The Greatest Gift

 

 

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Have I mentioned I have an Advent book?

Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift. Unwrapping the full love story of Christmas.

I received it as a gift for my birthday in October and I have been saving it up ever since. Its a small hardback volume with a pretty snow driven photo cover and it’s by my favourite devotional writer, Ann Voskamp. If you have never read anything by dear Ann, check out her website which is currently full to the brim with Christmassy writing that she sends out from a scrubbed pine table in the kitchen of her old wooden farmhouse on the snowy Canadian plains, (or at least thats how I like to imagine it). In between homeschooling her six beautiful children, caring for the farmer and a barn full of pigs and travelling the world as an advocate for the poorest of the world’s women and children she writes simply the best stress busting, Jesus centred pieces that you will find anywhere on the web.

As you can tell I’m quite a fan!

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I took the book in the car with me when we drove over to the Christmas Markets in Manchester last Saturday and I was blown-away-breathless from the first page. I read one short paragraph and then closed the book tight, savoured it and wondered if I dared to go on. It’s almost too much loveliness for one solitary reader to bear. Such beautiful writing, bringing the salvation story alive with sparkling brilliance on a dreary Lancashire motorway ride. Here on the page, there would be enough in a single sentence to feed a hungry heart for a week.

I’ve included a short extract below. Does anyone tell it so well? She has captured a universal sized mystery and held it there in her hand, a gentle grasp, held just long enough to be examined, then released undamaged but remembered in words.

This quote is from the introductory chapter of the book.

“Big and glossy and loud and fast – that’s how this bent up world turns.

But God when he comes _ He shows up in this fetal ball.

He who carved the edges of the cosmos curved Himself into a fetal ball in the dark, tethered Himself to the uterine wall of a virgin, and lets His cells divide, light splitting all white.

He gave up the heavens that were not even large enough to contain Him and lets Himself be held in a hand.

The mystery so large becomes the Baby so small, and infinite becomes infant. 

The giver becomes the Gift, this quiet offering.

This heart beating in the chest cavity of a held child, a thrumming heart beating hope, beating change, beating love, beating the singular song you’ve been waiting for – that the whole dizzy planet’s been spinning round waiting for.”

Does anyone else write about the incarnation quite like this?

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Our Advent traditions

 

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Our Advent traditions are slow coming. I’m still in the process of urging myself out of some pretty punishing holiday routines such as refusing to put the tree up until the Saturday before Christmas, even when Christmas day is on a Sunday.

In the church kitchen after the meeting on Sunday morning, my friend asked if I thought it was too early to put up the tree. My friend was brought up in a mission church where celebrating Christmas was frowned upon and relegated to a place of forbidden worldliness along with the cinema, dancing and drinking. I raised myself on my own anti-religion ideas, where I shunned the empty traditions of the past in pursuit of a purer version of our faith, faithful to the patterns of the church of Acts where there was clearly no turkey, no tree and no Santa. Back in those days we were sincerely searching for (and so so often finding) new possibilities in God outside the traditions of denominations, church calendars, rules and theologies. This was not simply ‘putting Christ back into Christmas’. This was putting Christ into the centre of his church and into the centre of our lives, radically, for good. I don’t regret those years. They were good times. Part of a wonderful church family, we shared joys and pains, births and marriages, successes and failures, every part of a worshipping life but we never had a carol service or a Christmas morning meeting. Not in all those years together.

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But you can get religious about these things. It is possible to become so religious about not being religious that you alienate yourself from the heart of Christ and you can do this in any season of the year or any season of life but know this: He will always call you back.

God has called us back to Christ. It is His constant, ever loving, all embracing way. He has called us back to Christ and we have responded honestly and authentically or by coming to him weak at the knees. Everyone of us fearfully and wonderfully made, we are many and we are different, one church of Christ celebrating him in a thousand different ways. Multiply that as many times as there are children of God on the earth and by the number of seconds in a day and understand the freedom there is for you to be yourself before your God. Because He loves you so thoroughly there is a softer and kinder way of finding peace and purpose. Peace and purpose in the heart of a crumbling world in the busiest, most stressful, consumer driven time of the year.

I have found God in the beautiful world outside my window and in the pictures I can frame with the lens of my camera. I have found Him in slow readings of familiar gospel stories, in galleries and in songs. I have found him in my family, right there in the saddest most messed up days, restoring, reconciling, healing and helping. And always, I have found Him in His church, for we know it now more than ever before; Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Christmas incarnation, Easter redemption or Whitsuntide empowering. A real-time embracing of God made flesh, emboldened in meals share round a table, a little outdoor beauty brought in from the cold, choosing gifts for the people who matter or talking with a friend on a long winter walk. We take the children out to the park and feed the ducks. We hang a wreath on the front door, decorate the tree, put seed out for the birds and cut paper and ribbon to wrap up gifts. When it snow we watch soft flakes of white fall against the low sky and pull on boots and mittens to go outside and play.

I am not responsible for putting Christ back into Christmas. I can no more do that than I can lay a measuring tape across the unknown universe or hold back the tide with my hand. But whilst the whole heaving world groans with the pain of war and hunger, addiction and lost love, I will do everything within my power to bring the peace and joy of Christ and His Christmas into my heart and home. There is a portion of time, laid bare before me, waiting to be filled and I will fill it with more of Him because that is what we all need for Christmas.

 

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Let’s give ourselves permission to fully enjoy our Christmas! This is what I will be doing for Advent:

  • Reading. I will be putting out some Christmas themed favourites on the coffee table. To create an old world Christmas feel in the lands of my own imagination I will be reading Dickens. For devotional reading I have been saving up on Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift.
  • Prayer. I’m keeping the calendar as free as I can, staying in more, taking the days slowly, finding a prayer pace fit to compete with and overcome the busyness and stress of the season.
  • Candles. Lucy will light the candles for us most evenings when we are at home and make sure we have a supply of tea lights, dinner candles and scented candles to carry us through to new year. We also have a holder for 24 candles, arranged in a spiral. One candle can be lit on each day of Advent and we have positioned a small olive wood nativity scene in the centre next to the 24th candle.
  • Flowers. Flowers, evergreens and Spring bulbs. I love the juxtaposition of wintery evergreen next to Spring bulbs: a vase of holly and white roses next to a small bowl of nursery forced hyacinths.
  • Baking. At one time we would have a different Christmas dessert on the six weekends leading up to Christmas to ensure we could enjoy all the flavours of the pudding seasons spread over time: Mount blanc, mince pies, home baked stollen, cranberry upside down cake, chocolate cake with chestnut puree, iced cookies and gingerbread. I will be asking for help in the kitchen.
  • Walks. Less shopping, more walking. Less time on the high street more time out under the sky.

PS. I have new camera – no more iPhone Instagram cheats for me!