The last couple of years have been challenging to say the least. Many have experienced a range of negative emotions and it’s not been easy to maintain our equilibrium. We all have our favorite coping mechanisms (Hallmark movie anyone?) and some are better than others. It’s easy to say just trust Jesus, and yes, my faith and trust in him is how I cope with life. But in difficult situations, I sometimes need a little help to turn my focus back to him.
A devotional from YouVersion (a Bible app with devotionals, different translations and reading plans) mentioned turning our irritations into pearls, much as oysters do. (Sorry I can’t remember which one so I can’t give credit.) Most of you are probably familiar with how a mollusk can cover a grain of sand or other irritant with nacre to form a beautiful pearl. An oyster doesn’t complain, just gets busy covering that irritant with aragonite (a mineral) and conchiolin (a protein). These are laid down in layers and can take two years to form the pearl.
We don’t have any kind of automatic way to cover irritants in our lives, but we can choose to cover them with prayer, rather than let them wear us down. When I let something continue to bug me, it seems to grow and make me miserable. But I can remind myself to make a pearl, praying for God to lay down a layer of patience, peace and equanimity. By choosing to focus on Jesus and his always sufficient grace, I am laying down a layer of surrender, trust and dying to self. Just like an oyster, I also have to continue covering my irritants over and over in layer after layer, waiting patiently for the pearl to form.
From now on, when something, anything, bothers me I’m going ask Jesus to help me make a pearl. One day, my spiritual jewelry box could be full of beautiful pearls rather than the sand and grit of bitterness, resentment and a bad attitude.
The Advent themes we’ve been experiencing at church services the last four weeks are peace, hope, joy and love. These are, of course, subjects good for any time of the year, but they are particularly poignant and relevant for the month leading up to our Christmas celebration of the incarnation. God coming to earth in the form of a man was an incredible event, even though many didn’t recognize it as such then, and many still don’t, even though it continues to affect and shape the whole world.
Humans have always been able to endure a lot as long as they have hope. When hope dies, people give up. Peace has always been desired but has remained elusive since time began. Joy is certainly in short supply. We sing about love (what the world needs now) but we seem to be immersed in self-centeredness, greed and power grabbing. Jesus brought all these to this broken world but as he said, the Kingdom of God is more like leavening than an earthquake. The yeast of Jesus is still working its way through the world.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let’s pray for his yeast to continue to permeate all we do – from our everyday interactions with family and friends, those in our neighborhoods and communities, workplaces and schools. He is our hope that keeps us going; he is our peace, which is the oil of brotherhood; he is our joy, the one who brought healing and redemption. He is love, and he wraps us in the warm blanket of that love, on Christmas and every day.
Peace, Hope, Joy and Love – arrived as a baby and now lives in us, lighting the way. Have a joyous Christmas!
A couple of years ago, my husband and I moved to Oregon. I’ve never lived so far north. This time of year, the sun sets early and rises late, which is something I’ve had to get used to. On top of the long periods of darkness, the area where I live has no street lights. With lots of clouds and rain (and even a little snow), we don’t often have the moon or stars to brighten up the sky. Living with all this darkness means longtime Oregonians look forward to the sun coming out, even if it’s for only a few minutes.
The whole world was in a different kind of darkness until, as Isaiah said in chapter 9, verse 2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Matthew quoted this verse to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecy: “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” ((4:16, NIV, both verses). Jesus called himself the light of the world in John 8:12. He said following him means we won’t have to walk in darkness because in him we will have the light that leads to life.
Jesus brought light and life to this world, but we are still somewhat in darkness. I guess that’s why he told the people listening to him (Matthew 4:14-16) they were to let their lights shine. That applies to you and me too. As we enjoy the lights of Christmas, may we all be reminded of the Great Light who came to the world to light up our darkness and may we reflect his light in our own little corners of the world, a world in desperate need of the Son.
When you read the Old Testament, which primarily tells of the Messiah and secondarily the story of God’s people, you can see why Israel hung all their hopes and prayers on the fulfillment of those prophecies. Throughout their history, they suffered many bad – even horrific – times, including captivity, slavery, exile in strange lands and even genocide. They kept their hope alive by reading the prophecies, telling the stories to their children and always waiting for their rescue. They continued hoping for hundreds of years.
One day, their hope arrived, but it wasn’t in any way how they expected. Their hope arrived in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. He grew up in the usual way, from infant to toddler, child to teenager and then young manhood. He was just the carpenter’s son, so how could he be the hope of the world and the fulfillment of all their dreams? The Jews not only ignored him (how could he be the One?), they put him to death and then continued to hope for rescue. Many are still hoping to this day, not realizing that when God keeps his promises, it doesn’t always happen as expected.
We in the 21st century are still hoping for rescue. Jesus did deliver us from our sins and now lives in us, but we still suffer the “slings and arrows” of our broken humanity. We await the final rescue, but now we know and understand even though the first clothing of our Hope was swaddling clothes, he will come again clothed in unimaginable glory. I have an idea it won’t look in any way how we might expect, but it will be worth the wait.