Monthly Archives: December 2015

Barn vs. Inn

We are barreling toward the fourth week of Advent and only a few short days away from Christmas. The anticipation of the younger members of our families is palpable. The halls have been decked, presents have been bought, and we have been making merry with family and friends. Or maybe we are completely behind, which is just fine as well. No judgment from me, I can assure you. Don’t open my spare room.

But in the hustle and bustle of the season, have we made room in the stable of our hearts for Jesus?

I found a great reflection called “Inn Expectations and Barn Reality” I wanted to share. I love this title because for many years I’ve had unrealistic expectations about what can be accomplished during this season. I want the inn, but end up with the barn. I have learned, however, that I can make all the homemade cookies I can think of, but my daughter still loves the Pillsbury ones with the reindeers on them that you just pop in the oven.

I also have to remember that the barn was cozy and intimate, and filled with love. So maybe your house looks more like the barn than the inn right now. Like being pregnant, the baby arrives whether you are ready or not. And Christmas is coming, whether you are ready or not. Fortunately for us, Jesus is ready and waiting to be a part of our lives if we let Him in.

“To fully experience the joy of Christmas, we must fill our weeks of anticipation with the spiritual fruits of our faith. Serve others. Pray for others. Give to others. It all comes down to these four questions:

Are we preparing the internal manger?

Have we paved our spiritual road to Bethlehem?

Have we tempered our inn expectations to the barn reality?

Are we wrapping the people we love in swaddling clothes stitched with prayer?

You and I? We get comfortable with what we have and what we do. We act like the tax collectors and the soldiers, asking more of others than we ask of ourselves and throwing out judgment with nary a thought as to how it affects others. And every year, Christmas comes around and reminds us that all we have, all that we are, and all that we do comes from one source—a tiny baby in a manger, who grew into a man, who saved us.

So, prepare the feast, give joyfully and decorate your home with beauty. But don’t forget to do the same for your heart. After all, that’s what He desires most.”

Adapted from “Inn Expectations and Barn Reality,” by Kathryn Whitaker, www.blessedisshe.com

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Stress Comes Next Week. Or Not.

For some reason, I do not have the anxiety and stress that usually accompanies my Christmas preparations. I do not have a single reason for this, other than the Holy Spirit has already given me a well-needed, pre-Christmas gift. We were out of town after Thanksgiving (and spent some wonderful time as a family), so nothing got decorated – until the last few days. Christmas cards have not even arrived to be signed and sent, but I’m OK with that. I have gifts yet to purchase and not a single one wrapped. My Bible study met this week, and instead of reviewing what we were supposed to, we listened to our friend whose brother was just diagnosed with cancer. Who really cared what was on the to-do list?

Does that mean that I am not going to be a crazed lunatic next week? No. I can pretty much guarantee it as I prepare for three separate family gatherings that I will be hosting. But I’ve been given a gift this week, so I’m thankful for it. In fact, as I put up decorations today that I haven’t been able to put up the past few years because I haven’t been healthy enough, I was nothing but thankful over a few strands of garland and a red bow.

In that spirit, instead of writing something myself, I am using the beautiful words from a website I love called Proverbs 31 – and I’m thankful yet again. I have a little table full of angels by my back door, which makes this even more appropriate. Thank you Lord for this website and the insight of its authors, which is giving me the gift of peace of mind, heart, and time tonight. 

The Most Important Christmas Choice

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’” Luke 2:13-14 (NLT)

Tis’ the season to be merry… and stressed. Although it should be a season of peace, this month can often make us feel more tangled up inside than a messy string of Christmas lights.

Some people dread the hustle, bustle, and emotional rustle this time of year brings, knowing that irritability, loneliness, or depression will threaten. While there are others who may love the Christmas season, but worry, busyness, family conflicts, and unmet expectations take their toll.

In either case, we have a decision. We can choose to get bogged down with stress or we can choose to bow down in worship.

Scripture gives us a beautiful picture of praise in Luke 2:13-14. When Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds sharing the good news. Then many other angels joined together and praised God.

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’” (NLT)

That’s not the only place the Bible records angels worshipping the Lord. In Hebrews 1:6 it says, “And when he brought his supreme Son into the world, God said, ‘Let all of God’s angels worship him.’” (NLT) And Revelation 5:11-12a says, “Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus.” (NLT)

Angels serve as role models of worship. They bow down before Jesus. They shout with incredible joy as they sing songs of praise. Through worship, angels spread the news of God’s glory and exhibit holy reverence. Angels intentionally and deliberately spend time praising God.

Keeping Christ in Christmas is more than just a cliché. It is an intentional act of worship. It requires a heart of adoration, much like the angels had. When Jesus is the focus of our holiday, we’re centered on His love, peace, and joy.

This prompts us to be His hands and feet to others in need. When worship fills our hearts, it leaves little room for aggravation in long lines at the store. We focus on what Christmas is truly about—the amazing gift of a Savior—rather than stressing out over buying the perfect presents. We exhibit grace to someone when we’d rather do otherwise. Worship turns our attention to giving thanks to Jesus for all He has done, rather than letting stress strip His joy from our hearts.

And it might even mean joining in with the heavenly chorus to sing praises to Him, even if we can’t carry a tune!

The holidays can bring a flurry of heightened emotions and can often result in an unhealthy level of stress which can prevent us from engaging in worship and praising the One we are supposed to be celebrating.

There will be lots of choices to be made during the month of December: where to serve, what gifts to buy, and how many events to attend. The most important choice we can make is to worship and sing praises to our Lord. For His gift. For His love. For His peace.

And when our hearts are at peace, our holidays can be too.

Lord, I choose to intentionally worship and praise You during this Christmas season. Help me stay focused on You and Your goodness. Amen.

 

 

 

Time and Trust

My family and I were very blessed this past weekend to spend our first Sunday of Advent in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Our celebrant and homilist was Cardinal Timothy Dolan (woo hoo!). He was warm, welcoming, and inviting, and his homily hit very close to home for my husband and me. I know I cannot do it justice in my own words, but I’ll give it a go.

Cardinal Dolan talked about Advent as a time of “patient waiting.” He talked about how the Israelites – the chosen people of God – waited 400 years for the coming of their Savior. He then mentioned how you and I can be impatient in our waiting. We can be impatient with others (an elderly family member, waiting at the checkout at the grocery store, or even getting out of the parking lot after Mass) or with ourselves (just when am I going to finally lose this weight?). He then talked about God’s time. Not my time, not your time. God’s perfect timing. We as humans are like microwave ovens – “I want my pizza heated, and I want it now.” God, however, is more like a crock pot – thinking in millennia – not months. When we as humans pray for an answer, we may pray for months, years, even decades. God answers in his perfect time.

God’s timing leads then to the concept of trust. If my timing is not being met, then I suppose I have to trust that God’s timing and God’s plan is perfect. I must trust in Him, and not in myself and my little plan for my life and the life of my family. Instead of, “Me, me, me,” it should be, “Him, Him, Him!”

My very feeble life experience has shown me that God’s plan is always better than anything that I can imagine. I’ve also been told that God answers prayers in three ways:

  • “Yes”
  • “Not Yet”
  • “I’ve got a much better idea.”

So I continue to try to trust. And my husband continues to try to trust. We wait (and wait) for God’s perfect timing. We currently and patiently wait for the feast of Christmas – when God’s perfect plan for the world came to life and brought the Good News to us all.