God With Us

Christmas Day commemorates a turning point in history – It marks the beginning of the end of the story of redemption and reconciliation with our Creator God. Everything in the Old Testament, everything in history up to that night in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago, points to the coming of a Savior, the need of a Savior, the hope of a Savior. Everything in history since that night has pointed both back to that event, as well as forward to the longed-for day when Christ will return.
IMG_0132It is a day we celebrate with joy, sharing it with those we love, rejoicing, giving to those we love just as God in love gave us the gift of Himself, as the God-man Christ Jesus. He wasn’t just a tiny baby in a feeding trough, but He was God Incarnate, God Himself come to earth. God gave hope to the hopeless, life to the dying, grace to the wretched sinner, peace to the troubled. He stooped to earth in love, that we might be raised with Him, dying that we might have life. He came in the form of a sinless, helpless infant, with the purpose of saving His people from their sins.
IMG_0192Isaiah 7:14 reads: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel. God with us. Wonder at that. Marvel at that. Rejoice, and give God the glory.

Merry Christmas!

Laura Elizabeth

Winter bouquets

IMG_5995.1lowrezEven after the flowers fade, in what is left there is so much variety of texture, so many shades of brown and tan and silver and gold, such strange symmetry and asymmetry, such a spectrum of design. Winter bouquets are the perfect way to showcase the subtle beauty of the season. Sarah and I headed this morning towards the mines where we were hiking yesterday, armed with scissors and sacks and our cameras, to go a-gathering.

IMG_6020.1lowrezIt didn’t take long for us to fill our sacks, and it took less time than that for us to be already running late to help with Christmas dinner. Nevertheless, we gathered plenty – Heads of bee balm, little blue stem, coneflower tops, dead spikes of hairy verbena, and other grasses. We stopped once or twice on the way back to cut some yellow rabbitbrush, which seems to grow more on the open hill sides and hill tops, than in ravines.

IMG_6013.1lowrezMason jars are perfect as vases, and heaven knows we have plenty of Mason jars all over the place! I thought about using some of the old blue jars, but I think the clear glass ones are less obtrusive, for this sort of bouquet. I filled the bottom of the larger jar with pieces of lichen and moss-covered bark. Adding a jute bow, they became festive centerpieces. Jute is like burlap – Rustic, serviceable, and delicately beautiful in its drabness.

IMG_6030.1lowrezIt is something of an exercise in simplicity.

And I like simplicity.

Laura Elizabeth

A Winter’s Eve

IMG_5838.1lowrezEven in the last minute Christmas bustle, baking, cleaning house, wrapping presents, doing laundry, the beautiful weather couldn’t be wasted. We finally got out the door around 3:30. The sun had dipped below the hills. Our Hole-in-the-Wall excursion became a Mountain Lion Cave excursion, since the former takes considerably longer than the latter, and we can drive the Jeep almost all the way to the ravine the cave is in.

IMG_5849.1lowrezWe have a trail going from the driveway all the way to the cave, but the last hill down into the ravine is about a 40 degree grade and, while possible in the Jeep, gets a little dicey. So we generally park at the top and walk the rest of the way down the trail. Today, though, Sarah and I decided to walk down through the mining pits, since we’d never gotten into the ravine that way before. It was a lovely little walk down the mine, over deadfall, through briars and waist-high dried grasses, in and out of cutaway places where water probably ran during the mining days.

IMG_5866.1lowrezClumps of woodsorrel and tufts of lush moss clung close to the earth, as green as springtime, glinting through pine needles and scrubby grasses, like emeralds in an antique brooch. Pale grey lichens crusted rocks, subtle and unremarkable, until you look closer.  The moss clinging to rocks, like a tiny carpet of ferns, and the lichen crusting rocks, like strange, oceanic life. What variety of textures and color in Creation!

IMG_5887.1lowrezEven in the winter, even when nearly everything has gone to sleep, dormant, and won’t wake until March or April or May, even with all the flowers dead, the petals faded and fallen, nothing but stems, sepals, dried leaves left, there is still a mysterious, ephemeral beauty. Flowers are common to life, something we are used to looking and wondering at. But what about what is left when the flower is gone? That is something we don’t generally take the time to marvel at. But those things that are left are the means of propagating next year’s flowers – In a sense, they are the beginning of the new flowers.

IMG_5845.1lowrezOn the way to the ravine, we stopped to get some pictures on a sun-bathed hillside. These silvery stars were fresh and bright in a bed a fallen pine needles and red earth, one of the only living plants still unbitten by the frost. As many flowers as I’ve photographed and identified, I can’t put my finger on this one – I have a few ideas, including Eriogonum pauciflorum, but I don’t think I’ll know until I check on it this spring. Tomorrow, or sometime soon, I’d like to go back to mark the area so I can be sure to identify the correct plant!

IMG_5889.1lowrezThe stems of dried grasses and flowers would make a lovely winter bouquet – We’ll have some time before our Christmas festivities begin tomorrow, so I’m hoping to get out to pick a bouquet. Dressed up with some jute and put in a Mason jar, it will make a rustic, festive centerpiece! I forgot to bring a sack on our walk, or I would have picked some things today.

IMG_5918.1lowrezThe moon was rising as we drove east towards home. Giant and golden, fading to silver as it got higher. I didn’t have a tripod with me, but as soon as we were home, I grabbed the tripod and Sarah and I headed out again. It will be a full moon tomorrow, a full moon on Christmas. This evening, it was fitting that we listened to the 1968 Apollo 8 Christmas message, a reading from the first chapter of the book of Genesis. What a wonderful world God created, and what a gift to live here.

Tomorrow is Christmas. I’d hoped for a moonlit hike on Christmas night, but we’re expecting snow. So Sarah and I are about to bundle up and head out for a stroll in the moonlight. The frost is thick and diamond bright in the light from the almost-full moon. A perfect night.

Laura Elizabeth

Waiting

IMG_5301.lowrezChristmas Eve is a good time to remember – and to reflect. On Christmas Day, Christians celebrate the miraculous birth of a Savior, God Incarnate, who humbled Himself to come to earth as a baby, as the frailest form of humanity. But I think we often make the mistake of forgetting that the Christmas story doesn’t start in the book of Matthew, but it starts back in the book of Genesis. Throughout the Old Testament, a Savior was waited for – The entire Old Testament leads us to Christ.

It starts back in Eden, when Adam and Even were still the first people on earth.

In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve rejected God’s command, God cursed the earth and increased the trials both men and women would face, but He also gave them hope – The hope of Someone who would come to earth to do battle with Satan.

In Genesis 13, God told Abraham that all families of earth would be blessed through Abraham. And in Genesis 15, God told Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.”

IMG_5295.lowrezIn Genesis 49, the last days of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, are recorded. Jacob was nearing the end of his life, and he gave a blessing to each of his sons. This wasn’t a blessing of earthly proportions, but was prophetic in nature and from the hand of God. In his blessing to Judah, he says, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you…The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

In the second book of Samuel, chapter 7, the prophet Nathan came to King David, who was himself a descent of Abraham and Jacob, and told him, “….the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom….And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”

And in the book of Micah, the prophet speaks about Bethlehem: “From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

These five examples barely scratch the surface of the promises and foreshadowing of the Messiah in the Old Testament. These are just a few of the many promises and prophesies that God gave His people – These were signs by which they would recognize the Messiah. They were reminders that God hadn’t forgotten His promises. God had a plan, a perfect plan, a beautiful plan, by which He would bring Salvation into the world, by which all families of earth would be blessed, who would rule in righteousness and justice and mercy, who would establish His throne forever. The Israelites waited eagerly and probably wearily for the Messiah, a king who would come and free them from the various harsh oppressions they lived under. As is so often the case, our anticipation of God’s plan for our lives is so much less than what He actually has planned. They waited for an earthly king. God had a different plan.

IMG_5288.lowrezFinally, as is recorded in the book of Matthew, a baby was born, given the name Jesus, born in the town of Bethlehem, to a young virgin named Mary, who was of the house of David (Luke 3), who conceived her Child miraculously through the Holy Spirit. This Child’s legal, adoptive father, Joseph, was also of the house and lineage of David (Matthew 1), making this Child both legally and physically of the house and lineage of David the King, and Judah, and Abraham. God always keeps His promises.

From Abraham’s lineage there did come whole nations of people on earth, but more importantly, from Abraham’s lineage was born the Messiah, through whom “all families of earth shall be blessed.”Abraham’s lineage is truly a magnificent lineage, and includes every single Child of God, every single person saved from their sins by faith in God’s Son and adopted into that glorious heritage. Even Abraham, who knew God with such a blessed kind of faith, couldn’t have comprehended that his legacy would include everyone adopted into God’s family through the saving work of the Messiah who would come from his lineage! What wonderful history!

IMG_5302.lowrezAnd it continues today! The scepter hasn’t left the house of Judah. The never-ending throne of King David is still being ruled from today, because Jesus, the Son of David, is reigning in Heaven, risen and glorious, and will one day return to finish His battle with Satan. The king the Israelites expected was a king who would wipe out their earthly enemies, restore earthly peace, and give earthly justice. But the King that God had planned would be a King who would wipe away our sins, our tears, our spiritual enemies, who would provide the Gift of Salvation, who would come to earth as a Man, someone we can try to comprehend with our finite minds, someone who can sympathize with us in our weakness, someone to demonstrate a life of righteousness, love, faith, purity, joy, servanthood, humility, and sacrifice. A King who would restore Spiritual Peace, and give Spiritual Justice and Mercy. A King who would adopt us into His household and call us His children, His brothers and sisters, His family.

And all of this started back before Genesis 1. The Israelites waited for the coming of the Messiah. We wait for the second coming of the Messiah.

What a glorious heritage. What a glorious past, present, and future, in light of God’s gift to all mankind!

Laura Elizabeth

A Cat’s Life

Kashka’s favorite spot is still under the Christmas tree. The sun has been streaming brightly through that window all morning, and she has been basking in it since she came inside.

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What a life.

Laura Elizabeth

Gingerbread Houses

IMG_5759.1lowrezAfter a morning of cleaning the church with Roy, Anna and I went over to make gingerbread houses with Hannah and Jacob, who also go to our church. They take their gingerbread house making very seriously – They’re pros. It turns out a number of people at Southern Hills take gingerbread house making very seriously. We might need to have a church gingerbread house making party and contest sometime.

Because of nearly constant space constraints since I was little, my family never got into making gingerbread houses. It was fun to see the variety of design, even though we were all using the same materials. But more than that, it was fun to spend the time with dear friends, sharing Christmas traditions, leading up to the celebration of one of the two most wonderful holidays, the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

IMG_5302.lowrezFor Christians, even the secular traditions should be a reminder to us of what we are celebrating – We are celebrating the coming of God to earth, the long-promised, long-awaited Messiah, the Blessing of Abraham, the Davidic King who will reign forever, the one who will one day destroy Satan and dry all tears. That is something to celebrate!

Laura Elizabeth