Advent, the Nativity, and Forgetting Christ

In homes and congregations throughout the world, the month leading up to Christmas is spent preparing for the Nativity – this period is known as Advent. In our family, we often set up our Christmas tree the day after thanksgiving (though it was the middle of December this year), followed by a Christmas party with our congregation in the beginning of December. The rest of the month, like many of us, is often spent worrying about presents, stressing about bills, and trying to bake delectables for those we care about. I won’t waste your time saying what more eloquent people have said before me; I’ll let it suffice that I worry that the most important part of the season is lost to most of us.

So forgive my ramblings as I share some thoughts (not just my own).

For centuries the chosen people had waited for the Messiah, the one who would save them and make them free. Some looked for a political savior, others for a teacher and others yet for a redeemer. And the signs were given that the time for the Messiah was at hand. Some thought the Maccabees would fill the role. Others looked onward, all waited for the Advent of the chosen one of God. With the oppression of Rome, the plea for a redeemer grew ever stronger.

Sometime in the summer between the years 6 and 2 BC, a young woman was visited by an angel, telling her that she had been chosen by God to carry His son and bring him into the world.  I can’t imagine the elation and terror she must have experienced. We aren’t told how, but the Spirit of God descended on Mary, and she became pregnant with the very Son of the Living Father. Mary, did you know?

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In the following months, we know, that the young woman married her betrothed, Joseph. We know little of the man, but that he was good, just and faithful is clear.  And some time in the spring of the next year, the expectant couple traveled to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to be taxed and counted. The small town would have been bustling and though she was nearing labor, Mary and Joseph were refused room in the boarding houses. One could infer that it was due to their poverty that they were turned away, but irrespective of the reason, Joseph prepared room in a stable for his wife to bring her Son into the world. I can imagine the feelings of helplessness he experienced, because the helplessness that all husbands feel during childbirth hasn’t changed over the long centuries between Joseph and me.

We don’t know how long she labored, but sometime in the early days of our month of April, Mary gave birth to her first son, and, swaddling him, laid him in a manger meant for feeding sheep.

Despite the songs, the Judean landscape has few plains, but is full of hills and valleys. It was in these hills around Bethlehem that shepherds grazed their sheep and watched them through the night. download

It was to these simple people that the first angelic announcement of the arrival of the Messiah came. The angels told them that He would bring peace on earth to men of good will. Many songs have been, and will yet be, written about this visit.

Without doubt, the shepherds left their flocks, following the angelic direction, entered the town to find the baby with His mother and Joseph. Having worshiped the Messiah, they left to spread the word of His birth.

Sometime before or during the holy birth, a new star appeared in the sky. Astrologers and astronomers have spent 2 millennial seaking an explanation, but there can be no doubt that it was recognized as both a miracle and a sign, at least to some, and perhaps only in the east, from whence came the wise men. The narrative gives us little clues to their identities, or even their numbers, but tradition tells us that there were three wise men, and names them: Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar. images These wise men came in the months or years following the Messiah’s humble birth in the stables of Bethlehem.

That Mary made the sacrifices of purification using doves, rather than a lamb, shows the family’s continued poverty.  But when the wise men arrived, and found the Holy Child,they gifted the Holy Child the kingly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After the angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt to protect his ward, I imagine those gifts paid the way.

The wise men, warned in a dream of the wicked intentions of the murderous Herod, returned to their own lands by alternate routes, and are lost to history. Enraged, Herod butchered all of the male children under the age of two, rightly earning his reputation that will carry through history. Joseph’s faithful adherence to the prompting a of the angels protected his wife and her son.

Thus the first Christmas story is completed. The Son grew to a man, astonishing even the elders of the synagog with his wisdom and understanding. Only 33 short years after his birth, around His 34th birthday, the Savior of Mankind would labor in Gethsemane. Ironically, the symbol of the scapegoat was lost on the Jewish elite, and they gave Him up to be crucified among thieves, fulfilling His earthly mission. It was His resurrection that broke the bonds of sin and death, and his prophesied return that will fill all the forms of Messiah that Children of Israel sought.

We, like the shepherds, are commanded to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah to all the world.  And as Advent comes to a close, and we celebrate the Nativity, I will be seeking to remember Jesus, and to spread His joy to those in need. I hope you’ve felt that joy as you’ve read my insufficient story, and listened to the beautiful music I’ve linked.

And from my family to you, merry Christmas. May the hope of the Messiah carry you through the new year. May we remember Him in our actions. May we embrace the Advent, celebrate the Nativity, and never forget the Christ.

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Disability, Super Powers, and Idina Menzel

As I was getting ready for the gym this morning, like any normal person, I was listening to show tunes. What, you don’t do that? Well, why not? Quick everyone! Let’s point fingers and laugh at the person who doesn’t have a daily ritual of listening to show tunes! What do you mean “I don’t do that either?” I guess it’s only awesome people who do that. ūüėÖ

Anyway, as I was listening to my show tunes this morning I had a realization, one that probably everyone before me has already come to, but I am not fast:

The wonderful Idina Menzel is the embodiment of the empowered disabled person. Oh, she’s not disabled, but she lends her beautiful voice to give a voice to the broken. I have two basic evidences. Plug in your earbuds and listen along, you won’t regret it. Spoiler warning, but that shouldn’t be necessary.

First, Elsa from Frozen. The symbolism is pretty clear, and I think it was deliberate: Elsa has a hidden disability, so well hidden that even her sister is unaware of its existence, but in an effort to hide the disability, she distances herself from everyone around her. Worse, she’s so terrified that everyone will hate her because of her disability, that she makes sure everyone hates her despite it (a classic self fulfilling prophesy). The secondary plot of the movie is Elsa finally coming to accept herself as she is, and realizing that everyone around her loves her despite he strangeness.

This song changed the intended writing of Elsa as an antagonist to being a protagonist, because no bad guy could rock this much.

Second ¬†is Elphaba from Wicked. While I can’t necessarily recommend the play, and definitely can’t recommend the book (something something, sentient animal orgies, anyone?) Elphaba was born with the blatantly visible, though not particularly restrictive disability of having ¬†green skin. This deformity has caused her to be shunned her whole life, leaving her a bitter, awkward¬†introvert. She is, however, powerfully intelligent and magical. Going away to college she meets the snobbish and popular Glinda. Despite being roommates, share a mutual dislike for each other (the word loathing may come up…)¬†Yada, yada, yada, the become friends and Glinda teaches Elphaba how to become popular. Everything looks like it will work out swimmingly for Elphaba, all she needs to do is surrender her identity and betray her morality… Which she decides that she cannot do. As she comes to accept not only her disabilities but her extraordinary powers, she is demonized by the fraudulent Wizard of Oz: being the malformed person that she is, it isn’t difficult for the people to believe that she is in fact wicked. But she declares her own empowerment, defying the societal rules that keep her from her potential.

This song makes me cry every time… Wait, did I just say that? Strike that from the record please.

So what do we learn today?

  1. Idina Menzel is incredible
  2. The music from Wicked, while not being all good, has some awesome and powerful songs disproportionate to the story
  3. Every parent has, or should watch Frozen
  4. Coming to accept disability is the first step to being free of the societal bondage
  5. Jared’s a sissy
  6. Wait, what?
  7. I mean, not so much a sissy as… Emotionally secure? Do you buy that?

And I’m still waiting on my super powers

Image belongs to If-eazyworld РI stole it.

Peter Hollens, Pain Medicines, and Filter

Ask me how I’m doing at your own risk. I usually try to give people the chance to rescind by asking “do you want to know, or are you just being polite?” Uncomfortable and realizing the hypocrisy of the socially demanded question, people usually tell me that they really want to know. For those that know me personally, it’s pretty common knowledge that I’ve never learned to shut up or filter myself. The result is usually wide eyes and open mouths as I tell the truth. 

Aside from dry mouth, I have been blessedly free of side effects on my current pain medication. For this reason my doctor has kept me on this drug rather than risk one that, while potentially more effective, may have significant impact on my life. Regardless, I’ve begun to notice a new impact, particularly in the higher dose I’m now (the highest safely allowed for long term use): any filter I may have had, (which, as we’ve established, was weak) is totally gone. It’s almost like having Terrets’s: any word that comes to mind, comes to mouth.

Last night after Julie asked Nathaniel to give me hugs before he needed to get in bed, he walked  grumpily toward me and grumbled “sit” under his breath. Bruce was not around (I discovered later that he had been inadvertently left out and was, at the moment, curled up under the hedge trying to keep warm and dry: I’m a terrible owner), and I was already sitting, so we weren’t sure to whom he was speaking. Basic questioning made it clear that he was, in fact, saying something else. Apparently my lack of filter has taught my 3 year old the finer aspects of expletive use. Shamed, emberassed, and amused I hugged him goodnight. 

Further, I’ve found that my emotions are always at the surface with the this medication. This is fabulous when I’m feeling happy, as I tend toward school-girl giggliness. If I’m feeling even remotely grumpy, I fly off the handle at the lightest provocation. And even the smallest melancholy brings me to tears. As you can imagine, this is simultaneously amusing and exhausting for my family, not to mention shocking for those who don’t know me. 

This morning I was listening to the fabulous Peter Hollens while on the way to the gym. As I silently wept to Into the West, I wondered what the daycare employees were thinking, and I tried not to notice the tough guys I passed on the way to the locker room. 

I haven’t learned how to address this seeming phycosis with those close enough to understand and merit an explanation, not to mention those who aren’t and don’t. Oh well, the weepy, bearded guy guy at the gym gets in the water where frequent dips cover the tears. Hiding my annoyance at the sloppy, splashing swimmers is a bit more difficult.

Ultimately, I find myself with the need to mentally delete some of my extensive vocabulary of expletives. It already includes a large variety of “dad” words (boogers and bugger start the ‘b’s) but also include the less appropriate “not dad words,” (there’s some ‘b’ words on that list too). My medicinally agrivated lack of filter means that if they’re on the list, they will be said. 

Heaven help the poor soul who asks how I’m doing on a day involving digestive problems.