Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Presence of Christmas - An Advent Story, Part 4

** My apologies for not posting part 4 of this story before Christmas. In the busyness of the season, I forgot to get it done! Thanks for understanding!
This year, it is once again my privilege to participate in the celebration of the Advent Season with my church family. 
The story that God has prompted me to write will appear here on my blog each Monday this month. I am thrilled to be able to share these writings with you and I hope the story will be a blessing to you and your families this season. The story is a continuing tale that will take us through a contemporary application of the biblical truth of Christmas

Here are the links for the first three parts of the story:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 

With a Courageous Heart, 

“You’re meant for so much more.” Mary Beth’s words echoed in his head as Izzy sat in the back row of chairs. A month ago he’d never imagined that Christmas Eve would find him sitting here, in a church service, in a shelter for teenage boys. Crazy, but yep, here he was. 

Juan, the preacher he’d met on Black Friday, had invited him to stop by when Izzy had called him to try and meet up. He had questions and something told him that Juan would be able to answer them. Juan was leading the group in worship at the moment. He had a warm tone to his voice that blended with his acoustic guitar and had the attention of the entire group of boys in the room.  

After meeting his sister last week over coffee, Izzy tried to ignore the nagging irritation he’d felt when she called him out about the life he’d been living. As much as he wanted to be angry with her, to deny the truth of what she’d said, he couldn’t, because she was right.

He had been running, and he was tired. Tired of throwing himself into his job, working crazy hours and volunteering for every assignment that would put another notch in his resume belt. Tired of filling his free time with ball games, workouts at the gym or watching ESPN on his 60” flat screen. 

His friends were all casual acquaintances, he was close with no one- it was easier that way. Izzy didn’t like attachment – no chance of being hurt or left behind when you didn’t let anyone into your life to begin with. He’d built a solid wall around his heart and the only chink in the brickwork was Mary Beth and her family. This week he’d finally realized that he was lonely, and even his relationship with his sister couldn’t fill that empty spot. He’d tried to deny that too, but the young boy that was still inside him somewhere was crying out for something solid to count on. The kind of solid ground and bonds that he’d known with his parents and his boyhood friends, but that was so long ago and he’d buried those memories so deep he’d almost forgotten what it had felt like.

What was it that Mary Beth had said? That God was the Father to the Fatherless? If that was true, then that included him too, didn’t it? And this roomful of boys, right? Izzy began to wonder what their stories were. Where did they all come from? What had happened to them? Why were they here tonight? He’d been fortunate, he knew, there were relatives who’d taken him in and cared for him until Mary Beth graduated college and married Joe. By then, he was a college student himself and home was whatever dorm he was assigned each year. 

Juan’s firm baritone voice suddenly jarred him out of his thoughts as he began to speak to the assembled boys. He pulled out his Bible and read from it, beginning in John chapter 1. Izzy followed along on the app on his iPhone as Juan read, drawing out the story, his voice painting a picture with each word he spoke.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Izzy knew “the Word” meant Jesus, something from Sunday School had stuck with him after all, and he felt a slight relief that the phrasing didn’t puzzle him. “the Word was God.” Hmmph. Jesus was God. He used to believe that, right?

Juan continued to read, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” That struck a chord with Izzy, there was darkness all around him, every day. In his job, he was surrounded by the ugly, the hurting. Criminals and victims were what he reported on, there were rarely any good news stories and it had been so easy to become cynical. But listening to Juan read these verses, it was clear that the dark things don’t win out. “the darkness has not overcome it.” If he still believed that anyway. Izzy’s mind was racing as Juan read on: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

That’s actually pretty heartbreaking, Izzy mused. It’s clear from the text that Jesus had created the world and yet when he came to be with the people he’d created, they’d rejected him. That had to have hurt, had to have caused him to feel lonely, at least you’d think so. Was that even possible for a man who claimed to be God’s son? Izzy didn’t ever let anyone get close enough to him to reject him, but he sure knew how being lonely felt and it hurt, a lot.

He looked up as the tone of Juan’s voice changed and to his surprise what he heard next shattered any defensiveness Izzy had left. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, children who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

That’s what Mary Beth had meant. Father to the fatherless. She believes in Jesus and she has a Father. And so could he. It all made sense to him now. He didn’t have to be alone. He wasn’t abandoned. There was a Father who loved him, if he would only believe in His son Jesus. In that moment Izzy knew he couldn’t run anymore. He had a choice to make. He could reject Jesus and continue living the life that he’d dreamed, and let’s face it, that really wasn’t all he’d made it out to be. Or, he could just let go. If it were really true that God had a plan and a purpose for his miserable life, then it had to be better than what he had now.

Izzy stared at the screen on his phone for a minute as hot tears rolled slowly down his face. He put it in his pocket then, eliminating the distraction. 
Staring down at the floor , he began to speak quietly, not knowing what else to do. “Um, Jesus, I’m not sure what to say, but if you’re God, you probably already know what it is anyway. Listen, uh, I’m not sure how all this works, but I guess I can’t run from you anymore. I need You. I’ve made a mess of my life trying to do it all on my own and I’ve been pretty angry at you for a long time. I’m tired, and I’m sorry. I’m tired of being angry and I’m tired of being alone. 
Can you forgive me? 
Can you fix it? Fix me? 
God, please be my Father. I want to be your child.   
I don’t want to live this way anymore.”

As he finished, Izzy heard the soft chords of Juan’s guitar in the front of the room again. It was a carol he remembered from going to church with his parents all those years ago and as the familiar notes filled the room, he felt lighter than he had in a very long time. The cynical, hardened reporter hadn’t believed in miracles since he couldn’t remember when, but tonight, he knew that he was one. Born of God. Christmas would never be the same.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Something to Quack About

By now most of the free world has heard the earth-shattering news that Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan has been suspended by his television network because he said some things in a magazine interview that they didn't agree with. The blog-o-sphere and twitter-verse have been quacking about it for a couple of days now and a whole lot of people are up in arms on both sides of the issue.

I'm summarizing, but that's the gist of it.

Don't stop reading here - I'm not going to rehash what's been said or get up on my "christian" soapbox about whether I agree with his views or not.

For the record, I do, and I defend his right to express them, but that's a post for another day.

What I am going to say is that I'm more than a little put-off by a few of the words Mr. Robertson used to express himself.

I realize that part of his 'charm' is his down-to-earth, homespun personality. He shoots from the hip, speaks his mind and often, a lot of truth comes rolling out. But frankly, he needs a thesaurus. Badly.
So does the interviewer - I've believe that anyone who feels the need to use a profanity does not have a decent grasp of the English language. (This from a reformed trash mouth, emphasis on reformed. I found my dictionary and thesaurus and started to utilize them.)

Here is a link to the actual article (I won't post the content here, for the reasons stated above, but you should at least have the opportunity to read it for yourself and form your own opinion.)
GQ Interview with Phil Robertson

But I digress.

Phil Robertson is a reality TV star.
Phil Robertson is a REALITY tv star.

For whatever reason, he has been given a huge platform to express his views and opinions and is being paid heartily to do so.

Phil Robertson is an Evangelical Christian.
Phil Robertson is an Evangelical CHRISTIAN.

What he said about homosexuality has a lot of people angry and offended today.
What he said about homosexuality has a lot of people agreeing with him today.

The way he said it, in my opinion, does not represent Christ well.

I feel he used words and phrasing that were rudely put and as a female, and a Christian, it bothers me. I won't say offended, because it really takes a lot to offend me, the pc police drive me crazy. They are too quick to judge what someone says without considering their culture and background.

But I'm bothered because Mr. Robertson has a level of responsibility to represent Christ well - in all things.
His choice of nouns and verbs does not do that.
Simply saying that he would rather be intimate with his wife than with another man would have been sufficient to back up his opinions on sexuality.

Now, don't go saying - "Well, that's Phil being Phil."and shrug it off. Let's think about this for a second.
Mr. Robertson has expressed that he is grateful for the audience he has to share the Gospel and he clearly has a heart for Jesus and the saving grace he offers. His own life story is a testament to that.
However, the book of James in the Bible has something to say about those in authority and the language they choose:
"Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly." - James 3:1

While he's not a teacher in the church - at least not that I know of - he has taken it upon himself to represent Christ and the Gospel to millions. He is an influencer of the highest order and as such, he has the responsibility to consider his words carefully. 

Not to censor his viewpoint, he has a right to believe what he believes and share his opinion publicly as do we all. But to simply say it in a way that doesn't include rude language or innuendo. 

It's surprising to me that the Christian community has largely bypassed this in rushing to defend Mr. Robertson's right to free speech. 
While championing him is admirable, we need to stand up for the right to speak freely, the Christian community also needs to be more mindful of how we are perceived when we speak. We are very quick to find offense in the way we are spoken to and referred to by others and we have to hold ourselves to the same standard. Actually, a higher standard.
While it's of utmost importance to be salt and light, we have a responsibility to speak the truth in love. 

Mama always said you win more people with honey than with vinegar. 
And that's something to quack about.

With a Courageous Heart, 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Peace of Christmas - An Advent Story, Part 3

This year, it is once again my privilege to participate in the celebration of the Advent Season with my church family. 
The story that God has prompted me to write will appear here on my blog each Monday this month. I am thrilled to be able to share these writings with you and I hope the story will be a blessing to you and your families this season. The story is a continuing tale that will take us through a contemporary application of the biblical truth of Christmas. 
Click HERE for a link to Part 1 of the story.
Click HERE for a link to Part 2.  

If you wish to study the verses each week along with myself and my church, simply click below the graphic and it will open a window to the notes page of Impact Church NOVA. 

With a Courageous Heart, 
Impact Church Notes

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." - John 14:27

Izzy took another sip of his latte and glanced across the table at his sister. She was on the phone with her son James figuring out when she’d be picking him up from practice.  When Izzy had answered her text earlier, asking to meet him at Starbucks, he knew it wasn’t gonna be for a casual conversation. Mary Beth knew him too well, had always known when something was bothering him. She had a sixth sense when it came to him and as much as he loved that she knew when he was troubled, he wasn’t always ready to talk about it. Some things he just needed to keep to himself for a while.

Like the fact that he’d pulled his old Bible down from the top of the bookshelf last week. It nearly wrecked him when he opened the black leather cover to see the inscription there in his Mother’s handwriting. 
“To my son, Isaiah Gabriel, on your 15th birthday – God has given you a deep thirst for knowledge. It is a gift to be able to ask the right questions and find the answers that will satisfy your need for truth. Son, you will find no greater truth than the words in this precious book.  When you choose to walk in the truth found here, you will know true peace and the purpose for your life. Use your gift wisely and remember, you are never alone when you walk with Jesus. I love you, Mom.”

He’d believed that once. That the Bible was God’s word. His truth. Mary Beth still believed it, even after the fire that had killed their parents. Izzy had always wondered how she could be so accepting, so, so, peaceful about their deaths. He was jealous of that peace if he was being honest with himself. How does she do it, He wondered, how has she managed to put that awful day firmly in the past?

Ask her.

The voice startled him. He looked around at the guy sitting at the table behind him. No, wasn’t him. He was buried in today’s Gazette, reading the Letters to the Editor. Briefly, Izzy wondered if the guy had read his article that was on the front page today. Below the fold, but still, front page baby. He was making a name for himself at the Gazette. Pretty soon, he’d be known all over this city. Not too shabby for someone his age, but he was a hard worker and wasn’t afraid to get to the bottom of a story. Hmm…his Mom had known that about him, hadn’t she?

Ask her.

Ok, seriously? That was loud. But looking around, no one else in the busy coffee shop had seemed to hear it. They were all involved in their iPad’s or their conversations. Ok, weird, but valid. Maybe he should just ask her. Izzy looked back at his sister just as she was putting her phone away in her purse. “That thing drives me crazy”, she said with a smile, “but with two teenage boys, I have to own one just to keep up.” She paused a moment then continued, “Listen, I…”

“Mary Beth, I…” They both started to talk at once, tripping over each other’s words. Some things never changed and Izzy grinned. “You first, after all, you ARE older.” He said. “Oh, haha, you are SO funny Isaiah.” She replied. “Alright, fine, but this is serious, ok?”
“For the past two weeks, ever since Thanksgiving, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, thinking about you. I’ve felt God telling me to pray for you and not to wait, to do it right then. What’s going on with you little brother? And don’t think you can hide it from me either.”

Izzy shifted in his seat as he considered how to begin. How had she known he’d been having sleepless nights?  
Had she known? 
That was weird. They’d always been pretty connected, but man, that, and the strange voice he’d just heard made him wonder if he was losing it. “Tell me something Sis, why doesn’t the fire still bother you? Why doesn’t it make you angry? It never did and I don’t get that. You and Joe, you’re both so into Jesus. And I just don’t understand how you can be when God didn’t do anything to keep Mom and Dad from dying. Don’t you miss them?” 
Wow, that had come out harsher than he’d wanted it to. The stunned look on Mary Beth’s face told him that much.

She sat quietly for a moment and he was just about to apologize when she started to speak. “Isaiah, I love you, you know that don’t you?” He nodded that he did. “You and I are so much alike in some ways, but in others we are so different. With you, everything is black and white. Truth or a lie. Facts are facts. And you’ve always been one to hold back. You don’t trust easily and when Mom and Dad died, you were just starting to get to know Jesus. To understand the peace He offers and what life with Him at the center could be like. You were so angry after the fire, you pushed Him away. Decided not to trust Him anymore because He’d failed you, right?

“It was different for me, I’d been on my journey with Christ for a few years then – I’m older, remember? You want some truth? Hmmph. Mom and Dad’s deaths just about killed me, left a great big empty hole in my heart and I miss them so much, even today. But what made the difference for me, what has gotten me through it, was not rejecting Jesus, but embracing Him. Resting in the comfort of His word and trusting in His love for me. When I needed Daddy, I called out to God, my Abba, Father. The Bible promises that He is the Father to the Fatherless and I just clung to that Isaiah. I held on tight to the peace Jesus gave me. It’s like nothing you can find in this world.”

Mary Beth sighed deeply and she could see that he was listening intently. When Izzy didn’t respond, she continued, “Isaiah, you’ve lived the last 10 years as if God had abandoned you in the ashes of our home. But the truth is that you abandoned Him. Somewhere in your heart you know that God has promised to never leave you, but you’re so stubborn. The rational, factual, black and white adult you’ve become needs to remember who you were at 15 when you prayed for Jesus to save you. You had nothing and Jesus gave you everything, but you walked away when it got hard. 

Bad stuff happens, it happens all the time. Look around you – you’re a reporter! You see it as much as anyone, but do you blame God for all that? He doesn’t cause bad things, but because of sin, evil exists. Jesus was God’s answer for that. Yes, God’s son, that little baby we’re celebrating now, who loves us enough that He died for us. But you know that already.

“You’ve been working so hard at filling your heart with stuff – your job, your car, your box seat season tickets, all your new and bright and shiny stuff. But all you’ve been doing is pushing out the one thing that’s going to give you the peace you’re looking for – Jesus. It’s time to stop running away little brother. You’re meant for so much more than this.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Plan of Christmas - An Advent Story, Part 2

This year, it is once again my privilege to participate in the celebration of the Advent Season with my church family. 
The story that God has prompted me to write will appear here on my blog each Monday this month. I am thrilled to be able to share these writings with you and I hope the story will be a blessing to you and your families this season. The story is a continuing tale that will take us through a contemporary application of the biblical truth of Christmas. Click HERE for a link to Part 1 of the story.
This week, much of our area was snowed/iced in, so our Pastor and part of our Worship team filmed a video of music and the sermon. This way, all who wished to, could still participate in worship even though they couldn't get out to their church home. You can access the YouTube video by clicking on the graphic below. The music worship portion is approximately 18 minutes, the sermon portion begins right after.

With a Courageous Heart, 

The car engine whined a loud protest as the driver pushed the little coupe towards 80 miles an hour. Much like the man behind the wheel, the small car wasn’t prepared to handle what was being demanded of it at the moment. 
This long, flat stretch of Hwy 33 had beckoned to Izzy as a way of escaping the nagging thoughts and painful memories that had come creeping back into his mind this past week. The gentle rise and fall of the road, along fences marking off one farm from the next had always been soothing to him as he had traveled its familiar miles.

But not today.

Today, he was running. 
Running from memories and beliefs and feelings that he thought he had long since buried. Buried with his Mom and Dad 10 years ago when they died in the fire that had destroyed their home. 
And his faith in God.  

His right hand struck the steering wheel with force as he let out a noise that would have frightened anyone. 
“Just go away God! 
Leave. Me. Alone! 
I don’t want You anymore!” Izzy shouted at the empty space around him. 
“Why now? Why are You bugging me now?"

And without warning, hot tears began to flood his eyes until he couldn’t see the road in front of him. Izzy slowed his car and pulled over to the side of the road where he allowed a release of emotion that he hadn’t let go of in years.

As he sat there, all the old feelings of pain and anger and fear and abandonment he remembered felt as fresh to him at 26 as it had at 16. 
But he wasn’t 16 anymore and he’d gotten past all that. 
Had made his own life in his own way and on his own terms. 
And he certainly hadn’t needed God to do any of it for him. 
God didn’t save his parents from that fire, why should he believe that He would do anything for him now? 

It drove him nuts to see his sister Mary Beth and her husband Joe so hung up on this Jesus stuff. Living life “for Him” they said. 
Living out His “purpose” for them. 
As if God could really have a purpose and a plan for each of them. 
God, Jesus, whatever. He didn’t need any of it.

But if that were really true, then why couldn’t he shake off the chance encounter with that preacher last Friday?

It had all started with that column his editor had assigned him to write – What are the signs of Christmas? 
His day had started out pretty rough, that was true, but as he got into the assignment and the festive atmosphere in the mall with all the holiday shoppers, he found himself really enjoying the answers he was getting to that question. Lots of excitement about gifts and toys and holiday meals and decorations and snow. Talk of Santa and Rudolph and elves and cookies to be baked was making people smile, and they were all loving the bargains! 
Yes, there’d been lots of signs of Christmas to be found.

And then he’d met Juan.
Juan had been sitting on a bench outside of Graftons Department Store, looking pretty out of place among all the urban shoppers with his dreadlocks, blue button down shirt and ripped denim jeans. But what really caught Izzy’s attention was the worn leather book that Juan had been reading. 
A Bible. 
And from the looks of it, he needed a new one. 
His was falling apart.

Intrigued, Izzy had sat down beside him and introduced himself. And when he asked him the question, “What are the signs of Christmas to you?”,  he wasn’t prepared for what came next. 
Not prepared at all.

Juan had given him a quizzical look, taking his measure; judging his very character it seemed with his piercing eyes. It was like he could see the dark empty spot in Izzy’s heart and it made him uneasy. No one ever looked at him like that anymore, straight into his soul.   
Not since his Mom.

As Juan answered the question, all of Izzy’s memories of what he’d known about Jesus, God, the church had come racing back to him. And it was so strange, it was as if he were hearing it for the very first time. 

Juan spoke of God’s plan for the world – to save it by sending and then sacrificing His only Son.  
He talked of a God who knew all things before they were completed. 
A God who had written the story, knowing the end from the beginning
And the simple truth that Jesus was the story.

That part had grabbed Izzy’s frozen heart and even now, wouldn’t let go. 
Like Isaiah in the Bible, he too was a writer. 
He understood a story. 
He understood that when you write, you never know the whole story when you start, you make it up as you go along. 

But Juan talked of a God who knew the whole story before He even sat down to write it. 
He knew that the people he’d created to love would turn against Him and need a way to come back to Him. 
The God Juan spoke of knew that he’d have to send His son Jesus to Earth to die to make that possible. 
He wrote the story and then He made it happen. 
And according to Juan, it was because He loved them so much that he couldn’t bear to see them, us, live in the guilt that all our mistakes, bad decisions and arrogant pride had created.

And as much as Izzy wanted to believe it was true, he couldn’t allow himself to believe that a God who loved like that, was the same God who had let his parents die. 
If God had known the whole story from the beginning, then He’d known that was going to happen. 
And he hated Him for it. 
It had been 10 long years since Izzy had believed in God. 
10 years of silence until last Friday. 
“So now what?” He heard his own voice echo off the windshield.
“What is it God? What am I supposed to believe? 

What do I do with you now?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Even When I Don't Want To

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me." - Psalm 28:7a

On a day when I need to be "on", I'm finding it hard to even show up. 

My daughter Emma is with her skating team this weekend at a competition in Michigan. These trips are normally a highlight for our family  - shared adventure and excitement and anticipation with other families as we watch our girls skate beautiful patterns and formations on the ice and make it seem effortless in the doing. 

But my heart is elsewhere today. 
The grief comes in waves. Great big, rolling, giant waves. Reminding me of the times I've stood in the surf at the ocean. When for just a second - the wrong second - I turned to look back at the shore and was overwhelmed by one of those rumbling waves. One that came up from nowhere, knocking me down onto the sandy ocean floor. 

They catch me so by surprise, these waves of emotion, they leave me gasping for breath. 

Fighting back tears that just want to flow and flow and flow. 

I can't cry now, can't reveal the open, aching sadness that is just under the surface of the forced smile on my face.

I don't want to talk about it, don't want to think about it......

But I miss my Mom. 
I see Emma's skating coach here in the hotel with her Mom and it makes me long to still be able to share these moments with mine. 
I share a meal with one of her teammates Mom and Grandmother and think how fortunate they are to still have these times. 
Times we take for granted until they are lost to us forever.   

It's in these moments that I have no choice but to just trust God. 
And, it's in these moments that I really don't want to. 
I'm not ready to be the grown-up, not ready for the time when I can no longer pick up the phone and ask her what to do. 
Or what she thought. 
Or if she would pray. 
Or just to hear her say "I love you." 

Oh God, you are my strength and my shield, my comfort and my rest. 
I choose to trust your heart today, even though I don't want to. 
And I know you love me anyway. 

With a Courageous Heart, 

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Promise of Christmas - An Advent Story, Part 1

This year, it is once again my privilege to participate in the celebration of the Advent Season with my church family. 
The story that God has prompted me to write will appear here on my blog each Monday this month. I am thrilled to be able to share these writings with you and I hope the story will be a blessing to you and your families this season. The story is a continuing tale that will take us through a contemporary application of the biblical truth of Christmas. If you wish to study the verses each week along with myself and my church, simply click on the graphic and it will open a window to the notes page of Impact Church NOVA. 

With a Courageous Heart, 
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." - Isaiah 7:14

“Christmas music? Where’s that Christmas music coming from? It’s not Christmas yet, I must be dreaming”, Isaiah thought as he tried to pull himself back into sleep. Too late. The sound of Jingle Bell Rock was hard to ignore as his alarm clock blared out its’ obnoxious reminder that it was time to get up.

“Get up! Get UP!! Oh, man!” The realization that he’d slept through his third alarm hit him like a wet blanket. “My editor is gonna kill me! I can’t be late for that assignment today.” 
Isaiah rolled out of bed and quickly hit the shower as he tried to focus his foggy brain. 
“Ugh! Black Friday. What a crazy name for a day that’s supposed to kick off Christmas. Shouldn’t it be green or red Friday? Or Christmas Plaid Friday? 
Hmmph. Black pretty much fits my mood today though.” 

Isaiah (Izzy to his friends) had gotten too little sleep and a little too much turkey yesterday. That, along with the long religious discussion he’d endured around the table yet again cemented the fact that he wouldn’t be in any kind of a good mood this morning. It certainly wasn’t his idea of a great start to his day. While he pulled on his jeans and button down, he thought back to yesterday’s family meal. What should have been a relaxing day with his sister Mary Beth and her husband Joe, had ended with tension over religion. 

Why on earth had he thought it would be a good idea to ask them the question he’d be asking all those crazy Christmas shoppers at the mall today? 
He knew better. Knew better
Since he no longer shared Mary Beth’s sentiment for all the religious nonsense they’d grown up with, what should have been a pretty simple discussion turned into a discount version of a sermon. 
How could she and Joe still believe all that Sunday School stuff about a virgin having a baby? 
And that he was born to save the world? 
The world needed some saving, that’s for sure, but there was no way he’d believe that a baby, any baby, could do that job. Izzy wasn’t sure anyone was up to the task.  
“What are the signs of Christmas to you?” 
That was his question. 
A Simple question. 
Should be easy answers. 
Nothing too deep. 
He knew he’d have more than enough responses from the mall crowds to write his article this afternoon.  But he’d had to go and ask his family what they thought. 

As he poured his coffee into his refillable Starbucks mug, he looked at the red package of Holiday Blend sitting next to the pot. That was a sign of Christmas! Didn’t everyone know that when those red bags showed up on the shelves that Christmas was right around the corner? And how about Peppermint Mocha? Can’t get that year-round. Or like today, all the sale signs he’d be seeing in the store windows. 
Those were the signs of Christmas – Black Friday sales, holiday shopping bags, Christmas music on the radio, the giant Christmas tree in the center of Old Town. And the biggest of all signs of Christmas – Santa at the mall. Those guys put in heavy training at the all-you-can-eat restaurants all year just to be ready for their ho-ho-ho’s to sound convincing. 
Yeah, Mary Beth and Joe just didn’t get it.

As Izzy took the elevator down to the garage, he thought about how much it bothered him that he’d been arguing with his sister yesterday. They’d been so close growing up, maybe that’s what was eating at him the most this morning. How far apart they’d drifted. 
He loved his sister, and spending time with her and Joe and their boys was something he really looked forward to, especially around birthdays and holidays. With Mom and Dad gone, Mary Beth was all the family he had left and she was pretty much the only one who cared that he even existed except for his landlord.

Yesterday, Mary Beth was talking about the prophet Isaiah – his namesake apparently – and how he’d predicted the birth of Jesus. Isaiah's prophecy, recorded in the Bible, said that the birth of a son from the virgin would be a sign from God.                   
A sign that her baby was to be the Savior of the world. 
He would be called Immanuel, God with us. 
A human baby, but God himself. 
That was the surest sign of Christmas to her, and to Joe and the boys. The knowledge that Jesus loved us enough to leave Heaven and come to Earth to save us from our sin.

Izzy shook his head in frustration. One of the reasons he’d become a reporter was that he dealt in facts. Not crazy stories about a baby saving the world. And even if it were true, it sounded like a storyline from a B movie. And everyone knows how believable those are.

Driving his car out of the garage, he headed over to the mall just as the sun started to peek above the horizon. The Christmas music on the radio station was already too much to handle and he snapped off the dial to get rid of the annoying sound. 

It was going to be a long December.