Monday, December 26, 2011

Room to Grow

“Mom, I’m working on a gift for you, but is it okay if it’s a little late?”  My daughter’s eyes were mostly confident, but seeking one last ounce of reassurance.

We had this conversation while driving home from her art lesson last week.  My daughter and her teacher have been working on a Christmas project for a few sessions now.  They expected to complete it earlier, but she needs to make some finishing touches at her next lesson, which will be after The Big Day. 

“Sweetie, it’s okay if you need extra time.  I know I’ll love it, no matter when it’s ready.”

I don’t have to see her work to know it’s a treasure.  So I am enjoying the wait, anticipating this gift that is the product of her hopeful efforts. 

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Is this how the Jews felt when, generations before His arrival, they ached for Christ to come?  They didn’t know exactly what to expect.  But they knew it would be the fulfillment of a centuries-old desire.

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Come thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free. 
From our fears and sins release us.  Let us hide ourselves in Thee. 
Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art.
Dear desire of every nation.  Joy of every longing heart.

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And when this Jesus arrived, it was in the form of a baby.  Delivered in a barn by a woman claiming to be a virgin, and a man whose inexplicable loyalty must have called into question his honor, if not his very sanity.

Joseph, along with his wife, would watch this baby enter the world.  Perhaps he would witness Jesus’ first smile, His first words, His first uncertain steps.  He was a surrogate father of sorts, providing food, shelter, and the kind of guidance that parents give their children.  And he was a carpenter, likely training his son in the trade for which he was known.

What was it like to teach the very Son of God how to take a log and craft it into a chair, or a dish?  Did Jesus already know how to level a table?  Was He instantaneously capable with a saw? 

Or (since carpenters often worked with metal as well as wood), did Jesus already know how to meld raw copper into something of practical use?  Did He need to be cautioned about the dangers of metal fresh from the white-hot flames? 

How did He fare with His very first project?  Perhaps his first piece of furniture called for a little fine-tuning from Dad.  Maybe His first attempt at a copper pot resulted in something that looked more like a turtle.  I wonder whether He melted and reworked the same piece until it turned out right.  

I can imagine Joseph encouraging Christ to try again.  To keep at it until the metal took on the shape He’d envisioned for it.  

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Like most children, my son and daughter are still discovering what they enjoy.  My son is, perhaps, a bit more aware of what he loves to do:  baseball, Legos, and his Ipod touch (not necessarily in that order).  My daughter, however, is still in the “sample” mode.  She has, among other things, taken dance (which lasted until the charm of the pink leotard and tights wore off), basketball (which was strictly a one-season affair), and piano lessons (which, we suspect and hope, will be reinstated at some point). 

So, when she requested art lessons for her tenth birthday, we weren’t completely sure if she would stick with them.  When a gracious friend and former art teacher agreed to take her on as a student, her birthday wish was granted.

So far, the lessons haven’t lost their sparkle.  Each week without fail, she looks forward to them, even if it means missing playtime with friends.  And each week, our car-ride home involves her enthusiastically explaining the new things she has learned, and mentioning again how she can’t wait until she gets to paint.  This is the real reason she wanted to take art.  

Her teacher has insisted that she hone some foundational skills before painting.  So she has learned to distinguish between lines and shapes.  To practice contour drawing.   To view familiar objects in a new way.  To practice recreating them, first with her pencil.

A cat was one of her first subjects.  Her initial attempt wasn’t what she hoped for, which discouraged her.  She soon realized, though, that she couldn’t expect her first attempts to be flawless.  Learning to draw involves trying, making plenty of mistakes, and producing some less-than-perfect cat pictures.  As an artist, she has room to grow.  Slowly, she has come to accept that.

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Born Thy people to deliver.  Born a child and yet a King.

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Luke makes an interesting observation in his account of Christ’s life when he notes that Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and with man.  I memorized that verse as a child and remember well the Sunday School lesson that accompanied it:  Because God calls each of us to be holy as He is holy, we should follow Christ’s example, striving to improve in every area of our life—intellectual, physical, spiritual, and social.  

Then and now, this exhortation simultaneously inspires and worries me.  As much as I know how, I’ve committed myself to following Christ and emulating His example.  Yet I still have so very far to go in my spiritual journey.  Shouldn’t I be a bit closer to arriving? Or at least have gained a little more distance from the starting point? 

How I wish someone would have explained that Jesus wasn’t born with the ability to walk, to build tables, to teach the multitudes, to heal the blind, or perhaps even to pray.   How I wish someone would have pointed out that, while Christ was indeed the King of Kings, He arrived as a child.  A baby who grew into a boy.   A boy who increased, not just in height and weight, but also in knowledge.  Not only in His ability to relate to people, and but even in His interaction with the Father.

How I wish someone would have explained that even Jesus had room to grow.   

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Today, we have celebrated the arrival of Emmanuel, the God-child who proclaims the amazing, undeserved reassurance that God is with us.   

That God is with me.   

That there is One who will continue working until I take on the shape He has envisioned.

That my obvious need for growth is less a reason for fear, and perhaps a cause to rejoice.  

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Come thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free. 
From our fears and sins release us.  Let us hide ourselves in Thee. 
Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art.
Dear desire of every nation.  Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver.  Born a child and yet a King.
Born to reign in us forever.  Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all-sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne.







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