It’s Time to Put Christmas Away

 

See the source image

I’ll be taking down our Christmas tree today. Packing away the ornaments, wrapping them carefully so they won’t get broken and schlepping them back to the storage shed in the backyard. I’ll throw the tree on the burn pile and sweep up the pine needles and try to restore my home to its normal disorder. We also have to get the house ready for a mobile baby so she can roam safely to her little heart’s content. Christmas has to give way to everyday life.

But I’m not going to pack away the essentials of the holiday. I’m keeping out the hope and peace and faith and Joy and love. I liked focusing my mind each day on the good stuff, and I think you did too. I think we have to keep those things front and center every day in every season least we lose them – and lose our way. Do we need a refresher?

Hope – the confident expectation we have as we look for God, always considers His faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, and lovingkindness. Peace – the quiet assurance we have in God – is the fruit of hope– and it grows in the soil of faith – which is stepping out on His promises and knowing our feet will meet His hand. It blossoms into Joy – an unshakable sense of cheer even when there’s little to be jolly about, all of which find their strength in the love of God – the wide, long, high, deep and perfect love of God.

The calendar may say that Christmas is over, but your heart doesn’t have to surrender the experience of the holiday. Hold tightly to everything you received this Christmas Beloved – no, not the stuff that was under your tree – but the true expressions of the season. Hope. Peace. Faith. Joy. Love. You’re going to need them all year long.

What Christmas Is All About

See the source image

It is a scene from one of the most beloved Christmas programs ever made.  A bewildered Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there someone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  I always get goosebumps when Linus walks to center stage, says “Lights please,” and recites the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2.

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, 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, and good will toward men” (vs. 8-14).

It seems to be a holy moment in the middle of a simple animated television show.   For fifty years the world has heard the Christmas story through a blanket-carrying theologian.

As much as I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Linus’ message, I’ve always thought there is an even better verse that he could have chosen to explain what Christmas is all about.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Christmas is all about the love of God that send His Son to earth as a baby who would grow up to die on a Roman Cross for the sins of the world.  Linus recounted the events around the Christmas story, but the heart of Christmas is a loving Heavenly Father who gave the very best He had to redeem a lost world.

The blessed Christmas story is about a manger and a star and shepherds and angels.  It is about a young mother and father with their newborn son in a stable.  But the story isn’t complete until the baby in the manger is the Savior on the cross.  Because the story of Christmas is a story of love.

For The One Who Thinks God Could Never Love You

See the source image

“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I asked her to tell me about her son. “He’s a smart boy, really smart. He can add stuff in his head faster than I can write it out on paper.  And oh, he can sing – he has such a good voice.  I think he could be a singer if he tried. But he gets bored easy.  That’s why he gets into trouble at school.”

We met for coffee so she could talk through some difficult things she was facing, largely brought about by this boy.  But before I asked about her son, she told me about herself. She told me that she didn’t believe God could ever love her. She had done things that she was ashamed of.  She was pretty wild in her youth, disrespectful to her parents, and teachers.  She got drunk the night of the prom, slept with her boyfriend, and became pregnant.  She and the baby’s father tried to make it right by getting married, but now – 17 years later – she was three failed marriages down and living with a man she met at a bar.  She had started coming to our church a few months ago in a last-ditch effort to straighten her son out.  That is until the deacons told her the boy was not welcome after he played too rough with some of the younger students and somebody got hurt.  The very next day the police were at her house with a report about her boy and the neighbor’s little girl and the latest nightmare unfolded. Yet, as much as her son’s actions weighed on her, I could tell something else was even heavier on her heart.

“How could God love me?  I’ve made a mess of my life and I’ve even screwed up my kid.”

“So you probably don’t love your son anymore after all the trouble he’s caused you.”

“What? Of course I still love my son! That’s crazy!  Why would I stop loving him just because he’s made some mistakes?”

“I just thought – since you believe God quit loving you because you messed up, you must have quit loving your son too.”

She looked at me as if an entire block of lights had gone off in her head. The weight of so much guilt and fear disappeared from her eyes while tears dripped off her chin and onto her sweater.

Beloved, I don’t know what you’re carrying around today. I don’t know your past. I don’t even know your present. But there is one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  If Christmas is about anything at all, it is about God pouring out His unfailing love on messed up people.

Why O. Henry Got Christmas Wrong

See the source image

“The Gift of the Magi” was published in 1905 and is a sweet tale of love and sacrifice at Christmas focused on a young couple who wanted to give their beloved a gift. But money was scarce and so, unbeknownst to the other, the gift-givers sold their prized possessions to buy something special for their spouse. Della sold her long, beautiful hair to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch. Jim sold his heirloom pocket watch to buy Della a set of bejeweled hair combs. O. Henry finished his story with a nod to the Magi – the Eastern wise men who traveled long to bring gifts to the Christ Child. He wrote: “The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”[1]

While I appreciate this lovely story, I think O Henry got one thing wrong – Christmas presents didn’t originate with the Magi – the first Christmas present was given by God. The story of the Young’s Christmas is a shadow of the real story of Christmas. The young lovers sacrificed their most treasured possessions to give to their beloved, God’s sacrifice was far greater. He gave His One and Only Son to redeem men from their sin. The gifts they gave one another were costly – the watch chain Della bought for Jim costs $21; the gift God has given is priceless. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). Their gifts – and the sacrifice that enabled them – were given from love, but their love pales in comparison to the great love of God. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” (John 3:16). In fact, in O. Henry’s story, the sacrifice is part of the gift; in the Gospel story, the sacrifice God made is the gift.

Have you received this gift? Watch chains and hair combs can never express love like the cross can. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior Beloved? He is the greatest gift of all.

[1] http://www.online-literature.com/o_henry/1014/

God’s Christmas Gift to You

 

See the source image

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

My oldest brother opened a Christmas gift that contained a single bar of soap.  He looked at it, shrugged his shoulders and tossed it into the pile of wrapping paper in the middle of the room.  My other brother opened a box that also held a bar of soap.  But he decided to dig a little deeper, thinking that Mom had something up her sleeve.  He peeled back the wrapper on the bar and found a $100 bill wrapped around the soap.  My older brother took one look at it and made a dive into the pile of wrapping paper to retrieve his.  Mom had struck again.

God has presented us with a gift far more valuable than a $100 bill.  He has given us the gift His never-failing love.  But for so many, the gift seems valueless and it is tossed away as we search for something “better.”   The world offers a different kind of “love,” but it always leaves us empty and wanting something more – something real and lasting.  That is because at the very core of every human being is a longing for the love only God can give – and it can never be satisfied with anything less.  The more we chase after other loves, the less satisfied we become.

The first humans choose sin to fill that deep yearning and humanity has followed suit ever since.  The desire for love remains, but our sense of what will fill that desire has been crudely twisted away from God.  And the hunt is on.

Jesus came to reveal the Father to us, to show us that the love we crave is only found in Him.  He came to be the bridge between sinful men and women and our holy, loving Creator.  The gift of holy love is available to anyone who will accept it.  Beloved, don’t toss away the most valuable present you’ve ever been offered.

The Christmas Story is Your Story

See the source image

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)
Why would the God of Glory send His Son to be born of impoverished parents, in a mean stable among filthy animals? He is the Son of God, should He not be born in a palace befitting His supreme identity? Should His birth not be hailed by princes and royal guests and feasts and celebrations in the grandest style? Should His mother not be cared for by the best physicians in the land? Perhaps that is the way we would have written the Christmas story, but that’s not how the original Author presented it.
He was born in a stable, on loan for the night. His mother had only her frightened husband, Joseph to aid her in delivery. He was greeted by cattle and sheep and all the filth that comes with them. And rather than a soft bed of luxurious silk, he was laid in the animal’s feeding trough, on a bed of scratchy, rough hay. Is this any way to bring a King into the world?
Maybe God sent His Son in this way so the child born in a tiny tin hut in Haiti or on the filthy floor of a crack house in New York would identify in the most basic way with Jesus. Maybe it was so those who have nothing can find a connection with the God who wants to give them everything. Jesus’ birth is God coming to the forgotten, the lonely, the poor and the lost on common ground. He wanted to reach the “poor in spirit, the meek, the hungry and thirsty” (Matthew 5:3-10) and the forgotten.
I don’t know if you are rich or poor, living a life of advantage or hardship, sleeping in a palace or a homeless shelter. I do know that Jesus was born for you. And He died for you. The Christmas story is for you – yes, even – especially – you.
#Christmas #Advent #Beatitudes #Stable #Manger #Jesuscameforyou

The ABC’s of JOY

See the source image

“The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3).

What great things has God done for you?  Have you thought about His “showers of blessings” lately?  When my heart becomes a little bit sour or I am sad and weary, I sit down with paper and pencil and go through my ABC’s.

AAir conditioning (I do live in the deep south). And Advent – that Jesus came and will come again.

B – The Bible – God’s Holy Word – my passion and calling. And The Baptist College of Florida where I’m blessed to work.

CCoffee (do I hear an Amen?).  And Christ my Savior. And fresh clean sheets on the bed.

DDonald, my sweet husband of 34 years. And deliverance from sin and death.

EEndurance – especially now that I’m in grad school. And elephants (Roll Tide!)

FFamily and Friends – the greatest treasures this side of heaven!

GGrace from God. And my granddaughter, Joy.

I won’t go through the whole alphabet, but I think you get my point.  One sure way to find joy when you’re running low is to “count your many blessings,”  because joy and gratitude are two sides of the same coin.

Maybe this year has been filled with heartache, grief, disappointment, or struggle.  These certainly make it difficult to be thankful and joyful.  Still, I have no doubt that somewhere between A and Z there are blessings you can grab onto to restore joy to your heart. If you woke up this morning, you already have at least one reason to be thankful and joyful.

The Bible continually calls us to remember and rejoice in God our Savior.  I invite you today to go back to school and practice your ABC’s.  Reflect on the great things that God has done for you and be filled with JOY!

God Bless Us Everyone!

See the source image

Ebenezer Scrooge was the quintessential Christmas grump. The light and fun of the season eluded him – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say he chased it off. He rejected every spark of happiness or celebration of the season and did his best to squash it for others. He was bitter, hard, greedy, and rude. Scrooge had no Christmas joy. What changed his attitude? When the Spirit of Christmas Future showed him the difference between the grief expressed at the death of Tiny Tim and the indifference at his own passing. Realizing that he would die a lonely death and no one would care, Scrooge determined to “honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

In a culture that regards “the holidays” as big business, what does it mean to “honor” Christmas? Is it singing non-offensive festive songs? Is it toy drives and food collections? Or does it mean actually saying the word Christmas – and emphasizing the first six letters? Is it posting “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” on all our social media accounts?

I think, perhaps old Ebenezer got it right. For Scrooge, honoring Christmas meant opening his heart (and his purse strings) to joy. And it meant sharing that joy with everyone he met. After his change of heart, Scrooge, Dickins said, suddenly discovered that “everything could yield him pleasure”[1] He understood that real joy wasn’t just for a season – it lasted all year long and included everything and everyone around him.

Beloved, does your joy gets packed away with the Christmas decorations? Then your joy is in a holiday on a calendar, not in the One we celebrate. Real joy is rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Real joy comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life in heaven. That is joy that carries you all through the year and through the ups and downs of life. I’ve heard it said that Christians are the only ones who can truly celebrate Christmas because they know the joy of redemption. If Christmas is only a season of joy, then you need to find the reason for the season and know the joy of Christ “all the year.”

[1] http://www.authorama.com/a-christmas-carol-6.html

The Real Joy of Christmas

See the source image

Christmas isn’t always a Currier and Ives painting. Some Christmases are hard, saturated in grief, exhaustion, disappointment, loneliness, struggle, and family drama. I’ve had some of those Christmases – no doubt you’ve had them too. I remember Christmases when my Dad was stationed far away from us, the first Christmas after my Mom died, and Christmases with no tree and no presents because there were no funds. Those were sad holidays, but they were not joyless. I know – that sounds like a contradiction, but the joy of Christmas is not in trees and presents. And while they are (usually) a blessing and a delight at Christmas, our family is not the heart of our joy. Christmas Joy is not found in stores – you can’t even order it from Amazon. And I can guarantee you that it isn’t in “Christmas” themed movies or T.V. specials or over-produced “Christmas” songs.

The true joy of Christmas is the assurance of God’s faithfulness to redeem His people from their sins. That’s exactly what Matthew said in his gospel. The angel who appeared to Joseph said, “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). This baby wasn’t just born to be a king who would rule on a throne. He was born to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was born to break the power of death. John said He came to bring light into our darkness (John 1:4-9). Joy at Christmas comes from understanding our desperate situation before God and then recognizing what He did for us. The truest expression of Christmas joy is not a party or a present – it’s worship. That’s how Mary saw it. She said “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46). Christmas should be a holy celebration, a time when we put aside the tinsel and trappings and bow low before the Baby in the manger. It may never be as perfect as the picture on your Christmas cards, but Beloved, no matter your circumstances in this season, may your Christmas be full of real joy.

Christmas Joy!

See the source image

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10-11 KJV

Joy is synonymous with Christmas. It’s written on cards and ornaments and sung in our favorite Christmas carol, Joy to the World! It shines in the eyes of little children at the sight of Santa and the presents under the tree. Joy fills out hearts as we embrace loved ones and are reunited with far-away family. But is our joy merely in the lights and gifts and celebrations at this time of year?  Do we truly understand the reason for the joy of the Christmas season?

The angels brought the good news of the birth of Jesus with a proclamation of joy, because God had fulfilled a promise to which the Jews had looked for centuries, the promise of the Messiah who would rule in righteousness and justice, who would save His people and restore to them all that God had given to them.  And they were right about the coming Messiah – yet they were also wrong.  The Jews expected a Messiah who would break the enemy’s rule and restore Jerusalem back to its former glory in the days of David and Solomon. But the true enemy of the Jews was the same enemy you and I have today.  Our own sinfulness. Sin is what kept the Jews in bondage, and it is what keeps men in bondage today.   The Messiah of God did not come to break the back of an enemy nation, but to break the bonds of sin that keep mankind imprisoned.  And that is the true joy of Christmas.

Beloved, don’t let your Christmas joy stop at the tree.  Look beyond the tinsel and wrappings and see the Messiah in the manger, the Savior on the Cross and the Risen Christ who has come to set you free.  JOY to the world, indeed!