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.

(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!
Amen.

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.