A Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriendingDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Some Christmas thoughts from the Southern Hemisphere

Tuesday December 20 2016

Some Christmas thoughts from the Southern Hemisphere

The fruit and vegetable stand down the street offers the opportunity to order some special foods for Christmas. What’s on the list? Strawberries and raspberries. For my Northern Hemisphere readers, have you ever considered those fruits to be essential at Christmas?

Here in New Zealand, the ad flyers in December feature “Christmas specials” on picnic supplies, patio furniture and barbecues. The first time I saw one of those flyers, I had a profound sense of disorientation. Now, after almost a decade of living down under, I can see that Christmas in the summer offers some lovely fuel for contemplation.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post in an Advent series answering these questions: Who do I want to bring to the manger? Who might otherwise be excluded? My unexpected answer: my body. For much of my Christian journey, I have been a bit dislocated from my body. A summer Christmas helps address that issue.

Christmas in the summer is all about being physical: playing Frisbee in the park, walking on beautiful beaches, enjoying the extravagant roses in the Botanic Garden, taking long, leisurely bike rides. With so many fruits and vegetables in season, it’s harder to want to cook pies or heavy winter food.

With so much light and warmth, getting outside to enjoy God’s creation is easier. Jesus came to earth to redeem the whole creation, and a summer Christmas can remind us of that. All the opportunities for exercise in a summer Christmas connect us with our bodies, which Jesus came to redeem. I have a sense of a holistic Christmas here in New Zealand: Jesus came for the sake of the physical world – including my body – as well as the spiritual world.

Last week I wrote a post for the Godspace blog about Santa Lucia Day, which is celebrated on December 13 in the Scandinavian countries. In the old Gregorian calendar, December 13 was the winter solstice. Santa Lucia, or Saint Lucy, was a young Christian who was martyred for her faith in 304. She wore candles on her head so her hands would be free to carry food to Christians in the catacombs. The light of those candles shone in the darkness of the catacombs, just like the light of Christ shines in the darkness of this word’s sin and brokenness.

In the northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere, lights in the darkness are a great picture for Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. But I have experienced the long, bright December days here in New Zealand to be a different and equally powerful reminder of what Jesus has done for us. He has brought abundant light into our lives – bright and long-lasting light that leaves no room at all for darkness.

Sadly, in New Zealand society and even in the church here, the meaning of Christmas is often lost because of the bustle and busyness. If December in the Northern Hemisphere is busy, December in New Zealand is busy squared. The academic year ends in November or December, so Advent is full of year-end plays and musical productions and graduations. Families are getting ready for their summer vacations, and I know I spend a lot of energy on getting ready to go on vacation. Add into that mix Christmas shopping and preparation for family gatherings at Christmas, and no time is left for Advent reflection or the kind of quiet that nurtures a deep understanding of how a summer Christmas might speak to us of the meaning of the incarnation.

Whether you live in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, I want to encourage you to take some time in the days before or after Christmas to reflect on what it means to you that Jesus came to earth. Take a walk, sit on a bench in a garden, light a candle, or just lay in bed before or after sleeping. Wherever you live, think about these questions: What does the metaphor of Jesus’ light shining in the darkness mean to you? In what ways do long bright summer days with lots of physical activity speak to you of Jesus’ coming to earth?

I wish you wonderful moments of gratitude for Jesus.

(Next week: four quotations about thankfulness, the last post in my series on quotations I love. Illustration by Dave Baab: December Roses in Auckland. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Bringing my whole self to the manger

Saturday December 20 2014

Bringing my whole self to the manger

(On her Godspace blog, Christine Sine has an Advent series this year answering the questions: Who do I want to bring to the manger? Who might otherwise be excluded? Here's what I wrote in response to her invitation. The photo is my husband, Dave, on a Christmas hike in Dunedin, New Zealand, on the top of Flagstaff, 666 meters or 2185 feet.)

Who do I want to bring to the manger this Christmas? Who might otherwise be excluded or ignored? Here’s my somewhat odd answer: my body.

Of course, my body isn’t actually separate from myself, but sometimes it feels like it is. Part of that comes from the Christian emphasis on spiritual things. Our redemption in Christ often seems to be more focused on our souls and spirits rather than on our bodies. Another part of my sense of separation from my body comes from my struggles with weight my whole life, which have often contributed to a view of my body as a bit of an enemy rather than as a beloved part of myself.

My conviction that Advent and Christmas are a good time to focus on the significance of our bodies in God’s grand story comes from living in the Southern Hemisphere for the past few years. This Advent is my seventh in New Zealand.

I come from Seattle, where Advent evenings are pitch dark before 5 pm. Here in Dunedin during December, there is still light in the sky at 10 pm. In New Zealand, the red and green colors of Christmas take new forms: strawberries, local zucchini and red peppers cooked together, and lettuce from our garden paired with bright red tomatoes. These are healthy, light foods. Favorite activities of New Zealanders during Advent and Christmas include walking on beaches and hiking in the mountains, sailing and surfing, gardening and strolling among the roses in the Botanic Garden. Here, our physical bodies are not smothered in heavy sweaters and down coats during Advent and Christmas. Bodies seem alive and real this time of year, nurtured by healthy food and lots of physical activity.

At first, a Christmas season full of long, sunny days seemed very weird indeed. I know people in Florida experience sunshine at Christmas, but I seldom had. I missed the candles in the dark evenings, and all that imagery of Jesus as the light shining in the darkness. I missed that sense of hunkering down inside with delicious smells of cooking in the background and green and red decorations in the house. Now the red and green show up in healthy foods, and we focus on the beauty of the light outside and all the growing things we can see from our window even in the evening.

I have come to see the new pattern as a gift, a part of my growth in bringing my whole self, including my body, to Christ in worship and submission. When we think of the incarnation, we remember that Jesus took on flesh in order to redeem us. He didn’t want to redeem just our souls and spirits. Our bodies are an integral part of our selves, and therefore an integral part of our redemption. I celebrate that reality much more profoundly at Advent in the Southern Hemisphere than I ever did up north.

As I walk among the December roses, I remember that God made those gorgeous blooms, just like God made my body, soul and spirit. At this time of celebrating the incarnation, remembering the beauty of creation helps remind me why the incarnation was necessary. Truly I long to return to the purity of what God made, before all that beauty was marred by sin. Truly my whole self – body, soul and spirit – is broken and needs redemption in Jesus.

Yes, this year I want to bring my body to the manger, to bow in worship and surrender, giving my whole self to Jesus.

(If you'd like to become a subscriber to this blog, which means you'll receive an email every time I post something, sign up in the right hand column.)