They nailed him up.

***

They nailed him up at nine o’clock in the morning. The charge against him—the king of the Jews—was printed on a poster. Along with him, they crucified two criminals, one to his right, the other to his left. People passing along the road jeered, shaking their heads in mock lament: “You bragged that you could tear down the Temple and then rebuild it in three days—so show us your stuff! Save yourself! If you’re really God’s Son, come down from that cross!”

The high priests, along with the religion scholars, were right there mixing it up with the rest of them, having a great time poking fun at him: “He saved others—but he can’t save himself! Messiah, is he? King of Israel? Then let him climb down from that cross. We’ll all become believers then!” Even the men crucified alongside him joined in the mockery.

 At noon the sky became extremely dark. The darkness lasted three hours. At three o’clock, Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

 Some of the bystanders who heard him said, “Listen, he’s calling for Elijah.” Someone ran off, soaked a sponge in sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.”

 But Jesus, with a loud cry, gave his last breath. At that moment the Temple curtain ripped right down the middle. When the Roman captain standing guard in front of him saw that he had quit breathing, he said, “This has to be the Son of God!”

The Gospel of Mark, 15:25-41 (TMV)

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?