Monday, December 24, 2007

Advent – Christmas Eve: Christ

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16, NIV)

The night before Christmas has become an icon for Americans. We quote and re-quote Clement C. Moore’s “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” every year. He gave us the red-suited “jolly old elf” in a sleigh driven through the sky by “eight tiny reindeer.” Families build traditions on the night before Christmas: from opening gifts to decorating the tree, to sitting around the already decorated tree to read or re-tell the Christmas story. Many churches have a traditional Christmas Eve service which includes carols of the season, devotional thoughts, communion, and candle lighting.

This year, on this eve of the birth of the Christ child, let us turn our thoughts to the true meaning of Christmas. The true meaning of the holiday is not about family, though we often find it easiest to understand Christmas in the midst of our family, enjoying traditions that say “Christmas” to us. The true meaning is not giving, although God gave the gift of His son, the Magi gave gifts fit for a king, and we practice giving to family and charity even more than at any other time of the year. Christmas is not simply about love, though it is during this time of year, more than any other, that we turn our hearts to love and loved ones.

Christmas, instead, is about the Christ—all that He is and all that He was. He is God come to earth as a man. He came in the form of a child. He came so that He could sacrifice Himself in the place of everyone. The true meaning of Christmas is wrapped up, not in gold and silver paper, but in the moment of Easter. Christmas is about the change that is brought to us because the Christ intervened on our behalf. Let us celebrate the resurrected Christ who is the Babe of the manger.

Jesus, our Savior, Thank you for the sacrifice you made. Thank you for being the Christ. Change our lives today just as you changed the world over two thousand years ago. Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Advent – Week 4: Love

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NKJV)

At one point Jesus told the disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, NIV)

It is for this reason that He came to earth in the first place: to share love with those that He does love. During this time of celebration we must first remember the love that was shown to us, in Bethlehem at the lowly beginning of the King of kings, and then again at Calvary in the greatest act of sacrifice ever witnessed by humanity. Jesus embodied love. The great cantata writer John W. Peterson put it this way, “Love came down at Christmas.”

After we have sufficiently pondered the love that Jesus showed, it becomes our responsibility to let that same love live in us. We are responsible to the world to make Christmas love a reality to the world for all the year. Sharing our life with those who surround us, even to the point of giving up our own life and comfort for the sake of the lives of those in our sphere of influence.

When love becomes a major part of our life because of Christ who lives in us, then that love should demonstrate itself in real ways in our own lives. Especially at the season of Nativity, should we remember to give the gift of love in all our celebrations.

Lord, thank you for loving us so much that you came to earth to die for us. Increase our love to be a mirror of your love. Amen

Monday, December 17, 2007

The “W” in Christmas

by Linda K. Bartlett

Each December, I vowed to make Christmas a calm and peaceful experience. I had cut back on nonessential obligations—extensive card writing, endless baking, decorating, and even overspending. Yet still, I found myself exhausted, unable to appreciate the precious family moments, and of course, the true meaning of Christmas. My son, Nicholas, was in kindergarten that year. It was an exciting season for a six year old.

For weeks, He’d been memorizing songs for his school’s “Winter Pageant.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d be working the night of the production. Unwilling to miss his shining moment, I spoke with his teacher. She assured me there’d be a dress rehearsal the morning of the presentation. All parents unable to attend that evening were welcome to come then. Fortunately, Nicholas seemed happy with the compromise.

So, the morning of the dress rehearsal, I filed in ten minutes early, found a spot on the cafeteria floor and sat down. Around the room, I saw several other parents quietly scampering to their seats. As I waited, the students were led into the room. Each class, accompanied by their teacher, sat cross-legged on the floor. Then, each group, one by one, rose to perform their song.

Because the public school system had long stopped referring to the holiday as “Christmas,” I didn’t expect anything other than fun, commercial entertainment songs of reindeer, Santa Claus, snowflakes and good cheer. So, when my son’s class rose to sing “Christmas Love,” I was slightly taken aback by its bold title.

Nicholas was aglow, as were all of his classmates, adorned in fuzzy mittens, red sweaters, and bright snowcaps upon their heads. Those in the front row – center stage – held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song. As the class would sing, “C is for Christmas,” a child would hold up the letter C. Then, “H is for Happy,” and on and on, until each child holding up his portion had presented the complete message: “Christmas Love.”

The performance was going smoothly until suddenly, we noticed her; a small, quiet girl in the front row holding the letter “M” upside down—totally unaware that her letter “M” appeared as a “W”. The audience of 1st through 6th graders snickered at this little one’s mistake. But she had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her “W”.

Although many teachers tried to shush the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised, and we all saw it together. A hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen. In that instant, we understood the reason we were there, why we celebrated the holiday in the first place, why even in the chaos, there was a purpose for our festivities. For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear:

“C H R I S T W A S L OV E”

And, I believe, He still is.

Scripture thought - [Jesus said,] "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." (John 15:12, ESV)

Prayer for today: Dear Lord, as we think of all the Christmas season was and is, help us to add love to the gifts that we give, just as you gave and give love to us as a result of Christmas and of Easter. Amen

(submitted by Jaynece Dothager)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Advent – Week 3: Joy

When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. (Luke 1:41-44, NIV)

In the final moments of the game your team makes the final—the winning—goal! The crowd goes wild and you are right there with them, live and in person.

You stand at the front of the church facing the doors. Your hands begin to sweat, but then she appears. The most beautiful woman you have ever seen. You don’t know how she did it, but she is more beautiful today than you have ever seen her before. And your heart swells awaiting the moment that you have been anticipating for months—your wedding day.

You hold a baby in your arms. Not just any baby, but your baby. Perhaps this is your first grandchild. They coo, and they wriggle, and they grin their toothless grin.

All of these scenes, to some degree or another elicit within us the same feeling: JOY. Joy, that wellspring of emotion that rushes up and burns in our chests as it bursts through our eyes and often shouts from our lips unhampered—because joy is something to be shared.

What is it that makes joy well up so strongly? It is Jesus. When Jesus comes close enough for us to sense, joy begins to build. We want to jump, we want to shout, we want to sing. This is why Christmas is such a time of joy. This is why joy is used to describe the holiday, because we feel it before we know it, and then we want to share it with all who come within shouting distance. Share the Joy of the season that wells up at the sound of a favorite Christmas hymn, story, or thought. As we go through the traditions that have attached themselves to our holiday-making let us revel in the joy that is represented in the presence of the One who comes in the manger.

Almighty Joy-Giver, remind us of the Joy You shared in Jesus Christ. Help us to share the Joy with others as we have opportunity.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Advent – Week 2: Peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27, NIV)

Isaiah prophesied that Jesus, the Messiah, would be called Prince of Peace. The angels that announced His birth proclaimed, “Peace on earth, good will to men on whom His favor rests.” And still it is difficult for us to believe in this peace. Why is it so difficult?

The answer to this ageless question lies in the arena of belief. When we picture the baby lying in the manger, peace overwhelms us. When we think about the love that is represented by that lowly scene in the manger, peace fills our hearts. Consider this Christmas Carol:

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.

"Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
(“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

And now, consider peace this season.

Father, grant us peace—the peace that passes our understanding. Amen.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Advent – Week 1: Hope

[On Saturdays for the next few weeks, I hope you will enjoy these thoughts in preparation for the Advent season (traditionally we light one candle of the Advent Wreath each Sunday leading up to Christmas, and the center candle on Christmas Eve).]

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." (Matthew 2:1-2, ESV)

The wise men, we call them Magi, were experts in hope. They followed a star from the East. The star appeared in their night sky signaling a new king. They knew nothing about this new king except that he would be great. After all he was heralded by the appearance of a brand new star – one that had never been seen before.

In hope of a new and special day, they came to Jerusalem from a country far away. Some experts estimate that the trip might have taken up to three years. When the star appeared announcing Jesus’ birth, they began to excitedly make preparations. They gathered together a caravan that would be a worthy envoy to the new royal whose star it was. They then searched far and wide for presents fit for a king. Recorded for us are gold, frankincense and myrrh. Who knows what other rich gifts were brought in anticipation of this new king. Then they traveled no one knows how many miles to greet this new king.

Hope springs eternal when we see these wise men. They held hope for something grand to happen in their time, so they watched the sky. They saw hope represented in a star that appeared in the nighttime sky. They rushed toward hope by making the arduous journey to a foreign land to greet and bring appropriate gifts to the king. They lived on in hope by obeying the warning dream that instructed them to avoid Herod in their journey home.

We might take a lesson from these men who found hope to be so strong in their lives, especially during this season of hope.

Father, renew in us the spirit of hope that was brought to wise men in the form of a star. Amen.