Wishing you and your loved ones a blessed and merry Christmas!
Wishing you and your loved ones a blessed and merry Christmas!
About a year ago, I came across a wonderful image of Mary and Jesus – a painting of a young Mary holding her baby. Mary is looking straight out of the painting, directly into the eyes of whoever is looking at her.
I looked up the artist to find out more about her and about this piece she had painted. The artist’s name is Stephanie Morris, and she lives in Mobile, Alabama. Stephanie said that after she painted this image of Mary holding Jesus, she meditated with it. She prayed with it the way one might pray with an icon. She took it with her on retreat, and she said that for hours, she stared into Mary’s eyes as Mary stared into hers. After some time, she heard Mary speaking to her, in her heart. Mary asked her a simple question: “Would you like to hold my baby?”
Of course the artist’s response was “Yes!” But then Mary said to her: “If you want to hold my baby, you will have to put down some of those things you are carrying.”
Do you want to hold Mary’s baby? Of course you do. But like the artist, you must first put down the other things you are holding – distractions and burdens and attachments, expectations and resentment and worry. In this last week of Advent, lay down whatever is holding you back from being this close to Jesus, from holding him against your heart as his mother does. When Mary offers him to you, you will be ready. You will hold out your arms in freedom and love.
It isn’t brazen or lacking in humility to be this bold, to take the Christ child in your arms, to hold him close to your heart. It is just what he wants you to do. It is just what Mary asks:
"Do you want to hold my baby?"
In this season of shortening days and early darkness, I’d like to share with you an evening prayer from my Episcopal days:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give thine angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for thy love’s sake. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer
Like the magi, we want to bring Jesus gifts. But what gifts should we bring? We should bring him what he wants the most.
Lord Jesus, I lay before you the gold of my sins and weaknesses, the incense of my painful memories and relationships, and the myrrh of my fears and anxieties. These do not seem like gifts fit for a King, but I offer them to you from the treasure-chest of my heart, knowing that you wish to transform and redeem them. I come to you open, empty and vulnerable; be a quiet, loving, saving presence in me. Amen.
Merry Christmas! I hope you all enjoyed a peaceful and meaningful Christmas Day. This year my six-year-old’s “second favorite” Christmas song (trumping “Rudolph” is no easy feat) is “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” We are in full swing!
Today I offer you a different kind of Christmas reflection. The post below was originally published on the blog of my friend Jillian Ciriello (www.momingrace.wordpress.com). Jillian is a thoughtful young woman, the mother of a lively toddler, a nurse by trade, a faithful disciple of Jesus, and a compassionate human being.
Jillian’s post is a timely reflection on the conflict in Syria. She helps us understand how near Syria is to Bethlehem (“less than the mileage I will log in the car while visiting family this Christmas”). She explains the anxiety and needs of many Syrian families, expresses our own angst and uncertainty as we watch the suffering from afar, and offers a concrete way we can help.
"Underwear for Christmas"
As my heart turns to Bethlehem, I find it pulled closer to Syria this Christmas. Amid a complex civil war, babies are killed and millions of widows and orphans flee trying to find safety. In this painful conflict I hear the words of Jeremiah 31:15:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted
because her children are no more.”
This Old Testament image of grieving mothers is too accurate for many in Syria today. As I read about the birth of Jesus, this passage is quoted by Matthew 2:18 speaking ofHerod’s massacre of all baby boys two-years-old and under. A futile attempt to try and stop Jesus from changing the world. I think of my two-year-old son and cannot fathom the anguish of those mothers. But evil did not triumph then, and it will not triumph now.
I hold my sona little tighter and thank God for all we have, but often feel paralyzed to do much more. Paralyzed by images of wounded children, by my own disbelief and fear, by a struggle to comprehend what is happening and what I could possibly do that would make any difference. It is overwhelming. It is confusing. It is too far away.
Far Away: But this week more than ever my heart is in Bethlehem, which is so very near to this conflict. The distance between Bethlehem and Syria is difficult to measure because of unclear borders and shifting country lines, but the city of Damascus in southern Syria is just 129 miles, less than the mileage I will log in the car while visiting family this Christmas. Aleppo, the site of greatest violence and tragedy at present is about 340 miles away.
Confusing: In this region violence seeks to overtake the holiest of lands where Jesus walked during his time on Earth. We can become numb to the long complex history with many nations and groups fighting one another. But my focus in this present conflict involves the city of Aleppo where innocent civilians, women and children have been trapped for months with no way in or out surrounded by violence and death. Evacuation efforts are in place but danger remains and the refugees have no where to go once they escape.
Overwhelming: This problem is clearly too big for me, or for any one person, group, or nation to resolve. But I have been inspired by Nadia Alawa, a mom in New Hampshire who decided to stop waiting and start acting in 2011 to help these mothers and children in Syria and those living as refugees in neighboring Turkey. She started an organization called NuDay Syria that built grassroots partnerships with people in Syria to get supplies and aid to the most dangerous of places. Remarkably this is one of the few organizations still working on the ground in the war-torn nation. They are meeting the most basic and important needs: getting diapers and milk to babies, undergarments and sanitary pads to mothers, not to mention food, clean water, tents, and warm blankets.
Now this is an idea I can wrap my head around. A local mom, packing up supplies, shipping them oversees in giant 40 foot crates and getting them into the hands of suffering people within 6 weeks. And I can donate via Amazon gift registry, super easy!
I wish I learned more sooner. I wish I understood more now. But at least I can Amazon up some supplies and know that a mom experiencing unfathomable pain will at least have milk for her starving child and some undergarments to wear. One mom. I can do that.
So this year the most important gift I am buying is underwear. It is not gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but I do think its the gift that Jesus asks me to lay at his feet this year. It may be delivered by a wise woman instead of a wise man. It will be given to a mother who is caring for her child, in a land that has no place for them, who would humbly welcome the shelter of a manger. It is a far away place and struggle that I am much removed from but Jesus understands it in a very real way. He is present in this time of suffering as much today as when he lay in a stable just 300 miles away wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Where to go from here:
Excellent 5 Min Video Summarizing Syrian Conflict
Thank you to all my friends who posted on social media about the Syrian refugee crisis, until I finally took the time to listen and understand.
Thank you to the Boston Globe for this great article From Small Town NH, A Stream of Relief to Syria, Lisa Wangsness, 31 May 2015