Weighty Matters

dsc_9536While helping her young violin students choose their music to play at the nursing home over the Christmas holiday, my daughter was dismayed to hear one small boy declare, “I won’t play any religious stuff.  I’m not religious.”

Standing in the local elementary school’s doorway, my daughter waits to meet him every Thursday.  Besides carrying his little violin case, he hoists a rather large backpack into place and resembles an old stooped man, carrying a load much to large for his little frame.  He is not alone.  Most of the children streaming out of the school look much the same, all having loads of books and papers bundled on to their backs, with only a few having smiling parents to meet them and relieve them of  their burdens.

A few months ago, in helping him with his homework,  my daughter paged through the science book that contributed to her little student’s hefty  load and what she found there burdened her adult heart so much it still aches.  Not only does this boy think there is no God, everything he was learning at school told him he must be his own god and save the world.  The  human race was to blame for the supposed state of our environment and the responsibility to fix it was heaped upon his little shoulders.  There was no joy found in the pages, celebrating the fact that God’s creation is beautiful and we can be thankful  He is in control; only heaps of gloom and loads of fear filled the book.

A Christmas without Christ. A world without God.  A child with no one to carry his burdens.

The little violinist may grow accustomed to the weight of his burdens as they gradually grow heavier with each passing year here on planet earth, but one day, they may crush him under a load of inestimable weight. It is then he may look up to see a strong, compassionate God who has been there all the time, waiting to shoulder his load– a Heavenly Father who wants a relationship not a religion.

“Let my soul roll itself on Him, and adventure there all its weight.  He bears greater matters, upholding the frame of heaven and earth, and is not troubled or burdened with it.” (Robert Leighton)

Smiling to herself,  my daughter played “In the Bleak Midwinter” for the little “Not Religious Boy”.   He liked the sad sound of the song, choosing it  for his solo piece to play at Christmas time for the residents.  Having no idea of the lyrics himself, the boy cheered the hearts and lightened the load  of many a weary traveler in more ways than one, for these are the poetic words sung to the beautiful old music:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him… give my heart.

(Christina Rossetti)

In the Bleak Midwinter

Welcome

dsc_9507Life is a marathon.

As I look around, there are all sorts of athletes running alongside me, behind me, and ahead of me.  Some are well-trained, muscular and long-legged, wearing the latest in running attire, while others don’t appear very fit on the outside but are mentally determined.  They are the ones that may be wearing worn coveralls and mud boots, but they keep jogging along,  pressing toward the mark:  the prize of the high calling of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:14)

Jesus stood at the finish line and called one of those faithful runners home yesterday.  This particular runner was one of those that kept his head down and kept sloshing through the muck and the mire, while his mud boots rubbed blisters on his heels. He had been a veterinarian while here on earth, but that was just his cover.  His real job here on this planet was to be loving and  point those who felt his love to Jesus.

I know, because  I had the privilege of shuffling alongside him a few times. He would smile and say softly with tears in his voice that Jesus was the only thing that mattered to him anymore.  He had had money, houses, vacations, a respectable occupation… but after being knocked out of the race temporarily a few years ago and nearly bleeding to death, he had felt the hand of God tending him and he wanted to tell everyone of God’s goodness through the whole ordeal.  And, he kept on running, though his lungs were beginning to gasp for air.

The card this runner sent to encourage my family last Christmas had these words written to the side of the picture of he and his wife: “Oh, come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.” Now their smiling faces look at me from my refrigerator door where I have taped their greeting.  How prophetic were the words. They didn’t  know  just a year later, they both would’ve completed their races.

This Christmas,  Jesus stood at the finish line and while opening his arms wide to catch and hold this very tired but determined marathoner,  He must’ve shouted: “Oh Come!  Welcome!  And well done my good and faithful one.”

Now, one more athlete is  completely joy-filled  as he has crossed the line. With a feeling of triumph, he has taken off his old boots and felt the comforting, heavenly grasses between his toes.

Fitness

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Because I love singing hymns and love my children very much,  I  prefer to share a hymnal with them while singing in church, rather than look up at words on a screen.  It enables me to  hold the hymnal with one hand, and when they were smaller,  I cuddled their little shoulders with my other hand.  Even when they have grown, and we are just standing side by side, it seems to connect us more with each other when we wonder together at the path of the bass or descant line in relation to the melody line, and ponder the words  the writer chose to convey his heart in poetic form.

“Away in the Manger” is hands-down the most common song heard at children’s Christmas pageants.  It is a cozy little song about  baby Jesus being wrapped and snuggled in, well…laid in a manger.  Dress a bunch of kids  in some home-made costumes and one can easily pull off another heart warming stage production of how things were when Jesus came to earth so long ago.  And while we’re busy making everything cozy,  lets change the words a bit to make the song more comfortable to sing;  after all we should sing what we mean and mean what we sing, right?

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head,
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.
I love you, Lord Jesus; look down from the sky,
And stay by my side until morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay
Close by me for ever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in your tender care,
And fit us for heaven. to live with Thee there.

“And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there,” makes me a little uncomfortable when I think about the actual meaning of becoming “fit for Heaven.” I hate to admit it, but I am rather like a demanding child  who  would rather sing the newer version of this sweet song; “And take me to Heaven to live with Thee there.” In my mind I pray, “If You really love me, Lord, you would bless me by just taking me there. And how ’bout we skip the getting fit part.”

Before we were married, my resourceful, soon-to-be husband, crafted a sit-up bench for me.  It was a long board  he had carefully sanded, stained and attached loops of braided bailing twine at one end for my feet to fit through.  Being such a thoughtful young farmer, he felt  I could increase the benefits of sit-ups as I hung with my head lower than my feet on this slant board of torture.  The gift even included a sticker chart with little foil stars to chart my progress.

Okay,  I can say it now, 20 some years later;   I thought it was the most horrible gift I had ever received.  In fact, I thought it was  an all-around winner for “The Worst Christmas Gift EVER” award. Not only was it ugly, it was cumbersome and implied that I needed some improving, some tightening of my core muscles, and some increasing of my overall fitness before I could become his wife.  Not only was I offended at the inference,  I was lazy and lacked the discipline to endure the daily pain of sit-ups required to make me physically fit.

Now, in my fifties I realize: “No pain; nothing gained.”

Becoming “fit for Heaven” as the little children sing,  means becoming like Jesus.  Just as getting physically fit may entail pain; becoming like Jesus may require some suffering and that is not the Christmas gift I would like to find under my tree this year, thank you very much.

Many years ago, there was another cumbersome, unwanted, home-made wooden gift, but this one was left rough and splintery, not carefully sanded.  It  was on this instrument of torture that Jesus’ ripped-to-shreds-back shifted up and down as He tried to fill his lungs with air, dying to Himself in our place.  The hideous cross was actually a loving gift that in turn gave us the “Greatest Gift EVER,” the gift of eternal life.

This Christmas, I may find an unwanted gift under my tree. In fact, I might find something that doesn’t even resemble a gift, but because I  do not look like Jesus, (I am not naturally prone to be loving,  patient or kind any more than I am prone to be self-sacrificing,) I may be given a very loving gift; for God, in His unfathomable love for us, invites us to know Jesus, to be like Jesus, not only in the power of His resurrection, but also in the fellowship of His suffering. (Philippians 3:10)

So I ask You, Lord Jesus to be near me through any trials you carefully choose for me.  Please stay close by me forever and love me;  I so desperately need  your tender love and care.  Thank you for blessing me by making me fit, no matter what it takes.

And thank You that someday, You will take me to Heaven to live with You there.

Away in a Manger