Advent 2013: Day 1
For over thirty years, our family has used the first 24 days of December to prepare our hearts for Christmas. Each year we have focused on a different devotional theme for those few weeks. The themes have included 24 different names of God, 24 items on God’s Christmas wish list, 24 transitions Jesus experienced as he left heaven to come to earth, 24 kings in the line of Christ, and a variety of other themes. This year is no different.
This year our theme will focus on: “Things Jesus Touched.”
So often witnesses in court report what they heard or saw. But John wrote in his first epistle, “The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of Life.”
Advent 2013: Day 2
Yesterday I dandled a friend’s baby on my lap. What a sweet lump of flesh! Despite drooling and clumsy efforts to hold a toy, he charmed all in sight. What a contrast to a night or two earlier. That night I lay awake in the wee hours of the morning while my son and his wife paced the floor carrying their infant daughter as she howled from the pain of an ear infection. How we wished we could relieve her discomfort!
When Jesus was born, Luke tells us Mary “wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger.” Thus Jesus’ first hours in this world offered several new tactile sensations. He felt the warmth and comfort of Mary’s breast, her arms hugging her newborn son. She swaddled her son in strips of cloth, tightly binding his small limbs and providing a sense of security. And perhaps, there in the manger, a renegade piece of hay poked his tender skin, provoking a cry of distress. Hunger and gas pains may have caused him to cry out too. Those first hours offered sensations of security, confinement, and pleasure but also his first taste of discomfort.
Advent 2013: Day 3
When our daughter Prisca was dedicated as an infant at our church, she freely expressed her distress at being held by anyone other than her mother. Her wails, growing louder by the moment, soon filled the sanctuary and flustered the pastor. Anxious to move through the prayer of dedication, in his haste, our pastor lost his concentration and fervently dedicated God to my daughter’s care instead of the other way around! We like to think that God has been in good hands ever since! (The pastor rapidly corrected his prayer before releasing Prisca to my arms!)
In contrast, I grew up in a church where my own father served as the senior pastor. He was no stranger. I always felt like I had a special “in” because I was allowed to go up to the pastor and hug him at any time I wished. I loved rubbing my cheek against the silky fabric of his vestments. In my father’s strong arms I felt secure, content.
How did Jesus feel when Mary passed him into the arms of a stranger at the temple?
Advent 2013, Day 4
One hot summer day, my husband Gene and I took our oldest son and daughter to a local street festival. Prisca sat in the stroller, securely strapped in, but Tim was walking on his own. Almost 20,000 people had gathered for the event. We were pushing our way through the throngs of people when Gene and I became separated. I had Prisca safely in front of me in the stroller, but after Gene paused to examine the crafts in a booth, he looked up in a panic. Tim was nowhere to be seen. In a matter of seconds our son had disappeared.
In those moments, the story of Mary and Joseph searching for their son in Jerusalem became very real to us.
Advent 2013: Day 5
Most people who know me well realize I love to swim. I love the freedom of movement that is possible in the water. I can do flip turns in a way I could never do on land. But I also enjoy the physical sensations of jumping into the cool water, then feeling it flow through my hair as I push off from the side, and then, at the end of my laps, delighting in the steamy pressure of a hot shower. I walk out of the gym feeling fresh and clean.
In Matthew 3:13-17, Jesus approached John the Baptist and asked his cousin to baptize him. John protested, “I need to be baptized by you!” But Jesus insisted. So down they stepped into the Jordan River. The water touched Jesus’ feet, then his knees, his thighs, his torso. The water soaked his hair.
Advent 2013: Day 6
Despite the convenience of all the new electronic gadgets like Kindles and Nooks for downloading E-books, I still prefer the tactile sensation of holding a real book in my hands. I love turning the pages, smelling the binding, and hefting the weight of the volume in my hand. And I experience special delight when the book I am holding is one I authored, like my newest release, Standing Tall After Falling Short. Here on the pages before me are my own words for all to see.
In Luke 4:16-21, early in his ministry Jesus returned to Galilee and visited his hometown of Nazareth. On the Sabbath he entered the local synagogue, and the leaders there handed him the scroll of Isaiah to read to the people. Jesus took the scroll reverently. His hands touched the bulky scroll and lifted it.
Advent 2013: Day 7
The classroom was in chaos. Students refused to sit at their desks. They laughed and threw paper wads across the room. The substitute teacher tried in vain to call them to order, but the students made a mockery of academics. When her efforts had no effect, the teacher called the main office. Minutes later a tall man with a military bearing entered the room. Instantly the students returned to their desks and sat quietly. The school principal spoke with authority.
When Jesus entered the temple courtyard in Jerusalem, he found a similar scene.
Advent 2013: Day 8
When our children were small, a young woman came to live in our home. The woman, severely depressed, had made multiple attempts to end her own life. Her arms were covered with scars where she had cut herself. My husband and I offered counsel to our guest during this period, but our children had a more powerful effect on her view of herself than all our professional wisdom.
Advent 2013: Day 9
This past year began with the death of seven of our friends. Every week we attending another funeral. Some of the services were joyful ones. The person had lived a long life and served Jesus. In other cases, however, the person was young – one was still in his teens – and had a whole life stretched out ahead, a life that ended abruptly and prematurely. There was sadness as we said goodbye.
In Luke 7:12, Jesus approached the city of Nain with his disciples. As they entered the gates, a funeral procession came towards them.
Advent 2013: Day 10
One summer, our friend Tom created raised beds for my backyard garden. It was a dirty and time-consuming task. He had to remove the stubborn weeds and pull back the sod. He dug deep and removed stones from the soil. He built a sturdy frame of wood. He carted in loads of rich topsoil from his own garden. Sharp thorns penetrated his hands. Mud covered his jeans. Sweat soaked his tee shirt. Tom could have given me the wood and the topsoil and just dumped them in a pile in my yard, but he offered all his labor as a gift. I was humbled and honored by his generosity.
Advent 2013: Day 11
When our son John was a boy, he had a special pillow called his “comfy pillow.” He took it to bed each night and fell asleep with his arms wrapped around it. He hugged it while he sat in the family room and watched TV. Very soon the pillow became a dirty gray color, and food stains decorated its surface. It also absorbed an unpleasant number of odors. His siblings teased him but this dirty, misshapen pillow still offered him comfort.
Advent 2013: Day 12
My oldest son protested my recent devotional where I mentioned that Jesus touched each person he healed. I didn’t make it clear that I was referring to only to the specific event mentioned in Luke 4:40. Of course other places in scripture tell us that Jesus healed people without ever being near them, let alone touching them.
Advent 2013: Day 13
Sometimes I laugh and say that there was no way I could have escaped coming to Christ. My family has a long legacy of faith that goes all the way back to the pilgrims arriving on the Mayflower. Both my grandfathers were pastors. My father and uncle were pastors. My brother and several cousins were also ordained. God has been gracious to our extended family for many generations.
Advent 2013: Day 14
One time I was on a road trip with friends from college. We stopped for gas and, eager to stretch our legs after being cooped up in the car, several of us raced to the far corner of the parking lot. I was just reaching full stride, when my friend Gary grabbed me around the waist and pulled me back. A vehicle was gunning its motor and about to hit me.
Advent 2013: Day 15
Every day I write in my prayer journal. In addition to prayers for others, I include in that book my most personal thoughts, my failures, my hurts, my needs. Some of the entries record wonderful blessings. Others reveal times when I wrestle to understand God’s perspective on life.
Advent 2013: Day 16
When our children were small, my husband read a book by Gary Smalley entitled The Blessing. It influenced Gene deeply and thereafter he made a practice of blessing our three children each night as they headed to bed.
Advent 2013: Day 17
My childhood home was a safe place. I never remember being afraid to enter the house. I never once worried about an abusive father who might beat me or drug-addicted mother who might be strung out in a stupor. Within the walls of our home, I always felt safe and secure. My husband had a very different home. His mother’s schizophrenic behavior made it hard for him to predict what he would find when he opened the front door.
In Luke 19, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem before Passover. Jerusalem, with its magnificent temple, was in many ways his home. Wasn’t the Temple where his Father dwelt? But for Jesus, this home was not a safe place.
Advent 2013: Day 18
Big family gatherings at holidays mean lots of food prep. Over the past 40 years, I can’t even begin to count the number of meals I have prepared and the number of people who have sat at our table. Those familiar with my cooking habits know I never wear an apron. Somewhere along the line, I learned that the flour and the gravy spills seemed to hit the apron, yes, but they also landed on my sleeve and my slacks and my shoes. Aprons – like bibs on babies – offered little protection and meant I had just one more thing to wash.
Jesus evidently felt differently.
Advent 2013: Day 19
When my husband I were first married, he confessed to having some very personal concerns. He had done his own wash up until then but now I would take over that chore. I wasn’t concerned, but he felt uncomfortable having someone else handle his dirty socks and underwear.
In John 12, Peter had similar concerns that night when Jesus approached him, knelt down and prepared to wash his feet. Perhaps he felt unclean like Isaiah standing before the Lord’s throne. “Never! Lord, I’ll never let you wash my feet!”
Advent 2013: Day 20
Why do prisons provide a condemned man with a lavish meal the night before he is to die? Believe it or not, you can go on the Web and find photos of men on death row next to the last meal they chose to have before facing execution. The meals requested varied from a plate of mint chocolate chip ice cream to steak and eggs, from a single tortilla and water to a garden salad.
Advent 2013: Day 21
A year ago I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. It is especially bad in my hips and, knowing that one of the dangers of this disease is broken bones due to falling, I talked with my physical therapist about balance exercises. She asked me try standing on one foot with my eyes open. I managed to do it as I focused on a spot on the far wall. When she asked me to close my eyes, though, I wobbled all over the place. Without the help of vision, I became disoriented. My arms flew through the air looking for a wall to support me.
Advent 2013: Day 22
Gene and I have only met Kelsey once but we pray for her daily. Our son John’s sister-in-law, Kelsey, has cancer. She is a lovely young woman, full of life. She loves the Lord. She has a wonderful husband and beautiful little daughter. Yet she is fighting pain and the effects of chemo every day. It hardly seems fair.
None of us doubt that Jesus also experienced pain.
Advent 2013: Day 23
When our daughter Prisca was a little girl, she and her best friend Katie liked to fish in a local pond. They added bait to the hook, threw the line in the water and waited patiently for a nibble. The fish did not jump out of the water into their hands. The girls spent hours sitting by the shore and often came home with nothing to show for their efforts. There were not even stories of “the one that got away.”
Advent 2013: Day 24
Can you imagine not being able to breathe, think, see, smell, hear, taste or feel anything? You would be like a hard rock or a lump of clay.