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From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable

From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith;
To the anguish and the shame of scandal
Came the Saviour of the human race!
But the skies were filled with the praise of heav’n,
Shepherds listen as the angels tell
Of the Gift of God come down to man
At the dawning of Immanuel

King of Heaven now the Friend of sinners,
Humble servant in the Father’s hands,
Filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
Filled with mercy for the broken man.
Yes, He walked my road and he felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again –
I will follow my Immanuel!

Through the kisses of a friend’s betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for a world’s transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost.
He fights for breath, He fights for me,
Loosing sinners from the claims of hell;
And with a shout our souls are free –
Death defeated by Immanuel!

Now He’s standing in the place of honour,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own beloved
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell;
But the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

(Stuart Townend, 1999)


In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

(Christina Rossetti, 1872)


Merry Christmas!

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. And the Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.

Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

(Zechariah 2:10-13)


The Gift of Gifts

O source of all good,
what shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,

thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
my redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,

his self-emptying incomprehensible,

his infinity of love beyond the heart’s grasp.

Herein is wonder of wonders:

he came below to raise me above,

was born like me that I might become like him.

Herein is love;

when I cannot rise to him
he draws near on wings of grace,

to raise me to himself.

Herein is power;

when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart

he united them in indissoluble unity,
the uncreate and the created.

Herein is wisdom;

when I was undone,
with no will to return to him,

and no intellect to devise recovery,

he came, God-incarnate,
to save me to the uttermost,

as man to die my death,

to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,

to work out a perfect righteousness for me.

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,

and enlarge my mind;

let me hear good tidings of great joy,

and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,

my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,

my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;

place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,

to look with them upon my redeemer’s face

and in him account myself delivered from sin;

let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart,

embrace him with undying faith,

exulting that he is mine and I am his.

In him thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.

(The Valley of Vision)


Molasses Cookies

These molasses cookies have become one of my go-to desserts - easy, tasty, made from basic pantry items. They also make an excellent Christmas baked gift, stacked in pretty round circles, a little crackled, a little sparkly with sugar.

2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses

Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together. Set aside 1/2 cup sugar in a shallow bowl. With an electric mixer, beat butter and remaining cup sugar until combined. Beat in egg and then molasses, until combined. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in dry ingredients, just until a dough forms. Pinch off and roll dough into balls, about 1 tbsp each. Roll balls in reserved sugar to coat. Arrange balls on baking sheets, 2-3 inches apart. Bake, one sheet at a time, until edges are just firm, 10-15 min. (If you bake more than one sheet at a time, cookies will not crackle uniformly.) Cool 1 min. on baking sheets, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

We're leaving for a Christmas visit to Texas tomorrow morning. (Hi, Texans! See you soon!) I've stored up a few Christmas poems, songs, and prayers to post while I'm out of town. I hope you enjoy!


Late(r) in Time

I wrote the words below a year ago today. Add a year to all the time spans mentioned in the first paragraph, and take out the dread of Christmas this season, and much of the sentiment below still rings true.


In many ways, I've been dreading this Christmas season. Yet another year has come and gone, and I am still not pregnant. I am certainly not celebrating baby's first Christmas. Two years have passed since Aaron and I sat in our car, stuck in a snowstorm on the way to West Virginia, and talked dreamily about how next year we'd probably be a family of three for the holidays. A year has passed since I thought that despite the disappointments of 2005, surely I would at least be pregnant by the end of 2006. I dare not hope for 2007. And not only is Christmas a painful reminder of the children we do not yet have, it is a season focused on the holiness of a birth. We tell and re-tell the amazing story of a virgin who conceived, for goodness' sake. I love the story, believe it with all my heart, but yet there is something about that miracle that can bring a small ache to my infertile soul.

So I dreaded Christmas this year. But God has mercifully given me a new measure of joy, instead of the heartache I anticipated. My circumstances are still difficult, my trial is not over, my temptations still press in. Yet I find myself singing. As we sang "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" in church a couple weeks ago, the Spirit illuminated to me the words, "Late in time behold him come, offspring of a virgin's womb." At first, I felt that pang, but then I really thought about those lyrics. Though he was suddenly and unexpectedly conceived (from a human perspective), Christ's birth was long awaited. A barren world yearned for centuries for the Messiah to come. Thousands lived and died, hoping for the birth of a Savior, trusting God's promise of a Redeemer. Human hearts were sick with sin and deferred hope. Then, oh miraculous act of love, God became man, took on flesh as a tiny infant. Immanuel. God with us. God with us in our deepest suffering. God with us to rescue us from his own wrath against our sin. God with us to give us himself.

This month, every time I think of the anguish of the past couple of years and the anxiety about the upcoming year, I remember. "Late in time behold him come." My years of waiting to conceive are small in comparison to the centuries that the world waited for the Savior to be born. My suffering - though still weighty - is infinitely lighter because I live after that birth, after Christ bore the burden of my sins. I am waiting for a baby, but I am not waiting for a Redeemer. I trust and hope that I will see my child's face one day; I know with certainty that I will see my Lord's face in heaven.


More Advent Links

The post for the third Sunday in Advent is up at Toddled Dredge, reminding us of how God breaks into our routines and our ordinary lives.

At Solo Femininity, Carolyn McCulley captures some helpful thoughts about Christmas expectations from a commentary on the book of Esther.



A Tale of Three Christmas Parties

Last week, we attended the annual church Christmas party for leaders of ministry teams and care groups. This party has become somewhat of a personal measuring stick for me over the past three years. Up until we started trying to conceive, this gathering was one of my favorite events of the year. We would get together with some of our closest friends to share laughter and memories, and each person would share how they were most encouraged by God's work in the past year. It was a joyous time. I expected things to be much the same in December 2005.

But then one pregnant woman after another arrived at the party. I think about half the group was expecting, and all I wanted to do was run and hide. It was a miserable evening. I took a huge nose-dive into self-pity and stayed there. [As we shared our highlights for the year,] every other couple mentioned the gift of the baby on the way. When it was my turn to share, I said something about our care group, but internally I was thinking, “I have nothing to be encouraged about! God is not blessing me! He has forgotten about me!”

On the way home from the party, Aaron asked how I was doing and I told him truthfully. I was completely overwhelmed. I knew I was sinning in a thousand ways – pride, unbelief, jealousy, self-pity, impatience, lack of contentment, etc. – but I felt absolutely stuck. I felt like the pain of not being able to conceive was leaving me no other options. There was too much pressure, too many temptations, and I didn’t know where to begin to fight against it all. I was ready to throw my hands up in despair (entry from 6.23.2006).
That night became a turning point for me. You see, we had been trying to get pregnant for about a year at that point, and the suffering of a good desire denied had begun to get very intense. As a result of the anguish I felt at that party, I began to fight back against the sin that infertility was beginning to expose in my heart. The fight has lasted much longer than I expected. A year after that night, we returned to another church Christmas party, now with a couple failed IUIs under our belt. The party was populated with babies instead of pregnant women (although I'm sure there were a few of those, too, knowing our church). It was still a challenging evening but by God's grace not nearly as difficult as the year before.

Now here we are in December 2007, at the end of our third unsuccessful year of trying to conceive. With two failed IVFs and with questions about whether we'll be able to attempt IVF again, we are in some ways farther away than ever from the chance of having a child. And yet, I am content. As we sat at this year's Christmas party, I was able to honestly share how encouraged I am at how God has filled me with such gratitude for the gospel that I feel joy and peace even in the face of my still-unfulfilled longing. Yes, being in the company of another cluster of pregnant women - some of the same who had been expecting at the 2005 party - gave me twinges of resignation, but what a change God has wrought in my heart! These Christmas parties mark off the years of my physical barrenness, but they also give me a chance to measure the harvest of spiritual fruit.


Advent Links

Other folks 'round this here internet are getting ready for Christmas, too.

The gals over at GirlTalk are talking about the keys for Christmas joy; the series starts here with the question: "What would make you happy this Christmas?"

That contemplative mom with crackers behind Toddled Dredge is serving up rich Advent meditations. For the first Sunday in Advent, she prescribes the antidote to naive Christmas nostalgia:

We light the prophets’ candle in defiance of nostalgia. The world has not changed so much. The voice that spoke then, still speaks today. The God who loved them also loves us, and offers to change us like streams reversed in their courses, running uphill to Zion, the house of the Lord.

And for the second Sunday of Advent, she reminds us that "we don't get points for being merely Not Horrible." I'm eagerly anticipating Veronica's Advent and Christmas thoughts to come.

Read and be inspired this Advent season!


Anticipating What Has Gone Before

This December, I decided to prepare for Christmas by reading through the daily Advent readings in the Book of Common Prayer. Spending time in Scriptures that prophecy both the birth of the Messiah and the eventual return of Christ has filled me with anticipation. I have been especially impressed by the sense of the bleakness of the world before God sent his only Son to the rescue and, by association, the darkness of my own heart before God saved me. It is a strange and eager feeling, to look forward with longing to the Savior's birth; the event has already happened, and I know the rich truth of its significance, yet for this month I dwell imaginatively in a realm waiting for the breakthrough of the gospel.

Here are some meditations from one passage of Advent reading (I recommend reading the verses from Isaiah first):

Isaiah 1:1-20
Before the coming of the Savior, we were laden with iniquity. We were utterly estranged from God. Though children should know and obey their father, we lived in rebellion and more base than the beasts who know their Creator and follow his natural order. We languished sick in head and heart and body. Our souls were completely unsound and we could apply no remedy. We could make no sacrifice to please God or gain his favor. The blood of sin covered our hands, and we could never wash the stain off. Though God, in his holiness, could not heed our prayers, he still took the initiative to save. We were lost in evil, but he came as a man to make a reasonable way. God said, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." The blood of my sin could only be washed by the blood of Christ crucified. The only white I can claim is the pristine robe of Christ's righteousness.


Three to Six Inches

This morning, I laced up my rugged winter boots and tugged on my soft-green knit cap. I stepped outside and walked toward the nearby pond. At first, I tried to keep to where I guessed the sidewalk to be; but the snow had erased all the lines and bestowed freedom to walk anywhere. Sometimes I made my own path, and sometimes I trod in the footprints of those who had already ventured out in this winterscape. I imagined a father and son, enjoying the snow in the morning before the boy boarded his school bus - the father walking slow, making large, distinct prints, and the son scampering, shuffling, leaving a line of scuffs in snow too high for his small stride. As for myself, I walked in solitude. I saw the last fallen leaves of autumn, indistinct under the layer of snow, as if a bleached cotton curtain draped over them. I saw bright red berries topped with white woolen hats and evergreen fingers boasting chenille gloves. I praised God for giving these cold climes the flora that wear the fashions of winter so well, these buds and branches whose bright complexions are not made sallow by greys and dusty whites surrounding them. I saw traces of life - the perfect pairs of indentations left by rabbits' hind feet, the flock of geese frozen out of their favorite pond, the tracks of a little person running around the yard to the trampoline to jump, jump, jump in the snow. Across the steely sky, church bells chimed nine. Time for work, but taking in this dawn of a new season merits a late start. As I trudge home, toe to toe with my outgoing footprints, a new snowfall flurries and blusters around me. The drivers of the cars passing me may pity the girl who has to walk in the snowstorm, but I... I tasted God's beauty like the snowflakes on my tongue.