily includes copywork and theology and singing and other such wonderful things. Yesterday my children and I sang David Erb’s version of Psalm 46 (which they had learned at music camp in the summer), and then Martin Luther’s famous Mighty Fortress. And I think, especially for the big boys, it really meant a lot to them, having known more about the history of the music and the words and the musicianship represented there.
We are essentially jumping in deep with these books for our unit:

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I introduced the subject, era, and keynote people with ABCs of the Reformation and some excerpts of The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History. And the kids each had books on Martin Luther they read on their own. But as the kids asked questions about the “whys” behind the Reformation, we ended up leaving the theological men and their stances of the mid-1500s behind and stepped further back into the world of Johannes Gutenberg. We very much loved Fine Print and are currently enjoying Ink on His Fingers as well, plus some other little snippets on him, his life, his work that have simply repeated & filled out what we found in those books.

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Undoubtedly the most stunning thing we realized, though, is that my family has a unique bookcollector right next door… my father collects old Bibles… he has studied them, loved them, researched them, worked with other collectors, learned some dying craft of mending pages and bindings, and he has even traveled in order to acquire or restore Bibles. So I asked him if we could take a peek at one of his early copies. Not only did he allow us to take a peek at it, but he dropped it off so we could fully explore its pages at our leisure. What a gift! This particular copy was printed in 1549, using the sort of mechanisms, leather-over-wood binding, goldleaf, moveable type, handmade ink, etc. that Gutenberg himself created and implemented.

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The kids took turns gently turning pages, smelling & feeling the cotton paper, examining the old inks, following worm holes through sections of pages, fingering the thick embossed leather on the cover. This particular copy was not printed until 1549 (let’s be honest: that’s pretty old!! And to have it in the family, where we don’t need to wear special gloves or keep it under glass, etc. is a special gift we don’t take for granted), so the kids wanted to figure out if someone like Martin Luther or John Calvin could have touched this book. They wanted to know if this would have been chained up to keep it from being stolen; if it would have belonged to a church, a common family, or an elite; they wanted to know about the gold leaf & the leather – where would they have come from? While I don’t have specific answers to most of those specific questions about this specific copy of God’s Word, it was really fun to talk about and imagine and ponder. Who else has held this book and read its pages and had their soul fed in the last 468 years?!

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We then spent an hour over lunchtime yesterday watching this video, where Stephen Fry walked through a lot of Gutenberg’s footsteps and recreated his craft and science and system of creating the printing press which changed the world. It has been really fun to learn, through books and the video, about the process of setting the type. I love the odd spellings and letters in the old English copy here!! I read Psalm 23 to the kids, which even Evangeline knows by memory in the ESV, and had them all follow along with it in this book… which doesn’t even have verse designations… and they were impressed by the difficulty of discerning the words because of the spellings and the spacing and such. The video really touched on that too, so that was a helpful nuance.

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What a contrast I noticed… little Simeon had just received his own little tiny pocket-sized Bible this week… which I picked up for 49-cents when I was grabbing another armload of used children’s books at Goodwill… and this little thing has no real monetary value, no big dramatic story behind it, it was probably printed with very little effort along with thousands of identical copies… yet it is a treasure to this tiny boy who now walks around with it tucked in his arm, and sets it beside him while he plays (such as here, below, when he was playing in the little toy kitchen)…

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And it is the Reformation that makes this kind of thing possible. Where there was chaos, God brought order. Where there was unrest, God brought peace. With a family so deeply in love with books and written words, this is a unit study that hits home deeply. It makes me speechless and just boggles my brain. The world had only manuscripts reproduced by scribes and owned only by the truly elite. The “paper” (vellum from calf skins) was even hard to come by, let alone inks and reeds, and then the immensity of time it took to copy it all! Wow. It’s utterly phenomenal how God brought Johannes Gutenberg to the apex of art & science to bring us the printing press.

I guess I’d say personally speaking, the internet and the printing press are the two biggest things that I think God created through mankind to change the world. And while I am not ready yet to wrap my head around studying the history and creation and implementation of the internet with the kids, I am absolutely stunned by the breathtaking world of the printing press’s creation.

The printed words brought us the printed Word.
What better gift could the Reformation have brought us?!
And then, because this 1549 copy of course is in English, we have so very much to be thankful for in the Reformation fight for Scripture in the vulgate too. We get to worship in our native language, we get to have more copies of the Bible than we even need (and we even carry it around in our pockets, thanks to places like OliveTree!).

The Reformation was a tool our King used to give us these gifts.
As for me my household, we are grateful.

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Christ Died

While we were yet sinners.
Christ suffered for us.
Died for me.

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He was stricken. Smitted. Afflicted. Forsaken. Dead in a completely gory trauma.

 

And there was darkness.
Despair.
Agony.
Unknowns.
Hell.

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Many Questions

What about that tree–
the one that would be
sawn asunder,
its limbs
lashed to a T
to brace his
bruised body?
Did he plant it?
Give it water?
Did he bless
or curse it
like the fig?
As a sapling
did it foresee
a day when nails
would join
its marrow,
its meat,
to the hands
and feet
of the Lord?

One Answer

They made my sturdy limbs
a party to their mutiny.

Forgive Man, Lord,
and me.

~Nikki Grimes,
“The cross is often referred to as a tree – a poetic reference perhaps,
but a tree did provide the material
from which the cross was made.
According to John’s Gospel,
Jesus was the Lord of Creation.
Among other things, that means the tree on which he hung
owed its life to him.
I was intrigued by the idea of relationship
between Christ and the tree.
The first poem led to the second.”

Arise, Shine! Our Light has Come!

Christ was born! He fulfilled the prophecies!
The Incarnate King! God with us!

This last Sunday we celebrated the naming and circumcision of Jesus,
His presentation in the temple where Simeon (my son’s namesake) sang,


And today we celebrate the Magi coming to worship Him.
It’s Epiphany!

This day is our day. My day.
This day reminds me that Christ came for me.
May His grace, His light, reflect through me and over me
so that He is glorified and His Kingdom expanded!
May I arise! May I shine! May I praise Him with joy! May I offer gifts of highest value!

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He is the Light of the world.
He is the King.
He is my Lord.

Lord Jesus
may your light shine our way,
as once it guided the steps of the magi:
that we too may be led into your presence
and worship you,
the Child of Mary,
the Word of the Father,
the King of nations,
the Saviour of mankind;
to whom be glory for ever.
–Frank Colquhoun