Monday, November 28, 2016

The Singular Joy of Christ's Coming

I recently heard someone discussing their upcoming Christmas family gatherings, and they ended their comments by saying, “That’s what it’s all about.”

I stood by and listened quietly.

At that last statement, I just smiled. Because I know that, in truth, that isn’t “what it’s all about.” And I know that that line of thinking is often what prevents us from bearing fruit in the celebration of Christmas, and is what ruins, for many folks, the marking of it.

Because Christmas, as much as we may love and revere family and being with them, is actually not about family.

It’s not about the Hallmark moments sipping liquids in their various forms with siblings, playing board games, petting the pooch while watching White Christmas, shopping craft sales with sisters, zeroing in on the football game with other enthusiasts, or relishing Grandma Ruth’s mint brownies. All great, I totally concur; wonderful if anyone can pull it off. But that’s not “what it’s all about.”

And yet, in spite of oodles upon oodles of books, essays, poems, bumper stickers, Christmas cards and even Linus, in A Charlie Brown Christmas, heralding “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” people continue to put their hope and faith in the traditional family gathering.

I admit I was terrified when I faced my first Christmas without one of my sons. He had signed up for a mission trip to Kenya over the Christmas college break. I had never, as a Christian, experienced a Christmas without a family member. My fear of being without him for the holiday resonated from a presupposed idea that Christmas wouldn’t come—wouldn’t be Christmas—without each and every family member present.

But, just like the Whos of Whoville, who praised the day in spite of, I found myself enjoying, in an entirely new way, that first Christmas without my son. Christmas came because Christ came, and still comes and is come. And maybe by having one of the most important elements of my Christmas removed, I was able to internalize this truth.

That initiation into the “new normal” of Christmas—meaning no two are ever going to be the same again—mercifully freed me from future trepidation about the holiday being “different.” What has taken root is the singular joy of Christ’s coming, and all that that entails for each one of us.

And just as He arrived, simply, in a manger, and extravagantly, amongst a multitude of angels, I, too, can take December 24 and 25 in any form in which they come: quietly and without either of our sons present, or in much merriment and going out and about with both of our sons and their wives in tow. 

The deep joy of Christ is within, regardless.

copyright Barb Harwood

“When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked. ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.’” Matthew 13:53-57

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Joy of God's Knowing

I open the door and step out into the cool fog of encroaching twilight.

My hands hug my pockets; cheeks soak up the damp and turn red.

The last of the November Maple leaves hang like bats from almost-bare branches.

As I walk, in this heaven-mist come to earth, the very large and daunting sum of things recedes. I sense only the very small space around me.

Vapor clouds the city blocks behind and in front of me, cloaking me in a minute portion of world, soothing a soul troubled by aspects of relating to other humans that just don’t come easily.

Closed-in by this comforting dimness, anything seems possible, even the healing of strained relationships, the internalizing of forgiveness and the releasing of regret.

As I pass through dew-point blurred boundaries in soundless stillness, all grows encouragingly small. I shrink.

In the dense condensation of diffused evening, past and future cease entirely to exist. Only the few squares of cement sidewalk, the wet grass along its’ edge, and the damp air blending soul and sky remain.

I look around and up into the ashen formlessness, evaporate into its dewy void.

All that is in and around me now is God alone. We walk down block after ethereal block in silent, yet communicative company.

I savor how easy this is, how untethered and affirming—how very unworldly—to venture with God.

He listens to my spoken muteness; to confessions and praises all coalescing into a surreal peace that only settles in when it’s just God and me. Like this. Alone. Together.

I cry out to Him that I crave this peace at all times and with all people, and yet I fail and sometimes I am the reason and sometimes not...but for now I live loved in this solitude of trust and pray without words...

“I know,” He interjects and reassures. “I know.”

He knows my dread of not always getting it right. Of others not getting it right. Of the world not getting it right. And He knows when others choose to see only this lack in me, and I in them.

But He also knows the times that I do get it right and when others get it right. Even if no one on earth acknowledges it.

He knows it all before I even begin to process it. He is never in a position to not know.

For me, this is joy.

God and I will continue down the path of weathered existence side by side, beyond this moment and toward the hour when the hot exposing sun will return, refracting off the many surfaces of a haphazard life and the individuals in it.

And I will always know that He knows without my ever having to explain.

I cross the street and turn homeward, shrouded in the silver droplets of thick November dusk.

copyright Barb Harwood

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Oswald Chambers on Joy

Joy from Oswald Chamber's perspective in his book, My Utmost for His Highest:

“A person who has forgotten what God treasures will not be filled with joy.” 

"Living a full and overflowing life does not rest in bodily health, in circumstances, nor even in seeing God’s work succeed, but in the perfect understanding of God, and in the same fellowship and oneness with Him that Jesus Himself enjoyed. But the first thing that will hinder this joy is the subtle irritability caused by giving too much thought to our circumstances. Jesus said, ‘...the cares of this world...choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful’ (Mark 4:19) And before we even realize what has happened, we are caught up in our cares...
Have the right relationship with God, finding your joy there, and out of you ‘will flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38).” 

“We trample the blood of the Son of God underfoot if we think we are forgiven because we are sorry for our sins. The only reason for the forgiveness of our sins by God, and the infinite depth of His promise to forget them, is the death of Jesus Christ. Our repentance is merely the result of our personal realization of the atonement by the Cross of Christ, which he has provided for us. ‘...Christ Jesus...became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption...’ (1 Corinthians 1:30). Once we realize that Christ has become all this for us, the limitless joy of God begins in us.” 

“Joy comes from seeing the complete fulfillment of the specific purpose for which I was created and born again, not from successfully doing something of my own choosing.”

“When I have really transacted business with God on the basis of His covenant, letting everything else go, there is no sense of personal achievement—no human ingredient in it at all. Instead, there is a complete overwhelming sense of being brought into union with God, and my life is transformed and radiates peace and joy.” 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Thus Begins Joy

C.S. Lewis has been my go-to (in addition to the Bible, of course) for describing joy:

"it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is." C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, chapter one

Between now, November 14, 2016, and January 1, 2017, all postings on this blog will spotlight joy. They will envelop and espouse the joy Lewis tasted in all its flavors: giddy, sad, melancholy, wistful, confident, beautiful, tragic and ultimately and always, Godly, because God is the source. 

In everything, we cannot muster up joy in its fullness, capability and comfort without the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And for that, I am joyfully thankful. While all of my efforts to conjure, talk myself into and sappily ride the coattails of some human construct of joy disappoint, tapping into the reservoir of God through the Spirit of Christ results in, as Lewis surprisingly discovered, joy:

"It may be asked whether my terror was at all relieved by the thought that I was now approaching the source from which those arrows of Joy had been shot at me ever since childhood. Not in the least. No slightest hint was vouchsafed me that there ever had been or ever would be any connection between God and Joy. If anything, it was the reverse. I had hoped that the heart of reality might be of such a kind that we can best symbolize it as a place; instead, I found it to be a Person. For all I knew, the total rejection of what I called Joy might be one of the demands, might be the very first demand, He would make upon me. There was no strain of music from within, no smell of eternal orchards at the threshold, when I was dragged through the doorway. No kind of desire was present at all." C.S. Lewis, describing the early days of his conversion, in Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, chapter fifteen. 

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Sixty-two Percent of Americans Wish They Read the Bible More

According to the American Bible Societys State of the Bible 2016, powered by Barna Group:

"Seventy-five percent of Americans believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to known in order to live a meaningful life, according to The Bible in America, a new report from American Bible Society and Barna Group.

The report, which considers six years of annual research from American Bible Society's State of the Bible survey and four years of annual research from the Bible-Minded Cities report, indicates that Americans hold the Bible in high regard. Eighty percent of Americans view the Bible as sacred literature, 64 percent believe the Bible has more influence on humanity than any other text and 75 percent believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. And although just one-third of Americans profess to reading the Bible at least once per week, the majority of Americans (62 percent) express a desire to read the Bible more often."

Friday, November 11, 2016

Hell "Begins With a Grumbling Mood"

C.S. Lewis, describing hell, in The Great Divorce:

" begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticising it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticise the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine." C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce ("the timeless novel about a bus ride from hell to heaven), pages 77-78. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Tony Dungy on the Difference Between Pride and Confidence

Tony Dungy, writing in Uncommon Manhood:

"Pride is all about me, but confidence is a realization that God has given me abilities and created me to fill a unique role that no one else is called to fill. Borne in humility, confidence is a recognition that life is not about me but about using the gifts and abilities I have been blessed with to their fullest to help my team, my coworkers, my family, and others." Tony Dungy, Uncommon Manhood

"Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly;" Romans 12:6a

"Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you you have been called, with all humility and gentleness,..." Ephesians 4:1-2a