Tag Archives: Jesus

Joseph: Blessed Stepparent

Have you heard the biblical Christmas story a gazillion times? Me, too. Yet I’m always amazed how God arranged His Son’s Nativity.

We often miss one important aspect of His divine plan: God made sure Jesus had a stepfather.

Joseph, a construction worker, probably was putting the final touches on their first home when Mary gave him news nobody could fix.

Pregnant? By the Holy Spirit? Even Joseph’s bridezilla cousin Sapphira never conceived a tale like this. Devastated, Joseph decided to call off the wedding.

Until an angel told him Mary’s story was true.

How would his construction buddies regard this double-angel story? Joseph’s family, already humiliated, might not show for the wedding. Still, Joseph obeyed the angel and assumed responsibility for Mary and her child.

As if all this weren’t enough, the government raised taxes. Joseph had to register in his hometown, Bethlehem, several days’ journey away. Not the honeymoon Joseph had dreamed of. Riding a donkey her last month of pregnancy probably wasn’t Mary’s idea of fun, either. Parking and accommodations were difficult to find. Correction: impossible. Joseph’s relatives, still upset, apparently did not offer even a sleeping bag on the floor.

As Mary struggled through labor, surrounded by smelly animals, Joseph may have wondered if his angel dream had resulted from too much pizza. But he remained at Mary’s side. And when the Baby was born, he called Him Jesus.

Fatherhood was harder than Joseph had anticipated. How could the Creator of night and day get them so mixed up?

When Joseph heard from angels again, it was bad news. King Herod wanted to kill the Baby, so Joseph sneaked his family out of town in the middle of the night. When had Joseph’s life turned into a Bourne Trilogy?

Even when they returned to Nazareth after Herod’s death, some still calculated their wedding date and Jesus’ birthday on their fingers.

While angels were talking to Joseph, he could play super-hero. But the angels stopped talking, and Joseph found himself playing male role model to the Son of God.

Like stepparents today, Joseph fades into the background. We hear nothing about him after Jesus’ junior-high escapade of disappearing — into the temple, it turned out — for three days. Playing second halo was tough then, as now. But the lives of Jesus and thousands of other children with blessed stepparents will never be the same.

Joseph’s first Christmas was complicated, with a capital C. So are the Christmases of all caring stepparents.

But then, love usually is.

Are you a stepparent who often plays second halo? If not, do you know someone who does?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of an Ex-director

Once calendars change to December 1, airport authorities turn their attention from averting terrorists to halting the escape of Christmas program directors. Many seek asylum in remote jungles. The most desperate sign up for space shuttle flights.

Why this seasonal exodus? Until Advent, optimistic directors delude themselves that Christmas program rehearsals are going well. Yet choirs have forgotten their music every week. Sixth-grade clarinet players blow the wrong end.

With a turn of the calendar page to December, however, …

Christmas program directors run screaming from holly wreaths and The Salvation Army bell ringers.

Experts say victims of this psychosis, like Grandma, were obviously run over by reindeer. Which explains why anyone would become a Christmas program director in the first place.

The real drama begins when soloists and speaking roles are chosen.  Most Nativity plays include only one Mary, and 49 hopeful candidates — backed by 49 equally hopeful mothers — eye the role. Choosing an Infant Jesus from the cute babies in a nursery is a task no Middle East negotiator should tackle.

Amidst controversy, enter the Advent flu. …

It never picks off a candy cane who speaks one line. No. This deadly illness wipes out leads and entire tenor sections. The Annunciation loses something when a nauseous-looking Gabriel delivers his lines holding a barf bag.

Standing defenseless before hacking, germy choirs, instrumentalists and casts, the courageous director battles a shower of viruses unmatched anywhere in the universe.

But by law, directors are not permitted to die during Advent. So, gulping remedies and popping pills, they face weeks of practices. It is said there are no atheists in foxholes. This also holds true during Christmas program dress rehearsals.

Finally, the Big Day arrives …

… and the cast stuns the director with an incredible performance. They were actually listening when she begged them to warm up horns, annunciate words and not pick their noses.

To be sure, no production escapes imperfection. The angels suffer from static cling. Joseph still doesn’t know how to sit while wearing a dress. And as Wise Men and Shepherds adore the Baby, a borrowed donkey leaves offerings on the hay-strewn floor.

But flawed performances only remind leaders that the original event took place with no rehearsals, except in the Mind of God. And as weary directors everywhere breathe a deep sigh of relief and shelve Christmas music until next August, no one needs to tell them Christmas miracles still happen today.

Have you ever led or participated in a Christmas program? What moment would you most like to forget?

Christmas Song Oddities: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Are you ready to sing Christmas songs?

I am! Though each Advent, I’m reminded some Christmas songs are just plain … odd.

Oddity 1

chestnuts-985161_640Let’s examine the first line of a song crooned by everyone from Nat King Cole to Justin Bieber: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. …”

Have you tasted a chestnut? Ever?

I sampled my first when someone at Taylor University, concerned that thousands of good, Christian people were singing lies every Advent, roasted chestnuts over an open fire after a Christmas event.

They tasted like smoky, boiled lima beans.

The immortal Erma Bombeck suggested we sing about popcorn in the microwave instead.

Oddity 2

Accuracy does not necessarily make a song. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” originally began with a homesick guy’s lament about his sunny, palm-tree-dotted Christmas Eve in Beverly Hills.

If a guy in Frozen Nose, Minnesota, had heard that original version, he might not have helped make that song a best seller. A more likely reaction as he shoveled snow off his roof: “You want a white Christmas, buddy? Turn around, and my boot will send you on a free trip to Santa!”

Oddity 3

Who hasn’t warbled, “Oh, bring us some figgy pudding”?

Do you hear a “please”? The mom in me bristles. How rude.

Worse yet, “We won’t go until we get some,” sounds like holiday extortion.

Besides, who wants figgy pudding? News flash: It’s fruitcake!

Most carolers would run away screaming.

Oddity 4

sleigh-ride-549727_640We sing about reckless driving. Given the second verse of “Jingle Bells,” Miss Fannie Bright’s parents probably had something to say about her date’s driving the nineteenth-century equivalent of an unsafe jalopy. And the unrepentant driver urges other guys to pick up girls and whip fast horses into winning.

Christmas drag racing?

Oddity 5

Consider “The Little Drummer Boy,” in which he offers the only gift he possesses to the Christ Child. Lovely.

What mother of a sleeping newborn wouldn’t welcome a kid banging on a drum?

Mary probably would have preferred a “Silent Night,” though most births are anything but. Ditto for babies. Jesus was a newborn who needed feeding, changing and cuddling.

Did He say, “Excuse me, Mom, but I would like a snack”? Perhaps, “I need clean swaddling cloths.” And, “Please lose the cold hands.”

The Bible doesn’t say. It does say that thirty-plus years later, Jesus cried when His friend Lazarus died.

Yet we sing, “The little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.”

Hmm. Sounds a little odd to me.

 

Do any Christmas songs strike you as a bit strange?

 

 

Living in God’s House

If asked my address as a six-year-old, I would have answered, “I live in God’s house.”

After missionary service, my family lived in two back rooms of our home church. We children didn’t know we were homeless and nearly penniless. Jesus, our invisible Best Friend, had invited us to stay with Him, like we did with cousins. Boy, were we lucky!

My mother, who made a home for us, no matter where we lived

My mother, who made a home for us, no matter where we lived

Our mother, having recently delivered her fourth child, might not have regarded this sojourn in God’s house so positively. Her life consisted of endless hundred-yard dashes to the restrooms located in the church’s foyer, kids hanging from her skirts. We took baths at sympathetic neighbors’.

My parents and baby brother slept in one room. The other contained a tiny kitchen, table and chairs, and a built-in wooden bed, where my preschool brother and I slept. Our toddler sister slept on a sofa pushed against it. The sofa’s curved back made a great slide. Every morning my brother and I zoomed down upon our sister in a glorious tangle of arms and legs.

Church trash cans hid treasures. After a wedding, my mother found discarded blue netting and made a glamorous dress for my doll.

“We’ll just steal this,” she’d said, laughing. She thought no more about it — until I told wide-eyed parishioners we stole church stuff.

The sanctuary proved the best perk. Our parents forbade us children to linger there after bathroom runs.  But exploring the sanctuary alone, we gained a kindergarten sense of the holy.

Sometimes I sat quietly and watched sunlight streaming into the huge, echo-y room. God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. Though I didn’t know the Bible verse, I absorbed that truth in those serene, stolen moments.

The sanctuary gave us creative ideas. “If we filled up the baptistery, we could take baths there,” I suggested to Dad. “It would make a great swimming pool, too!”

He disagreed. But unknown to Dad, my brother and I walked along its narrow edge, pretending we were tightrope walkers.

We also discovered mysterious, shiny tubes inside the organ. I spread small hands gently over the piano’s keys, imagining myself playing God’s songs, like Mom.

We found free chewing gum stuck under the pews! Sadly, Mom did not recognize God’s miracle of provision. She made us spit it out.

My own children did not live like gypsies. My kids experienced unborrowed bathtubs, doll clothes that weren’t swiped from trash, and soft gum imprinted with no one else’s teeth. As a mom, I am thankful for such blessings.

Still, I would not trade those irreverently reverent days living in God’s house.

 

How did where you lived as a child influence you?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer

Camper

Oh, my God, we just returned from two fun weeks of living in a pop-up camper. Glad to be home, especially during a stormy night’s bathroom visit! Jesus, during three years of ministry, You didn’t even own a pop-up to shelter You from rain, wind and mosquitoes. OMG, how You must love us!

 

 

But What Happened the Day After Easter?

Many of us anticipated an Easter filled with church celebrations, family and fun.

But what did the day after Easter bring?

Parents sometimes dread it. “Who ate the head off my chocolate bunny?” “He tasted my jelly beans, then spit ’em back in my basket!”

And those irresistible baby rabbits Mommy bought? They’ve already matured, married, and are multiplying hourly.

Happy Day after Easter!

But for some of Polish descent, this day rates a major celebration. The first spring I lived in South Bend, Indiana, I figured the newspaper headline was an April Fool’s joke: “City Celebrates Dyngus Day.” Turned out, “dyngus” was not a driver in an adjoining parking space who smacked my car opening his door, but a for-real holiday. Participants polka with a sausage in one hand, a beer in the other, simultaneously shaking hands with politicians. Lacking coordination, I opted for the ancient ritual of eating Reese’s Peanut Butter eggs, 50 percent off.

Munching these one Dyngus Day, I wondered what Jesus, Easter’s originator, did the day after.

Ancient roadside tomb in Israel, similar to that of Jesus

Ancient roadside tomb in Israel, similar to that of Jesus

Though some had accused Him of being a party animal, the Bible makes no mention of Jesus’ hobnobbing with polka-dancing politicians. We know He surprised women friends, including Mary Magdalene, on Easter morning. He also nearly sent His paranoid band of disciples into seizures, showing up despite dead-bolted doors.

But what did He do the next day, while they depleted their cell phone minutes spreading the news? While they rechecked their eyes at the optometrist’s and their minds at the psychiatrist’s to confirm what they saw?

After Passion Week’s agony and the Resurrection’s ecstasy, perhaps Jesus craved a little quiet. Maybe He sat anonymously in a garden, listening to birds’ hallelujah choruses, watching baby green leaves unfold tiny, tender fingers.

Or, since time and space didn’t appear an issue after the Resurrection, He might have visited the Sea of Galilee, 80 miles away. Perhaps He played on the beach with children He had healed.

I imagine Jesus visited his mother. The Bible does not place her at the tomb with Mary Magdalene or with the disciples when He appeared Easter evening. Did they tell Mary they saw Jesus? Perhaps, still incredulous, they wanted to spare her false hope. However, rumors no doubt reached her ears. They always do.

But nothing prepared Mary for that “Hi, Mom.” For Jesus’ strong arms around her again, for the still-wounded hands that dried her tears.

A skeptic interrupts my reverie. “Wait. How do you know what Jesus did? You weren’t there.”

No. But since I will live forever because of Jesus’ resurrection, someday, I plan to ask Him.

How do you think He spent that day?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: The Day After

Oh, my God, it’s the day after Easter, and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs are 50 per cent off. I’m celebrating all over again! But, Jesus, what did you do the day after Easter? Take a day off? You certainly deserved it. Did You surprise Your mom? OMG, what a hug that must have been!

 

 

Easter in March

EasterEggsMadEaster arrives in March this year. Does that just seem wrong to you? The Easter eggs we hide will have to thaw before the kids can eat them.

Still, faith can be found living in the oddest nooks and crannies of life—even in March.

  • Retailers demonstrate their faith. As if they are following some capitalistic Ten Commandments, they put snowsuits and boots on clearance. Defying the weather, they fill racks with golf shirts, tennis garb and bathing suits. They stuff shelves with Peeps, chocolate bunnies and pastel plastic eggs, believing spring will come. They stake their financial lives on it.
  • The young flaunt faith. At the first sign of temperatures above freezing, they escape Mom’s wear-your-coat-are-you-trying-to-get-pneumonia rant. On the playground, discarded jackets bloom like big flowers. The brave and brainless don shorts and flip-flops. But they’re already tasting joy. Their expectations rub off even on those of wintry disposition. Otherwise, why would we refer to tourney/blizzard time as “spring break”?
  • Track and baseball teams practice faith. If parents forced teams outside amid snow and sleet, the kids would call Child Protective Services, the Civil Liberties Union and ten lawyers apiece. Instead, they and their coaches believe they will have fun.
  • Ice cream vendors sell faith. With Easter approaching, small stand owners across the chilly Midwest unlock their doors and offer ice cream to the frostbitten masses. Near my house, Ivanhoe Drive In posted a sign reading “Fresh Strawberry Shortcake.” Carloads of shivering, faith-minded, faith-stomached customers have filled the parking lot.
  • Farmers and gardeners cultivate faith. Long before snows retreat, they nose through seed catalogues and sniff dead land like hounds, baying with gladness at the sight of tiny emerald spikes and buds. They believe with all their hearts, green thumbs and soon-to-be-aching backs that iron ground will nurture life.
  • Animals act out their faith, too. Gingerly walking an icy sidewalk, I encountered four robins huddled in a patch of snow. Did you guys make a wrong turn? If I had built-in flight available, I would retreat to a warmer perch. But despite chilly little claws and backsides, birds instinctively know they will build nests, hatch eggs, and teach their young to soar in sunny skies.

The whole earth reeks of resurrection. And we believe.JesusLivesPoster

Jesus, who created the world, set off this chain reaction of miniature resurrections. His own enormous Resurrection turned March into Easter and reduced cemeteries to odd hotels, temporary stops until we reach where we’re really going.

Why not believe in Him, too?

January Birthdays

BirthdayCakeRosesI hold a soft spot in my heart for people born in January.

Not that those who celebrate December birthdays have it so great. Do children born in June receive gifts with tags that state “This is for D-Day and your birthday”?

Still, in December, the whole world puts on its festive best. You share your birthday month with Jesus, and that’s a cool thing.

January birthdays don’t generate similar enthusiasm, as the whole world diets. No matter how you decorate it, a birthday veggie tray with fat-free dip doesn’t attract the same crowds.

At Christmas, people mortgage their organs to be with kin. By January 2, however, even close relatives develop allergies to the cold – and each other. An important safety principle: the cosmos will crash if we see relatives more than once a year.

Even those willing to risk life and limb to attend January celebrations face gift challenges that would daunt Santa. As of December 25, Birthday Boy already owns a robot that makes his bed, does homework and gargles for him. He has stashed his excess Christmas cash in T-bills, since the stock market is down.

Mom and Dad could use a nice little check, which makes gift-giving easy if the birthday person is a grown-up. But many adults don’t feel like blowing out birthday candles in January. Their years have risen like heating bills. Nice little birthday check? They need gold bars to shrink January Visa bills.

I even sympathize with my brothers, born this month. I didn’t when we were children, however. Only weeks after Christmas, they received another gift, whereas I waited until March to collect birthday booty.

Two of our grandchildren celebrate January birthdays. My husband notes that they enjoy the old-fashioned games we give them more than electronic versions: when they lose, they can throw game pieces at their siblings.

But if January birthdays bug them as they grow older, we will point out that even January birthdays haven’t stopped Martin Luther King, Jr., Carl Sandburg, or the painter Cezanne. Or Benjamin Franklin, Mary Lou Retton or George Burns. Or Edith Wharton, Mozart or Jackie Robinson. No birthday veggie trays have kept them from leaving unique footprints in their worlds’ snowy paths.

God Himself decorates for January birthdays. Plus, He gives hills to sled, snow forts to build, and hot chocolate with gooey marshmallows to guzzle.

Best of all, He has made January the premium snuggle and huggle month for all ages. Hugs never show up on a Visa statement, and they leave love imprints no raging snowstorms can erase.

Actually, a January birthday is pretty special. Just like our grandkids.

Are you a lucky January birthday girl or boy?