The house had been cleaned from top to bottom. Candy canes hung in ribbon above the windows and the tree was resplendent with ornaments of sentimental value. The scent of gingerbread filled the kitchen as she began rolling out sugar cookies while she thought about it all. If only everything could be washed clean and made new. If only . . .
For, you see, something new crossed her path every day. Normally that would be a good thing. Something new meant something fresh and exciting! But now the something new was stomach-churning. Every day. And the season which had before brought beauty and sweetness, sparkle and peace had been tarnished with unrelenting tales of deception, perversion, and anger. It was as though a spider of darkness was determinedly spreading its sticky web over the season of light.
But people’s hearts seemed impossibly hard and the enormous amount of disgusting behavior seemed darker than a black hole. How could such contempt for what was right be turned around? How could those who allowed themselves to wallow in a gutter mindlessly covered by glamour and status or blame and suspicion be redeemed? How could both accused and accuser find peace? It was hopeless! What was needed was a miracle. An unconscious sigh escaped her lips.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them,and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Gory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
In evil times to desperate people comes One who makes everything new and redeems those willing to be saved. It is an astounding miracle that crosses time and space to every culture and generation. It is offered to a multitude and available for a single soul. And that is the best miracle of all.
Luke 2:7-14; Softly Now He Comes by Connie Miller Pease, https://www.jwpepper.com/Softly-Now-He-Comes/10686074.item#/submit, Image: pexels-photo-713494.jpeg; christmas-935456_960_720-CC0-Public-Domain.jpg
“The important thing is that we focus on the diversity this campus is known for.”
“Right.” He paused. “Everything gets equal attention.”
“Well of course I don’t mean Christmas. It’s had too much preference for far too long in this country. Besides, it’s passe.
“Right. Twinkly lights are fine as long as they don’t mean anything. And Christmas carols . . .”
“Ach! Don’t even mention them. I can’t stand them.”
“I hated to see the Santa display go, but it was for the best.”
“Haha! I’d forgotten about that one!”
“What in the world? Did you see that?”
“I think it’s the Fine Arts Building. I’d think they’ll be on it before too long. Painting in the dark would be a challenge, eh?”
“Of course, red and green were fine for awhile, but – I don’t know – do you think it’s associated too closely with Christmas?”
“Let’s just go with white and gold. No reason to ruffle any feathers.”
The two men stopped and peered down the street for a moment.
“The English department will howl, for sure.”
“Oop! And Languages. Ah! And a few of the street lights! I wonder if it’s something with the electrical system?”
“Ooo, watch out there. Are you okay?”
“Just a minor stumble. It’s a bit hard to see without those lights.”
“Did you see the creche in front of the gas station down on 7th?”
“I can let the student group know. They love a good protest.”
A loud buzz echoed through the evening air.
“Look! The History department! They’ve probably all fallen asleep anyway.”
The two men chuckled.
“Science and technology will feel that.”
“I wonder how it will affect research?”
“But to the main point. This time of year shouldn’t be any different than any other time. I think we’ve done a fine job of cleaning up the campus. I don’t see evidence of the C word anywhere, do you?”
“How much better our campus is without Christmas!”
The other man nodded. “Nothing to take offense at here.”
And the campus went dark.
Image: Pexels.com; John 1:5; I Peter 2:8; https://www.dangerous.com/38838/christmas-not-appropriate-according-university-minnesota-memo/
Wind whipped the branches and slammed snow pellets against the brick until red became white. City dwellers had heeded the forecasters’ warnings and had stocked up on necessities including rock salt, sand, and kitty litter. Shovels were sold out. Streets had emptied. Here and there a window blinked a hint of brave light otherwise muted by the blizzard.
She’d heard the warnings just as everyone else had, but how often were forecasters right, really? When she’d started out, it had been simply cold and windy. But the forecasters had been right, and she had gotten it very wrong.
She wanted to make it home for Christmas – surprise everyone for once in her life. Oh, they’d planned on her coming, but with this weather, had urged her to stay put. They’d get together another time. Still, it had been too long.
Last Christmas she’d been invited to Aspen and you’d have to be crazy to turn down an invitation like that. The Christmas before that she’d worked because, well because she needed the money, and at the time money seemed more important than going home. It wasn’t the same. Working made the day seem like just another day. She’d gone back to a quiet apartment and ate leftover quiche that had lost some of its texture and toast that tasted like sawdust. Aspen had been exciting and beautiful, but . . .
As December 25th approached, she’d begun to think of the pine scent of the Christmas tree she knew stood in front of the window and the cookies her mom always made, the ginger ones with sugared orange rinds on top. Every time she heard a Christmas song on the radio or in a store, she thought of the little church down the block from their house that held Christmas Eve services no matter the weather.
Now her Christmas surprise had made an awful turn. God was in heaven, and Jesus wasn’t just a baby in a pretty story. She knew that. But she never prayed. Wasn’t sure she knew what to say even if she tried. How, after all, did one ask for Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer?
She pulled over as she approached the edge of town. Ten more miles on a blowing highway and she’d be home. Ten more miles might as well be ten hundred. She couldn’t even see where the road ended and the ditch began.
Squinting into the whiteout, suddenly she caught sight of a light up ahead! Not white light, but red and red enough to break through the blinding flakes. She pulled out and crept onto the highway, following it. A lone trucker needing to make it a few more miles would’ve laughed to think he was an answer to prayer. No matter. The driver of the car behind him was humming Rudolph.
Image: 800px-Blizzard_Mt_Keen-wikipedia.jpg; pexels.com; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: composer, Robert L. May; story idea based on a trip back to the cities from St. Cloud in blinding fog after a night class I took many years ago
She liked little things: the shape of bark on a tree, the tickity sound of that one machine she didn’t know the name of, Christmas, of course, and the smell of dirt just before anything sprouted in the spring. And she loved math. It was logical and dependable. It was actually beautiful in the way the same conclusion could be reached in a variety of ways. And the answers were never fuzzy, never tentative. They were solid.
One January day she felt a little dizzy. Maybe it was the flu. Then she fell during recess. And in one day a brain cancer diagnosis stole the little things, her favorite sights and sounds and scents. She was six.
She lost her hair overnight, and wondered if anyone’s hair could grow back overnight, too. When she lost her bowel control, her dad reminded her of all the things she could still control, and gave her some equations to work just for fun. Her appetite left her, and she didn’t wonder or think anything. She just felt weak. And then one day she sensed her math skills slowing; and it was on that day that hope became transparent. That day her world was no longer solid. That day was the worst day.
One night voices filled her dreams. She could hear bits and pieces here and there of what they were saying, of what they were praying. Sometimes she heard her name. She saw a man standing in front of her and liked him instantly. He told her the number seven was one of his favorite numbers and asked her how old she would be on her next birthday. She laughed when he threw up his hands in surprise. He told her his birthday would be celebrated soon, and they talked about the sound of stars and the warm breath of sheep. He told her that miracles are as dependable as math if you know who to ask. The man seemed so real and his words so solid. She felt happy and, for the first time in a year, a weight lifted. But when she woke up, she was in her same bed with accustomed pain and saw the familiar troubled look in her mother’s eyes.
In one year things had grown so hard. Spring and summer had passed without tree bark or the smell of fresh dirt because tests and worry had taken their place. Her world had grown smaller and quieter in the hospital. Math ceased to bring the satisfaction it had one time brought. It hardly seemed possible her days could ever become better.
Christmas wasn’t far away now, but she would lose that favorite thing, too. How would she celebrate it with such a tired body?
And then it was Christmas Eve. Before she went to sleep, she thought again about the nice guy she’d seen in her dream. She could almost hear him telling her about how miracles really do exist, and she prayed for the miracle she wanted most of all. A small smile crossed her face as she thought about the sound of stars, the warm breath of sheep, and how he liked the number 7.
Christmas morning dawned cold and sharp, but bright and clear. She stretched and felt a tug. What in the world? She jumped out of bed and ran to the mirror. There – just touching her shoulders – was the hair she’d missed for too long. Her eyes grew wide. She breathed deeply.
“Mom! Dad! I feel good! I feel great! Nothing hurts! I! Have! Hair!”
She ran into the living room and jumped on the couch. Up and down, up and down. She couldn’t stop! She ran back into her room and grabbed a math worksheet. Ha! How could anyone not like math?! And the answer was seven! Seven! Seven! Seven! She ran back into the living room, plugged in the tree lights, and felt the glow of Christmas, itself: promise and hope. Today she would celebrate her friend’s birthday with all her might. It felt so right. So real. Solid. She was home. She was whole. And miracles? Miracles are as dependable as math if you know who to ask.
This story borrows from the story of a little girl I am praying for. Won’t you join me in asking for a Christmas miracle?
The empty, whose heart is world-weary, tired of seeing what he never thought he’d see and hearing with ears he wishes deaf . . .
The young, embracing new sights and sounds, whose each new road cannot come soon enough and the new, whether good or evil, is a thrill . . .
The wealthy to whom abundance offers nothing new; to whom need is an unknown acquaintance and sour is made sweet with a request . . .
The impassioned, imprisoned, important paralyzed by hate, jealousy, and unforgiveness or energized by love, generosity, and mercy . . .
Owe thanks to their Creator who daily gives them breath, who does more for them than they recognize and overlooks more than they admit.
At this time set apart for Thanksgiving, regardless of where you find yourself in life, give thanks. We do not think of owing thanks, but we do; and though it is owed, it is incumbent upon us to offer it freely. You have a Creator who loves you beyond measure and live in a world that, despite its troubles, offers beauty and wonder.
A 1988 movie, Judgement Day, imagined two travelers who come upon a town visited by Satan once every year to claim souls. It got a two and a half star rating. Then there was a 1993 movie by the same name about a guy who killed his family to hide his personal failures and wasn’t arrested until decades later due to his apparently very effective ability to hide. Three and a half stars. The 1999 movie entitled – you guessed it – Judgement Day tells the story of the earth in danger of being struck by interstellar debris, a scientist who figures out how to stop it, a religious cult who wants to stop him, and a murderer who joins an FBI agent to free the scientist and prevent millions of deaths. Back down to two and a half stars.
Besides the happy assurance that I’m not the only one who’s not that great with titles, it appears that Hollywood hasn’t had much luck with judgement day. Oh the irony.
And here we are: here being recovering from devastating natural disasters, mass killings, exposes of major news sources, ongoing revelations of deception, and a waterfall of sexual deviance. Strike that. Sexual deviance doesn’t seem to get much negative press. Make that sexual assault, abuse, harassment, and plenty of plain ol’ boorish behavior. And let’s not forget a few souls who make false allegations, usually for money. Weaponizing whatever sin is trending detracts from very real heartache and damage of the real until it loses some of its repulsiveness.*
Just when we think we’re on our way to recovery – boom! – here comes another wave. For instance, I wrote a few words of this post a week ago, never dreaming there would be so much more to address by this date. I’m not even going to use names now because the names just keep coming. It’s like the Halloween Blizzard of ’91. By the time we get to the Judgement Seat of God, even the most nosy neighbor will hope upon hope for a mute button.
Often we think of the judgement of God Almighty as something to avoid. Thinking of His hand moving or removing to bring/allow horrific consequence isn’t something that allows for peaceful sleep or peaceful thought or peaceful anything.
But the judgement with which this world is currently overwhelmed is a good thing, I think. Of course no one wants their sins – large or small or anywhere in between – being spread all over Twitter, but it gives us all another chance to say what is wrong and what is right. It helps us remember that being politically correct is pretty crooked compared to God’s plumb line. Even in the church. Even in Academia. Even in Media. Even in Hollywood. Even in Congress. Even in politics. Even in our own lives.
We don’t often think of judgement and goodness being related, but they are. We’re not supposed to stay stuck at judgement. It’s a step – a very hard, ugly crumbling step – but a step nevertheless. And if a person can scale the riser of pride, they can reach the next step. The next beautiful, shining, solid step is repentance. Such a good thing. A freeing thing. I love repentance. If we’re willing, judgement can bring us there.* It’s like a reset on the remote. Ready . . . click.
* It is at this point I must say something that should go without saying, but must be said because righteousness is only en vogue at certain times and situations for some folks. Sexual abuse isn’t right. Nor is rape, incest, sex outside of marriage, perversion or any other misuse of something that could have been beautiful, but has been distorted. When someone pretends to be a victim, they might hurt their target, but they surely hurt true victims as a result of diminishing returns.
*Hurry now! One of these days that step will no longer be available.
He’d driven down the road hundreds of times. More, actually, but who was counting? It was funny how driving the same route, the same distance, the same speed day after day was so much a part of his routine he didn’t even think about it. He saw but didn’t see the sign posts or the dips in the road. His foot automatically tapped the break before the turns he barely noticed. It was a little like life: going through motions once carefully considered and now unconsciously carried out.
One morning, though, he’d caught something out of the corner of his eye that seemed out-of-place. He’d whizzed past it before he could make out what it was. It bothered him a bit. Not that it should. Why should some little change, some barely noticeable something or other catch his attention and hold it?
He slowed down the next morning and peered off to the side of the road, looking for whatever it was that bothered him. There. There it was. A sign. No, more like a marker. Just a small post really. With a number: 636. It wasn’t a mile marker. It was on a simple piece of wood – sturdy, but small. And each day he passed it, he noticed it until he began to notice something else. The number changed every day. Every single day the number increased by one.
He mentioned it at work, covering his unsettled feeling by making it into a joke. Everyone dutifully chuckled. Well, not everyone. An intern looked alarmed, but what intern didn’t have that look on her face at some point every day? Later, she poked her head into his office and asked if he had a minute. Annoyed, he motioned her to enter. She stood resolutely as though she’d made some important decision which she was about to announce. He looked pointedly at his watch.
“There are stories. Maybe you haven’t heard them.”
“I’ve no idea what you’re trying to say. I’ve lived enough years to have heard every story to enter your young head.”
She turned to leave, then turned back.
“It’s just – something – I don’t know why I’m telling you. It’s probably nothing.”
“There’s a story that every Halloween someone somewhere in the world sees a sign post that keeps count of – I don’t know. No one does I don’t think. But it keeps count, and shortly after they’re never seen again.”
He shook his head and smirked. “Somewhere in the world. How well-traveled you are. What are you? 22?”
The intern’s face crumpled and she walked out.
The next day he looked at the sign. 646. He felt slightly queasy. Okay. This was ridiculous. He’d start taking a different route, end of problem. And the next day as he drove the slightly longer route, he spied the post somewhere around mile marker 10. It read 647. He took a different route still the day after that. And after that.
“You’re late again today,” his secretary remarked.
He swallowed the coffee she held out to him. It was lukewarm. He was tired of lukewarm coffee. He’d go back to his preferred path. What difference, at this point, did it make?
By the time the sign turned to 665, he’d begun to chill as he neared the spot and could feel a trickle of sweat run down his temple. Something had to be done.
The weather was turning. It always did this time of year. Like a clock. Tick, tick, tick. He felt like he was going a little bit crazy. He couldn’t stand it.
The next morning looked like twilight and a misty rain spit down on his windshield whisked away by wipers, an ineffectual remedy to persistent rain. He pulled to the side of the road and put his coat collar up against the wind. Walking over the the post, he knelt down and read the number: 666. He kicked the wood. Stupid, stupid marker. He gripped the post with both hands and heaved. It wasn’t so sturdy that a few tugs couldn’t pull it out. He pulled again. Once more should do it.
And his hot coffee grew warm, then cold.
Image: pexels-photo-561201 Maizal Najmi
Warmth is cozier when it snows;
On foggy days light finds its mark;
Life’s winding path no one can know;
Faith is brighter in the dark.