To read the Christmas Devotion, just click on the DATE below.
An index is also provided.
Most of us have fond memories of Christmases past. Times when we enjoyed the season and all that goes with it. In fact, a reminder of those memories can evoke bright images in our memoires and for many of us even the smell of the season.
This year we have asked the writers in our congregation to share some of their Christmas memories. We were especially interested in how those memories reflected Christ in Christmas.
We will be publishing the devotional in four parts beginning with the first Sunday of Advent. Each week will have a devotional for Sunday, stories of Christmas memories for the weekdays, and on Saturday, some suggestions for how to make new memories this Advent season.
Sunday—November 28, 2010, 1st Sunday of Advent
Monday—November 29, 2010 (reprinted from 2009)
Christmas is far and away my favorite holiday season. I love the lights (lots of them), the Christmas tree, ornaments and decorations, It’s a Wonderful Life, homemade cookies, and good eggnog. What would the holidays be without the sounds of Christmas? Some of my favorite Christmas artists include Andy Williams, Harry Connick Jr., and Sarah McLachlan.
Moreover, I love to gather with friends and family on different occasions to celebrate the incarnation of God the Son. Good food, refreshments, the singing of Christmas carols, catching up with one another, sharing white elephant gifts, all contribute to make the season bright.
For our family, the Cantata and Christmas Eve candlelight services have become especially meaningful. After the Christmas Eve service, our family usually takes a little time later that evening to open a couple of gifts with our names on them from under the tree. During the night, Santa (in my view a harmless cultural rite of passage that we try not to over emphasize) mysteriously delivers a gift on the bed of each of the children which they are allowed to immediately unwrap upon waking in the morning. This buys mom and dad a chance to sleep in for a few extra precious minutes. But once all of us are awake and have eaten our hot rolls with honey, the rest of the gifts are passed out and opened. Additional family usually joins us over the course of the day.
In recounting some of my favorite things, there may be those who think that I am recounting and emphasizing some of the wrong things - that I am falling into the consumerist trap of making Christmas all about stuff while neglecting the real reason for the season.
But I have emphasized the element of the stuff of Christmas purposefully. We are not Gnostics who believe in a dualism that says that which is spiritual is good and that which is material is somehow tainted. As Christians, we are not the ones who say that feasting and gift giving are inherently bad. It is true that just about anything can be done in excess, but that is not what I am talking about. The stuff of Christmas is given for our enjoyment.
Certainly, we as Christians should show wisdom in how we spend our money. The priority of Christmas is our thankfulness for God’s gift of Christ to us, not in the material gifts we give and get.
But with that qualifier, we should say unapologetically, gift giving is a good thing. The stuff of Christmas is a good thing. God the Son took on human flesh thereby affirming the goodness of God’s creation. We show our gratitude for God and love for one another not simply through verbal expressions but in the giving of thoughtful, tangible items.
Grace and Peace,
Tuesday—November 30, 2010
My most treasured Christmas remembrance is a Christmas Eve midnight service I attended when I was sixteen years old. I had been struggling with the questions of what I was going to do after high school graduation. People kept asking me “What are you going to do with your life?” and it was a time of great confusion and frustration. During this December, I remember looking out my window at the dark evening skies sprinkled with stars and wonder if there was any meaning to life and being very dismayed about it all. However some groundwork had been laid as, that same fall our Pastor had been preaching on committing one’s life to Christ and I had read the book “Conqueror in Christ” about Paul, from my Sunday school teacher. I also heard a man speak on I Cor 5:17 on “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away, all things become new” which gave me much to ponder. So even though I only started attending church in my teens ,God was moving in my life.
That Christmas Eve, as I sat there quietly in the little Presbyterian Church, I was studying the one stained glass window picturing a simple lamb. Suddenly my mind exploded with the thought that “It was all true….The Lord Jesus Christ was truly the Son of God, the Lamb of God, and He loved me! He loved me!” Oh what joy I felt; I wanted to stand up in the congregation and shout it out to everyone that Jesus loved me. But, I remained very quiet and never told anyone, not even my parents.
The next thought I had after this tremendous revelation, was that my purpose in life was to serve God and others. Such a thought I had never entertained as I was the typical teen who thought only of herself and her needs. Now I do attribute that moment of direction from God as the stimulus to take up nursing as my life’s work.
- Noreen Mocsny
Wednesday—December 1, 2010
"But seek first the kingdom of God…", Matthew 6: 33a (ESV)
Each December the students at the Learning Place Pre-School had the opportunity to work with figures of Joseph, Mary, Jesus, an angel, a donkey and a sheep during the creative play time. With blocks near by, a stable, manger and stalls for the animals were built by busy little hands each day.
One morning several three and four year old children came to me with extremely worried looks on their faces. On the verge of tears they asked, “Mrs. Schatz where is Jesus?” They immediately announced, “He is gone.”
Although several years have passed since the precious children came to me with their great concern for Jesus, I ask myself that same question with regard to my life.
Where is Jesus? Is He the Lord of my life? Is He the reason I choose to do what I do? Do I love and obey Him in ways that bring honor and glory to Him? In December does He get lost amidst the distraction of the season? Do I have great concern if He is not where He should be?
Jesus was found that day at The Learning Place. He was under a shelf. The children immediately put Him back where He belonged. Since then, I have been aware that each day I must do a search of my life to make sure that I put Jesus where He belongs.
- Sharon Schatz
Thursday—December 2, 2010
Christmas giving can be so much fun when you know it serves a worthy purpose. Then it can be sacrificial, and you won’t mind at all. Bob and I were young with two small girls. He taught 4th, 5th and 6th grades in a small Christian school, and our house was on the school grounds. The house and $300 a month met our needs, but then, our needs were small.
Christmas was coming, and our two families came from different traditions. My family had a maximum of fifty cents per gift, whereas Bob’s family was more likely to spend about $50 per gift. His salary settled the question of which tradition to follow, but what to do?
Where the idea came from I don't remember, but we decided to honor each person and the Lord by making individual Christmas ornaments with a name on one side and the meaning/Christian application on the other. We had a board under our mattress, and Bob borrowed a jigsaw and cut out lots of circles. We then glued green paper on each side and started the process of researching, calligraphying, and decorating each name. Bob embellished each one with drawings of pinecones and needles. They were then ready for decoupage and a velvet ribbon hot-glued around the circle. Bob found glitzy pushpins with pearl tops, and these worked well to attach to a loop and hide the ribbon ends. We loved the end result.
Did I tell you we have a lot of relatives? We met at Uncle Buddy’s for Jesus birthday cake and the traditional “Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus” followed by gift giving. Even though the presents were similar, there was an eagerness to read the encouragement and meaning of each name. Bob and I also sensed the unspoken reminder that each person had a unique identity, a name which was a constant encouragement to live in a way pleasing to the Lord and to honor Him always.
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.
By Charles Wesley, Age 17
THE LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS EVE
Some of my earliest memories of Christmas Eve involved the living room of our house with all of the lights off except the Christmas tree and the manger. Certainly the Christmas tree held great interest for a small boy with visions of what might be found underneath the next morning, but the manger with the hand painted ceramic figures and the little orange light in the back gave the room a warm glow. I loved to look at the figurines and try to imagine what it really must have been like so long ago when our Savior came to the earth.
The shepherds, simple men who - like most of the Jewish world— were waiting for a savior. Here on a sleepy night came a great light and the voice of angels telling them to go to see the King. What fear must have filled the shepherds’ hearts! It tried to imagine if I had been a shepherd what I might have thought.
The story of the wise men following the star to worship Jesus intrigued me and I tried to imagine what motivated the kings to make the long journey to see a baby and worship him as a king. To follow a light across unknown lands holding untold dangers would have been a great challenge.
As I grew older, the image of light on Christmas Eve wash a wonderful reminder of the light (Jesus) and His entry into this world. In high school my family began going to the evening service, which for us Catholics meant midnight mass and the chance to stay up late on one of the most exciting nights of the year. There was a special hush as the people filed into the darkened church with the candles flickering. We sang of the light coming into the world and peace on earth. As we journeyed home, that special hush from the church lingered as we contemplated what the evening meant and why it was special.
As an adult, father and husband, I still love the lights of Christmas Eve. At ECC that means luminaries and a special candlelight service as we remind the people assembled of the significance of the night and why the image of light represents what God has sent us in His son. It also means that I can pass on this special feeling I have for the lights of Christmas Eve to my daughters.
I look forward to seeing the lights this year. I will remember again what the light means and why it is such an important reminder for all of us. Take a moment this year before Christmas Eve arrives and think about Jesus and the light He brings to you— not just at Christmas but throughout your life.
Saturday—December 4, 2010
CREATING CHRISTMAS MEMORIES
Create an Advent Wreath
If you don’t have an Advent wreath it may be something to add to your Christmas traditions. There are many commercial outlets for the wreath, which does not need to be elaborate, that will help as a reminder of the season of Advent.
This devotional can be used to learn what each of the candles represent. Members of the family can take turns lighting the appropriate candle when the family gathers for dinner.
Sunday—December 5, 2010, 2nd Sunday of Advent
Monday—December 6, 2010
CHRISTMAS MEMORIES: DRAWING CLOSER TO CHRIST
"ENTERTAINING ANGELS UNAWARES"
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Hebrews 13:2 (ESV)
Growing up in Taiwan as a missionary kid was a treat and an education. One unforgettable memory of life on our university campus is our open-door policy. Fear of intruders seemed unthinkable, and often we didn't lock our doors. Usually we'd hear a called greeting at the same time we heard the front door open and the person enter to take off their shoes in our Japanese-style wood-floored home. Mind you, as an introverted child I didn't always welcome the competition for my parents' attention, or the schedule disruptions and resulting disappointments.
Later I learned that my parents, Presbyterian educational missionaries who began serving in 1958 when Communist China was expected to take over Taiwan at any moment, had been given a prime directive to be “profoundly available”. During their 38 years at the university, Dad was always inviting some last-minute guest home between classes for sandwiches and Chinese soup, to Mom's consternation. However, Chinese soup takes well to added water, and sandwiches can be multiplied like loaves and fishes. Dad also invited each student at least once a semester for an interview to talk about whatever was on his heart. Student groups met in our home for fun and Bible studies weekly. Just recently, I discovered in listening to a sermon by a former student of Dad's, that the power of Dad's loving attention had led him to become a pastor, so he could bring transforming love into others' lives as well.
The time when I was most aware of our open home, however, was Christmas. After helping Mom make pork-cake and glittery candles to deliver to friends and neighbors, we would prepare our home for Christmas guests and festivities. Our small potted cedar tree made several appearances until it got too heavy to carry indoors and was replaced. Strings of treasured Christmas cards decked the halls, along with paper chains and popcorn strings. Tinsel was carefully saved and reused too, as was Christmas wrapping paper, a real luxury. Nearly every Christmas Eve the university choir sang Handel's Messiah, and going to hear it together was a pilgrimage of pleasure.
Christmas Day in Taiwan was not like the family clan gatherings of Home-Assignment years, when Granny or Grandma would cook immense meals and thirty or so folk would demolish them before round-the-room thanksgiving, games and sleepy chatter. Turkeys were not easy to come by, much less cranberry sauce and other 'comfort foods' of the season. However, there was always more than enough international fare, some of it brought by our international guests from the community. No one likes to be alone for the holidays, and missionaries have a lot of experience in 'adopting' family wherever they are. Everyone was made welcome, and treated like the gift they were.
One year I realized the contrast between our “open stable” policy and most of my classmates' family-only celebrations, and chose to rejoice. Yes, we shared Christmas with people who were not a regular part of our lives (as well as some who were). Our definition of “family” included mission 'aunts' & 'uncles', and we, like our hospitable Chinese friends, found a family relationship for everyone in our circle to be honored by. There were probably even people celebrating their very first Christ-filled Christmas with us. But wasn't that what Jesus came to do, to make us “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28)? That long-ago Christmas, I learned to give thanks for the Gift that makes family of all who accept Him. In a small way, I began a life-long journey of looking for His coming in the faces of friend and stranger alike, and making room for them to worship with me beside the manger.
THREE PHONE CALLS - TWO EMOTIONAL EXTREMES
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2009 will never be forgotten. We went from the heights of jubilation to the depths of sorrow in a matter of hours.
The Christmas Eve service at ECC was soon to begin when I received the first phone call. It was our daughter, Terri, in Sarasota. "Mom, Adam, (our grandson,) will ask Lesley to marry him tonight during the welcome at our Christmas Eve service." Terri is on staff and was asked, along with her family, to welcome those attending. After greeting the congregation, she handed the microphone to Adam saying he had something to share. He asked Lesley, who was seated in the crowd, to join them on the platform. He then dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him. She was shocked and with tears answered, yes. Both families and many friends witnessed the proposal. It was a special moment for everyone. You can view the whole thing at www.youtube.com. (Just type in "Adam's Christmas Eve Proposal.") It was exciting news to share with our ECC family and we attended their wedding on July 10th.
It was a joyful drive home, but that soon changed. The second phone call came about 10 PM. "This is Pam. We're at Christ Hospital with Dad and it doesn't look good." She was speaking of Butch, Paul's best friend for over 60 years. They met in high school glee club and retired from the City together. We headed to the hospital. Butch remained in a coma and was moved to ICU at about 2 a.m. We returned home with heavy hearts.
On Christmas Day the third call came."This is Wilma. Butch is gone." We were immediately overwhelmed with grief and held each other as we wept. Our jubilation had turned to sorrow. Yet, in both emotions we had an unfailing foundation on which to stand. Centuries ago, the joy of Bethlehem turned to the sorrow of Golgotha. Because of each of those events - the incarnation of God and His sacrificial death in our place - we can stand secure through any emotional swell or storm. Because Adam, Lesley and Butch have their faith in Jesus Christ, we can rejoice in the spiritual significance of the wedding and have peace knowing we will one day be reunited with Butch.
Our joys and our sorrows are grounded in our relationship with God's best Christmas gift, His Son.
"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die... a time to weep and a time to laugh." Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2, 4 (NIV)
Wednesday—December 8, 2010
I grew up as an Air Force kid, so we spent Christmas in a lot of different places over the years. When I was in high school, we lived in Annapolis, Maryland, on a little military base across the river from the Naval Academy. Our little church choir from the base chapel was asked to sing some excerpts from the Messiah at the Naval Academy Chapel for the Christmas Eve midnight service one year. And I had a solo. I was pretty nervous, to say the least. Fortunately, we sang from the balcony, so no one was really looking at us during the service.
The whole experience was so moving – such a beautiful chapel, and a really meaningful worship service. And as the pastor was processing out at the end of the service, he looked up into the balcony and gave us a big smile and a thumbs up! What an encouragement that was to a nervous 14-year-old! Then for the perfect ending of the night, we walked out of the chapel to a winter wonderland. It had started snowing while we were there and the grounds of the Naval Academy were transformed by the sparkling snow and moonlight. Silent Night, Holy Night indeed.
That vision has stayed with me over the years, obviously. I bring it to mind when the whirlwind of activities begins to make me crazy and distracts me from remembering the joy of celebrating my Savior’s birth. The peace and quiet that we experienced as we walked out of the chapel floods me with the peace of salvation that is mine, and the quiet assurance that He is with me at all times. The words of the solo I sang that night stay with me:
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountains. Lift up thy voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid! Say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God! O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, arise, shine, for thy light is come. And the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
I have sung the Messiah many times since that night, but that night, the words took on their full meaning for me, a new Christian, young in my faith. Our Light has come. The glory of the Lord is risen upon us. Glory to God in the highest!
Thursday—December 9, 2010
As I look back on my childhood and think about Christmas, I remember it in a very sensory way. My mind is filled with a plethora of sights, sounds, aromas, and feelings that I associate with the season. But the most prominent of these is the sense of anticipation that nearly overwhelmed me.
I remember the annual children’s Christmas pageant at church. Oddly enough, it’s not the actual event that I remember most. The most vivid memory is that of the first practice for the pageant. It was at the first practice where those who would fill the main roles of the Nativity story would be selected. Would I be chosen to play the part of one of the shepherds and march down the center aisle with a shepherd’s crook? Even better, perhaps I’d get to be one of the Wise Men and be entrusted with one of the precious gifts of gold, frankincense, or myrrh? Or, dare I would even think it; would I be selected to be Joseph? Oh, the stress of waiting to learn who I would or would not be was almost too much for a young boy to bear!
Then there was the anticipation of the extended family gathering together to celebrate Christmas. When my family got together there was one thing I could count on - food, good food, and lots of it. At Christmas there were certain dishes which were only prepared during that season. There was oyster stew (which was always served by my grandparents on Christmas Eve); Ostkaka (Swedish cheese cake) was served with lingonberries at every meal (except breakfast); and there were cookies - Christmas cookies - which were baked. There were the sugar cookies cut in shapes of stars and candy canes then sprinkled with colored sugar. There were almond cookies, ginger snaps, and my particular favorite, spritz. The aromas that emanated from the kitchen only added to my anticipation of the feast to come.
But the event that engendered the greatest anticipation was Christmas morning, when my immediate family would open their gifts. My family was of modest means and there were only two times each year when I could expect a gift: a simple gift for my birthday, and something amazing at Christmas.
My father loved Christmas and everything about the season. No matter how tight the money was, he would always splurge for Christmas. We always had at least a 6 foot tree and each family member always had presents especially for them. I can’t remember a year that I didn’t receive a present that, at least in my mind, was perfect for a boy my age. The expectation for the dawn of Christmas morning was the cause of much excitement for me, and insomnia for my parents.
The thing about anticipation is that it has a view towards something in the future. We don’t anticipate past events but anticipate, with joy or dread, those events that lie ahead of us. Each candle on the Advent wreath has a particular meaning, but as we light each one, it points with a sense of expectancy towards the lighting of the final candle, the Christ candle, and the arrival of Jesus. My prayer for each of you is that you anticipate with thankfulness, joy, and excitement the arrival of Christ Jesus as He comes again.
ADVENT: A TIME TO REMEMBER BOTH JOY AND SACRIFICE
Ever since I was a child, Advent has brought many joyful and delightful memories. I think of family togetherness, reconnecting with other people we have not seen or spoken with in a while, and reaching out to those who are needy. The season culminated on Christmas when the home would be brightly lit, featuring the sparkling Christmas tree in the corner. We enjoyed lots of beautiful music, and anticipated sharing a special meal.
These memories are not always realistic, both in the history past and in our present day. We think of our Savior leaving a most glorious place full of perfect peace, love and joy to come down to the most humble of circumstances as a visitor – the most humble in society – to find “no room in the inn”. We think of the shepherds, and then the wise men who unknowingly brought about an attempt to kill Jesus and soon afterwards caused many children to be killed in Bethlehem. And all through history, this period of Advent has been especially difficult and dangerous for Christians in certain segments of world society because of persecution.
In our lifetime, persecution of Christians has risen at an alarming rate. In so many countries, the governments and/or the populace have targeted Christians for persecution in many different forms. Partly as a result of such persecution, we have seen the number of Christians decline. For example, the population of Bethlehem was 90% Christian in 1950 and has now dwindled down to 30% Christian. In many of the Muslim dominated societies where sharia (Islamic law) has been established, the death penalty has been decreed for those who convert from Muslim to Christianity.
But that is precisely why Christ came into this world: to free us from terror and bring us help and hope. And so let us pray
· for those suffering persecution and those who are willing to become martyrs
· for the persecutors that they may change their hearts and minds as they witness those that persevere in their faith even under persecution
· for the families of those who have died for their faith and
· for those among us who are suffering for various reasons
that the grace of Christ may sustain and enable us to stand firm and confess our faith boldly.
“For to us a child is born,
To us a son is given,
And the government will be on his shoulders,
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)
Saturday—December 11, 2010
CREATING CHRISTMAS MEMORIES
An advent calendar is another way to mark the time of advent as your family prepares for Christmas. There are many wonderful products available at Christian bookstores and on-line. They can range from a simple paper version to a more elaborate wooden set.
In our house the version is wooden with little doors with the story of Christmas printed out in 25 small snippets. Our girls enjoyed the process of reading through the story as Christmas approached (as well as receiving the small chocolate gift inside the little box). They took turns reading each door and soon knew the story by heart. It was a wonderful time for our family each evening as we remembered the story and the gift of Jesus.
Sunday—December 12, 2010, 3rd Sunday of Advent
"A people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light." Matthew 4:16 (ESV)
I do not have many memories of Christmas from my childhood, none that stand out to me as special. The self-centeredness and narcissism of childhood may be largely to blame for that, but in any case, Christmas was mainly a season for disappointment to me, one of heightened expectations opposed by life's realities. We had very little money, so I knew to expect necessities on Christmas morning, the socks and t-shirts and sweaters every child dreads on Christmas day.
So I'm borrowing a Christmas memory from someone else - that of the shepherds who received that first announcement of the birth of Christ. I wonder what it was like to see light erupt from the darkness of the sky over Judea, to feel the horror of that dreadful moment when the Hosts of Heaven stepped out into the sky and limned the hills with radiance - it is with good reason, I think, that the first words the angel spoke were, "Fear not."
I sometimes wonder about the courses of the shepherds' lives after such an overwhelming night. It must have been a little anti-climactic to arrive at a manger, to see a bedraggled family sitting in the hay, obviously poor, obviously unsuited for anything but hard work, so obviously destined for the impoverished life of the Jewish peasant. I wonder if some of them went away disappointed. I wonder . . . maybe the shepherds felt they had received a bunch of socks for Christmas, a peasant child instead of a prince. How many shepherds had faith to believe what they had been told? Getting the story from Mary and Joseph, did they ALL go away rejoicing? Did some doubt? Over the years, how many of them held the moment in their hearts and strove to understand the light they had received? How many of them allowed it to gradually fade from their lives? They traveled to Bethlehem to see the Child and disappeared from the Scriptures. I suppose they were faced with the choice every Christian has: you've been told the truth, you've seen the light. Now what are you going to do with it?
I have often prayed for God to overwhelm me, to crash into my world the way He did theirs, to remove both doubt and choice in a single instant. I am coming to understand that those moments happen from time to time, but they are not the mainstay of the life of faith. They do not have the power to sustain us through the years. We need constant reminding. I know now that even having seen the brightest light, having been bathed in it, it is possible for the human heart to choose to remain in darkness, or to return to it again and again. It is a prison, darkness is, and cold, but it can be a comfortable one. And light? Sometimes the light we’ve been given isn’t what we’d hoped for - we don’t understand what has been handed to us. Light reveals so much - much that we'd just rather stay hidden. It reveals us to ourselves, and to others, and makes us responsible for ourselves. Light takes some getting used to, frankly; it causes us to squint even with our eyes closed, and it can be very uncomfortable and we are tempted, very tempted, to hide from it.
Our Christmas is a gentler event than that first one. For one thing, we have all this warning - it doesn’t come unannounced in the middle of the night with blinding light and a host of Heaven’s Finest shouting at us. We rarely have the courses of our lives wildly interrupted with celestial dramas (as a professional performer, I have to hand it to God for His sense of theater). But for all its quietude, I think the point of it all is still the same: Fear not. A Child is born. Go and see. Worship Him. Walk in the Light. Keep it up until I remind you of it again next year, or next week, or tomorrow. And be grateful for the socks, because it's cold out there.
BIG BROTHERS ARE A GIFT FROM GOD
Tuesday—December 14, 2010
In the Meyer house we have multiple versions of Christmas including one in Cincinnati with just the four of us: my mom, dad, brother, and I. On that rendition of Christmas Eve, I have always slept in my brother’s room. The ritual would begin when we set out what was left of the cookies for Santa, brush our teeth, and would end when we climbed in bed. The long journey to bed was accompanied by many detours: pushing and shoving up the stairs, joking and bantering as we cleaned up before bed, and sneaking another cookie from Santa’s already less than bountiful plate. As we immersed ourselves in the sheets and barricaded each other with pillows I grew giddy for the coming morning. When we finally laid down, I found myself too excited to fall asleep. Tossing and turning, I made absolutely sure my brother could not fall asleep.
Always after a few moments of silence he would begin to talk to me, about anything and sometimes nothing at all. Topics of discussion I laughed over and pondered for minutes I could have no chance relating to you now. But today I remember too many of them, all of them maybe. And they make me smile. When he would finally fall asleep and I would lose the will to keep him awake, I would look out the window and into the sky. The darkness nudged me closer to my brother and then the stars lifted my thoughts to Heaven. First I prayed for those without a Christmas, then for my parents and Santa, next I thanked God for my hopefully nearby gifts, and finally I gave thanks for my brother. I apologized for sometimes forgetting to thank God for him, I congratulated the Lord on such a wonderful creation, and I whispered my gratefulness for getting to be his sister.
My brother made a lot of my Christmas memories; dueling the singing Santa cookie jar, watching countless Christmas specials, collaborating to make mom and dad’s gift, wearing my winter coat, and on and on and on. I cannot remember the year I stopped sleeping in my brother’s room on Christmas Eve; I do not care to remember. That was the first year I cried on Christmas Eve. I do not recall the number of the first year my brother was not home to open gifts with me Christmas morning. That was the first year I woke my parents up without him. And I will forget this year, the first year my brother will not be in the country for Christmas. And it will be the first year I will worry about him during the day. But each year, I thank the Lord for my big brother and I have marveled at how much my God must care for me to give me the greatest older brother in the world. And this Christmas Eve I will give thanks for little nephews and new sisters, precious gifts God has chosen to bless me with.
Wednesday—December 15, 2010
IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Galatians 4:4-5 (NIV)
God had a time for Jesus to come from heaven to earth and a time for Him to die on a cross, that we Christians might receive the rights of children.
Likewise, when the time had fully come, Lorraine and I were married. We soon moved to Madison, Wisconsin where I began my graduate work and Lorraine began teaching second graders in a wonderful primary school. And then Christmas came. Up to this time, we always were with our families for Christmas.
Now what? Our parents lived about 100 miles in opposite directions. We would first go to one house and then to the other a few days later. That went on for the first five years of our marriage. The last year was with our first child. Then we moved to Cincinnati. During another four years we added two more children to our family.
Now came the dilemma: do we spend Christmas in Wisconsin or in our home in Cincinnati? We chose to spend Christmas days with our parents and then had our own Christmas day afterwards. This was not always easy to do. My parents were 520 miles away and Lorraine’s parents 365 miles. This was almost the only time that our children saw their grandparents.
In the fullness of time, our children’s grandparents became old. When both of my parents were in a nursing home there were no celebrations of Christmas with them. Soon their grandmother, because of her dementia, did not even know them. After Lorraine’s father died, her mother came to stay with us until she died about four months later.
About seven years ago, Lorraine and I decided that we needed close contact with our grandchildren. We wanted to create memories with them, something more than what our children experienced with their grandparents. Nearly every Tuesday became Grandparent’s Day when we ate LaRosa’s pizza together, either in their restaurants or at our home.
Christmas is a relational holiday. True Christianity is highly relational. Like the Gaither’s song says, “I’m So Glad I’m a Part of the Family of God”, we rejoice in being in a caring church that knows the true spirit of Christmas.
Thursday—December 16, 2010
In college I had a series of Japanese roommates. They were Business, Economics and International Relations majors who came to spend a semester learning English in America. Although college students, they seemed younger.
Makiko and her two guy friends Shige and Keisuke came home with me over vacation to experience a hometown American Christmas. Makiko was smart, friendly and curious, Shige was quiet and stoic, and Keisuke was sweet. Our Japanese guests played with my school-aged brother and sister. They ate Christmas Eve fondue with us, enjoyed seeing a donkey for the first time at our church’s live Nativity, and gamely followed along from the hymn book on Christmas morning. That was the year our fully-decorated tree toppled over. It fell directly on my Japanese friends as they were sitting innocently on the couch.
On Christmas morning, we gave them small gifts we had put together. Makiko had already given us a beautiful set of lacquered bowls, in which she had served us a Japanese dessert made with sticky rice and sweet plum sauce. A year later, Keisuke sent a gift from Japan … a stuffed Kermit the Frog. It wasn’t until I’d spent some time overseas myself that it occurred to me to wonder why we never served Makiko, Shige, and Keisuke rice while they were our guests. We might have had a chicken and rice casserole, of course, but the point is that we just served them our regular food – and our special holiday food – and it never occurred to us that they might not like it, or that they might miss white rice, seaweed, or whatever they were used to. We could not imagine what they were giving up.
This is how it is with foreign guests. We give them the best we have … whatever we would like, or even just whatever we think is reasonable. We could never believe how strange, how uncomfortable, even repellant it appears to them. And the good guest does not tell us. It is hard, but courteous, to consistently and cheerfully eat food you find strange. I usually failed at this in Indonesia. So there are responsibilities on both sides.
There is something mystical about the idea of a guest from far away. Abraham had a guest from very far away, to whom he served lamb. And Jesus, of course, was and is the ultimate Guest From Far Away, the one who drew very near. No one had any idea the sacrifices He was making to come and live among us. And no one ever will. But we can get a better idea. Oh, how lucky for us that He has come near. How lucky that He has learned our ways. He can appreciate the parties we stage for Him. He will not turn away. Let’s welcome Him this year with the best we can muster.
One of my all-time favorite Christmas traditions is my family’s “Road to Bethlehem.” Every year at the start of Advent, we pick names from a hat to determine who our Kris Krindle will be. A Kris Krindle is sort of like a secret Santa, except that your main job as a Kris Krindle is to do nice things for the person whose name you have, treating that person as you would the Christ Child.
Throughout the four weeks of Advent, we all sneak around making each others beds, doing each others chores, or any other kind gesture we can think of.
Any time someone does something for their Kris Krindle, they fill in a square on the Road to Bethlehem. This is a chart that we make out of poster board and old Christmas cards. In the bottom corner of the chart is Mary on a donkey with Joseph beside her. Going up the chart are empty squares, meant to look like cobble stones, that form a path to the manger. Our goal as a family is to have done enough nice things for each other to fill in every square by Christmas Eve, representing Mary and Joseph making it to the manger.
I love this tradition because it really encourages us to focus our efforts on serving others instead of just thinking about ourselves. I can remember always getting excited for Christmas morning to see what presents were under the tree, but I also remember that Christmas meant so much more to me than just that. It was not something I only thought about for one day, and it was not something that I thought revolved around my desires.
Now that my brothers are in college and we are not all living at home, it is harder to hold on to family traditions such as these. The road to Bethlehem, however, is something that I think is an essential part of the Salzbrun family Christmas. Even though I don’t see my brothers as much, it challenges me to take deliberate action in order to do things for them, and therefore takes more of my focus off myself and on to others.
Saturday—December 18, 2010
CREATING CHRISTMAS MEMORIES
A wonderful family activity is the singing of Christmas carols. This can be especially fun when you take the time and effort to go out as a family, a small group or any combination that is available. There are many places that you can bring a Christian witness during the holiday. You can sing for your neighbors or visit a nursing home for member of your church or community. You can even see if the local Wal-mart would appreciate the effort.
The evening doesn't need to be complicated. A simple song sheet, some prayer to start and some hot chocolate when you finish are all you need.
Take some time during the advent season to spread the true meaning of Christmas through the words of Christian carols.
Sunday—December 19, 2010, 4th Sunday of Advent
A BIRTHDAY GIFT FOR JESUS
My best worship experiences have been in my “newlywed” years with Christ, a teenager with plenty of time to journal out praises, prepare my heart and seek Him. There were no major feasts to prepare, expectations of newsletters and perfect gifts, or tantrums of little ones to magically transform. However, I’ve found that the many things in life that were “distractions” now bind me towards Christ, as I ask hourly for sensitivity, wisdom, creativity, compassion, selflessness… and sanity. Worship is being patient with interruptions, kindly training kids to put their boots away, and filling the dishwasher, yet again, with a heart full of praise and thankfulness. Worship is also using God’s strength to lovingly care for a wet three-year-old who is quite awake (and unhappy) at 3 in the morning. Isn’t all work a holy calling? When we get through our day, Rob and I give thanks and worship.
However, Christmas is supposed to be set apart… special. “But with only a dollar and eighty-seven cents”, (as Della laments in The Gift of the Magi), “how do I give Jesus something just a little bit near to being worthy of my Lord?” What DOES Jesus want for His birthday…from me? Steve’s Sunday School lessons dealing with God’s great concern for loving and caring for the poor have echoed strong this year. Throughout scripture, equipping and helping the helpless are close to His heart. “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40 ESV)
So, for Christmas, I will give to the Christ Child, starting with giving my heart. Secondly, our family will have a goal of saving money for ministry projects. This may mean that we can give up things ourselves, give smaller presents to others, or even ask for gifts of charity in our honor instead of a gift, so we can give to Jesus for His birthday. We can make Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes, or write sponsored children from Compassion. At home, we have Compassion, Samaritan’s Purse, and World Vision catalogs around in plain sight. After seeing the needs around them, the kids love to sell brownies and donate chore money to buy some of the kid’s-budget items like chicks, soccer balls and milk to feed a baby for a week. The kids love to circle a few “favorites” and then mysteriously sell $2.25 worth of brownies, coming home with a whole lot more—enough to maybe even get brother’s “favorite”, too.
Ruthie helped me evaluate non-budgeted giving when she was about five. She came to me expectantly, first sharing how many things (3) she was getting from her fundraising enterprises, and then asking why couldn’t Rob and I afford to “save a life for only $2,200”, which would fly a child to a hospital for needed surgery. “It would SAVE A LIFE, Mom.” Maybe we were developing her sense of compassion TOO well! But it started me thinking about un-budgeted generosity, where you give first and then work your needs around the gift.
Rob’s and my families are giving notes of encouragement and unique gifts of charity in honor of each other. The kids will still get presents, but the emphasis will be on the seasonal "contagious" spirit of giving and receiving with joy. Believe me; taking the attention away from “what I am getting for Christmas” hasn’t dampened the Christmas spirit one bit. It isn’t about our generosity or reputation, it’s about pleasing God with a gift. And how could gifts of LOVE do anything to the holiday but make our toes tinglier, our hearts closer, our heart-longings satisfied? Also, giving a birthday present to our Christ Child helps even a busy mom see Christ in Christmas.
Tuesday—December 21, 2010
IS JESUS MAKE BELIEVE TOO?
When I was about seven or eight, someone—I don’t remember if it was my parents or my older sister—decided it was time for me to learn that Santa Claus was just a make-believe person. I don’t remember being overly upset by that fact, but I was truly afraid that Jesus might be make-believe, too. Mother assured me that He was not make-believe and reminded me of the Bible stories and carols that we sang at church on Sunday. I was very relieved, but also very curious as to how the whole “Santa thing” started.
Through my youth, during most Christmas seasons, I would search for information about the origins of Santa Claus. I guess, looking back, I was trying to figure out why Jesus’ birth was mostly celebrated in church—and Santa Claus’ presents everywhere else.
After Otto and I were married and started a family, my focus of curiosity changed. I began to try to figure out how to center our family’s Christmas on Jesus’ birth. One of the changes we made was in the way we decorate our home for Christmas. No Santas…lots of angels and crèches—and our tree has a star of Bethlehem at the top with all the ornaments in white, silver and gold to represent the star’s beams of light. (Well, I do happen to like snowmen so we have a lot of those, too.) But, I realized that’s only an external show of our celebration of His birth.
While living in Waco, Texas, Stacey (10 years old) and I were in the Christmas Music Pageant. I was very blessed by that pageant because it told the Christmas story using characters from the Bible—angels, shepherds (their “Goin’ to Bethlehem” was a hoot!), Gabriel, Joseph, Mary, and the scribes. But the true blessing was hearing the children’s choir sing their song:
“Christmas isn’t Christmas, ‘til it happens in your heart!
Somewhere deep inside you is where Christmas really starts…
So, give your heart to Jesus. You’ll discover when you do
That it’s Christmas, really Christmas, for you!”
So, no matter how hard I try to make our home a declaration of Jesus’ birth, it’s what happens in my heart…and yours…that makes Christmas really Christmas
-Judy L. Jarrell
Wednesday—December 22, 2010
SEEING CHRISTMAS ANEW
Each year as the Christmas season approaches, if you’re like me, memories of years gone by are plentiful. I guess this year I am celebrating my 57th Christmas! I have many, many wonderful memories. To pick out one particular year is a challenge.
I cannot say I grew up with parents who put much emphasis on the spiritual aspect of Christmas…at least, until recently, I didn’t think so. I had the incredible privilege of growing up in an extended household. My grandma and grandpa lived upstairs along with my great aunt, my sweet godmother and my step-grandmother. My parents, my two sisters and I lived on the first floor (however, when we turned 16 we were excited to move on the second floor with grandma!).
Grandma. There is no word tenderer to me. Grandma made certain I knew about Jesus. Because of Grandma, I don’t remember not knowing Jesus. Grandma also made certain everyone else in the house knew about Jesus. And Grandma was the “hub” of our Christmas celebration. There was never a Christmas when I wasn’t moved when Grandma read the story of the shepherds watching their flocks by night…or when I heard the sweet sound of Christmas carols playing on her record player upstairs all through the season.
I realize now, that many of the traditions Jack and I enjoyed with our children were rooted in the memories of my own childhood and I cherish how we were able to build those traditions into the lives of our now grown children. So, I have many, many beautiful Christmas memories.
However, if I had to pick one it would be the Christmas of 2007. Those who lived through that Christmas with our family may think it strange. My dear brother-in-law had just gone home to heaven and Jack was newly diagnosed with lung cancer. We knew most likely it would be our last Christmas together as a family. Of course, it was very scary and very sad, yet at the same time Christmas took on a very fresh look. The birth of our Savior became more real than ever before and we were faced with the importance of His saving grace in a completely new way.
“Silent Night” made us reflect on the holiness of that first Christmas…”Joy to the World” caused us to rejoice in the promise of our redemption…”O Come All Ye Faithful” urged us to come and adore Him and reflect on what it will be like when we are all in heaven worshiping together again. As Tim Keller states, one day “everything sad will become untrue.” That statement is based on I John 3:2-3 “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared. But we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”(ESV) Christmas 2007 changed the way I think about the promise of His coming. We will be like Him…and it will be glorious!
So, I am thankful when I remember. Thankful for a grandmother who let her light shine brightly and thankful for the how she poured love into my life so I might know Jesus as my personal Savior. And I’m thankful to have the memory of a Christmas when my faith was challenged and the eternal promise of heaven became so real. Christmas 2007 was the year when “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” took on a whole new meaning. I am thankful for that very good news!
Thursday—December 23, 2010
A NON-TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS
It was a frigid, starless Christmas Eve as we entered the 7 PM service at Seventh Day Adventist Church in Clifton, early in the history of ECC. Dressed in our Christmas finery, we tucked ourselves securely into our usual pew (right side in the front, close to the door, for quick get-aways). The anticipation for our typical Christmas Eve with all of its traditions was palpable in the voices and body language of our three young offspring. The flow was rather standard for us: early Swedish-inspired dinner, followed by the worship service, home for dessert and carols, followed by finding and placing the baby Jesus figurine in the manger, and lastly, the leisurely opening of gifts. But then it happened: our customary celebration was about to be turned on its head.
FOR BEHOLD, “Mary and Joseph” in the form of a young Chinese couple slipped in late and settled in the pew directly behind us. As the service concluded, we turned to introduce ourselves and welcome these visitors. We discovered that they were students from the University of Michigan traveling to Florida for a much needed vacation from their studies. They wanted to find a Seventh Day Adventist Church that evening so they had left the confines of I-75 and landed in Clifton, amidst a bunch of Presbyterians! As it turned out, this “Mary and Joseph” had no place to lay their heads that cold evening.
What should we do? Traditions needed to be maintained. A few presents still needed wrapping. Would our kids be upset? Where would these strangers sleep? What would God have us do? A silent prayer and a quick family huddle yielded childhood angst (in the form of tears) and more indecision. Ultimately, an invitation was extended, and this Chinese “Mary and Joseph” became our guests for the next 18 hours. Food was shared, beds prepared, gifts opened, wounds tended (after “Mary” suffered a traumatic fall on our icy driveway), and new friends were made.
It was not a typical, usual, or customary Christmas Eve. However, we all learned something about “preparing Him room” and welcoming strangers; about not being too comfortable, insulated and set in our ways. We still love having Christmas traditions, but sometimes it’s in the breaking of traditions that there is blessing!
-Mark and Becky Verhagen
Friday—December 24, 2010 Christmas Eve
GO TELL IT
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord !” Luke 2:11 (ESV)
“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for Joy, all you upright in heart!” Psalm 32:11 (ESV)
Nothing brings back more memories of Christmas than music. Many of my favorite recollections are those related to the songs of Christmas. One song in particular reminds me of a Christmas while we lived in Detroit. Rebecca was attending Resurrection Lutheran preschool two mornings a week. The preschool taught the children several carols, including Go, Tell it on the Mountain. Rebecca adored that song. When we took song requests during our prayer time at night she would faithfully request her favorite song and then belt it out with gusto. This wasn’t limited to Christmas – it held meaning year-round for her.
As any faithful missionary knows, you mustn’t keep your light under a bushel— or keep a song in your heart. Rebecca began singing the song joyfully wherever we went. She sang the words over and over, always with the same level of enthusiasm.
Go, tell it on the mountain,
over the hills and everywhere.
Go, tell it on the mountain
that Jesus Christ is born!
We could have renamed the song – Go, Tell it in the…grocery store, library, zoo, post office line, over the sidewalks and everywhere. I was embarrassed at first, but her excitement over Jesus’ birth could not be contained. I realized that I needed to have faith like a little child. Maybe not to boom out my favorite carol in public places, but to be unashamed of the gospel: ready and willing to be His messenger at all times.
People commonly talk to each other in Detroit grocery stores and we received many smiles and had numerous conversations about the meaning of Christmas, as well as the joy and enthusiasm of her message. One older man said with a smile, “Well, there aren’t mountains round here, but you sure are telling us.” This Christmas may you experience the wonder of His presence, take delight in His love for you, and may you have uncontainable joy. Go, tell it. Jesus Christ is born!
Saturday—December 25, 2010 Christmas Day
CREATING CHRISTMAS MEMORIES
Reading the Christmas Story
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 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 among those with whom he is pleased. 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2: 1-20 (ESV)
- “Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible,
- English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway,
a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
- Used by permission. All rights reserved.”