2 Christmas Gifts

spirit-peace

‘Tis the day before Christmas and all through my house, everybody’s going crazy…just kidding. So far, it’s actually pretty relaxed here – my husband is mixing up waffle batter after sleeping in for a couple of hours (WooHoo!). And I just heard my son clomping sleepily down the stairs from his room. Our vacation schedule has kicked in.

Amidst the busyness and anticipation of this week, an essay of E.B. White has settled into my thoughts. I first read White’s prose work a few years ago when my husband printed out a copy for me of one of his Christmas pieces. By the end of my first reading of it, I was beaming with delight at his blend of sharp humor and heart. And I’ve gone back to it every year since.

Today, I’d like to share a link to another one of his Christmas essays with you. I found it on Senseijfk’s site, right here on WordPress. In it, White gives us a great lesson in holiday evangelism. I hope you enjoy his writing – and check out Senseijfk’s other posts while you’re there, too!

https://senseijfk.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/eb-white-on-christmas-and-relative-pronouns/

As another little gift, I’m putting up a link to a song by Third Day called “Born In Bethlehem.” I used it as part of a recent devotional I gave at church. Like all beloved Christmas songs, it tells the gospel story, from Jesus’ birth to His sacrifice for our sins. I feel renewed excitement and joy each time I hear it.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Av7fPUem190

Wherever you find yourself this season, whatever life is sending your way, my prayer for you is that you find moments of joy right in the middle of it all. Jesus came for you, and now He lives for you – take time celebrate how much He loves you. Merry Christmas!

O Holy Night

nativity_2One of the things I enjoy most about the Christmas season is the songs. Hearing “Santa Baby” over a store loudspeaker starting right after Halloween is a bit much, I’ll admit. But for me, singing carols and songs is a big part of celebrating the holidays.

I decided to do some research into the background of some of my favorite Christmas songs, and it’s been fun to learn more about a couple of them. In the case of one, “O Holy Night”, how the tune came into being is only the start of a very interesting history.

The lyrics were written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, the resident poet of a small town in France. He had been asked by the parish priest to create something for the Christmas Eve mass. So, he started by reading through the Nativity Story in the book of Luke for inspiration and the words came to him quickly.

Cantique de Noel, as it’s called in French, was embraced by the Church at first, until it was discovered that Cappeau was a socialist. The leadership officially banned the song from services, but the people loved it, and continued to sing it anyway.

The song got introduced to a much wider audience when John Dwight brought the song over to the United States. During the Civil War he worked for slaves’ rights, and so the lyrics “Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother…” caught his ear. The song actually turned into a rallying cry for the North.

Back in France the song became an olive branch of sorts. On a Christmas Eve during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier entered the battlefield unarmed and began to sing the song. After he had finished, a German soldier joined him and sang a hymn from his own country. Fighting between sides actually stopped for the next 24 hours to observe Christmas.

When a song touches that many people, it’s because of more than just a pretty tune or nice lyrics. I think the key lies with where Cappeau started his writing process. He didn’t look at his surroundings or even his own thoughts first – he went right to God’s Word. In scripture he saw the beauty and deeper meaning of Christ’s birth. His words reflect the amazing truth of God’s love for men – and that’s why they’ve resonated so much with people ever since.

I learned more than I expected from this one search. Maybe I’ll expand this into a mini Bible study for next year’s Advent season.

What’s your favorite holiday carol or song?

 

Christmas Decorations

 

1450451357856614355122At our church’s Ladies Brunch a couple of weeks ago, the decorating scheme included Nativity scenes as table centerpieces. The coordinator added an extra touch of creativity to her idea by asking women to donate sets for the morning.

The day before the event, I and a couple of others set up the room. And as we unpacked the scenes, I couldn’t help but wonder about them. (You know how much I enjoy stories!)

Where were these pieces made? How did so-and-so get this set? I wished there had been time during the brunch for the women to share the backgrounds. Even if the story was simple, like “I bought it at a craft fair”, the scene has meaning for the person who owns it.

My daughter and I finally put out some Christmas decorations yesterday. And my thoughts went back to the brunch as I pulled out our small glass Nativity scene. It was a gift from my brother-in-law one of the first years I was married. Amazingly, it’s survived many seasons with curious little hands mostly intact, though somehow we now have the manger without the baby inside.

As I opened the box, my eyes were greeted by familiar friends: paintings of The Nutcracker soldier and fireside scenes done in school art class; a copy of The Night Before Christmas that my husband read as a little boy; a menagerie of adorable stuffed elves, santas and even Snoopy. And that was just at first glance!

Every item has significance, even if it’s just remembering all the years we’ve pulled them out of that box. And it isn’t about the things themselves, as much as the people and moments that come to mind by looking at them.

Yes, I get sentimental. But I also feel gratitude for all the ways I’ve been blessed by my family and friends over the years. I’m aware of God’s goodness in a real, tangible way. The act of decorating takes on a richness and joy that I really look forward to.

Do you have a favorite Christmas decoration? Savor putting it on display this year. Then, if there’s a story attached to it, write it down. That will not only be a sweet reminder for you, but a testimony to pass down to your children.

A Different Kind of Christmas

 

poinsettia

As my husband and I shared a little time at the breakfast table this morning, I asked him for prayer. What began as a quick request turned into an emotional moment as I poured out some of what was stored up in my heart. I’m grateful he was willing to not only listen, but respond with grace.

My starting point was asking if he would be okay with me buying cookies for Christmas Eve this year instead of baking them. Boy, was that question hard for me to say out loud! Baking is one of my favorite ways to usher in the holiday season. But my joints just can’t handle stirring and all the other movements involved. Being stubborn and independent, I’ve tried several times and paid dearly for it.

My husband’s honest answer was that he’d prefer no cookies to store bought. I totally understood his view, and was kind of relieved to hear it. But even so, I felt a twinge of sadness – a feeling that’s become all too familiar over the last year or so.

I realized that cookies were not the only Christmas tradition that was shaping up differently this season. Stockings will be smaller, as will our tree. We’ve been to busy to pull out the box of decorations yet. And since the kids are older, there’s less excitement in the air. All those are part of a natural progression, I guess. But each one feels like a loss to me.

I came across a great article this morning by Lisabeth Saunders Medlock, PHD, that talks about accepting change. In it, she shares her own extremely challenging experience. Here’s one point she made: “It’s natural to have feelings of sadness, to grieve over the loss of something, to feel angry about your situation, or to place blame. You have permission to feel that way, but only for moments.”

Those words really resonated with me, because I can easily get stuck. Grieving is definitely part of the process of accepting change, but it’s only one the first steps. I have to move on to look at the present realistically, and the future hopefully. I can’t do that on my own, though – my mind and will are too weak.

Thankfully, I have a God who knows each change I face, and who wants to help me navigate them. The Apostle Paul called Him “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…” From his early years as a Pharisee to his missionary trips, Paul experienced change on a daily basis, and not always for the good. But God was always faithful to pick Paul up and lead him forward.

I take great encouragement from Paul’s story, because it reminds me that change can lead to really positive things. So while my family’s Christmas traditions are shifting away from the expected, I’ll try to concentrate less on what I’m losing, and more on anticipating what new blessings will come. ‘Cause God is always good!

Simply Christmas

heart-shaped-giftbox-blue

At this time of year, the word “simple” takes on a whole new and challenging meaning, doesn’t it? It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of holiday activity. In fact, we can see the busyness as unavoidable, as if it is just another part of the season. We complain about the fatigue we feel while pushing through it, almost looking forward to January 2nd when things settle down. And if we’re not careful, we can even miss the celebration entirely.

For a lot of years I embraced the annual nuttiness. I’m always busy, as most of us are. But as late November approached, and my to-do list grew, so did my excitement. I’d kick into high gear, humming Christmas carols while doing the extra cooking and running around. To me, the hectic pace was a reminder of the special days that were coming soon.

I have to admit that my mindset in those holiday seasons was pretty worldly. My thoughts were honestly more about decorating and baking than recognizing the wonder of Advent and Christmas. And, not surprisingly, I was becoming less and less joyful as time went on.

The idea of simplifying started to sound better and better to me. Just a glance at my overflowing daily planner was proof of how complicated I had been making the end of the year. But simplifying the holidays wouldn’t easy. I had made activity such an important part of the season that I didn’t know how to pull back without losing some of the enjoyment.

Actually, the first step in the right direction came through an idea my husband had to start buying World Visiongifts for our family. That ended up simplifying in some wonderful ways.

Buying all our presents in one place and online pretty quickly won me over. The whole process was less stressful, and gave me some opportunities for quiet time. I found moments to devote to worship and give thanks for the real blessings of the season.

As I did that store hopping and shopping, my thoughts were all about other people, and I guess, myself too. I hope so-and-so likes what I got for them…

Choosing donations to give in the name of family members gave the process a deeper and richer meaning. Instead of getting enjoyment from pleasing others, I got excited about getting others involved with helping to do God’s work around the world.

Letting go of some long-held routines and rituals has been tough. But the bottom line for me is, this season is meant to be simple. It’s a celebration of what really matters: Jesus was born, a gift of love sent from His Father in Heaven to us! I don’t want to miss any more of the party.

 

Christmas Program

 

Decorations001

It’s that time of year again – our annual Christmas program is tonight, followed by a cookie reception. Can you really have enough cookies this (or any) season??

The production is a little smaller in scope than in other years. But the same excitement and passion has gone into the preparations for it. I have a bit part in the show, so I needed to sit through a few of the rehearsals to run my song. I was impressed by not only the efficiency of each practice, but by how generous everyone was.

What I mean is that there seemed to be a real sense of respect between all the people involved. It was clear that every role was considered important, from the directors to the cast to the crew. Whatever gift a person has had to contribute has been welcomed – each has added a vital element into the whole.

Watching this group of brothers and sisters reminded me of that verse from

1 Peter 4:10 that says, ”As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” To me, the verse is a reminder that we all have talents and abilities, and all of them are needed. If we hold back from sharing them, we’re not taking care of something precious God has given us. We’re also withholding blessings from each other.

I so appreciate how people of different ages, giftings and, yes, even cookie preferences, can come together to create an offering of praise to God. Seeing that confirms how we truly are a family, and will make tonight even sweeter for all of us.