Sunday, December 26, 2004

Words Fail

We woke up to a picturesque Alberta winter scene this morning - big flakes of snow had piled themselves up against our windows and doors and they were still coming down when we piled ourselves into the car to head to church. A lot of people decided they'd let the snow be an excuse to stay home and enjoy another day of Christmas. I can't say I blame them.

Because there were only a few kids in each Sunday school class, we combined a bunch and I got to sit in on the adult class which was also combined. There are normally two adult classes - one taught by a very young man who will one day, I believe, be a theologian of no mean mind. The other is a grey-haired fiddle-playing rancher who uses story-telling to teach what he sees in the scriptures. I enjoy sitting under both of these men, but it was a special treat for me to be there today when the older man took over the class.

He talked about how he doesn't like Christmas much, until he can disassociate himself from the hussle, and focus on what the season really means. He took one of our church hymnals and turned to a familiar carol. He read the words. Slowly. Then flipped to another and read the words. Slowly. He repeated this process over and over and, slowly, we all were wrapped in a spirit of wonder and comfort and joy that was topped off when he played the last carol on his old violin. The man is missing a thumb but he makes that instrument sound so sweet. I wasn't the only one with tears in my eyes.

When he tried to close the class, well, words failed. There really wasn't any need to say anything more. We quietly and, yes, slowly, made our way into the sanctuary for the service, our spirits uplifted, our hearts prepared.
All glory to God.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Bringing Christmas Home

I came across a little book of poetry a while ago, called Poetry and Spiritual Pracitce. (available by contacting The St. Thomas Poetry Series, (http://www.stthomas.on.ca/poetry.cfm )
It's a great little book and I was delighted to find a poet included in its pages whom I'd admired before. His name is John Terpstra. (check out his webpage - www.knowres.on.ca/john )
The poem is called The Little Towns of Bethlehem. I tried to post it, with John's gracious permission, but it won't cut and paste with the format in tact and I don't want to post it without, because the formatting is important. I'll have to just tell you that the poem mentions the names of several small towns across Canada - To give you the idea, I'll quote the first four lines -

For unto us
in Aklavik
is born a child, in
Attiwapiskat

When I read the poem I was struck by how it brought the Christmas story home to me, because of the use of the familiar names. I even live a stone's throw from a couple of them.

I pray that the Christmas story will be brought home to all of you this week and in the coming New Year.

Blessings to you all, Marci

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Missing Christmas

Hi folks. Here's a short story that I wrote for a contest sponsored by Dave Long, acquisitions editor at Bethany House (www.faithinfiction.blogspot.com ), and Fuse Magazine ( www.fusemagazine.net) .

Dave suggested that everyone post the story somewhere so we could all read one another's work. So here's my Christmas offering to you all. There are more stories at my website - www.vinemarc.com
Blessings, :)M

Missing Christmas
By Marcia Lee Laycock

Sulking and soaking. For me, the two always go together. I know when I’m not fit to be around people, especially the people I’m mad at, so the bathtub is the best place to be. I run the water as hot as I can stand it and stay there until I feel like I can be civil again. That night, the night before Christmas, I thought I might be there till dawn.

Tim had dropped the bomb when he came home from work two days before we were to go home for the holidays. Somehow he’d managed to mess up making the flight reservations. How could he mess up something so important, so essential to my sanity? Bad enough he’d talked me into coming here, to the end of reason and any sign of civilization, just so he could have a "real northern experience." Bad enough he didn’t once compliment me on how I’d bravely been enduring the minus fifty degree temperatures. Bad enough we still had five more months to endure life in this town on the edge of the universe. Now we were stuck here for Christmas.
Even if we drove south till the temperature was warm enough for planes to fly, there weren’t any seats to be had. And what was his excuse? He thought he’d told the travel agent to book it, but he had only asked her to give him the details. When she didn’t hear back from him, she assumed we’d changed our minds but didn’t bother to check. There are too many people in this town who definitely aren’t the brightest bulbs on the tree.

And speaking of trees. To try and pacify me, Tim dragged a tree home the day before Christmas. I caught him going out the door, downed from neck to ankle, a toque on his head and wool scarf wrapped about six times around his face. When I asked him where on earth he was going, he said something unintelligible and walked out the door. Three hours later I heard him stomping around on the porch. I poked my head out, the cold hitting me like a slap. All I could see were his eyes. They were laughing. He tugged the scarf down long enough to tell me to wrap up and come out for a minute. Curious, I pulled on my parka and went outside.

He stood there like a little boy who’d just bagged his first bird. Only it was a Christmas tree he held on to. Or rather, it had been a Christmas tree. My mouth fell open and I sputtered through a mouth full of scarf. Tim pulled his away from his mouth and grinned.

"Just call me Charlie Brown," he said.

The tree was almost bare. Tim described how the needles rained down with every blow of the axe. What else did he expect at fifty below?

Then we tried getting it inside. The few needles left on the branches showered the linoleum in the kitchen until it looked like a forest path. We stood it in a corner and stepped back. Tim glanced at me sideways just as I did the same and we both burst out laughing.

"I’ll go buy an artificial one," I said. Tim didn’t argue.

I trudged off to the only store in town, but of course they were sold out of Christmas trees, artificial or otherwise. Then I went to the grocery store to buy a turkey. No turkeys left either. No cranberry sauce, no fresh vegetables. They had some Caribou steaks on special. Whoopdeedoo. By the time I got home I wanted to scream, "Baaah Humbug!" That’s when I locked myself in the bathroom and tried to soak away the frustration.

The next morning I wished Tim a halfhearted "Merry Christmas," then told him his present was waiting for him at my parents’ house. The house that would be decorated so beautifully, with a six foot tree. The house that would be filled with the smell of roast turkey and pumpkin pie. The house where all our family would gather to sing carols by the fireplace. My pity party was complete when he told me my present was waiting there too.

I was choking down tears when the phone rang. A cheery voice said, "Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas." I handed the phone to Tim. I heard his voice go up a few notches the longer he talked. He kept glancing at me, then finally said. "We’ll be there," and hung up. When he told me we’d been invited to his boss’s house for dinner, I just turned and walked into the bathroom.

He gave me an hour to soak, then tapped on the door. "They have eggnog," he said. "And it’s warmed up to minus forty."

I sniffled a bit, dried off and opened the door. "Okay. Why not?"

We dressed in our Christmas best and arrived at the house just in time to see a dog sled scrape to a stop. Tim’s boss, Jerry, waved us over. "The Yukon version of a sleigh ride," he said. "Hop in."

Tim and I crawled under the down blanket and I let him wrap his arms around me as the sled jerked forward. The dogs trotted easily and the sled slid with a sighing ssshhh over the snow-packed ground. Jerry gee-ed and haw-ed and within minutes we were on the river. It seemed like we were floating now, whooshing around ice sculptures heaved up by the force of water and carved by wind. I rested my head on Tim’s chest and watched the reflection of a rising moon glint on nature’s statuary. By the time we got back to the house I was breathless with the thrill of the short ride.

Inside, Jerry’s wife, Sonya, handed me a hot spiced apple cider and, as we joined several others in the living room, I realized I almost had what you could call the Christmas spirit. The smell of roasting turkey helped. Sonya had decorated with impeccable taste, but my heart sank a little when I saw there was no Christmas tree. There was a rather odd shape draped in a sheet in one corner, but everyone seemed to ignore it, so I didn’t ask. I even sang along with the others as someone led the carols accompanied by some light finger-picking on guitar.

The meal was wonderful, the laughter and constant chatter enough to bring the spirit of the season into full bloom. But I was not prepared for what happened when Jerry tapped his glass and told us all to follow him back into the living room.

Sonya was behind me as we went. She leaned forward and whispered. "This is always the best moment."

I followed the group and stood on tiptoe to see what the big secret was. I couldn’t see anything remarkable. In fact, all I could see, as everyone formed a semi-circle, was that we’d been led to the corner with the strange shape draped in a sheet. I held my breath.

Jerry turned and Sonya excused herself through the crowd to hand him a book.

"This has become a tradition for us ever since we moved north," Jerry explained. "We gather our friends, feed them, entertain them, and then we read a bit." He flipped the book open and adjusted his glasses. This is the book of Luke, chapter two, verses one through twenty. "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree ..."."

As the story unfolded, I watched the faces around me. Some were intent, some looked bored, but there wasn’t a sound in the room - just the words of an ancient story told with simplicity and grace. It thrilled me to know the story was true. Tim stepped to my side as it came to an end.

Jerry closed the Bible, looked around at everyone and smiled. "Now we unveil the tree."

Sonya slipped through the crowd again and the lights went out. I heard the soft sound of the sheet falling to the floor. Then the room burst into white light. Before us stood, not a decorated Christmas tree, but a spindly birch. Thin branches reached up toward the ceiling. Each branch sprouted groups of bright green leaves. The leaves glowed with the twinkling of tiny white lights.
I stopped breathing and started crying at the same time. The sight filled my eyes with a color they’d been hungering to see and filled my soul with a light that made me forget about myself. I reached for Tim’s hand.

"We don’t like to cut down an evergreen for the sake of tradition," Jerry said quietly. "So we grow one." He waved toward the birch. "It seems to suit the spirit of Christmas, the Spirit that teaches that the birth of Christ was a point of new beginnings."

Sonya stepped to her husband’s side. "Jesus was an ordinary man, nothing special to look at, the scriptures tell us, like this little birch, but he was also the Son of God and he brought new life and light to a dark world."

Jerry’s eyes gleamed in the reflection from the tree. "Merry Christmas," he said.

The words echoed from all the lips in the room, including mine.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Promise of Christmas

Hi everyone. Here's this week's Spur - it's sort of an expansion of a previous comment. :)M

The Promise of Christmas
By Marcia Lee Laycock

Chaos reigned supreme. That’s how it seemed as we rehearsed our Christmas play. The first rehearsal didn’t really happen. The second one was only a bit better, and three quarters of the cast didn’t make it to the third. Those of us who were supposedly "in control" wondered if we were going to have a play at all.

That was nothing new. Every year it seems to happen. Kids run helter-skelter, some don’t show up, some can’t find costumes or those made for them don’t fit. The choir director is tearing her hair out This year seemed a bit more chaotic than usual. But somehow it all came together in the end. The night of the performance seemed to go well. I say seemed, because I was too busy trying to keep my "cast" quiet and focused, to notice if the play was working. One of the magi discovered he could use one of the shepherd’s headbands as a slingshot to wing the beads off his crown clear across the front of the church. That delighted the kids in the front row who dashed out to pick them up. Mary couldn’t stop squirming because her costume was made of wool, and Joseph kept changing his mind about which robe fit best – right up until he walked out onto the ‘stage.’

I wasn’t sure it had really all come together until the audience stood to applaud at the end. When many congratulated us on a job well done, all I could say was, "It’s a miracle!"

And that’s the promise of Christmas – it all comes together in the end. I’m sure the followers of Jesus, watching the drama of His life and death, felt the same way we ‘directors’ did. To those who thought they were in control, it looked like chaos reigned. From the moment of His birth, He and His parents had to run from those who wanted to kill Him. As He performed miracles, religious leaders plotted against Him. Even the disciples themselves didn’t understand His message. They were disappointed that He didn’t chase the Romans out of the country; He never did set up an earthly kingdom. Then, the cross. It looked like everything they tried to accomplish was doomed to fail. But in the end ...

In the end, the stone was rolled away. The baby born in a stable and crucified on a cross was raised glorified, to the glory of His Father.

And there is another promise yet to unfold. As the birth of Christ is overshadowed by the cross, which was blasted away by his resurrection, even that will be outdone by His return. One day, God has told us, "Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength’." (Isaiah 45:23,24)
It will be a miracle and it really will all come together in the end.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Wise Men with Sling Shots and other Seasonal Things

Well, the program went well, as always. It was a bit chaotic up at the front where the kids were lined up in costumes. The three wise men wanted to socialize at every opportunity and one of them discovered that he could wing the beads that had fallen off his crown way over to the middle of the church if he used a shepherd's head band as a sling shot. Mary was squirmming - her costume was made of wool - and Joseph couldn't decide if he should dress in brown or blue, so kept changing every few minutes.
But the audience seemed oblivious to all of that and the applause at the end was long and loud. Next year I think I'll suggest we have the banquet after the performance. All that turkey rumbled around in my stomach due to nerves!
This pangeant, as all pangeants do, reminded me of my "first" Christmas. I was 32 years old. No, I didn't grow up in a bubble - well, come to think of it, maybe I did - a bubble of unbelief that was suddenly burst when my first daughter was born in 1982. That was my first Christmas as a believer and I remember a woman leaning over my shoulder as I held my 10 day-old baby and watched the kids in the Christmas play - she whispered, "See what you have to look forward to now?" Her words still echo in my mind. I have eternity to look forward to - an eternity of hearing the angels sing Gloria - Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Time for the Angels to Sing

Winter has arrived here in Central Alberta - a dump of snow and minus 20 something today. I think my once-northern blood has thinned out. I seem to feel the cold more than I used to . Or maybe I'm just getting old!

This Friday is our church's Christmas banquet and tableau. We're doing a shadow play this year with adults reading from scripture while the kids depict the scenes behind a large screen with a spotlight on it. Quite effective. We also have a few of the littler kids doing things in the front - that's my department - trying to get them to go and come as needed. As usual the first two rehearsals were chaotic, but I think it will all come together in the end. :)

That's kind of the promise of Christmas, isn't it? It all comes together in the end. The end, which we celebrate at Easter, seems like a nightmare and a victory for Satan, but in fact it was a dream come true. The dream originated in the heart of our amazing God and he will go to whatever ends necessary to make it all come to fruition.
No wonder the angels sang!