Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The bells peal peace

Peace. I alluded to it in my previous post, but never really described what it means to me. There was a mention of a peaceful moment. There was mention of hope. But the song spoke of angels telling the shepherds of peace on earth. Luke quoted the angelic host singing of peace that would come to "those on whom his favor rests." I honestly don't think we as westerners really understand what is meant by peace, especially Biblical peace.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines peace as "a state of tranquility or quiet, freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions, harmony in personal relations, a state in which there is no war or fighting." It's a passive picture. It's a state of the absence of something. But the biblical word seems to be more active, though there is a passive or static sense to it as well. In Hebrew, the word is salom or shalom. It translates more as "whole" or "complete". It is used to describe health, life, and relationship and was used as a greeting and a farewell (see Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of the Bible).

Particularly, I want to focus on the "whole or complete" relationship. In ancient times, covenants were used to establish a right relationship, a "peaceful" one, between people, parties, and even nations. These covenants were renewed with peace offerings. In a sense, peace occurred when two parties agreed to actively relate to each other in a civil way or in the best interest of the other. This was peace.

So why is this important? And how does it connect with Christmas?

I believe that God created the earth and all that is in it in order to pour out His love. In the book of Genesis, God created everything and saw that it was good (Genesis 1). Then he created mankind in His own image, with the ability to feel, to reason, to make decisions, to have a free will, to love...and this was "very good" (Genesis 1:31). The Bible tells us that those first 2 human beings, Adam and Eve, had a relationship with God.

But with being created with the abilities with which they were created, came the ability to choose to do something that would be in direct violation of their Creator. When Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit, they were given the ability to discern good from evil (there's an entire theological discussion right there!) and were disobedient to God's command to them to not do that very thing. Because of this, the relationship between God and mankind was forever broken (also a huge theological discussion that I may address in a later musing). Suffice it to say, the relationship between God and man was not "shalom" or one of peace. It was broken.

That's were the story of Christ and Christmas come in. Because God made mankind to have a relationship with Him, and because mankind messed up, and because God’s very nature does not allow sin to exist with Him, something had to be done to repair the relationship. Every action, decision, has an associated consequence. In this case, an offering had to be made to pay for mankind’s mess up. In the Old Testament of the Bible, God created a list of laws (found in the first 5 books of the Bible) and associated consequences and payments for breaking those laws. Those payments were typically paid in the form of a sacrifice of an unblemished animal.

Skip ahead a few thousand years. If we read all of the laws, and try and follow them, we’ll fail. So God sent Jesus to live a perfect life and ultimately pay the price for all of mankind’s sins with his death and resurrection. This peace offering was God’s way of signing His side of the covenant with mankind. Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection are the objects that complete the relationship between God and mankind, restoring our ability to relate with God…restoring peace!

So as the angels sang out “Glory to God in the Highest, and peace on earth to those on whom His favor rests” they were literally announcing that Jesus had come, and with him, peace, a restoration of the relationship between God and man for eternity.

In the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, the poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote about the despair he felt when hearing bells on Christmas Day in 1863. His despair was due to the recent events of his son getting severely wounded in the Civil War and his wife dying. As many of us do, Longfellow hoped of a day of peace on Christmas. To him, much like those angels singing at the birth of Christ, bells symbolized peace. Yet, his country was in the midst of a Civil War. His son was wounded, and his wife deceased. And to add icing to the cake, the bells were apparently drowned out by the sound of the cannons of war. The cannons reminded him of his pain.

In despair he “bowed his head. ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said; for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to mean!”

I will admit to many times of allowing the darkness of the world to drown out the message of hope – that peace has come. I’m sure we all can empathize with the poet. Life is tough. Some of us have experienced things that we wouldn’t even wish on our worst enemy. As we look around the world today we see that hate is still strong. Dischord mocks us. Peace flits around like a butterfly just out of our reach.

But does it?

Longfellow continues: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to men.’"

God is not dead. All along, God had a plan. All along, God intended to show us his never-ending, never-changing, forever and ever love. Throughout Israel’s history Jesus’s coming was whispered about. In that field outside of Bethlehem, an entire angelic choir sang about it. “Peace on earth, goodwill to men”.

The relationship between God and mankind has been permanently completed, made whole. Peace exists.

As you listen to the bells this Christmas season, whether from a nearby church, in a bell choir, on the radio, or even from the Salvation Army Bell Ringers at the entry to your local grocery store, let the sound of the bells remind you that peace has come and is coming.

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old, familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!”


Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's Christmas. So what?

As I returned from a fairly quiet Thanksgiving trip, I started thinking about all that had to happen in the next few weeks at work, home, etc. Laura Jane interrupted my thought by switching the radio station to one that will play Christmas music from now through December 25th. I didn't think much of it until I began to reflect on the songs, the season, and what it really is that people hope for, but rarely see at this time of year.

For many, Christmas is a time that they imagine will be spent with family, happily around a table, a fire place, or Christmas tree. But as we all know, that is usually only a dream.

The reality is that we are often forced to spend time with people we aren't very fond of, spend money on things that are really never appreciated, and generally look back at the Christmas season with a "Phew! We made it through it! Now we have another 11 months before we have to endure it" attitude. Yet, every November, many of us begin, again, to hope for a peaceful, relaxing, memorable time spent with family; a time where we reflect on the goodness of God; a time where we can look back on the highlights of the year and make plans for a new beginning for the next year. For a lot of us, this is followed by "This year, it'll be different. This year we planned everything out right. This year we have the Christmas shopping completed BEFORE Black Friday. This year we are going to spend more time giving to those around us and less time worrying about everything else. This year..."

Even our culture, the Christmas decorations, the stories, movies, songs, they all point us to times of good cheer. People try to smile more. Non-profits, especially food and toy banks, see huge influxes of gifts. We try. But for what? What is underneath the desire to give? What is underneath the desire to see people smile? Why do we focus on this time of year as a time of peace? What is it about Christmas that makes us try harder to be nice to each other? Why do more people attend church at this time of year? Why?

Over the next few weeks, I am going to delve into some thoughts of my own regarding Christmas. I will try and incorporate some stories from my past that shaped why I believe that this is one of the two greatest times of the year. And, I want to look into some of the words of the Christmas carols we sing, to dissect them a bit. My hope is that some of you will engage in a dialogue and share your thoughts. But mostly, my desire is to bring a little peace to all of us, to renew our hope, and spur change towards greater things.

So what? Matt, what made you think this was a task worth undertaking? Well, I'ma gonna tell ya.

Sunday morning I decided to turn on some Christmas music. The first song was "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" as arranged by Mercy Me. Most of us know the song. We probably sang it in Sunday School or, perhaps, at a school Christmas musical. It originated as a poem by Edmund Sears in 1849 (thanks Wikipedia!). There are 5-stanzas. You probably know pieces of a few of them, especially the first one.

"It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold: 'Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, from heaven's all-gracious King.' The world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing."

Some of you may ask, "what is the author referencing?" Midnight? Where? Do angels really have harps?

I can answer the first 3 questions, but not the last. Sorry. The author is referencing the story of Christ's birth from the book of Luke chapter 2. This is the story of the angels showing up en masse in a field outside the town of Bethlehem and breaking the news to one of the lowest class of people in ancient Judea (Israel), a group of shepherds. It was a message of hope and change. It was a message of comfort. For those shepherds, the news was that a baby had been born who would be the Christ the Lord, the Savior of the world. The angel stated that the news was "good news of great joy that will be for all the people!" A savior had been born! To those Judean shepherds who were being ruled indirectly by the iron fist of Rome and the more direct, and even tougher fist of the Roman puppet Herod, this news probably elicited a feeling similar to what you and I might imagine we'd feel if we won the lottery. Great joy! A huge weight off our shoulders! But also a sense of uncertainty. This Messiah had been prophesied about but never seemed to show up. But then again, news like this hadn't been brought to a group of nobodies like these shepherds by a host of singing angels before either.

Luke continues the story. A host of angels appeared praising God and saying "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

What was that? Peace? There it is. That little word that we all wish to see, but probably have no idea how to describe. Peace. It's the word that pageant contestants invoke when asked what they wish to see. Peace. It's the word scrawled across placards at demonstrations and marches and parades. It brings with it a sense of quiet and calm. It brings with it a sense of stillness - "the world in solemn stillness lay". There is a sense of everything being under control.

Sit back in your chair late in the evening after everyone else is in bed with the lights off, close your eyes, and listen. If you're like me, you really can't find a truly quiet place in your house. As I write, everyone is in bed or settled down around me. Yet, the whir of the computer fan and the sound of branches rustling outside still break the silence. Even though it is peaceful inside, the weather is ramping up for a storm. To truly remember what I think of as peaceful, I have to go back a number of years to a time spent backpacking with my wife up on Mt. Hood. This was pre-kids, and even pre-pets. We had hiked to Elk Meadows on the east side of Mount Hood and set up camp. We watched the sun set over Mt. Hood with a few other backpackers in the area, then retired to our camp. As I put the food bag up in a tree away from our tent, I stopped and just listened. The clear night sky had begun to light up with pinpoint starlights. Contrails from jets mixed with the sparse clouds. Trees creaked a little bit in the ever present breezes on the mountain. But other than that, all was still. No traffic. No worries of the world to deal with. No news to read about. Nothing. Just me, my wife, and creation. It was peaceful.

But is that peace?

The poet continues.

"Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long; beneath the angel-strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong; And man, at war with man, hears not the love-song which they bring; O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.

"And ye, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow, look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing. O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!"

These two stanzas described the world in 1849...and in 2013. The world is filled with strife and war. For those of us not directly involved in strife and war, life's crushing load has most likely touched us, if not right now, then in the very recent past. What does the poet say tends to happen at that time? We don't hear the angels' message. When the worries of the world are keeping us down, it is tough to hear anything, let alone a message of peace, a chorus of hope. The poet shouts "Hush! Rest. Hear." Angels are singing! They are singing a message of hope. All will not remain as it is! There is someone coming who will change all of that!

Yeah, yeah. So what? We hear that in songs and stories, from pastors, and priests every year. And what do we typically do? Well, many of us muddle through each day until it's all of a sudden Thanksgiving, and our minds turn to the fact that Christmas is coming, the dream just might happen this year (a peaceful time with friends and family) and a new year and new chapter is just around the corner. Then we sleep walk through the entire season and move on to the next year as if nothing big happened.

If nothing happened, then why do we celebrate every year? Why do we hope a little more at this time of year? Why do we try a little harder at this time of year? Why do we even care?

I believe that deep down inside of us a part of us believes the message of the angels. A part of us wants to believe and respond to their message that peace is coming. The angel said that the Savior was there, had been born that day 2000-plus years ago. To me, this is a message of hope. It's a promise kept, a love-story to which we cannot truly fathom unless we jump in feet first and experience it.

On that apparently clear midnight in a field near Bethlehem, a host of angels exclaimed that a new hope had sprung eternal and peace would soon come. Over the next few weeks, I hope to unwrap that message of hope and peace. It's a message that began back at the beginning of time and continues today. It's a message that states that regardless of where you and I are in life or how we think we've messed up, you and I are special and loved. We are loved so much that the One that created us paid the ultimate price so that we could always experience His love. And, someday, He will make all things right and fill the earth with peace. A true peace. A peace that surpasses all understanding. A peace that is unlike anything you and I can imagine.

As the poet concluded, "hush the noise...and hear the angels sing" for they sing of a day "when peace shall over all the earth, its ancient splendor fling. And the whole world give back the song, which now the angels sing."

I don't know about you, but that is something I hope for.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chain Lakes Backpacking with LilliAnne

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I, Laura Jane, took LilliAnne on a one night backpacking trip to Mazama Lake in the Chain Lakes area. We both had never been there before and it was beautiful. This was her first trip to carry her own real back pack! She was amazing!! It felt good to be back on the trail. We took our new dog Max. He loved being out in the wilderness! He did not love having to sleep in the tent. He kept me up all night while LilliAnne slept like a rock. We both had so much fun and loved all the wonderful things God created for us to see! We hope to get the twins out there this fall but just for a day hike. Next summer we will all go backpacking!

July 2013

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Just some of our adventures for the month of July. We spent the 4th of July weekend on San Juan and enjoyed the beaches and fireworks. Wesley even made it possible for us to visit the new ER that Matt was the engineer for! He is fine. We have gone on a night hike to find the moon up around our house. We explored Bagley Lake loop. My kiddos love hiking!! We have enjoyed our back yard a ton as well.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Wiggle Waggle

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March 2013

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This month has been busy. We have enjoyed so many sunny days, so we have been busy enjoying all the parks near us and hiking as often as we could get out. Bellingham has so many great parks and trails and we are lucky enough to live right in the middle of some wonderful places to play and explore! Galbrith is just behind our house so that is often where I, Laura Jane, go with the dogs. It is not stroller friendly so I can only ever really go by myself or with LilliAnne. Unless we have someone to watch kiddos (which is very rare), then Matt gets to come with me. Our night hike was super adventurous as our new dog, Max, took off twice thought to be lost forever out in the vast forest of Galbrith. He always found his way back to us though!! LilliAnne and I have gone on several hikes. Often trying to find stamps that are hidden in the woods! We enjoy letterboxing a lot and it is so cool when we do find a stamp and can put it in our book. Even though the sun has been out it was cold for a while, but that never stops us! We have also enjoyed our amazing back yard a lot! We are so grateful for where we live. We can just go outside and enjoy the sunshine and keep ourselves busy for a long time. For our creative ones, sidewalk chalk is the favorite. For our little guy playing with the trucks and tractors or riding his bike is all time fun! Grandma came to visit us and the kids had so much fun having her here. They read a lot of books together and colored a lot! They enjoyed decorating eggs together. I enjoyed a hike with Matt and a mommy only hike during the day with a friend and Max. It was hard not to take Ty but it was good I did not. He would have been so sore. I am not enjoying watching him grow old. He still gets out on Galbrith with us though! This month also has brought possible future change. We went to Port Townsend while Matt had an interview with the county there. We ended up deciding to not move there so turned down the job. It is a cute town to visit though! So our hunt continues. We have no idea where God wants us, but we are willing to go or stay.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Beginning of March

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We had an amazing chance to get outside twice this weekend! Saturday we took everyone to Whatcom Falls for a good long walk, look at fish, and feed the ducks that were not there. We did get Lafeen Donuts as well. We put the twins in the Kelty carriers and I am so encouraged that we will be out on the trails way more this summer! Sunday, LilliAnne and I headed to Lake Padden to find some stamps. We have just recently gotten into letterboxing and it sure makes hiking that much more fun! We get to find cool stamps all over and put them in our special book. LilliAnne and I hiked over 2 miles together enjoying the beautiful forest and letting the dogs get their energy out. Both these outings blessed me, mom, more then words can even describe! I love hiking with LilliAnne and I love watching the twins love being outside as much as they do! I look forward to this spring and summer as it gets warmer and all the cool places we can explore now that the twins can go in backpacks and LilliAnne will hike for longer times as long as the hiking fairy drops her chocolate coins a long the trail!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 2013

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This February has been delightful!We have had some really cold but beautiful days. As long as the wind is not blowing the trees down and we are not preparing for the flood we are outside!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

January 2013

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Just some of the fun we have had during our sunny days in January.

Friday, January 4, 2013

December 2012

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This December we had the chance to enjoy the cabin and see friends and family! Can't say it was relaxing or restful but I do believe that will not be something we get to do anytime soon!