I Seek the Deliverer

December 14

I SEEK THE DELIVERER

“And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion,

 he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’.” Romans 11:26

 

It’s right there in the middle of The Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil.” Obviously, Jesus knew that we were going to have a hard time handling this stuff ourselves, and that we were going to need some divine help. Unfortunately, most of us, myself included, seldom think that evil is big enough to bother God about, and that we should save the delivering for something of major proportions.

It takes the Christmas season for me to realize it’s not the big evils of this world that drag me down – it’s the little, niggling ones, the ones I’m sure I can handle myself. According to Webster’s Dictionary, evil is anything that causes discomfort or repulsion (along with a lot of other definitions that fit more closely to how I’d always defined ‘evil’).

Playing games such as, “I’m going to give you an expensive present and make you feel guilty or beholden,” and “I’m leaving you off the party list because I want to invite some interesting people and you wouldn’t fit in with them,” and “We’re not going to your family’s place for Christmas because I can’t stand your sister,” and “I’m just putting everything on the credit card and I’ll worry about it next year,” and “I’ll play the kitchen martyr and make everyone feel sorry for me,” and “I’m not giving you a gift this year because you gave me a cheap little gift last year”….all these games cause me discomfort and repulsion.

There is a litany that has the right idea about the little evils all around us. “From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred and malice, and all uncharitableness, Good Lord, deliver us.”

That pretty much covers the whole gamut of evil that seems to afflict me and a lot of other people at Christmas time. I don’t know what it is about this season that brings out not only the best in us, but the worst in us, too. Perhaps it is Old Dirty Face himself feeling the pinch of Christian love and doing his utmost to stamp it out. Whatever the reason, now is the time to pray for deliverance from evil – into love.

 

MEDITATION: Good Lord, deliver me from all the little evils that plague me and take away my peace. “To strengthen such as do stand; to encourage the faint-hearted; to raise up those who fall; and finally, to beat down Satan under our feet, we beseech thee, Good Lord.” Amen.

 

 

I Seek the Word

December 13

I SEEK THE WORD

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.” John 1:1

 

I spent a good part of my working life conducting seminars and workshops. One of those was a communications seminar. It always surprised and amazed the participants to learn how we communicate with each other, face to face.

I’d start by drawing a large circle which represented 100% of what we wished to communicate – the whole message. Then I divided it like a pie into three pieces and labelled the pieces Verbal, Vocal and Visual. These are the three components of how we communicate a message, I’d explain.

Then I’d pose the question. “What portion of the whole message is communicated by each of the three components?” The guesses ranged from 10 to 90% in each category. Then, I’d write in the correct percentages on the pie shapes. Verbal: 7%. Vocal: 38%. Visual: 55%. The audience was always stunned by the low figure for the verbal component of our communication with each other.

When I consider how carefully I choose my words, search for just the right phrase, or try hard not to get off track, it seems like a useless exercise if only 7% of communication is actually in the words themselves (which, by the way, explains how people speaking two different languages can still communicate with each other).

It may also explain by my witness to Jesus is so ineffective. My mouth knows the right words to speak, but my actions often don’t back them up.

During the Christmas season, I find myself in a position where I know I should be speaking the word that reminds us of the reasons for the season. It’s easy to do at my church group, in Sunday School, at the choir luncheon. After all, they expect to have a little ‘religious’ component in the activity. But, at the office Christmas party, my daughter’s dance recital, the luncheon with the book club, it all becomes a lot more difficult.

I choose my words carefully, being sure not to offend or condemn or protest. But if that is all I do, then 93% of the message remains un-communicated.

Jesus as the Word in my life communicates his message of love 100%. His face, his voice, his actions, all were congruent with his words as he walked on earth. Someone once lightly called him, “The Great Communicator”.  How right they were!

 

MEDITATION: Dear Lord Jesus, help me to express your love in not just words, but in every aspect of my being. Make me so genuine in my communications with others that they will see in me a vision of you. Amen.

I Seek the Leader

December 12

I SEEK THE LEADER

“Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader

and commander for the peoples.” Isaiah 55:4

 

There was a time when children looked to their parents, their teachers, even to older brothers and sisters for guidance and role models. Not anymore. Today, the big black screen in the living room teaches them all they need to know.

I’ve always struggled against television. Deep inside, I’ve longed to cancel the cable, pull the plug and throw the darn thing out.  But then, what would I watch on those evenings when even reading a book is too much effort, when all I want is a mindless TV program, to “veg out” and relax? I’ve rationalized the existence of the television by telling myself that my children only watch wholesome programs – but let’s face it: there’s nothing wholesome in the mayhem and chaos of a Saturday morning cartoon. But what about the “good” programs, the educational programs, the learning programs, the fun programs? Should they all go, too?

So the television stays with us and has become the educator, the expert, the proponent, the last word on all that is IN.

IN is what my children want to have. IN is everything most parents don’t want their children to have. IN is even worse at Christmastime.

There is no way to avoid the blatant messages of “Be like everyone else,” “Follow the leader,” “Be IN”. Worse, my children don’t even want to hear about being different. If everyone else in the civilized world has a Video 2000 Double-Whatsit Ultra Sound Thingy, they must have one too! My little television followers make the most deeply brain-washed cult follower seem wildly independent by comparison to their blind unswerving desire to have just what everyone else is having for Christmas.

Sadly, we parents get sucked in, and everyone is familiar with the frantic parent making the rounds of every store in town, desperate to find the Video 2000 Double-Whatsit Sound Thingy before Christmas morning.

It isn’t any easier for me to live in this world while trying to follow my leader, Jesus Christ. I also hear the siren calls of chasing dollars and climbing ladders, of having more than the next person and looking out for Number One. Only if I stop to listen do I hear the still, small voice reminding me to “love one another”. I know if I listen to my Leader, I run the risk of not being IN. I think I can handle that.

 

MEDITATION: O God, speak to me often during this Advent season. Remind me that your way is not the way of this world. As I wait for the coming of your son to Bethlehem, help me ignore the blandishments of this world. Instill in me a desire to follow you and only you. Amen

I Seek the King of Kings

December 11

I SEEK THE KING OF KINGS

“And this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed

and only sovereign, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.” 1 Timothy 6:15

 

At Christmas time, there is only one king sitting on his throne in our hallowed halls – Santa Claus seated in splendor in the local shopping mall. Each year, the re-created Throne Room grows more and more lavish. The throne is now gilded and piled high with red velvet cushions, the pathways are strewn with sparkling silver dust and tiny stars, twinkling lights and glittering icicles festoon the marble arches. It is a wondrous sight. And in the midst of it all, surrounded by his servant elves and his adoring subjects, Santa Claus, red-suited, well-fed, rosy-cheeked and jolly, offers candy and a smile to every small child who worships on his knee, promising each one more goodies to come on Christmas morning.

How can a child understand that this wonderful personage is not the King of kings? When they stand in awe before the throne of the great one himself, how can they begin to comprehend that the birthday celebration called Christmas is for a small baby, born in a barn? How do you explain that this king is an imposter when they can see the evidence of his wealth, power and riches right before their eyes? How can he possibly be less important than the baby of Bethlehem?

This is the paradox of Christmas. We celebrate the birth of the King of kings, yet we give him no trappings of power, no symbols of state, no mighty throne or golden chambers. In fact, in the world of commercial Christmas, he is never mentioned.

Instead, we find ourselves caught up in the getting and doing and buying and rushing that is all part of Christmas. We stand before the glittering throne and tell our children, “You must be very good or Santa Claus won’t bring you anything this year.”

Instead, I want to stand before the manger. I want to confess that I haven’t been very good. That I have stumbled and fallen and lost my way. I want to receive the forgiveness that only the King of kings can give me. This is one gift of that the red-suited king of this world’s Christmas can never offer.

 

MEDITATION: Lord, have I been worshipping at the wrong throne? Forgive me when I get caught up in worldly matters and forget who is the King of kings. Lead me to the manger. Bless me with your grace. Amen.

 

I Seek the True Light

December 10

Second Sunday in Advent

I SEEK THE TRUE LIGHT

“The true light that enlightens every man was

coming into the world.” John 1:9

 

A small community near us has created a new Christmas tradition. It’s called the “Pathway of Lights.” Throughout the community the roads are lines with luminaria (white household candles set into white lunch bags with sand in the bottom). That’s all there is to it.

And yet, something magical happens as visitors are invited to walk on the paths of light. Perhaps it’s the magic of the frosty night air, the stars hanging like diamonds in the winter night sky, or the glow of Christmas decorations from the house. Perhaps it’s just the novelty of having no street lights or headlights or porch lights to detract from the beauty of the darkened roadway lined with glowing white globes. Whatever it is, we find ourselves speaking in hushed whispers as we tread softly down the quiet streets, and only the crunch of snow beneath our feet or the excited giggle of a child breaks the silence.

Such is the power of candlelight. For one precious hour, I forget the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations. I simply allow myself to be drawn into the beauty of the night and of the moment. I’ve come closer to the manger in Bethlehem on the streets of that small community than I have in some large city churches.

I wonder if the shepherds visiting the manger felt the same way. Were they also drawn by the light that led them forward? Were their voices hushed and still as they bathed in the radiance of the child’s face? Did they forget their workday worries: the sheep on the hillside, the ravaging wolves, the cold, the hunger, the loneliness? Did they simply stand and adore as the light poured down, and on, and around them?

 

MEDITATION: O Lord of Light, allow me to stand in your light, to still my daily grind long enough to sense your presence. Fill me with your light, so that I am a glowing beacon to those around me. Amen.

I Seek the Light of the World

December 9

I SEEK THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Again Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he who

follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’.” John 8:12

 

It’s no good. I can feel myself being slowly sucked into the gaping maw of the Christmas Monster. Everywhere I go, he waits for me, lurking behind the plastic Christmas trees, hiding behind the displays of Christmas wrapping paper, waiting to ambush me when I am least prepared to fight off his blandishments. Even the grocery store isn’t safe – he’s sitting on the shelves of candy, smirking from the bins of nuts and oranges, and most of all, blatantly calling me from the loudspeakers, interspersing the fifteen-minute produce specials with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.

It’s his message that gets to me, a siren call that is irresistible to my sense of responsibility. “Only fifteen more shopping days until Christmas”. Suddenly, my whole life becomes compressed into fifteen days. Can I do it? Can I get it all done if I start this very second and don’t stop? Fifteen days! Why that’s hardly enough time to stuff the turkey, let alone create a Christmas my family will speak of with awe and reverence for years to come.

After all, I have a responsibility to make sure Christmas is wonderful. It’s up to me to bring all the elements of Christmas together. It’s my duty to give everyone a memorable day. And I’ve only got fifteen days to do it in.

No wonder I feel a surge of adrenalin when the Christmas Monster whispers, “Only fifteen days left.” He whispers in my ear that it’s all going down the tubes this year if I don’t pull myself together.

I’d thought it would be easy to relax and let all the Christmas craziness flow around me. Unfortunately, what is flowing around me is this world’s version of “getting ready for Christmas”, and I’m beginning to feel a little bit like a salmon swimming upstream.

I have to keep reminding myself not to feel guilty. I know that the only person who can make me feel guilty is me, and that my guilt is only symptom of what I perceive to be my own shortcomings – in this case, in the Christmas preparedness department.

It’s time for me to look to the light. The Light of the World, that is. Let it all go and allow myself to rest at the feet of my Savior. Feel his acceptance and love. Remember, that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

 

MEDITATION: Lord of all Light, light the path before me so that I may walk this Christmas season in love and joy. Shine in the dark corners, illuminating my heart with your presence. Amen.

 

I Seek the Star

December 8

I SEEK THE STAR

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh; a star shall

come forth out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” Numbers 24:17

 

By now, the Christmas controversy is in full roar. I’ve heard all the arguments: real vs. artificial tree, balsam vs. scotch pine, colored vs. monotone lights, garlands vs. tinsel swags, traditional vs. modern designs, hand-made vs. store-bought ornaments. Even when the tree goes up and comes down is a source of disagreement.

I’ve been through it all. I’ve listened to my friend Ella explain to me why she has only white lights and ornaments on her tree. Marg has told me all about the ecological reasons for using an artificial tree. Muriel has shown me her potted tree – also for ecological reasons. My neighbors have their tree up by the 1st of November. My neighbors on the other side put theirs up on Christmas Eve. John insists on cutting his own tree. Harold believes in buying a tree from a local charity organization.

I’ve read the articles on how to make the Christmas tree more “Christian” by using only Christian symbols as ornaments. I’ve also read how to make my tree more “thoughtful” by making all the ornaments myself. And if I hang my tree with popcorn strands and cranberry ropes, I will have a tree to give to the little woodland creatures when the great day is over.

I’m easy. I’m flexible. I’m willing to change my tree habits. Except for one thing – what to put on top of the tree. On that point, I am adamant. I don’t want Santa or a reindeer. I don’t want a cute little Barbie-doll angel. No bows, no wreaths, no ribbon, either. I want a star on top of my tree, and nothing else will do.

The star reminds me of the reason for the season. It beckons me still to the manger. And when we put it on top of the tree, the last decoration to go on, it reminds me that the prophecies have been fulfilled, the promise completed. Jesus is born.

 

MEDITATION: Loving Creator, help me to see beyond the tinsel and the bright lights to the beckoning star in the East. Give me the courage to follow the star, wherever it may lead me. Thank you. Amen.

I Seek the Counsellor

December 7

I SEEK THE COUNSELLOR

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall

be upon his shoulders, and his name will be called, ‘Wonderful, Counsellor,

Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’.” Isaiah 9:6

 

I’ve never been to Disneyland. Or Disney World. Or the Epcot Center. Or Canada’s Wonderland. Not even to the Skydome. I don’t have any bumper stickers proclaiming that I discovered Ontario, loved New York, or left my heart in San Francisco. What’s more, I don’t want any, either. You see, I have no burning desire to climb the Matterhorn, sail up the Nile, or walk on the Great Wall of China. I like my home fires best.

How then do I account for the fact that I accepted a job that took me all over the country?  Five cities, three states and a new hotel each night – all in a five-day tour – became my “normal” working habitat. “I must be crazy,” I’d tell myself as I rushed madly from conference room to rental car to airport to plane. “What am I doing here?” I’d ask as I scrambled to find microphone jacks, registration lists and workbooks.

And yet, in the midst of it all, I knew the answer to my question. It lay in that wonderful certainty that I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to do. I had no doubt that it was part of God’s plan for me. He brought me to that place in my life and all I needed to do was simply BE. That’s a lot easier to say than do since I’m more likely to worry, fuss and fret, plan and prepare, than just “let go and let God”.

It’s the same with my Christmas journey. Here I am, ready once again to go to the manger, and I can feel myself begin to worry, fuss and fret, plan and prepare. I’ve started making lists, time-tables, even flow charts!  I’d rather just sit at home and enjoy the fire, but if I must make this journey, then I’m going to be Prepared – my way!

What I need to do is take hold of the same certainty that sustained me for my twenty years as a ‘road warrior’. I need to simply BE, and allow God to counsel and guide me on my journey towards Bethlehem.

 

MEDITATION: Author of my life, you know how busy my days are. You know how easily I get caught up in the preparations for the worldly celebration of Christmas. Instill in me a sense of peace; a knowing that you are in perfect control of my days. Allow me to enjoy the journey without worrying about the travel preparations. Amen.

I Seek the Lawgiver

December 6

I SEEK THE LAWGIVER

“There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to

Save and destroy.” James 4:12

 

I have discovered that there are many unwritten rules governing how we should celebrate Christmas. You won’t find them written in a book, but I know they’re treated just as seriously as if they were carved in stone.

These rules cover everything Christmas. There are rules on how to run the Sunday School Christmas Concert (every child must have a part; every concert must end with “Silent Night”); rules for the office give exchange (everyone must spend the required amount, no gift should be relevant, personal or useful); rules for the Christmas dinner (always turkey, always cranberry sauce, and only ham if Uncle George is coming); rules for gift wrapping (the more expensive the gift, the more flashy the wrapping paper and ribbons); rules for Christmas cards (only send one if they sent one last year), always send a religious card to the pastor, priest or minister); rules for teachers’ gifts (every child has the right to choose red nail polish, pungent perfume or ceramic ornaments); rules for putting up the outside decorations (always on the coldest day of the year, always ten minutes after the store that sells light bulbs closes). And so it goes.

You can find a rule for every aspect of Christmas. In fact, I think I could go through an entire Christmas season blindly following the rules and never once thinking for myself – and no one would even notice.

Some of these rules have been around so long they have become laws, such as, “always pretend you think the Mall Santa is real”, and “never admit you’d liked to opt out of the buying frenzy, just once.”

Funny though, there are no rules regarding the journey to the manger. That seems to be the one area in which I must find my own way, following the leading of the Spirit, regardless of where the rest of the world travels on their Christmas journey.

 

MEDITATION: Loving God, help me to break free from the rules and laws of this world’s Christmas. Give me the courage to make my journey to the manger as a free person. Remind me often that the only law is that of love. Amen.

I Seek the Forerunner

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December 5

I SEEK THE FORERUNNER

“Where Jesus had gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become

a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:20

 

There’s no doubt about it: Santa has his Christmas business very well organized. The Hallowe’en witches are barely packed away before Santa’s PR people are on the scene. I am constantly impressed by how efficiently they go to work. In the twinkling of an eye, glittering Christmas trees quickly replace the jack o’lanterns, Jingle Bells wafts over the air waves and Santa’s majestic throne appears in the middle of the Mall concourse. Santa’s forerunners are the best in the trade. We all know who’s coming to town!

It’s hard to ignore the hype and concentrate on the true meaning of Christmas. Sometimes, I wish we could have two Christmases: one for Santa and one for Jesus. Then, there wouldn’t be this constant tug-of-war going on in my heart. I want to make the journey to Bethlehem to see the Baby, but I promised to take the children to see Santa Claus. I want to sit quietly and prepare for His coming, but I haven’t finished my table decorations for the Church Bazaar.

As it is, Jesus gets lost somewhere in the glitter and glitz, in the going and doing and rushing. I feel that I get lost, too. Perhaps I should become like that voice crying in the wilderness: “Hey, World! You’re missing the point. We’re celebrating the birthday of a King, not Santa’s buying and getting bonanza!”

If Santa can inspire such loyal devotion from his PR people, his forerunners, then surely Jesus can expect the same enthusiasm from His followers?

After all, hasn’t He promised to do the same thing for me one day? To go ahead of me and prepare a place for me? And he will be there to welcome me home when I finally arrive. Would it be so unthinkable for me to do the same thing for Him here and now?

 

MEDITATION: Dear Jesus, I know that there are many in this world who have no idea why we’re celebrating Christmas. Give me the opportunities and the courage to tell others about your birth and about what you’ve done for me. Thank you. Amen.

 

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