19 May 2018

Nepal Mission, 2018--"Zaia Masia"

The 36 hours it took to get to Nepal, plus the 12-hour 45-minute time difference, and the tearful goodbyes to the family, together make a small price to pay compared to hearing, "Yesu," and "Alleluia," and "Zaia Masia" (the spelling is questionable, but the meaning is sure: Victory in Messiah) dotting our first church service in country. 

Dhapakhel Baptist Church in the heart of Kathmandu, the sprawling 1.4 million-person capital of Nepal, was a feast of color and sound. The worship band was amplified far beyond the capacity of their meeting space. The shoes of all the worshippers were neatly lined up outside the door. A very spicy lunch was cooking for sharing after the service. The sermon on unity in the Body of Christ as explained in Philippians 2 was translated from English into Nepalese, although most of the people spoke at least those two languages fluently. After the message, the elderly pastor--who was instrumental some decades before in bringing the gospel to Nepal, after he first heard and responded in faith to the gospel as a temporary worker in India--gave excellent commentary to the theme of unity. "Thank you, Pastor. We needed to hear that important message, because we are so easily divided."

So easily divided are all Christians in all people groups when we stray from the main tenets of our salvation, namely "God and the Word of His grace" (Acts 20:32). So the pattern continues, as it has wherever and whenever I travel: people are the same, we all need the gospel as acutely as ever, and the students always give to the teachers more than they receive from the teachers. 

But one thing that I earmarked in my notebook today that captured the heart of the mission is the testimony of Sanu (name changed for safety). He told us that he was like 83% of all Nepali people--a nominal Hindu--who had many questions about life and death, but who never had the freedom to ask those questions inside the Hindu culture. It was only when outside the heavy gaze of family and neighbors that he openly began to ask about the unifying philosophy of life and the holes in the Hindu worldview. In that posture of curiosity, Sanu met a man--a foreigner (who turned out to be a missionary)--who volleyed a question back for Sanu to answer. "Who is the light of Asia?" Sanu grinned because every Nepali boy and girl knows that answer from grade school--"Buddha is the light ... the enlightened one ... of Asia." "Ah yes, that is what they say, so then, who is the Light of the World?" the foreigner continued. Sanu did not know for he had never heard of someone who was Light of the whole world. 

The foreigner connected the dots in Sanu's unspoken thoughts and said, "Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. Would you like to learn about Him?" "Of course I do!" was the reply and a Bible was given with a marker at John 8:12, "Then again Jesus spoke to them saying, 'I am the Light of the World; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.'" Although Sanu was from the highest caste, and very wealthy, he joyfully followed Jesus Christ that day even though his father pronounced him dead and cut off. Sanu smiled as he retold his story, saying that he has never regretted his decision to follow Jesus; and never looked back.

07 March 2018

Nepal Bible Institute, May 16-31, 2018

MAY 16-31, 2018

”Come over…and help us” (Acts 16:9)
Exotic and remote Kathmandu, Nepal, is a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu, modern and traditional people who have carved out their unique way of living in the foothills of the Himalayas. Many globe-trekkers go to Nepal to find themselves, to climb Everest, to become one with nature (shelling out over $30K for the experience!). But those are NOT my reasons for going there May 16-31, 2018.
Actually, the reasons that propel me there are exactly opposite from those reasons that attract tourists. Instead of going there to extract from Nepal an “adventure”—the futile attempt to become something greater at the top of Everest than I currently am at sea level—I am going to Nepal by commission and by invitation—to serve the Nepalese people within the ministry of the Word of God.
By way of commission, I have (and all disciples have!) been sent out by Christ to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). By way of invitation, I have been asked by local churches in and around a city called Itahari, not far from Kathmandu, where 100 pastors plan to gather to learn about apologetics, missions, and evangelism.
Itahari is quite cut-off from access to theological education, therefore, World Hope Ministries International ( has organized three teachers to carry in the training that church leaders need to make disciples who make disciples again in due time. The ironic beauty of that turn-of-events is notable. The famous Sherpa people groups of the southern Himalayas, although there are many other ethnicities represented in and around Kathmandu, have become synonymous to Westerners with steadfast and trustworthy guides and porters in remote areas; so much so that “sherpa” has actually become a verb in our English dictionaries. Yet, the gospel once again flips everything joyfully upside-down, we will port in the Scriptures to the porters at the rooftop of the globe.

Some Context Will Help
In early 2018 the Nepalese government passed legislation to outlaw public evangelism and religious conversion, and yet—because God is supreme—we “just happen” to be teaching the pastors about apologetics, missions, and evangelism. How fantastic is that? We didn’t orchestrate that part for effect, nor did the pastors rebelliously engineer it, it was already planned long before. Nevertheless, the courage that these pastors demonstrate to gain skill in ministry that may very well earn them immediate suffering is the stuff of legend, yet here it is within normal, everyday gospel ministry.  
For good measure, we will turn right around after this Bible Institute in Itahari—which is a 3-to-4 day marathon of teaching, 10-12 hours per day, with a little pulpit ministry thrown in for good measure—and do it all again in Kathmandu, but with entirely different curricula (biblical worship and pneumatology). Double the prep … but quadruple the joy!
But the enormity of the task outpaces our ability to keep up. Therefore, the plan is simple: we pray, we prepare, and we partner with as many of you, our dear “fellow workers in the truth,” as we can in order to “go out for the sake of the Name” (3 John 7-8).

The Cost Is Low
At $2860—which breaks down to $180 per day—we are intentionally keeping this trip trimmed to the bare-bones. We will travel and teach, eat and sleep—no frills, just flying halfway around the world, teaching two independent Bible Institutes to 200 faithful disciples of Jesus. Will you consider sponsoring me a day or two or more? Really any amount helps! Perhaps on the day that you sponsor, you would also pray heavily for us, maybe even adjusting your meals to match traditional Nepalese cuisine so as to sync up with us while we are in Nepal!!!

The Opportunity Is High
This ministry trip is a high impact/high reward opportunity that will directly equip disciple-makers of disciple-makers. But keep an eye out for me in this regard, for there are about 80 of these World Hope Bible Institutes every year in over 50 countries around the world—taking theological training to the places in the world that remain outside of the reach of traditional training venues. I am planning that these theological training trips remain an annual thing, Lord willing. My local church is very supportive, but it takes a large fellowship to fund and staff, train and send for missions. One more thought: perhaps you are formally trained for the ministry or vocationally experienced in the ministry and would like to become one of the faculty members at World Hope Ministries International? Contact me for future ministry opportunities! I’ll connect you with the right people at WHMI for more information.
If I reach my goal of $2860, then any extra money will begin to fund future mission trips.

The Time Is Now

You can direct donations for this WHMI Bible Institute through my church either by donating online (there is a drop-box on the “Giving” tab at where you can select the option to type in, “Nepal Mission,” as the specific mission you are supporting). Or you can donate by mail with your check made out* and sent to:

Grace & Truth Community Church
1301 Bombing Range Rd
West Richland, WA 99353

[*Instead of writing my name anywhere on your donation check, as per IRS regulations, please just write “Nepal Mission” on the memo line. Grace & Truth Community Church will send you an end-of-the-year receipt for your charitable contribution.]

22 December 2017

Home for Christmas

Home. The word itself evokes vivid associations, timeless clichés, and artistic expressions. Yet home—the real thing—always outpaces those associations, clichés, and artistic expressions. "Home is where the heart is," is easy to say, but home is even where the heart is not yet. "Home is where the Internet automatically connects," is true, but home is also where Google's algorithms eerily know that we are considering a new refrigerator purchase. Home is where we hang our favorite photos, but home is also where we realize that we have virtually stopped hanging anything on any wall because it usually means having to repaint before the next move. Home is a mixed bag; sometimes, a mixed drink.

More than a house, or an apartment, or a room in which we might temporarily stay; home is Shellie. Home is counting five coats that never get hung-up in the closet after school—even if two of those five coats now lie on the floors of college dorms. Home is discussing the sermon at Sunday dinner. Home is falling asleep watching the game that I have been anticipating all week. Home goes with us everywhere we happen to be. Those who have never moved, or rarely moved, don't know this rather liberating truth—home is not a place at all.

This year, as in several other years of our journey, we have a new mailing address. Our neighbors are nice, but all their names have melded together. Our house needs a lot of TLC and is not exactly comfortable yet. Our dog barks at a whole new stream of stimulation. Our toes have been stubbed while midnight-searching for the bathroom in this new-to-us labyrinth. But home is more than where we live.

People often ask if we actually like to move; if we prefer not to "put down roots." But in reality, it is exactly the opposite. We want nothing nearly as much! Always we have tried to put down roots, wherever we have gone. But we have given up to God the prerogative of deciding where we receive our mail, and as such, "putting down roots" has not been our lot. Not yet at least. We would love to live long enough in one place, for instance, to find "our spot" to go to on date nights where everything on the menu becomes a favorite. However, as it now stands, we have learned to recognize and sometimes appreciate the steady tension within the concept of "home" that keeps our sails full. Through it all, we find an enduring connection with the patriarchs who, though they lived a nomadic life marked out by tent-stakes, were nevertheless, "looking forward to a city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10).

But with all this inconclusive talk of home, our conversation turns to worship at the Incarnation. Jesus knew the subject of home comprehensively, perfectly, and eternally. Yet, He came to our neighborhood, so to speak, where He was never welcome (John 1:11). Although He was owner of it all, He had no home among us—not even a place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). He left His home in order to open a way home for those who would believe/receive Him (John 1:12). Jesus knew more about home than any of us because He knew home to be primarily a nexus of relationships. In that way He was uniquely free to surrender home without losing home because His relationships with the Father and the Spirit were still intact. In fact, Jesus expanded home; He brought it with Him. We offered Him no room at the inn, but He offered us His kingdom; He offered us Himself. Jesus truly is our home. Home came here to bring us home.

20 December 2016

How Silently, How Silently -- Christmas Letter 2016

HOW SILENTLY, HOW SILENTLY THE WONDROUS GIFT IS GIVEN AGAIN THIS YEAR.  Although subdued, for me personally, Christ’s advent is fully celebrated in 2016.  Although my eyes see more gray-tones than colors of late, He is no less wondrous and no less a gift.  Nevertheless, Christ decidedly sliced through the dreariness of this year’s December in the third stanza of a favorite hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

How silently, how silently / The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts / The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, / But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still, / The dear Christ enters in.

My ear which was attuned to hear “the blessings of His heaven” in previous years had, like my under-used guitar, fallen into atonality.  Perhaps due to “this world of sin,” but my ear did not “hear His coming.”  Normally, I hear echoes of Christ and His gospel of grace everywhere.  But 2016 cinched off the continuous concert of God’s glory so furtively that I didn’t even recognize the growing silence.  It was like when I used those foam earplugs during air-travel—slowly, slowly sealing my ears in synthetic muteness.  Though the roar of the turbines screamed just a few feet away behind a few layers of sheet metal, I grew sleepy in the artificial cocoon of my own weary thoughts.  But my unnatural deafness was not peacefulness; it was plastic and forced.  The sleepiness of my year did not leave me refreshed, but ironically sleepier … even after taking extra doses of vitamin B-12.  Turns out, true peace does not require foam insulators.

“Wake up, O sleeper; rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14),” urged the Apostle Paul, eerily reminiscent of the Prophet Jonah who unnaturally slept through the storm he helped create (Jonah 1:6).  O little town of Bethlehem: Wake up!  Don’t you know that the Lord has arrived? He is in your own neighborhood!  O little man called Kevin: Wake up!  Don’t you know that there is more going on than a voiceless December?

The divine narrative is the same—then and now, no matter how gray the December—Wake up!  “Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw His glory” (Luke 9:32).  “Wake up…for some have [yet] no knowledge of God” (1 Corinthians 15:32).  “Let us not sleep, as the others do” (1 Thessalonians 5:6).  “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die” (Revelation 3:2). 

But how?  How can I wake up?  Into that question the humble Christmas carol preaches a penetrating word: “Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”  Meekness?  Is that the soul’s smelling salt?  Meekness?  Is there not some other method?  I have scads of weakness, is meekness the same thing as weakness?  No, it is not; not even close.  Weakness filled every room and every alley in Bethlehem that blessed night; every tavern and every brothel (which was what the Bethlehem Inn was, by the way, shedding even more light on the anti-welcome we originally gave to Christ), but meekness Incarnate was placed in an animal’s feeding trough.  Meekness is an obscure treasure—usually refused entrance through the front door.  Meekness is a strength—a heart-level pliability to the Lord.  It maintains resistance the things of the world while remaining receptive to the things of God.  Hard hearts and dulled senses due to disillusionment—these offer a counterfeit form of meekness.  But with true meekness—though the outer man necessarily thickens to the disappointments of life—the inner man remains soft to the smallest word and the remotest approach of the Savior.

Weakness says, “I can’t, therefore, I won’t.”   Meekness says, “I can’t, therefore, You must.”  Weakness says, “Life stinks, so pour me another so I can dull my senses a little while longer.”  Meekness says, “Life stinks, but look up—God promised to send a permanent solution to our trouble … starting at, of all places, the little town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)!”  Weakness says, “Who cares?”  Meekness says, “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).”

I can’t awaken my ear, Lord.  “Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.” 
I can’t enliven my heart, Lord.  “Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”   
I can’t brighten this December, Lord.  “Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.” 
I can’t, therefore, You must.  And, You did … starting at a little town of Bethlehem, ending at Calvary.

T            T            T

This year the Rees family has not nearly been as “gray” as its paterfamilias.  While we hang out our second Christmas wreath on our Tennessee door, we review a year that floated mainly between home, school, and the hospital—where Shellie continues to work as a nurse on the Medical-Surgical floor.

The kids, who are now much more like young adults than children, have excelled in their classwork; which is so nice to see and such a relief, because they have far outpaced my (Kevin’s) ability to assist with homework.  Seth will finish his sophomore year this coming May at the local community college, ready to transfer to a State University for a degree in wildlife biology or resource management.  He is beyond ready to begin his adult years.  Emma, too, is headed to State University after she graduates from high school this coming May.  She aspires to study dental hygiene and, hopefully, get a job anywhere in the country that she fancies.  Abby is writing articles for the school newspaper, volunteering (now that the soccer season is over), and participating in various clubs.  She currently has her driving permit and is ready to take her road test in February when she turns 16.  Nate is our happy-go-lucky guy who breezes through school with not much more of a daily summary than: “It was fine.”  He turned 14 last weekend and enjoyed watching the release of “Star Wars: Rogue One” with his good buddy.  Jocelyn continues to thrive in school.  She switched from 4H participation to her school’s journalism club called, “News Crew.”  She will turn 11 this week, but she seems closer to 21.  She enjoys playing with the dogs and learning to crochet.

Shellie’s career in nursing is advancing, but in such a demanding field, it is never without great and thankless effort.  She is a semi-regular charge nurse now, but she realizes more and more what she would do to increase efficiency and optimize patient care if she were in a bigger hospital.  But she gets the hero award this year for the way that she has served the family during our unexpected transition.  I, due to many justified and belabored reasons, was unable to continue working as a pastor where I was employed.  I resigned in August and have been, until just a few days ago, gagged against talking about any detail with anyone locally.  But now that I can talk about it, I find that I no longer want to talk about it.  The end result of it is this: small towns in the rural South being what they are economically, I have been unable to find employment.  Into this foamy brine Shellie stepped and returned to a night shift in order to make a few more dollars per hour.  That is why she gets the gold star.  I am still at a loss for words.

However, the grayness of 2016 is melting back into color.  I was able to find great agreement and synergy with a church in Washington State.  So, while we wrap our Christmas presents this year, I am also packing cardboard boxes for a 2200-mile move west.  I happily agreed to become the Discipleship Pastor at a growing church in West Richland, WA called Grace and Truth Community Church.  Since Emma’s senior year of high school is already in full swing, we decided that it would be best for the family if I move and begin working in January before Shellie and the kids join me in May.  All in all, we can say—as we have many times in the past—that this is just another opportunity to trust Jesus.  We warmly extend to each of you a prayer, whatever your 2017 might bring, may “the dear Christ enter in” with His unmistakable peace.    

–Kevin, for the whole crew, 12/20/16

25 December 2014

The Rees Family Christmas Letter 2014

Grammar saves lives. 

Someone has wryly said, and millions have probably seen the clever jpeg showing the huge difference that grammar can make.  “Let’s eat, Grandpa.”  … or …  “Let’s eat Grandpa.”  Grammar saves lives; or at least Grandpa’s life.  Little things like commas are not, in fact, merely little in the unfolding drama of our lives.

In a real sense, not merely relegated to quotable quotes that English teachers might thumbtack to their classroom walls, grammar saves lives.  It saved mine.

Threads or rhythms or cadences—whatever we want to call them—pre-existing themes exist and echo throughout the human experience.  You reap what you sow.  Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him and his family for a lifetime.  Every culture has its version of these, no doubt.  But there is one theme that the Christmas narrative slam-dunks; and its punch is built upon grammar. 

Jumping languages and linguistic grouping from English back to Greek, back to Aramaic that the common people in Bethlehem would have called their mother tongue, we can see the dignified power that continues the theme that reverberates throughout Scripture: believing is seeing.  The counterfeit of this theme pumps its fist in the air seemingly daily—seeing is believing.  But the theme of belief unto sight is bedrock in the biblical worldview. 

Ancient Greek didn’t use commas as modern English does, and word order is not as rigid with the biblical languages as with the Germanic languages, but still there is a grammar rule that reflects the Christmas message; the tidings of great joy.

The first sentence—the initial phrase of the first sentence—that the angel speaks to the humble shepherds encapsulates this belief-unto-sight theme perfectly.  “Fear not, for behold.”  “Fear not” is a command; the most frequent command recorded in all of Scripture.  It requires an active, personalized faith.  And notice how this command arrives—“and the angels said.”  Later on, the Apostle Paul pressed the same point when he said to the Romans, “Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).  Belief/faith comes from/through the Word of God.  And then, but never before, comes the seeing.  It is not necessarily physical seeing, but it can include it.  The seeing that is so often repeated in Scripture is the sight that happens from the heart.  The shepherds would see the Christ-child with their eyeballs, but they would see Him with the hearts first.  Why?  Because believing is seeing.

It is a simple grammatical structure: fear not, for behold.  But it cannot be inverted and maintain its grammatical integrity.  We cannot say, “Behold, for fear not.”  The grammar simply won’t allow it and I am so glad that it doesn't allow it.  We cannot see/behold before the act of faith and the act of faith cannot come before the Word of God.  The grammar demands faith first.  Faith receives Jesus for who the Word of God says He is.  Therefore, grammar saves lives.  To get it backward; to try to see our way into faith is exactly what cannot work—not in grammar nor in theology.   Yet it makes the gospel so miss-able for us who insist that seeing comes before everything. 

We as a family are riveted to this truth this Christmas season; that belief precedes sight.  We are actively believing the truth of the Word of God is dominate and definitive instead of what we see with our physical eyes.  Our physical eyes look at the bald tires on the Jeep, the inbox full of rejection emails from our many job application attempts, the dwindling numbers in our bank account and the enemy of our souls whispers with his forked-tongue, “Now is the time to fear.”  But the Scriptures say, “Fear not” first … then there is a strong conjunction “for” … then there is the possibility to “behold” the mind of the heart of God.  

There, right there--that is our manger where the Word of God and the human experience meet.  That is our crucible where the promises of God and the fears of the unknown clash.  That is our night sky that is pierced by the Bethlehem Star.  That is our believe-and-then-you-will-see theme that floods our December this year.  Jesus is the first Word.  And Jesus is the last Word.  May all our words in the middle find Christ’s cadence … for believing is seeing.  And we are genuinely well because of that truth, built on the principles of grammar, revealed in the Scriptures, embodied in Jesus.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory hallelujah!
Glory, glory hallelujah!
Glory, glory hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal";
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succor to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory hallelujah!
Glory, glory hallelujah!
Glory, glory hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
(Julia Ward Howe, 1861)

21 December 2011

Away in a Manger

THE CATTLE ARE LOWING, the Baby awakes. But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes. Wait a second! That line in the second verse of the beloved carol, “Away in a Manger,” has irked me for years. Of course, it has not been enough to stop me from singing it at Christmas Eve services or at times of caroling around the piano or even at bedtimes with the children (during, potentially, any month of the year, not just December!). But the pebble of irritation about the manger scene has proven to be just enough to re-open the Christmas narrative and see if such a detail is explicitly mentioned or implicitly inferred anywhere. Did little Lord Jesus, really, no crying make?

Verdict—Mary’s first delivery was a normal, healthy delivery in every way, which leads me to conclude that there must have been plenty of crying to go around! Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and eventually the wise men—pass the Kleenex® box around. Can angels cry? Well, if they can they too might have joyfully blubbered with the rest of them! “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

Not in 2011 … nor, for the record, in 2012(!) … but Shellie and I have made our rounds through the obstetrics ward at the hospital five wonderful times in the last 14¾ years. We have concurred that it would not be in the least bit serene, or happy, or joyful to have a baby who was not crying in the first moments of life. There is nothing in the Christmas account in Scripture that even remotely suggests that Mary’s delivery was any different than any other woman’s delivery or that Jesus’ birth was anything different than any other baby’s birth. Certainly, Mary and Jesus were unique in ways that beg for more study and more dialogue, but the events of that night were entirely … and dare I say … blessedly ordinary.

I am not trying to spar with poetic license written into “Away in a Manger.” Actually and tangentially, I found something else noteworthy in the relatively few verses allotted to Jesus’ birth in the Bible; something that I might have missed if it were not for my borderline compulsive urge to fact-check traditional Christmas carols. This year I noticed an amazing absence of anything out of the ordinary with Jesus’ actual birthday. His birth infused blessing into uneventfulness.

Perhaps you are like us in this regard, too often we give thanks for the brushes with the supernatural; those macro- or micro-deliverances that could only be explained after-the-fact by a providentially attentive Almighty God who graciously scrutinizes our paths. But I don’t know if I have ever before thought of the blessing of the ordinary. Granted, on that first Christmas there are many elements of sheer drama and utter terror, where the so-called experts were tongue-tied and the so-called bumpkins were silver-tongued. We would be the last to remove, even remotely, the supernatural from the Incarnation. But on that night, with that couple, in that stall, with that feeding trough nothing extraordinary happened. On the nearby hillside where the shepherds were guarding their flocks at night, there were supernatural fireworks going off. In the far-away sand where the Magi were studying the night-sky, there were miraculous “dots” being connected. But in the stable behind the inn which had no room for the King-in-disguise there was the blessing of uneventfulness.

Mary, for sure, had unanesthetized labor-pains throughout her delivery. Joseph, for sure, wished there was someone else present who had actually delivered a baby before; or at least someone who could advise him about basic female anatomy since he and Mary had not seen each other in that way yet. Not to belabor the point (pun intended!), but there was blood and fluid and after-birth and the ubiquitous clumsiness of figuring out how to feed a baby as a first-time mom. And, in my imagination, crying must have been generously exercised—before, during, and after the birth.

For Mary and Joseph all the miracles—and there were many—happened before and then after this very ordinary birth. The conception, of course, was perhaps the greatest miracle of all. The marriage that was not severed when Joseph discovered the news of Mary’s pregnancy without his (or any male’s) participation—this was a miracle that must not slip past our careful attention. Mary’s miraculous welcome received from her relative, Elizabeth, who was also miraculously pregnant. Jesus’ fantastic in utero greeting from his in utero cousin, John (the Baptist), was also miraculous. Time prevents a full treatment of the miracles that light up the narrative: the shepherds, the angels, the Christmas Star that apparently moved as needed to guide the wise men to Jesus, the escape from the massacre at Bethlehem, the dreams given to Joseph several times along the way, the name selected for the Savior, the city where the birth took place, even the timing of the tax requirement issued by Quirinius the Roman governor of Palestine at the time.

But that night, away in a manger, God steeped sublime dignity into the ordinary by allowing His Son to be birthed in exactly the same way all humans are birthed. God infused supernatural guidance and perseverance—incognito—into the otherwise uneventfulness of Christmas. This is the Christmas meditation that I stumbled across while looking for another thing altogether—what so often feels like God’s distance when it takes our every ounce of energy just to keep “treading water” in the ordinary, just trying to make it, just waiting for the time to punch out for the weekend … what often seems like God’s disinterest or even disapproval in our achingly long stretches of silence and uneventfulness … might actually be the times when God is nearest of all. God is not always found in the euphoria of the phenomenal, or in the serenity of the mystical. Sometimes—and arguably most times—God is found in the ordinary manger straw that is intentionally hidden in the alley behind the neon “no vacancy” sign, underneath the pain, awash with salty tears on the clumsy side of life when we think no one is paying any attention at all. Pass the Kleenex® box—for what seems to be the most ordinary may be, in fact, our front row seat for the most extraordinary thing of all: God came near.

14 December 2010

Long Winter's Nap

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house / Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse / The stockings were hung by the chimney with care / In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there / The children were nestled all snug in their beds / While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads / And mamma in her ‘kerchief and I in my cap / Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap …

These famous American verses were originally published in 1823 anonymously as “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore—friend of Washington Irving—also attributed by some to Henry Livingston, Jr.). The poem, now culturally known as “The Night Before Christmas,” is arguably the most well-known American verse of all. But my eyes … my brain … my shoulders … my back … my feet … my entire material and immaterial being gets to lines 7 & 8 and then stops! Mamma and I settling down “for a long winter’s nap.”

Oh yes, the December rush is fully upon us all and it is only the second weekend in the month. Egad! All I want for Christmas is that “long winter’s nap”; a nap which “that lively old elf” actually interrupted in the poem … thanks for nothing, you imp! J I distinctly remember hearing these lines as a child and somehow connecting a long winter’s nap with hibernation somewhat like a bear’s—wow, that’s a long sleep, I used to think. Three decades later I don’t think that “hibernation” seems long in the slightest. It sounds just about right for December.

Astride the profound fatigue that finds the children all “nestled all snug in the beds” in the other room while “mamma in her ‘kerchief and I in my cap” still shuffling around long after bedtime there is a genuine aching for the material and immaterial rest we have in Christ. While “visions of sugar-plums dance” in the children’s dreams, my vision scans the horizon for the Christ who said, “It is finished!”

How can it be finished when there is still so much left to do? Ah yes, that is the creaturely way of looking at it—but the rest of Christ remains accessible through faith all the while. It is an active rest; a mobile rest even a sweaty rest in the middle of laboring with Christ. It is a rest that believes all the work left to be done is being done by God who now moves through His spiritually enabled people—the church. It is already all done and somehow not yet all “tied off.” And so December finds us still cemented to time and space and linear chronology, but the rest of Christ is real and it is here and it is exactly what this “decembered” papa in his night-cap needs to remember.