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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

 

Does that title sound familiar? It’s an old Christmas carol—my maternal grandmother’s favorite. Sadly it never occurred to me to ask her why.

Perhaps it was the lilting tune that dances up and down the treble clef, with leaps from low notes to high. (You can listen to the carol here: There’s a Song in the Air.)

Perhaps Grandma especially enjoyed the expressive lyrics since she was a poet herself. I found this Christmas poem in her journal.  (Keep scrolling for a typed version–easier to read.):

 

 

FOR CHRISTMAS 1955

Star of the East that shone for men

To guide to Jesus’ side,

Shines in the Christian heart today

Where the Lord Jesus abides.

For he’s the Bright and Morning Star,

Turning darkness into light.

He died on Calvary to save,

To remove sin’s dark blight.

Baby Jesus was born a King,

A Savior to die yet to reign.

He left His home in heaven above

And chose instead earth’s pain.

–C. E. M.  (Clara Edna Mensinger)

 

Perhaps “There’s a Song in the Air” appealed to Grandma because her creative soul responded to such artful lines as these:

 

 

  • And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing
  • And that song from afar has swept over the world
  • In the light of that star lie the ages impearled
  • Ay! We shout to the lovely evangel they bring

 

“The Angel Appears to the Shepherds”

by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812)

 

I wonder if Grandma ever became curious about the origins of the carol? Did she know that the composer of the tune, Karl Harrington, discovered the lyrics while reading the works of one of his favorite authors Josiah Holland?

Holland was a novelist, poet, and editor of the popular Scribner’s Monthly. In the 1870s he reprinted his Complete Poetical Writings. This was the book in which Harrington found the poem “There’s a Song in the Air.”

At the time, the summer of 1904, Harrington was struggling through an overwhelming assignment: to compile a new hymnbook for the Methodist Church. Even for someone with his background as a highly trained musician, choral director, and composer–the task proved difficult.

 

Karl Harrington (1861-1953)

 

While taking a rest one hot afternoon, he picked up Harrington’s book, came across the poem, and immediately felt inspired to set the lovely verse to music.

He went to his organ and as he read the words aloud, let his fingers drift along the keys. A melody soon began to form. Harrington included the carol in the new hymnal.*

Perhaps like Harrington, my grandmother appreciated the fresh wonder stirred up by such inspiring lines as:

 

 

  • The manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!
  • There’s a tumult of joy over the wonderful birth
  • We rejoice in the light, and we echo the song, that comes down through the night from the heavenly throng

 

Grandma didn’t know Jesus until her mid-thirties, and up to that time had endured several painful traumas. (You can read a bit of her story in the post, The God of Rachel, Henry, and Clara Part 2.) But her newfound relationship with God brought peace and strength.

 

(Grandma Clara, years later, 1968.

P.S.  Those glasses were the height of fashion back then!)

 

Perhaps a carol about joy, light, and song reminded her of the transformation Christ had brought to her life.

Grandma would want these lyrics to speak to our hearts too, refreshing our wonder in a Savior once cradled in a manger, destined to be King, who comes to us with “the lovely evangel” (verse 4, line 3)–the good news of God’s gracious plan to rescue us.

Hallelujah and a blessed Christmas to all!

 

*Ace Collins, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001) 164-166.

 

What is your favorite carol and why? Please share in the comment section below!

 

Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.pixy.org; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.hymnary.org; http://www.pixy.org; Nancy Ruegg.

 

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(One of Wilson Alwyn Bentley‘s photos)

 

Remember your first glimpse of a snowflake under a magnifying glass and your reaction to its tiny intricacies? I’ll bet your eyes grew wide and you leaned in for a close-up view. You probably uttered Wow! or Look at that!

And perhaps while gazing at such infinitesimal beauty you learned:

 

Only when we examine something closely

can we begin to appreciate its value.

 

Scripture urges us to magnify God.

 

 

To magnify God is to look closely at him and take careful notice of his actions and attributes. Mary, the mother of Jesus, did exactly that. We read an example in the account of her visit to Cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56).

Elizabeth was much older than Mary, well beyond child-bearing age. But like Sarah of the Old Testament, God had intervened for her. Elizabeth would soon be the mother of John the Baptist.

 

 

When Mary first arrived and offered her greeting, Baby John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb (Luke 1:41). (Can you imagine how that would feel, to have a baby jump inside you?)

Elizabeth responded with a blessing for Mary and the holy baby her young cousin carried. Then Mary became overcome with joy and incredulity herself, and burst into praise. Her song is called the Magnificat, Latin for magnifies.

For ten verses (Luke 1:46-55), Mary magnifies the Lord, examining the reason for her joy (vs. 46-49) and looking closely at God’s attributes and actions (50-55). Never mind her relative poverty, the misunderstanding and derision of others, or the uncertainty of the future. Mary focused on God who was working a miracle within her.

 

 

If your Bible includes cross-references you’ll notice Mary quoted bits and pieces of seven psalms. In addition, she included fragments from Isaiah, Habakkuk, Exodus, Genesis, 2 Samuel, and Jeremiah.

It would appear Mary wove such far-spread scriptures into this beautiful prayer–on the spot! She must have been an intelligent young woman.

Perhaps she grew up in a godly home where the Law and Prophets were highly esteemed. Her parents may have taught her or, if she had brothers, Mary listened as they recited their lessons, and she too learned the ancient scriptures.

Now as Mary and Elizabeth greet one another, the young woman rejoices in God her Savior. She highlights his mercy, might, faithfulness, holiness, and saving power.

 

 

And yet in spite of his awesome greatness the Mighty One has been mindful of her—a humble, peasant girl. He has done great things on her behalf. Notice she prays in past tense, as if the events Gabriel announced had already taken place (v. 49).

Then Mary itemizes specific ways God benefits his people:

  • He extends mercy to those who reverence him
  • He performs mighty deeds
  • He has scattered the proud
  • He has brought down rulers, but lifted up the humble
  • He has filled the hungry, but sent the rich away empty
  • He has been merciful to Israel

We too are God’s people, if we believe in his Son, Jesus. And he benefits his people in these same ways today just as he has through all the eons of time.

No doubt God has been at work in your life too. He’s been mindful of you and blessed you (v. 48); he’s done great things for you (v. 49) and extended his mercy to you (v. 50).

 

 

View the activity of God in your life through the magnifying glass of meditation. Take note of his actions and attributes on display in the events of your life. And then please share with us an example in the comment section below.

Let us magnify the Lord together for his awesome deeds!

 

(Revised and reblogged from 12-20-2012.)

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.metmuseum.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com (2).

 

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‘Recognize that line of lyrics? It comes from verse three of “O Holy Night.”

“His holy Name” is expressed 256 different ways in the Bible, from Branch of the Lord (Isaiah 4:2) to bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). Why so many?

“I suppose this was because He was infinitely beyond all that any one name could express,” evangelist Billy Sunday once offered.

Just within the birth accounts of Bible books Matthew and Luke, we’ll find seven names for Christ. And these alone provide plenty of reason to praise him. Granted, these names are well-known, but let’s not allow familiarity to numb us to their splendor. As we unpack several of them below, may you find renewed wonder in his Personhood.

 

 

Jesus, Savior   (Luke 1:31, 2:11)

Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries would have called him Yeshua. Ya as an abbreviation for Yahweh, one of the names for God (Exodus 3:14), and yasha, which means rescue, deliver, or save in Hebrew.

A savior rescues or delivers from danger or harm. He preserves or guards from destruction or loss, keeps one from being lost to an opponent, maintains and preserves.

But why would God send his Son as Savior for paltry creatures like us, who require saving from the harm sin causes in our lives?

It’s so simple, some people miss it: God made us, he loves us, and wants to be in relationship with us—forever. So he sent his Son Jesus “to fit us for heaven to live with him there.” (1). All we need to do is say yes to him.

 

 

 

Son of the Most High, Son of God (Luke 1:32, 35)

Such names emphasize his majesty and supremacy over all (Ephesians 1:19-21).

Mary and other devout Jews of her time would have known this name for God because it’s found throughout the Old Testament, from Genesis (14:18) to Daniel (7:18).

When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that her child would be Son of the Most High God, he was declaring Jesus would embody the magnificent essence of God (2).

 

 

Messiah (Luke 2:11)

Messiah means “anointed one” or “chosen one.” Christos (Christ) is the Greek equivalent.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ time knew the ancient prophecies concerning their Messiah. They expected Jesus to deliver them from the Roman occupation, to set up his own kingdom in which they would be rulers, not understanding that the Kingdom of God is spiritual, not political.

Even today people look to Jesus for rescue from problems and pain. They want him to make everything right, not understanding that perfect bliss in this world is an impossibility because of humankind’s sin.

However!  “Our troubles have always brought us blessings and they always will.  They are the black chariots of bright grace” (Charles Spurgeon).

 

 

Immanuel   (Matthew 1:23)

Matthew made clear:  this Hebrew name means “God with us”—not in a general sense, like an out-of-state business owner who asserts unity with his distant employees, but in a one-on-one personal sense. He sits beside us in our homes, accompanies us to work, watches over us as we sleep, and deeply cares about all our concerns (3).

In fact, he not only cares about every disappointment, every pain, and every calamity, he suffers with us (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

And as we avail ourselves of his comforting presence we find the stability we need (Psalm 46:1-2).

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

We praise you, O Son of God, for crafting us with the capacity to know you as our Savior, Messiah, and Immanuel, to sense your presence, receive your comfort, and experience your peace. Through this Christmas season and always may we praise you for your magnificence, reflected in every aspect of your holy Name!

You deserve nothing less.

(Colossians 1:16; John 1:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17; John 14:27)

 

Notes:

  1. John 3:16 and the last line of “Away in a Manger,” as originally written
  2. https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B151218/son-of-the-most-high
  3. Matthew 28:20; Psalm 121:2-5; 1 Peter 5:7

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pixaby.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pikist.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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No doubt about it: Christmas is going to look different this year. Some folks (like me) will opt to scale back the decorating. Church and school programs won’t be presented, parades won’t be processing down Main Street, and fewer families will be cozied up at Grandma’s house for gift giving and feasting.

As if mocking the disappointment already rooting in our spirits, Andy Williams comes on the radio singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”—about friends coming to call, parties for hosting, and caroling out in the snow.

 

 

But wait. Perhaps this year could become a different kind of wonderful. Perhaps with less holiday preparation to complete and fewer activities to attend, we’ll have more time to revel in the preparation of our hearts.

How might we do that? According to pastor/author Handel H. Brown:

 

 

An attitude of expectancy includes an outlook of hope—hope in God’s provision for the here and now, and hope for what is to come. Even as we celebrate Christ’s first appearance on earth, we look forward to his second coming when he will “take us to heaven, to live with him there” (1).

 

 

Too often I’ve counted down the days until the Christmas tree is glowing, or the family is gathered, or the gift-exchange can finally take place. Those are all superb delights, but they quickly fade into wisps of memory.

We Christians can revel with expectant hope in a countdown of more substantive delight and importance. Peter called it a living hope, based as it is on our living Savior (1 Peter 1:3).

This hope is not just a feeling that fades like the euphoria of Christmas—once family members have departed and decorations are boxed and shelved. No, this hope is absolute certainty, placed in our faithful, eternal God . Everything he has promised he will deliver.

 

 

So how do we muster expectant hope? By immersing ourselves in God’s Word.

 

Hope is living constantly, patiently,

expectantly, resiliently, joyously

in the word of God.

–William Stringfellow

 

Here’s one scripture that fills me with expectant hope. See if these words don’t lift your spirit as well:

 

 

“Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death.

“This fills us with a living hope, and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away.

“They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God’s power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time–1 Peter 1:3-5 GNT (2).

 

Praise God for his mercy!

Praise him for the new and abundant life he provides!

Praise him for all the blessings of past, present, and future!

Praise him for the perfected life yet to come–with him in heaven!

 

 

As we prepare our hearts for Christmas by immersing ourselves in such scriptures, expectant hope is bound to well up and produce wonderful results.

In addition:

 

“Expectancy is the atmosphere for miracles.”

–Unknown

 

So let’s put the WONDERFUL into Christmas 2020 with renewed, expectant hope in our glorious Father.

Let’s create the atmosphere for miracles!

 

What scripture fills your spirit with expectant hope?  Please share in the comment section below!

 

 

Notes:

  1. The last line from “Away in the Manger,” based on John 14:2-3.
  2. Other scripture passages to explore that foster expectant hope:  a) Isaiah 9:6-7 (See also a previous post, “His Name Shall Be Called.”) b) Isaiah 40:28-31, c) Ephesians 1:3-13, d) 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.pixy.org.

 

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(“Simeon and Anna Recognize the Lord in Jesus”

by Rembrandt, 1627)

An old man and woman stood in astonished stillness, watching the young couple they had just met thread through the Jerusalem temple crowd. The departing girl named Mary folded her shoulders inward to shield their baby. Her husband Joseph led them gently around one knot of people and then another until the couple was out of sight.

Finally old Simeon broke the silence with an awe-filled whisper. “From the moment I awoke this morning, I knew this would be no ordinary day.”

Anna leaned on her walking stick and looked at him expectantly, waiting for Simeon to explain.

“The sunrise was such a glorious sight after the cold drizzle of yesterday, the thought occurred to take advantage of the agreeable weather and walk to the temple.

“But no sooner did the idea take shape than I felt compelled to come, and I began to hope this would be the day God fulfilled his promise to me—to see the Messiah before I died. Now I know it was the Spirit of God nudging me.”

Anna nodded with understanding though she did not know him. Until now Simeon had just been a familiar face among the worshipers she saw regularly, living on the temple grounds as she did.

“How did you know the baby was…the Messiah?” Anna asked. She could barely speak the title, still filled with wonder for what had just transpired.

“I spotted Mary and Joseph purchasing doves for the purification rites. In the next moment my heart started to pound, I felt a warmth course through my body and a voiceless impression in my spirit said: ‘this is the One you’ve been waiting for.’” Simeon’s lower lip trembled and tears filled his eyes.

Anna drew an index finger across the corners of her own eyes. Now it was her turn to whisper in awe: “It was the same for me. I saw you speaking over the Child with such intensity, and noted the reverent expression on Mary’s face. My heart started to pound too and I sensed in my spirit the Baby was our Messiah.”

Anna paused; a small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “I am surprised Mary allowed you to hold Jesus.”

Simeon chuckled. “I never expected such a privilege. When I first approached them, I simply exclaimed over their precious Baby as we oldsters are prone to do. And then I hinted at the truth God had revealed to me. “Your Child will fulfill a singular, God-ordained purpose,” I told them.

“Mary looked at me with wide eyes and breathed, ‘yes!’ Joseph wanted to know if an angel had told me about Jesus.  That’s what happened to each of them. They said angels also visited a group of shepherds, to tell them about the birth of the Savior, and we talked about the wonder of it all.

(“The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds”

by Thomas Cole, 1833-1834)

“Our brief conversation evidently developed trust.” Simeon’s throat tightened with emotion; more tears rolled down his weathered cheeks. “Mary asked if I’d like to hold him.”

Anna barely heard his next words, spoken slowly with holy awe. “I held the Christ Child in my arms.”

Anna allowed the reverence of the moment to linger before speaking. “May I ask what you said to them?”

Simeon paused before continuing, but his passion and urgency increased as he spoke. “The moment I looked upon the Infant’s face, a number of Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messiah came flooding into my mind. I found myself prophesying—with great conviction—as God himself gave me the words.”

“The Messiah’s name is no coincidence, Anna. This Jesus will be the source of salvation for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. He is the glory of Israel. Think of it: our little nation has born the Savior of the world; he will live among us. And many will rise out of their sins and sorrows to experience life and peace—because of their faith in him” (1).

Then Simeon’s face clouded. “But Isaiah also said not all will welcome the Messiah. Some will reject him, even hate him, and fall by the wayside” (2).

His eyes turned toward the horizon. “I also caught a glimpse of great pain and sadness in his future which will impact Mary too. God gave me a warning for her, but I trust God’s promise also: The Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on Mary in her affliction” (3).

Simeon focused again on his companion. “Your prayer of thanksgiving, Anna, was part of that comfort, I am sure. You provided Mary and Joseph a glimpse of the joy and blessedness others will experience because of Jesus—something they can hold on to when difficulty arises.”

“Praise God,” she exclaimed. “He reigns on high but has looked with favor upon such a lowly one as I (4). I feel as though my feet are no longer touching the ground!

“This news of the Messiah’s birth is much too glorious to keep to ourselves. Others have also waited expectantly for our Savior. I can’t wait to share what we’ve just experienced!”

“Yes, I too am anxious to tell my neighbors,” Simeon responded. “It’s time, I suppose, to leave this sacred spot, and proclaim our God’s salvation (5)!  Good-bye, Anna.”

Simeon raised his hand toward her, as he turned toward home.  “The Lord’s blessing be with you.”

“And also with you,” Anna called.

(Based on Luke 1:25-38)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Thank you, Father, for prompting Luke to include this story of Simeon and Anna, two senior citizens! May their knowledge of your Word, their devotion to you, and their sensitivity to your voice be a constant inspiration to us, as well as a reminder we are never too old to used by you.

 

Notes:

  1. Isaiah 40:5; 52:10; 49:6
  2. Isaiah 53:3
  3. Isaiah 49:13
  4. Psalm 138:6
  5. Isaiah 52:7

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.canva.com (2).

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Why is it that most of us find Christmas to be the pinnacle of each year?

Is it:

  • the twinkling lights and candle glow?
  • the treats like eggnog that we only allow ourselves during the holidays?
  • the gift-giving, with all the build-up of anticipation beforehand?

Or might it be because: “Christmas is the day that holds all time together?”

Those words were penned by Alexander Smith, a Scottish poet of the 1800s. With just nine words he deftly solved the riddle. It is the Christmas season, more so than any other time, when past, present, and future come together in one glorious, unified experience.

Consider how the past becomes entwined with the present as families celebrate traditions or display treasured Christmas heirlooms, passed down from one generation to the next.

 

 

Releasing each one from its cocoon of packing tissue is like greeting an old friend. And attached to those decorations are memories–memories of the loved ones who gave them to us and memories of Christmases past.

 

(Aunt Louise made these for us,

the first year Steve and I were married.)

 

One ornament in our family’s vintage collection causes a great wave of nostalgia for me. It’s shaped a bit like an old lamp, and shimmers softly with the patina of age, pale green and silver.

My father bought the ornament when he was just nine or ten years old in the mid-1930s. Grandma gave him the honor of bicycling to the dime store to choose a new decoration for the family tree.

Later he realized she and his older siblings were probably anxious to get him out of the house, so they could deck the halls without an excited boy underfoot.

That lamp-ornament hung on our family Christmas tree all the years I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s. And sometime in the 1980s, Mom and Dad passed it on to me.

 

 

Wrapped up in that one decoration are all the Christmases of my distant, childhood past, characterized by tinsel-covered trees, dolls in crisp dresses, programs at church and school, and dining tables overflowing with delectable feasts.

As I hang the little lamp, my imagination returns to those Christmases, celebrated with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, whose love and laughter now live only in my heart.

Undoubtedly, memories are an important part of the euphoria Christmas creates. But there is plenty about the present that brings joy to the season as well:

  • Carols ring, and sweet aromas waft from kitchens
  • Cards arrive from distant loved ones, renewing bonds of love and friendship
  • Gifts are purchased and wrapped, with the hope of bringing delight to the recipients
  • Meals become occasions to be savored, as family and friends gather to simply enjoy one another’s company

 

 

And what about the future? As Christmas approaches, the thrill of splendorous moments to come certainly has us looking forward. Who has not felt the excitement of checking off days on the calendar until that special party? Until loved ones arrive? Until Christmas Day itself?

And no sooner does one holiday season draw to a close, than we start thinking, “Next year, I’m going to make some of those cookies Sylvia brought to the party.” Or, “Next Christmas we’ll have another grandchild to enjoy!”

 

(Our youngest granddaughter,

in 2016)

 

And so, it is just as Alexander Smith said. Christmas holds all time together–in memories of the past, joys of the present, and anticipation of the future.

However, Mr. Smith’s words include a deeper truth for us as Christians. In one shining moment, past, present, and future came together at the birth of our Savior.

First, a number of prophecies from hundreds of years in the past, were perfectly fulfilled.

 

(Gerard van Honthorst’s Adoration of the Shepherds, 1622)

 

Second, we have only to consider his name, Emmanuel, to realize how Jesus’ birth touches the present. No doubt you remember Emmanuel means “God with us.” Present tense is suggested, reminding us that now, Jesus is with those who desire his presence.

Finally, our future is secure because of Christmas. Those familiar words of John 3:16 make clear:  God loves us and sent his Son, Jesus. When we believe in him, he gives us the precious gift of eternal life. Such simple truth, yet wondrously profound.

 

 

In reality then, it’s not just the celebration of Christmas that joins past, present, and future. It’s the One we celebrate on Christmas that holds all time together.

 

“To the only God our Savior

be glory, majesty, power and authority,

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

before all ages, now and forevermore!

Amen.”

Jude 25

(Emphasis added.)

 

________________________

 

What experience(s) of the Christmas season bring together all time for you?  Tell us about it in the Comment section below!

 

Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg; http://www.needpix.com; Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.wikipedia.org.

 

(revised and reblogged from December 9, 2012)

 

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With Advent near the surface of my thinking these days, I was primed to notice a new-to-me phenomenon in the word adventure.

It begins with Advent!

I don’t know how I’ve missed that similarity before. But once the word-within-a-word jumped out at me, I began to wonder: Are the two words related or is it just coincidence? Might there be significance to the similarity?

Research uncovered several interesting insights.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Advent as “the arrival of a notable person or thing.” It comes to us from Latin; ad- means “to” and venire means “come” (1).

 

 

Adventure refers to an undertaking that may involve danger and unknown risks, and/or an exciting or remarkable experience (2).

Etymologically the words are more like distant cousins than siblings. But they do come together at Christ’s advent into the world—and in our individual lives—because he does offer grand adventure—the adventure of faith.

Mary certainly chose such an adventure as Gabriel announced she would conceive the Son of God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she affirmed. “May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

Joseph also stepped into the adventure of the Messiah’s birth, risking the derision of his community (Matthew 1:18-25).  If his neighbors didn’t know it yet, they’d learn soon enough that his betrothed was pregnant.

 

 

Neither Joseph nor Mary knew the dangers they’d face (including King Herod’s paranoia) and the uncertainties of parenting the perfect Son of God who would be misunderstood, scorned, and even murdered.

For their adventure, the shepherds ignored the first rule of sheep-tending: never leave the flock to fend for themselves. Instead, these men  threw caution to the wind and participated in a remarkable experience. They were among the first to see the long-anticipated Christ Child (Luke 2:8-18).

The wise men most likely adventured for two years, traveling to Judea from Babylon or Persia in order to worship the newborn King (Matthew 2:1-12). Imagine the stories of danger, risk, and astonishment they had to tell.

 

 

And now it’s our turn to choose. Will we step into the adventure of faith as they did—not knowing exactly what will happen and not being in control?

Yes, we might encounter danger or risk, but we are also guaranteed remarkable experiences, including:

  • Being used by God for eternal good, as we offer ourselves as his servants, just like Mary did.
  • Becoming the best version of ourselves as God works within us, developing our character and maturity (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • Looking for the miracle-drenched moments—taking holy delight in the ordinary (Psalm 40:5).
  • Getting acquainted with the Bible, finding sincere pleasure in knowing God’s Word. The more we know him, the more we love him, and the more wonder we experience (Psalm 112:1).
  • Participating in God’s work through prayer (James 5:16b).

 

 

Two years ago our son and daughter-in-law gave us three wooden Christmas ornaments, created by a girl overseas. We’ll call her Kiana. Kiana works in a factory run by a missionary couple sent out from our church.

On the tag attached to the ornaments was Kiana’s name and picture. Her sparkling eyes and joyous smile grabbed my heart and seemed to indicate Kiana just might know Jesus.

I began to pray for this young woman on a regular basis, thanking God for his promised provision and protection over her. I asked God to honor Kiana, bringing her to Jesus if she did not know him yet, and using her to impact others if she was already a believer.

Not long ago, those missionaries came home on furlough. I had the chance to ask about Kiana and learned she is a sweet Christian and even leads a Bible study.

My eyes filled with tears as I realized the privilege God had given me, to participate with him in the work he’s doing half-way around the world—through the adventure of prayer.

 

(One of the ornaments created by Kiana)

 

‘You see how gracious God is? Advent is only the beginning. The joy of this season can become an extended adventure that unfolds day after day, year after year, as we make ourselves available to him.

And that’s not all. The remarkable experience of heaven is yet to come.

The question is: will we embrace the adventure that begins with Advent, or will we withdraw?

 

Notes:

  1. https://www.europelanguagejobs.com/blog/turning_advent_into_adventure.php
  2. Mirriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, 2001.

 

Photo and art credits:  http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.com (painting by James Tissot); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com; Nancy Ruegg

 

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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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