How do you respond to tragedy?

I made a promise to myself that I would never allow my vehicle to become a giant trash can. In nine years of having my own vehicle, this is the first time I’ve broken that promise. It’s seriously filthy. My sink is full of dirty dishes. My bedroom floor is covered with dirty clothes that I can’t wash because my washing machine is broken, not that it would do much good anyway seeing how all my clothes are getting too tight due to constant stress eating. Some days I feel like I’ve been beat up emotionally. On top of this I’m sick, I’m sleep-deprived, I’m falling behind in important responsibilities, and I’m lonely.

This is my first Christmas in this position as pastor/administrator on my own. Am I doing it right?

I don’t want to sound like all I do is complain. Honestly, I love my job. I love the people I work with. I love the ministry I have and I’m so grateful for everything God has provided. There’s so much to be celebrated. And Christmas is a time of celebration. We gather with family, loved ones, we exchange gifts, we all paste on joyful smiles as we share the Christmas spirit. We put up decorations, we bake and cook, we plan parties, send cards. What’s not to love? It’s the most wonderful time of the year, after all.

But today, I don’t feel like celebrating. I’m weary. Worn out. At the breaking point.

And that’s why we need the story of Christmas. It’s the incarnation. God becoming human. Flesh and blood, bones and organs. God wrapped himself in the weariness and brokenness and became part of my story. And if there was anyone who knew this, it was Mary.

In my church we’ve been celebrating Advent by looking at the songs of Christmas. Songs sung by people like Isaiah and the angels, songs full of blessing, and praise to God, songs that overflowed from the genuine joy of the characters involved. And today we looked at the song of Mary, the Magnificat. Recorded in Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s song praises the work of God, and celebrates the God who changes fortunes.

What’s striking about Mary’s song is that she sings these praises in response to what could be the most devastating news. An angel has just told her that she is pregnant. A young, unmarried woman in first century Israel does not want the news that she is pregnant. She could lose everything: her fiancé, her future security, her social status. And yet her immediate response is “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Lately I’ve been watching a show on the CW called Jane the Virgin. It’s the story of a devout Catholic girl committed to remaining a virgin until marriage who gets accidentally artificially inseminated and consequently pregnant. There’s a particularly poignant scene shortly after Jane discovers she’s pregnant. Naturally, she is angry that after doing everything “right” she still faces an unwanted pregnancy and the prospect of single motherhood. She, too, faces the possibility of losing her fiancé. She’s given the option to terminate the pregnancy and while she considers her options, she talks to her grandmother. Her grandmother tells her this pregnancy is an opportunity for a blessing. Her grandmother admits that, years ago, when she first heard her daughter was pregnant she wanted her daughter to end the pregnancy, but because her daughter refused, she now had Jane in her life. And now Jane had a choice. How would she respond to an unplanned pregnancy?

Spoiler alert: Jane does decide to continue the pregnancy and, yes, that affects everything in her life.

I feel like Mary may have faced the same choice: view this pregnancy as an interruption to her plans, as a terrible thing she would now have to endure, or view it as a blessing from God despite its disruption of her life. Mary chose to praise God in the midst of her trial, and even because of her trial.

Maybe there’s a lesson from Mary here.

My house and car are still a mess. My responsibilities are still overwhelming me. I still feel weariness. But how will I respond? This morning I discovered the silent young man who had been attending my church for the last few weeks is a church member in my denomination and wants to be involved more. This afternoon I visited a nursing home and had the chance to bring a smile to a resident’s face. I had a chance to spend time with a family from church as we ministered together.

Yesterday I was a wreck. I was ready to drop from exhaustion, both physically and spiritually. But today, despite the difficulties, I’m ready to say with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” I’m ready to see this messy life as opportunities for blessing and ministry.

How will you respond?


Jesus Didn’t Come To Die On A Cross

It’s that time of the year when we drag out the Christmas tree, light cinnamon scented candles, and sing about reindeers. The first snow has fallen, kids are practicing plays, and the malls are hopping, and we hear about days of giving. It’s a great time of year! Well, unless it’s your busy season. :-)

This year, Christmas seems a little different to me in the sense of perception.   Previously, I would go with the crowd and emphasize that Jesus came to die on the cross, but this year… well, this year I’m a bit convinced that Jesus didn’t come to die and our focus is dead wrong… excuse the pun…

It seems that Christmas gets this big blow-over compared to Easter. Good Friday and Easter get the biggest parts of celebration when it comes to Christ’s life, and we skip right over Christmas, as if Christmas gets back seat to Jesus dying on the cross, but really? Is it backseat compared to Easter?

Was the greatest moment of humility for Jesus bleeding on a cross saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Because how can one have a last breath, if one has never had a first one? I think the greatest moment of Christ’s humility was found in a smelly stable, somewhere in Bethlehem. His very first cry, shattering the existence of humanity, was a magnificent God in the shell of a lowly human.   And that first inhale of oxygen wasn’t fresh air, it was animal manure, and sweat, and just in general, muck. Now, a holy God was in human form and dwelling among sin and shame. What God deserves this?

And if the focal point of Jesus life was to solely die, why on earth did God warn Joseph in a dream? Why would God warn the Wisemen in a dream? Right there, moments after His birth, Herod could have killed Him and there His blood would have been shed, and there we would be redeemed. But no… There is significance in the fact He grew from a baby to a boy, to a teenager, to a young adult, to a grown man. There is a significance that He lived to face adulthood. And that adulthood was filled with teachings of humility, love, confrontations against legalism, care and social justice. These are the moments we dive deep into and seek out. Those red letters are filled with hope, love, concern and even guidance we want to replicate and live out. They are what we read and study to fully understand and grasp Who this great magnificent God is! Imagine if we didn’t have those years of Jesus’ ministry to refer to in order to understand the mission of God and the character of God? Jesus didn’t merely come to die, although that’s definitely a vital part of the story, but it’s not the WHOLE story.

When you stop to think about it, Jesus is eternal, and He is dead for only three days of all of eternity. These three days are absolutely necessary indeed, but they are three days that aren’t the end.   I often ponder why we wear cross necklaces, hang crosses in the front of our churches, and have crosses on our clothing, when really; shouldn’t it be the empty tomb instead of the cross? Isn’t that what we celebrate? Christ’s restored life? Jesus resurrects, walks this earth for 40 days and then ascends to Heaven, where He continues to live at God’s right hand. And it’s through His resurrection that we have life also.

So, this Christmas season, as we eat our platters of food, open our presents, watch our annual movies, and gather with family and friends, let’s not say, “The whole purpose of Jesus coming to earth was to die on the cross” let’s say “The whole purpose of Jesus coming to earth was to live and give life eternally”.

I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in Me, though He were dead, yet shall be lived. –Jesus Christ—

I am the way the truth and the life. –Jesus Christ–