Tag Archives: Christmas

The Externals of Christmas

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jesus and children drawing

The Externals of Christmas

Somehow, the externals of Christmas get in the way. You know. Last-minute presents, decorations, short visits, running errands, waiting in line. The externals take away from important things like praying. Worshipping. Making time for God. Loving my neighbor.

As Henri Nouwen mentions in today’s Advent reading: “How hard it is to remember…the difference between the urgent and the important.” [1]

I am afraid I am unfamiliar with Pѐre Thomas. (Nouwen mentions him in today’s reading.) Pѐre Thomas wants his readers to spend the days before Christmas in prayer. Such a difficult task!

I strive to pray more, and I fall down on the job. I try, and try, and try again. Alas, I cannot keep this discipline of prayer. Forgive me, Lord.

“Christ wants to be born in us, but we must be open, willing, receptive, and truly welcoming.” [2]

Isn’t that the key, Lord? The key to so much of living? The way of following Jesus?

Dear Lord, gracious God, help me to follow You. Lead me in Your way. Give me patience and understanding with those who have different views, and who come from different cultures. Thank You for many myriads of people—all made by You—individuals with differences. Lead us out of darkness and blindness. Lead us into Your Light. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my sister blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.   @chaplaineliza And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen (Linguori, Missouri: Redemptorist Pastoral Publications, 2004), 38.

[2] Ibid.

Prayer in the Midst of Darkness

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Sunday, November 29, 2015

God brightens my darkness - Psalm

Prayer in the Midst of Darkness

Today is the first Sunday in Advent.

For Advent and Christmas in December, we will be following Fr. Henri Nouwen. I have a book of Advent and Christmas reflections. “Wisdom,” as the slim volume is subtitled.

I would have thought the hustle and bustle of the holidays captured most people’s attention, in November and December. Not prayer. At most, I would consider prayer to be tied for a distant second, as far as importance is concerned. Alas, relationship! Sometimes, it’s as if it’s difficult for people get expectant about the holidays. Expectant about the coming of the Christ Child.

Fr. Nouwen addresses us. That is, most of the parishioners are addressed; those who can pay attention to a message from God. See whether you can pay attention!

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow part of his roots.” – Isaiah 11:1

God, encourage us to seek out the task you give to us, O more Difficult One. The challenging task we have before us is one filled with anger, fear, and dismay. True, only a stump can be seen. What can come from an old, dead stump? Yet, God can bring forth miracles. God can bring forth hope.

Because of biblical hope, thank you. Thank you, dear Lord, gracious God.

@chaplaineliza

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my sister blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.   @chaplaineliza And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

(also published at http://www.matterofprayer.net

Like a Refiner’s Fire

refiner's fire

matterofprayer blog post for Monday, December 23, 2013

Like a Refiner’s Fire

It’s almost Christmas Eve. I want to scoot ahead to the time of the Christmas celebration, but we aren’t there yet.

Today, in my Advent reflection, I read Malachi 3:1-3. I was especially struck by the words “For he is like a refiner’s fire . . . and he will purify . . . and refine them like gold and silver.” Yes, I am still waiting, as the practice of Advent encourages me to do. I am watching and waiting for the messenger of the covenant to prepare the way before me, true. But I’m afraid of that other image, too.

I understand the image of the refiner’s fire in principle. But I do not like going through the fire. It’s the being-refined-part that I object to. It hurts! Ow! What gives, God?
I’ve been there, especially in the past number of months with my employment situation. (or difficulty with, or total lack thereof) I understand that I am supposed to reflect God. I’ve heard the analogy of a silversmith melting silver in his shop. He knew that the molten silver had all the impurities taken away when he could see his face in the silver. Gee, silver must really get hot for that to happen! I guess that‘s similar to my situation(s). I earnestly am trying to be faithful, and to follow. Even when the situation’s too hot to handle.

Help me wait for the coming of the Baby in Bethlehem. Soon! Very soon!

Let’s pray. God, I try to follow You. I know You are there by my side, and Your purposes are good and gracious. I know You want me to be faithful, too. Even when I forget You’re there, or get angry because things aren’t going my way, or just get sick and tired of waiting for You. God, forgive me. Help me to continue to wait. Be with me when things get too hot to handle. Protect me when I’m being tried by fire. God, thanks for Your constant presence through every situation, even in this almost-Christmas, still-waiting time. Amen.

Solstice Observation–Midwinter Celebration?

Centuries ago, in the time before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, this time of the waning year was a time of darkness. And a time of light. The darkness comes from the lessening of sunlight each day (here in the Northern hemisphere). The light comes from the varying celebrations that many cultures, tribes and language groups feature, throughout the world. Different religions have different expressions of the death and rebirth of light and life. Different understandings recognize the death of the old year and rebirth of the new.

On this Midwinter day, I know several people here in my town who are observing the Winter Solstice. This weekend is their celebration, instead of Christmas. The origins of the Midwinter festival reach back to pre-Christian times, and are seeing a resurgence in some places today.

God, You’ve implanted this deep desire for Light, for Hope, for blessing and celebration. I think it is counter-intuitive for God to send Light and Hope into the world as a little Baby. (It just doesn’t make sense!) Yet, that is just how God decided to work. The Old Testament book Isaiah also mentioned Light. Isaiah 9:2 reads: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.” As Advent draws to a close, the time of celebration of the Light and Hope of the world draws near, too.

Let’s pray. Dear God, thank You for this deep desire implanted in so many. Not only is there a desire for Light and Hope at this time of darkness and little hope, but You provide an answer for those searching. Not only have You placed a God-shaped void in the human heart (as Augustine said), but You have followed through with the promise of Someone to fill that empty place. Thank You for the coming of the Light of the world, the Hope of all nations. Amen.

@chaplainelizaImage

(also posted at http://www.matterofprayer.net)

‘Twas One Week Before Christmas

snowy trees and blue sky

matterofprayer blog post for Wednesday, December 18, 2013

In recent, past Decembers, I have been harried, rushed, almost frantic with everything that needed doing. But not this year. I’m so proud of myself—I have not been rushing around like a chicken with my head cut off. (Yay!)

However, I must confess that I did not set out to act like this—calm, peaceful, almost sedate. No, my December just turned out that way. So far, at least.

Perhaps the calm came to me as a byproduct of the email prayer list I moderate (St. Peter’s Prayer Project, an intercessory prayer ministry for members and friends of the church I belong to). Or, possibly, the peace could have come from my fairly regular Advent devotions (I’ve only missed two days this season so far—great batting average for me!). Then again, I have been joyfully consistent in my exercise at the YMCA gym in town—three times a week for several months. Yay! (My spiritual director knows and approves heartily.)

I am not quite sure what is helping me to maintain a modicum of peace and serenity this Advent season, but I am thankful for the wonderful feelings of calm and contentment that come to me more often than not. More often than in recent Decembers, I can tell you! Whatever (Whomever?) is helping me, may it continue. (Thanks, God!) I do appreciate the peace.

Let’s pray. Dear God, thanks for helping me to stay in the peace and calm of Your presence this Advent season—at least for a while. Forgive me when I stray from Your side, and from where You want me to be. I know I don’t always need to run away in a physical sense. I can stray mentally, spiritually and psychologically, too. But You help me to quiet my mind. You still the tumult in my soul. You allow that Peace that passes human understanding to enter my heart. Thank You, Prince of Peace. Amen, God!

Christmas Music for Everyone

matterofprayer blog post for Saturday, December 14, 2013

I hear Christmas music on the cd player as I write this. Choral, a capella. Complex chords and harmonies. These aspects of the music make my heart sing. The winning combination of beautiful music and meaningful words helps my heart to worship, too.

Since I am a classically trained musician and have a bachelor’s degree in church music, music has been and still is an important feature of my life. My avocation and my deep joy, as well as an aid to worship. Sometimes music can bring me to tears, and the next minute can lead me to worship and praise. Especially at this time of year.

A great deal of Christmas music was written with the church in mind, or at least, based on the Gospel accounts in Luke and Matthew. (I know there are some fun songs, secular songs, but I’d like to focus instead on the sacred music.) Composers and songwriters in many diverse cultures have tried their hands at writing Christmas music—and Advent music, too. Diverse songs like “Lo, How A Rose E’re Blooming” (German, Michael Praetorius, 1609) to “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy” (Traditional West Indian Carol, popularized by Harry Belafonte in 1958).

Different cultures portray the Holy Family in contexts that are familiar to them, too. Many people are familiar with the olive wood nativity scenes, carved by Palestinian Christians and imported all over the world today. But I’ve also seen a Kenyan nativity set with animals native to the Kenya bush. And a Peruvian nativity with everyone dressed in traditional Peruvian garb. And—to me—the familiar Advent calendars with the northern European features.

One more recent Christmas carol comes from the mid 20th century. The words by Wihla Hutson evoke the differences in how children all over the world see the baby Jesus. “Lily white,” “bronzed and brown,” “almond-eyed,” “dark as they.” The Baby Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. He was born into this world to identify with us. And we can identify with Him, just as much.

This Advent period is a period of waiting for the coming of the Baby in Bethlehem. However we may see Him, however the Holy Family is presented in our culture or setting or church tradition, we are to wait with eagerness. With quiet and prayer. With expectation in our hearts. And in one of my favorite ways, with music to assist us in this waiting time.

Let’s pray. Dear God, Gracious Lord, this Advent waiting time is a time of expectation, but it’s also a time of preparation. Help me to prepare my heart to receive You. Forgive me for closing the door on others who don’t see You in the same way as I see You. Forgive me for being so narrow-minded and thoughtless. Thank You that You came into this world for everyone. For each child, for each adult, for each senior. Help me to look on those who are different from me with Your eyes. Emmanuel, God with us, all of us. Thank You, Jesus. 

What Can I Give?

matterofprayer blog post for Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Only two more weeks until the Big Day. Christmas, I mean. Gift-giving, galore. Do I have presents for everyone on my list? My husband? Children? In-laws? And what about those others, the people I ought to give gifts to? Am I feeling little, niggling qualms of guilt because I am not able to give much this year, as I have in years past?

Gift-giving can be such a trap. When people use one-up-man-ship to gain a sort of superiority to others (“I gave a gift that cost twice as much as the gift I received!”), that’s when this whole business of gift-giving needs to be seriously overhauled.

Why do we give gifts, anyhow?

The custom of gift-giving reaches centuries back, before Christianity, to pagan festivals. For instance, Saturnalia—a Roman winter solstice festival—included giving and receiving of small gifts, tokens, or sweets. St. Nicholas (a bishop in 4th century Turkey) gave small gifts to children in December. This custom lessened as the Puritans frowned on excessive celebration, but came back with the popularization of Charles Dickens and his “Christmas Carol,” the increased Victorian celebration of Christmas, and the publishing of Clement Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” All of these caused gift-giving to become firmly established once more.

So, I can give and receive gifts with joy in my heart—not with avarice or envy or bitterness. Another reason that we choose to give gifts? Because—we received the best gift of all, born in the town of Bethlehem—our Savior, Christ the Lord.

Let’s pray. God, thank You for the best gift of all. You wanted to reconcile us to Yourself, and You chose this way to do it. This Holy Child was be recognized as Emmanuel, God with us. Forgive me for not recognizing this Holy One. Forgive me for living a life that does not honor and adore Him as Christ the Lord. Thank You for loving me, forgiving me, and reconciling me to Yourself. Thank You for giving me the best Christmas gift of all. Amen.

We wait.

matterofprayer blog post for Sunday, December 1, 2013

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. At my church, that means lighting the Advent wreath in a decorated sanctuary, with everything in the service oriented toward the coming One. We celebrate the four-week period that comes before Christmas. In other words, we wait.

I can relate. In terms of prayer, I wait a lot. I wait for God to answer prayer. I wait for God to reveal things to me. I wait for news, for healing, employment. I wait for people. I wait for a lot of things. I am more patient than I used to be, but I still wish God would hurry up!

God, I know I’m griping. But I wish I knew better what God had for me, in this world. In this life. Sure, I know some good ways to approach God in prayer, in meditation, in service. One great way is one my church just used yesterday. They helped provide and serve sloppy joes at a local food kitchen, one that serves homeless people on Saturday afternoons. What a needed way to be the hands and feet of Christ to others.

But, I am coming back to the concept of waiting. God, I almost don’t want to pray for patience, because I know what that will mean—You’ll make me wait even more. But Advent is not only a time of waiting, it’s a time of preparation, too. At least I can prepare my heart to welcome the Christ-child once again. And, I know I can claim the wonderful promises You made.

Let’s pray. God, thank You for this time of preparation and waiting. Help me to get ready. Not in terms of a material way, but internally. It is an inside job. I know I do not reflect on the Christ-child’s birth enough. Forgive me. Help me do better. Help me prepare for the coming of Christmas in real, tangible ways, like serving the homeless. Most importantly, help me prepare my heart for You. Amen.