The Christmas List

Gracie held her pencil above the last remaining blank page in her planner. “Ah-ha!” She lowered the pencil to the paper, then picked it up again. “No-o.” Who knew you could get writer’s block for a Christmas list?!? There were decisions to be made and gifts to be bought. Now was the time!

This was her moment: the quiet
half-hour before the chaos…
the calm before the storm.

She checked the breakfast casserole again. Still forty minutes to go. Everything else was ready. Her family was on their way. They would eat brunch, then hit the Black Friday sales. This was her moment: the quiet half-hour before the chaos…the calm before the storm. Tomorrow wouldn’t be any better. In fact, every day between this one and Christmas would be loaded with extra things.

Gracie pulled a box of Christmas decorations out of the hall closet. She needed to be productive, and If she couldn’t write the Christmas gift list, she would get started on the decorations. The nativity set lay on top.

She picked up the Mary. I bet Mary had a list of what she needed after the baby was born—things she had packed before they left Nazareth. Maybe she catalogued the donkey’s saddle bags as they trudged toward Jerusalem.

She grabbed Joseph in the other hand. Did Joseph have a list? Probably a list of places to check for lodging…doors to knock on so they wouldn’t have to sleep outside. Maybe he searched his memory for additional options as they trudged toward Jerusalem.

Gracie set both pieces near the center of the mantle. She bent down and collected the three shepherds. It’s always three, to balance the wise men. She thought about the shepherds’ journey into Jerusalem and sat down hard on the ottoman. They didn’t trudge toward Jerusalem. They were excited all the way into town!

Gracie pulled her phone from her back pocket. Ignoring the social media notifications, she opened her Bible app to Luke 2.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  –Luke 2:15-16

There was only one thing
on their list: see Jesus.

The shepherds “hurried off,” not because they were in a hurry—not busy-ness, Gracie thought, but because they wanted to get there as quickly as they could to see the amazing thing God had done…the Messiah He had finally sent to earth. There was only one thing on their list: see Jesus.

Mary and Joseph both had incredible responsibilities that first Christmas. It’s understandable that, in their exhaustion and the burden of their roles, they trudged toward Bethlehem. We are not them. All the work has been done.

She decided to put one thing at
the top of her Christmas list, one
thing that was easy to overlook.

Gracie still had to make a list of all the Christmas gifts to buy. She still had to get the casserole out of the oven and host her family’s annual post-Thanksgiving brunch. But she decided to put one thing at the top of her Christmas list, one thing that was easy to overlook, easy to let slip to the bottom of the list. Gracie wanted to see Jesus this Christmas.

She stood up and looked around. Then, she set the shepherds on a table across the room from the mantle. Each morning, she planned to move them a little closer to the mantle, and in those moments, she would contemplate the Messiah who came to earth for all of us. She would see Jesus.

What’s at the top of your Christmas list this year? Here’s a little #flashfiction fun to set the mood. Because my #ChristmasList is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you have a plan to see Jesus this holiday season? It’s easy to get distracted by all the responsibilities and obligations (both real and imagined) of the season. In the comments below, please share how you keep your focus through the holidays.

A Small League of Unrecognized Radicals (repost)

I’m not good with the crucifixion. I read and write all around it, but I struggle with the actual event. I’ve never even seen The Passion of the Christ. Last summer, however, God gave me this perspective, and I managed to get the words down. So for Good Friday this year, I offer this repost of a biblical fiction piece based on John 19:38-42 (and the other gospels).

“Get me an audience with Pilate. Now.” Joseph’s servant nodded and stepped away, soon lost in the dispersing crowd, but Joseph couldn’t move. He tried not to think about the twelve-year-old who had amazed him in the temple more than two decades earlier. He tried not to list the many who had been healed in the last three years. He forced himself to breathe again and steadied his hands.

Now for his eyes. They hadn’t left Jesus since a centurion thrust that spear into Jesus’ side. Look away, Joseph. You have to look away. You have to take care of this, even if He isn’t what you anticipated. Jesus deserves that much. Continue reading

There’s Just One Door, But It’s Open

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  –John 14:6

Heat from the fire battled streams of cold air pushing through the window gaps of her family’s old house, but the wood in the fire was dry, and the stones of the fireplace were gradually warming the air around them. Rain echoed from the attic, so conversation was sparse. At least they had lights. Lyla shivered and tightened the afghan around her shoulders.

It was, as Snoopy would say, “a dark and stormy night.” Continue reading

Lord, the One You Love

Mary peeked into the room. “Is he any better?”

“He’s the same as half an hour ago,” Martha whispered, “I thought you were going to get some sleep. It’s not even sunrise yet.”

“How can I sleep when my brother is so sick?” Mary forgot to be quiet. “What can we do? We’ve called three different doctors. We’ve tried every conventional treatment. We’ve sent offerings to the temple. He’s only getting worse! What else can we do?” Her voice rose in pitch with each sentence. Continue reading

Muffled but Magnified

(c) Carole Sparks
(c) Carole Sparks

She took her place at the back of the line. An imposing gentleman—yes, he was certainly a gentleman; she could tell by the fine cut of his robe and the straightness of his shoulders—blocked her view up the line. She was careful not to shuffle too far when the line shifted. She might accidentally touch that fine fabric. He would feel the nudge and most certainly glare at her. He shook his coin pouch, again gauging its heft and contents. Scanning the crowd, he snatched a few coins from the pouch and stuffed them into his pocket. Still there was quite a jangle in that sturdy bag.

The sonorous clank of many coins colliding with the pile already inside the offering box cut short her observations. No matter that the gentleman in front blocked her view. She kept count of her place in line by the rattling of coins. Most wealthy people—she knew this from long years of observation—gave in one of two ways. Either they slowly dropped each coin into the box separately, making a show of the length of time it took to give, or they dropped their coins into the box all at once, for maximum sound effect. Those of the second type sometimes even bumped the box with their hip at the same time to create a bigger sound.

She pulled her thoughts back and resumed the mental conversation she had started before rising that morning. Most would call it prayer, but it didn’t have any of the formality that ornamented temple prayers. God was her ever-present companion, a best friend, a confidant since before her husband died all those years ago. She recalled His comfort in the difficult days of the funeral…

As she neared the box, she pulled two coins from inside her belt. No need for a money bag with only these two, worn bits of copper. “Oh Father,” her silent prayer continued, “I love you more than my own life.” The corners of her mouth curled up. “That soup being sold on the corner smelled really good. Fresh squash mixed with cinnamon, wasn’t it? I would rather praise you than fill my stomach.

“I didn’t sleep well last night; the bed bugs are getting worse. These two coins might buy enough soap to clean my bed and clothes, but I choose to honor You rather than to have a restful night or to give off a pleasant smell.

“Because I couldn’t sleep, I finished the last candle before sunrise this morning. You already know that, don’t you? Without another, I won’t be able to read Torah tonight, but that’s okay. I’ll just recite that one part in Deuteronomy:

‘See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. … Now choose life…’*

Oh, yes, that’s one of my favorites!

“Yes, my Lord, I know you care about me and your Law protects me as a widow. You would never demand this, but I give you these coins—everything I have—because I prefer your glory to my gain. You are my Jehovah-Jireh. You know what I truly need, and you will provide it. I don’t do it to see what You will provide or for any sort of blessing but simply to remind myself that nothing compares to Your glory. I want this, because more than anything else, I want You.”

The gentleman in front of her dropped his coins into the box all at once, just as she had anticipated. He hurried off, already focused on his next bit of business. She stepped in front of the box, conscious of the long line behind her. Her hand hesitated just for a moment, then the two small coins fell in among the rest. The thickness of the box muffled any sound they might have made.

As she turned to go, a man sitting across the hall caught her eye. A different sort of man.

And she knew her gift was magnified before the Father.

Mark 12:41-44.

*Deuteronomy 30:15-19

She dropped in her coins. As she turned to go, a man across the hall caught her eye, and she knew her gift was magnified before God. Even my last #twocents are #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)