A Christmas Meditation

Ten years have passed since I wrote the following post. Much has changed, yet some things seem like they haven't changed at all except that I'm a decade older. My words back then were written from the heart; I knew them to be true and felt their depth. Today that depth has deepened further through struggle, through growth, through loss, through gain; by God's grace, which has carried me when I could not carry myself; and through his love, which has remained constant for me when I wondered whether he was even there, and if he was, whether I mattered to him at all.

My hope—particularly if this Christmas is not an easy one for you—is that this meditation will speak to your own heart, encourage you, and help you to see Christmas in a different light.

JESUS

Christmas Eve. As an older single male, I'm spending it alone. I would like to say that in reality, I am not alone—and really, that is the case. My Lord is with me. Jesus. But when it comes to polishing off a large bowl of chili (heated to a well-seasoned glow by a sub-lethal dose of Dave's Insanity Sauce), followed by a generous helping of spaghetti, all designed to take the edge off a bottle of 9 percent ABV old ale and another bottle of 11.5 percent Trappist ale . . . well, the work has been strictly mine. No one sits with me in my humble, though comfortable, apartment to make supper and the partaking of craft brew a shared effort. I am by myself—as are many who will read these words.

Yet, as I have said, He is here. Here in these modest digs of a solitary, middle-aged male. And because He is here with me, I trust He is also there with you, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances may be.

Some of you are grieving the loss of a loved one. Others are simply experiencing, like me, another "single" Christmas Eve by yourself. You have friends, and if you're fortunate, you have family, and you're thankful. But there's still something missing, isn't there?

It's all right. He is here with you and me. Emmanuel, "God with us." And in a strange way, those of us who feel sorrow, or loneliness, or a poignant emptiness in this Season of Light, may be closest of all to the heart and soul of what Christmas is truly about.

For you see, that little baby who was born into the lowliest of circumstances two thousand years ago didn't come for the sake of inspiring cozy traditions, or warm exchanges of gifts by the fireside, or happy family meals. No. Those things are wonderful, and I wouldn't detract from them for anything. But their absence in the lives of so many of us lies closer to the reason Jesus was born.

He came not because this world is so wonderful, but because it was, and is, so broken. He came for those of us who long for a place called "home." He came for the lonely, for the disenfranchised, for less-than-perfect you and me who know firsthand the meaning of loss, and tears, and struggle; who long for something more in life. He came to give us that "something more." He came because he knows how deeply we long—and need—to be truly, safely, securely, and lastingly loved.

I write with all the freedom that a couple bottles of high-potency ale can inspire, tempered by my editorial instincts and guided by my heart, which is consumed with Him. But who is He? In this day of well-publicized "new discoveries" of the same tired old heresies that have sought for centuries to recreate a more convenient Jesus, the marketplace of ideas abounds with options. I just Googled the name "Jesus," and on the first page of search results I find the following:

    * three full-color graphic images of Jesus

    * a "Christmas Jesus Dress Up"

    * a YouTube clip of Jesus singing "I Will Survive"

    * an online Catholic encyclopedia article on Jesus

    * a BBC news article that begins, "A statue of the infant Jesus on display near Miami in Florida is being fitted with a Global Positioning System device after the original figurine was stolen."
Clever, all very clever. But when you're alone on Christmas Eve, cleverness doesn't really cut it, does it? For so many of us who are by ourselves tonight, the one thing we long to know is that we're really not alone. The older we get, the more that matters.

So perhaps, after we've wearied our clever minds exploring all the alternatives, the Jesus of the Bible really is what we're looking for after all—because of all the gods available in today's spiritual shopping mall, He is the only one who has come looking for us in a way that is consistent with someone who cares not about religion, but about us. To be born in our midst and commit a lifetime to experiencing everything about the human condition, from inglorious start to brutal finish, certainly smacks of a genuine and very personal investment.

Christmas is God's way of acknowledging what all of us instinctively know (though we try so hard to argue otherwise): that this world is fractured, splintered. That we are lonely. That we are lost. That we long for something more. Christmas is God's way of saying, "My loved ones have lost me, and I have lost them. And that is unacceptable to me."

This Christmas . . . you are not alone. I am not alone. Jesus came for us. If you've screwed up your relationships, Jesus came for you. If you've been sexually abused, Jesus came to clothe you with dignity and hope. If you're lonely, He came to give you a place at the family table. If you've been betrayed or abandoned, if your heart is filled with pain and anger from the lashes of an unjust, uncaring world, He came to hold you gently with arms that will not be removed. If you're_______, He came to fill in the blank with something better than emptiness.

This Christmas . . . we are deeply loved.

So to you, my friends, however you may believe and whatever your circumstances may be . . . may He fill this time with the reality, the glory, and the comfort of Himself. Have a blessed Christmas.

—Bob

More Than Ever?

Today, Memorial Day 2016, began with my working my part-time custodial job at my church. The work could have waited until tomorrow, but I liked the thought of doing it when no one else would be around. As I have aged, my mind has gotten busier. (I almost said grown busier, but I’m not sure it is growth.) So I welcomed this alone-time to connect with my Father. I am sixty years old now. Sixty years. How can that be? What happened to my twenties? Vanished, long vanished, over the misty hills. Many sunsets have come and gone. I have lived much and seen much, more than I realize, more than seems possible. Most of the time I don’t think about it. But it pays to contemplate now and then the path I have traveled. For a path it has been, bearing far more resemblance to the trails I love to walk in the Barry State Game Area than to the civilized sidewalks trod by young urban professionals, or to the Interstate highways that carry the busy masses swiftly and predictably from city to city. I have always preferred the back roads—curvy, leisurely, bumpy, intimate with the land, winding ever on past changing vistas and new points of interest, some glorious, some heartbreaking, some terrifying. I have earned my white hairs as a traveler through this life. True, I color those hairs—I’m still vain enough to allow myself such silliness—but if I am not exactly an old man yet, I am most certainly no longer a young one. I have, as I have said, seen life. And more than ever, I know I cannot do it apart from God. Oh, I can survive. But I cannot live. This morning, running the vacuum over the gym floor, I thought of what my Father has brought me through, of where he has brought me to, and of the uncertainty of what lies ahead in this increasingly turbulent world.
I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. (Isaiah 46:4 NLT)
Yes, I know. That is how it has been and how it will be, Lord. You have always been with me, the shadow of a great oak in the hot sun, the solidity of a massive rock amid the turbid millrace of time and culture. “I need you, Lord, desperately. Today more than ever, I need you.” Those were my words to him this morning, but they were not quite right. The “desperately” part—that  was beyond question. But “more than ever”? That would imply there were times when I needed him less, and that has never been so. There have only been times when I’ve been less aware of how much I need him. Like a child, I am utterly dependent on him. I think he likes it that way. And so do I. I like thinking that however many years I have left, I will always have a Father. Always. However old I may get, I will always be his child. Always his man, yet also always his little boy, welcome to climb up onto Daddy’s lap; welcome to share my delight with him over simple joys when life is going my way; welcome to weep my heart out when grief strikes, knowing that “underneath are the everlasting arms.” Always and forever, I am my Father's beloved son. I will never stop needing and desiring his fathering. I will never outgrow my need to feel his strong arm around my shoulder and to sense his presence, his guidance, his reproof and correction, his way making, his gentleness, his kindness, his patience, his encouragement, his yes-you-can.

My Father, you love me. How I thank you for that!

I love you too—because you first loved me.

Two Views on Yourself

I wrote the following a couple days ago as a Facebook post, but I think it deserves better staying power than what that medium provides, so I'm posting it here. Not all of us struggle with the thoughts and feelings expressed below by "Us." But many of us do, perhaps most of us, though we may cover them up under a veneer so thick that most people, and even we ourselves, can't see through it to the pain it covers. So don't dismiss the following lightly just because life happens to be going well for you. And if you do find that "Us" sounds a lot like you, then take this as a voice of hope and faith from a fellow traveler along the twisty back roads of life. ---------------------------------- I was thinking about the difference that often exists between our perspective and God's, particularly when it comes to seeing ourselves: Us: I'm a loser. God: You're my child and the apple of my eye. Us: I'm worthless; I have no value. God: You're priceless; your value is beyond anything you can imagine. Us: I am small, powerless, and insignificant. God: You are far more than you think you are. You have been beaten down with lies so long that it is hard for you to even recognize the truth--but I will help you. The truth is far, far better than you've been led to believe. Us: I'm too broken, shameful, and ugly to be of any use to anyone, let alone God. God: I turn carbon into diamonds; I uncover pearls of great price buried in the dirt; I shine light out of shattered vessels. Your brokenness is a great asset. Walk with me, and over time I will redeem it and use it to your joy, the blessing of others, and my own deep delight. The worst about you will become the best about you--a treasury of wisdom, grace, and hope for many--if you will travel life with me. Us: My life is a complete mess. God: Your life is in transition, a journey of letting go of what was in order to receive what can be if you will walk with me, listen for me, and learn to trust. These pairings could continue indefinitely, but you get the idea. Maybe you could write some of your own. The point is this: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow" (Isa. 55:8-13 NIV)