What Is New Is Ever Changing by Nancy Tally

A half hour ago I was snuggled down in my nice warm bed. The sun was streaming through the cracks in the blinds a rare treat for us here in Chicago during the month of January. My mind had drifted back to the first day we had moved into Bartlett. Moving day had been the hottest day of the summer clocking in at 104 degrees all day long. Everyone was exhausted, but the following sun rise still brought a crisis. Becca was seizing. We realized that we didn’t know where the hospital was, so after waking a neighbor at the crack of dawn for directions, I was ready to be off: time was of the essence.

Oddly enough for nine years Roland had never been home for a major seizure. He had no clue what was about to happen and was poking about taking way more time getting ready to go than was needed. In truth he was feeling sorry for himself after such a hard day the day before. So, there I sat, having dressed and deposited four kids in the car, waiting. Becca was in my lap her body twisting and jerking all about. I waited. Five minutes seemed like an eternity, still no Roland. I’m fuming. Coming up on ten minutes he saunters out of the house, I start screaming at him, he slows down even more.

We were headed east on Lake Street needing to turn left onto Barrington Road and the light turned red. He won’t go. There were absolutely no cars but ours and he wouldn’t go. Becca was twisted badly, her face smashed into my body and even though she was only the size of a toddler—still wearing a size 4T—I could not get her turned so her airway would be less obstructed. She was already dusky and turning darker. The argument was not pretty nor the fight about speed limits not mattering when your child was dying especially as there were no other cars on the road. He kept arguing “Well what if there is a policeman?” I’m like bring one on. I would have welcomed an escort to the hospital.

Well the furnace made the blinds move and the sunshine hit me in the face. As I felt the bile churn in my stomach and my pulse pound, I questioned God about what possible good was there in my remembering that incident from twenty-eight and a half years ago. The word that popped into my head was “new”.

New—God has promised to make all things new. He has promised to restore the years the locust have eaten. Some of you know that I have asked of God that he restore the years the locust have taken from my family. Many more of you have prayed for Becca for years sometimes not knowing why, but you prayed for her. As I saw her slowly improving, saw the days and months and now YEARS slip by with no more clonic tonic seizures (she had five years where she took a two and a half hour long clonic tonic seizure every twenty-eight days on the dot), no more days of watching her come to the brink of death then stay with us a while longer, I grew thankful, grateful and scared. I was scared to remove her from the prayer list. Scared that without your continued support she would revert or die.

How soon something that is new becomes something that is routine. How easy it is to not notice the wonder of a new skill that has s-l-o-w-l-y emerged. To take for granted that a child will continue to grow day by day and just to expect them to mature. It is easier to see that slow emergence in Becca because everything is happening outside of the so-called normal time progression.

So, new in Becca’s life this past month is a willingness to help. I give her only small amounts, so she can be successful, but she moves clothes from the washer to the dryer, turns the jeans right side out so I can fold them, and cheerfully picks up things that have fallen.

New is consistently knowing her right from her left.

New is correctly identifying the color of the Uno cards.

New is being able to anticipate an upcoming event.

New, since two months ago, is that she is keeping track of her possessions; remembering when she has set them down and sometimes where. Making sure she has all her things before she leaves a place.

New is clearly and loudly proclaiming on cue, “Do not be afraid” and not being afraid of that room full of people who are watching.

New is ringing her hand chime on time, on her own. And doing this, to my and Janet’s amazement, by ear. Becca never looks at the chart. Eye-hand coordination is a non-existent skill in Becca and something specific to pray about for her. It is also something in general to pray for the entire STARS population. What a joy it would be to add eye-hand coordination to our list of “new” things.

New six months ago was being able to do a hand clapping song for the talent show. Indeed, having anything to do for talent show.

New at one point was returning a greeting when prompted with “Well, say hello.” I remember the first time. For years Glen had greeted her every Sunday, and she would tuck her head down and run away. Then one day when prompted to return the greeting she lifted her head and said, “Hello Mr. Kosirog,” then giggled before running away. She blew us all out of the water that day. That was actually the first thing non-family members standing in the hall had ever heard her say.

I could go on and on and on, but an old chorus has come to mind.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
His mercies never come to and end

They are new every morning,
New every morning,

Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord
Great is thy faithfulness.

Thank you all for your steadfast love in praying for Becca. Know that there are new things continuously being added to her life because of you. Also, be encouraged to renew your efforts of prayer for those where the results are not so readily apparent.

The Gift of Heavenly Hosts by Pat Cirrincione

Billy Graham called them “God’s secret agents.” I am sure there are people who wonder if they are for real. Personally, I side with the Reverend Graham. I believe that angels are in our very midst. I think they guide us with the light of God’s love, that they wear many faces, and as Scripture shows, they appear in some strange places in our time of need.

Psalm 91:11 says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” You may believe that there are no such heavenly beings, but like Billy Graham I believe angels exist, because the Bible says there are angels, and I believe the Bible to be the true Word of God (plus I’ve watched multiple times one of my favorite Jimmy Stewart movies, “It’s A Wonderful Life”).

Before I sidetrack myself with all the movies I’ve watched featuring angels, let’s return to Scripture. In Genesis 28:10-19, Jacob lies down to sleep and dreams of a ladder that was set up on the earth, and the top if it reached to heaven. We are told that there the “angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” Can you imagine the length of that ladder? And angels ascending and descending from the house of God to guide, appear and sing to his people on earth? What a sight that must have been! And what a feeling to know that even if we can’t see them, angels are standing here, messengers of our Almighty God.

How many times when life holds troubled moments and has us on our knees, there seems someone there to come along and comfort us? A kind word from a stranger, to lend a helping hand. A phone call from a friend, just to say they understand. Someone to help us in our darkest hours? Someone who comes alongside you and guides you. Someone who prayers with you in time of need, when you think you are at the end of your rope? Angels are associated with God himself and help in administering his works and plans in our lives. They are there to protect and assist us. And just as in God’s Word, when we see his armies fighting for God’s people in the Old Testament, they are fighting for us today, to attain victory over the forces of darkness.

In biblical times, angels intervened in human situations in human form: in a dream to Joseph (Matthew 1:20) or to Mary (Luke 1:26) or around God’s throne (Revelation 5:11). Or at the resurrection when the women looked into the tomb and saw “two angels in white, where the body of Jesus had lain” (John 20:11, 12). And they heard the greatest message the world has ever heard from two men in dazzling apparel: “He is not here, but is risen.” (Luke 24:4-6)

Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us to “not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” And in Matthew 4:11 angels were involved in Jesus life on earth when they ministered to him after Satan tempted him in the wilderness.

Yet my favorite angel remains the angel of the Lord who appeared to country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. As God’s messenger stood before them, they were greatly afraid. Who wouldn’t be? But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying:

Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (KJV, Luke 2:8-14)

What a sight that must have been. Angels, sent down to us from somewhere up above, showing up in the strangest places, with the light of God’s love.

For this year, and all years to come, let us be thankful and be a gift to each other, and sing in remembrance of that night so long ago:

Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new-born King;

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With the’angelic host proclaim,

“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new-born King.”

Christmas in December . . . or not by Wil Triggs

A few weeks back, I was standing at the Sunday morning bookstall when a man I know well approached me and asked, “When did we start celebrating Christmas in December?”

“You mean the exact year?” I asked.

“You know it really didn’t happen then,” he said.

I told him I didn’t know the answer to his question, but promised to look into it and get back to him.

Well, I’ve done some research and discovered that it’s not a simple question to answer. I thought that Christmas started with the early church, but from what I’ve been able to tell, celebrating Christ's birth came about later than observing and celebrating his death and resurrection. The Bible connects Christ’s death with Passover, so we can at least know the season. But Christmas is much less tied to any such tradition. And even Luke’s gospel account of the census isn’t as clean to identify as I thought. He alludes to those days, but not specific weeks or months or seasons. I have been able to find surely stated assertions, but there are several, and they don’t agree with one another.

And churches being churches, there’s always the east-west calendar where whole parts of the world celebrate Christmas, just not in December. In our house, we don’t take down our decorations until Orthodox Christmas (January 6). Maybe it’s just an excuse to leave the lights up, but it’s also a nod to Russia and other parts of the world who observe the holiday in the orthodox calendar.

My wife wants a shout out to the minority who like to celebrate Christmas in July. She says they know who they are. And there’s our pastor’s sage comment in last week’s sermon expressing sympathy for the Puritans who banned Christmas. That makes it immaterial altogether.

If we consider the all-important decree of the newly converted Ebenezer Scrooge, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year” does it really matter when the actual day is? What matters is that we are to strive to keep it all the year.

So now I’m way past answering the question at the bookstall and I’m wondering, “What is it that I’m to strive to keep?”

Do I strive to “take back Christmas” from wherever it might have wandered? What traditions do I strive to keep alive? (Note to self: outdoor Christmas lights are not at top of the list, and yet the gutter lights are on, but our tomato cage Christmas trees are inside by the back door possibly going up this weekend.)

And then, as I’m asking all this, our small group gathering happens. The Christmas dinner edition. Kathy’s authentic cheese tortellini and sausage soup that I’m sure is going to be served in heaven. Lois’s “Irresistible Salad.” Crusty sourdough breads, a mocha cake. I could go on, but I’m already distracting myself and surely you, too. We consider the two sides of Christmas—secular and religious—as expressed in an article by Tim Keller. As we talk, it becomes clear that we each have distinct histories and experiences related to both sides of the Christmas coin.

There’s the relief of no longer having to work in a retail context where people obsessed with deals forget to show any gratitude at all to the workers. There’s Africa, China, Bhutan, Soviet Russia represented—sometimes with no official celebration at all. We celebrate as singles and small and large extended families, open our doors to those who have no where else to go. One person moves from an explosion of excess gifts to only handmade simple gifts. Another gives charitable gifts to meet needs. One family shifts to drawing names to reduce the burden and increase the quality of gifts.

As I listen to the give and take, a Christmas pattern begins to emerge.

It’s a pattern of generosity, thankfulness and humility. That includes some places that don’t look anything like our all-American version. We like to embrace our season, yet some places people almost forget about the actual day because it’s not a holiday at all. It’s the pattern of the Incarnation that is full of grace and truth. It’s a reminder that when the true light came into the world, it filled a night sky over a bunch of shepherds who ran at breakneck speed to worship Jesus.

Yet it’s the same world where Herod took a generation of lives so he could keep his kingly power. Herod lives in our hearts when we think we can make ourselves better if we just try harder, spend a lot, give more, keep control of whatever kingdom we imagine to be in our realm, in essence, atone for our own sins.

Yet the Word prevails. May he prevail in our hearts today and this Christmas. We can't fix what needs to be fixed. There's no celebrating it away. That's good news for all of us—Africa, China, Bhutan, Russia, U.S.—the Light of the World came, comes and will come again in his time—December or April or whenever and forever. Let's celebrate this in our hearts.

Advent. Coming. Amen.

Full of Mystery, Full of Wonder

A Christmas prayer and poem from Prayers for Every Occasion by College Church member Ellen Elwell.

Lord Jesus, the account of your birth in Scripture is so familiar, yet full of mystery and wonder. Year after year, I hear the story and ponder its meaning all over again. What a miracle! You—God—became man and were willing to walk beside us, leaving the glory of heaven to experience a humble life on earth.

This season is filled with activities and events that easily distract me from contemplating the true significance of Christmas. You are the most precious gift ever given to humankind. And yet, too often I leave you out in the cold, giving little thought to the monumental significance of your coming. Like those in Bethlehem, I can become so busy with other things that I don't find room in my heart for you.

Lord, I open my heart to you. I present myself to you as a dwelling place. It it only because of your mercy and forgiveness that my feeble temple is deemed worthy for you to reside in. I pray that others will see your presence in my life and be compelled to know you, not merely as a baby in a manger, but as a life-giving Savior.

A Christmas Prayer

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)

Loving God,
Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
That we may share in the song of the angels,
The gladness of the shepherds,
And the worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate
And open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings,
And teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children,
And Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts,
Forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake
Amen.

Summer and Winter, Seedtime and Harvest--A post Thanksgiving Prayer

Summer and Winter, Seedtime and Harvest

A post-Thanksgiving prayer from a Pastor Prays for His People by Wendell C. Hawley.

Almighty God, magnanimous God,
We acknowledge you as Creator and sustainer of all things.
We praise you that you are not an absentee landlord,
uninvolved in your creation,
for you have promised that with regularity we shall experience
summer and winter, seedtime and harvest.
The bounty of earth's produce at harvesttime
should bring praise from mankind everywhere . . .
and if many won't—we will.
We praise you for the provisions of life.

Blessed Savior, when we reflect on our past days,
we see in every circumstance your providential hand—always offered in love.
So whatever difficulty we currently face, we give you thanks.
Thank you that you can turn the disappointments of life
into divine purposefulness.
Consequently, even in our economic losses,
our companion losses,
our experiential detours,
our physical disruptions—
we await your guiding hand, leading to our eternal benefit. . . .

. . . And so with your servant David, we pray:
I am overwhelmed by how much you have done for me.
I will tell everyone abour your righteousness.
All day long I will proclaim your saving power.

Amen.