Advent

Still Life for Christmas

As I sit, still, in the curated Christmas décor of my living room, I see in the imperceptibly shifting sunbeam, the motionless candle-powered nativity carousel. Like me, it is locked in still life. In a week, it will be spinning above the flicker of flame, Mary always flowing backward round the center pillar, with Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men chasing her forward, Jesus sleeping blissfully in the middle. Likewise, I will be flitting around the kitchen trying to turn back time to get all the baking done, while my kids chase each other from activity to activity, my husband blissfully enamored with his game on his first day off of work. 

Christmas Carousel for "Still Life at Christmas" for kimberleymulder.com

Christmas Carousel by Kimberley Mulder

In my still life today I consider the stillness. I revel in it and welcome it, especially after the full weeks preceding.

Still life paintings have always repelled and attracted me. In one sense they seem futile—why capture a bowl of fruit on canvas for ages to come? Was the fruit so special it deserved a legacy beyond its ripe lifetime? What message is there in such common things?

What an oxymoron—“still” “life”! Life is, by definition, not still. It is characterized by growth, activity, and change.

In another sense still life artwork captures, and creates, a beauty otherwise missed. We can enter, at any time, a glad contemplation of these exquisite momentary gifts. Their legacy, born of stillness, is the growth of wonder and gratitude, of seeing the world a different way.

On the wall to my left is another nativity scene, inanimate in its painted composition, but it elicits in me wonder and gratitude, focusing me when I am still enough to look at it—to enter it. Frequently it is in stillness that we can find life.

 “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Cody F. Miller's "Birth of Jesus" for "Still Life at Christmas" blog at kimberleymulder.com

Picture of Cody F. Miller’s “Birth of Jesus”

The flurry of our efforts can bring us closer to death, to stillness. When we carelessly rush about, trying to make things happen without considering their purpose, their toll, their role in our lives, we will fray. Our physical bodies will tell us in its relentless mental fog, high blood pressure, aching muscles, headaches, anxious sleeplessness, and more. This psalm was written most likely in the midst of war, in the midst of trying to save themselves from attack, and in the middle of that, he says: “Be still.”

Is your December feeling more like a preparation for a battalion to go to war with all the logistics of schedules, provisions, and preparedness? Is your body trying to get your attention? Is God?

“Be still.”

Your life, body and soul, depend on it.

Be still in God. He’s got this. Like in the psalm, it’s his actions that protect us, provide for us. He wants to be with us. And isn’t that what Christmas is about? Emmanuel—God with us, infusing our lives with the rejuvenating stillness of being together, of faith. The legacy of the still life of our fruit bowl of the soul is a rioting, wild world around us slowly taking notice, as the exquisite characteristics of our still lives in the spirit catch their eyes. And then the rest of verse 10 erupts: “I will be exalted in the earth,” as wonder at our solid faith draws people into their own still and solid lives with Emmanuel.

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Let There Be Light

Light’s radiance—there is a core from which it comes, its spreading brilliance splaying on anything or anyone.

The visible spectrum rays touch the surface of things, irrespective of what they fall on to. But the invisible ultraviolet rays penetrate into the darkness underneath, into walls and bodies, dense and hidden innards.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by the power of his word.” Hebrews 1:3

Patterns of Light from "Let There Be Light" at kimberleymulder.com

Photo by Kimberley Mulder

In this winter season of darkness, of waiting for Christmas where we don’t see fully yet, may we take notice of the light of Jesus speckling our lives with patterns of grace. And may we be aware that this is just the surface—his radiance glows deep into our hearts and souls, cauterizing wounds, warming cold hearts, and radiating the good work of sustaining his grace in your life.

Let the light catch your eye and hold your attention for a few moments. Whether the shifting glow of sunrise on bare branches, a shimmer off the shiver of ice upon wending water, a brilliant gloss carpeting indiscriminately, a mute radiance of smoky clouds—pause to take it in, let it filter into your soul.

Engage in purposeful pause—a silent staring into a flame can draw your mind into a spacious place. A space to let your shoulders shift back down, your breath draw in with grace, and your creased brow to soften, where your spirit can flicker forth at last to dance.

Advent Candle for "Let There Be Light" at kimberleymulder.com

Photo by Kimberley Mulder

In this season of muchness, find a flame to focus on, and dial down to let your spirit speak. The season, and life in general, is so much richer and enjoyable when we engage with our whole being.

There is light.

It is here.

For you.

Enjoy.

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Christmas Tree Reflections

What follows is not a criticism of decorating and finding joy in doing so at Christmas, for there is much to celebrate! It is right to celebrate, pulling out all the stops to do so, for God brings us joy and goodness. He even instituted celebrations in the Old Testament so that we would be drawn into the joy of his giving. So, please, take joy in your festivities, but may they also be something that reconnects you to the giver of your life.

“Out a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit…”

Isaiah 11:1, 10-11

When we cut down a tree, we use or dispose of the trunk and branches and leaves. Maybe for firewood to keep us warm or make s’mores, perchance some artwork or furniture, and in these uses there is good. But there is also finality. Those limbs will not live any longer and eventually they will decay or burn.

Even a “live” Christmas tree, as beautiful as it is, has been sentenced to death.

How symbolic it is that we, in our efforts to beautify our world, cause death in the process. Like our beloved Christmas trees, when we are cut off from our roots and earth, from that which gave us Life, we may shine for a time but die shortly. We are as unable to draw Life into being as a Christmas tree.

We are drawn to the quick pretty, to the fleeting glow of bright things. In our (at least in Ohio) monochromatic gray winters we look for any distracting sparkle we can find. We twist billions of colored lights over millions of trees for a time.

But God sees the dark stump. He sees the Life that is bound deep inside it, for He put it there. And He has not forgotten it. He draws upon the riches in His heart, the deep promises He has made, and begins the lengthy, laborious, hidden process of growth.

Christmas is not about the tree and the glamour; it is about a stump. A stump out of which will grow an entire kingdom of glory, full of radiant people, warm-hearted and whole, gladly affixed to the new Life. No baubles needed, no plug-in lights, or tinsel sparkle, for Life itself shines brightly out of each branch.

As you gaze at your Christmas tree this year, may it remind you that you are a branch (or can be a branch) in the tree of Life that is Jesus. May it remind you to abide and remain connected to the stump, to the life source. Like the star that guided the wise men to Jesus, may it serve to shine your attention on the source of your Life, the source of all Life, and the great growing of it that He is doing today and always.

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