Look at the Pretty Lights

Look at the Pretty Lights
(source)

Our headlights cut through the blinding darkness of the December night, illuminating the country highway as my littlest girl and I made our way home from church.

“Look at the pret-ty lights, Mom-my,” she called from her car seat in the back of the van. “Do you see the pret-ty lights? I like the pret-ty lights. Do you like the pret-ty lights?”

Like them? Yes.

See them? No.

At least, not like she did.

She, days shy of her fourth birthday, saw twinkly lights on the horizon and deemed them worthy of attention, of affection, of conversation. I, days past my thirty-ninth, noticed them and kept plowing into the night. I knew they were there. But she didn’t ask if I knew they were there. She asked if I saw them.

Acknowledging a thing’s existence is not the same as comprehending its presence.

So, no. I hadn’t seen the pretty lights. I’d glanced right past the glow they cast on the bleak winter landscape, overlooked that someone was celebrating, taken for granted that we have something to celebrate.

Seeing the lights required eyes concerned with more than pavement and progress on the season’s looming list—things to do and stuff to buy, clutter to clean and places to go. And those eyes were not mine.

They were hers.

Hers were the eyes of a child, eyes that came along for the ride while I did, while I bought, while I cleaned, while I drove. Hers saw beauty along the side of the road rather than racing ahead to the details of the destination. Hers attended to the small celebration in the now rather than fixating on the work of the later.

These days leading up to Christmas, these days of Advent, are not about pretty lights along the side of the road any more than they are about doing, buying, cleaning, and going.

They’re about watching. About waiting. About seeing Christmas for what it is.

And Christmas is a remembrance of what has been. That the long-awaited Messiah, Immanuel, God with us, left heaven to come to Earth. That he dwelt among men. And that he overcame the grave. It’s a celebration of what will be. That he’s coming again. And it’s an expression of what is. That once again, we are waiting.

Jesus called us to have the faith of a child. Children see the world clearly now, not dimly through a haze of details which cloud the mind as much as the eye.

Look at the Pretty LightsSo, look at the pretty lights. Do you see them? And look at the Light of the World. Do you see him?

Sharing stories at at Kelly’s Small Wonder and  Lyli’s Through Provoking Thursday.

Where She Belonged

Path through the trees

I woke, just after midnight, to contractions. Forcing myself to remain motionless under the covers, I tried to convince myself that it was nothing more than a long series of Braxton-Hicks and go back to sleep. But the contractions were strong and regular, each one arriving with just a little less time between it and the one before, and the baby wasn’t due for another six weeks.

When our previous baby made her entrance into the world, she’d been in a rush. Not the early arrival kind of hurry—she’d been overdue. No, she’d arrived just moments after my husband and I walked through the door to the OB unit in a hospital a mere three blocks from our home.

With that in mind, I imposed a deadline of October 31 to complete my out-of-town Christmas shopping. I had no desire to be on the road when I went into labor. I wanted to be where I belonged, close to home,  near my own doctor and the hospital where he practiced.

On the day of my final shopping trip, I drove to the mall with my four-year-old daughter, whose short strides matched my waddling steps. We walked the full length of both floors of the mall. We stopped at Target and Lowes and strip mall stores I can’t even remember. We put in a long and slow-moving day, but when it was over, we’d finished the shopping. But then I found myself, just an hour after laying my weary head on the pillow, awake, uncertain, and lamenting the fact that I had overdone it.

A few hours in a softly lit room hooked up to a monitor  gave me time to consider the uncertainties of life in light of the first Christmas.

Did Mary hope, I wondered, she and Joseph would make it to Bethlehem and back before the birth of the baby? Or did she know that the baby would arrive on the journey? Like me, she probably wanted to be at home, where she belonged, with the village midwife and familiar women to help her. But unlike me, she didn’t have the luxury of deciding when she would and would not leave town. Mary left for Bethlehem regardless of her own desires, comfort, or plans. She went because Caesar decreed it.

At least, that’s what it looked like.

Mary, along with her countrymen, were part of Caesar’s Rome, a government which controlled their lives and their finances, one which they looked to the promised Messiah to save them from. They had no choice but to go wherever and whenever the expansive Roman Empire ordered. Even women who were great with child.

But Rome wasn’t the ultimate authority.

Mary made the uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem–the city of her husband’s ancestors–in the final days of her pregnancy, not by choice, not by coincidence, not even because of Caesar’s edict. She went because that’s where she belonged, because that’s how God said the Savior’s arrival would unfold.

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The contractions faded away to nothing but doctor’s orders for bedrest and the baby held off until days before Christmas, just like she was supposed to. I was glad she waited, grateful for the memory of those unexpected hours in the hospital, a memory which surfaces once in a while to remind me of the truth of the first Christmas–that God wasn’t bound by Bethlehem’s city limits to choose the mother of Jesus, that he could turn even the heart of the mighty Caesar, that even through all the years of his people waiting and all the miles of Mary’s uncomfortable, uncertain journey he had a plan and the power to bring it about.

He knew where Mary belonged and how to get her there. He knows where we belong, how to get us from where we are to where we need to be. We wait. We wonder. Sometimes uncomfortable. Often uncertain.

He, however, is not uncertain. He is unbound by all the things that bind us, able to turn hearts, able to bring about his plan–both for forever and for tomorrow– for you, for me, for a broken and hurting world. That is a Christmas reality to celebrate.

Merry Christmas to us.

The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord;
He turns it wherever He wishes. Proverbs 21:1

Sharing Where She Belonged at Small Wonders, #TellHisStory and Thoughtful Thursday.

Room, Or No?

Shed in Winter

The year I got married, my husband’s mom told me she’d read that the Christmas season brings thirty-nine additional items to a woman’s already overflowing to-do list. At the time I thought the number seemed a wee bit overstated but with age and experience, I’ve learned that the exact number doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it’s enough.

More than enough.

We address cards and clean houses. We go to programs and the post office. We buy and we bake.  We decorate. We deliver.

In no time, the pages of our calendars are crammed with concerts and gatherings. There’s no room for anything else. No room for one more thing. No room for Jesus.

He knows about a no room Christmas.

On the night of his arrival, Bethlehem was filled with people returning to be counted for Caesar’s census. The Inn was full, so crowded that there was no room for Mary and Joseph and their coming baby. That first Christmas was a busy one.

Still, there were those who made time.

The shepherds were settled in for a long for a night of watching their flocks, situated around their fire, doing whatever shepherds did to stay warm and pass the time. They were ready for another night of work, right up until the heavenly host arrived and changed everything.

The wise men saw the star and followed. They had to have known that to follow meant a long and arduous journey. Still, they went.

Our calendars present a convincing case that we have no room. For us there will be no heavenly host, no star to prompt us to act. It’s up to us to wrestle the list and the calendar and make room.

It’s a hard fight.

I face it every year: succumb to the busyness of the season, to all the things, and plow through my days accompanied by a flashing neon No Vacancy sign or join the shepherds and the wise men and make room.

For the shepherds it meant a trip into town. For the wise men, it was a cross-country trek. We don’t have to go anywhere.

The babe has already arrived.

Jesus came to live his sinless life and die an unjust death. He rose to give us life and then ascended into Heaven where he’ll intercede for us until he returns.

All that’s left is for us to make room, to pay attention, to remember—wherever we are–and worship.

May there be room in your life this Advent. See you in the new year.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:7

Sharing at Thought Provoking Thursday and Unforced Rhythms.