December 28, 2013 § 20 Comments
“All I ever wanted was to have a wonderful husband and children and take care of them. I had all that and God saved my soul, so I have Heaven thrown in, as well! Remember, I will be in Heaven praising the Lord. What a wonderful life I have had!” – Mom, June 1, 2012
This past Thursday, the day after Christmas, my Mom, Marie Khandjian, passed away. I am speaking in the most personal of terms – the ‘she’s-my-mom’ kind of terms. Until your parents are gone you always feel the same, like the child one has been, throughout their entire lives to that point. Even as an adult, when you visit the house you grew up in, nothing feels different. There is your room, your den, your kitchen, etc. It’s all there as it had always been. But then, when they go, it is different. And now it is different. My Mom is gone. On her behalf we are relieved that she is Home and reunited to Dad, but it is different.
My Mom was an amazing woman. She loved life. She loved her family. And she loved Christ and His Church. Her story is of someone who started out with tons of pain and sadness, but ended in healing and joy. Somewhere in her adolescence, at a critical moment when she could easily have spiraled into a life of constant sorrow and trouble, she met Jesus, and her life was miraculously and radically transformed.
She had an incredibly positive outlook. One year, after I was dumped by a girl in college, she sent me the single (yes, a vinyl 45 rpm record!), I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor. She was right. I did.
She wasn’t afraid of setbacks, nor impressed with greatness. She had no fear of confrontation, conflict or disagreement. Even if it was with a pastor that might also happen to be her son…
She was relentlessly committed to her family. Out of her painful childhood experiences she resolved to cook hot meals for her family every night – and did. She not only raised us, but loved us, spoke truth into our lives, forgave us much, taught us about Jesus, and blessed us by adoring our Dad, her husband, out loud.
She was tirelessly social – Being Armenian, she loved throwing parties – big parties to the tune of 50-100 people at a time. Armenian Pilaf, salad and veggies, along with London broil that Dad would grill, and of course, Baklava, were the staples. Family would gather. Women would cook and catch up. Men would play backgammon and talk loud. Children would run inside and out. Classmates, church members and neighbors (invited or not) were welcome and constantly stopped in for that famous food and energy.
All to say that my Mom gave to us what she didn’t receive in her hard upbringing, which makes her all the more amazing. God gave her a vision for something better and sweeter and lovelier than the hard life she was born into. He gave her what she most longed for, even when she didn’t have it or quite know what it would look like. And through her and Dad, He gave us Himself.
And now, everything she wanted for us, she has – She is Home, at the Feast, with her beloved husband, with the gathered family of God and in the presence of the One she has always been amazed by – for His rescue and forgiving grace. Jesus.
What good, sweet news.
My Mom was amazing. Right now, in between this moment and that service in a few weeks, I get to be her boy. And that is a good thing…
Marie P. Khandjian – November 1, 1929 – December 26, 2013 – RIP
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” – Psalm 116:15
December 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
“Adeste fidelis. Come and behold him, born the king of angels. Speak to him or be silent before him. In whatever way seems right to you and at whatever time, come to him with your empty hands. The great promise is that to come to him who was born at Bethlehem is to find coming to birth within ourselves something stronger and braver, gladder and kinder and holier, than ever we knew before or than ever we could have known without him.”
Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark
It is Christmas morning. Come, let us adore Jesus. He is born to us – to you – to the weary, the broken, the lost, the fearful, the lonely, the poor, the needy, the weak. To any who recognize their need for a Savior, Jesus is born.
Humbly He comes, offering Himself. He bears forgiving grace, enduring peace and unconditional love. The waiting is over. Christ has come.
It is early. As with each year, I am awake, with coffee brewing, Christmas music playing, tree lit. Once again we are blessed to have our entire family here with us. As the family sleeps, I am given a few moments to reflect on the fact that somewhere in the night, in a small town, to a young couple, God came, wrapped in flesh, a newborn. Angels rejoiced as heaven opened up to welcome His arrival to unnamed, lowly shepherds.
Be encouraged. Jesus is born. Take heart. You are not invisible to God.
“To our Weakness He is no Stranger”
In Jesus, God has come. Let us adore Him!
He is our good news of great joy.
peace on earth.
Merry Christmas, Friends!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
William Blake, The Lamb
December 21, 2013 § 6 Comments
“We matter to God. Inexplicably. Undeservedly. Even we dedicated Christians tend to forget this truth – or doubt it or altogether reject it – when we encounter trouble. It is difficult to understand why we matter, but we do. God is watching, listening to us, speaking promises into the cacophony of our worries and the certainty of their fulfillment into our most deeply buried hopes.”
Patty Kirk, Confessions of an Amateur Believer
For years I have been sitting here – at ‘my’ Starbucks – writing, reflecting, observing and praying.
In observing, I see weariness, weirdness, craziness and determination, in fellow regulars who have become friends I will likely never see outside these walls. And strangers. Strangers who walk by, and strangers who stop by.
Many are desperately trying to survive and navigate the details of their lives. Some are actively searching, looking for meaning and purpose. They are in touch with their longings and can hear the music, but haven’t yet discovered the source.
All of them matter. Each was created in God’s Image, shattered though that Image may be by the fall. Not all have discovered the beauty of Jesus, but with tears, I hope each will.
As I write, my Mom is dying. She is a Christ-follower and woman of God, and when she passes I’ll write more. But on this the day of my sister’s 50th Birthday, my sense of awe is with her. Venus works in home health care and for a year she has relentlessly pursued a dignified setting for Mom’s passing.
The picture at the head of this post is of the bedroom she and my brother-in-law prepared for Mom in anticipation of her arrival. It isn’t merely a room with a bed, but a suite, with classical Christmas music playing, lovely family pictures, homey furnishings – and massive doses of love.
Mom is barely ‘here,’ and she can only communicate with a nearly undetectable whisper and nuanced facial expressions that we kids recognize as being uniquely ‘hers,’ yet this dying woman is being treated like a beautiful queen who has everything before her – and she is and she does.
She matters. You matter. We matter. God’s Image. How sweet.
The Advent longing is not a hopeless cry, but the song of redemption, a beautifully hopeful melody, whose music emanates from the humbleness of the manger and the conquest of the Cross, sung into the messy reality of our fallenness, which is precisely the point of Jesus’ entrance into the world.
It isn’t enough to say that God loves the broken. Stopping there leaves incomplete the fullness of the gospel. God not only loves the broken and has entered into our mess with forgiving grace, but amazingly, He also sees us as though we are perfectly whole – because in Jesus, we are.
What good news of great joy…
peace on earth and good will to all.
December 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
“The goal of human existence is that man should dwell in peace in all his relationships: with God, with himself, with his fellows, with nature, a peace which is not merely the absence of hostility, though certainly it is that, but a peace which at its highest is enjoyment. To dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in nature, to enjoy living one’s fellows, to enjoy life with oneself.”
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reason within the Bounds of Religion
Until a fellow pastor taught me that God draws us into the shared brokenness that is our fallen world, I lived under the sad and selfish delusion that if all was right with me and mine, then that was enough. But this couldn’t be further from the teaching of the gospel and I will always be indebted to this dear friend because of his patient guidance.
Just this week Nelson Mandela died, and the free world grieves. It mourns because in his work to end Apartheid in South Africa something resonated within us. We were created to be free, and every person instinctively knows this to be true.
It is evident in the offerings of the culture (even in the DC store window pictured!). The best movies are redemptive. The sweetest writings echo compassion. The most passionate causes aim at justice. Even at Christmas I am freshly reminded of this in Stevie Wonder’s song, Someday at Christmas…
Someday at Christmas we’ll see a land
With no hungry children, no empty hand
One happy morning people will share
Our world where people care
This is the cry of the prophets, perhaps no more beautifully expressed than in Isaiah:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
At Advent we freshly enter into the collective brokenness of our world with a longing for healing. Until Jesus makes everything new, even our joy is incomplete unless it is expressed through the embrace of a shared sorrow. After all, it was ‘the joy set before him,’ that is, it was the joy of a reconciled and redeemed new world, that sent Jesus to the Cross.
With this in mind, He captured our sorrows in His own, our sins upon Himself, and our future joy in His resolve.
What good news…
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name
Adolphe Adam, 1847
November 30, 2013 § Leave a comment
“Our longings remind us of the essential human fact that we are talked and touched into life, and that a human race struggling to do all its talking and touching for itself faces a paralyzing unhappiness and anxiety.”
Rowan Williams, A Ray of Darkness
It is difficult to imagine that in a few hours this mall will be utterly packed with shoppers. Yesterday (Black Friday) was so crazy that I never got out of my car. Having no reason to be here other than to witness the madness, I just circled the parking lot a few times, then went home.
But now, in this early hour, it is empty. Quiet.
There was a day when I couldn’t handle emptiness or sadness. It was worse than idealism. Something within me actually believed I deserved life to always go well. I know, it sounds ugly – and it is, and it gets uglier, because it was rooted in a practical rejection of my need for Jesus.
It is Advent, that sweet time of the year when we celebrate longing, of all things. We celebrate because we know that Jesus has come. And every December we rehearse this cry in anticipation that He will come again and make everything new.
The temptation is to translate these longings into sad things, and to be sure, there is a place for sorrow in a broken world, but I think they are more than that. God put these longings within us, not as cruel reminders of despair, but to serve as hints of something better.
I am convinced that Jesus was addressing this longing when He told His disciples of His ‘Father’s House’ (John 14:1-6). It is an emptiness we will feel, sometimes in huge gulps, and other times in small doses – until we are Home.
And in this hope we are liberated to live life to the fullest. To grieve unashamedly. To laugh unapologetically. To love boldly. To give generously. To forgive freely. To serve humbly. To embrace our longings, and live!
We celebrate a God who satisfies us with Himself and not from a distance – this is at the heart of the Incarnation – God has come, in the flesh, and until He returns nothing will satisfy completely. And this means we can embrace every sadness and longing as daily reminders that God has prepared something better. Because in Jesus… He has.
What good news.
Oh, come, Desire of nations,
bind In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!
Translated by John Mason Neale
December 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
The snow has fallen (you know I had to say something about the snow!). The Christmas benediction (blessing) has been offered. Gifts have been exchanged. The traditional breakfast has been eaten. We await friends who will come and share a meal with us this afternoon. Later, as per our family tradition, we will see a movie together. This particular Christmas tradition has always been a bit of a risky adventure – though also always a memorable one.
I am struck by how fast it all happens. Not so much in the I’m-getting-old-and-time-goes-faster sense, but in the sense that life really does go on. We don’t get do-overs and there is no slow motion for the sweet things. Everything about life happens in real time and speed.
And then we move on. We are 364 days away from the next celebration of Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining or grieving – just taking it all in.
What I love is that we have is Today – this moment. It should be that way. It is what the shepherds had when the angels visited them – Today. Today promises that whatever hope Jesus brings with His appearance, it is enough in spite of all my yesterdays. Today is fresh. It is now. It is a completely fresh set of a day’s worth of seconds, minutes and hours.
It is what C.S. Lewis calls ‘the moment of all moments.’
Whoever I was yesterday, and whatever I did, though real and unalterable, will now be reconstituted by who and what I am Today – because of Jesus. And in this I have hope.
Because Jesus has come.
Let the just rejoice, for their justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice, For their saviour is born.
Let the captives rejoice, For their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice, for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice, For their Liberator is born.
Let All Christians rejoice,
For Jesus Christ is born.
St. Augustine of Hippo
Friends, this is our good news of great joy. Rejoice!
December 22, 2012 § 2 Comments
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound… Isaiah 61:1
I nearly subtitled this, ‘the post I hoped to offer before Christmas.’ Yesterday, a young man – a Marine – who was unjustly imprisoned since August of this year, Jonny Hammar, was released from a Mexican jail. Words fail to express the relief and joy that fills our hearts, and the hearts of many who are counted among the Hammars’ family and friends. With Jon, Olivia, Katie, and of course, Jonny, we rejoice.
As we celebrated yesterday, following an early-morning text of the good news, and since, I have been taken afresh to that stable where Jesus was born. Amazing. God was born. Divinity wrapped in humanity.
Jesus came and laid aside His divine prerogative, subjecting Himself to human limitation. Restrained in flesh. The Eternal One bound in time and space. Confined and imprisoned by geography, seconds, minutes, hours, years – a human lifespan. Omnipotence reduced to complete dependence.
Who would have thought this – that a little newborn would be mankind’s Liberator? Who could have guessed that a vulnerable and needy baby would one day ‘deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery’ (Hebrews 2:15)?
With our joy over Jonny’s release comes a continuing sorrow over those parents in Newtown, CT, whose sons and daughters will not be home for Christmas, and with others who continue to suffer the effects of violence and natural disaster. This sobering reality will never leave us, and our joy is always tempered by the harsh realities of life in a fallen world.
But with Jesus tragedy isn’t the last word. Don’t let the vulnerability of this baby be confused with timidity. That tender one is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He came to wreck the broken order of a fallen world. Be comforted by a reality that transcends tragedy, lifespans and sorrow.
Friends, in Jesus God has come to liberate unfinished and desperately bound-up prisoners from their enslavement to sin, fear and death. His resurrection insures that even the ugliest expressions of the fall are no match for Him. And He has done this in the most personal of ways – not as a distant, indifferent deity, nor as an imposing and terrifying brute, but as a newborn who was destined to willingly shed His own blood in the violent sacrifice of His life, to bring Redemption, even for our tears.
Such good news.
Welcome home, young man.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.