Advent’s two stories

But God performs mighty acts

Psalm 145:1-4 I will exalt you, my God and King and praise your name forever and ever… No one can measure the Lord’s greatness. Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power.

Advent is a time for storytelling. Not just any story, but two stories filled with complex and vulnerable characters who grow and change, amazing adventures, and awesome rescues by the greatest, most powerful, most admirable actor of all time.

One story is about what happened on planet Earth two thousand years ago: the birth of a poor baby who was actually a Prince, sent by his father, the King, to rescue the world from the clutches of an evil tyrant.

The second story foretells the Prince’s return to Earth to set everything right. It’s the happy ending which will begin a new story, a wonderful sequel.

What story am I telling my children and grandchildren?

This Advent, I want to challenge you to think as well about your own story. In Psalm 145, David repeatedly calls us to share with others our own stories of God’s power and greatness, beginning with our children and grandchildren and others of the next generations.

I want to leave you with three questions today:

  1. Does your story matter? Why should you invest in remembering, understanding, and sharing your story?
  2. Where do you see God in your story? What mighty acts has he performed for you?
  3. What impact can your response to question #2 have on your children and grandchildren and/or others of the next generations? What has your life experience shown or taught you that you would like to pass on to them?

I hope these questions will help you begin to see and value your story differently.

As I think about the legacy my husband Dave and I received from our parents and grandparents, I’m both sad and encouraged. Some parts of their stories were never resolved or healed, and we were bruised from the impact of their pain. In other ways, their stories challenge and strengthen us to move forward, to offer our descendants hope as we embrace and share God’s grace and mighty acts in our lives.

I hope you will join me in storytelling this Advent! Of both Great Stories, and the ways your experiences weave their unique part of the fabric the Great Stories continue creating.


But the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings

Malachi 4:1-2 The day of judgment is coming … But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.

Luke 1:53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.

I couldn’t write yesterday. I felt empty, and at the same time, stuffed way too full. This morning when I woke up, I asked the Lord what to share out of that empty fulness. So here we go.

At our house, the Christmas stockings are small. I didn’t grow up with the tradition of Christmas stockings. Having them at all began when our dear friend Jane Keep knitted small stockings with the names of the five of us for Rachel’s first Christmas, Dave-Debbie-Danny-Karis-Rachel. Several years later, she added Valerie, not quite in the same style as the original five. Since then, God has doubled the number of our Christmas family. Though there are now fourteen stockings, we’ll host twelve around the table on Christmas Day: Karis, though we all feel her presence, does not take up space at the table, nor does our granddog, June.

The stockings hang empty now, awaiting the creativity of family members coming up with tiny treasures and candies to tuck into them. Empty, yet replete with anticipation.

Over the last few weeks, several events I anticipated with one idea in mind, proved to be quite different from what I expected. In each case the production was spectacular, but not what I had imagined. The first was the movie The Most Reluctant Convert, the Untold Story of C. S. Lewis. Then an Andrea Bocelli concert (thank you, Val and Cesar!), followed by our church’s delightful St. Nicholas Market, Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers. I won’t take space to explain why, in each case, the real thing was different from my expectation.

This last weekend (well, Friday through yesterday) held a half dozen unanticipated outcomes, maybe more depending how I count them. Can you imagine Bach’s Toccata and Fugue played on an accordion?! Or the richness of the Lessons and Carols service Sunday? Or the Heinz Concert Hall filled with worship as Byron Stripling and Vanessa Campagna’s voices soared with What Child Is This, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Go Tell It on the Mountain, We Three Kings, Silent Night, O Holy Night and Joy to the World at the Pittsburgh Symphony’s “Holiday Pops” concert? Or the comfort of my daughters’ arms around me through Jim’s funeral? Or—

No, I’ll stop. Too many words, too much music and beauty to absorb. And concurrently the realization, this Advent, that as I imagine Jesus’ first coming, and try to imagine his second, I have only the shadow of an idea what to expect. The reality will be so much more than I can possibly anticipate.

But it will include, as seems a perfect description for Jim right now, healing. Freedom. Leaping for joy.


Bittersweet Christmas

But God heard my cry for mercy

Psalm 31:5, 21-22 I entrust my spirit into your hand. Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. … I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. … In panic I cried out, “I am cut off from the Lord!” But you heard my cry for mercy and answered my call for help.

“It’s the hap-happiest time of the year …”

Well, no. Not for everyone.

The first Christmas after Karis died, I thought I would drown in grief. She loved Christmas so. I couldn’t bring myself to do the fun Christmas-y things: the tree, the decorating, the baking, the gifts. I wanted somehow to leap over not only Christmas but January, when Karis was hospitalized with a line infection and, unknown to us, H1N1, and February, with her death and memorial service and indescribable pain. I wanted to skip winter altogether. I wanted spring, with its hope of new life, with reassurance there was still reason to live.

Rachel and Valerie came to my rescue, though they were grieving too. They managed Christmas for our family that year. I didn’t realize how hard this was for them until Rachel mentioned it a couple of weeks ago as we discussed plans for this year.

Yesterday’s poem in Guite’s Waiting on the Word, number 28 of 131 poems published in 1850 as In Memoriam, is framed around the sound of Christmas bells. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote these poems across seventeen years, tracing his grief over the sudden death of his best friend. His pain is still raw, yet the last stanza carries a note of hope:

                             This year I slept and woke with pain,

                                           I almost wish’d no more to wake,

                                           And that my hold on life would break

                             Before I heard those bells again.

                             But they my troubled spirit rule,

                                           For they controll’d me when a boy;

                                           They bring me sorrow touch’d with joy,

                             The merry, merry bells of Yule.

“Sorrow touch’d with joy.” It’s an apt description of my first few Christmases after Karis’s death. Grieving is not speedy. If we try to skip over the pain, it won’t heal. The only way out is through.

This year, I find I can invert Tennyson’s phrase. “Joy touch’d with sorrow”—yes. That works. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for hearing my cry for mercy.

The joy candle, third Sunday of Advent Shutterstock: Roza Sharipova