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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

“The Church thrills and thrives,

multiplies and advances

on a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing

that we simply call song.”

–Jack W. Hayford*

 

 

And at no time of year is that more true than during Advent. Christmas carols seem to waft on a unique Holy Spirit breeze of blessing all their own.

Part of the blessing is in the familiarity, the memories they evoke of Christmases past. Many of us are predisposed to sentimentality, especially at this time of year. Just listen to how often we wistfully say, “Oh, that reminds of…”

 

 

But are familiarity and nostalgia the only reasons we love our Christmas songs? No, it’s the lyrics themselves that contribute to the breeze of blessing—lyrics that remind us:

 

  • God’s gifts far surpass what is under the Christmas tree.

 

“God imparts to human hearts

the blessings of his heaven” (1).

 

  • Jesus brings wisdom and contentment to our lives.

 

“This child, now weak in infancy,

our confidence and joy shall be” (2).

 

 

  • He is our Emmanuel, God with us.

 

“Love has come—He will never leave us…

Love is Jesus within and among us” (3).

 

  • He has made it possible for us to spend eternity with him in heaven.

 

“Jesus Christ was born for this!

He hath opened heaven’s door

And man is blessed forevermore” (4).

 

 

  • The day is coming when we will be privileged to sing with the angels, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns” (Revelation 19:6)!

 

“When the new heaven and earth shall own

The Prince of Peace their King,

And the whole world send back the song

Which now the angels sing” (5).

 

 

Now that will be a song wafting on a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing.

Can you imagine the scene? Thousands of us in row after row singing our praise to God and celebrating the Prince of peace, our King.

Perhaps we’ll sing harmonies never even dreamt of on earth. And in a perfect heaven with perfectly miraculous acoustics, not only will we be able to hear the voices of those nearby, but the composite whole of the largest, grandest choir ever to sing.

Will there be those who stand in silence and choose not to participate? Impossible. How about folks who barely open their mouths and just whisper-sing? No, I can’t see that happening either.

Surely we’ll all sing with euphoric enthusiasm, hearts bursting with joy that:

  • Every blessing of heaven is now ours (1)—blessings we can’t even imagine now because we’re so limited in our knowledge and understanding.
  • Our confidence in Jesus has been rewarded beyond imagination (2).
  • Our loving, Savior is finally with us in Person as well as in Spirit (3).
  • Eternal bliss will be ours forevermore (4).
  • We’re able to join the angels in glorious song for the Prince of Peace our King (5).

But there’s no reason to wait until we’ve joined the angel choir.

We can sing as if performing for our King now.

Because we are.

Sing a song of Christmas, my friend, on a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing!

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  1. “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” verse 3, line 2.
  2. “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light,” verse 1, lines 3 and 4.
  3. “Love Has Come,” verse 3, lines 1 and 2.
  4. “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” verse 2, lines 2-4.
  5. “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” verse 3, lines 3 and 4.

*from the Foreword of The Celebration Hymnal, Integrity Music, 1997.

 

Which Christmas carol wafts a breeze of Holy Spirit blessing through your spirit?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.army.mil.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.Art4TheGlryOfGod; http://www.flickr.com (3); http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

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“Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth to Bethlehem,

because he belonged to the house and line of David.

He went there to register with Mary,

who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

–Luke 2:4-5 excerpts, NIV

 

The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about eighty-five miles. Can you imagine walking that far, nine months pregnant? I can’t. Even if Mary rode on a donkey, she’d have been jostled and swayed from side to side. How comfortable would that have been? I think I’d rather walk.

And yet, in spite of Mary’s unremitting discomfort and Joseph’s growing concern, the couple surely traveled the road to Bethlehem with great hope in their hearts. Her firstborn would soon enter the world—a Child like no other. The angel, Gabriel, had made it clear to both of them: Mary would bear a son, the promised Messiah, and he would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Sure enough, Mary delivered the child while they were in Bethlehem, the exact birthplace identified by the prophet Micah (5:2), centuries before the event.

 

 

That same night shepherds cowered in the grass as blinding light pierced the darkness and a startling figure appeared—an angel. Fear quickly gave way to wonder, however, as the shepherds heard the astounding announcement. The Messiah had finally been born, not in the Holy City of Jerusalem as one might expect, but just a stone’s throw away in their own little village.

Soon the shepherds were also traveling a road to Bethlehem. But this was undoubtedly no midnight stroll; they may have even tried to outrun each other. And the exuberant joy that propelled them was accompanied by confident faith in their hearts. They knew the angel’s message had come from the Lord (Luke 2:15).

 

 

Many miles to the east wise men took note of a special star and shortly thereafter set out upon their own long road to Bethlehem. It’s possible they followed the star westward for two years, in order to worship the Messiah and present him with precious treasure: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.   Theirs was a road of generosity.

And now it’s our turn to travel the road to Bethlehem—a figurative one. With Thanksgiving behind us, we journey toward December 25, the final destination after a month-long celebration of our Savior’s birth.

Like Mary and Joseph we can travel with hope because our Heavenly Father is a God of his Word, who loves, encourages, strengthens, and more (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

 

 

Like the shepherds, we can embrace the truth of our Savior’s birth and all its implications for an abundant, God-enhanced life now and unending euphoria in heaven yet to come (John 10:10, 1 John 5:11-13).

Last, like the wise men, we can follow the road of generosity, not only with presents for family and friends or contributions to ministries and charities, but also with such gifts as:

  • A smile for the harried store clerk,
  • Focused attention on the toddler who wants to sing “Rudolph,”
  • A listening ear for the elderly lady at the grocery store,
  • Cheerful patience while waiting in line at the post office, and
  • The benefit of the doubt—for everyone.

Best of all, our road to Bethlehem extends beyond December 25—into eternity—where hope will be culminated, faith will become sight, and generosity will be rewarded (1 Peter 1:3-4; Hebrews 11:1; Ephesians 6:8).

 

 

The road may seem long at times.   But the destination will be rapturously worth it.

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Your turn:

Of course these three–hope, faith, and generosity–aren’t the only roads to Bethlehem.  There are many, including the familiar roads of love, joy and peace.  What road (s) will you travel this Advent season?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.slideplayer.com; http://www.pexels.com.)

 

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A lot of people in our area woke up with great anticipation yesterday morning.  A local Christian radio station began playing Christmas music. Every year they jumpstart the season with carols and holiday songs, drawing attention to Jesus’ momentous birth.

 

 

Actually, 93.3 FM Cincinnati is not the only entity to begin the celebration in November. Have you seen the first Christmas commercial yet? The first store decorations? The eggnog in the grocery dairy section?

Even as Thanksgiving barely comes into view we welcome this season of well-loved customs, heightened joy, and delightful anticipation. But many of us will also experience exhaustion and frustration. We overextend ourselves in order to provide…what? A Norman Rockwell Christmas presented by Martha Stewart?  (I’ve certainly been guilty of striving for that.)

 

 

Author and friend, Jody Collins, has a better idea.

In her book, Living the Season Well, she suggests: simplify and savor.

 

 

Simplify the to-do list; savor the wonder.

And then she offers creative, common sense ideas for doing just that.

Her book is not a prescription, as in, “Here’s what you need to do in order to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way.” Instead, Jody presents a buffet of possibilities and recommends we start small, start now with those ideas that stir our interest and seem doable.

For example, call a family meeting to discuss setting limits this year.  You might decide to:

  • Hang fewer lights–maybe even no lights–on the front of the house.
  • Purchase a pre-cut Christmas tree nearby instead of at the U-Cut lot miles out-of-town.
  • Brainstorm ways the children can help, such as stuffing and stamping the Christmas cards.

 

 

Such changes will make more room for “Finding the Heart of Christmas” (the title of Jody’s introduction).

Possibilities include:

  • Adjust our views (and the views of our children) about giving and receiving presents.  After all, she reminds us, “it’s not the presents but his presence that matters (p. 109).”
  • Turn off the screens—phones, tablets, televisions, and computers–for an hour each day in December. Savor the quiet; cuddle up with a good Christmas book to enjoy as a family. Jody lists worthy titles to choose from.
  • Mark the weeks before Christmas with an Advent wreath. Jody gives basic instructions, but also includes a list of resources, especially helpful if this custom is not part of your tradition.

 

 

Another of Jody’s recommendations: Slow down the celebration. Instead of the huge climax of December 25, followed by an equally huge let-down the next day, ease through the descent by observing Twelvetide—from December 25 to January 5. Jody offers delightful ideas for “savoring the moments” as the Christmas season wanes.

In just over one hundred pages, Jody takes us from Thanksgiving to Epiphany, showing us how to “tune our hearts to look for Jesus throughout the Christmas season, as we intentionally hold a space for him to come” (pp. 29-30).

Her suggestions lead the way to a Christmas of more joy and less busyness, more delight and less stress.

Sounds awfully good to me.

 

(Living the Season Well is available at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.  Check out Jody’s blog, too, at www.jodyleecollins.com for more of her faith/life discoveries. You won’t be disappointed!)

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pexels.com; http://www.flickr.com;  http://www.amazon.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.geograph.org.uk.

 

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Christmas 2016 is now only a set of memories.

Mine include:

  • The first preschool performance of our granddaughter, Elena. Picture a stageful of two-to-four-year olds singing off-key with cherubic enthusiasm. Delightful.
  • Christmas Eve dinner with family in a lovely restaurant, and then an outstanding church concert afterwards.
  • A gathering of eight around the Christmas tree to open presents—seven family members and one adopted uncle (a friend of our son’s who could not get home for the weekend).

Now it’s time to finish up or freeze all the leftovers from holiday meals. Soon we’ll have to bring up the boxes from the basement and undecorate (the most deplorable of chores) while listening to Christmas carols one last time.

 

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And as folks around the world put away the ornaments, wreaths, and fairy lights, many will put away their cheerfulness and good will. There will be fewer smiles and happy greetings, fewer kindnesses and generous gestures.

I don’t want to be one of those folks, melancholy as my spirit might be. I need a new attitude, as described by Charles Allen and Charles Wallis:

 

“Christmas need not be limited to only a day.

Christmas can become, as it was meant to be,

an attitude toward life that will continue

during all of the days that follow.”

–from Christmas, p. 51.

 

My new attitude could take inspiration from the shepherds who, after visiting the stable, returned to their flock glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen (Luke 2:20).

 

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Surely their glorifying and praising was not just a temporary state. Of course, the intense euphoria lessened with time. It would be impossible to live with that level of excitement long-term. Who could eat or sleep?

But I can picture them, sitting around their campfire year after year, frequently reminiscing about that night. I can see their soft smiles, recalling how terrible fright had turned to gleeful joy. And I see the shaking of their heads in wonder, remembering that they were among the first to look into the face of the long-awaited Messiah.  What an incredulous privilege. That kind of elation never grows old.

I have a feeling those shepherds were never the same after that night. Their families—even the village of Bethlehem—were impacted by the effervescent joy that overflowed from their lives.

After all, they had seen the Lord.

 

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(Gerard von Honthorst painting, 1622)

 

I, too, have encountered him in my spirit. But when post-Christmas melancholy comes calling, my thoughts gravitate toward disappointment that the beauty, excitement, and wonder of the season is over.

I need to renew my mind by following the shepherds’ example:

  • Glorify God—for all his marvelous attributes
  • Praise God—for all I have heard from him and seen him do
  • Spread the word about Jesus—my merciful Savior and gracious Lord

As I pack up all the decorations, may my thoughts center on the joy Jesus provides—not just for the Christmas season but always. May I look forward with anticipation to the experiences God has planned for me and the growth he’ll achieve in me during the new year—even as I fondly look backward on the sweet memories of Christmas past.

May I begin to develop a Christmas attitude that will last the whole year through.

To that end, I’ve chosen several Christmas cards to tuck here and there around the house—as reminders to keep glorifying, praising, and spreading the word:

 

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No need to wait until next year for Christmas joy after all.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.youtube.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; Nancy Ruegg (4).

 

P.S.  For 2017, beginning next Thursday, January 5, I’ll be posting just once a week in order to allow time for other projects and for assisting our son and daughter-in-law when Baby Girl #2 arrives (sometime mid-January).  I do hope you’ll still return each Thursday for a new post.

 

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Praise God that, because of our Savior, Jesus Christ,

the joy and peace of Christmas endures forever.

HALLELUJAH!

 

(Our family is enjoying some precious together-time for a few days.  I’ll be back on Thursday with a new post.  Merry Day-after-Christmas, my friends!)

 

(Photo credit:  www.pinterest.com)

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Sometime on Christmas Eve, after the kids have finally fallen asleep and the last gift is wrapped and all do-ahead preparation is completed for Christmas dinner, peace on earth will at last settle in many homes.  Such peace is characterized by contentedness that everything is ready for tomorrow.  There’s also a sense of good will toward mankind–even toward the eccentric relatives who’ve come for the weekend.

But of course such peace doesn’t last long. The children awake and the noisy celebration begins—way too early in the morning.

Truth is, throughout recorded history, peace on earth has always occurred in small, intermittent fits. Since 36 B.C., the world has seen 15,000 wars.*

So it seems incongruous that the angels told the shepherds, “On earth peace to men” (Luke 2:14)–until we read the rest of their proclamation: “On earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

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We have to understand: the heavenly choir was not proclaiming universal, political peace but individual, internal peace to those who enjoy God’s favor (same verse, ISV).

So how do we access this favor and receive God’s peace? It occurs as we:

  1. Accept Jesus’ invitation to be in relationship with him.

He is the way God has chosen for man to be reconciled to himself (John 14:6).

Some people want to believe all religions should lead to God. It doesn’t seem fair to them that one is deemed better than another. But if we look at the situation from God’s point of view we realize: It’s not necessary there be dozens of ways to him. He chose one way, through his Son, Jesus.

And those who accept him into their lives do indeed receive great favor. They become the children of the King of the universe (John 1:12)–forever.

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  1. Learn more about God and his attributes. “May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord (1 Peter 1:2, NLT). For example: 
  • He knows all (Romans 11:32-36)—every worrisome situation and how he will resolve it.
  • He is all-powerful, able to do anything (Job 42:2). If, in his wisdom, he chooses not to rescue us from our circumstances, then he’ll see us through.
  • Everything is under his control (Psalm 103:19)–even those inexplicable, puzzling events that throw us into a momentary tailspin.
  • Everything he does is good and right (Deuteronomy 32:4).
  • He makes perfect decisions, including how and when all events will unfold (Psalm 147:5).

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The more we know, the more confidently we can rest in our powerful, all-wise God.

  1. Review his promises.

 At the first sign of worry or fear, we can replenish our peace with a scripture promise. A few of my favorites include:

  • “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
  • “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

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  1. Pray.

 Our prayers about the situations that troubles us can include praise that God’s glorious attributes are already at work, his promises never fail, and his blessings continue to flow. Worship is the way to peace (Philippians 4:6-8).

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  1. Practice God’s presence.

 Strive to live aware of God’s presence at all times, in every place—even at the kitchen sink, in the car, at the mall, in the office.

And during those rather mindless moments while washing dishes, sitting at a stoplight, or walking from one store to another, we can enjoy his company and affirm our trust. Strong trust results in peace (Isaiah 26:3).

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To enjoy God’s favor and peace does not mean we are devoid of emotion or concern. It’s when concern is accompanied by unbelief in God’s attributes or promises that worry and fear result. But if concern is combined with prayerful faith, then perfect peace is the outcome—peace that will not only pervade the mayhem of Christmas morning, but also the maelstroms of life.

What helps you  open your heart to God’s peace?  Tell us about it in the comment section below. 

*John MacArthur, www.gty.org , “The Gift of Peace.”

(Art & photo credits:  www.imgur.com; http://www.indulgy.com; http://www.pinterest.com (4); http://www.flickr.com.)

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Many elements of the Christmas season trigger memories of long ago, including:

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  • The carol, “O Holy Night,” takes me back to the pew of my childhood church where I listened to a gifted soloist, my mother, sing that Christmas hymn. I remember anticipating the high notes—so rich, clear, and resonant. The lyrics, including “Let all within us praise his holy Name” came from her heart.

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  • Waking up on a winter morning to the sound of a snow shovel scraping against concrete. Dad would always clear the sidewalks for the suburban commuters who’d walk past our house on their way to the train station—just one example of Dad’s thoughtfulness.*

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  • Red, green, and white tissue paper remind me of the gifts our grandmother would pile under her tree for my brother and me (her only grandchildren). You would think Grandma Clara’s shopping budget was unlimited, to see the number of packages. But what she lacked in funds Grandma made up for by shopping for super-bargains all year long. The tissue was probably an economical way to wrap some of the packages, so her precious dollars could be spent on what was inside.

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  • The aroma of pies, cookies, or breads baking in the oven take me back to Grandma Rachel’s kitchen. No one’s piecrust was as flaky, no cookies as perfectly browned on the bottom, no Parker House rolls as tender. And no holiday was complete without these treats.

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  • Red N-O-E-L letters with angel cherubs adorning each one remind me of childhood home #3. My mother would perch them on the sill of the leaded glass window by the stairs. I don’t know what happened to Mom’s set, but Steve’s aunt had the same ceramic letters and we eventually inherited hers. Now I’m the one who lines them up each year.

Not one of these memories is attached to a significant event, yet they are precious treasures of my heart. Now why would that be? Is it just the nostalgic atmosphere of the season that seems to envelope many of us at Christmastime?

Perhaps such memories highlight best what our Heavenly Father provides for us: his peace, love, and security–entities that our souls crave.  A verse from Isaiah gives us a perfect image of his constant loving care—one that Handel used in Messiah, “He Shall Feed His Flock.” (And yes, my mother sang that one, too.)

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“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd:

He shall gather the lambs with his arm,

And carry them in his bosom,

And shall gently lead those that are with young.”

–Isaiah 40:11 KJV

I first experienced the love, peace, and security of God the Great Shepherd within the fold of my loving Christian family—not just during the euphoric season of Christmas but all year long. Memory after treasured memory give proof, and I am so very grateful.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I thank you, Father, for treasured memories of the heart, and for the love, peace, and security my family provided throughout my growing years. I praise you as the Source of those glorious qualities.  

You first loved us and allowed your only Son to be sacrificed in our place. Such love is beyond human comprehension. You provide peace as we trust in you, just as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds. And our final destiny is secure because “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 How can I not be grateful?

(1 John 4:19, 10; Isaiah 26:3; Luke 2:14; Romans 8:31)

What Christmas memory speaks love, peace, and security to you?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

*After forty years in Florida, my husband and I moved back to the Midwest in 2014 to be near our sons and their families. Imagine my delight to hear that shovel-on-concrete sound again after so many years, and have that ancient memory come bubbling up from the depths.

(Art & photo credits:  www.youtube.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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