Word Sleuth: Lovingkindness by Wil Triggs

The word “lovingkindness” came into my head yesterday morning. A song based on Psalm 63:3 surfaced, dreamlike from my past, its chant-like 70s melody kind of annoying me. I could hear the girls' answering echo as we sang. It was sweet, but maybe a little too sweet. Nevertheless, there it popped into my head like the Wendy’s “where’s the beef?” TV commercial, or the Bears winning the Super Bowl. Did those things really happen?

But more than anything else, it got me thinking about this word.

God’s lovingkindness is better than life.

Whatever happened to lovingkindness? There aren’t too many people I could ask about this without sounding a little wonky. But one I knew would care about words like this and not laugh at me: Lee Ryken.

So I sent him a quick email. “Do you have any thoughts?" I asked. Where did the word come from and what’s happened to it?

Lee must have been on his email because he answered me right back: “William Tyndale introduced the word lovingkindness into the English language in his translation of the Bible,” and he send me a weblink with more.

Well, when someone says “Tyndale” to me, I naturally assume that they’re talking about the publishing house. I knew that’s not what Lee meant, but my brain, having a mind of it own, just went there. It’s like academics who say “Wheaton.” They are usually talking about the college, not the city.

Tyndale House Publishers began with the Living Bible.

I first saw the Living Bible on the dining room table of one of my aunts. This was a long time ago. She listened to Frank Sinatra on her hi-fi stereo. She watched soap operas. She didn’t go to church. But she always seemed beautiful and generous to me. She lived across the street from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and I could hear them practice in the garage. I never heard this aunt talk about the Bible or Jesus or anything like that. She wasn’t part of the “religious” element of the family. (Happily, this situation has changed for the better between then and now.)

I used to go over to my aunt's house and mow her lawn Saturday mornings and play with Honeybee, her miniature white poodle. She and my mom would chat in her kitchen while I mowed and played. And she always had a can of Coke for me, which we almost never bought ourselves. So this was a treat for me in many ways.

One Saturday, suddenly, there it was—its dark green cover with engraved lettering and a design looking fresh and different. I had seen television commercials for it. The Living Bible sat prominently on her mid-century modern coffee table back when it was just a coffee table. Both Mom and I noticed it. My aunt announced that she was reading the Bible—the Living Bible—because it helped her understand and think about the Bible in a new way.

Those are my earliest recollections of Tyndale House Publishers. But before Tyndale House Publishers, there was a man named Tyndale. William Tyndale. That's who Lee was talking about.

What was it about William Tyndale that prompted Ken Taylor to name his company after him?

I asked Mark Taylor. And he replied almost as fast as Lee Ryken.

“Prior to the work of Luther (in Germany) and Tyndale (in England),” he answered, “the Bible had been available for more than 1,000 years only in the Latin Vulgate, and most people couldn’t read Latin. So the Bible was inaccessible to the common man. Ken Taylor had special appreciation for the work of William Tyndale, who made the Bible available to the English-speaking population.

“In the mid-20th century, Ken had the same concern—that the meaning of the Bible was essentially unavailable to the common man, since most people used the King James Version of 1611, which had antiquated language.

“Regarding William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake, Ken Taylor occasionally said, ‘I want to emulate William Tyndale in every way except his death.’”

Imagine a time when English-speaking people had no Bible. So William Tyndale was kind of like the Wycliffe Bible translator to English-speaking people, giving them a Bible they could read. (I’m not going to get into who Wycliffe was here, but feel free to research that if you like). Tyndale wasn’t from outside the culture; he was steeped in his native tongue plus he spoke six other languages. Before the King James Bible, there was the Tyndale translation.

So many words flowed from Tyndale’s work, phrases that are so loved by Christians that it never occurs to most of us that there was a man who first “coined” them. And that man was William Tyndale.

A link Lee sent me said that Tyndale also penned many other Bible phrases/terms. Here are just a few:
• Let there be light
• Ask and it shall be given; seek and ye shall find
• Salt of the earth
• Pearls before swine
• The patience of Job
• The Author and Finisher of our faith.

The list goes on and on. In fact, 80% of the KJV comes from Tyndale’s earlier translation.

We so easily forget history, especially when the 24-hour news cycle pushes us to disregard what happened last week or yesterday or even an hour ago, for whatever news alert is popping up on the phone right now.

Before sending my email question to Lee, I did an internet search and the always reliable search engines told me that lovingkindness is:
• associated with a Hebrew word on the one hand, but also
• some sort of eastern/Buddhist meditation practice (some kind of refinement on self-love) on the other.

Perhaps it is lost because something of God himself is easily lost. Lovingkindness as a word now seems more beautiful and amazing than ever. Just like God.

A few years ago, my Christmas gift to my wife, Lorraine, was The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. This caused a rift between me and one of my co-workers at Russian Ministries who couldn’t forgive me for giving Lorraine a dictionary for Christmas. Jewelry, yes. But a dictionary? I might as well have given her a broom my coworker scolded, looking out for Lorraine on Christmas morning. Fortunately, Lorraine loved this gift.

The definition of lovingkindness in that dictionary is “kindness arising from a deep personal love, as (in Christian use) the active love of God for his creatures.”

Perhaps, in this world where there seems to be more anger than ever, lovingkindness is a word that belongs to God way more than it belongs to his people. Yet it doesn’t have to be forgotten altogether. So thank you William Tyndale for giving us this word. I think it’s time to bring lovingkindness back into the Christian world and not surrender it to eastern thought. Can we practice lovingkindness? Can we seek to emulate the lovingkindness of God? This is something in God that, like the old song and the psalm says “is better than life.”

May this word, dare I say, this attribute of God, burn in our hearts afresh, like the words of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. (Psalm 63:1–3, King James Version)

Just Like Us by Lorraine Triggs

Throughout my summer trip to Italy with Operation Mobilization many years ago, we’d rotate days off, which translated into a few of us staying behind to do laundry for the team, shop for food and prepare the evening meal. We also had time during the day to read and write letters home on that marvelously thin par avion paper.

One day off, as my teammates and I hung wet laundry on the clothesline to dry in the church courtyard, we noticed two guys peering over the church gate.

“Hey, are you Americans?” one of them asked. We looked at each other. English? People other than teammates speaking English? We were overjoyed. In the small village in rural Italy, well, the only language we heard was Italian.

“And Canadian,” John answered, loyal to his homeland. By now, the five of us walked over to the gate and swung it open to these two Americans who talked like us, looked like us and had, what we would describe these days, as shared values.

We put their book satchels in the corner, and fed them lunch complete with cups of cold water. One of the guests asked if he could play the guitar that was lying around. We talked and sang earnest 70s folk songs. We invited them to stay for dinner. 

Soon, the rest of the team returned. We introduced our new friends to our teammates. They’re here in Italy, just like we are. We asked them to stay for dinner.

“No,” our team leader Arnie said firmly. “They need to leave.” He pointed to their satchels. “Now.” 

“But they are just like us,” we protested feebly. 

Arnie shook his head in dismay at his team.

The two young men picked up their satchels and made a hasty exit, no thank-you or good-bye.

“Why did you ask them to stay?” Arnie explained, “They are not preaching the gospel. They’re Mormon missionaries.” 

Oops. We learned that day that not all missionaries are like us no matter how much they look and sound like us.

Like it or not, I am still prone to the just-like-us mindset. I am more comfortable with people like me. It’s natural. You know, same-feathered birds being together.

But we weren’t in Italy to meet people like us. We were there to find people not like us and point them to Jesus.

I’ve been thinking about that lately, especially with this Explore God initiative that begins at church tomorrow. There’s an Explore God billboard on North Avenue that boldy declares: “We all have questions.”

Well, my question is do we only want people who are just like us to explore God, or are we ready to explore God with whoever—the weary, the wounded or the wanderer who might walk through our front doors or join our discussion group or live near us? 

It’s easy to give the right answer when it’s theoretical, but when there are real people standing before us, well, it’s different. Are we ready?

Keep Austin (I Mean Christians) Weird by Wil Triggs

At the Bible college I attended in California, we had missions festivals every year. The gym where we held chapel became a convention hall with guest speakers and inspirational preachers to motivate us to think about God’s calling to world missions. The back third of the gym showcased displays from mission agencies trying to recruit future missionaries.

As a laid-back Southern Californian, I was interested in missions as a concept, and the displays and brochures and information at many of the displays were nicely done for back then.

The question, however, that hovered, cursor-like, in my mind: Would I consider missions as a career?

It was something to think and pray about. I didn’t grow up regularly attending church, so this was new terrain for me. Why not, I thought to myself, as I wandered among the displays.

The problem was, well, the people staffing the displays. They were missionaries.

Again, the concept seemed great, but what I imagined a missionary to be and the reality of the people who were at the displays clashed. I imagined these heroic missionary people to look quite a bit different from the people I saw. To my SoCal eyes many of them just looked plain weird. The clothes were mismatched. How could caucasian skin be that white without being albino? Men in Bermuda shorts, and wearing black dress socks and shoes that didn’t match either the socks or the shorts. These days the get-up might be cool in the right coffeehouse, but back then, it just looked like multiple mistakes to me.

Would I consider missions as a career? Somehow these people were supposed to make me want to join them. It was dissonant. No way. I laughed a nervous sort of laugh, and some of my friends and I joked about the odd-looking missionaries. I couldn’t see myself doing that. I went back to my speech team and trumpet and the paper on William Faulkner.

Well, the joke turned out to be on me.

A few years later, I moved to the Midwest and lost my tan. And I did become a missionary and worked alongside people who probably looked every bit as strange as the people I met while in Bible school. I not only worked alongside them, but also grew to love them as deeply as any other humans I know.

I see their missionary lives as a fulfillment of those heroic lives I imagined missionaries to live. Only it didn’t have anything to do with the clothes they wore or how tan their skin was. It had to do more with belonging to God, possessed by him, what the King James Version called “a peculiar people” in 1 Peter 2:9.

Both Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon have slogans to keep their cities weird. The world celebrates weirdness in its own way. But God calls us to lose ourselves in something bigger and grander. My prayer now is to be less me and more Jesus. Sure, I’m his creation, but so much of me is the opposite of him. And he’s ever so much more in every way than I can ever be. In him, I’m truly different.

So, let’s go wherever he wants us to—today, this month, year, decade. Let’s be Jesus-weird together.

As I’m writing this, an email message pops up. It’s from a member of one of our past short-term teams, who is now a full-time missionary himself. What a joy to be able to support him now in prayer years after we spent time together in Russia. To me, he’s cool, what he’s doing is one of the best things imaginable. But it’s a different kind of cool. This is a like-Jesus kind of cool that is the opposite kind of values from so much of what we as earthly creatures are naturally are drawn.

Let's be peculiar enough to want to talk about Jesus, especially this month, as we think about Explore God and short-term missions trips (applications for the short-term teams are due by the end of the month).

This year, let’s explore with the people around us—neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members—or consider getting up close with one of our missionaries for a few days in North Carolina or the Dominican Republic or Czech Republic.

Keep Christians weird.

My First Orchid by Cheryce Berg

Sometimes, especially in January, I see more death than life. What is supposed to be new looks old. I think New Year’s resolutions would fare better if made in May or even June.

Last June, I received the gift of my first orchid. It stood poised like a bride on my kitchen table for months, beautiful and motionless. I resolved to keep it alive, unlike every other living thing I’ve ever owned, except for children.

All I was told was to feed it two ice cubes every Sunday morning, the first day of each new week. The day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

Months went by before a petal dropped. Then another. My neighbor told me to be patient; the blooms would return when they were spent. Even if they didn’t, I was proud of my first orchid’s endurance and my accomplishment. But guess what?

Today it blooms again, even though it is January. And the blooms are the colors of bridesmaids’ dresses.

Out of curiosity, I recently looked up the care of orchids. A true gardener would be floored by my neglect in parenting these rather tender plants. The experts say to remove and re-pot, to fertilize and fan, to mist and move, to protect and prune. I have done none of those things.

The whole watching and waiting and releasing and rejoicing reminds me of Christ. How he lived and then died and then resurrected. How it is not by what I have done or can do that I am saved. It is by grace alone.

How because of it all, what is dead in me and around me is given the promise of hope and new life. How I shouldn’t stop watching and waiting for salvation—the salvation of my friend who gave me my first orchid last June, the season when what appears dead becomes alive.

Below is Cheryce's orchid in all its bridemaids glory.


(Almost) All Through the Night by Lorraine Triggs

New Year’s Eve watch night services don’t rank among my favorite childhood memories about the church where I grew up. I didn’t have an issue with the concept of ringing in the new year in church as much as I did with, well, ringing in the new year at midnight.

My internal clock and I struggled to stay awake during the six-hour service/event/ordeal.

I was good for the first half—a potluck supper, singing, musical performances and testimonies. It was the last few hours that did me in—a longer than usual sermon, and then we would pray in the new year. As I said, good in theory, but not in practice. Sometimes it was hard to even hear what people were praying.

All of my attention was focused on my gold Timex watch, willing the minute hand to creep faster to midnight and then home to bed and blessed sleep.

My disposition didn’t improve with age, especially given that our youth group scheduled an all-night after party that extended the longest service of the year, well, all the way to breakfast. I really, truly wanted to be fast asleep, not standing at the top of a toboggan run at two in the morning about to hurtle down the snow-packed chute in utter darkness. Combine that with my sleeplessness, and I was a bundle of exhaustion and anxiety.

Now decades have passed. We’re on the other side of New Year’s midnight. College Church lets me go to bed whenever I want as we usher in the new year.

So I’m happily into 2019.

But every December 31, I remember the sleepy feelings of the service that would never end and can’t help but think of people sleeping in the New Testament.

I relate well to the disciples, wide awake as waves crashed into their boat. This time it was Jesus who was fast asleep, and the disciples woke him up, yelling over the winds and the waves, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” If we’re honest, we echo the disciples’ wake-up call to Jesus when waves of disappointment, anxiety, fear or betrayal crash over us.

Don’t you care, Jesus?

Jesus didn’t answer the disciples’ plaintive cry. Instead, he rebuked the wind and addressed the sea. “Peace! Be still!” And they were. Nature had no doubt who Jesus was; it was the disciples who wondered, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Does Jesus care? I also relate well to the disciples, fast asleep in the garden, eyes heavy, struggling to stay awake and not succeeding. More was at stake than just staying awake till midnight; Jesus’ hour had come. He didn’t want the disciples to sleep through it—literally and figuratively.

It was a grace that Jesus would wake them up. It’s a grace when Jesus wakes us from our spiritual sleep. The disciples were on the cusp of a whole lot more than a new year—Jesus was about to usher in a new age of hope and life and light. Their sleepiness did not keep them from God’s love and grace because it was all on Jesus after all. Maybe part of the point is that they—and we—can’t stay awake. Jesus sweats drops of blood, and we disciples fall into sleep while Jesus calls us to watch and pray.

As disciple-like as I am, I’d rather be like the wind and the sea and instantly obey Jesus. Then, waking or sleeping, I’ll have peace and will be still.

I can be like that. But I must confess that all too often I’m not the wind or the rain.

I’m a tired person.

All too often I’m more like Eutychus falling out the window. I’m surrounded by Pauls and I’m blessed and alive and, yes, resting in the goodness that only comes from God himself. That’s real and lasting rest for every day or every year.

A Gift of Joy and Love by Pat Cirrincione

My family was poor when I was growing up. To purchase Christmas gifts for the family, my mom would begin baking pies, cookies and cakes in October for my Dad to bring to his office and sell. Mom’s baked goods were so delicious that every year the orders just kept increasing. We children would usually help ice the cookies (making sure they were done to Mom’s specifications—nothing sloppily made would ever leave her kitchen). As we grew older, we were promoted to packaging the baked goods into boxes for Dad to take to work each morning.

Watching Mom stir and mix the different batters, cut out cookies, make her pies and decorate her cakes, I came up with the idea that she and Dad needed a special gift from their children. It’s not like they didn’t receive gifts from us, but how many paper chains for the Christmas tree could they use? How many hand- painted reindeer could they continue to hang on the walls? Their faces always lit up when they received these gifts from us, but that year I just felt they needed something more special. So, I invited my younger brother and sister to a secret meeting in my bedroom to brainstorm ideas for a special gift, and then to figure out how in the heck we were going to come up with the money to pay for it.

After about an hour of tossing around ideas such as baseball bats, candy, frozen snowballs and bubble gum, we came up with the perfect gift. We should buy them a Nativity set, just like the one the church put out each Christmas. Of course, we wouldn’t get them one with the life-size figurines, but something on a smaller scale that would fit in our home. A Nativity set of our very own, with a Baby Jesus that would be set out after midnight, after the angels announced to the shepherds that a Savior had been born.

My brother and sister looked at me cross-eyed, mouths agape as I began to persuade them why this was such a great idea—better than wrapped packages of candy and bubble gum. Then came the real question: “Pat, how are we going to pay for something like that? We don’t get allowances, we can’t steal the money, and we’re too young to get jobs!” We agreed to hold another secret meeting in the bedroom after we had several days to ponder how to raise the funds for this special gift.

It was my brother who came up with the first idea. He would scour the neighborhood for empty bottles and return them to the local A&P grocery store, where he would collect a penny or two per bottle. My little sister couldn’t come up with any ideas, being three-years-old and all. I decided to write, edit and publish a neighborhood newsletter and sell it for a penny. And we began our yearlong task to put our pennies into a jar hidden away in my clothes drawer.

After Thanksgiving, we decided to count the coins in the jar, and quickly realized we still had some saving to do if we wanted to go to S.S. Kresge’s five and dime to buy the Nativity set we had set our hearts on. I joined my brother looking for empty bottles and sold more copies of my neighborhood newsletter, which now was christened “The Busy Bee Chronicle.” Each copy was handwritten, and always had a feature story about someone in the neighborhood. Who doesn’t like to see their name in print? Especially around the holidays? I worked at increasing “The Busy Bee’s” circulation.

Then it was Christmas Eve. We checked the coin jar in the morning—we had saved a whopping three dollars! Off my brother and I went to Kresge’s. As we trekked through the snow on Madison Street, we discussed what figures the Nativity set should have: Mary and Joseph, Baby Jesus, an angel, a star, three wisemen, a few shepherds, a cow and a donkey. We were jittery with excitement when we got to the spot in the store where the Nativity sets were sold, and then stood in awe at how many shepherds, Wise men, animals and even the Blessed Family from which we could choose! What to do! After several hours of hemming and hawing over each figurine, we finally made our selection, which totaled two dollars and twenty-five cents. As the sales clerk wrapped each piece in tissue paper, my brother and I decided to spend the rest of the money on a plate of French fries at the soda fountain counter. It was hard work picking out our gift, and we were really hungry by the time we were done. We never told our little sister about the French fries because we didn’t want her to feel bad.

That evening, after everyone had gone to bed and we no longer heard our parents talking in the living room, the three of us tiptoed to the living room and placed our gift under the tree, hoping that Santa wouldn’t come and find us still awake. We were jumping with excitement and kept shushing each other so that we didn’t wake up our parents.

Like every home, Christmas morning came very early. Not only were we excited to open our gifts, we could not wait to see the look on our parents’ faces when they opened their gift from us. I will never forget the look on their faces when they didn’t find paper chains or reindeers, but a Nativity set, with all the major people and animals, plus the angel, a star, a manger with straw—and our very own Baby Jesus. My dad smiled and my mom had tears streaming down her face. They were really touched by what we had done and said it was the best Christmas ever. As wrapping paper went flying all over the room as we opened our gifts, Mom and Dad set up the manger, Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus and all the other cast of characters.

Each year after that, our Nativity Set had a special place under the Christmas tree, and Mom and Dad never tired of hearing the story of that Christmas when their three children came up with a plan to surprise them with a real gift, not just paper chains, but a home for our own Baby Jesus, and we could gaze upon the newborn King to our hearts’ content.

Dad and Mom have since “passed over” to eternity, and that Nativity Set now sits in my house. Mom handed it down to me after I got married and made me promise to repeat the story to our children of the year my brother, sister and I came up with the idea to surprise them for Christmas.

Imagine, a Nativity set and the main cast of characters for only two dollars and twenty-five cents. Imagine, Baby Jesus and his family sitting in our home year after year, blessing each and every one of us with the memories of family love that only Jesus could have given to each of us as a gift, and the promise of salvation to those who believe.

Yes, this is a picture of the Nativity set (the hay disappeared from the manger over the years and the Christmas star has lost its glitter). The white angel to the right was made years later by our youngest son.

Yes, this is a picture of the Nativity set (the hay disappeared from the manger over the years and the Christmas star has lost its glitter). The white angel to the right was made years later by our youngest son.

Welcome Christ, the newborn king

Gifts to you this Christmas.

First, music from Caleb and Whitney Wiley, mid-term missionaries in Madagascar. An original member of ChurchFolk, Caleb now helps believers to create indigenous worship music. Also, music from Pastor Erik Dewar's "Hope in God Psalm Project" Psalm 86.

Second, a Christmas Eve prayer by Wendell C. Hawley from a Pastor Prays for His People

Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

These divinely given titles only partially describe you, baby of Bethlehem.
They cause us to stop—and worship you in wonder and adoration.
No typical baby, you:
You are a matchless gift from the eternal Kingdom.

Wonderful Counselor, we turn to you amidst the complexities of life, for your counsel is sure.
You know all things—the beginning from the end;
with you is no darkness at all, no confusion, no contingencies.
We commit our needs, our way, our life to you—
direct us, Wonderful Counselor.

We turn to you, Mighty God, for we are limited.
In fact, everything we need comes from you.
Your hand is not shortened, not withered,
your thoughts are not clouded,
your purposes are never frustrated.
Nothing less than a Mighty God could reach us,
save us,
keep us,
provide for us,
raise us up in the last day,
where we will be with the Lord forever.

We turn to you, Everlasting Father, Holy Father,
whose care for his children will never be eclipsed.
For some, the picture of a father's care is gravely distorted,
but there is no disappointment with Jesus.
He alone can promise: Cast all your care upon me, for I care for you.
Not just a few cares, not just for today,
but all our cares—forever . . . Everlasting Father.

We turn to you, Prince of Peace, as the only one who can bring peace
to our hearts, our homes,
our cities, our country,
our world.
Unregenerate mankind plots against God and his Anointed One,
but their hideous rebellion shall utterly fail.
Someday—perhaps today—the Prince of Peace will come and make wars to cease;
no more hatred, no more fighting, no more spilling of blood.
Then, not only wise men and shepherds will bow and worship,
but the whole world—every knee—will bow
and acknowledge him as the King of kings, Prince of Peace.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!

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.