Saturday, December 30, 2023

As the Year Ends

 "Oh, the unspeakable benediction of the 'treasures of darkness'! It is not the days of sunshine and splendor and liberty and light that leave their lasting and indelible effect upon the soul, but those nights of the Spirit in which, shadowed by God's hand, hidden in the dark cleft of some rock in a weary land, He lets the splendors of the outskirts of Himself pass before our gaze."    Oswald Chambers

As another year begs a moment of reflection on its treasures, this quote from Chambers catches my interest. His reference to benediction causes my soul to wonder how often I seek His splendor surrounding my "treasures of darkness". A benediction, an ending for a religious ceremony or service, frequently looks to the future with a blessing of hope and peace or an offering of thanksgiving or praise. Chambers seems to be referring to an end of a season of difficulty, reminding that the deepest marks upon the soul, the most hurtful scars do not come from easy times. These times of darkness often grieve us, leaving the soul with "unspeakable" endings and unimagined grace.

Beyond the dark times, my soul hears such grace in knowing that God is with me at all times. Chambers' words clearly depict God's glory coming to us as we struggle "in a weary land". Like God's cloud by day and fire by night dwelling with the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years, God's splendor surrounds us, goes before us, comforts us with His presence. The majesty of God creates a border that envelops our human condition. What glory to behold is ours!

A new year summons each of us into the days and weeks and months to come. How will we consume this time? What will we surrender to God? Who will we employ with our goodwill? Where will we encounter Jesus?  When will our confidence in God be consistent? We have 365 days, 52 weeks, and 8,760 hours to use during this new year. Well, actually this is Leap Year, so we get an extra day!! At the end of 2024, what testimony will my life reveal? How will my soul write its benediction next New Year’s Eve? Happy New Year!! I pray that this new year will be one of joy and peace in knowing the splendor and majesty of God's presence. - dho

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Fourth Sunday in Advent - Love

 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given, . . .
And He will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6-7

Traditions unfold every year at Christmas, like treasures unwrapped with great care. Each holds special significance and reminds the heart. Our traditions mark time as we revisit old pictures and retell the stories, as we carefully place cherished ornaments on this year's tree, as we bake the Christmas cookies once more. Traditions exist in the repetition of experiences but live in the moments of the heart.

In the moments when we know love, laughter, tears, change, joy, or peace, time lives. In between, time passes. During this holy season, as you unwrap your traditions, reflect on the true moments of living, the grace-full gifts, the bountiful blessings God gives. This is the Lord's tradition ~ to bless those who are faithful to Him.

The greatest tradition of Christmas is celebrating the reason for remembering! May we once again unfold the Promise of Emmanuel, God with us. May we know Perfect Love and Extravagant Grace ~ the generosity of His Gift ~ the holiness of His peace. Every time we unwrap this treasure and retell His story, time lives! May this tradition remind us of Christ ~ remind us that He is with us always ~ remind us that He lives ~ remind us that He is coming, again! ~dho

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Third Sunday in Advent - Joy

After seeing [Jesus], the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds' story were astonished  Luke 2:17-18 NLT

On this third Sunday in Advent we light the candle of JOY! The Christmas season is full of reasons to have joy -- to celebrate -- to praise God for such extravagant generosity. Images of angels and choirs of angels awaken our imaginations. Words like Glory and Hallelujah echo the sounds of trumpet and tympani. Church bells and hand bells ring with joy. Our hearts stir and our souls smile as we listen to both story and song. 

This world attempts to steal our joy at every corner. Poverty and plenty contradict while tragedy and truth challenge each other. Within our desire for joy, sadness competes for attention. So how do we keep joy-full when angels and choirs and music are silenced by tragedy? Be like the shepherds and tell the story! Share the wonder of the Christmas! During the Advent season we sing: Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God incarnate, here to dwell. Emmanuel, Emmanuel, Praise His name, Emmanuel. God is with us ~ and that alone is reason for JOY! ~ dho

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Second Sunday in Advent - Peace

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given us;  And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of peace. Isaiah 9:6 NASB

This second Sunday of the Christmas season directs our hearts and minds to peace! What is peace? Tranquilityquiet, harmony, and freedom from oppression are a few words that define peace. It comes from the Latin pacisci meaning 'to agree' while its antonym is war. We value the idea of peace, even the gentleness of peace, and perhaps the security of peace. Although peace is desired, the world is often hostile, loud, augmentative, and full of oppression. As you prepare for Christ this Christmas, where do you find peace? 

In 2011 The Story, a chronological narrative of the Bible, became popular and many churches used it as a teaching format to study the whole Bible. In addition to the book, various Christian musicians wrote and produced a CD to accompany many of the themes. One of the songs Be Born in Me is written from Mary’s perspective, but there is a beautiful lesson for each of us. That chorus is a prayer for us: Make my heart Your Bethlehem; Be born in me. Over 2,000 years ago, Christ enters this world as a baby fulfilling prophecy. The Messiah, the Prince of Peace arrives. Today, as the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us, the peace of Christ becomes our peace. Our hearts become a holy place where love is born. Offer the peace of Christ this Christmas season as you echo the words ~ Make my heart Your Bethlehem; be born in me. ~ dho

Sunday, December 03, 2023

First Sunday in Advent: Hope

Words to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" ~ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.!

On Christmas Eve 1863, during the Civil War, Longfellow wrote the words to this now familiar Christmas carol. Longfellow wrote these words "only six months after the Battle of Gettysburg where over 40,000 soldiers lost their lives. One of the country's most influential writers, he taught literature for seventeen years at Harvard University. His faith in the power of God and man to join and transcend the horrors of war gave birth to this song, inspired by his hearing the ringing of the Christmas bells."* Musical scores have been composed over the years making this a very familiar Christmas carol.

A modern arrangement by Casting Crowns brings a revival of this Hope. (You can listen to it here: ) We all find ourselves is various forms of war every day, and certainly our world knows the deep suffering of divisions. Hope lies in remembering God is Sovereign and in control. In surrendering difficult times to Him, our minds find peace. With thanksgiving for His Unfailing Goodness, our hearts know an inward peace. In times of war, in times of uncertainty we offer prayers and praises to the Love Most High. Comfort is not simply the peace God gives but in knowing God will be with us. This is Everlasting HOPE! ~dho 

* "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"