December 23, 2012

The Many Facets of Christmas

Much has been written about and myriad sermons have been preached about Christmas.  What is remarkable is how - like a beautifully cut diamond, sparkling brilliantly under the light, regardless of the viewing angle - every year a new truth about Christ(mas) can pierce one's heart and bring new knowledge, wonder, and joy.  Some of this has to do with how easily we humans forget.  I try to read through the same book each year (though this year I've not kept up) during Advent, and often I'm touched or challenged by the same things I've underlined in years past.  But there are always new things that jump out at me from the unmarked paragraphs.  So the fact that Christmas can "get us" every year, has not only to do with the inability of our brains to retain information, but also to do with the magnitude and awesomeness of Almighty God and what occurred the night Christ was born.  Were we to ponder the Christmas story alone for the rest of our days, we could never plumb the depths of the all to be found there.  But OH! - our hearts would be so full of joy!!

I wonder what aspects of the Christmas story are particularly pricking your heart this year?  Light and hope came into the world in the form of a baby; his arrival was announced to shepherds and ascertained by learned men.  In the unseen world, satan and his demons trembled as God began to fulfill the prophesies.  In the throne room of Herod, jealousy mounted and murder resulted.  As Andrew Peterson begins one of the songs on his Christmas album, It was not a silent night.

But it was a wonderful night that demands a response, just as it did way back then.

Let's wonder and awe at the work of God on that first Christmas.  Let's listen to what God is speaking to our hearts this Christmas and ask Him to drive it home as we enter the new year.  Let's worship with the angels, the shepherds, the wise men, Joseph, and Mary and say:

Glory to God in the highest!
Luke 2:14a

I wish you all a very merry Christmas and pray that Light will shine into the dark places of your lives and give you new hope this year, because

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

That is the Good-est GOOD NEWS ever told!

December 19, 2012

The Battle's Raging this Christmas. Can You Feel It?

The past week has been tough.  Reading a blog post by a very pure-intentioned woman about how she's reclaiming Christmas for Jesus left me questioning everything we do around here, from how we celebrate the holidays to how we're rearing our children, all in a very negative light.  Pride masquerading as insecurity.  Then the shootings in Connecticut lead to an, let's say, "interesting" newsfeed on Facebook that made me decide to deactivate my account because I couldn't handle it, on so many levels.  Then once off Facebook, I started to wonder if I have any friends.  When there's not constant "conversation" happening all day long in cyberspace, I'm not sure what to do with myself and I realize how much of my life I don't pay attention to, because my mind is being tossed all around by what is on the minds of so many others.

Just before Christmas my life was bubbling
 with joylessness, doubt, fear, anger, frustration, and grief.

I sent a help-please-pray-for-me! email to a friend that read like this:
Inside my head, I'm feeling kinda emotional about things, wondering how I'm supposed to be doing life: Christmas, engaging with the church, schooling, how to also have real relationships with people, where I and our family should be serving, etc.  I try too hard most of the time to have everything figured out.  That's not my job, I know; Lord, have mercy!  I so want to be free, to hear God's voice and follow with joy, rather than wandering around feeling burdened by feeling like I'm doing everything wrong ... as if there's only one exact right way to do everything: parenting, marriage, serving others, church, etc.  I don't know if any of that makes sense, but you could pray for freedom?  I really want the Lord to free me from all of these ties from the old-self that keep me in bondage: people pleasing, worship of reputation, fear of failure, and so on.  Perhaps the evil one is trying really hard to keep me from joy this Christmas.  I'm sure that's part of it, too.
Sidenote, asking a friend to pray for you is THE BEST!  But I digress...  (but no, seriously, ask someone to pray for you today; it is THE BEST!)

Shortly after sending that email, Colin woke up and the kids were still sleeping (a miracle!) and God used him to help me sort through my brain-jumble, encourage me, and put me right-side up again.  My dear husband has to do that for me more often than not.  God bless him.

Then, as I got ready for the day and did my shower-thinking, I thought, Man, I bet the evil one is far more than a small "part of it."  He's a real enemy who would love to see me focused on myself rather than Christ in this Advent and Christmas season.

If you are a Christian, you have an enemy.
He is real.  He hates God, so he hates you.
And he would love to RUIN your Christmas.

But there's Good News!!

Christmas is about that enemy being defeated by a power greater than itself: light overcoming darkness, life triumphing over death.  The cosmic struggle between good and evil began when Eve and Adam tasted the fruit, but when Jesus was born, oh, how the demons must have trembled!  All the prophesy was coming to fruition, and the enemy was not happy about it.

Christmas is no quaint story about a baby in a manger.  It is about war - the fight for the souls of men.  So let's look alive, especially over this next week!  Our enemy will pick at our weaknesses to take our eyes off of our Strength.  By Him and His grace and mercy to us, we will stand and worship our Lord each day, even as we see the day approaching.  So whatever you've got going on that's dragging you down, when you feel like you should be all "merry and bright", could very well be an enemy attack.  Don't wilt or wallow.  Fight back with the Word and Prayer, and watch God fight for you.



December 14, 2012

The Whole Bible at Christmas

I'm reading through one of those Bible plans this year that has me read daily from the Old and New Testaments.  I've only done this a couple of times, but always find it delightful when the readings connect with one another because God was, is, and will be forever the same.  Yesterday, in the Christmas season, the delightful-ness was magnified for me as I read from Amos (Yeah, like, who reads that book, right?  Um, it's really amazing!) and Revelation (Isn't that book only full of incomprehensible imagery?!)

The beauty comes from the thread that holds it all together: God's sovereignty over history, creation, His people.  The Christmas story, (The one about the baby Jesus being born in a stable?  Yep, that one.)  The Christmas story was not sudden lightbulb-over-His-head moment for God.  Nope.  It has its roots in  earliest human history, and its effects reach to the end of time.  Jesus' birth and ministry were prophesied hundreds of years ahead.  Then, afterward, God showed John what was to come.

What floors me over and over again is the drumbeat of mercy
that is the cadence of God's Word, from Genesis to Revelation.

From Amos 5:4-6

 This is what the Lord says to the house of Israel:
“Seek me and live;
     do not seek Bethel,
do not go to Gilgal,
    do not journey to Beersheba.
For Gilgal will surely go into exile,
    and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.”
Seek the Lord and live,
    or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire;
it will devour,
    and Bethel will have no one to quench it.

Isreal, God's people, so deserved to be wiped out without any chance to turn around and be rescued.  but the first thing God says is Seek me and live.

Then in Revelation 5:9

And they sang a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased men for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation."

Jesus, the Lamb, is worthy to open the seals in heaven why?  Because he was slain and with his blood purchased men for God.

God has been in the business of saving people since Adam and Eve at the fruit.  He sent them out with curses, but He also clothed them.  The Lord wants people to seek Him and live.  He is always inviting us to freedom and righteousness through belief and trust in Him.  He sent Jesus to be born in a stable, so that He  ultimately could be slain and purchase men for God with His blood.  No more daily sacrifices, no more yearly day of atonement.  Bloody altars were replaced with the communion table ... a place where the people of God from every tribe, tongue, and nation can commune with Almighty God.

Does that make your jaw drop?

It should.  If it doesn't, start reading the Old Testament.  God's judgement on those who refuse to turn to Him is ugly.  God is slow to anger and not capricious, but He is just.  Judgement will come.  But the jaw-dropping wonder of Christmas is that the Holy One came down and walked among us so we could know Him and be fully, completely, and wholly redeemed, rescued from the cup of wrath we deserve to drink.

Because Jesus took the cup for us.

Seek me and live, says the Lord.
Christmas reminds us that He means it.

December 9, 2012

The True Story of the Painting of the Fireplace

If we ever buy a house, I really, (really, really, pretty please!) want a working fireplace.  They're impractical in the age of central heating, but I love a cozy winter night before the hearth.  My dad built many fires for us growing up, and now does so for the grandkids; there's just nothing quite like the crackle of the fire in the quiet of a winter's evening, surrounded by family or friends in a welcoming home.

Currently, we don't have one, so last year I decided the kids and I could paint one.  That's it, above, hanging on the back of a bookshelf.  It's a charming picture isn't it?  The tree waiting to be trimmed, the stockings "hung by the chimney with care", that cute little child posing in front of the scene.

But behind the Christmas-sweetness of the scene, lies the true story of the painting of the fireplace:  I was pissed off the day we made it.

Pardon the expression,
but angry doesn't do the emotion justice.
I.  was.  pissed.

I don't remember what set it off, but I was not in any kind of cheery holiday mood that day.  Like a boiling kettle, I was spouting scalding words of spite at my children and scorching complaints seeped out under my breath, as I mumbled out my misery.  The afternoon was the perfect time for making the fireplace, though, so we did.  We taped the paper together, drew outlines of stones, and we each took specific painting tasks.

Now, maybe it was my low expectations, because I'm not much of an artist, or that I didn't feel I deserved such grace, but I was so pleased with the result!  I was able to proudly post a picture or our work on Facebook.  (I would have posted one either way, it was a bonus that it was decent looking!)

When you see our paper fireplace, you might think, "What a fun idea!"

When I look at that fireplace,
I think about how well it represents what Christmas is all about.

Friends, do you know why Jesus came?  One of my favorite verses is Matthew 1:21.

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus,
because He will save His people from their sins.

Christmas is for sinners who deserve punishment for their sins.  That fireplace should be really hideous.  THAT is what I deserve.  Instead, God redeemed that afternoon and provided us with good memories of working together and a beautiful Christmas decoration for our home.

Likewise, God should leave us in our hideous estate.  Instead, He made a way for us to be redeemed.  He started planning at the fall and saw His people through to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.  God makes ugly things beautiful.  God redeems those who seem beyond redemption.  Behold, these are good tidings of great joy!

You are not beyond redemption.  Sure, nothing you can do will enable you to save yourself.  But God knew that before you did, so HE provided the sacrifice for your sins.

Give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.


December 5, 2012

Christmas Traditions, Let's Share!

I imagine that in your house, especially if you have a little person or two (or more!), you have a few traditions around this time of the year: special outings, events, recipes, etc.  None of ours our original; they're either borrowed from our own childhoods or stolen from others and tweaked to make them our own.  Here are some things that happen around here:

The day of the first snow, we make time to cut paper snowflakes and drink hot chocolate.
Then we hang the flakes for winter decorations.

At some point, we head downtown to enjoy the festive decorations and lights.

Pittsburgh has a beautiful botanical garden called Phipps Conservatory.
We  make a visit every year (at least once!) for their winter flower show.

This is a 100% stolen idea:
having a basket of winter/Christmas books that is stored with the Christmas decorations
and only comes out when the decorations do!
And I've taken to buying the kids each a new book in December;
when they leave our home, they can take theirs with them.
(Here's a great list from my friend, Kristen, from whom I may have stolen this idea.  A-hem.)

Baking too many kinds of cookies, of course!
We decorate sugar cookies with friends and take small plates to neighbors.

I'd love to hear what some of your traditions are.  Every family has fun traditions that create a special culture in that home for that family; one family's traditions are not better than another's!  But they are valuable, giving our kids a sense of identity and belonging, not to mention fun!  What are some of your special things during this time of the year?  Please share some of your favorites in the comments!

December 1, 2012

DIY Christmas Paperchain Countdown

We love paper chains around here for visual representations of countdowns to events like vacation, the Pirates having a winning season (didn't happen this year, again ... sigh), and birthdays.  The four-year-old finds them quite helpful.  This year I thought it would be fun to make one for an advent countdown to Christmas.  This one starts on the bottom at the brown stem loop on December 2nd, the first day of Advent, 2012.  Then from left to right going across each row we'll remove one a day until we get to the "star" on the 25th!

I wanted to post the idea in case you were looking for a simple little craft to do with your kids this weekend.  Depending on ages they can help with cutting, stapling/taping, and/or writing on the numbers.  Below is a diagram of how this one turned out, after being hung one way that didn't quite work out as I'd hoped (pictured above right).

Did you do any decorating this weekend?
It seems a little early, so I'll whisper it: Merry Christmas!