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Archive for the ‘christmas’ Category

It is mid day, just days after the the celebrations of the holidays (I won’t say how many or few … for fear I may be befriended by my Christmas-all-year-adoring friends) and the sky is darkening already. The day began with the most spectacular sunrise, filling the sky with pinks, oranges, corals, even almost reds … and in my heart I heard my father’s voice red sky in morning, sailors take warning.

As I sat in my living room, amid boxes of Christmas decor, carefully packed away for next year, I felt as if that beautiful sunrise was a foreboding … but that could also be due to my recent check of the weather forecast … ten days of rain are coming.

January is not my favorite month of the year, whether clinical or psychosomatic, I seem to struggle with a seasonal downturn in my mind and spirit. Rain does not help this reality.

Though I am not one who listens to Christmas tunes in July, hangs the lights just after Halloween or keeps the tree up until epiphany, I long for Christmas to last all year.

It is in January when my annual heart’s cry is similar to what we might find in the pages of Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,

“It is winter in Narnia,” said Mr. Tumnus, “and has been for ever so long…. always winter, but never Christmas.”

The season of hope and peace and joy and love has been replaced by rain and dark and flu season and reminders of the pandemic. It is the season of …

almost, but not quite.

That is where we are … almost, but not quite. Christ has come as the babe in the manger who grew up to die on a sinner’s cross so that we might live with the Spirit. But … he has not come back yet and that is what our souls are reminded of when the Christmas season ends … for it should never end.

We have sung our carols of hope … now we have have to put their lyrics into practise, to live the hope we sang even when the morning skies are red with warning. This is the hard work of Christmas, living it day in and day out, even when there are no festive advent chocolates to sweeten the walk.

January is not where I expect life or Christmas to be found. And that is my personal challenge … to look for, to be the vessel through which the hope of Christmas can, unexpectedly, be found.

Today is known as Tweleth Night, or the eve of Ephiphany, when many Christians celebrate the Magi’s arrival and confirmation that the new babe was the reincarnation of God. It marks the end of the Christmas season … yet,

maybe

if we have experienced the hope, peace, love and joy of Christmas,

if we, like the Magi,

still seek Him …

Maybe we can have Christmas every day of the year … even when the rain clouds come.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman from his poem, “The Work of Christmas” 

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Christmas is most beautiful, most compelling through the eyes of children.

As this has been a more quiet, more reserved Christmas, I have found myself pondering moments of Christmas’ past, when our children were young. The excitement of going to bed on Christmas Eve, the placing of Jesus into the manger in our nativity, the checking of the ‘Santa tracker’ online, the awe with which they would admire colored lights, the thrills, the smiles, the joy.

The way children, naturally, express excitement over the Christmas season is addictive, creating a longing within our adult selves for that joy, that thrill of hope.

In his dystopian novel, That Hideous Strength, CS Lewis writes a conversation in which Denniston says to Jane :

“Everyone begins as a child by liking Weather. You learn the art of disliking it as you grow up. Noticed it on a snowy day? The grown-ups are all going about with long faces, but look at the children – and the dogs? They know what snow’s made for.”

Like Lewis’ explanation of children loving all weather, whereas adults have ‘matured’ to be more differentiated in our opinions, so children approach Christmas with a unified joy and wonder that we adults have ‘matured’ beyond.

This brings me to a question …
have we matured?

In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says :

“… unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Then in Mark 10:15, he says :

“… whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

It is as if Jesus himself is saying, don’t grow up!

I am not sure that is necessarily the case in all areas, but I do think that his reminders to be like children is part of his turning the law and the societal norms of the day up-side-down. Not just then, in Jesus time on Earth, but for today as well, as we view children and childhood with limited views on life.

I love these verses in Romans 5:14-16 :

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

It is the cry, “Abba Father” that catches me every time I read it.

Abba was not a word for a ruler, a dominator, a politician or king. Abba is an Aramaic term of endearment, much like Daddy. It is a term of great intimacy, closeness, security. It is a term used by children when things go bump in the night, when the door opens at the end of the day and little ones scurry to embrace their beloved, when eyes are heavy and a warm arms are sought in which to fall asleep in perfect peace.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in a commentary on Romans 8:5-17 says :

“Let us notice the word ‘cry’… we cry ‘Abba, Father.’ It is a very strong word, and clearly the apostle has used it quite deliberately. It means ‘a loud cry’ … it expresses deep emotion … It is the spontaneity of the child who sees the father … and not only spontaneity, but confidence.” 

We adults need to be childlike in our view of our Father God, who desires for us to seek him for intimacy, closeness and security … to seek him as Abba. And not just seek him, but cry out loudly for him.

May we learn through the beauty of how children, naturally, express excitement over the Christmas season. May we be childlike in our cries to Abba.

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Christmas Day has arrived … with no pomp and circumstance, no concerts or parties, no midnight mass or carol sing, no large family gatherings, no hayrides or white elephant exchanges, no mistletoe or warm hugs to share.

It is as if our world’s Christmas has been ‘Grinched’ by Covid.

Yet, the Grinch learned something in his quest to ‘steal’ Christmas from the Whos …

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

In July the comet NEOWISE made it’s flashy appearance across the skies. In mid December South America was treated to a total eclipse of the sun. Just days ago the great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter occurred creating a visible ‘star’ which has been called the Christmas Star (as a bow to the three conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter in May, September and December of 7 BC). While the world’s collective heads have been bowed this year with a pandemic, isolation, racial struggles, loss of freedoms, political power-tripping, fires, floods and our cell phones … the natural universe would seem to be calling us to lift our heads.

Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens.

Psalm 123:1

It is easy to feel a sense of fear and loss this Christmas season.

I feel it, as our Christmas dinner will just be hubby, our son and I … our household bubble.

Yet, Christmas Day is here. The day to celebrate what is here … the Spirit of the God, through our acceptance of Jesus, who is God with us. This day is one of thanksgiving for our Redeemer, who takes away the loneliness, the fear, the anxiety, the sin that is within our humanity.

May we look up this Christmas day. Past the pandemic, the lack of Christmas gathering, the sorrows, the pains, past our melancholy misery for holiday nostalgia of past years … may our eyes be fixed on the gift from heaven, that takes away the sin of the world.

“Let every heart prepare him room”

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The Apostle John wrote Jesus’ words, concerning love :

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

John 15:13

This is a verse that we pull out when one has done a sacrificial act to save another, when one dies in battle, when one jumps in the line of fire to save the life of another.

This is the depth of love that we remember on this fourth Sunday of Advent. It is the John 3:16 love,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The God of Creation was so desperate that our lives be redeemed, he committed the greatest act of love, sacrificing his own Son, so that we might live.

When I focus on this greater love, in these ways, it would seem that most of us do not even have opportunity to show this greater love. For who among us encounters opportunity or reason to give up our lives for another?

What if,
perhaps,
greater love means something more?

What if greater love means sacrificing beyond our physical lives?

What if we are given opportunity to express greater love when :

  • we make efforts to befriend the less popular, less appealing, prickly person in our class, in our workplace … in our church pew
  • we respond with loving-kindness, rather than setting people straight, when
  • we leave the coffee shop, see a man begging just up the sidewalk and we take out coffee to him (and go on our day without … feeling the sacrifice personally).
  • we listen … rather than speak
  • we make the time to make the meal, write the note, send a gift to one who is grieving, lonely, one who simply comes to mind
  • we say yes, when we want to say no
  • we offer grace and forgiveness, when revenge might be a just response
  • we believe what we are told, rather than reading in to what we think is meant
  • we keep persevering … investing even when relationships poke and push us
  • we get out of our comfort zone to love others in ways that communicate love most to them

This greater love is the anthesis to what our world preaches today about cancelling friends, relatives and groups of people because they haven’t lived up to what we believe they should say, how they should live, what they should think.

It is up-side-down thinking. And this is exactly the kind of thinking … living that Jesus modelled. There is nothing he spoke more of in his recorded lifetime than love. It is through this virtue that he gave the first and second greatest commands (“love God, love others” Matthew 22:38-39)

This greater love, is the love defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13 :

Love is patient, 
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud. 
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking, 
it is not easily angered, 
it keeps no record of wrongs. 
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
It always protects,
always trusts,
always hopes,
always perseveres.
Love never fails …
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. 
But the greatest of these is love.

This is the greater love of sacrificing for another.

May we be found loving other as Christ loves us.

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It is sung every year in churches all around. As a matter of fact, it is said that Joy to the World is the most published Christmas song. Yet, it is was not written as a Christmas Carol, nor was it even a song.

Isaac Watts ‘song’ was published in a book in 1719, as a poem. A hundred years later, the melody is believed to have been written by Handel. But it was not until Christmas of 1836 that Lowell Mason introduced this, ‘arranged from Handel’ song to America and the world fell in love.

The words were formed from Watts conviction that the Psalms and the New Testament are intricately intwined through the life of Christ. This joyful poem turned song originated in Psalm 98 and was not written as anticipation of the Messiah, but of the second coming of Christ.

The lyrics are words of triumph, victory. Of good overcoming evil, of righteousness overcoming the sin of the world, of death defeated and of the start of the ultimate reign of Christ. There is reason to celebrate!

It is in the final stanza that the virtues that this return of Christ heralds …

truth.
grace.
righteousness.
(wonders of His) love.

These are the leadership model of the God of creation … firm handedness, cruelty and control. He will rule all of the world, exemplifying the power in truth, grace, righteousness and love.

To some these virtues can be seen as examples of weakness, of missing the strong arm of God. Yet they describe Jesus, who is the truth, grace, righteousness and love (the greatest commandments) personified. It is he who is not just our Saviour and Lord, but also our example.

Our world is now being introduced to a vaccine that (is hoped) will being to bring this pandemic to an end. The joy that this brings for our future is great, and worth celebrating. Yet a greater savior is coming to save our eternal futures … joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing!

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

“God by his righteous judgment
will bring the whole earth
from a state of sorrow
into a state of salvation and joy”
Hengstenberg

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When I was growing up (back in the stone ages), there were two main faces of Christmas; the Christ child and Santa Claus.

Although I grew up with both faces, both individuals as part of this season, I did not grow up confused by the pair who I grew up connecting to Christmas.

Santa was a good, and gentle man, and the stories of him fed my dreams of a magical character who existed to reward my good behavior.

The Christ child was an innocent baby, who was born to eventually die, so that I would never have to deal with the consequences of my human sin.

One gave,

the other took away.

One was jolly,

the other gave joy.

One lived in the North Pole,

and the other lived in my heart.

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One of the words, opposite joy, is despair. When I think of despair, I think hopeless, lacking in peace.

It is interesting that today, this third Sunday of advent, we focus on joy, following peace and hope. Perhaps it is because we, our lives, are absent of joy if we have not received the hope and peace that only Christ can give?

Joy is not just a product of hope and peace, joy is, much like those, a choice.

Psalm 71:23 says, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.” Notice first section, “my lips will shout for joy” … it is a statement of dedication, determination. The Psalmist is committing, vowing that whatever befalls he will shout for joy. He is making a choice. Charles Spurgeon has said of this Psalm, “this Psalm may be regarded as the utterance of struggling, but unstaggering, faith.”

Anyone out there struggling right now? We are in a pandemic people … we are ALL struggling with something in this time in our lives, in the history that is presently being written. We all have struggles that challenge our hearts and souls (and bodies). This is our current, common human experience.

But …

if we can look to the source of hope and peace,

if we can choose, by our will and our unstaggering (well … most of the time) faith to force joy from our lips … it WILL COME BACK TO OUR SOULS!

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). It is new every morning (Psalm 30:5). The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Angels experience joy when one person repents (Luke 15:10). We should eat and drink with a merry (joyful) heart (Ecclesiastes 9:7).

Rejoice always, 
pray without ceasing, 
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

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Hey reader …

did you know that we are in the midst of a pandemic?

did you know that Christmas is coming … but so much of what is part of our Christmas season, is not going to be the same as previous years?

do you feel tired?

Someone has said,

I saw this quote awhile back and it has been tossing and turning in my thoughts.

I think it stuck with me because … I am tired and

all I want for Christmas is to stop being tired

Do you know what I mean?

Do you feel the fatigue too?

I am tired of:

  • missing family
  • longing to travel
  • telling students to pull their face masks over their noses
  • death counts and numbers in hospital ICU
  • missing singing as a congregation
  • the days that are dark and gloomy and short on light
  • words like cohorts, bubble and anti-maskers
  • Christ-followers who are focused on ‘their’ rights in a broken world
  • the people who just won’t do what must be done so that we can be together
  • this pandemic … all of it

And when I focus on these things … then I feel even more tired!

When I focus on Christ, though I am still tired, I feel something else, something that provides strength, comfort and purpose.

When Christ is the focus of my thoughts, my prayers and my attention I have a relief of this tiredness through the peace that only he can provide …. an acceptance of God’s control in my life, in the lives of those I love … all in the midst of a pandemic.

When I give my attention and thoughts to the peace of Christ, I begin to experience relief of some of the fatigue. And through my reception of this peace, the tiredness isn’t as intense, isn’t the focus.

Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give you. 
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled 
and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

“Come to me, 
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

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In Isaiah “a voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (40:3). This voice that Isaiah is referring to is that of John the Baptizer.

It is interesting to me that today, the second Sunday of advent, the Sunday where our focus is on peace, that it is this man, John, who is part of the focus.

John, the cousin of Jesus, the one who leapt in his mother’s (Elizabeth) womb when Mary (early pregnant with Jesus) came near. He was the son that was a miracle baby for old Zechariah and his post menopausal wife. They had been waiting … waiting as we are waiting during advent. John’s choice of clothing (camel hair) and food (locusts and honey) may make him a little less relatable than others.

He was a man who took his calling as messenger seriously, “preparing the way of the Lord, (to) make his paths straight” (Mark 1:3). He did not mince words, did not deliver a happy-clappy message … he “proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4). And people came, confessing their sins and having him baptize them. But, he never left them there, at their moment of public confession and being baptized. He would remind them of what … of who was to come, inviting them into the anticipation of waiting … “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (1:8).

Some thought he was the Messiah, but he was quick to put them straight, saying, “the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals” (1:7).

John did not shy away from his beliefs and (literally) lost his head for sharing his perspectives on the divorce of King Herod.

So, John the Baptist and peace …

Here’s the reality, the real, might not be what we want to hear, reality …

John the Baptist was firm on three things, for then and for now …

  1. he was the messenger … not the Messiah (we all need to be reminded of that in our own lives)
  2. repentance of sin is the only way to peace
  3. baptism is a public and physical act of an inner change

Jesus called John his “messenger” who prepared the “way”.

This was the way for those who followed and listened then, it is the “way” now, for us.

It is only through the peace of Christ … the peace that passing all human understanding, that we can truly be at peace …

at peace when the sun shines … and when the monsoons come

at peace when we are soaring in our academics … and when we are not making the grade

at peace in the healthy birth of a child … and when our child is ill

at peace when celebrating birthdays … and when standing at a graveside

at peace when planning a wedding … and when asked for a divorce

at peace when celebrating Christmas with parties, and concerts, and church services and family gatherings … and when we are looking to a quiet Christmas, separated by the realities of a pandemic.

Peace can come only through Christ, the Messiah, for those who have repented of their sins. This is the peace of Christmas

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

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After months of advertising online, displays set up at the ends of aisles, the advent calendars are now daily being opened each day, normalizing chocolate as a breakfast food. So, each evening we go to bed anticipating the delight of a piece of chocolate to start the next day … a joyful waiting.

This is part of this spiritual practise of waiting, of counting down, of anticipating the celebration of Christ’s birth and the hope that he brought and continues to bring.

Waiting has also been a common practise during this pandemic. We wait, providing space for others, in the aisles in stores. We have waited in lines to get into stores and businesses. We wait to get outside of workplaces, stores and businesses to remove our masks from our faces. Teens have had to wait to get the varying levels of driving license. We wait for the day when travel re-opens. We wait for the day when church doors re-open for the whole of our church family to be together physically again. We wait to hold our elders, living in care homes, again. We wait …

This waiting, this frustrating, sometimes lonely, confusing practise of waiting is intensified when we do not have a known number of days, weeks and months, each with a chocolate token for our patience to countdown to the end of this waiting game. We all cry out,

I just want this to be done!
I want to be on the other side of this waiting!

We are weary from this waiting. Our patience is waining. And that is when our good side starts to get shadowed by impatience and we spew nastiness with our words and even our actions.

It’s good to hope, it’s the waiting that spoils it.

Yiddish Proverbs

And we do hope …

This first week of advent we are ruminating over the hope that is to come, but …

it’s not here yet!

… or is it?

“Before the first advent, the people of God were waiting in the dark. As we await the second advent, we are waiting in the light.” Rev Dr Glenn Packiam

As Christ-followers, our hope has already come … we are not living as hopeless people. We still are awaiting his second coming, but we are doing so in the light, already having Emmanuel … Christ with us.

So, as we wait, for Christmas, for the end of this pandemic, let’s remember the wisdom of the Apostle Paul,

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people,
holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Colossians 3:12


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