A moment of unlimited access

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Photo by Sindre Strøm on Pexels.com

For me, this week is the best part of Christmas.  The advertisements are slowing down, the need to shop has all but stopped, and most of the returns and exchanges have been made.  And with a deep and glorious sigh, I now have time, time to rest in the Christmas season which will not officially end until January 6th.  Growing up in New Orleans I think I took Epiphany traditions for granted.  January 6 was an important day! It was, sadly,  time to take down the Christmas decorations, but it also marked the beginning of Carnival season and my favorite treat the King Cake.  Over time, as with many traditions, the significance of Epiphany has developed into something much more precious.

It is during this time that we reflect on the Magi, also known as the Wise Men, and the Star of Bethlehem.   The wise men, traveling across the desert, saw a star.   Knowing the Old Testament prophecies, understanding the stars, and recognizing that this one was new and in motion, they would have been compelled to investigate.  Faithful to the promises made in history they would seek the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior.

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.   Matthew 2:10 (NRSV)

As they entered the house and saw the child with his mother Mary, their reverence and adoration brought them to their knees.  So much hope led them to this place, and in this moment they were given a miraculous gift.

The gift of unlimited access to the love of God was given.

In my mind, it is as if time stood still.  King Herod, the wily and efficient ruler and a cruel tyrant, is forgotten and all the love that is God radiates in the room where the Christ child rests in his mother’s arms.

If we are wise, faithful to the promises and follow the light, we too are given unlimited access to the love of God.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.   Psalm 119:105 (NLT) 

January 5th “Twelfth Night” by tradition I will add the “Three Kings” to my nativity in preparation for Epiphany.  I will pause and contemplate the power in the moment when they saw the star, in the moment when they first laid eyes on the child, the Messiah, who was promised to the people of God, and in the moment when they fell to their knees and worshiped him.   I will take out my Bible, and I will remember that we to have been given a guiding light.   I will recognize that we too have been given unlimited access to the Love of God.  I will let time stand still for a moment, and I will offer my reverence, adoration, and gratitude to, Christ, Emanuel, God with us.

​A moment for questions

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So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”   John 20:25-27 (NRSV)

As many of us do, I live with a heart like Thomas, asking “show me.”  What specifically am I asking for?  In the Bible, there are many stories where the proof is shown.  Am I asking to see the wounds of Christ? Am I seeking a burning bush, a rainbow or to be swallowed by a whale until I have an understanding?  Maybe really I am just asking for some clarity.  How important is it that I believe in God and Satan or burning bushes and rainbow promises.  It doesn’t seem likely that we will ever have the privilege of the certainty that Thomas received.  So, what can we be sure of?

Perhaps more important than certainty is being able to recognize love and hate and to know that good and evil do exist.  We may never see a burning bush, hear the audible voice of God, or be swallowed by a whale.  But we can recognize the power of love, the peace that comes after a storm, and the push of our conscience to follow our gut.  Sometimes the stories in scripture frustrate me because the literal interpretation makes them implausible.  The intended message, however, is not.

When I see the sadness in the world, I think “There can’t be a God,” and the despair I feel brings me back to the story of Thomas. The disciples gathered in a house after his death.  They were full of the desperation they must have felt for the loss of Jesus and the leadership they had come to rely on.   Jesus entered and in the act of love and understanding showed Thomas his wounds and offered comfort.

The absence of God leaves despair, and the presence of God brings peace.  That is clear enough for me.  God is Love.  Jesus shows us what love looks like.  By our loving each other and bringing comfort and peace and we remove doubt and despair.

A moment of loneliness

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by Shelby Cruse

Genesis 2:18   the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

 

 

 

There are 7 billion people in this world, and yet loneliness is becoming more and more common.  It has been reported that the average number of close friends Americans share has dropped from 3 to 2.  And the number of people in America with no close friends has tripled since 1985.   If you are one of these people, who suffer from loneliness you are not alone.

Interestingly loneliness is not a term used in the Bible, although the word alone occurs 195 times in the NRSV version.  Being alone is often a good thing and does not imply loneliness. Jesus had 12 close friends, and of those 12, Peter, Andrew, James and John were held even closer.  Even with this intimate group of friends always around he still often chose to be alone with God, which is still not alone and would not be lonely. These 12 men were called to friendship and set out to bring others into this fold.

Isaiah 41:10  do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

Improve social skills–Practicing social skills can be very scary especially for the introvert.  But practice anyway.  Speak to at least 2-3 people a day if possible.  Smile, make eye contact and say ” Hi, how are you?” They may reply with a simple “fine.” However, it is the smile and the eye contact that will have the real impact on your loneliness level.  Asking others questions takes the focus off of you and offers it to the other person.  You are now thinking of someone else, and loneliness is moved aside even if only for a moment.

Increase social interaction–Put yourself in places where you can meet other people.  Even the seemingly superficial act of asking “How are you?” as I have said can have an impact.  If you can find ways to increase the questions, you will have more interaction.  Ask for help finding something in a store.  People love to be helpful, and you are offering them a chance to feel needed, and show they care.

Avoid negative thinking–Not all of the conversations you open will have a positive impact but keep your feelings neutral.  The smile and the eye contact you offer will be the thing most remembered and what you said will be forgotten very quickly.  Unless by chance, you said something very positive to a lonely person and made their day. That they will remember and you have done a very good thing!  Try to have a positive impact on everyone you encounter today.  It is a win-win!

Seek support systems–Look for groups that share your interests and join them.  I once said to someone,  “Close friends aren’t made they just are.”  It did not take me long after to realize that was not even close to accurate.  Friends are made, by seeking people with whom you have commonality.  By taking an interest in them and what interests them.  By noticing their low times and offering encouragement.  By sharing in their joys and laughter.  When you do this for others, you just might find that it comes right back to you.

Remember you are never alone–We were created in Love, by Love, for Love.  Open your heart to the Love of God and offer it to others.  It is the Love I feel from God and for God that pushed me to write.  It is my Love for His people that prompted me to send it out.  When I have moments of loneliness, I think of you.  You warm my heart.

A moment on the bright side

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“Look on the bright side.”  they

I probably shouldn’t, but I always get bristly when cliche phrases are said to try to make others feel better.  Sometimes things are just dark, and the bright side is too far off in the distance to even imagine what could be there.  But if we are in the darkness, and Jesus is the Light of the world, and Jesus is God made flesh, then the bright side would be God’s side. As I looked at this photo, from the dark side, I saw the light reaching over the mountains, reaching over to the dark side.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  John 1:4-6 (NKJV)

I may not be able to look at or imagine what the bright side is like as I am in the darkness, but knowing there is another side brings me comfort.  Let me assure you, there is another side to our pain and our darkness.   There is God’s side.  And as I notice the light coming over the mountains, I am reminded God’s side is not separate from our side.  He has a plan and a purpose for each of us and for all the events in our lives.  His purpose is to draw us ever closer to Him.  Pain, suffering, and darkness are a necessary part of the process.  So that when we glimpse the other side, we long for it, we move toward it.  We open our hearts and trust in it.  And the light that may seem distant at the time can settle deeper into our hearts.

As I read the following passage this morning, I was struck by Simeon’s delight at seeing the Messiah and what must have been compassion as he tells Mary of her future suffering.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  Luke 2:25-35 (NRSV)

Though we may not be able to fully comprehend these things. And though it may not soften the blows of our individual suffering any more than I imagine it could have for Mary.   Perhaps like Mary, we can trust the bright side, knowing the bright side is on our side.

In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  John 1:4-5 (NRSV)