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Posts Tagged ‘the birth of Jesus’

IMG_20181206_130821659I have decided I am a little technically challenged. First off, it was my almost failed recent effort at putting some train tracks together for our youngest granddaughter. But then came the challenge of assembling those free little cardboard cut-out Christmas images from a well-known supermarket chain for her! Somehow, I managed to put the snowman and the gingerbread house together. Then I tackled the tiny Santa sleigh, complete with its little striped cardboard gifts and strange-looking Christmas stocking. Hopefully the checkout person will have run out of such things next time I shop!

Maxine then decided these works of art would look good on our window ledge, so our neighbours could admire them. She arranged them neatly in a row, but then disappeared. I wondered where she was, but then spied her hiding under our lounge and holding something in her hand.

‘Oh, there you are!’ I said to her. ‘Are you okay?’

‘Yes, but I broke this!’

She held up the little sleigh I had created, now slightly squished—and minus the little cardboard gifts we had positioned in it.

‘Oh, don’t worry!’ I told her. ‘I can fix it. But where are the little gifts?’

I thought they were probably lost somewhere, but Maxine immediately pointed to the manger scene we had placed on a nearby table together on another day. On that occasion, when I had asked her to help me, she had clapped her hands and responded:

‘Oh yes—I love the baby Jesus!’

Now I saw she had carefully put that little cardboard cut-out stocking right in the baby Jesus’ hands and strategically placed the two striped gift boxes near Joseph and Mary, along with the snowman’s little pencil and Christmas gift wish list! My first instinct was to move them and put them back on the window ledge. After all, they did not really belong in our manger scene. But then I noticed Maxine’s trusting look and her matter-of-fact manner, which seemed to say to me, ‘Of course the gifts should be near the baby Jesus! It’s the natural place for them to be, isn’t it?’ So who was I to argue?

Later, as I gazed at our manger scene again, complete with Maxine’s additions, I sensed God pointing out to me what a simple yet profound thing Maxine had done. She had wanted to bring gifts to the baby Jesus—it was her own little way of honouring him. So this Christmas, how was I planning to honour Jesus? In the midst of buying for others, what gifts was I intending to offer him? Should it be more giving to those in real need, both here in our own country and overseas? Should it take the form of extra financial support for friends sharing Jesus with others? Should it be offering more of my time to help others? Or should it be something as simple as giving Jesus more space in my life each day to listen to him—and do what he says?

What will your gift to Jesus be this Christmas?

Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11-12

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Jo 17Last week, I received a rather agonised email from a writer friend. She told me how, having decided to self-publish her latest book, she checked it through many times and enlisted others to help as well. However, after all that painstaking editing, she managed to send the wrong version off to the printer! By the time she realised her mistake, it was too late. That first print run was complete.

I did not have to try too hard to put myself in her shoes and empathise. I have never self-published, but I know what it feels like to have a publisher print one of my books, having added extra mistakes of his or her own, after I had signed off on the final version and agreed everything was just as I wanted it! I felt my friend’s pain and embarrassment. She was not looking forward to being judged as ignorant or less than thorough, particularly by her writing peers.

In recent weeks, however, I have found myself challenged in an even deeper way to walk in someone else’s shoes. At a friend’s suggestion, I decided to tackle a book of daily spiritual exercises entitled The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien. Part of this adventure involves reading the Gospels with all my senses and imagination at work and contemplating the life of Jesus in a fresh, up close and personal way. It involves letting the events of Jesus’ life be present to me right now, as best I can. And it involves allowing the Holy Spirit to touch my heart in the process, rather than merely gaining head knowledge about Jesus.

So far, I have contemplated the birth of Jesus as one of those bystanders in the stable. I have put myself in the shoes of Anna and Simeon at Jesus’ presentation in the temple and wondered what it must have been like for Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt with their son. I have sensed their confusion when Jesus, as a young man, chooses to stay behind in the temple, asking the teachers questions. I have put myself in those scenes where Jesus calls his first disciples. I have tried to imagine how Jesus must have felt on hearing that affirming voice from heaven as he is baptised in the Jordan River and have asked my loving Father to speak those words into my own spirit. I have been deeply challenged, being with Jesus in that desert as he faces being tempted. I have listened with anger as he experiences rejection in his own home town. I put all my senses to work to picture the scene where a paralytic is lowered through the roof so Jesus can heal him. I heard the criticisms—but I also joined with others who praised God, saying ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ (Mark 2:12)

I’m up to the Sermon on the Mount now—and I can’t wait. I’m so much looking forward to journeying on with Jesus and listening to what the Spirit wants to say to me. I want my relationship with Jesus to be authentic, to be current, to be up close and personal. After all, it’s the best way to become more like him, don’t you think?

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Jo 23Some of my friends find winter quite a depressing time, especially on dull, rainy days. I grew up in Queensland, so maybe my affinity for winter stems from that. After all, it was much more bearable in winter to handle wearing those obligatory gloves and black stockings as well as a hat and a tie to high school each day!

Or perhaps this affinity for winter rests on the fact that I can curl up in my warm study, with the sun coming through a nearby window, and enjoy writing those things that are on my heart to write. Even if the weather is dull, the sound of rain on the iron roof next door merely adds to the ambience. And even when my writing is proving difficult, I still find myself blessed to be where I am.

Right now, my husband is in New Zealand. I could have been there with him, but I turned it down. Granted, there were a few things I would have had to reorganise to do that. But, in my heart of hearts, I did not want to go anyway. Now I love my husband. And I love New Zealand. What’s more, I have never seen the northern part of the South Island, where he began his trip. But I am in the throes of editing my eighth book—and I knew if I allowed my mind to be diverted elsewhere, however beautiful that place might be, it would be difficult to regain that momentum.

Right now too, one of our daughters is in Hawaii for a cousin’s wedding. I could have gone there too, but I turned it down. ‘Hawaii? You turned down a visit to Hawaii? In the middle of winter?’ some have asked incredulously. Yep—that’s me! Admittedly, I felt a twinge of jealousy when I saw those photos of that beautiful wedding right beside a beach and read about the other interesting places our daughter has visited. But no, I’m happy to be home, curled up here in my study, pressing on with my editing.

Yes, I can see many things around me that need my attention. At the moment, I can write my name in the dust on my desk or on the piano in our lounge, courtesy not only of my neglect but also of the dusty building site opposite. I daren’t venture too far down our backyard in case I see all those weeds. I need to cook something so there is food to eat tomorrow when our daughter arrives to pick up her two cats I have been minding. I need to attend to those two said cats. But I am here at my desk right now. I am happy to be here. I have a meaningful editing job ahead. And God is with me—so very much with me.

Yesterday, despite its not being Christmas, I read about the birth of Jesus.

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matt 1:23

Immanuel. God with us. God … with … us. Right now, whatever we are doing. Right here, wherever we are. So very present, in the midst of the ordinary.

May you find that as overwhelming and as comforting as I do.

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It seems to me that Christmas taps into some deep emotions in us all, one way or another. Some look forward to it and love what it signifies. Some revel in all the trappings it involves. Some find the extra shopping and planning for it irksome and are glad when it’s all over. Some find it a sad and difficult time which reminds them too much of losses in their lives and relationships that are no longer there. And some hate it with a passion and are not backward in letting others know how they feel.

While shopping recently, I overheard two grumpy, old men talking to each other in terms that could only be described as distinctly Scrooge-like:

‘Why do we have to listen to all this stupid Christmas music playing?’ one commented loudly, as they stomped along the cramped aisles of a two dollar shop. ‘It’s so annoying! Why do we have to have all this Christmas stuff everywhere anyway? It’s a joke!’

Their comments made me feel a little sad. Yet, to some degree, I understand where they’re coming from. I too am a little averse to crowded shops, tired people frantically grabbing this and that in the supermarket and inane Christmas music that has nothing to do with the real meaning of Christmas blaring out as I try to think what to buy. But don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. And that’s probably why the empty hype and insane busyness that characterise this time of year disturb me so much. I don’t want my Christmas spoilt or distorted by someone else’s idea of what Christmas should be about. But I do want to celebrate Christmas in a deep, joyous and meaningful way.

So how can I stay in that place of peace and joy as I prepare for Christmas and look towards celebrating Jesus’ birth in an authentic way? I think a key is learning the art of mindfulness, a concept that has been around for a long time but is not all that often put into practice in our busy lives. Mindfulness involves intentionally stopping and being aware of who we are and where we are in the present moment. It involves focussing in on what is real and important, recollecting why it is and then retaining that in our mind as we move through our day. So, rather than being swept along by the anxieties of finding the right Christmas gift for someone or of all the cooking that needs to be done, I can discipline myself to stop and be still for a moment, to become aware of God’s Spirit within me and around me, to remember the amazing gift of our Saviour Jesus, given to us that first Christmas day. I allow that thought to fill my mind, replacing all the worries and cares and distractions and pushing them to the periphery. Then I can move forward, undertaking all those time consuming but special Christmas activities with great thankfulness and a deep joy in my heart.

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

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