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.
Sometimes the simplest moments are the most profound. On a quarantined breezy morning last week, as I watched the branches of our front-yard tree waving in the wind, these lines of verse came to me:
On a bright blossomy breezy day
my fears and sorrows blew away;
And in their place gentle hopes
of fresh tomorrows came to stay.
Five weeks ago I wrote (in this post) that I had both caught a virus and a virus had caught me.
Now (as I have recovered), I’m thinking that sometimes it feels as if the peace of God is caught much like a virus is caught. Though perhaps I wouldn’t say God “catches” us the way a virus “catches” us, yet I will say that…
We are both found by God and we find God.
We are both taken hold of by God and we take hold of God.
We are both accepted by God and we accept God.
We are both embraced by God and we embrace God.
It is being said that anyone exposed to this new Corona Virus will “get” it, whether they show symptoms of Covid 19 or not, because we humans have no resistance to it yet. On the other hand, we humans are adept at resisting God’s pursuit.
A virus seems to pursue us, intent on invading. It can kill. On the other hand, God, out of love, pursues and woos every person he has created, desiring to rescue and save and give life.
As long as we resist God’s pursuit and wooing, we are filled with spiritual death, as if a virus has invaded and found receptors in our vital “spiritual organs.” But as we turn to God, he envelops us in his arms of love. I don’t want to say God invades us like a virus, but he freely enters our being, fills us with the spiritual life of his presence. Then Death is swallowed up in Victory.
O Breath of Life, breathe on us. Let your Wind blow through us and fill us anew with your healing Spirit, that we may resist both spiritual and physical disease. Give renewed life and vigor to our bodies’ very cells that we may resist and defeat viral attacks. Thank you that even the final death has been swallowed up in victory by the death and life of Jesus Christ our Lord.
It’s Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. Palm Sunday seems a long time ago. Children waved palm branches at church. It felt good to rejoice in the triumphal entry of the One who would surely be King and bring vindication and victory.
But when the the palm branches turn brown and the “red-carpet” of cloaks is put away, unresolved conflicts remain. Evil presses in, not as easy to identify as we thought. Sin wins the day, both personally and corporately. Friends transform into enemies. Favorite doctrines and laws lose their luster. Disappointment, cynicism, and fear blind the eyes.
If today we didn’t know what Holy Week would bring, we would be filled with longings and regrets, perhaps we’d even join the mob mentality of the Jews as Passover approached. Or perhaps we’d find ourselves cowering and cowardly as were the disciples.
At these times, it’s hard to see the Light, feel the Hope, hold onto Courage. Some of us feel overcome by a sense of failure, helpless yearnings, and hopeless waiting.
In the confusion surrounding the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, perhaps Jesus’ followers turned to words of the Psalmist David:
“How long, O Lord? … How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…” (Psalm 13).
Even today, David’s poetic psalms speak to our emotions.
God still gives us poets who have the ability to express our heart longings. One such poet is James Troy Turner. Like Jesus’ followers who were not highly educated, who had few of this worlds goods, but who felt the burden of sin and oppression and wanted to believe that a Deliverer would set them free—so James Troy Turner expresses the neediness and longing of Holy Week with these verses:
For three years Jesus had ministered in word and deed. There was no one greater than he. Even the elements listened to him and obeyed; and even the dead responded and lived again.
Those who witnessed Lazarus come forth from the dead could not doubt that “truly God” stood among them. When a person had been dead three days and rotting in cave, death was irreversible. But God can reverse what is irreversible. He gave Mary and Martha their brother back.
Then Jesus traveled on to Jerusalem, the City of Peace where there was no peace, the City of the King that had no true king.
But as Jesus and his disciples—accompanied by a large crowd—made their way to the city for Passover, something happened. An election was held on the streets and the ballot boxes were ripped from the date palm trees. With palm branches waving, the people ordained Jesus as the king.
The red carpet was not out; but the long, full and stately palm branch would serve well in the excitement of the procession. This was a man who could feed the multitudes, calm the seas, and even raise the dead!
“A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut [palm] branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” (Matthew 21:8)
At the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the people waved the branches and shouted, ‘Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel.’
Jesus told the pharisees who were there to question and criticize, that if these people did not proclaim him king, ‘If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’ (Luke 19:40).
On that day long ago, which we now celebrate as Palm Sunday, if the people had not proclaimed that Christ was King, God, Messiah, Savior—then the very inanimate rocks themselves would have proclaimed it.
More ornamental palms are sold during the Easter season than any other time of the year. Do we buy them just because they are nice? Or is it an expression of our own “Hosanna”—a declaration of Jesus as our eternal and personal King?
One night I was very ill and out of nowhere, it seemed, the vision of this poem came to me. I thought of the woman in Luke 7 who anointed Jesus’ feet. And it just came to me like never before that, in Jesus, God was physically present in our world and to people. I like this story because of the physicality of it. Christ is truly present to us.
There are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today, more than ever before in history.
There are more natural disasters occurring than ever before in recorded history.
There is a growing spirit of division among people, as evidenced in current discourse, events, politics and elections. So much of this division seems fueled by fear, anger, and distrust.
There have been horrific times before in history. We humans like to think we have learned from those experiences and that we wouldn’t let such things happen again. Can we learn from history? Will we? Or must history repeat itself?
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Cladach has released books that feature true stories of God—and his people—at work even during the most horrific historical times. For instance:
Pol Pot’s genocidal regime in Cambodia (in the book, NO MORE FEAR).
Spiritual hunger during the Communist revolution in Russia (in the book, PAPER POPPIES).
Jewish children and their pets during the Holocaust (in the book, FAITHFUL FRIENDS).
All these personal memoirs happened in extremely tumultuous times and circumstances. Each describes injustices, cruelty, and evil forces unleashed on nations, people groups, and individuals. Each of these stories also gives witness to God’s personal presence, providence, and grace.
We offer these stories in the hope that readers will find renewed perspective, faith, and love.
“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” (I John 4:7)
As a publisher, I seek books that demonstrate the love of God … stories ever fresh, personal and creative … stories of a love that has power to change lives and change history. Many Cladach books tell of lives changed by this love.
In Come, Stay, Celebrate! we read of John and Judith Galblum Pex loving people in Israel—all kinds of people—into the kingdom of God and his Son.
In On Kitten Creek, we read how God came into the midst of a people devoted to him in a place consecrated to him, and he worked in unexpected ways to make his love tangible.
In Journeys to Mother Love we read how love and forgiveness can overcome and heal the wounds and conflicts in mother-child relationships.
In Everywhere I Look, we read how everyday experiences and observations reveal the pervasiveness of God’s love to everyday people.
In All We Like Sheep, we read how God used flocks of sheep to teach two shepherdesses about his shepherd-heart of love.
In Remembering Softly, we read poetic expressions of moments when God’s love seeped, rushed, jolted, flashed, and poured into a searching heart.
In Creation of Calm, we read how God’s love transformed pain and loss into beautiful art that brings calm to others caught in life’s storms.
In Hostage In Taipei, we read a true, extreme account of God’s love working through believers literally caught in the crossfire, eventually overcoming violence and hate.
In Face to Face, we read of Love personified who, unlike everyone else, looked at a woman broken and spiritually oppressed, saw her heart, and released her with his words of love.
I’m starting a series of guest posts from authors. Today we hear from John Buzzard, whose first book,Storm Tossed, is a war memoir (of more than one kind of warfare).
As John shows here, we humans have a tendency to embrace “us and them” attitudes. We point fingers and condemn, when Jesus says to love and pray. Especially in these days of polarizing politics and issues, even Christians can find themselves in the position of using our energies protecting “our group” while, in essence, wishing that God would destroy the “other group.” John tells about a time he found himself in such a situation:
I moved to Alameda, California, and got a job with a security company guarding the former Naval Air Station. Going from a police officer to a security guard was humbling, but I took it on faith God had something better in mind for me. My wife and the kids and I moved into a small, expensive apartment and started attending a local church.
I drove a white pickup truck around the base from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. When I got tired I’d park on the tarmac, pour myself a cup of coffee, listen to the radio and gaze at the lights of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. I was shocked to hear radio talkers mocking God in the name of tolerance, promoting perverted lifestyles, and encouraging hatred towards Christians.
“Oh Lord, why do You allow that wicked city to mock You and fester in sin? Why not destroy it?” I prayed.
Immediately I sensed the Holy Spirit saying to me, “Your prayer is like that of Jonah. Just like the people of Nineveh, I do not wish for these people to perish, but to repent. What if I had pronounced judgment on the world when you were still in sin? Pray for the salvation of the city, rather than its destruction.”
My attitude changed. Instead of despising many of the people of San Francisco, I felt sorry for those enslaved to the power of Satan. My prayers changed. The radio stations I listened to also changed. I found a couple of good Christian stations that provided solid teaching. At the end of my eight-hour shift I’d feel invigorated.
Over time, I also felt the Lord was telling me not to be ashamed of my own past, because there are so many people trapped by sexual sin. If they only knew my story, they could see there is hope.
Soon after we moved from California to Colorado, we had a blizzard during Easter week—a new experience for me. Pure white snow covered the ground when I wanted spring color to dot the landscape. But during that holy week, the pervasive, gleaming whiteness began taking on significance and speaking to my heart. The words of a familiar, Irish poem came to my mind:
“I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.”
As the storm passed and sun shone, the gleaming snow cover became for me a constant reminder of the body of Jesus—his very life—laid down, poured out, for us. As the ground, the trees, even the houses received the crystalline snow driven by the wind, so by faith we can receive Christ’s pure sacrifice, applied to our hearts by the grace of God. This complete, loving, redeeming sacrifice then covers our sins, bringing forgiveness, reconciliation, and the hope of eternal life.
The effects of this “eternal snow” go even farther, however. Today the snow on our yard, trees, and garden has melted and watered the greening grass and the perennials that are waking up for spring. Similarly, the gracious provision of Jesus not only covers us, but seeps into our beings, giving newness of life to our hearts and minds, nourishing our souls, imparting the very character of the One who poured out his life for us.
Now I view the occasional snow during Easter week as a gift from God. Sometimes visual images and metaphors reach into our hearts more effectively than words of reason. Sometimes they help the words of truth get from our minds to our hearts. How thankful I am for these true words:
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4:10)