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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

 

Decades ago at the birthday party of a childhood friend, each of us that attended was given a surprise ball. (Maybe you remember this party favor?) Thin strands of colorful tissue paper were wrapped around and around to make the ball, about the size of a small grapefruit. Among the layers were tucked small trinkets.

We sat at the young host’s dining table, unwrapping, discovering, and exclaiming, until we’d created little piles of treats and toys such as candy, erasers, miniature tops, finger puppets, rings, gum, and stickers—next to a large mound of tissue spaghetti.

But the best surprise was at the center. When all the wrapping was removed, each girl found a miniature doll with hand-painted features, and each boy found a tiny car—with wheels that actually moved.

The trinkets paled in comparison to the treasures at the center.

I’m thinking the Christmas season offers us many delights among the layers of things to do and places to be, including:

 

 

  • unpacking the familiar decorations, each one laced with memories
  • baking vanilla sugar cookies and scenting the house
  • reading Christmas cards and letters, bringing far distant loved ones close to heart
  • creating a jumble of colorful packages under the tree

Lovely, holiday moments for sure, but they pale in comparison to the heart of Christmas: Jesus.

He is the treasure, and everything else is mere trifles.

 

He is the way—for a world that is lost.

He is the truth—in a world full of lies.

He is the life—for a world that is dying.

 

And the wonders of His radiance far exceed our capability to understand.

For example, he is:

 

 

  • Emmanuel—God with each of us always (Matthew 1:22-23)
  • God incarnate–fully divine, yet became fully human (John 1:14)
  • Our compassionate Friend (John 15:15)
  • Omnisapient—all-wise (Romans 16:27)
  • Lord of our Righteousness, putting us right with God (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • Our great intercessor, praying for us continually (Hebrews 7:25)
  • Able to create out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3)
  • Productive —always working on our behalf (Hebrews 13:21)
  • Faultless–absolutely perfect (I John 3:5)
  • The Alpha and Omega—eternal from beginning to end (Revelation 22:13)

 

 

There is nothing wrong with the Christmas traditions of decorating, baking, card-sending, and gift-giving. But they are just paltry trinkets—unless Jesus is preeminent within the celebration.

 

https://quotefancy.com/saint-augustine-quotes

 

And as we contemplate our Treasure, adoration swells within our hearts:

Lord Jesus, we bow in holy wonder before your supreme majesty, incomparable power, and unfathomable glory. You are the Morning Star! The King of kings! The Everlasting Father!

Yet, out of love for us, you left your throne and kingly crown to take on human form, giving up your majesty for a manger, supreme rule for severe restraint, and the beauty of heaven for the brokenness of earth.

What wondrous love is this, that you were willing to bear the dreadful curse for our souls? Our minds cannot comprehend.

 

 

But our hearts can sing in adoration of you and your overwhelming love that dispels the darkness with glorious splendor and ushers in eternal bliss—when we say YES to You.

 

You have opened heaven’s door,

Man is blessed forevermore–

Jesus, our priceless Treasure.

 

(Carols referenced: “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne,” “What Wondrous Love Is This,” “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.”)

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.publicdomainfiles.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.org; http://www.jpl.nasa.gov; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.canva.com.

 

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This weekend, my daughter-in-love, five year-old granddaughter, and I will attend The Nutcracker. It will be little Elena’s first performance, and I’m looking forward to watching her reactions, even as the overture begins.

Maestro Tchaikovsky chose only the strings and woodwinds of the higher registers for the opening, bringing to mind a music box. And by so doing, he created a fanciful foreshadowing of what’s to come: the Nutcracker’s kingdom called the Land of Sweets.

Another overture, much more sublime even than Tchaikovsky’s, is actually found in scripture. It’s not an overture of violins and flutes; it’s an overture of words—words that entice us for what’s to come: the glorious truth about God’s kingdom and its Lord of lords, Jesus Christ.

That overture opens the New Testament gospel-book of John.

 

 

“In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God,

And the Word was God.”

–John 1:1

 

If set to music, this powerful introduction would surely require heralding trumpets, French horns, and kettledrums. Listen as the majestic music unfolds.

“Jesus is the Word—God’s means of communication to humankind—the very expression of God’s thought” (William Barclay).

 

 

As a follower and intimate friend of Jesus, John was in position to see and hear those numerous expressions of God’s thought over a period of three years. Later, the Holy Spirit inspired him to record those expressions, so we would understand:

Jesus’ life did not begin with his human birth. He always was and always will be (John 1:1).

John recognized that even though his Master was fully human (he ate, he slept, and even cried), he was also the eternal God. John and others caught a glimpse of his eternal glory when Jesus glowed as bright as the sun. I wonder if the disciples had to shade their eyes?

On the same occasion, Moses and Elijah—men who had died many centuries before–appeared with Jesus.  They, too, glowed with the same dazzling light (Matthew 17).

Only Jesus:  fully man, fully God.

 

(The Transfiguration by Giovanni Ricca, 1641)

 

Jesus brought light to everyone (v. 4)—and still does.

The One who created light became the Light of the world.

And just as natural light contains the full spectrum of color, so the light of Jesus contains a full spectrum of attributes: love, grace, wisdom, peace, joy, comfort, and more. All of which he radiates upon those desirous of his Light.

 

 

And, as if that wasn’t enough,

Jesus longs to bring every person into his family, to make us his children (v. 9).

His sons and daughters enjoy incredible benefits:

  • No one can snatch us out of God’s protective hands (John 10:28).
  • He is our perfect Abba, our tender and attentive Daddy (Romans 8:15).
  • We are heirs of God’s promise (Galatians 3:29) for a future so grand and glorious, we cannot begin to imagine its splendor (Romans 8:18).

 

 

John’s introduction to his gospel-book does not conjure up visions of angel-messengers or a guiding star in the East. He left that to Matthew and Luke. Instead he has given us an overture of cosmic proportions, presenting the radiant glory, grace, and truth of Jesus (v. 14).

With lyrical, transcendent words, John entices us to consider what has already come to us—to those who have received the Savior of the world (v. 12).

As December 25 draws near, may all these Christmas overture themes gloriously resound in your heart!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.www.flickr.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.dailyverses.net.)

 

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Years ago Steve’s Aunt Louise gave us a little ceramic church music box.  With its drab gray walls, greenish-gray roof, and standard steeple, the church did not grab attention. But the arched windows on each side were filled with tiny chips of colored glass, and when lit from within the little church sparkled with glorious light.

Sometime when our three children were young, the church was broken by “Not Me.” Fortunately, the pieces were large and Steve was able to glue them back together.   When the light was turned on, the cracks didn’t even show.

But as the years passed, the glue began to discolor and turn dark. The poor little music box became a sad sight, and I was about to throw it away when our youngest son–probably in high school by this time–said, “Oh, Mom! You can’t get rid of the church! That’s been my favorite Christmas decoration since I was a little kid!”

So Jeremy saved the music box from destruction.

 

 

He finished college, married a sweet girl from our church, and moved twice more while attending seminary. Somewhere along the way the music box disappeared.

Each year as he and his wife Nancy decorated for Christmas, he’d remember fondly that little ceramic church and wonder what happened to it.

Seminary graduation came and went, four years at his first church appointment also passed. While settling into their second parsonage, Jeremy finally unpacked a carton labeled “Memorabilia” that had been sealed up since he left our home.

Buried at the bottom was a sealed shoebox. Jeremy sliced through the tape with his pocketknife, lifted the lid, and brought into the light a lumpy, tissue-wrapped object.

 

 

Within moments Jeremy held in his hands that precious, long-missing ceramic church. And joyful tears stung his eyes.

He quickly found a new bulb and plugged the cord into a nearby socket. The windows instantly filled with glorious rainbow light. Jeremy didn’t even notice the fissures or dark, crusty glue.

Isn’t it amazing to consider that, just as Jeremy loves that damaged music box, God loves us—scarred, and imperfect as we are? We too were just as lost as that little church—sealed up in a box of our own prideful independence.

 

 

But Jesus came looking for us. He brought us into his glorious Light, and filled us with the Light of his inviting, benevolent grace.*

Now, we have the privilege to shine with gleaming Light just like that little church—in spite of our scars.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

God of all grace, I thank you for rescuing me from mere existence in my self-made box, and bringing me into a rich, full life with you. Even though cracks and blemishes remain in my being, what you see is not what I have been but what I am becoming—holy and blameless and filled with Light—for that day when I see you as you are!

 

(John 10:10; Ephesians 1:4; John 8:12; 1 John 3:2)

 

 

 

*Often defined by using an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense

 

Scripture references: Luke 15:8-10; John 8:12; Colossians 1:27; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 3:24; Matthew 5:14.

 

(Photo credits:  Jeremy Ruegg (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.heartlight.org (Ben Steed); http://www.verseaday.com.)

 

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No doubt about it.  Our senses are bombarded with stimuli during the Christmas season.

Decorated trees, wreaths, and garlands; figures, swags, and fairy lights festoon building after building, home after home.

 

 

Carols and holiday songs accompany every errand run and shopping excursion.

The scent of cinnamon, pine, and gingerbread; peppermint, vanilla, and clove urge us to breathe deep—frequently.

 

 

Velvet dresses, satin bows, and cloud-soft batting; feathery bird-ornaments, and fuzzy teddy bears beg to be touched.

Grandma’s stuffing, Butterball turkey, and squash casserole; Wassail, snowball cookies, and cranberry coffee cake all tantalize the tongue.

 

 

Some days, however, we practically drown from total immersion in everything Christmas. What is a worn out sensory system supposed to do?

If you Google “strategies for stress relief” you’ll be presented numerous options from the experts.  Some suggestions require more time than many of us can sacrifice during December. Examples include working on hobbies, getting a massage, or taking a vacation.

 

 

I can hear you through my computer screen: “NOT gonna happen this month!”

But there are other strategies we can weave into our days no matter what the to-do list requires. And SURPRISE! The experts often echo what scripture has taught all along.

We can calm ourselves through:

 

 

Meditation

Not mind-numbing exercises that supposedly elevate us to euphoria, but meditation on scripture, God’s works and mighty deeds (Psalm 119:97; 77:12). For me, that includes starting each morning with him and his Word, to set the tone for the day.

And as we fix our thoughts upon him, God has promised to keep us in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). He is our source of equilibrium and tranquility, prosperity and contentment of soul. Daily he supplies what we need to accomplish what is necessary (2 Corinthians 9:8).

The rest we can let go.

 

 

Music

“How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him” (Psalm 147:1, emphasis added).

Sometimes that means a loud and majestic “Hallelujah Chorus.”

But when nerves are frazzled, the experts recommend slow, quiet music. And many of our favorite carols offer just such repose.

So, when tension rises, be ready to select “Silent Night” or “What Child Is This.”  Save “Ring Christmas Bells” and “Sleigh Ride!” until the stress subsides!

 

Prayer

We can allow all the sensory input to turn our minds toward Jesus “by praying continually–simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment” (Romans 12:12 and Sarah Young, Jesus Calling).

Sentence prayers such as these:

 

 

Thank you, Jesus, for the laughter of children that opens my heart to your joy.

Thank you for the power of delectable aromas—like clove-studded ham, vanilla sugar cookies, and cinnamon rolls–that conjure up sweet memories of Christmases long ago.

Thank you for the family and friends represented in this stack of Christmas cards, who’ve left their love stamped upon our hearts.

 

 

Thank you for the familiar carols, reminding me of that wonder-filled first Christmas.

And thank you, Jesus, for lights that glimmer and candles that glow, celebrating you, the Light of the world, our Emmanuel.

 

 

They say it takes just three weeks to learn a new habit. With all the sensory reminders around us, this may be the most opportune time to become continual pray-ers.

And as we seek to turn everything Christmas into gratitude and praise, the joy of the Lord will surely follow.

 

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.goodfreephotos.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.doncio.navy.mil (photographer:  Diana Quinlan); Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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Christmas is indeed a season of light.

Candles glow and twinkling lights glimmer from houses, buildings, and trees.

People love all the flickering and shimmering!  Some spend weeks decorating their yards and rooftops in spectacles of illumination.  If you asked them why, they might be hard-pressed to express more than, “They’re beautiful!”

 

 

But perhaps it’s more than just aesthetics.  Perhaps it’s a heart-response.

Light is symbolic for:

  • Beauty.  Light grabs our attention, whether it’s sparkling and dazzling or soft and luminous.

 

 

  • Safety.  Where there is light, we can navigate through our surroundings.
  • Comfort.  A nightlight offers just that for many a child who is afraid of the dark.
  • Hope.  Light gleams triumphantly in the darkness at the end of a tunnel.
  • Guidance.  Light illuminates the way.

 

 

Might it be that people respond to light, especially when associated with Christmas, because the human spirit is made to respond to the Light?

Jesus came from the Father who is Light (1 John 1:5), and proclaimed, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12).

But that statement is more than symbolic.

God the Son is our safety, because he offers eternal life.

 

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;

no one can snatch them out of my hand.”

John 10:28-29

 

 

God the Father is our comfort, because he is loving and compassionate.

  

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,

who comforts us in all our troubles.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4a

 

God the Son is our hope, because of his resurrectionWe will be raised from the dead because he was. 

 

“In his great mercy [God] has given us new birth

into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—

kept in heaven for you.”

1 Peter 1:3b-4

 

 

God the Father is beauty, because of all his exquisite attributes.  And we have the opportunity to bask in that beauty.

 

“I’m asking God for one thing…

To live with him in his house my whole life long.

I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet.”

Psalm 27:4  MSG

 

God the Father is guidance, characterized by wisdom, compassion, and readiness.

 

 

The Light of the world offers us all this and more.

I can’t imagine life without him, can you?

Let’s make time to linger in his Light during this Advent season.

 

 

Let’s be watchful for “Glory-moments, awash in his dazzling Light” (Sarah Young).

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    *

 

How else might we expand our heart-response to Jesus?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

Photo credits: http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.tOrangebiz; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com (3).

 

(Revised and reblogged from December 2, 2013.)

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Consider.  Jesus, our Savior, is:

 

  • Incomparable– without equal or rival (Psalm 86:8)

 

  • Incomprehensible– beyond understanding or knowing; unfathomable (Romans 11:33)

 

  • Indescribable– exceeding words to characterize (Jeremiah 10:6-7)

 

  • Indisputable— incontestable (Isaiah 40:13-14)

 

  • Inestimable– of incalculable value (Psalm 145:3)

 

  • Inexhaustible– incapable of being used up or consumed or becoming tired (Revelation 1:8; Psalm 121:3)

 

  • Infallible– cannot fail or even make a mistake (Psalm 145:17)

 

  • Invariable– never-changing (Hebrews 13:8)

 

  • Invisible (John 1:18)

 

And those nine descriptors only begin to define Jesus. No matter how many fancy, multi-syllable words we might collect, the attributes of God’s Son are beyond full comprehension.

And he is God’s gift to us.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Oh, Jesus, how we thank you for giving up the splendor of heaven and the glory of your deity, to take on human form and become our Savior.  How incomprehensible that you could love such pitiful creatures as mankind.

Nevertheless you came so that we, too, could become God’s sons and daughters. Even more incredible, many of the descriptors above will be true of us—on that day when you appear again, and we shall be like you. 

(Philippians 2:6-7; John 3:16; Romans 8:29; 1 John 2:2)

 

(Photo credit:  http://www.heartlight.org.)

 

Reblogged from December 7, 2015

 

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Just twelve days to Christmas 2017. Are you too immersed in preparation? In all honesty, I’m scrambling a bit in order to accomplish the remaining items on the must-do list: finish the Christmas cards, wrap the gifts, clean the house before the first guests arrive on Saturday, etc.

And for me, with the scrambling comes that uncomfortable feeling I’ll never get everything done.

It’s so silly, I tell myself. In the final analysis will our friends and family care if their cards arrive after Christmas? Is it necessary the packages be just so? Will our guests mind if every surface of the house isn’t gleaming?

Of course not. But my OCD tendencies still want to press me toward those expectations.

So what can I do to calm my spirit? I’m thinking the answer is worship.  I can express to God my gratitude, praise, and adoration–even while writing cards, wrapping gifts, and cleaning the house.

 

 

Scripture assures me that, as I worship in God’s presence, I will experience:

 

  1. Peace.

 

 

  1. Joy.

You, [O God], will fill me with joy in your presence.”

Psalm 16:11b

  1. Rest.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

Will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Psalm 91:1

 

 

What a glorious gift worship is! Isn’t it just like our loving Father to bless us as we seek to bless him?

And so, while writing the Christmas cards, I am praising God for friends and extended family spread all over the country, and praying for them, too.

 

 

Heavenly Father, I praise you for (insert name).

Thank you for their influence in our lives,

Their support and affection.

Thank you for treasured memories of time spent together.

We may have lived apart for many years,

Yet the bonds of love hold firm because of you.

Bless them, I pray, with joy in each day,

Provision and protection too.

 

While wrapping the family’s gifts I can offer praise on behalf of the recipients.

 

 

Your goodness, O Lord, has impacted our family again and again.

Every member has his/her stories to tell of

Your wonders, interventions, and miracles.

I praise you for each loved one—

His/her gifts and personality traits,

The delight You give us in each other.

I praise you we are able to gather once more

In celebration of you, our indescribable gift.

.

While cleaning, I can focus on gratitude. What am I thankful for in each room?

 

 

I praise you, Father for our cozy home,

for the perfectly sized dining set you provided

And the hutch we found rather miraculously.

I praise you for the large windows

Across the back of the house,

giving us a grand view of the backyard trees.

And I praise you that with gratitude

Even housekeeping can be turned into joyful worship.

 

Throughout the day, whatever the task, I can meditate on the wonder of what Jesus our Savior has accomplished.

And marvel again that it all began with his humble birth in a stable-cave:

 

(Gerard von Honthorst, 1622)

 

“O Sovereign God!

You have humbled yourself in order to exalt us.

You became poor so that we might become rich.

You came to us so that we can come to you.

You took upon yourself our humanity

In order to raise us up into eternal life.

All this comes through your grace,

Free and unmerited;

All this through your beloved Son,

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

–Karl Barth

 

Come! Let us adore him—even as we work!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.commons.org; http://www.flickr.com; publicdomainpictures.net; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.wikipedia.org.)

 

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