Archives For Christmas

There are many ways for us to get into the Christmas spirit.

Some of us listen to and sing along with our favorite Christmas tunes. Others of us watch Christmas movies or send out Christmas cards to family and friends.

Many of us bring out the Christmas spirit by decorating. We put up a Christmas tree and hang up all sorts of ornaments on its prickly green branches. Those of us who are not too averse to climbing up ladders string lights on the outside of our homes.

100_5401I have one clever friend who gets into the swing of the season by decking out her car with reindeer horns and a bright red nose.

Speaking of reindeer, I invite you to check out this short clip of a YouTube video that has recently gone viral. Claire Koch, who is just five years old, captured hearts across the world (and the essence of the Christmas spirit) when she used sign language in a school Christmas concert so that her deaf parents could understand the lyrics to the songs.

With her little hands and big heart, this adorable child showed what getting into the spirit of Christmas is truly all about.

Even in the smallest of ways, Christmas is about giving. It’s about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ—our Creator God’s most extraordinary of gift of love and joy—by shining His self-giving love into the lives of others.

 

 

Needs and Wants

Dennis Moles —  December 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

flickr/Creative Commons/R Stanek

In a world where Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become proper nouns, it’s hard to distinguish between needs and wants. Every year I have the same conversation with my mother.

Mom: “What do you want for Christmas?”

Me: “I don’t know.”

Mom: “Do you need anything?”

Me: (long pregnant pause while I think) “I don’t think so…”

Heading into the Christmas season causes me to wonder, “What do I really need?”

John 4 tells us of a time when Jesus needed something: “But [Jesus] needed to go through Samaria” (John 4:4 NKJV).

At first glance this might seem like an odd verse to reference in an Advent-related blog, but the passage stands out to me as especially applicable to this season. It stands out mainly because it clearly shows what Jesus did when needs and wants came into conflict.

In the first century, no self-respecting Jew would have wanted to go through Samaria. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other. They hated each other so much that many Jews would take the longer road around Samaria when traveling from Galilee in the north to Judea in the south. They did this because they did not want to be around, touch, or associate in anyway with the “unclean” Samaritans.

But Jesus needed to go through Samaria because there was a woman who needed His love and a group of disciples that needed His example. Jesus went though Samaria because the woman with the worst reputation in the town of Sychar needed to know that she was loved. But He also needed to teach His disciples that the gospel is meant for all people (John 4:33-38).

On second thought, I do need something this Christmas. I need the same thing that the disciples needed that afternoon in Samaria. I need to be reminded that following Jesus means walking through the places I want to walk around. I need to be reminded that Jesus has come into the world to meet the needs of the needy, not the wants of the greedy.

Merry Christmas!

I look forward to Christmas . . . and yet I don’t. I like listening to and singing along with the mostly cheery-somewhat melancholic music I hear on the radio and in stores, and I enjoy the tinsel, bright lights, and other festive decorations. I like decorating the tree and wrapping gifts. I love family gatherings and yummy meals and the sharing of gifts. And this year I especially look forward to the joy of watching my two little bright-eyed grandsons open their gifts.

But frankly, I have mixed feelings about much of the “to-do” about Christmas. I don’t like the expectations associated with gifts. So often I’ve given someone a gift and then learned that it was something the receiver already had, didn’t want, didn’t fit, or simply didn’t like (though usually that was kept hidden). And before that came the process of thinking about what to buy and then shopping, while avoiding the crowds, and hoping to get the perfect gift on a limited budget.

Speaking of budget, there were years when I did all my shopping in the month before Christmas and ended up using credit cards to buy the gifts or to pay necessary expenses in the months that followed. I’ve mostly solved this problem by buying fewer and less-expensive gifts on sale with cash and throughout the year, but sometimes that just gives me more time to agonize over whether or not I’ve purchased the right gift.

And though most family gatherings are cheery and fun, not all have been of the same caliber of togetherness and joy. (And this year will be sadder because both our dads/grandpas will not be here to celebrate with us.) In the past I’ve also gotten so caught up in preparing the food and making sure everyone was comfortable that I’ve missed out on conversations and moments the others shared. Now when everyone gathers at my house I’ve solved that dilemma by ordering pizza and having everyone bring salads or desserts.

And then there’s the letdown when all the hustle and bustle is abruptly over.

If that were all I had to look forward to in this holiday season, I’d be like all the rest of the world that has no real reason to celebrate. Thankfully, I do! I celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world. In a seemingly insignificant birth to two insignificant people, Jesus quietly entered this world with only lowly shepherds to witness His coming (Luke 2:1-20). Yet that birth was heralded by angels and set in motion the chain of events that gives significance to my life here on this earth and in the life to come.

That’s why I can take special joy in setting up my manger scene, singing carols of praise in God’s sanctuary, and savoring the stories of His birth found in Scripture.

I’m eternally thankful that He came, and I pray that I keep Him at the center of my celebration—not just in this season but all throughout the year.

Santa Arrives!—Flickr/Creative Commons/MIKECNY

I recently heard a woman’s compelling story of victory through Christ over a persistent sin in her life. One thing she stated stood out in light of the upcoming Christmas holiday. She shared that when she learned as a young girl that there was no such thing as Santa, she also began to wonder about Jesus. She reasoned that if her parents could lie about Santa, surely Jesus could be a cleverly devised lie as well.

You may not have experienced what this woman did when she learned the truth about Santa, but you probably felt some disappointment, disillusionment, or even anger. I know that both my husband and I were disappointed when we learned that Santa wasn’t real and for us Christmas lost some of its magic, and that’s why we didn’t insist to our children that Santa was real. What we told them was that once upon a time there was a real person named Saint Nicholas and that Santa was patterned after him. We also told them that we give gifts at Christmas to celebrate Jesus’ birth. They were totally fine with that.

I’m not saying we should never tell the children in our life stories about Santa or the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy, but I think we need to think twice about how we do. After all Santa is a myth, and when we perpetuate the myth of Santa we can inadvertently downplay the true meaning of Christmas. We relegate the story of Jesus in the manger to just another heartwarming but fictitious story.

The story of Santa is a sweet little story, but that’s all it is. Jolly old Saint Nick brings gifts, but Jesus was the gift—God’s gift to us. Let’s remember this holiday season to put the emphasis on the Christ child, the Son of God, who left heaven to come to Earth to live as an example for us to follow and to suffer and die so that all who believe in Him might have eternal life. It doesn’t get any better than that!

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

Holiday Blues

Jeff Olson —  December 20, 2012 — Leave a comment

The holiday season is normally my favorite time of the year, but not so much this season. While much of the world celebrates the “most wonderful time of the year,” I’m often feeling blue, hurting inside over losing both of my parents this past year.

What I’m finding as I go through this first holiday season without Mom and Dad is that the things I’ve loved my entire life (Christmas music, decorations, family gatherings) are often painful triggers that remind me that my parents are gone.

Thanksgiving was rough. I cried as we drove over to a family member’s house for dinner and felt down throughout the day.

Christmas won’t be any easier. There will be no phone calls wishing each other Merry Christmas. No gifts to exchange. No “I love you’s.”

And when I’ve caught myself feeling festive and enjoying the season, I sometimes feel guilty. It feels “wrong” to be happy and to celebrate when they are not here.

Guilt tells me I should just be sad.

The truth is I am sad—for good reason. But I’m also happy. Though there are times I may need to feel one more than the other, God has been teaching me that it’s okay to feel both. Both can coexist in me.

There are no exact rules to follow as we grieve the loss of those we love, let alone go through the first holiday season without them. We each have to figure out our own way. For me, giving myself permission to experience both sadness and joy has been a part of finding my way through this season of grief.

Take time for your heart

Jeff Olson —  December 22, 2011 — 3 Comments

Every morning I take a baby aspirin. Heart disease runs in my family, and my doctor says it’s good for the health of my ticker.

The particular brand of aspirin I take etches the shape of a small heart on the side of the pill. At first I thought it was corny. But every time I see it, it reminds me that I’m taking this little pill for the good of my heart.

Just as it’s good to take care of our physical heart, it’s also good to take care of a different kind of “heart.” I’m referring to that unseen place inside each of us that houses our deepest desires, hopes, convictions, and feelings. It’s that place within us where we experience the deepest joys and heartaches of life.

The heart is the center of who we really are. That’s why the book of Proverbs puts a high priority on taking care of it:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
(Proverbs 4:23)

During this Christmas season and even as you enter the New Year, take some time to care for your heart that Jesus was born to rescue and renew. Take a break from the frenetic pace of life and give yourself time to breathe again.

Maybe grab some solitude. Read a good book. Reconnect with a friend or relative.

Do whatever you need to do to tend to your heart. It is the central part of who you are. It is the place out of which you love God and others.

 

Christmas “Magic”

Jeff Olson —  December 23, 2010 — 1 Comment

My neighbor across the street stopped by the other day to ask how my nephew with Duchene’s Muscular Dystrophy was doing. Last week my nephew faced a life threatening situation because the muscles in his throat that allow him to swallow food stopped working. I told my neighbor that he pulled through a surgery (to put in a feeding tube) that the doctors gave him little chance of surviving. Although he’ll never be out of the woods with his disease, all things considering, he is doing remarkably well.

Immediately, my neighbor (whose long white beard qualifies him as a look-a-like for Santa Claus) chuckled with a huge grin on his face, “See, I guess there is Christmas magic after all!”

My neighbor made a great point. We thought we were saying goodbye to my nephew when they took him  into surgery last week. But our family got a taste of  the miraculous.

Of course, this miracle stems from the ultimate miracle of  Immanuel–that God is indeed with us.

Whatever situation you find yourself in, may you more fully come to know and experience the life-changing truth of Immanuel!

Charlie Brown

Allison Stevens —  December 20, 2010 — 2 Comments

It’s tradition for us to watch Charlie Brown on television at Christmas time.  We own the DVD, but there is something more fun about catching it on TV instead.

Oh, Charlie, I can so relate to your frustration with the commercialism that we’ve attached to Christmas. Finding the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect decorations, the perfect gifts, the perfect Christmas play. Just writing about it exhausts me.

And then enters Linus.  He saves the day by reminding Charlie and me what this time of year is all about. It’s about a savior. God, coming to earth as a baby, to save us. He brings us peace and goodness. This is the miracle of Christmas.

I’m so glad that we have a reason to see past the materialism and commercialism; all that fades away when I look at Jesus, our Savior, Emmanuel.  In Him we find love, joy, and peace.

Luke 2:11-14:

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

It was Christmas 1963 when It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year first hit the airwaves. Andy Williams was the first artist to record this soon to become a favorite melody written by Eddie Pola and George Wyle. The lyrics celebrate the good times, fun, laughter, and festive atmosphere that surrounds the Christmas season:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap- happiest season of all . . .

The song goes on to celebrate the festive parties and holiday celebrations that surround the Christmas season for many. But, is it really the happiest season of all? Or, it that just wishful thinking? Many people experience the holidays as anything but happy.

For those who are facing the first holidays without someone they love by their side,  the holidays can be more of a dreaded reminder of the emptiness and heartache that they are feeling. Grief has a way of invading our lives like an unwelcomed and unstoppable virus that infects every aspect of the holidays. Times that were once filled with joy and hope are now clouded with a dread and emptiness that at times may border on despair. Some one is missing. And we’re devastated. Things will never be the same again.

Holiday heartache is real. And we’d like to help. Join me for a round table discussion on facing grief and loss over the holidays with author Shelly Beach and fellow counselor Jeff Olson. Pull up a chair and a cup of coffee as we walk through a struggle that is common for many this time of year.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwZDFm6hcls

Baby Jesus

Allison Stevens —  December 21, 2009 — 3 Comments

adult and baby handshandinhand.jpbChristmas is upon us and so I’m thinking today of baby Jesus.

Last night, we had a candlelight service with a live nativity at our church.  Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus were played by a young couple with their baby boy.  He was absolutely adorable. Right before Mary (mommy) sang, her 7-week old baby became a little fussy so she handed him to Joseph (daddy). On her fist note (she sang like an angel), her little guy stopped fussing and looked at her.  He was calm and at peace the rest of the song. It was a beautiful, sweet moment.baby in hands

God hears our cries, too. Then, like this mother, He sings to us. His songs are as tender and sweet. And we, like little babies, hear His voice, we take a breathe, and we sigh with relief, and it’s like all our troubles are washed away. “In my distress I called to the LORD; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears (2 Samuel 22:7.)

Baby Jesus. The man, Jesus. God Jesus. He hears us and is with us. Now. Today. God is with us. Emmanuel. Whatever you face today, remember this: God is with you.