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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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What are the immense graces of this moment for you?  Please share an example in the Comment section below.  Let’s celebrate together the gifts of His love.

 And a joy-filled day of Thanks-giving to all!

 

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I know. It’s the week before Thanksgiving. If we start feasting on stuffing, mashed potatoes, and squash casserole now, we’ll gain five to ten pounds before the holiday even arrives.

It’s a different kind of feasting the post-title alludes to, the kind Reverend J. R. MacDuff recommended long ago.

And just for fun I’ll make a fill-in-the-blank from his statement, and you can guess the key phrase:

 

“Cultivate _______________.

It will be to thee a perpetual feast.”

—J.R. MacDuff

 

How would you complete the quote?

  1. an attentive outlook?
  2. a thankful spirit?
  3. a cheerful attitude?
  4. a faithful heart?

I’ll bet you guessed correctly, given the season.  MacDuff chose #2, a thankful spirit. But missing from his quote is an explanation of how gratitude could possibly offer the pleasure of a perpetual feast.

Perhaps he would suggest the following.

 

Gratitude fosters a positive perspective.

 

 

 

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns;

I am grateful that thorns have roses.”

—Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr

 

In recent years scientific research has proven the benefits of optimistic thinking, including increased life span, less stress, better sleep, fewer colds, and better cardiovascular health. Gratitude to God surely augments the benefits.

 

“The optimist says, the cup is half full.

The pessimist says the cup is half empty.

The child of God says, my cup overflows.

–Anonymous

 

Gratitude develops a sense of awe.

 

 

“Gratitude bestows reverence,

allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies,

those transcendent moments of awe

that change forever how we

experience life and the world.”

—John Milton

 

Think of the delight young children express when they encounter a ladybug sauntering across a rock, a sliver of rainbow glimmering on the wall, or a leaf shower providing a game of catch.

As we follow their lead, we’ll discover our ordinary days are laced with many transcendent moments to be grateful for.   And our hearts will fill with reverent awe for the Creator of these and all good things.

 

Gratitude strengthens our faith.

 

 

“Count blessings and find out

how many of His bridges have held…

Gratitude lays out the planks of trust

from today into tomorrow.”

–Ann Voskamp, 1000 Gifts

 

Keep a written record of those planks. You’ll be amazed how quickly they accumulate.

 

Gratitude ushers in joy!

A nearby church posted the following wisdom on their marquee:

 

 

To that end, we can engage our senses with a thankful heart, finding joy in:

  • milkweed maidens poised for dancing
  • crackling leaves breeze-rustled into a huddle
  • a winged wedge of geese honking good-bye
  • flannel shirts and fleece vests—cozy as a hug
  • cinnamon apple tea:  autumn in a cup

 

 

Ordinary experiences can be turned into extraordinary blessings–by the power of gratitude.

 

Gratitude contributes to a heart of humility.

 

“Pride slays thanksgiving,

but a humble mind is the soil

out of which thanks naturally grow.

A proud man is seldom a grateful man,

for he never thinks he gets

as much as he deserves.”

–Henry Ward Beecher

 

The humble and grateful person realizes everything comes from God and nothing is deserved.

 

 

Gratitude cultivates a calm spirit.

 

“It’s impossible to give thanks

and simultaneously feel fear.”

–Ann Voskamp, 1000 Gifts

 

We can express gratitude for all God is—his sovereignty and strength, his wisdom and loving kindness, his grace and glory—thus acknowledging his ability to bring good out of every situation. It releases us from the grip of fear and allows us to rest—in him.

 

 

_________________________

 

There you have it—just a few results from a perpetual feast of gratitude:

 

  • A positive perspective
  • Awe-inspiring wonder
  • Strengthened faith
  • Continual joy
  • Quiet contentment
  • Holy peace

 

Let the gratitude-feast begin!

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.torange.biz; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net, http://www.publicdomainpictures.net.)

 

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“Be careful what you think,

because your thoughts run your life.”

–Proverbs 4:23, NCV

 

“Your thoughts run your life.” That would explain why worrisome thoughts can turn into paralyzing fear, pessimism into debilitating discouragement, and sadness into utter hopelessness.

No one wants to dwell in such misery.

But if a person is facing difficult circumstances, and she allows her thoughts to run amok on auto-pilot, she’s likely to slide downward into hyper negativity.  Climbing out is difficult.

“Snap out of it!” someone will say. Not very helpful.

“Look for the silver lining,” advises another. Easier said than done when tragedy strikes–and lingers.

 

 

“Spend some time in reflection.” That’s what one web site recommends, offering sixteen questions for a person to consider. Most of us don’t have time for that much introspection–nor the inclination–when we’re hurting.

So, how can we climb out of a miserable pit of despair?

By replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, especially scripture.

You see, our brains cannot focus on two things at once. Prove it to yourself by counting to twenty and reciting the ABCs at the same time. You’ll find you’re either counting or reciting, not both simultaneously.

We can apply the same strategy to negative thinking. At the first moment we realize our thoughts are headed in the wrong direction, we can confess it and ask God to help us renew our minds:

“Lord, I don’t want to think about this anymore; it’s accomplishing nothing. Help me to refocus on what is noble and right, pure and lovely (Philippians 4:8).”

 

                           

Then we start singing a favorite praise song, or quoting an uplifting scripture, or listing all the reasons we can trust God in this situation.

For a start, the bulleted quotes below highlight some common threads of negative thinking.  Following each is a positive scripture as rebuttal:

 

“There is no way this situation is going to work out.”

Oh? “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, italics added).

 

“I can’t stand another day of this.”

Oh, yes, I can stand. I can put on the full armor of God, so that in this day of trouble, I may be able to stand my ground” (Ephesians 6:13).  Restoration will come.

 

 

“I am never going to succeed.”

 Not true.  God says [he] will accomplish all [his] purposes (Isaiah 46:10b, italics added).  What greater success could there be than to accomplish the purpose of Almighty God?

 

“I have no idea how to proceed; maybe I should just quit. This is just too hard.”

I can pray as the author of Hebrews did: “May the God of peace…equip me with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in me what is pleasing to him” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

 

“Sometimes I can’t seem to do anything right. How can God use me?”

It is God who made me the way I am, with specific plans and purpose in mind:  to do good works according to the gifts and talents he’s given.

 

 

_________________________

 

If the bulleted comments in bold print are our focus, our lives will surely head in a downward direction toward discouragement and hopelessness.

If, on the other hand, we focus on the promises and positive affirmations of scripture, we head in an upward direction toward wholeness, productivity, and joy.

“He enables [us] to go on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19)–above the doubts and uncertainties.

“Outlook determines outcome” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, p. 22).

 

(https://quotefancy.com/quote/931807/Warren-W-Wiersbe-Outlook-determines-outcome)

 

*     *     *     *     *     *      *     *     *     *

 

What scripture promise or affirmation lifts you up when circumstances try to pull you down?  Add your favorites in the comments section below!

 

Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.needpix.com; http://www.heartlight.org; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.quotefancy.com.

 

(Revised and reblogged from April 16, 2015, “Focus Determines Direction.”)

 

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“I AM WHO I AM.”

That’s how God identified himself to Moses, as he spoke from the burning bush (Exodus 3:14).

On the face of it, God’s statement seems rather strange.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but doesn’t it sound like a line Lewis Carroll would write for the Mad Hatter, or Dr. Seuss for the cat in the hat?

Moses had asked a legitimate question in response to God’s directive to return to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves leave the country (v. 11).  On what authority could he tell Pharaoh what to do?

But of course “I AM WHO I AM” was the perfect response. It’s a name that encompasses all the glorious complexities of almighty God.

And true to his word and character, the I AM of omnipotence and wisdom did take care of everything to release his people from Pharaoh’s grip and take them back to the land of their forefathers.

 

 

And since God never changes (Malachi 3:6), the same I AM is everything and anything we will ever need (Philippians 4:19), including the following.

Let’s shout these affirmations from our spirits:

 

The I AM of absolute power and sublime perfection

is our stability and security (1).

 

The I AM of self-existence and self-sufficiency

is our foundation and competence (2).

 

The I AM of supreme sovereignty and divine holiness

is our confidence and sanctification (3).

 

 

The I AM of firm constancy and unrivaled transcendency

is our inspiration and strength (4).

 

The I AM of complete wisdom and absolute knowledge

is our counselor and guide (5).

 

The I AM of abiding faithfulness and assured reliability

is our help and support (6).

 

 

The I AM of unfailing love and generous benevolence

is our encourager and comforter (7).

 

The I AM of enduring patience and exceeding kindness

is our peace and joy (8).

 

The I AM of deep understanding and gentle compassion

is our defender and reconciliation (9).

 

 

The I AM of bountiful mercy and lavish grace

is our Redeemer and Savior (10).

 

The I AM of righteous integrity and overflowing goodness

is our Shepherd and provider (11).

 

The I AM of splendorous glory and royal majesty

is our Father and Friend (12).

 

 

Listen to his affirming whisper:

“I AM in you, with you, and for you. 

When doubt or fear seep into your thoughts, remember who I AM and send those negative thoughts scurrying.  

Rest in who I AM; enjoy who I AM— the One who delights to bring all My attributes and blessings to bear upon your life.

Take joy also in the principle of reflection. The more time you spend in My presence, even as you’re involved in other tasks, the more you will reflect Me and My character to others. 

As you look to Me, you will be radiant.

And those around you will see who I AM.

 

 

(1 Corinthians 3:16; Psalm 23:4; Romans 8:31; Psalm 143:5;

Psalm 145; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Psalm 34:5; Matthew 5:16)

 

 

Notes:

  1. Matthew 19:26; Psalm 18:30; Psalm112:7; Proverbs 3:26
  1. Psalm 90:2; Acts 17:24-25 and Romans 11:36; Psalm 18:31; 2 Corinthians 3:4-5
  1. 1 Chronicles 29:9-11; Isaiah 6:3; Proverbs 3:26; 1 Corinthians 6:11
  1. James 1:17; Psalm 113:5-6; Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 46:1
  1. Romans 11:33; Job 37:15-16; Psalm 32:8; Isaiah 58:11
  1. Psalm 33:4; Psalm 121:3; Psalm 33:20; Psalm 18:35
  1. 1 John 4:8; Psalm 31:19; Isaiah 41:10; 2 Corinthians 1:3
  1. 1 Corinthians 13:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Psalm 4:7
  1. Psalm 103:14, 8; Psalm 138:7; Colossians 1:20-22
  1. Exodus 34:6-7; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 45:21-22
  1. Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 25:8; Isaiah 40:11; Psalm 145:9
  1. Exodus 15:11; Psalm 93:1; 2 Corinthians 6:18; John 15:14

 

Photo credits:  http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.canva.com (3); http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.needpix.com; http://www.flickr.com.

 

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