Advent 2020: Living in the shadow of Death

The Christmas season started early at my home. My husband and sons decided that November 1st the Christmas tree should come up, and up it went. It’s been a long year. We have been locked down at home since March experiencing the ‘new normal’, why shouldn’t the Christmas traditions change?

The new normal brought with it, a lot more quiet. A restrictive quiet. A solitary confinement quiet. A naughty corner quiet. The infamous SOPs- wear a mask, sanitize frequently, temperature checks and curfew have made a quick dash to the market or grocery store so inconvenient. The social distance that needs to be maintained at public gatherings means I cannot share jokes with my neighbors, there are no more hugs and handshakes, it’s not fun anymore. I have spent more time online and in quiet nooks looking for the best network signal than anywhere else. Very introverted but it became the perfect setting for the reflection of Advent and revisiting the Christmas story.

When I first heard of the coronavirus, it was a bug like flu somewhere in China and everyone was wearing masks. China seemed so far away, so distant, totally unrelated to my equatorial corner of sub-Saharan Africa (we are not even in the same hemisphere) and so much less to my own environment. Then the devastation began, with lockdowns and massive death counts. As I was reviewing material for a Sociology lesson, a CNN interview of nurses from one of the worst hit nursing homes in Washington state, I began to observe the devastating toil the disease had on emotions of the nurses and families. To observe through a glass darkly, the effects of quarantine and the immediate need for ventilators. My niece, Keitangaza who passed away on 28th December 2017, needed a ventilator to breathe and there was none available. This took my breath away for a moment. When it hit the Octogenarians in Italy and wiped them out like a plague, the number counter became a siren wail. Uganda still has a very young population but my parents’ generation, most of them are Octogenarians. It was too close for comfort, anxiety set in and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Then it came for us, Uganda managed to contain the deaths and spread. With the gradual reopening, it has come close to home. I know people who have had it and survived and I know people who have had it and died. Such terror and distress.

While reading the Matthew and Luke’s elaborate details of the Birth of Jesus, it soon became apparent that our ‘Christmas spirit’ as portrayed in most of the Christmas movies is slightly off the mark. Actually, if the Christmas movies had been set in 2020, they would have been so on point.

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Luke 2:16-18 NKJV

The shepherds, were going about an ordinary day’s work, in a season where Augustus Caesar had ordered a census throughout the Roman Empire. Every man had to go back to his home town. Israel was an occupied territory, and so Bethlehem as one of the towns of Judah must have been packed with so many long lost relatives, Romans, transit travellers, yet the shepherds did not have time for chit chat. They were tending their sheep in the field. God, in His wisdom, found it very important to send a host of angels to these busy men. Not the innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away, and not to the Romans who were conducting the census. Rather to shepherds, forgotten like David.

The shepherds, left their sheep and rushed to the place the angels told them and found Jesus lying in a manger. This was exactly what the angels had said they would find. They rejoiced to find the Messiah and shared the news widely. How exciting it must have been to see the Word incarnate.

Christmas is the Season to rejoice for those who like the shepherds have received Jesus as their Savior and Lord- we have received peace and goodwill. Tis the Season to make widely known the good news, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want even in the valley of the shadow of death because ‘our the Christ (the anointed one who saves) was born on Christmas day.’

Later, as a child, Jesus is visited by the Wise Men. These Wise Men make a long journey following a star to worship Jesus. In Jerusalem, where they stop, no one had paid attention to the very same star and no one had heard the news from Bethlehem. The Wise men were warned by an angel not to go back to Herod. And Joseph was instructed to take his family to Egypt by an angel. After the visit, the young family had to flee to Egypt by night. And Bethlehem experienced grief like none other, was it not the Messiah they rejoiced to receive? All their young males under the age of two, were massacred by Herod. The heart gripping pain of losing a young child senselessly, who would console them?

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.

Matthew 2:16 NKJV

Within the Christmas carols is one about Good King Wenceslas, who looked out on the Feast of Stephen. Traditionally, that would be today, Boxing Day. Stephen was one of the seven men ‘of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’ appointed to handle the Church business so the Apostles could continue with the Ministry of the Word and prayer. (Acts 6).

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts 6:8 NKJV

For all this glowing tribute from Dr. Luke, Stephen is the first Christian martyr. He was falsely accused for blasphemy and even when the Council saw his countenance as one of an angel, and were cut to the heart by his words, they did not receive Jesus as the Christ and stoned him death in Jerusalem. His death was witnessed by a young Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus, who later became Paul, a bondservant of Christ.

How does one move from gorging themselves on so much turkey and rich Christmas cake to a celebration of martyrdom? One does not. Christianity carries within all its celebration, the death and resurrection of Christ. Christianity also carries within all its death, the life of Christ, eternal and glorious. It is impossible to separate Christmas from Good Friday and from Easter. It is impossible to separate the pain and suffering of calvary from the joy of Christmas and the glory of the resurrection.

It is in beholding the lamb of God, swaddled in remains of priestly garb lying in an ordinary manger that we are able to see Him carry our sins at Calvary and then at last like Stephen, see the Lion of Judah seated at the Right Hand of the Father.

Lord, thank You that while troubles and pain will come, your tender mercies sustain me through them giving me life and peace. In uncertainty and instability, I choose today to re-anchor my life in Your goodness, Your faithfulness and Your mercy towards me. Amen From Lectio365

Vanilla Essence

Or maybe I should call it The myth of retirement. Part 1. All through school, we always heard about and planned for retirement at some ripe old age. It was the utopian idea that at this age, one would have time to take all those holidays they missed, take a cruise around the world, run a farm and maybe play golf all day. Getting into the fast and furious rat race, I quickly realized this was too good to be true. There was just no one around me who lived like this. The only pensioners I knew were in their homes, in Kabale, where my parents grew up. And they were still very active in the political and economic life of Kigezi. Plus, the only reason I knew they were pensioners was because they were always coming to Kampala to fill out some forms to enable them to get their pension. This journey is about 500kms and because the roads were worse for wear, it took almost 24 hrs. All of my life. 😏

So what was retirement then? Did it simply mean that I was too old for formal employment? Not everyone is was formally employed, some were self employed. There, lived around the periphery of Makerere University, a group of elderly Batooro men who peddled anything and everything. One of the peddled recycled bottles, he collected glass bottles from our households, at that time everything was bottled in glass. He cleaned them up and sold them off. Would he retire? When would he retire? My nanny, was so old, Maria, bless her heart. She plucked out all my milk teeth, never needed a dentist. Would she retire as well? When would she retire?

Then came the Structural Adjustment Programs that saw the massive layoffs of public servants. They were given severance pay and overnight, they were no longer civil servants. Were they retired? Apparently, they were. But they were too young for cruises and yet too old for their former jobs. They reinvented the wheel. Early retirement became an option.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost is a description of the buzz around me when I decided to retire. Nevertheless, when I opted to retire, time took on an elastic quality. I would have all the time to do everything, I had wanted to do. So I bought vanilla essence. I was going to be baking fresh muffins for breakfast and desserts for my family, so they could also live the life. I have a very sweet tooth.  It did not help matters that one of my retirement gifts was a desserts recipe book.  I would like to take a moment here and laugh 😂🤣 at this plan. Four years down the road, the essence is a running joke among my sons. I never baked a cake or dessert or any such thing.

…Life it goes on

Robert Frost

School schedules remained the same. Traffic jam remained the same. The earth still orbited the sun for 24 hrs. The dry and rainy seasons still remained. The visa application process for those long boat cruises remained just as rigorous if not more. Morning routines remained. Meal times remained.

And so it was that I found myself grappling with the word retirement and its meaning. Would it vanish like Santa and the tooth fairy? Only to reappear when my own children were learning about milk teeth and Christmas gifts. Would it be deleted from my word bank? Would it take on a new meaning? The Jews had been waiting for the Messiah, there were prophecies by great famous prophets like Elijah and Isaiah and little known ones like Micah and Joel. This Jesus who had just fed over five thousand of them with two fish and five loaves, might be the one. They followed Jesus in small boats across the Sea of Tiberius to Capernaum. After all, Moses had fed their forefathers with manna, surely Jesus could do better. Maybe He could even show them how He did it.

Jesus answered, “This is the work of God: that you believe [adhere to, trust in, rely on, and have faith] in the One whom He has sent.”
John 6:29 AMP

Surely, it could not be that simple. There should be a miracle he could perform. But, just like it was for me, the realisation that life is the journey of believing and trusting in Jesus is the ultimate mythbuster. Many of them walked away that day. Ultimately, the goal of life is not retirement but to believe in Jesus. Totally blew my sails out! This was not what I was expecting but it was how I had always lived. So if I had lived this way, was living this way, surely I should continue to live like so?

The essence of life is to believe in Jesus, the One sent by God. The Bread of life that satisfies my hungry soul.

A tale of how salary conspired against me.

It all began a long time ago; once a upon a December, I received a call asking me to pick my appointment letter. My parents were very excited, I was working, finally! My linear progression scale also agreed- kindergarten- check, primary school-check, O’level-check, A’level-check, bachelor’s degree-check. All checked. I picked my letter with a litany of requirements, one of them was opening a bank account. My dad wrote my reference to his bankers and it should have been easy, only this was a long time ago. I needed to explain why I wanted to open the account and what the purpose of the account was. And so began the games that salary would play with me. Each account had charges, minimum bank balances and an insy, winsy bit of interest. I selected the one that only required one letter of reference, it had no interest and required an immediate deposit for it to be opened. I was already indebted to myself, or was it the bank, before I even started working. Never forget salary.

Do not wait till your first job, start saving on all monies you receive.

Moral. ⚠

The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower is servant to the lender.
Proverbs 22:7 NKJV

And with that sorted, we started work. Salary was sometimes late, sometimes early, sometimes just on time. Salary and time were clearly having issues. I decided to work with time, because well, time was more predictable. Salary’s mood swings were legendary, every one complained about her, whenever we were with time. Which was always.

Your most constant resource is time. If you manage your time well, money shall follow.

Moral ⚠

So be very careful how you live, not being like those with no understanding, but live honorably with true wisdom, for we are living in evil times. Take full advantage of every day as you spend your life for his purposes.
Ephesians 5:15‭-‬16 TPT

It was not long before I was introduced to advance. The office grape vine always has a vine dedicated to options that are available to maintain your current and dream lifestyle. So advance, had limits and could be contained within your salary for one month. Well, that did not sound too bad. Let us try this advance. And advance😀 was always on time. Advance was always in a good mood, it was easier than accounts opening. You even received a phone call when advance was paid. Wow. Advance became my new best friend, goodbye salary! But Advance was jealous, very jealous. I had so many conversations about my relationship with salary, and told advance it was nothing personal but I owed salary alot in life. Well, that did not go down well, advance started to sabotage my dreams. The more, I pursued advance, the less I had to spend on my lifestyle. Salary was constantly complaining because the bills were piling up and we could not keep up.

Advance is debt. Stay away from advance on your salary. Choose contentment.

Moral ⚠

Those who love pleasure become poor; those who love wine and luxury will never be rich.
Proverbs 21:17 NLT

With the ‘millennium bug’, came new innovations. The first one being a salary account, all one needed was a letter of reference ans, voila you had an account. It had no minimum balance and minimal charges on withdrawal. Little did we know, this was a setup.

Not all that glitters is gold. Read the fine print. Read the times.

Word to the wise ⚠

The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, But those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.
Proverbs 21:5 NKJV

In they came, trip trapping on our bridges, unmoved by our troll nature. They walked in, all suave and kempt, high heeled and polished. They spoke English English, a bit accented and their words rolled off their tongues like it was their mother tongue. Once in a while, they switched to their mother tongue, fluidity just. The latest crop of banking relationship managers ushered in by the ‘millennium bug’ and the Great Recession aka the Crash of 2008. They sold us salary loans. If you had a salary account, it was easy peasy. Sign here, sign here, and voila, within four days, you could be a millionaire! If you did not, it might take slightly longer, more signatures, but you too could join the club. ✒️? So it was, that within a few months, we were all millionaires. It took us a few years to catch on that interest rate, the one in tiny letters that you could not read, was not our friend. By then, most of us were so indebted, even advance would not pick our calls. We had mortgaged our future. And we still had to live in it.

Salary loans are an overdrawn future. Walk away from debt.

Moral ⚠

A prudent person sees trouble coming and ducks; a simpleton walks in blindly and is clobbered.
Proverbs 22:3 MSG

Promotion and an adjusted salary structure brought great reprieve. The same relationship manager who once ruthlessly sold loans to beat targets advised to defer gratification and save over time to achieve my goals. He gave the illustration of the cumulative effect of saving over the same period vis a vis paying off a loan. And without the interest component, wow. It looked doable. I could also wait, even with inflation, the cost was so much lower. That’s how I started saving.

Never spend your money before you have it

Thomas Jefferson ⚠

The wise have wealth and luxury, but fools spend whatever they get.
Proverbs 21:20 NLT

So there is this series being run by Worship Harvest Ministries, catch it here if you have not yet watched it.

Working the works of God

Jesus was speaking to some Jews, according to John, who asked Him this question that always struck me as strange, odd even. It always seemed so out of context. I thought well, Jesus, who is graciousness personified, was being gracious to the askers. What did they mean by working the works of God?

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, ” This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

John 6:28-29 NKJV

So there is this series at Worship Harvest #SomeKaMoney, started this August 2020. If you have not listened to it, you can start right here.

Sunday morning, keenly paying attention to the sermon and boom! It hits me that to the Jews, work was their way of extending the kingdom of God. It is why they ask Jesus after he has miraculously fed them, all five thousand of them, how they can work it? Their response to the miraculous was wonder and desire to replicate.

One of my history classes had very inquisitive minds. They did not accept regular answers and always asked why? The lessons were filled with so many seemingly unconnected whys. I decided rather than waste this opportunity, let us delve into the theory of evolution. At which point, of course, with the many whys, they became the several theories of evolution. In order to prepare for the lesson, I also had to really delve so as to sufficiently answer each child’s questions. I read about Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos islands and his journal entries and drawings of the finches. Suddenly, my world was filled with wonder at the magnificence and greatness and forethought of God.

These finches were spoken into being, (Genesis 1:20-23) on the fifth day. Not only were they distinguished from eagles, parrots, hens and humming birds by the Word of God. They carried within themselves, the ability to adapt and survive in their different environments. Darwin spent five years observing them, it must have been such a wondrous thing to behold. His observation led him to write his paper, The Origin of Species, which to date has caused quite a stir.

Source: Pinterest

In both instances, Darwin’s and the Jews, the wonder of creation created a desire that got them working. It created a passion that caused them to create. Why then do we separate, our wonder from our work? It is not possible. All work begins with wonder, the possibility of greatness. The possibility of bringing happiness to a soul.

Have you paused to think about why you work? Well Genesis 1, tells us that God paused at the end of each day and saw that His work was good. Is it any wonder then that Peter says of Jesus ‘he went about doing good..’ while speaking at the house of Cornelius. (Acts 10:38). Paul writing to the Ephesians exhorts them and us to remember that we are ‘created in Christ Jesus to do good works’. Paul also writing to the Philippians encourages them that ‘it is God who works in you both to will and to do. God worked because He is good and loves to do good.

Why do you work? And why should you work? Work is our response to the greatness of God. Like the heavens, David writes about, declare the glory of God. (Psalm 19:1). Our work declares the glory of God.