Wednesday, 21 December 2016

will you offer a vacancy?

The other evening, a few girlfriends I've been doing a study with had a little Christmas get together at my house.  Since we all came feeling frazzled, tired, and a bit overwhelmed with so much yet to do, I promised that they would leaved feeling pampered, loved and reminded of what really matters most about Christmas.

My one friend has a gift for finding the perfect song for any occasion, so I asked her to bring one to share that evening.  As expected, she chose a song that was just beautiful -- the kind of song that raises goosebumps and goes straight to the heart of you, leaving you speechless for a few long moments -- as if responding with words might ruin something.  

There was one line in particular that I have not stopped thinking about since:

"The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy."

The song is called "Be Born in Me" and the speaker in the song is a young woman named Mary, chosen by God to receive the great blessing and great burden of bringing the long awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ, into this world. Her vacancy became the fullness of life offered to all humankind.   

What a strange and wonderful thing to offer of yourself -- a vacancy, some empty room in your heart and life. In a world that tells us we should always be fulFILLed, never lacking, never empty, personally satisfied at any cost, it is a strange thought that having a vacancy in your heart might be a good thing; that it might actually be a gift to offer.

But vacancy is a gift that comes with a price.  A heart that is able to offer a vacancy has been emptied of something, sometimes by choice but often not.  Perhaps we've intentionally chosen to give up or let go of something, in order to make room for something better.  Perhaps we've chosen to open our hearts wider, making space to actually feel more pain or more joy,  or to make room for new friendships, or to respond to a need.  But perhaps the vacancy we feel is a result of loss, not by our choice at all.  Maybe we've experienced a loss of someone dear to us or a loss of health.  Maybe it's been the loss of a career or a marriage or a dream,  or the loss of identity that results from such changes. Loss creates a vacancy, one that can feel extremely painful or lonely.  

But could it be possible that a heart-vacancy also allows for new possibilities, for an infilling that could not happen otherwise?  As the Christmas story is told, on the night of Jesus's birth, there was no room at the inn. There was no vacancy.  The world had not prepared a space to receive the Greatest Gift of all.

I can't help but wonder if much has changed since that first Christmas?  I can't help but wonder about myself. 

In all the blessings I've received, in a life abundant with love, family, friendship and grace, am I will to experience an emptiness?  Am I willing to offer a vacancy in my heart and life for Jesus to come and be born in me?

My hope for all of us this Christmas, is that we will make room.  That we will not be satisfied and over-filled with good things, at the risk of missing out on the Best thing, the Giver of Life Himself.

Merry Christmas.  Hugs and love to all of you.

P.S. If you have a few moments, make yourself a warm drink, snuggle into a quiet place and enjoy:  Link: "Be Born in Me" by Nichole Nordeman & sang by Francesca Battistelli

words and images (unless otherwise cited) © copyright Melody Armstrong 2016

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Christmas Reflections

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I love this season of Christmas.  I can barely wait each year for the afternoon when our family exchanges ornaments and decorates the tree; for the way we laugh and retell the stories, and one by one weigh down the branches with memories new and old.  I treasure the simple, unexpected moments of togetherness when all of us end up laying around in the living room with the tree lights low, the music playing and the easy conversation that flows.  I love the huge family and friend gatherings with great food, little kids running around and the pleasure of being with those we care about.  Even the kitchen chaos has had a festive feel to it lately... like last night when each of us on crazy schedules came tumbling in at different times, ate our dinner, snacked on ginger cookies, watched the gingerbread house take shape on the table (thanks to Brooklyn), and dipped into the candies meant to decorate it. These are the moments I love and cherish so much.  They are such wonderful gifts.

But there is one gift I cherish more, and sometimes I forget.   It's only when I stop and intentionally set aside some quiet moments to reflect, to pull away from all the hustle and noise, pressure and distraction, that I remember. 

Amidst all the wonderful gifts, there is something infinitely more....the most immeasurable, indescribable, invaluable gift of all: God's gift of Himself to me -- to all of us. He is the gift of fresh, new beginnings; the gift of forgiven mistakes, forgotten pasts, and clean slates.  He is the gift of freedom for our souls. He is Christmas.

A couple thousand years ago, at just the perfect moment -planned before the beginning of time- God did the impossible.  He became small. The creator and mastermind behind all that we might wrap our wildest imaginations around, willingly inserted Himself into time and history, in the form of a helpless baby, born to a peasant girl who was engaged to a carpenter.  And His birth was announced to the shepherds, of course.  God lit up the heavens with stars and angel-choirs singing -- a show for the lowly and lonely and overlooked. 

This is what God always does.  He comes to those of us that want and need him most. He becomes small enough to be born in us,  if we choose to make any room at all for Him in our own soul's manger -- right there in the mess of it all.  And then the Miracle grows in us.  God fills us and spills out of us.  We get to be transformed daily, if we choose, because the creator is lovingly at work within us.

And just like the virgin Mary, who said "yes" to being a vessel wherein Christ could dwell, we have the same choice to make.  Are we willing to say yes, even the tiniest yes, to having God dwell in us?  Are we willing, even when we don't know what it means, when we're afraid, when we doubt, when we're confused and lost in our messy lives, to say yes?  

If we are, if we're willing to make any room at all for God in us, I can't help but believe that we might finally experience a widening of our imaginations and catch a glimpse of Christmas' true meaning and best gift.

Merry Christmas to you all.

words and images © copyright Melody Armstrong 2016