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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…For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulder; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2, 6

My children and I noticed Christmas lights popping up around town just after the switch to standard time in November this year, which seemed earlier than usual. Why are people putting up their Christmas lights now? my daughter asked me.

Maybe they want more light, I told her. It’s dark so early this time of year.

 When the above Scripture talks about darkness, it is talking about more than a lack of light. It is speaking of a deep spiritual darkness, one that is relevant to us today as well.

Last year I gave up reading the news for Lent, and continued my ban on news for several months longer. It was great. I could have happily gone on that way indefinitely, not knowing about migrant children being separated from their parents at our border, or the random episodes of violence that so often make the headlines. Ignorance can be bliss, at least temporarily.

But we are not called to live in ignorance, cut off from the troubles of the world. The world’s troubles continue, whether or not we recognize them. And at some point, we are all affected. We might choose not to think about climate change, for example, but it’s hard to ignore when our air becomes heavily polluted by wildfire smoke every August.

In a poem titled Good Bones, writer Maggie Smith proclaims that,

Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you though a real dump*, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

*expletive replaced

 We can’t ignore that we live in a land of deep darkness, as scripture says, or as Smith puts it, that the world is in large part terrible. But in spite of it, I do have an unshakeable sense of hope. I always picture a positive future for us on earth, just as it is in heaven.

Advent is here and with it we remember the coming of our King. Two thousand years ago our God chose to enter into our world in the most humble of ways, born in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

Do you wish that Jesus was here among us now, that you could sit across the table from him and get a straight answer about your big questions? I know I do. But Jesus wouldn’t give a straight answer anyway, preferring to teach through story and metaphor. Preferring to answer with a question.

Jesus was a light in the darkness. He came as our Savior, and he came to bring hope. Scripture tells us that when he left our world and ascended to heaven, we became his hands and feet.

This is an immense responsibility. We are Christ’s hands and feet. We are called collectively as Christians to be the light to the world. On a bad day, when we’ve read too many sad stories in the news, or when tragedy has touched us directly, we may say it’s too hard. We may say it hurts too much, there’s too much work to be done, I don’t know where to begin.

I imagine that if Jesus were sitting across from us at the table, he might simply say, This place could be beautiful right? You could make this place beautiful.

 Friends, I invite you to partner with Jesus this Advent season in bringing hope to the world. Here are a few concrete ideas for how to do just that.

Do random acts of kindness. Brighten someone’s day with an unexpected act of kindness. Write an encouraging text message or email, leave quarters at a laundromat, bring cookies to your neighbor, take time to recycle, send a Christmas card to your grandma, donate your used winter clothes to a homeless shelter. Small acts of kindness to others (and the planet) do make a difference.

 Serve your church or other local nonprofits. If you have a heart for service, there are many opportunities within our church as well as in the community. Food for Lane County, the Eugene Mission, and Habitat for Humanity are just a few local organizations that often need volunteers.

 Give relationally. If you’re like me and you haven’t yet completed your Christmas shopping, consider giving fewer material items and more relational or experiential gifts. This serves to strengthen relationships and create positive memories as well as cut down on waste — and it may even save you money. Relational gifts can vary widely depending on your budget, but it could be as simple as cooking a special dinner for family members.

Donate globally. Consider a donation to a nonprofit that helps the poor and marginalized in the developing world, where your dollars can make the biggest impact. One of my favorites is the Fistula Foundation, which provides life-changing surgery for women with devastating childbirth injuries in parts of Africa and Asia. Look for charities with high ratings from a reputable third party like Charity Navigator.

Visit adventconspiracy.org for more resources on living missionally during the Advent season.

P.S. What’s your favorite part of the Christmas season?

This post was originally published on the CitySalt church blog. Visit citysalt.org for other posts on this topic. 

 

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Last night I was working to finish up our family Christmas card in time to take advantage of Shutterfly’s Black Friday sale. (And I did end up saving more than $60 off the regular price…yay!).

I started doing photo Christmas cards every year after Marie was born, and before that for a few years I just sent out a Christmas letter. Everyone loves to hate the Christmas letter, but of course as a writer and avid reader, I think it’s a lovely tradition.

Anyway, I was thinking how for a lot of my relatives, my annual Christmas card is my only communication with them. And if someone only knew me by my Christmas card, with its adorable family photos and paragraph on the back about the highlights of our year, that person would probably think I had a really blessed life.

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My family at the zoo – baby’s first visit!

And then I thought, if that person knew what our annual income was, they might think – eh, not so blessed.

Or if that person knew about some of the really tough struggles I’ve had with depression and anxiety – off and on throughout my life – again, not so blessed.

Then I thought, well the truth is actually this: I do have a really blessed life.

And hello there dear reader, I think you have a really blessed life too.

Did you know that about 26% of the world’s adult population is illiterate? And women make up two-thirds of all illiterates?

Did you know that 20% of the world’s population lives on less than $1 a day? And nearly half of the world’s population survives on less than $2 a day. Did you know that 1 billion people in the world today do not have access to safe drinking water?

Or this fact: women make up slightly more than half of the world’s population, but they account for 60% of the world’s hungry?

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Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. If you’re reading this post, you are literate. You have Internet access. You probably get enough to eat, have a safe place to sleep at night, and have access to clean drinking water.

Most of us in the Western world have our basic needs met and more, and yet we are never satisfied with our material wealth. We consider money and material objects to be the greatest possible blessings.

But then why do we who have so much, struggle so much with depression and anxiety?

What if money is not the greatest blessing?

What if the greatest blessing we can have is something that can’t be measured or hoarded?

What if the greatest blessing of all is love, actually?

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My daughter, one of the great loves of my life, sits in the Appreciation Chair and Portland Children’s Museum.

What are some of  the greatest blessings in your life?

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Resources:

United Nations Hunger Statistics

World Literacy Foundation

A few ways to help:

MercyCorps

Doctors without Borders

Fistula Foundation

Do you have a favorite nonprofit? Let me know in the comments below.