Intermezzo: Coming New Year’s Day

2020-12-29 New Years Day Coming SoonWell, it’s almost that day of the year when we turn over a new leaf (or snowflake if you’re lucky enough to live far enough north to enjoy the miraculous white powder).

In any case, lots of leaves have been turned over this year that many of us did not expect!  Job losses, especially in the service and food sectors, mandates from new czars formerly known as governors, isolation from nursing homes and hospital patients, mistreatment or murder of citizens based on the color of their skin, Marxist style riots dubiously based on claims of racial profiling, conflicts of electoral processes with questions of electoral integrity, a Supreme Court confirmation liberals detested, deaths of dear friends or relatives with the Wuhan Virus (I am NOT racist against Chinese – I MARRIED one! Wuhan was simply where the virus started.)  Yes, lots of changes none of us could have predicted.

So now there is another “leaf” to turn over.  We pray that things will begin to return to “normal” with the virus vaccine roll-outs from Pfizer and Moderna promising that we may see a flattening of the pandemic curve after a year of spikes and information overload that reported too quickly on social media what would best be left for biologists to work out over a couple years. 

The election should be finalized January 6th with Congress certifying the results of the electoral college, and we may have a politician for president who used to be a good compromiser with opponents in the Senate.  We’ll see if he is as good at getting compromises from extremists in his own party or in getting concessions from conservatives who think the election was stolen.

Conspiracy theories filled the “fake news” on both sides of the liberal/conservative divide.  They rivaled Hilary Clinton’s “vast right wing conspiracy,” but put the blame on her camp this time round with the Democracy-Alliance attempting to overthrow the next mid-term elections.  “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” = “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” 

2020-12-29Anita and I walked around our neighborhood and enjoyed the Christmas decorations, especially those that acknowledge Jesus’ real purpose in coming to earth.  He was uniquely born to die, not as an accident of activity or disease.  His express reason for creating a body inside Mary, using her DNA, was so that He could go to the cross and pay a penalty for our sin and selfishness, giving of Himself freely to redeem us into eternal life.  So now, though the outward man perishes the inner man can be renewed day by day until we pass from this vaporous short-term existence into the Real Life that Jesus initiated for us by rising from the dead.

2020-12-29 LuminariaOur subdivision, Copperfield, put out Luminaria by providing everyone in our 433 houses with paper bags, sand and tea lights.  Though slightly sparse (only five per house), it gave a sense of community to our neighborhood that has been missed this year with no Clubhouse activities and restricted pool use.  The display turned out very effectively to show we are all responsible for the light we shine.

2020-12-29 Christmas TreeOur Christmas tree has so many ornaments collected on our travels that we only use a few of the usual generic bulbs.  The tree that went up just before Thanxgiving Day will probably stay up through January.  Christmas is not even celebrated in some places until January 7, and Candlemas, the celebration of the traditional view of Jesus’ presentation at the Temple is not until February 1.  Besides, the lighted tree with all its memorial embellishments makes the dark wintry nights feel just a little brighter as the days begin to slowly lengthen since the winter solstice is past.  A friend in Johnston, Rhode Island used to leave their Christmas tree up all year long, just covering it with a sheet to keep dust off . . . unless someone came to visit; then they would reveal the tree in all its glory whether the month was May or July!  Here are a few of our “annual” ornaments.

So now another year ends and another begins, as we count the years.  (We have not always counted this way, and even now, other cultures . . . count differently.)  Several people have asked me what I do in my days now that I have officially retired.  These days, memberships, subscriptions, and a dizzying array of content to watch and listen to abound.  In fact, I still have not begun to clean my basement (now my excuse is that it is too cold 🙂 ).  Enjoy your time with your family.  Stay safe and healthy into the New Year, and we will see what Father has planned for us in 2021.

Christmas Eve, Snicker Doodles, Church Services and a Movie!

IMG_1532Christmas Eve day and we are sitting at our computers sending out delinquent e-cards to friends all over the world, as snow covers the roofs of houses around us.  Well, it’s covering ours as well, but we are inside with no plans to go out into the 26F weather (-3C).  We were out this morning in a the balmy 34F (1.5C) which was as warm as it is going to get today, to deliver some cookies to one of our dearest friends here in Lex and a student we are thinking about adopting (just kidding, Neng!!)

IMG_1588A couple of days ago, we had sunny and cold weather and stopped to take a selfie by a creche some neighbors put up every year.  There is a reason it is called “Christ”mas, you know! 😉

Yesterday I baked a bunch of cookies, not really Christmasy, but I have been bitten by the “baking bug” since several blogs I follow are foodie journals with recipes that make my mouth water as I read them.  One of them from beautybeyondbones convinced me I could smell the Kari-Kari!

So for my second food blog (my first was about pumpkin pie!), this is my report on making butterscotch snicker-doodles.  Easy as pie . . . well, actually a LOT easier than pie! 🙂

Ingredients:
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
dash of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Start by assembling all the ingredients because it won’t take long to prepare.
Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
Bring the butter to room temperature or soften in the oven or microwave. (Do NOT melt it!)
“Cream” the eggs and vanilla, adding the butter and sugar until it is fully dissolved.  I used my mother’s old Sunbeam mixer that she gave us when she was still on earth.  It is an antique but still works like a charm!  Use a low setting on your mixer so you do not whip the eggs.  It should be a smooth cream, thus the term for the instruction.  Afterward, add the butterscotch chips and continue blending into the cream.
Add the flour, salt and baking soda and blend at a little faster speed until it forms a sticky dough.
As each ingredient is added, spatula the sides to make sure you get all the goodness! 😉
Dust a baking sheet with flour (and some for your fingers!) and form the dough into 1-2″ balls (3-5cm).
Place about 2″ (4-5cm) apart on the baking sheet, and bake for about 8-10 minutes until set, but not too hard.
They should be pretty soft to the touch when browned but will set up as they cool.
Put on a cooling rack or silicone sheet to cool.
Didn’t I tell you this was easy!?

We will “attend” a Christmas Eve meeting at First Alliance Church here in Lexington, KY, at 3:30 EST and visit another in Colorado at 5:30 MST.  Join us online if you want to see some cool candlelight services with those brave enough to attend in-person.  Then, tonight we’ll watch Jim Carrey’s version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol and “settle down for a long winter’s nap.”

So with a couple of pumpkin pies, pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins, pecan pies and now shortbread and butterscotch snicker-doodles under my belt (figuratively and LITERALLY!), I’m going to wish all y’all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and only blog once more until 2021 . . . oh, that’s just week away!

(Just so ya know, “y’all” is singular in Kentucky; “all y’all” is the plural! 🙂 D))))

Merry Christmas to all y’all and to all y’all a good night!

IMG_1607

The Only Gift That Matters

2020-12-19 The Only Gift That Matters
Which gift really matters?

“Tis the season to be jolly, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-laaaa.”  However, each year of holidays, each snow-globe and Christmas tree, each string of lights spangling the neighborhood can bring anything but jollity to a wounded heart.  There is so much power in UN-forgiveness!  It smothers the jolly out of a mall Santa’s belly laugh easier than pricking a balloon with a needle.  Every “Merry Christmas,” every brightly wrapped present, every Hallmark Christmas movie becomes a slap in the face that strengthens its stranglehold on its stooges.  Even Pentatonix’ Carol of the Bells sounds off-key when the ears have been tuned by unforgiveness.  (Stay with me and we’ll get to the gift.)  

Unforgiveness can endure temperatures as extreme as a solar flares to an icebox on Pluto.  It can live without oxygen or nitrogen; no amount of cajoling or caroling can calm it; even Biblical commands come up against it powerless in the free will of the person holding it.  Unforgiveness is the most stubborn stain in the human heart.  AND add to all that, it can even masquerade as forgiveness in those of us who know the Bible well enough to hide behind platitudes of Max Lucado quotes or even memorized Scripture verses. UN-forgiveness.

2020-12-19 Lysa TerKeurst

The most difficult thing about unforgiveness is its grip on the heart once it grabs you.   Lysa TerKeurst understands this as well as anyone I have read.  She notes in her introduction to Forgiving What You Can’t Forget that “you can’t fake yourself into being okay with what happened.”  She recognizes that when we have someone who needs our forgiveness, we do NOT need someone who does not realize how deep the hurt goes nor do we need someone to “boss [us] around as if forgiveness should be easier.” Unforgiveness replays what happened over and over; it takes what happened and tricks us into thinking it was either better or worse than it was; it makes us imagine the way things could have been instead of acknowledging what is.

Yet, she knows the power of forgiveness is greater than that of unforgiveness.  ” ‘I forgive’ . . . In the split second of that utterance, evil is arrested, heaven touches earth, and the richest evidence of the truth of the gospel reverberates not just that day but for generations to come.”   She has figured out there will still be “triggers” that bring us back to the pain or offense, and that this may be a long process.  Forgiveness rarely happens in a moment, though it must begin that way.  We learn in TerKeurst’s book that “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” (Martin Luther King)

“I know God’s instructions by heart – forgive and you will be forgiven . . . Forgiveness did not seem to work for me.  So please don’t ask me to forgive like Jesus forgives.  I’m not Jesus.”  Still she concludes “those who cooperate most fully with forgiveness really are those who dance most freely in the beauty of redemption.”

The focus of her book is to help us take away from the people that have offended us their power to keep on hurting us, and her wise advice takes the reader step by step through a process more familiar to her than she would wish.  She list some marks of unforgiveness as:
1. I fear the offense will be repeated.
2. Hanging onto a grudge gives me a sense of control over something that felt unfair.
3. The pain altered my life and no one ever validated it.
4. Forgiveness feels like it trivializes what happened.
5. I still feel very hostile toward the one who hurt me.
6. I am not ready to forgive.
7. I still feel hurt.
8. No one has apologized or even acknowledged the wrong.
9. I cannot even talk to, much less stay in a relationship, with the one who hurt me.
10. Forgiveness will give them false hope that I want to reestablish the relationship.
11. It’s easier to ignore this person than to try to figure out boundaries so they won’t be able to continue hurting me.
12. What they did was unchangeable so forgiveness will not change anything.
13. The person who hurt me is no longer here and I cannot forgive someone to whom I cannot talk.
14. No good will come from forgiving since it’s been so long ago.

Yet Father commands us to forgive, echoed in Jesus words, For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  But how?  Why?  When?  Are there no exceptions?  Doesn’t this command itself cruelly add to the injury?  These questions are adroitly addressed in the text. 

But forgive and forget?  As Ms. TerKeurst points out, that is not in the Bible.  Yes, God chooses not to remember our sins, but it is not as if He who knows everything about us can actually “forget.”  He simply chooses not to focus on those things when He looks at us.  And so Forgiving What You Can’t Forget basically takes the reader through God’s processes of learning how to look past the sin and see someone He loves.  

“We can’t change what we have experienced but we can choose how the experience changes us.”  And therein lies the power of forgiveness so that Lucado’s quote becomes livable as we are set free from the bondage of unforgiveness: “Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner!”  You see, one of the biggest problems with forgiveness is that the person who needs to be forgiven does NOT deserve it!  Like C.S.Lewis said, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a great idea, until they have something to forgive.” 

So what is The Only Gift That Matters?  I am sure you have figured it out by now: it is Forgiveness.  That is what Jesus came to the world to give to us.  It is what He gives us grace upon grace so that we can give it to others.  It is what assures us of our redemption, that we have eternal life in the Son of God who loved us so much that He was willing to leave the azure halls of heaven, come to a dirty little backwater town in an occupied country, join an oppressed people and die a cruel unjust death rather than let us wallow in the enslavement of UN-forgiveness.

Spend your money on trinkets and baubles, pretty dresses and fancy meals, gimmicks and gags of Christmas gifts (please, no socks or neckties! 😉 ). But receive from Jesus The Only Gift That Matters and pass it along to someone else who does not deserve it any more than you or I did.

2020-12-19 The Only Gift That Matters is the Cross
The Only Gift That Matters



Intermezzo: President-Elect Joe Biden – Chosen By God

The Electoral College on Monday began voting to make President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election official.(NBC News) “According to an NBC News tally, Biden was leading Trump by 240 votes to 229 as of 4 p.m. ET. Biden will mark the occasion with an address to the country around 7:30 p.m. ET on Monday.”

Finally, after five weeks of “officially” calling the election, a major news network is finally admitting they made a mistake. Well, not in so many words, like “We’ve been lying to you all month.” But NBC News just announced the Electoral College vote which would “make Joe Biden’s 2020 victory official.”

Since the Associated Press called the “official” results on the night of November 3rd, most of the mainstream media echoed this theme, calling Trump’s contesting “baseless, without evidence, a false narrative” and other pejorative terms to make sure we all “knew” that there was “nothing to see here, folks.” In spite of significant irregularities and multiple legal affidavits affirming suspicions of voter fraud and machine tampering (subject to criminal prosecution if lying), the courts, including some judges appointed by Trump, avoided the conflict to stay out of politics.

Whether the outcome of these complaints by the Trumpers would have changed what Democrats expected to happen, it disturbs me that the media continued to pile on that he was “trying to overturn the election,” when what his legal team was trying to do was assert that the election was not over until the legal challenges had been heard.

Unfortunately, inaction is itself a form of action, and only God can assess whether the judges were just afraid of the leftist mobs that would attack if they validated any of the questions, or if they truly believed that Trump’s team had no legal basis for challenging the election processes in the contested states. I am not a lawyer and have not read any of the briefs presented to the courts. In any case, unless Trump “pulls a rabbit out of the hat” (as I have referenced his winning before), and gets Congress to refute the Electoral College, throwing the election into the House of Representatives, then Biden will have prevailed, however dubiously.

Thucydides, about 400 years Before Christ, said in his History of the Peloponnesian War, “In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it.” While this is true in any democratic/republican election, it is particularly concerning that this election was SOOO close in the so-called “battle-ground states” that it is very possible there were illegal activities that delivered the election to Biden.

However, as a Christ-follower I must keep in mind that it is my Father who actually determines our leaders per Daniel and Paul in the Bible: He removes kings [presidents] and sets up kings [presidents].”  (Daniel 2:21) “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 12:21-31:1) Thus, whether illegal actors or incompetent officials were responsible in human terms for the outcome of this election, I must admit that God has chosen the Biden/Harris ticket for our next president and vice-president.

That does not mean Christ-followers should simply lie down now and let the pro-abortionists, the Green New Deal, and the antisemitism of the BDS congress people bowl us over into submission to ungodly activities. But we must tread carefully and make sure the places we take stands are, in fact, places Jesus would stand. We ARE supposed to be “little Christs,” the derisive term that initially got us called Christians. It may be that some of us will have to take stands as Jesus did before Pilate and the Sanhedrin and allow ourselves to be crucified. Isn’t that what being a “little Christ” means?

As a Christ-follower, I am enjoined by the apostle Paul to pray for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. NOTE: we are to pray FOR them, not against them. (See https://capost2k.wordpress.com/2020/04/05/who-are-you-praying-for-during-this-wuhan-virus-crisis/.) This may be difficult if you voted for Trump, but I did not write the rule book. You may want to check out Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa TerKeurst for some guidance on dealing with what many of us consider “unforgivable sins,” remembering that there is only one thing that goes by that ID. And Ms. TerKeurst addresses how one deals with the frustration of forgiving someone who does not want or ask for it; well worth reading.

So whether you voted for our President-elect or the current President, let your faith grow into Jesus. God did not make a mistake. Now, how will we react to what God is going to do in our nation? How will we participate in what God wants to do for our neighbor?

Guest Blog: Christmas In Mongolia

Cup of Cold Water Ministries has servants who represent Jesus in ten countries, around the world, including Bolivia, Ghana, Thailand and Mongolia.  This terrific organization, though small, supplies a niche service to international workers, most of whom are doing “tent-making” and combining social services along with Gospel presentation; living out Jesus’ instruction, “whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Recently, they began facilitating the ministry of Tuvsho whom my wife and I met when we taught at The Mongolian International University in 2013.  We saw first hand the change in the environment of Ulaanbataar (Ulan Bator) from the early autumn to the wintry pollution when temps reach down to -30F (-34C) and residents burn almost anything to stay warm in their gers (yurts) and unheated houses. Below are pictures of Ulaanbataar in summer and winter, and of the ger districts. The city, originally planned for a population of about 200,000, now houses 1,500,000, over a third of them living in urban areas with inadequate solid waste management, limited water supply, and no utilities other than electricity.

But the largest challenge is the young people who often seem to have no hope of a viable future in Ulaanbataar. That is where Tuvsho and Quinnie come in with a HoME, a Heart of Mentoring. They have a team, a Board of Directors and a system of accountability to do the work to which Father has called them.  You can find out more about them and the service they are providing to at-risk youth in Ulaanbataar at https://www.ccwm.org/tuvsho.

I encourage you to consider a tax-deductible Christmas gift to HoME this year so that Tuvsho and her team can complete construction of the post-“orphanage” residence she is building, and the provisions for guidance and job-skill development for children as they grow too old to stay in the social-welfare system.
____________________

christmas Dec 9
Written By Tuvsho

It is a custom in Mongolian families to decorate a Christmas tree as a symbol of a New Year celebration. Because we are a post-Soviet nation, Christmas, which is considered a religious holiday, is not something many celebrate.

I used to have a “New Year Tree” too, and it was always the most exciting time of the year to put the tree up, decorate it with ornaments and see its lights glitter and shine with different colors.  Guests would come and put some money on the tree as a gift and we would collect them when we took the tree down after New Year.

Now I call my tree a Christmas Tree.  Most of my family has not yet chosen to follow Jesus but they all know that I have.  This year I found my six year old nephew praying to the tree and making his wishes right after we finished putting it up and turning on its lights on.  Although I knew his prayers to a tree were pointless, I sensed a genuine prayer full of pure joy and hope, and that was not pointless.  I believe God hears those prayers.  I remember when I was a young girl praying out to anything or anyone that would hear me saying, “God, Buddha, Jesus, Mohamed…whoever is the real God please listen!”  I know that the real God, the true Creator, heard my prayers.

Something about that tree caused my nephew to want to pray.  I believe it is the message behind it all, the true Redeemer who has come for all of us.  My Christmas tree and the star on the top brings my family and many others together just like that star, the star of Bethlehem, brought people to Jesus.  May many little hearts be guided by the message of the star and even the excitement of Christmas to find Jesus in this New Year.

tuvsho

Intermezzo: Election Embroilments Endure a Little Longer

2020-12-09 Intermezzo Election Embroilments

“A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”  Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, whose father was Jewish.

In these troubled times, it is disconcerting that there is so much confusion over the news outlets that are supposed to inform us.  Mark Twain once remarked, “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.”  How much more so when a president accuses media of fomenting fake news, and then the media cooperates by declaring an “official” winner in a disputed election, as if the Associated Press or CNN or Fox News had the prerogative to make claims that are the exclusive domain of the Electoral College.  Fortunately this will all be over soon as far as the election is concerned.  January 20, which is the only certain deadline in the Constitution, is barely over a month away.

2020-12-09 Biden vs Trump

But I fear for our Democratic Republic that the troubles that plagued Trump’s summer of 2020 will not go away whether Biden or Trump prevail by January 20, 2021.  “Trumpers” will likely not riot en masse in response to a Biden win as some of the pundits are predicting.  Conservatives tend to be more conservative than that.  Sporadic and short-lived eruptions of fringe-right groups may occur, but even most conservatives will condemn them.

On the other hand, groups of Biden’s supporters are expecting big allowances and favored treatment if he wins.  If Biden does not acquiesce, but instead attempts to “reach across the aisle” as he has in the past as a senator, even he will inflame riotous antagonism to his attempts to unify the nation.  If Trump pulls a rabbit out of the hat and wins, all hell will break loose with almost civil war arising from the factions that supported Biden.  If Biden finally prevails some on the left are calling for a “scorched earth policy” for anyone who even considered supporting Trump.

My encouragement to Christ-followers is to recognize that Father will decide which of the contenders will be sworn in as president on January 20, 2021.  Daniel said explicitly that He removes kings [presidents] and sets up kings [presidents].”  Paul reaffirmed this perspective to the Romans, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

We might ask incredulously, “Really? Lenin, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Xi, Putin, Bush, Obama, Trump?”  Let’s address this more fully after 2021 has begun, but suffice it to say for now, the Bible is explicit: “There is NO authority except from God.”

In spite of the troubling news about Smartmatic, Sequoia Voting Systems, and Dominion Voting Systems, when we think are in control, or they think “they” are in control, there is actually a Sovereign Ruler who can override any of our apparent tricks or decisions.  Even that democratic defender of  deterrence, the ever-honest-1/164th-Native-American Elizabeth Warren worried about the electronic voting systems as recently as December, 2019.  But she and her colleagues did not have to worry.  The international intrigue that surround the electronic voting systems will in the end only fulfill Father’s decision.

In the 18th century, Joseph de Maistre said “Democracies get the leaders they deserve.”  So it is that Jimmy Carter was our last really honest and Godly president, and he only lasted one term because of his commitment to do what really was best for the nation as a whole, instead of pandering to selfish special interest groups, as each subsequent president has increasingly done.

As long as we constantly look for our own personal advantage, for our own political goals and our own financial security we will miss what God intends for us: lives of peace, security, and blessing, but not blessing to sit back and enjoy, and let the rest of the world go to hell.  His blessings are always for the sharing of His Good News with others who are in need.

So while the election winds down to its conclusion, the pandemic keeps us from loved ones at the holidays, and wildfires burn up California while internationally alarmists warn of even greater so-called “climate-change crises,” remember Who is really in control.  And remember His love, even for His enemies, which at one time included you . . . and ME!  And follow in His steps.

Guest Blog: The Night Before and After Christmas

The Night after Christmas, It Was Still Dark
How the story of the shepherds changes our view of suffering.
by Jeff Peabody – November 27, 2020 – Good reading in Christianity Today.

The little Palestinian town of Beit Sahour is believed to sit atop the site where “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8).  Two churches claim to mark the spot of the angelic visitation.  But that is just geography.  This year I find myself less interested in the where of the fields because I am more concerned with the when — the “at night” Luke briefly mentions.  The shepherds’ experience of darkness, both before and after their trip to the manger, holds special relevance for a Christmas arriving in the waning hours of 2020.

It has been a pretty dark year.  In the midst of already dire global conditions, the pandemic has plunged the world into what has seemed like an endless metaphorical nighttime.  It calls to mind when God brought the plague of darkness on Egypt, describing it to Moses as “darkness that can be felt” (Exodus 10:21).  Once again, something palpable seems to have blanketed the world with all the unknowns, fears, and uncertainties nightfall brings.  And as with most nights, we are weary.

Merry Christmas, right?

Maybe the sentiment is not as incongruous as it feels. Maybe the season of joy is right at home in these conditions. “Advent always begins in the dark,” writes Fleming Rutledge.

For most of my years as a pastor, it has felt as though I have been shepherding at night, in the dark.  No grand visions.  No mapped-out growth strategy.  I have prayed regularly for the light-up-the-sky kind of illumination realized by the Bethlehem shepherds.  Just show me what to do, God, and I will do it.  But my eyes have never been able to focus very far ahead.

That blindness became amplified by all that happened this year, like moving from twilight to midnight.  Suddenly, I could not see two steps in front of me.  Staring into a camera week after week to deliver sermons, I could not even see the flock, let alone the fields.  Each new crisis in the world begged for a response I did not have.  Big decisions and future planning became increasingly difficult, even as the need for them intensified.

The Old Testament book of Joel recounts a disastrous pestilence that wreaked havoc on God’s people.  It brought widespread, horrific destruction. In reflecting on those events, Eugene Peterson observed, “There is a sense in which catastrophe doesn’t introduce anything new into our lives. It simply exposes the moral or spiritual reality that already exists but was hidden beneath an overlay of routine, self-preoccupation, and business as usual.”

The virus we are facing may be novel, but the distress we are experiencing is not.  The preexisting darkness has simply grown thicker, making it more difficult to move.  But immobility is not always bad.  When we cannot go anywhere, we are left with sitting and waiting. And if we are still for any length of time, we are more likely to notice what we would have missed otherwise.

Such as those two little words: “at night.”

That first Christmas night created a watershed between epochs of darkness. There is pre-manger darkness and post-manger darkness.  “The shepherds returned,” Luke says, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20).  After everything they saw, they returned to the place they had started.  In other words, they went back to that dark night.

All the brilliant, phosphorescent glory that lit up the entire sky did not end their experience of darkness.  It was still there, waiting for them on the far side of the manger.  And that was to be expected.  The angels had not visited the shepherds to bring a miraculous halt to the rotation of the earth.  They were not there to banish the night.  Glory displayed for one purpose only: to provide the irresistible prompt to seek out Jesus.  A flash of light showed the way to a greater light.

This, I have realized, is where I have often gotten hung up.  I have been praying for a light that will eradicate the dark altogether and get me out of it. I am looking — aching, at times — for clear, confident revelation that will end my confusion for good.  I have been waiting for God to solve life for me.  But honestly, that is more escapism than seeking God’s leading.  And that is not why he gives us light.  He shines his beams of revelation to show us the path to Jesus, the light of the world.

We can learn to reframe our questions from “Lord, when will this darkness be over?” to “What is pointing me toward Christ?” As we do, we may find there is significantly more light in the room than we realized.

The angel’s message began with the reassurance that there was no need to be afraid because God’s rescue plan was in motion.  It encompassed everything (offering joy for all people) and missed nothing (down to the details of how Jesus was bundled).  God’s grasp of history and his utter command of the situation were fully evident.  The birth of Christ happened before the angels arrived, during the unlit hours of the night.  The angelic announcement may have shattered the gloom with its brightness, but the miraculous arrival of Jesus occurred much like his resurrection: “while it was still dark” (John 20:1).

God is at work before we see him, absolutely unhindered.  Our blindness is not His.  “Even the darkness will not be dark to you,” the psalmist says (Psalm 139:12).  He is not intimidated by all the unknowns of night that stop us in our tracks.

That first Christmas night created a watershed between epochs of darkness.  There is pre-manger darkness and post-manger darkness.

Up until then, no one had ever lived in a world where the Son of God had dwelt among us as a fellow human being.  Prior to the Incarnation, God had not fully revealed himself.  As the shepherds sat out in those fields, they were living in a world that could see no more than the outlines of God’s redemption plan.  The veil had not been torn yet.

But then, as Isaiah predicted, a light dawned on the people sitting in that pre-manger darkness.  The birth of Christ changed everything.  Suddenly, there was physical evidence of spiritual action.  The hopes of endless ages were no longer abstract wishes.  They were about to be fulfilled within the lifespan of a real live person.

It was the reality of Jesus — not the light of the angels — that stuck with the shepherds.  As glorious as the heavenly choir had looked and sounded out in the field, it paled in comparison to the staggering truth the Christ child embodied.  Even as they were filled with wonder, the shepherds were given only the smallest glimpse of what was coming.  Their understanding was limited to whatever promise they could imagine from a newborn baby.  They did not know he would literally calm storms.  They did not see him heal the sick or raise the dead or feed the crowds.  They knew nothing of the Cross, let alone the Resurrection.  God did not show them the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost, the inclusion of the nations, or how the gospel would advance tirelessly around the globe for the next 2,000 years.  Yet the shepherds had enough light from that encounter to march back into their dark night rejoicing and praising God.

Sometimes we act as though what we are going through is pre-manger darkness.  When God seems silent, when we are bewildered by our inability to figure out a way forward, we make up a greater void than is truly there.  Because in truth, a staggering amount of light has been shed on Jesus since the shepherds.  History continues to provide both evidence and explanation.

I do not mean to minimize or trivialize anyone’s “dark night of the soul.”  When you are in one, it is painful and disorienting, often to the point of despair.  But as believers, our darkness is always post-manger.  Our darkness is forever against the backdrop of the light of Christ.  What has been shown of him cannot be unrevealed.  And Jesus never leaves our side through each season of darkness.  It is those who love us best who stay with us through our worst.  You know love is real when it shows up in the middle of the night.

Someday, morning will come.  Night never lasts forever.  In the meantime, we have Immanuel, God right here with us.  And that means we can return to the dark again and again, rejoicing and praising God for the light we have and the One who loves us enough to remain.  We can heed the angel’s call to not be afraid of this present darkness or any other.  The one born to us that night is still good news of great joy.

Jeff Peabody is a writer and lead pastor of New Day Church in Northeast Tacoma, Washington.

Angels We Have Hear On High – Pentatonix