Advent Week 4 – “Thursday” by Wende Swick

Last Sunday, my pastor gave the most beautiful definition of JOY.

He said that PEACE is “joy resting” and that JOY is “peace dancing”!  

Peace dancing – I love it!!! This definition resonates with my experience.

Joy is one of my favorite fruits of the Holy Spirit among the nine named in Scripture- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides these definitions for JOY:

Noun- the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : DELIGHT; the expression or exhibition of such emotion : GAIETY; a state of happiness or felicity : BLISS; a source or cause of delight

Verb- Rejoice; Gladden; Enjoy

Did you know that JOY can be a verb? It’s true! I joy, enjoy, take joy, or rejoice, in Jesus, my Savior, and in my personal relationship with God, Maker of the universe, who knows me intimately and loves me unconditionally. I also joy in, or enjoy, many of life’s daily experiences, including special activities which are Christmastime traditions.

I have a few friends, and even my own mother, who have lost a child and find it hard to completely enjoy the Christmas season. The grief a mother experiences with such a loss is monumental. It’s understandable that during holiday seasons which are purportedly times of special joy, experiences may be tainted with sorrow and grief for many who’ve lost loved ones – not exclusively mothers and children. I understand this and my heart hurts with them, for them. 

I would like to share with you an aid I’ve incorporated in my life for many years now – one which has helped me choose joy and experience it so much that people sometimes comment on my joy, saying that it’s what they notice most about me. I love that!

At one point, while living in Hawaii if you can believe it, I went through a struggle with depression. At some point in the midst of it, I realized that I should thank God for three things before I got out of bed in the morning. I started doing that and quickly reached ten items daily. Before I knew it, I was bounding out of bed in the morning, brewing my coffee and sitting down with my prayer journal, recording things for which I was thankful. I went from ten to twenty things, and twenty is now my minimum each morning. It is amazing, actually, how MUCH we can be thankful for… how much GOOD (from God) occurs in our lives each day! 

Prayer journals are one of my favorite gifts to give others, because using one has transformed my outlook. After giving thanks, I pray for my needs, those of others, and ask questions, waiting for God to speak to me. (Prayer IS two-way communication, but I find it hard to wait long enough to hear sometimes. True confession.)

Using a journal to record my prayers and what God says to me helps me stay focused on prayer much more effectively. If you don’t already use one, I recommend you try using a prayer journal. It’s fun to go back and fill in how God has answered prayers. It also helps me remember whom to pray for, over time. 

Focusing on God (my source of JOY) and His goodness to me is a huge factor in my experiencing (most of the time), PEACE (joy resting) and JOY (peace dancing). When I’m out of peace or joy, it’s usually because my focus has been taken from Him and placed on other things.

Shalom & Simchah,

(Peace & Joy in Hebrew),

Wende

P.S. for JOY

This morning, as I visually took in the newly falling snow, my lit tree, etcetera, I was reminded of something related to JOY. Have you ever said or thought, “This is really good for my soul”?

I marvel that God, in His brilliance and great love, chose to design our eyes with rods & cones, to perceive the beauty of lines/shape/design and colors galore! He chose to place hammers, anvils and stirrups (bone set), ear drums, etc., in our ears, so we perceive beautiful music and other desirable sounds. Tastebuds… we don’t need them for survival, but who doesn’t enjoy a delicious meal or sweet treat? Aromas, perceived via our olfactory system, enhance dining and other experiences. Don’t get me started on the sense of touch! With our nervous system’s nerve endings in all the right places, those hugs, massages, or tickles we receive bring sensations of comfort, love and fun to our minds and emotions. 

I hope we each take time to savor or JOY in some of the things which bring pleasure to our souls this could-be-very-busy season.

“Good Good Father” by Wende Swick

For as long as I can remember, I’ve made use of Advent calendars, historically fancy calendars made from paper, with windows you open daily to view a new verse or picture, leading up to the birth of Jesus. I’ve given those calendars to my niece and nephews, used them with students, etc. If they had glitter on them, all the more festive!

In recent years, I’ve used 3-D wooden calendars whose compartments with doors or drawers hold daily gifts. My first Christmas with my husband, I bought him an LL Bean tree-shaped calendar. The drawers are too small to hold more than a piece of candy and a little gift tag. Thus, that is exactly what I place in them. Each tag tells him where to look for the day’s gift. Some are on or under the tree, some hanging in a doorway (mistletoe!) or on the wall (plaque) and others on a table, stovetop or pillow- or at his office, or the home of a relative. Each gift is selected with care, and not just in December. When we visited Letchworth Park at the peak of fall foliage, for example, I bought him a leaf ornament with the location and year printed on it. Spreading out the acquisition of gifts allows me to put thought into each one and capture memories from throughout the year. It’s also easier on the purse if you acquire gifts over time. I try to bestow gifts which bring pleasure to the various senses… home-baked goods and specialty candies for taste (Bye’s caramel corn with cashews went into a tin nutcracker container this year!); CDs of special Christmas music for hearing; seasonal candles for sight and smell; mistletoe and coupons for adventures for the sense of touch/kinesthetics; personal messages on cards, decorative items, etc. for sight. I try to make or choose gifts which show that I know and love my husband and that I care about what HE likes. I want to let him experience the fact that I value him, that he’s important to me. I also want him to experience the elements of surprise and pleasure as he discovers, opens and enjoys daily gifts during Advent. I try to do some of these things, howbeit not daily, all year long.

God treats me/us in this way. He knows me even more intimately than I know myself. He loves me. He cares about what I like, want and need. He values me. I am important to Him. He loves surprising me and bringing me pleasure! Each of these is true of you as well.

Ever since I surrendered my heart and life to God, I’ve experienced and enjoyed growing intimacy with Him. I have learned that He is a good, GOOD Father, who loves me (and you!) VERY MUCH. I experience His love expressed in various ways…from the words on the pages of His Word to Him surprising me with things that bless my heart! He knows each of us so intimately that He brings us exactly what will communicate His deep knowledge of, and loving care for, you and me.

He does this in both personal and professional areas of my life. In recent months, my colleagues and I have been overwhelmed by God’s goodness to us! We have seen parents choose to keep their babies rather than abort them and experienced the joyous privilege of seeing those precious babies in ultrasound images. We’ve seen His astounding provision of all our financial needs at Care Net Center of Greater Orleans. We have watched God answer prayers literally before we’ve voiced them, with the answers showing up right after we’ve prayed…obviously set in motion before we prayed with His heart and mind. We have seen so many individuals, churches and organizations bring us beautiful baby clothes, diapers, furniture and more, to help meet the needs of clients we serve. We’ve received not only necessities, but also stylish jackets for moms, boxes of food for those who need them and wonderful books and toys for babies/children. The Gideons have provided us generously with Bibles. We’ve been pleased to see people receive those, receive Jesus into their hearts and lives, and even take Bibles to give to others! It is glorious to watch God meet others’ needs, to experience people’s generosity and to be a part of it.

When I first started working at Care Net, there was a sticker on my bulletin board which reads “I am PRO Abundant Life”! (I am, and I was thrilled to see it expressed that way!) My colleagues and I, marveling aloud together, expressed and affirmed that “Everyone wins!” when you’re walking with God and serving Him. We wondered aloud why anyone would choose not to be in relationship with Him.

Christmas is a great time to take stock of where we are in our relationships with God, and to do what it takes to be as close with Him as possible. Someone once spoke this truth: “You’re as close with God as you want to be.” Thankfully, He wants to be very intimate with you and me!

“Harbinger of Good News” by Wende Swick

As soon as an audible quote of, or reference to, the following Bible verse commences, I chime right in, my rote memory kicking in:

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10b-12, KJV

During my elementary years, I attended a Monday afternoon religious education class at the CCD center of the Roman Catholic church I attended growing up. One Christmastime, I was selected for the role of head angel. (Perhaps this is because I was the tallest student in my class!?!) I recited the above verse from Luke, draped in a white gown and, if I remember correctly, feathery wings and a golden tinsel halo. I stood at the apex of a heavenly host of young angels on risers, declaring this great news to whosoever would listen.

One of the definitions of the term ‘angel’ is ‘a messenger or harbinger’, and many add ‘from God’. I only know a few people who have seen actual angels, spirit beings who’ve never been human, but I have met people who have served as messengers of God to me, and I trust that I serve in that capacity for some of the people I encounter in my lifetime.

I have had the privilege of sharing the ‘Good News,’ or the ‘Gospel’ with others. It’s not that different from the message I delivered in an angel costume at around six years of age from some risers at St. Bartholomew’s Church. God CHOSE to come to earth in the form of a man, as Jesus Christ (Yeshua, in Hebrew), because He LOVES YOU. He knew you and I would be imperfect, but He wants to have a relationship with us, and to enjoy our company and our worship, and to have us enjoy HIS company, now and forever. Thus, He came, born as a babe, to die in our places (yours and mine), so that we can rise again after our physical bodies die, to live with Him forever. The price for our imperfections and our purposeful choices which hurt God, ourselves and others, is death and eternal separation from a perfect God. “What fellowship has light with darkness?” ( 2 Corinthians 6:14) the Scriptures ask. God is absolute light, and we choose to allow darkness into us. However, …the Gospel, the Good News, is that we can be cleansed, forgiven and made right, through the blood of Jesus… something we celebrate at Easter, but which can be celebrated every day of the year, including at Christmastime, when we celebrate His birth… Christ + mass = Christmas.

May your Christmas be joyful, and may you know that you will enjoy eternity with God! (We each make the choice whether or not we will.)

“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10, KJV

CHALLENGE…

  • Have you ever seen, or talked to someone who has seen, an Angel?
  • Share a time when you acted like an Angel by sharing the Good News with someone.

“Handel’s Messiah” by Wende Swick

Handel’s Messiah is a powerful musical composition which moves me. I don’t remember the first time I heard “The Messiah,” but I’ve had friends who host an annual “Messiah Sing” in their home, where folks are invited to participate in a very personal singing of Handel’s masterpiece.

When I lived in Jerusalem between 2007 and 2010, I became friends with Irene Poe Duce Levy, who translated Handel’s Messiah into Hebrew, with the help of a friend. (Irene is an American-born woman who’s related to Edgar Allen Poe. She made her way to Lebanon by ship in the 1940s, as one couldn’t travel to ‘Israel’ at that time. Modern-day Israel, as you may know, was ‘born’ in 1948, after Irene was already living there. Once in Lebanon, she made her way south to Israel by land. She can communicate in Hebrew and Arabic. Into her late 90s, Irene was still teaching Hebrew lessons at her congregation in Jerusalem. She is over 100 now!) I was in Jerusalem at the second performance of Handel’s “Messiah” in Hebrew, and bawled like a baby. It was very beautiful and powerful to be in the nation where our Messiah, Yeshua, (‘Jesus’ in English) was born, lived, died and appeared after His bodily resurrection, and to hear this performed in their native tongue. WOW!

I also received an invitation to, and happily attended, a community performance of Handel’s “Messiah” once living back in the Adirondacks after 2012. A family friend was playing in the brass section of the orchestra which made this performance more personal and enjoyable for me. It was performed in a cozy church sanctuary where the audience was invited to sing along with certain parts. This warmed my heart, which was already alive with a Christmas glow.

Here are lyrics I pulled from an online source:

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.


Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given,
and the government shall be upon His shoulder:
and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee.
He is the righteous Savior.
And he shall speak peace unto the heathen.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us.
Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
The kingdoms of this world is become the kingdoms of our Lord,
and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever.
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power,
and riches, and wisdom, and strength,
and honor, and glory, and blessing.
Blessing, and honor, glory, and power,
be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne,
and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
Amen.”
 
Those of you who've been to a performance of Handel's Messiah, or listened to a recording of it, may recognize the various parts overlaid in the culminating "Hallelujah Chorus" and recall beautiful harmonies which stay with you:
“Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
 
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth (Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah)
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth (Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah)
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah (Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah)
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth (Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah)
Hallelujah
 
The Kingdom of this world
Is become
The Kingdom of our Lord
And of His Christ
And of His Christ
And He shall reign forever and ever
And He shall reign forever and ever (And He shall reign forever and ever)
And He shall reign forever and ever (And He shall reign forever and ever)
And he shall reign forever and ever (And He shall reign forever and ever)
 
King of Kings (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)
And Lord of Lords (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)
King of Kings (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)
And Lord of Lords (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)
King of Kings (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)
And Lord of Lords
King of Kings and Lord of Lords
 
And he shall reign forever and ever (And he shall reign)
And he shall reign forever and ever (And he shall reign)
 
King of Kings forever and ever
And Lord of Lords hallelujah hallelujah
And he shall reign forever, forever and ever
 
King of Kings and Lord of Lords
King of Kings and Lord of Lords
And he shall reign forever and ever (And he shall reign forever and ever)
 
Forever and ever, forever and ever (King of Kings and Lord of Lords)
 
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah

CHALLENGE…


* Be sure to check out last week’s and today’s Episodes of “Refill with Randy” featuring Wende Swick!!! You can find last week’s episode here https://youtu.be/0ODrKH5YxJA and today’s will premiere on FB and YouTube at 8:15am.

ADVENT – DAY 4 “Advent Traditions at Home and Around the Globe” by Wende Swick

Advent is a time of anticipation, preparation, and expectation. What are some things that you look forward to each year as you prepare for Christmas, and what are some things you would suggest that we all do in anticipation of Christ’s coming again?

Last night, with Thanksgiving behind us (just!), the Christmas classics began showing in earnest on TV. One channel broadcasted “Frosty,” another “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and a third, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” As a child, I loved watching “Rudolph” and some of these other animated shows. It still strikes something deep within me to hear the music, narrators’ voices (Burl Ives ring a bell with anyone, or Danny Kaye?) and the classic lines from these programs.

As an adult, I’ve continued some traditions from my family experience, and developed new ones of my own. Sadly, some have been lost, like Christmas caroling door to door and returning home for shared refreshments afterward. Perhaps that one should be brought back? In China, friends and I carried lit candles as we caroled door to door one year—a very memorable and heart-warming experience!

Among those retained from my childhood are the following:

My mother would pack our Christmas stockings full of treats- small gifts, candy, and practical items like socks, a new toothbrush, etc. Always, there would be an orange. I continue this tradition, making sure to include some nuts, holiday candy and topping it all off with a teddy bear who sticks out of the top! My mom would set our stockings at the foot of our beds, and whenever we awoke in the a.m., we were allowed to open them…2 a.m., 4:00 a.m…., BUT we couldn’t go downstairs, where the tree stood encircled with gifts for a family of eight, until my parents arose, and dad slipped down to turn on the tree lights, adding to the ‘magic’ of the season!

My mother and I picked Ground Pine (before it wound up on the protected species list!), from which we created wreaths and sold them to earn $ for Christmas gifts we’d bestow. I continue to create wreaths, firstly, for a front door decoration, and sometimes extras to bestow upon family or friends, and secondly, so that it feels like Christmas! There are some traditions which truly help ‘make’ the holiday, and for me, wreath-making seems to be one of those. However, instead of collecting Ground Pine, which has been outlawed for years, I simply ask the tree vendors for branches they lop off trees they sell, for fitting in tree stands- a much simpler way to get greens!

I always hang mistletoe in a doorway, so that whoever wants an excuse for extra kisses during the holiday season may avail him/herself of it!! While in Lebanon during the Christmas season of 2011, I happened upon a floral shop which had BALLS of Mistletoe suspended in front of its shop! (I’d never known that’s how it grows- in a sphere!) I bought one, broke it into sprigs and hung them with burgundy ribbon, from front door and classroom door lintels of neighbors and co-teachers. I actually had folks whose doorways I didn’t decorate ASK me for some! It was a new and welcome tradition to some. No wonder!! I also understood finally, the tradition my mom and others had of creating ‘kissing balls.’

I’ve always loved using Advent calendars, where you open a window every day during the month of December, counting down the days till Christmas. Some paper calendars have a Bible verse inside each window telling the Christmas story, others a picture. In one German town, I actually saw a building with 25 ‘windows’ created with shutters on its exterior, for this purpose! I’ve given my nephews paper Advent calendars annually for years, perhaps long after they’d ‘outgrown them,’ because it does MY soul good to think of their use! This year, I gave my grandsons a calendar which contains a small Lego character or item behind each window, and those pieces get added to a winter scene which accompanies the actual calendar. I actually use wooden Advent calendars from LL Bean and The Christmas Tree Shops for my husband and daughter now. In each little drawer, opened daily during the month of December, is a gift tag which directs them to where they’ll find their gifts for that day- whether in their offices, on the tree or other. Shhh… don’t tell them, but this year’s gifts include things like a tin nutcracker containing Byes’ caramel corn, an Amaryllis potted bulb, and a small holiday ceramic cake pan with pumpkin bread. This is a fun tradition I look forward to annually!

My mom used to create an Advent wreath, which would, by Christmas Eve, hold three purple candles and one pink candle. This wreath decorated our dinner table during the month of December. Some years, I have done the same. I’ve bought the candles for this year, and intend to ask for boughs when we go for our tree next weekend. (Helpful hint: wreath frames can be found at a Dollar Tree near you! Every once in awhile, you come across one which contains candle cups. If not, you can use candle holders for tapers inside any round evergreen wreath.)

Whatever age I’ve been, attending a Christmas Eve church service, whether at midnight or earlier, has been a key part of the holiday for me. When we light candles each of us is holding, as we stand together in a giant circle ringing the sanctuary, or in rows in front of our seats, the sharing of the growing light is a powerful tradition which often brings tears to my eyes.

Gift exchanges with people I care about are also a vital part of Christmas celebrations for me every year. It’s not so much about the gifts themselves as it is the expression of the love shared between and among us.

As we look forward in anticipation of the return of Jesus, our Messiah, there are a few things I think are good for each of us to be doing…. expressing the love we have for God and for each other often and freely; gathering together regularly to worship Him- something we will enjoy doing FOREVER!!; practicing generosity, as our heavenly Father is SO VERY generous with us, and making sure that we keep clean, pure hearts before Him. He came and died for us; the least we can do is live for Him!

I pray your family and you enjoy a beautiful Advent season.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS…

What are some of your favorite animated Christmas specials that you still watch and enjoy as an adult?

Are there any special things that you make every year such as a wreath or favorite holiday snack? (And am I the only one who had not heard of “Ground Pine” or “Kissing Balls”? 😇 ~ Pastor Randy)

Wende mentions many good scripturally-based activities that we should be engaged in during this season (and all year round) such as expressing love, gathering together, and practicing generosity. What are some ways that you plan to participate in each of these?


This is meant to be an interactive blog so please share some of your responses with us.