Fear not, O Israel.

Because the yearly dates of Hanukkah are based on the Hebrew calendar, it’s not every year that Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve.

Tonight, Jews will light the first candle of their celebration after sundown, and at the same time Christians will light candles of their own at masses and sing Silent Night.

I can’t help but marvel at the significance.

To realize this, you might need to brush up on a little history (as I had to). In a nutshell, and although accounts vary, most of the sources I read agree that around 200 B.C. Jews in the land of Israel were not allowed to celebrate and practice their faith because of the tyrannical rule of Antiochus III The Great and his successor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Thousands were massacred, and the temple was desecrated.

Jews lived in terror and were forced to worship false gods until a band of warriors led by Judah Maccabbee, the son of a Jewish priest, rose up and drove the Syrians out. They restored the temple, and menorah lamps were lit.

And the best part: Though there was only enough oil on hand to keep the sacred lights burning for one night, the oil miraculously lasted for eight days, and as such the Jewish people have celebrated the miracle ever since with Hanukkah. 

The significance is that the Lord accomplished two pivotal things then which still link our faith today:

1. He was faithful.

He delivered the Jewish people and their land from their enemies. As such, they were free to celebrate when just a little more than a century later Jesus was born, and he celebrated Hanukkah as an adult.

2. He kept His promise.

In Jeremiah 31:35-37 and many other places, G-d promises to bless Israel and that He will never allow them be wiped out. His call and mercy on believers are irrevocable, as it says in Romans 11:29.

At a time when Judeo-Christian values are increasingly under attack–and the land belonging to Israel continues to be threatened as yesterday’s news demonstrates–faith in ancient promises can seem imprudent. 

And yet, over and over and over again history shows times like these are precisely when G-d shows up.

***

***

As I mentioned in an earlier post this month, G-d works best when there’s not enough, through imperfect people, and at impossible moments to free and redeem.

“Fear not, O Israel,” G-d says over and over and over.

“I will strengthen you,” He says.

“I will help you,” He breathes.

“I will uphold you, because I have chosen you and you are mine,” He promises.

When G-d makes a covenant, He keeps it.

Not only that, He longs to show us mercy.

Tender mercy.

And to give a light to our dark and weary paths.

If ever there was a time when Jews and Christians need to realize their shared history, it is now. And though some say it might be a coincidence that Hanukkah and Christmas begin on the same night this year,

I don’t believe there are any coincidences with G-d.

When you light your candles during these holy celebrations, think about how the people might have felt who lit the first menorah after they took back the temple, or who ignited the first lantern in the pitch black stable in Bethlehem. Think about how much they had to overcome to keep trusting in G-d in each of those impossible situations.

Now think about your impossible situation.

You know the one. The thing you won’t talk about at the holiday dinner table. That one big failure. Your broken heart. Your overwhelming loss.

Don’t be afraid, He whispers. I’ve got this.

Better than that, He’s got you.

Because the same promises that were for the Jews in 168 B.C. are for us today.

The same promises that were for the Jews first, and then by His grace the Gentiles, when Jesus was born in the City of David are for us, too.

Promises to redeem us.

One to free us.

Break the silence.

Make a way.

Heal the broken.

Restore us.

Emmanuel.

Here’s a beautiful song by Michael W. Smith which talks about these promises. I hope you can find a few quiet moments to listen to it this weekend, and that we can all celebrate the One G-d who is always faithful to all His people, and even and especially to you.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, dear friends.

***

“Fear not, oh, Israel for there is peace still to come

A word to break the silence, a promise set to bloom

The promise to redeem us, one to free us

Break this silence in the violence in our lives

Emmanuel is sure to find us soon

The mighty rule to Jesse’s star of truth

And bring us unto glory, tell His story

Heal the broken and restore thee to His name…”

~Michael W. Smith – The Promise

Christmas thoughts on a marine RTO, recon, and writing.

Yesterday, I attended the funeral calling for a great and humble man.

Although I had only met him a couple of times, his family is dear to me and so accounts of his greatness are evident through their words and legacy.

He was a decorated marine veteran of the Korean War, and as with all stories from The Greatest Generation, I was captivated learning he served as a radio operator.

img_0449When we were in Washington D.C. this past spring, nothing except the Holocaust Museum moved me more than the Korean War Memorial. The statues hauntingly depict hollow fear and stony cold.

I don’t know near what I should about the Korean War except that like this man, and like my uncle who was a field surgeon there, they refused to talk about it. Although this is not uncommon among war veterans for obvious reasons, whatever abominable things Korean vets survived seem particularly unbearable. The extreme cold and rivers of red blood staining blinding white snow had to have been two wretched reasons alone.

Imagine, for a moment, the role of the marine radio operator.

753536525Because I live with a husband and three sons who are consummate war buffs, I have watched (and been moved by) Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and nearly every contemporary, big screen war movie in between–and some of the old ones, too. I’ve seen depictions of radio operators in fox holes begging for someone to hear them, begging for more back-ups. I’ve seen how they had to swallow terror while on reconnaissance missions, navigating harrowing edges of enemy lines to send critical, tactical information back to officers.

And while in many ways I have no business comparing the role of the writer with a soldier, I couldn’t help but make a few connections. Maybe that’s because it’s Christmastime and conveying the imperative message of this season feels like battle. Maybe that’s because of the things I’ve learned this past year, in particular, about the politics of being an author.

Maybe that’s because I’ve been knocked down and tempted to hunker down in a proverbial fox hole and quit.

I think there are times–necessary times–in any artist’s life when they question their calling. That’s been me this year. Words didn’t flow. Plots didn’t form. I questioned my ability–maybe midlife has ruined my brain, as well as my waistline? I questioned myself–if only I wrote more like so-and-so. And most of all, I questioned my faith–if only I had more of it and lived a life more worthy of sharing G-d’s grace. If only this and more, writing would be easy.

Right.

But it was the calling of that hero, the marine radio operator, yesterday that helped shift my heart.

Lifting my eyes from the fox hole of self-pity (never a good place to be), I saw with new eyes the bloody and silent pain of people the world overlooks, and of those who have not yet felt the grace and peace of G-d.

Words are my transmitter and my receiver.

Writing is not about using all the proper literary devices, schmoozing at all the right conferences and literary circles, or garnering critiques from academically cloistered, progressive reviewers.

Writing is about listening through the static for the notes of the voiceless, and then playing their song.

These days, anyone trying to make headway with grace and hope is going to face unexpected mortar shells and miles left to go when our legs feel too heavy to carry the message.

You don’t have to be a writer to know that the battle is bigger than we are.

But the One who has called us is bigger still.

Do you hear the notes of the hurting around you?

What will you do with their song today?

I’m terrified to write. And here’s why.

Words.

You’d think after years as a poet and a student of journalism and literature and creative writing and a newspaper columnist and freelance writer with three novels under my belt and a fourth in the editing phase, I’d be comfortable with words.

But today, I’m terrified.

Like most of you, I’ve been watching the news and the soundbites cross my social media feeds for the last week. I’ve seen friends curse worse than sailors and announce that they refuse-from-here-on-out to be friends with anyone who voted differently than they did. I saw a mother pack a suitcase for her grade school age son and kick him out of the house as he stood screaming in terror. I saw people threatening to kill police and throw rocks at them in the streets of my home town. And I saw the late night comedian sing a pop hymn through tears, and the voices of twitter and Facebook rose like an off-key choir and their collective

hallelujah

finally broke me.

Because like so many of the words filling our feeds and ears and minds this past week, their

hallelujah

is empty. A pop star dies. The media lassos his song and uses the word

hallelujah.

Redefines the word

hallelujah.

Distorts the word

hallelujah.

And the people believe they are saved by a pop song and a comedian pretending to be a candidate they thought could save them, alongside another comedian pretending to be a candidate half of the rest of the country thought could save them.

Hallelujah

is defined by Merriam-Webster–never mind the Bible–as a word used to express praise, joy, or thanks, especially to God.

HALLELUJAH

the people sing, and God,

well,

–can I have a witness here?–

I believe He weeps. I believe He looks out over humanity beating the emotional (and sometimes physical) crap out of each other in this land of milk and honey the same way Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept. Because the current and resounding

hallelujah

is empty, just like the words we sling at each other because we fail to see the face of the Creator in our enemies, in our neighbors, and even our friends. So yeah, I’m terrified of words right nowbecause a whole lot of people are saying a whole lot of things and nobody knows what any of it means anymore.

Love means

hate

and hope means

despair

and peace means

war

and brother means

bigot

and protest means

kill

and I am undone.

Hallelujah.

Can I at least reclaim that word?

Can I at least suggest those nine letters strung together be reserved for my Savior, your Savior, the one Savior, the only Savior, the only hope for any of us, whether we sit at a piano crying or throw stones or burn flags or vote for the wrong candidate, or whether we are simply alive and breathing, because to be alive and breathing is to be a sinner in need of grace?

Back when we actually knew what the words we were saying really meant, some wise soul coined the expression that the good Lord gave us one mouth and two ears for a reason.

Might require pulling out a dictionary, but we’d all be wise to sit and contemplate what that little phrase means for a spell.

There comes a time when a writer has to write, even if she is terrified, because the same words currently tearing us apart could, rearranged, bring us back together.

Words of hope for a hurting world.

That’s been my mission, my calling, for as long as I can remember.

So I’ll keep writing.

But I’ll sure as heck make sure to listen.

And I’ll reserve the right to sing

HALLELUJAH

for the only wise King.