“I Love That Line!” by Guest Writer Nate Smith

CC BY-NC, Israel Defense Forces, Flickr Israeli paratroopers on Mt. Hermon enjoying the season's first snowfall

CC BY-NC, Israel Defense Forces, Flickr
Israeli paratroopers on Mt. Hermon enjoying the season’s first snowfall

This is the fourth and final post in the “I Love That Line!” series that features writers’ reflections on their favorite Christmas carols. Nate Smith, writer of Breaking the Silence, reflects on two stanzas from “Winter Snow.”

It is hard for me to imagine a non-hectic Christmas. Just the mention of the word used to leave a sour taste in my mouth having worked retail on-and-off for ten years and then in restaurants. People swiping cheap gifts off metal shelves to satisfy their family’s greed—(It’s a watch.)—and others: “I cannot believe you’re working on Christmas!” and my unspoken reply: It’s because you’re shopping, you idiot!

It’s the busyness of the season that caused me to hate Christmas. There was always another party to attend, another person to help, another gift to buy that dragged my savings account back to zero. Each act didn’t feel like giving either; instead, it felt more like an obligation to appease those high on the Christmas spirit.

Quiet, Soft, and Slow

The idea of slowing down during Christmas is not usually signaled by numerous texts and e-mails inquiring, “What’s your new mailing address?” So the arrival of a greeting card reminded me not only of those who love me, but also the fact that my address has changed every year for the past seven years.

It was me with the vagabond status that was also not slowing down. But how do you slow down when every year you’re readjusting to a new place? My heart was unsettled in many ways. The Christmas rush was always a stark reminder of feeling left way back in the mix. The season’s great anticipation was simply lost in the chaos.

“Winter Snow” captured my heart last year. The verses explain all of the ways Jesus could have come to earth. It could have been like a storm, a fire, a tidal wave, among other ways. Indeed, it would have been so easy to make a big statement in a region overrun with turmoil and war.

“But you came like a winter snow,
Quiet and soft and slow,
Falling from the sky in the night
To the earth below.”

It was so simple. Jesus entered quietly, a whining newborn lying softly in the manger distanced from war. His was a refugee status that proclaimed to the world that somehow the kingdom of God was now here.

Everything about it was gentle and unexpected, nothing rushed. A nine-month pregnancy cannot be rushed but birthed with patience. And like the snow when it falls, it changes everything it touches. It brings silence and silences the crowds, for winter has come.

Thy Kingdom Come

I see in my many address changes an odd approach to how the yearning human heart seeks after God. And it prompts me—vagabond spirit, unsettled nature, and all—to slow down and really notice how the Kingdom comes.

Now escaped from Christmas greed, I can see the beauty of Christ everywhere—in the laughter of those frolicking in the snow; in the warmth between a couple strolling and admiring Christmas lights; in the anticipation of gingerbread cookies almost done.

“Oh, no, your voice wasn’t in a bush burning.
No, your voice wasn’t in a rushing wind.
It was still; it was small; it was hidden.”

Read more by Nate on his blog Breaking the Silence.

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“I Love That Line!” by Guest Writer Lisa A. Tuttle

CC BY, VinothChandar, Flickr

CC BY, VinothChandar, Flickr

This is the first post in the “I Love That Line!” series that features writers’ reflections on their favorite Christmas carols. Lisa A. Tuttle, aka “Sparky”, writer of Hey Sparky! What Time Is It?, reflects on a verse from “Welcome to Our World.”

Okay, call me a sap, but I love Christmas music. Old English carols, traditional church carols, holiday pop music—I like it all.

Well except for that song “Christmas Shoes”.  It brings out my “Grinchiness.” And although the spell checker indicates “Grinchiness” is not a word, I can spell it and use it in a sentence—and admit to it. You know exactly what I mean. So “Stink! Stank! Stunk!” on you, Spellcheck, and fiddle-dee-dee! and fa-la-la!

Anyway, other than the aforementioned song about holiday footwear for deceased family members, I like it all. Typically, I like the older songs a bit more than the newer ones; but that’s a generalization, not a rule. That detail was broken eleven years ago…big-time.

Welcome, Lord Jesus

In July of 2002, a CD was released by a new artist. Oddly enough, he included a single Christmas song on his otherwise non-holiday recording.

I will never forget the first time I heard it. I got goose bumps listening to this song with lullaby for a tune, sung by a voice that felt like warm honey. The words were simple yet powerful and unlike anything I’d heard before. It stirred a deep aching in me and brought tears to my eyes. All these years later, it still has that effect on me.

The song is “Welcome to Our World” by Chris Rice.

The lyrics of this song are beautiful and replete with a haunting sweetness. The last stanza explains why Jesus came and what it meant for him to do so.

 “So wrap our injured flesh around you;
Breathe our air and walk our sod.
Rob our sin and make us holy,
Perfect Son of God.”

Identified with Us

The Delight of Heaven laid aside the glory of his deity to become a baby and assume our human frailties.

My frailties.

Instead of being worshipped and adored by angels, he became surrounded by rough-skinned, wounded-hearted humans. He wrapped himself in an earth suit prone to breakage and damage.

It’s a mind-blowing thought that God could now be bitten by a fire ant or drink contaminated water and spend the next week running to the waste pit. He could get a sore throat or drop something heavy on his toe and lose his toenail. He could get one of those maddening itches in the middle of his back, the kind you can never reach and isn’t really satisfied by scratching anyway.

Somehow this both comforts me and offends me. I’m offended because I know who he is and what he deserved. A smelly stable birth doesn’t qualify. A fallen body doesn’t qualify. The company of bitter religious men doesn’t qualify. A government hostile to his people doesn’t qualify.

Jesus, the Humble Servant

Yet Jesus knew it would be that way and he came anyway. In the most helpless, dependent form possible, he came and then lived among us submitting to the processes of the human body, soul, and spirit. He didn’t skip puberty; he didn’t skip the mean kids on the playground; he didn’t skip catching colds; he didn’t skip outgrowing his shoes.

He became one of us and never once threw down his “God Card”, not even when he was surrounded by aggressors and betrayers who closed their eyes to the wonder of what a man rightly related to God could do. The signs, wonders, and miracles he showed them meant nothing to them when his goodness threatened their personal religious kingdoms.

When darkness prompted those same aggressors and betrayers to publicly accuse, humiliate, torment, and kill him, he didn’t fight them; instead he voluntarily gave up his very life-breath—and made an incomprehensibly amazing transaction.

Born to Save

Jesus took our diseases, grief, and death-destiny and gave us in return his holiness, cleanness, and honored heavenly position. He made a way to the Father for us that cannot be cancelled or blocked by darkness. He robbed the power of sin leaving it destitute and slack-jawed; and he watched as all that is good and perfect about him was transferred to us as a gift. Ours is an identity we could not achieve for ourselves.

But on that first day when Mary held him, grunting and squeaking in her arms, who could have known any of this?

Indeed, welcome to our world.

Read more by Lisa at her blog Hey Sparky! What Time Is It? 

Hail Mary, Full of Grace

CC BY-NC, sofi01, Flickr

CC BY-NC, sofi01, Flickr

What endears most of us to Mary is her acceptance of the will of God—“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Hers really is a hallmark example of faith in God’s promise.

What’s peculiar to me, however, is how the scripture seems to commend Mary and her faith. If you’ll recall, after Gabriel leaves her, she packs up and makes haste to see Elizabeth, whose husband, Zechariah, Gabriel had already visited. Elizabeth herself was now six-months pregnant. After hearing Mary’s news, she exclaims, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (v. 45). Now that’s good.

I Believe!

I love the implications. Elizabeth’s words have some real meaning in them. The odd thing about her life at this moment is that back home Zechariah communicates with her by writing. Did you forget that? Gabriel had struck him mute for disbelieving the promise of God.

Should I ever encounter the angel of God, he’ll have no trouble with me believing!

I wonder how many times Zechariah repented for his disbelief; did Elizabeth ever ridicule him—the priest—for being audacious…with an angel, after all! “Hon, let me get this right: you were scared silly by this messenger, and then you doubted him!” “(Scribble)” Fiction doesn’t get any better than this.

Now can you see why Elizabeth’s words are interesting? And what about Mary? She is newly pregnant and spends the first three months of her pregnancy in Judea with Elizabeth until her ninth. Did Mary leave Nazareth to avoid questions and her community’s disdain? Did God’s holy child become a burden for her to bear once she returned and everyone could infer a possible reason for her absence?

The Light of Promise

One of my favorite preachers, the late Southern Baptist pastor Adrian Rogers, had a good saying he often used: “Don’t doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light.” Now an angel radiating the glory of God is certainly enough reason to trust and never doubt again, for most of us at least. But circumstance has a way of making us second-guess our faith.

We all know what it’s like to receive the promise of God and, in that moment, feel like we can trust him for anything. Standing in the light of promise gives us a seeming invincibility to doubt, for the promise is as good as possessed. Then, the clouds close and shut out the light. We never knew that daytime could literally turn black as night.

I don’t imagine Mary’s pregnancy and the next few years of her life being the easiest. We cannot know. Sadly, I’m a little more persuaded they were difficult because the devoutest folk can be mean or dispiriting and given to chatter. And how do you convince someone that your child is the long-awaited Messiah? That YHWH is his father, not Joseph, your unwed husband. Maybe strange occurrences swayed a few, but carrying Jesus probably cost Mary some grief.

I firmly believe “Be it unto me” remained her attitude toward God, but it couldn’t have been easy. And before you doubt me on this, going to the cross wasn’t easy for Jesus, although he too was resigned to the will of God.

But Paul calls him the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3-4); and I’m sure he allowed the clouds to part from time-to-time to let Mary know…to reassure us that his promise abides. We must know that the darkness is not to be feared and trust that the clouds, although stormy and destructive at times, won’t kill us and cannot possibly extinguish the light of promise.

The Diagnosis

Paul writes, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead…yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith…being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (1 Cor. 4:18-21; cf. v. 17).

I look at this verse and see an X-ray of Zechariah and Mary’s conditions. Zechariah doubts God by limiting him to the impotence of his body; but Mary trusts God by telling him, “You have the power to give life where there is none.”

We serve a God whose promises for us are enduring. He wants you and me to simply accept them as true and trust him. You may be in a dark period now hoping for the clouds to part for once; know that the promise still shines. Despite the pain, you will possess everything God has promised you.