The Switched Nativity

Jesus in the center.

Nativity pic 02I was carefully setting up this year’s Nativity display on the wooden shelf by the fireplace.   I meticulously turned individual pieces in incremental degrees until each one faced Baby Jesus in a stance that reflected wonder and adoration.

With a sense of satisfaction, I stepped back to view the final arrangement.

I sort of chuckled at myself, knowing full well that Biblical timelines do not place Jesus’ birth, first shepherds, and traveling kings all arriving in Bethlehem at the same time.  Still, I love creating a niche every year that displays that time-condensed version of the events as described.

Unexpectedly, I felt like the Spirit whispered, That’s not what it looks like today.  After that statement, a clear image flashed into my mind.  In that image, each of my Nativity pieces had been switched around and now stood in a completely different configuration.

Nativity SwitchedInstead of all attention focused towards Jesus, I saw Joseph, Mary, all three kings and even the shepherd, all facing one another in a circle of earnest conversation.   Their circle was closed and turned away from the Messiah.  He and the manger had been positioned at the opposite end of the shelf…alone, except for the company of a glass donkey and lamb.

The redesigned arrangement was thought-provoking.

I mused regarding the role each character might represent in today’s world:  the three kings would still represent leaders of nations, countries, and their respective political systems.   Joseph – perhaps a representation of men stepping forward to mentor, to “father” others, to model godly masculinity and leadership to the next generation; Mary — carrying the concerns, responsibilities and unique callings of women?  And the shepherd – would he represent a segment of the less fortunate in this world, or those who dedicate themselves to finding and winning lost hearts back to God?

In this Nativity’s switched layout, the people and those they stood for were not seeking wisdom or guidance from the Miracle Worker, the King of Kings who has government “rest on His shoulders,” the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6) though He was very near to all of them.

Instead, they talk-talk-talked only amongst themselves, solidifying their own worldview in which each was a captive, both a victim and perpetrator of the worldly system’s injustices.

light shaft in clouds, ver, origBut God is never static and never distant.  “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”  (I John 3:8)  One of my favorite Old Testament verses is Habakkuk 1:5 – “Look among the nations!  Observe!  Be astonished!  Wonder!  For I am doing something in your days – you would not believe it even if you were told!”

God is always “doing something” in whatever days we find ourselves. 

Good days.  Bad days.  Days we anticipate with joy and even those days we face with dread and prayer.  A “perfect Nativity” in this life has yet to be fully implemented or fully manifested in any area of our earthly walk, our sojourner’s path through both the marvelous and the horrific.

“The reason the Son of God was revealed was to undo and destroy the works of the devil.” (I John 3:8, The Passion Translation)

God is never without purpose.

IMG_1679The essence of “The Christmas Story” is not diminished even towards those nations whose cultures and calendars forbid its acknowledgement or celebration.  God is always seeking His lost sheep, His captured children held deep inside satanic fortresses.  As the grace of the Holy Spirit is poured out on those who seek it, so it is also poured out on those who are standing with their backs turned away from Him.

There is a resounding “Glory to God in the highest” that is constantly shed abroad, a sharing to step into the announcement “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”

The Lord’s Song Over Me

Coffee sign, Grand LakeThe warm smell of multiple brews of coffee enticed me to wait for my companion in the bistro area of the grocery store.  I approached the multiple 3-person tables and sat down at the only unoccupied set of chairs.  An unexpected sense of ease and peace rushed over me.

I mused that maybe it was simply the act of sitting and doing nothing that brought on that unanticipated calm, as the week just ended had been intensely focused on tasks and chores, long hours and short nights.

Yet what I experienced felt intensely social.  It was as if I were actually part of the small-table community and had stepped in to visit a familiar group of friends.  The sensation was both pleasant and curious, as I knew no one there and was sitting alone.  But that friendly hum of background voices was ministering to me like an uplifting song.

Then came an ah-ha moment…maybe it “felt” like a song because the Lord was actually singing over me right there, in the midst of the commonest of situations.

Zephaniah 3:17 states, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior.  He willIMG_5737 exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of Joy.” (NASB) The Living Bible translation phrases the end of that scripture with, “It is the Lord Himself exulting over you with happy song.”

I have been touched before by His representatives in nature — through a prolonged bird’s reverie or  the ear-catching sound of water navigating its particular path.  The Psalms frequently refer to Nature singing praise to its Maker, the Lord: “All the trees in the forest will sing for joy” (Psa. 96:12); “Let the mountains sing together for joy” (Psa. 98:8).  In Psalm 96, “Sing to the Lord, all the earth.” (Psa. 96:1)

But this song shared an undeniably Personal touch, weaving His Presence of fellowship and camaraderie into a moment of intimacy just for me, just for that moment.  It brought refreshment, energy, a deep sense of thankfulness and reset strength for the day ahead.

Mark 6:8 states, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

I definitely needed His song on that day.  Each and every one of us have moments, hours, days, when the uplifting of His song in our lives brings much-needed renewal.

IMG_8463And I say, Thank you.  “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar.”  (Psa. 139:2)

Thank you, indeed — my Friend, my Guide, “my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust”! (Psa. 91:2)

Looking Up from an Avalanche: Why God Chooses Rain

The prediction of a significant mid-week “blizzard event” has indeed come to pass and is in progress.  As the snow piles up on our deck ledge, pushing upwards of 9-10-11 inches in stature, I am enjoying the view from inside, sitting close to the warmth of the fireplace.snowstorm from the window

Just twelve hours earlier, at midnight, I had been lulled to sleep by the steady and relaxing sound of rain falling on the deck, the roof, plunking on the outside metal BBQ.  As I drifted into a wonderful rest, I unexpectedly recalled the words to a mid-80’s song whose first line was, “It’s beginning to rain, hear the voice of the Father….”  The gentle, relaxing melody had whispered me into slumber.

In quick curiosity I looked up the title of the tune and discovered it was a Jimmy Swaggart creation, made perhaps more famous by Bill Gaither a decade later, when I had first heard it. The second line invites, “Saying whosoever will, let him drink of the waters, For He said, ‘I will pour My spirit upon your sons and daughters.’ So if you’re thirsty and dry, look up to the sky, it’s beginning to rain.’”

And as I looked out the window at the fierce downpour of wind-whipped white, I had the whimsical thought, I’m so glad God doesn’t offer us His Spirit as a snow storm instead of a gentle rain. leaf edge drops

At first I chuckled at the rather fanciful comparison. Then, as I thought about it, an ah-ha moment of sensing divine wisdom arose.  The word that came to my mind was avalanche.

Colorado’s winter-into-spring transition has already birthed a significant number of avalanches due to radical temperature swings: 28-degrees and snow one day, 60-degrees two days later, snow and 28-degrees two days after that.  Freeze-thaw-freeze….and then a white cloud billowing dramatically into the air when an avalanche is triggered and sheets of snow recklessly plunge down the mountainside.

This cycle of nature and the intervals of stress-ease-stress in our own lives forms a pretty good parallel.  Oftentimes, the triggering point in our lives is just as unexpected – and with little warning, here it comes, a significant emotional slide that leaves us bewildered and sometimes displaced, wondering just-what-happened and facing the uncertainties of what-comes-next.

This is not a back-slide, mind you…but a slide layered by frustration, unmet expectations and exasperation when the things we think we know about God’s nature, His transforming power in our lives and on this earth appear stymied, nullified, thwarted despite our prayers and anticipation of results.

IMG_2571In I Thess. 5:24, Paul teaches, “Faithful is He who calls you and He also will bring it to pass.”  (NASB)  The Message translates that verse, “The One Who called you is completely dependable.  If He said it, He’ll do it!”

That’s not a bad place to securely hang your hat, once you’ve gone through the effort to retrieve it from the snowfield.

The Amplified Bible, Classic Edition offers a rendering that is the most thought-provoking to me: “Faithful is He who is calling you (to Himself) and utterly trustworthy, and He will also do it (fulfill His call by hallowing and keeping you).”  (I Thess 5:24)

I admit it – I have never spent much time thinking about the specific intent of my heavenly Father hallowing (setting aside for holy use) and keeping me expressly to fulfill His goal that my ears and heart would be open to hear, respond, embrace His persistent and loving call.Single rose in the spruce

In similar theme, Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as “the author and perfecter of faith.”  (italics added)

What encouragement and hope to strengthen ourselves in Him!  In I John 3:2, we are reminded, “Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.”

We are creations in process and He Who saw us before our beginning, also sees us beyond our life on this earth.  That fully includes those times before the avalanche, after the avalanche, and – especially — during the avalanche.  It is unlikely we can fully declare our lives a “No Avalanche Zone,” and Jesus warned those who listened, “In the world you have tribulation. (John 16:33)

He did, and we do. And He encourages us to “take courage; I have overcome the world.”

raindrop on leafHis Spirit gently sends us His comfort, loving reassurance and guidance in the soft kindness that mirrors rain, not the chilling touch of snow.  It is a metaphorical rain that melts the frozen and hard areas of our hearts and lives and allows us to firmly embrace and stand in the security of His Love.