"It’s really sad, mom, that this bird had to die in the cold like that.”
A nuthatch frozen in the snow found by this boy of mine. Stiff and lifeless he cradles it in his cupped hands and shakes his head.
“It’s sad, I know”, I tell him. “We’ll warm him up anyway and give him a place of rest outside.”
All four candles stand lit on our table now and all five children gather round me each night and we read and eat and open another little window of our chocolate Advent calendar.
Being married to a lineman means I spend many nights doing the reading and the tucking and the singing and the back rubbing alone. And many days doing the wood stacking and the story listening and the correcting of rambunctious boys as well. The Lord sustains me time and again.
It’s less than two days before Christmas and a winter storm is brewing like a big pot of stew right outside my window. We wait and listen for the wind to blow just hard enough to knock out the glow of the Christmas tree and change our plans again.
But even the darkness won’t stop the light from getting through. I’m reminded in my soul; Emmanuel, God is with us.
Not God was with us. But God is with us.
It’s easy to remember him as a baby born in a stable many years ago and change his name to, God was with us. But He is the God of today and of right now, of this hour and of your story and mine.
Emmanuel is, God here right now.
The God who is with us now and working in the secret ways of hearts shifting and eyes clearing, open to His call.
Because without him even the softest of hearts can feel as frozen and lifeless as a dead nuthatch in a child’s hands.
He is here and He is working an unbelievable story in your life, even when you can’t see anything happening. And even if what is happening isn’t ideal (our power is now out).
So, we wait on this darkest of dark nights with no tree lights. Three little flames flicker in our big living room and all six of our bodies huddle close and we read the story of Zechariah and Elisabeth, Cousin John and beloved Mary, tried and true Joseph, and The Wonderful baby Jesus.
In the dark I bring the light with all that’s in me through the story of a savior’s birth. They listen in without complaint to the Word brought again and again into their hearts.
And we wait, just as I know you are. Waiting for tomorrow’s light and all that comes with the Eve of a Christmas Day. And inside, all we really want for Christmas are the hands of God to cup our weary bodies and warm our frozen hearts to beating again. It's what we all really need this Christmas.
So, go ahead, in the dark of the night with the wind howling and tossing about the flakes of snow, let the cold places of your heart be cradled by the hands of the one who came to the cradle himself all those years ago.
Emmanuel, God with us.
I was mid-tip toward my coffee mug with the quart of creamer when I remembered the story from the night before. The one about the old man in Aldi my daughter witnessed who had cashed out behind us. I hadn’t noticed. The man who, from her view, couldn’t quite foot the bill of all that had ventured down the belt.
“Did you want to put something back?” The sweet cashier asked. He had looked longingly at his few items, weighing the needs. Finally pushing aside two of them he deemed unnecessary; a bag of white sugar and a quart of 1/2 & 1/2. The same two things I add to my coffee every morning.
But not this morning - this morning I stop and remember hearing the story from my girl and how my heart sank. How could I have missed this? We were sipping our tea when she told me. Sweet cream mingled with honey and the zesty orange flavor of Earl Gray in my cup, a few assorted treats sat on my saucer beside it - and the picture of a man who could afford neither the sweet nor the creamy, imprinted on my heart. We could do nothing more than stop and pray.
“Dear Jesus, be with the man at the store. Bless him, comfort him in all his troubles, send loved ones around him, whisper truth to his broken heart...”
I drink my coffee black in the morning and submit the same prayers to God for the man I failed to notice.
The children and I have been reading psalm 23 for over a month now. Studying it, memorizing it, reading other people’s thoughts on it, soaking it deep into our beings. There’s a verse I’m sure is familiar to many that’s been hitting me hard this time around.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...”
The valley of the shadow of death, the one we’ll all face one day simply because we live on earth. Truly, if you’re here, you will without a doubt, be met with the shadow of death.
But can I tell you something interesting about this verse, something hopeful? The psalm says you walk THROUGH it. You don’t stay in it, or get lost in it, or fall in it. You walk right on through it! If you’re following the Good Shepherd, Jesus, that is.
This psalm is written to those who give their lives and hearts to Him who guarantees His presence through every dark and shadowy valley. The one who gives all good gifts and leaves nothing of want in us, who hems us in ahead and behind and cradles our restless minds in a meadow of green pasture.
He is the only shepherd to never leave you in your troubles, in your valley, in your own mess, or the darkness that’s reaching for your soul. He wraps you in His kindness, His attentiveness, His true and unfailing love.
And then, He arranges a table for you even in the darkest of places surrounded by the darkest of people. And He draws up a chair, or a cushion, or a mat, or however you can imagine a table created just for you by The One who keeps track of every hair on your head. It's there you find peace, and life, and the breath that felt knocked out of your lungs returns and you realize every low and rocky terrain leads only up again to the hilltop.
Black coffee and dark valleys will never be my preference, I’m sure the man at the store would agree. But with Jesus as my Shepherd, whether my mug brims over with sugar-coated froth or the bitter, nutty taste I try to avoid, He is with me. With you. And with the old man in line behind me. Even in the darkest of valley.
Be willing to be shepherded today by God. Rest in His care, ask and He will answer, trust and He will sustain you, reach and He will restore your soul.
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
"My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows. I am withering away like grass." Psalm 102:11