Saturday, November 20, 2010

fake trees covered in sparkly things

Last night Jayne asked me to come over and help her put up some Christmas decorations. Now, that doesn't sound like something anyone would ask of me, given my limited range of motion and strength, but I think she wanted companionship more than anything, which is something I can provide. It's just not any fun decorating for Christmas alone, is it?

I did help drag the fake Christmas tree in from the garage, and after she pieced it together I helped "fluff" out the branches so it wouldn't look so... fake? This was a stretch for me, as I've been spoiled by my family's tradition of having real trees every year. At any rate, it didn't look too bad, it just needed some... sparkle! So on went the twinkling white lights, that I held in a bundle in my lap as Jayne strung them around. Jayne has these cool silver-sparkly boughs that she put in the bare spots to fill the branches out more, and it looked like there was frost or snow all over the tree. Then she had sparkly red bunches of cranberries and ribbons that she filled in the remaining empty spots. I sat back and directed her where to put things, because sometimes it is easier to see clearly from a distance where you have the big picture.

I wanted to listen to Christmas music to get in the mood, and Jayne wanted to listen to African worship music, as she usually does... so our compromise was the album Rose of Bethlehem, by Selah, which I hadn't heard before but it was absolutely beautiful. I waltzed with myself to their rendition of "What Child is This?" and spun and twirled to "O Holy Night." With the main lights off, the glow and twinkle of the tree was so enchanting, and the room felt so full of peace and joy. I really love one song on the album I'd never heard before, called "Mystery":

"The child was born on Christmas Day, Born to save the world
But long before the world began, He knew His death was sure
The pain and strife secured...
The Christmas trees They glow so bright With presents all around
But Christmas brought A tree of life With blood that sacrificed
The greatest gift in life...

Mystery, how He came to be a man
But greater still how His death was in His plan
God predestined that His Son would die
And He still created man
Oh, what love is this
That His death was in His hands..."

I was sitting still during this song, quietly praying and listening and admiring the tree, and it made me see some great symbolism and a powerful message that our Christmas tree proclaims...

"Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." -Isaiah 1:18.

And how is this possible? Because the only one who was pure - the Spotless Lamb of God - shed his blood for us and took on our crimson sin, "so that we might become the righteousness of Christ."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Celebrating Sacrifice

Women's Club was fairly quiet and empty today. Many of our regular attendees are our Muslim friends, who were celebrating today one of their biggest holidays of the year, Eid al-Adha: The Festival of Sacrifice.

This festival is actually based on the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son. The story is a little different in Muslim culture than it is in Christianity: for one thing, Abraham's only son is Ishmael... Isaac was born after this testing time as a reward for Abraham's willingness to obey God. Also in this version of the story, Ishmael gave full consent to being made a sacrifice. But the basic story is the same: God tells Abraham to sacrifice on an altar his most precious possession, his only son, and Abraham obeys God, and at the last minute God tells Abraham he passed the test and he provided a ram to sacrifice instead.

The Muslim community remembers this story and celebrates it by sacrificing a spotless goat, sheep, cow, or camel. They split the meat up into three parts - one to have with their family, one to share with friends and neighbors, and one to give to the poor.

I can't help but wonder: Why, out of all the things they could recognize, do they celebrate this historical event? Why is it significant to them? What hope do they have in it?

For me, growing up in a Christian home, the story of Abraham sacrificing his son was always a picture - a symbol - of greater things to come. In fact, every Old Testament story that involves sacrifice is a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice made by the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sin of the world. As a follower of Jesus (Isa), I praise God and have great joy and hope in that gift of a ram in the bushes... because that ram reminds me of Jesus, who came to be sacrificed so I would not have to be. He took my place and chose to give me life instead.

The wages - the rightful earnings - of sin is death. It is what I deserve and there is nothing in myself that could make that right. So God told his people to sacrifice animals as sin and guilt offerings for many years to remind them of this. Death is the consequence of sin, but from the time Adam and Eve received animal skin tunics from God himself, he has reminded his people that the consequence could be transferred to an innocent life that is sacrificed to cover our sin. But there really isn't power in a sheep or goat's blood, so the sacrifice had to be made over and over... Until the perfect Lamb of God came, and through his blood we all can receive the gift of complete forgiveness, freedom from sin and death, full assurance of eternal life with God in heaven, abundance of hope, joy, peace, and love... such amazing love from the Father who longs to know us deeply and personally. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

That is something to truly celebrate! How can the people of Islam really celebrate a story like this if they haven't accepted the ending, the punchline, the reality of this shadowy symbolic parable? What is there to celebrate if there isn't the gift of the assurance of eternal life through grace and faith in Jesus?

Oh God, as our Muslim friends take part in this sacrificial celebration, please open their eyes and hearts to the beautiful truth of this story and its incredible happy ending!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Watching Steven

I was zooming through the living room and heading for the front door to go to a meeting today when I heard massive explosions and screeching tires... not outside, but from the television behind me. Last time I checked there were no bombs or car chases in The Little Mermaid. "Thang Ngaih, what are you watching?" I asked my sweet friend. "Oh! It's Steven... you know Steven?" Thoroughly confused, I turned back around in time to see Steven Seagall run around a firey corner in a black jacket and toting two big guns. I half laughed, half rolled my eyes and said, "Yeah, I know Steven... sort of." I think the underwater Disney classic has finally taken its toll on my poor housemate.

When I returned after my meeting, she was still there watching a movie that wasn't animated, enjoying her temporary freedom while the kids were sleeping soundly on the couch. Only in passing I noticed she was no longer watching "Steven," or at least I didn't think so. I sat with her a minute trying to figure out what it was. The U.S. army was working hard to plan a big trap in the middle of New York City, and I kept recognizing actors from other movies I've seen - Matthew Broderik? Jean Reno? For the second time today and in the same tone I asked, "Thang Ngaih, what  are you watching?" She just said she didn't know, and she handed me the case. Godzilla! Oh my... My eyes travelled to the top of the television, where a pile of videos sat waiting to be watched. All action. Two "Steven" movies among them. I don't know who brought them home, but I'm pretty sure it was someone who had heard "Shalalala, kiss de girl" one too many times.

So I decided to stay and hang out with Thang Ngaih and watch the rest of Godzilla. It was sort of English practice too, because Thang Ngaih would repeat punchlines throughout the movie in her best American accent: "That's alotta fish!" and "Running would be a good idea." and "We're in his mouth!" It was absolutely hilarious for both of us, and yes, now many of you will probably want to go watch the movie, won't you? Well if you do, be sure to watch it with a Burmese friend.