Beliefnet
Safe Place with Ruth Graham

I posted this six years ago…it is still good!

Does your house look like this? The carols are playing on the stereo. There is a blazing fire on the hearth – with extra split logs neatly stacked nearby. Snow is gently falling outside. All the Christmas cards and packages have been addressed and mailed early. The smell of cookies baking – not burning – fills the house. The carolers are outside as a sleigh carrying children slowly glides by – harness bells jingling on a starlit night. All the handmade gifts are wrapped to perfection under the tree where all the lights are working. The children are neatly dressed in velveteen with white collars. Even the dog has a red bow around his neck. Your in-laws will arrive soon as the family gathers with smiles and warm hugs. And you smile to yourself that have money leftover!

If we are honest we have stood in the grocery line and thumbed through Martha Stewart’s magazine with wistfulness. She tells us that we can make everything by hand; the soufflé won’t fall; the packages are wrapped like masterpieces; we can look rested and be ready two weeks early. So that you can relax by the fire with your hot tea and homemade scones to listen to the carolers outside your spotless windows as you welcome family and friends to your hearth.

Good grief! That is not real life!! At least not at my house. The holidays arrive whether you are ready or not. We are bombarded with messages to spend and do until we feel that anything less than “all” isn’t enough. Our culture – even the church – has bought into the advertising message that families love to gather and they all get along – even the dog behaves!

Christmas isn’t about cookies, magic, shopping or snow. Somewhere along the line we have lost Christmas.

Have you noticed that real life happens on the way to Christmas? We talk about peace and joy. But few of us really experience it especially at Christmas. The lights are on the tree but not in our hearts. There is no silence in your night.

Have you noticed that problems and heartache don’t take a holiday? Christmas just adds to an overcrowded schedule and budget.

C.S. Lewis said, “Long before December 25th everyone is worn out – physically worn out by the weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think of suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making, much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.”

I want to ask, what does faith have to do with Christmas? That may seem like a ridiculous question after all it is the celebration of Christ’s birth.

What does faith have to do with Christmas in the real world as we sit in heavy traffic going over our long list of things that have to get done or perhaps sitting in a hospital waiting room or looking in disbelief at your foreclosure notice.

Perhaps you are dreading the season. Your family has one missing from the table this year and your heart is sad. Perhaps the ones that will come to your house don’t get along and that brings stress. One will come drunk or stoned. Perhaps you are not worried about decorating or wrapping packages because you are all alone this year. You have tried you best to shop on a thin budget; it is tiresome and you are weary of trying to be “creative”. And the gifts you carefully chose will be returned the next day. Perhaps you have terrible memories of the holidays and you are just hoping to hang on until January 2nd just to get through it.

What does faith have to do with Christmas in today’s culture? Christmas is for healing, about new beginnings. Christmas is about hope. I cannot teach you hope – I can only live out my own hope in the light of what the angel told a Middle Eastern man in a dream long ago. “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.” (Matthew 1;20-21 NIV) That is the hope we have – forgiveness of sin, freedom from our burdens, God’s presence with us in our day to day lives, peace in the midst of the struggle.

That’s what Christmas is all about.

Push is coming to shove now…Christmas is just 2 weeks away and I have birthdays before and after and a 3-day trip. How will
I ever get ready?

My neighbor had a lovely party Saturday night. Her house was beautifully decorated – as was the whole neighborhood. Yes, I did get my house somewhat decorated – my oldest daughter helped bring the smaller tree from the attic so it could go by the front door as well as 3 pretty red lanterns with “automatic” candles inside.

On Saturday, we had 2 inches of snow so it was very Christmassy. The houses were all decorated – lights twinkling from every window. The “town” Christmas tree was all lit up and everything looked so festive. As I walked out the door, I could hear voices coming from every corner. And as we left, I could hear each one call “Merry Christmas!” Almost like in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

Then yesterday I was ordering Christmas gifts on-line but was frustrated with one website – it wasn’t doing what i thought it should so I called their 800 number. A very pleasant woman said rather than her take my order she would help me with the on-line order as that would give me better discounts and advantages. I was all for that!

We chatted a bit and she indicated her husband was a minister. I told her I was ordained, too.

When It came time to give my credit card information, I gave the name on the card: Ruth B. Graham. She took it down and then said, “You have a famous name”. I replied, “I have a famous father.” She didn’t comment. But she continued to ask for information. Shortly, she tentatively asked me, “Are you by any chance related to Billy Graham?” I told her he was my father. She was so pleased – she had been a counsellor in his Cleveland crusade years before. She loved him and my family.

In our conversation she indicated she has two grown children who are “prodigals”. The church has not been kind to her husband – he is in a new church now – not as senior pastor – but the senior pastor is good and her husband enjoys working with him. The transition hasn’t been easy.

As we wound up the order, I asked if I could pray for her. She agreed. I prayed for her two children and her husband. I told her to tell him not to get discouraged; God would honor his faithfulness to His Word.

What an unexpected gift for both of us! I was just ordering from a stranger…an ordinary act – she was just taking orders from strangers who called in. An ordinary day.

But we had a divine encounter! While we started as strangers we finished as sisters!

Only Jesus can do that!

The Christmas carols are playing…I mailed packages this morning…I lit a pine-scented candle, I baked cookies yesterday to give to friends…it’s beginning to feel like Christmas! My neighbors have decorated their houses…I haven’t – yet. The pressure is on!! I’ll get my outside decorations up before this weekend when all my neighbors gather for a party.

I like to savor Thanksgiving just a bit longer – part of Thanksgiving is the anticipation of Advent. Certainly one of the things I am MOST thankful for is the coming of Immanuel.

We celebrate God breaking into human history in a remarkable way. God drew near to us. That is astonishing. No other religion has God reaching down to man – all other religions have man trying to reach their god by good works and sacrifice. Not Christianity. It is God coming to us because He loves us. He wants an intimate relationship with those He created. Wow! The only way to do that was for Him to come to us – face to face.

No wonder Zacharias was “troubled” and “feared” when the angel, Gabriel, suddenly appeared to him in the Temple while he was going about his priestly duties. That had to be unexpected for Zacharias and, not a little bit overwhelming.

Yes, the Jews anticipated the Messiah’s coming for a very long time but they had not heard from God for over 400 years. Not a word. Not a prophet’s voice heard. Nothing. God was silent. There was a faithful remnant that kept waiting and expecting but I doubt many expected His coming to be announced to Zacharias that day.

It’s funny how God does the unexpected.

Gabriel told Zacharias that he and his wife, Elizabeth, were going to have baby boy. This baby was going to be the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah.

Zacharias asked this great angel how could he believe the angel. I doubt he’d ever seen one much less talked to one. Zacharias was practical – he and Elizabeth were old. He doubted what Gabriel was telling him. The sign of the truth of this message was that Zacharias would not be able to speak until the baby was born.

That had to be frustrating. He couldn’t tell all his friends and neighbors about the experience he had with the angel. He couldn’t talk to Elizabeth about the plans for the baby…

But in the silence in their home their must have been a sweet communion. Words are not necessary for communication. They must have felt God’s awesome presence and joy. And no doubt, awe-struck.

Why had God chosen them? What would their son be like? The Angel told them a bit about him. He would be great in God’s sight. He would not drink alcohol and he’d be full of the Holy Spirit. His purpose was to turn many back to the God of Israel in preparation for the Messiah’s coming. He would have the spirit and power of Elijah, one of Israel’s greatest prophets.

What an awesome privilege to get a front-row seat to the coming of the Messiah!

The morning I was reading my Daily Light – as I have since I was about 12 years old. It is the King James Version because that is what I grew up with – the familiarity of the words brings comfort.

I read of God’s glory. God’s glory is so dazzlingly bright and magnificent He cannot be seen by human eyes. Moses asked to see God’s glory but God told Moses that “no mind can see me and live.”

In Scripture it talks about the “likeness of the glory of the Lord.” It cannot be described. St. John had the same issue as he wrote the book of Revelation. What he saw was so fantastical, he couldn’t describe it. it truly overwhelmed him. As it did the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel.

I can only imagine it would be like looking at the sun – but 1000 times brighter.

God knew we frail human could not stand in or look at His glory. So He sent an exact representation in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote in II Corinthians, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus.”

God the creator created the sun and moon just by speaking them into existence. He wanted to light the world which was empty and shapeless. This great creative God whose Word is creatively powerful has touched our own human, frail heart with His light.

Why? “To give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus.” God wanted us to see Him but He knew it was dangerous so He sent one who reprints Him to a “t”.

Take time to think about that!

And this exact representation came in the form of a baby. Mind-blowing! If God wanted to show us His glory why did He sent a helpless baby? Would not a light saber or army or powerful creature work better? No one would take a baby seriously. Power and majesty do not bring a baby to mind. A baby is vulnerable. Helpless. Approachable.

Perhaps that is part of God’s glory – humility.