Monday, December 26, 2016

Happy Holidays!

"Gather the Pieces" will return next Monday. I am enjoying some time with my family.

Peace and blessings to all.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year?

Guest post by Mike Reed

Read Matthew 2:16-18

I like Christmas music, carols as well as "sounds of the season." One from the latter category that I always enjoy comes from the late Andy Williams: "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year." The lively, upbeat song highlights many of the things that bring joy to us at Christmas. You can hardly suppress a smile upon hearing it, even if you are having a "Blue Christmas" day as "The King" would have put it.

From October onward we gear up for this most wonderful time. The music, of course, as I have implied, plays a major role as do decorations, shopping, special programs, parties, family get-togethers, etc. It almost seems un-American if not un-Christian not to feel that this really is "the most wonderful time of the year."

Most of us know the familiar "Christmas story," parts of which appear in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. While the joy experienced in the two stories of Jesus' birth differs from the sentiments sung by Andy Williams, it is still there. However, that does not constitute everything recorded in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

In Matthew 2:16-18, which we tend to skip over for the most part, we have a downright horrible , story. In a fit of anger at having been deceived by the wise men who did not return to tell him of the whereabouts of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, the king ordered the slaughter of all children in and around Bethlehem who were two and under. The story ends with words from Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled because they are no more."

Talk about "pouring cold water" on "the most wonderful time of the year"! This story does just that. Why did such a terrible story make it into the Bible? Who needs such a downer while we are in the midst of a time of celebration?

I will mention only one possible reason why the story remains timely for us. While most people enjoy this "most wonderful time of the year," others struggle for a variety of reasons: illness, loss of a loved one, broken relationships, unemployment, addictions, disappointments, and the like. Such people do not experience the joy. Instead, they feel full of pain, remorse, guilt, and more. The carols and "sounds of the season" that bring comfort to us pass by them like so much noise or even worse, open old or more recent wounds.

Keep that thought in mind as you move through these days. Be alert for those for whom this might not be "the most wonderful time of the year." Pray for them, speak words of comfort if you can or simply listen to them or give them a hug.

For Your Reflection:
Do you know someone for whom the holiday season might present difficulty because of loss, illness, unemployment, mental illness or estrangement? Make time to visit these persons, send a card, bake cookies or extend kindness in some way. Spreading the light of Christ will bring joy to others.

Prayer: "The most wonderful time of the year," can be a misleading phrase as challenges we face often do not take a break during the month of December. Hope can be hard to find amidst the lyrics and melody of this song. Remembering God's presence always, even when it seems "everyone" is rejoicing and celebrating grounds us for these days. God is near, surrounding us with love always. Amen.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Three Simple, Quick Ways To Add Holiday Holiness


Even when Thanksgiving is a few weeks away, many stores display Christmas items - a few since the end of summer. Already I've heard people talk about "the busy holiday season" almost with a sense of dread.

"How can this be?" I wonder, when celebrating the coming of God's son is the best gift ever!

Here are three simple ways to combat the holiday frenzies that require only an awareness of people encountered and experiences you have - no wrapping paper, tape or bows required. Begin each day with these three thoughts:

1.  How can I bless another?

2.  Ask God to open your heart to receive from someone else - a stranger with whom you talk or even a person you see, but don't have any interaction. Blessings can come from others unaware.

3. See how God is revealed throughout your day in a new or unexpected way.

Write these suggestions on a piece of paper and tape it on the inside of your car, on the bathroom mirror, or in the kitchen where you can be reminded of simple ways to add a little holiness to your "to do" list for the day.

For Your Reflection:

1. What do you want to remember and hold from the approaching holidays?

2. How can you make your hopes happen?

Prayer: God, every year we move so quickly through a season that begs for quiet and reflection. Slow us down and open our hearts as we move toward Bethlehem. Amen.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Delight In The Light


Mike, my husband, has never been much on getting the Christmas tree. When we lived in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, a family in the church had a tree farm. Every October we went to their house and tagged the tree we wanted. The first week of December we found our tree on the front porch.

When we moved to the south side of Indianapolis, our daughters, Sarah, Anna, and I, went searching for our tree, always waiting until close to December 20 or 21, when the prices were lowered. Our best bargain was $5.00 for a mangy tree that brightened our living room corner once we added lights and homemade ornaments.

In Vincennes, we continued our tradition of waiting as long as possible to secure a tree that was affordable.

For many years, after we moved to Fishers, Anna and I (Sarah was in college) went to a tree farm, roamed the fields, and finally selected and sawed our tree. Loading the tree into the wagon that circulated up and down the rows and riding back to the little store where we paid, seemed like a hay ride in mid-December.

When the children were out of college, Mike often joined me to select a tree at the lot a block from our home operated by the Boy Scout troop at the church he pastored. Our goal was to find a tree with a straight trunk that would remain upright in the stand.

Last year, while Mike figured with numbers in the checkbook, I headed out to find the tree. Pulling into a grocery store parking lot, I could see lights outlining the area where the trees were sorted by kind, leaning against wooden posts.

The night was cold and windy, but I was captivated by the multi-colored tree lights defining the space. I noticed that the lights were randomly placed. There were four red lights, then a cluster of two blue lights, followed by green, yellow and more red. There was no order in color to the strands - just random placement. Looking at this scene before I got out of my car, I felt delight, delight at the sight, delight in the light!

I needed some delight. The past few days held their own depth of darkness. I missed being with our children on Thanksgiving, a week earlier. A friend's daughter was dealing with monthly chemotherapy due to a brain tumor. Other people I knew and loved were facing difficulty within their families and job loss. Our daughter, Sarah, who teaches in an elementary school in Denver, experienced a lock-down twice in one month because of guns. The massacres in Paris and California left me and I assume many others fearful to go places with a feeling of safety and security.

Driving to the lot, carrying all of these thoughts led me to perceive the world as especially dark, and hung on me as if someone had sewn them to the back of my coat. However, when I saw the string of holiday lights in the distance indicating the boundary of the tree stand, my heart quickened. The random arrangement of lights caught my attention, rearranging my thoughts as I approached.

Martha Steward surely wouldn't approve of four red lights in a row followed by two blue lights, green, yellow and more red, but the light surrounding and giving form to the tree lot soon entered and surrounded my troubled heart, reminding me of three scriptures associated with Advent.

 - Isaiah 9:2 - The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them the light has shined.

 - John 1:5 - The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

- John 8:12 - Again, Jesus spoke to them saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

I carried these verses with me as I walked around the lot quickly finding a tree that I liked. The helpful scout leader carried the tree to my car, carefully placing it in the trunk for the short ride home.

I felt more peace driving home, amazed how a simple experience of lights offered hope and encouragement to my dark places. When I arrived home, Mike unloaded the tree and surprised me the next day when I came home from tutoring, and found the tree in the stand ready to decorate.

For Your Reflection:

When have you been enriched at Christmas with an unexpected experience?

Prayer: God, you continually amaze me how you come in unexpected places, comforting my soul from Christmas lights randomly arranged in a grocery store parking lot. Far more amazing was Mary's unexpected pregnancy and birth of Jesus in a place as random as a manger. Keep my heart open to receive you wherever I am. Amen.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Your Free Copy of Delight in the Light is Available Here

Download your own copy of Delight in the Light: Finding God Throughout Advent.  

Enjoy the readings to add meaning to your Advent season. It's my gift to you.