Category: Advent / Christmas

“Go and be amongst them as my very self.”

Jesus came to show us what God the Father is like.

I was reminded of this truth today while listening to an audio book of sermons by George MacDonald, the 19th-Century Scottish author, poet and Christian minister whose writings deeply influenced C.S. Lewis.

In his strong belief in God’s relentless, fatherly love for all He has created, MacDonald proclaimed beautifully:

What more could the living God do than to send…this Lord Jesus Christ, His own eternal bosom friend, being His very Son, saying:

Let them see what I am like. Go, and be Myself amongst them. You can do it because you are my son.… They are my sons; but they cannot understand the Father until they get some idea of what the real son of my heart is. Go to them and dwell with them. And suffer them. And let them do anything to you they like so that they may see what I am, who from morning to night am serving them and doing all that I can do for them. And they won’t believe me. Go and be amongst them as my very self.’

And so he came.

Formed in the womb of Mary, birthed in an animal stall, hailed by dusty shepherds and star-gazing magi.

Jesus’ coming is what we both celebrate and look forward to during these days (that Christians call “Advent”) leading up to Christmas.

Jesus came to show us that God is with us and God loves us.

We writers seek to express this beautiful, life-giving truth in beautiful compositions of words. Lyrics of worship songs and verses of Psalms touch our hearts. And a beautifully crafted poem lifts our hearts in expectation, realization, and celebration of “the present and the presence” of God’s Love in Christ.

For that reason, during Advent we at Cladach are sharing with our followers, readers, and friends “A Poem A Day.” I myself am enjoying spending five minutes each day reading a poem and listening to the poet read it. Each one reminds me in fresh ways that, in Jesus, God came to “be amongst us as His very self.” The creative imagery in poetry reminds me that something very solid, very immediate, very physical yet very eternal and spiritual has happened!… Is happening!… Will happen!

During Advent, each day we post a new poem, in print and audio, to help us experience this immediacy of the meaning of Christ with us. Click HERE for A Poem A Day during Advent.

In addition, a video featuring five poems from the week is posted weekly on our YouTube channel.

For God so loved the world!

 

 

Watching For God In Season and Out

We have never experienced a Christmas like this one. No children’s programs at church, school, or community. No concerts to attend. Not much “window shopping.” No caroling door-to-door, no dinner parties, few gatherings or family reunions. I do think I see more people putting lights on their houses and trees outside.

In this season, as during this whole pandemic year, my husband and I have found great comfort in nature, even right in our backyard, especially the many birds that visit our feeders, birdbath, and trees and shrubs.

On a more normal Christmas a few years ago, our young grandchildren came to visit. We enjoyed playing in the snow and other activities, such as making pine cone suet feeders for the birds. Later I wrote these verses (below) and even illustrated them in a little Advent / Christmas book for the grandchildren. Two years ago I published this story-in-verse, entitled Something Is Coming To Our World.

These verses tell something of my own hopeful vision for the world, how our loving God is present to all creation, and has come into our world in the form of Jesus, the Incarnate Christ, whose coming again we await with anticipation, and with whom we can now be “partners,” co-laborers, caring for creation and loving people. (May God’s reign soon fully come!)

• • • • •

What Is Coming To Our World?
(How a Backyard Bird Sees Christmas)

Seasons have passed of warm, wiggly worms,
bountiful gardens and bright wildflowers,
plentiful insects on leaf and wing,
sun traveling high across the sky,
and all good things that make us sing.

The days grow shorter. The air grows colder.
We search now for meals and warm roost.
When the hawk and fox come hunting,
I will quickly hide in a bush.
The chill in the air tells me high on the peaks
snowflakes are drifting in piles white and deep;
soon, in this place that’s home to me
frost will sparkle and snow will fall.
Creator God, who gives sunshine and seeds,
berries and water, spring, summer, fall—
surely wants us to thrive all year long!

Bells are ringing. I hear singing.
Good aromas are increasing.
What should we anticipate?
What story does the music relate?
When the people open their doors,
I smell something warm, spicy and sweet,
and the seeds they bring us are nice.
Nippier days turn their noses pink,
but something good is coming, I think.
Anticipation fills the air.

Nights are cold, but lights are bright
and they twinkle everywhere.
It looks like stars are coming down
on trees and houses from the air.

It looks to me—all around—
like Heaven’s surely coming down!

Children come bounding out in the snow,
all rosy and bundled for winter play.
They gather greenery, seedpods, and cones—
much like we do sometimes in spring.
I wonder what they’re going to make?
A blue-eyed girl and boy look my way.

I start to fly; then I hear the girl say,
‘Hello, little bird. Here’s a present for you.
Do you know that tomorrow is Christmas Day?’
The boy says, ‘Merry Christmas to you, little bird,
and happy celebrations with your friends, too.’
I like the peanut butter and seeds they’ve pressed
into the pine cones they hang in the tree.

I’ll fly to the highest branch and sing
a song of Heaven coming down,
light in the darkness, warmth in the cold,
provision and plenty, promises of old.
As seeds wait patiently within the earth,
there’s hope for us all—even little birds.
All feathered friends, all four-legged creatures,
all living things, now hear my song.
All who Creator God called ‘good’:
God cares—and comes—for all.

I will sing the song God gives me.
I will wing the flight that lifts me.
I will listen to the glorious sounds,
for Heaven’s love is all around.

~Catherine Lawton

Illustrations from the book, Something Is Coming To Our World: How A Backyard Bird Sees Christmas

 

When the Stars Sing

Still fresh in my mind and heart, this experience happened over a year ago. Looking at the night sky brings it back to me. Hearing music like I heard this week does, too: a glorious bell choir playing “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Or a symphony … and the Nativity story, with bright stars and angels appearing, giving glory to God.

Here’s what happened. In early October, Larry and I went camping in the Rockies. I wanted to see the stars. But so many campfires and lanterns and flashlights obscured the view. Then in the night, when I had to get up and hike to a campground restroom, all was quiet, all human activity was still, all was dark … except for the sky blazing with stars. And that’s when this mystical moment came: I “heard” the stars sing! Here’s the poem I wrote about this experience:

•  • •  • •  • •  • •  • 

I HEAR THE STARS SING

Sleeping in a tent, we must take a walk
to the ‘comfort station’ sometime in the night.
At 1:30 a.m. we pull out of sleeping bags,
put on our shoes, snap the dog’s leash tight.

Campfires and lanterns now out, we need
no flashlight to see in the ethereal glow
bathing path, tents, trailers and trees,
boulders, peaks, and meadows below.

Fear of bears is forgotten as, looking up,
I acquiesce to the serendipitous sight—
stars sprinkling the sky, a sparkling array
only dreamed of on lit suburban nights.

Like music engraved across the sky,
notes—not in even scores or measures,
but in splashes of compositions our eyes
and ears aren’t attuned to hear or decipher.

Not with physical ears do I hear music
of stars singing out from the night pavilion,
graced by the moon, answered by bugling elk,
crooning owls and sibilant whispering wind.

Celestial strains fill my soul with consolation,
comfort, and swells of settled certainty
one would expect of constellations shining
in place since God sang the Heavens into being.

Surely nature sings back to God day and night,
I think, as we settle back in our places—
born under stars, resting under starlight
and listening still to star-song cadences.

–Catherine Lawton, ©2019 (excerpted from the forthcoming GLIMPSING GLORY)

Praise the Lord from the Heavens

praise him in the heights!

Praise him, all his angels…

Praise him, all you shining stars!

Praise him, you highest heavens…

from Psalm 148:1-4, NRSV

 


Photo of stars taken in Colorado mountains: by Lionello (Unsplash)

This post updated since first published in 2018.

The Courage of Authenticity

It takes courage to be an author, to declare and publish to a busy, perhaps skeptical world what you have experienced privately … to tell in “bright lights” what you have seen and learned in dark places.

Long ago in Bethlehem, shepherds waiting and watching on a dark hillside experienced a wondrous awakening and illumination. Then, even as they stood there in awe of the heavenly hosts, the shepherds must have needed courage and bravery to leave their flocks in the care of their guard dogs and run into the dark, crowded city of Bethlehem to look for a newborn baby “in a manger” and then worship him as the promised king. Surely there were more qualified and famous individuals to use as messengers.

I think the needed courage gripped the shepherds because the authenticity of their experience and their certainty of it overcame their trepidation. They obeyed, they went, they told. And their story was full of immediacy and hope.

Sometimes we authors feel that way.

Though angels didn’t exactly appear to us in the night sky and declare wonderful tidings of great joy for us to write,  Christian writers do sense a call from God and we experience wonder and the help of God (and perhaps even of angels) as we write. We certainly have good tidings to share.

Janyne McConnaughey is an example of one writer who has a life-changing story of hope and is compelled to write and tell her story to encourage others. I don’t know whether she has been “touched by an angel” but I know she has been touched by God with the courage to share her story. The title of her first book, BRAVE, tells that. And these comments from readers and reviewers on Amazon.com tell us of the authenticity and immediacy and hope in her story.

  • “There is hope!”
  • “A compelling journey”
  • “A very important book”
  • “A road less traveled … a path to healing”
  • “Kept me on the edge of my seat”
  • “Powerful story”
  • “Healing from complex trauma”
  • “A roadmap to freedom”
  • Brave is a fitting title for this true story.”
  • “A beautiful soul shows us the way to hope and healing.”
  • “A book every person who has struggled with trauma should read.”
  • “This book can be your path to healing from childhood trauma.”

Whatever your place of waiting ‘in the night’—or journey in the dark— be encouraged. A savior is born and he brings good news to the oppressed, including those suffering from complex trauma.

~Catherine Lawton


Photo: Hubble Space Telescope

Adoration and Celebration of the Christ Child in Poems by Mary Harwell Sayler

The week before Christmas is a good time to read and meditate on these poems of praise, adoration, and celebration of the Christ Child. In her fresh, almost breathless style, Mary Harwell Sayler has designed the title as the first line in most of her PRAISE! POEMS. She employs sometimes startling images and reversals. Enjoy!

 

 

Sweet Sorrow at Christmas

Ah, Christmas! Bright lights, hustle and bustle, joyous music and celebrations….

Yet, hidden behind all the glitter, many people feel the pangs of sadness and loneliness more acutely during the Christmas season. If you have ever experienced a great loss at Christmastime, the holiday season awakens that grief again each year.

I know. My mother died on December 19, many years ago. My father was the pastor of a loving church at the time, and the people were sweet to us, though they also grieved the death of their beloved pastor’s wife. Our family found comfort in togetherness—my husband and I with our two toddlers, my sister, and our dad. After the funeral, we stayed and spent Christmas in our parents’ home, with everything around us to remind us of Mother. … But no mother/wife/grandmother. She simply and permanently was not here.

At a time when we celebrated the birth of Jesus who brought new life, we learned first-hand the awful separation and finality of death. The first night after she died, I lay awake in the guest bedroom listening to Daddy sobbing his heart out in the next room.

She was too young to die—in her forties. But she was gone.

On Christmas Eve, my husband and I wanted our toddler children to have fun, not just sadness, so we borrowed little sleds and took them out to play in the snowy woods. In the fresh, crisp air, laughter came as a wonderful relief, and was exactly what Mother would want for us. Maybe she saw us and smiled with joy.

Mother had a way of infusing Christmas with music, anticipation, beauty, delicious tastes and scents, warmth and surprises. She loved decorating the house and the church, preparing special music and programs for Christmas Sunday, often sewing new dresses for my sister and me, baking cookies, and taking us Christmas shopping.

I love Christmas, too; but even after many years, the bright lights, the biting scent of pine, the taste of cinnamon and cider, the making of fudge and fruitcake, the singing of carols, the ringing of Christmas bells, the decorating of the tree, the excitement of gift giving—all is sweet sorrow.

I wonder: Did sadness mix with joy for Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she carried her baby to the temple and heard Simeon prophesy her child’s death? He said, “A sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). Mary didn’t understand yet that Jesus’ death as well as his life would bring eternal joy in the heavens and cause celebrations of his birth for centuries to come. But she would certainly experience heart-piercing sorrow and separation.

Years later, as Mary watched Jesus die a tragic, painful death, did she despair? Or did the memory of the miracles surrounding his birth and life give her hope? Life won out. His death brought our spiritual birth.

Now we know, because of his birth, life and death, we can live—and celebrate Christmas—in the certain hope that death will not have the final victory.

That one Christmas—the year my vibrant, young Mother died—has influenced every one of my Christmases since. Our bereaved family celebrated together that year with gifts and festive food. Then we drove up a snowy hillside to a fresh, flower-covered grave site. The contrast of the red roses and holly-covered grave against the icy, brown hills spoke to my warring emotions.

There, feeling the pain of death’s separation, I looked up into the evening sky and noticed the first star twinkling, and I smiled through my tears. Her physical presence is gone from us here. But someday we may be with her “there.” The realities of pain, suffering, and death are inescapable. But the hope of Christmas lives!


The story of the healing I have experienced in regards to my mother is found in the book, Journeys to Mother Love: Nine Women Tell Their Stories of Forgiveness and Healing.

 

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