Little Women and God With Who?

A few weeks ago when I was just starting to get in the holiday spirit, I thought of the Hummels. Not those breakable collectible figurines, but the poor sickly ones which brought about the downfall of Beth March.

Little Women was a favorite story of mine. I have read the printed pages a handful of times, listened to it as an audiobook too many times to count and ever since Winona Ryder took up the task of Jo, I have watched it each year about this time.

But the part that came to mind this year, even before I watched it was not the damaged dress and the singed bangs, not the romance that was not to be or the ice skating disaster or the manuscript in the fireplace. It was the Hummels.

They came in my mind as they came into the story, shrouded by back streets, a walk to reach, unexpected to find this second family of mother and children tucked in the attention of the Marches or myself. I found myself rolling the story through my mind and getting hung up right at that point where Jo opens her eyes on Christmas morning. She pauses feeling a little sorry that there are no presents, but then slipping her hand under her pillow she finds a Bible. Her sisters each rise and find their own copies and they spend some time reading quietly together. They head downstairs to discover Marmie is gone, she’d gone off with a beggar who’d come to the door according to Hannah, the servant.

When Marmie returns, here is what follows…

“Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?”
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, “I’m so glad you came before we began!”

They set out and care for this family with what little they had to offer, which was richness to them, but nothing to us. They kindled a fire in the hearth and warmth in the children’s heart. That poor mother called them angels and found hope kindling inside herself while Mrs. March promised continues help, a promise which she indeed kept.

At the end of the little story of that Christmas morn, we read…

“That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn’t get any of it. And when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning.
“That’s loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I like it,” said Meg, as they set out their presents while their mother was upstairs collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.”

They began their day reading and then rising to start their holiday, they put it into actions. At the end of the experience it is all tied up, back to the source of the inspiration for the action.

Oh, how I wanted that when I was young, to have the opportunity to find someone to care for at Christmastime. I wanted to be happier with an empty stomach headed for bread having handed off my plateful of cakes and sausage. But it has been years since I thought of the Hummels.

I had a brief wish I presented to God, that I would have an opportunity to know something of that. That I would see someone who like that mother needed caring for, and even someone who looked more like that mother than I could understand. I have had the privilege of hearing about other people’s Hummel experiences over the past week. I have seen good will to men performed by those around me. I am so proud of my friends. I have seen my prayer answered in my own season and know there is more answer on the way.

Tonight I was thinking on the Hummels again and there was that conversation with God again. And hears what resounded in my heart….”I am Emmanuel. God with us.”

Oh, he came to save the likes of me. He came to save me! Oh how glad I am of that! But He is God with us…us….corporate…together. He came to be with us, so really is it that big of a stretch of the imagination to suggest that we be with one another?

When we are looking at how to hold Christmas in our hearts, how to honor Emmanuel, perhaps what we should do is stop looking at how to make it the most possession gaining experience for our children and consider how we might make it a moment to love our neighbors better than ourselves, like Meg point out.

There are a few more days. There are a few more chances to make this Christmas be the one that stands out as the year you started the tradition of overwhelming generosity,  of promised and delivered continued support.

Make this the year that you involve yourself in the business of the us that God came to be with.

I’ll close with a passage from another classic Christmas tale….spoken between a soul who never took time to rest his eyes, his heart or his mind on his fellow man and spent eternity mourning his mistake, and the man awaiting salvation.

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
`Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. `Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’
It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.
`At this time of the rolling year,’ the spectre said `I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!’

God with us.

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Crucifying Christmas

Don’t worry.

This isn’t about Walmart greeters or Starbucks cups.

Sunday before last we had some visiting musicians at church that played “Mary Did You Know.” Now, time for a little confession…I believe that Mary Did You Know is one of the top three worst Christmas songs ever… every bit as good as Little Drummer Boy and Do You Hear What I Hear.

While they were playing the song, for the first time, I could imagine Mary there, holding that baby. I mean, we read that Mary wrapped Him in swaddling cloth and laid Him in the manger. But realistically, she must have held that sweet little thing, nuzzling Him, tracing the outline of a little nose, touching ten tiny fingers, leaning into Joseph to show him the dream that rested on the infant’s face.

I sat there imagining Mary and looked around for someone with a baby near me who i might convince to let me snuggle for a minute or two. Drats. None at hand.

After that morning I went from part time carol singing to full time, like it was my job.

This morning I went into work early this morning and hit play on some of my favorite Christmas music. Oh there was the best of them all, with its grit and its darkness, its admittance of struggle and shadow. It is a walk on a damp fall day, the smell of wet decaying earth around you, coat pulled tight around you for it is colder than you anticipated. Winter is coming.

I sing it all year long. I sing it in those aching times when I just long for His company and His comfort.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel

I could continue but these are the two verses I always pick first. Captivity. Gloom. Death. Shadow. Who is this writer that he would make such a depressing song, 4 lines of “Look at my woe!” Followed by 2 that are just the same over and over.  Over and over. Christmas should be hope and joy and love and peace. Who is this writer?

I think, perhaps, the writer is someone who knows the Bible. I think the writer is someone who knows the history of the people of Israel. I think the writer is someone who knows us.

In Matthew 1 starting at verse 18, it reads: “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”

Joseph entered what should have been a time of celebration, the advent of his marriage, and he is met quickly by a reality which doesn’t match his expectations. He should have been joyful is instead overwhelmed by mess….divorce, presumed infidelity, shame, scandal, a blow to the pride, and trying to manage himself in a way that was to his standards, legal and upright in the sight of the Lord.

The angel doesn’t come and change the situation. He doesn’t say the pregnancy was a mistake and apologize for Joseph’s hurt feelings. He doesn’t stop what Joesph sees as the problem.

He just changes his perspective.

This mess, says the angel, this thing you see as a problem, it is the design of God to bring the salvation of all. It is the design to bring “God With Us.”

What of your life are you walking into THIS Advent season pleading God to come into? Captivity? Gloom? Death? Shadow?

Could this word not be for you? Could the mess you are consumed by be the design of God to bring about salvation? Change your perspective and like Joseph move in the direction of God’s command.

But changing your perspective is not nearly enough. We must also change our expectations.

We have been trained by Hollywood, like little Susan Walker, to think if we just believe in Santa enough, we will magically get a house far from 34th Street in a nice neighborhood and all will end in true love.

We are looking for the big flashy miracle to prove at Christmas that He does exist. We have been around long enough to know He does big, flashy miracles. We celebrate the biggest each spring. It is the shining moment, the Resurrection, the conquering of the grave, death defeated. Oh, it is glorious! Christmas without Easter, oh it is nothing at all.

So why bother to celebrate Christmas at all then?

Perhaps, just perhaps, it is to remind us, just as the Israelites needed to learn, that God did not come to be an earthly king. He came lowly in a manger. He came into a world without a place for him to be raised by parents who just months before were on the verge of divorce to a government hell bent on murdering Him.

All of this in the arms of Mary, she held this tiny baby. Oh Mary, did you know?  When you tipped him towards Joseph to show him this little face, I want to imagine that you had the humanity that I have, tempted to think, “This is it? This is what the angel spoke of? This is who is supposed to save us? A baby? He can’t fed himself or clean himself! How is this going to work?”

Time never turned back. There was no big showy miracle. Just a baby.

I have to ask, are you holding a baby when what you’d really like is for God to show up like Resurrection? Even if you’ve changed your perspective, you’ve said, this mess is blessed, it is of God and I’m consecrating it to Him…are you still walking around looking for the wrong cave? You’ve run inside and there are no discarded grave clothes, just this terrible box with a little baby inside who can’t do anything for Himself.

And you stand there gesturing to this disappointment, eyes upward, and yell, “I didn’t agree to this? I have some suggestions on how to sort this out. Are You listening? WHAT AM I EVEN SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THIS?!?!?”

I’ll tell you. You don’t throw the baby up on the cross! You don’t demand what God is withholding for a later date. You don’t scream for big signs and wonders while you stand before the greatest wonder of them all. You appreciate that in your captivity, your gloom, your death and shadow, oh, He came.

You cradle that baby. You lift it up and you nurture it. You hold it as a precious fragile beginning and do everything you can to protect it. You tip it to others so they might see this sweet thing the Lord has given you even if you have NO IDEA how God will use it.

He came and He stayed and He will come again!

Is it true or is it not?
Is it true?
Or is it not?

If it is not true, than go and find comfort in the fireplace and the family and put your mind to rest that it is of no consequence, now or ever.

But if it is true….if this little baby was born God with us…..If His very nature is the answer to God’s command from the earliest history of man for the conquering of our greatest enemy, that He is with us….oh it is of EVERY consequence. Everything hinges upon it!

Find Christmas, dear one, find Christmas not just where you weren’t looking for it, but find Christmas where you were specifically saying God couldn’t be there.

And find Christmas, my friend, in the little bit of life that hardly fills more than two hands, that can’t support itself, and care for the promise of God that He has already given you to tend to.

Come and worship.

Rejoice,
Rejoice,
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel.