Christmas


Traditions help us to celebrate. And because Christmas is a really big celebration in our culture, we have a multitude of traditions tied to this one holiday. If you were to conduct a door-to-door survey, you might find that each family has a different set of traditions surrounding this holiday. Some traditions are tied immovably to our faith, while others have developed because of our geographic region or personal preference. For whatever reason, there are certain aspects of the holiday that just say, “Christmas!” to us.

One of my traditions centers around the Nativity Scene(s) finding prominence in our Christmas decorations. Over the years I have purchased more and more pieces to build a little town out of statues—but the town centers on and focuses in on the Christ-child lying in a manger. Another tradition is to always place a small Nativity beneath our tree—not mixed in with the other shinily wrapped gifts, but as a reminder to all who see it that the One Gift of Christmas is the Baby who we celebrate. But my favorite Christmas tradition has now earned a spot in our year-round decorations—it never gets put away—that I like to call my “Extra Jesus Nativity.” The rustic clay scene came with two babies. It reminds me of Christmas and of the fact that I need more Jesus all the time. I think that perhaps I should remember that He also wants more of me! Merry Christmas!

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.”  —Simeon, Luke 2:29-30

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Every year I hear the statement that Christmas is for children. The statement is thrown out as if people beyond the age of twelve have no stake in the holiday. I will admit that there are parts of our traditional celebration that make my heart skip a beat, and pull an all-to-seldom-used smile to the corners of my lips simply because of the wonder and excitement that I witness when children are fully engaged in Christmas.

To be sure, some of the greatest stories about Christmas center around the child-like celebration of the event. Stories like The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson which has been adapted for stage and screen and tells of the Herdmans—a family of underprivileged children who invade and disrupt the church Christmas pageant only to teach those who will listen the true meaning of the season—and (one of my favorites) a story related by radio personality Mike Trout of a Church School pageant that is filled with chaos and children who don’t really want to be there, but warms the hearts of everyone involved, bring us to a point of realization: if indeed, Christmas is for children, it is for the child in all of us. After all, that’s how Jesus invites us to come—like a child.

 “Jesus, however, invited them: ‘Let the little children come to Me, and don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’.”  —Luke 18:16-17

At the risk of sounding like a bumper sticker, let me repeat a saying that for some has become cliché: “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” This year, as we go through all the trimmings and trappings that have become Christmas to us, it is worthwhile to pause for a moment of devotion. Christmas is not about presents or trees or pretty lights. And although carols and angels and shepherds and stars have all become fixtures for us, it doesn’t hurt to have a reminder that Christmas is Christmas because of a birth.

This birth was normal in the respect that the mother carried the child in her womb as the baby developed his fingers, his toes, his eyes, ears, and nose. It was typical because a hard travelling trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem most certainly put a strain on both mother and child during pregnancy. It was unassuming since the mother dreamed about what her baby would look like, how healthy he would be, and what kind of man he would become (although this mother already had an idea because of the circumstances).

But Christmas is about a birth that was anything but normal. The setting was difficult at best—away from home, no room at a traditional stopover place, makeshift shelter and a makeshift bed, all after long, arduous travel because of governmental interference with normal, everyday life. It was beyond typical because the child was the Son of the Living God. It was more than perfect since He would grow up to provide salvation for all the world (including yours and mine). Like our traditional Nativity Scenes, let us make Christ the focal point of our Christmas this year.

 “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  —Luke 2:12

Recently, on social media, I noticed many of my friends complaining because they were hearing Christmas music being played in stores and on radio stations in mid-October. Granted, the reason for seasonal music was probably to start getting customers in the “giving” mood. Retailers are notorious for trying to commercialize on the spirit of generosity that washes over us during Christmas. But let’s don’t blame the music for getting us in the mood. After all, songs have been part of the story of Christmas as long as there has been a story of Christmas.

Some purists will tell me that in the story the wording does not suggest singing, but saying, “Glory to God!” Personally, I would err on the side of angels singing when the worship of the One born King of kings and Lord of lords was being announced. I have noticed that whenever I worship God, either alone or corporately, music just becomes a natural part of the process. It sort of wells up and overflows—leaking out of me as if I could not hold it back. And music at Christmas does this for multitudes of people.

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the “flash mob” videos that are popular around this time of year: in the middle of a crowded shopping mall, a lone shopper with clear, bright voice begins to sing the first strains of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” quickly joined by another voice, and another (this is part of the plan), but by the end of the song almost everyone in the crowd is either singing along or else listening in rapt attention to the worship of God. What a great Christmas song.

“Sing a new song to the Lord; let the whole earth sing to the Lord.”  —Psalm 96:1

With Thanksgiving behind us, most Americans are now in full-swing Christmas mode. We are listening to Christmas music, watching Christmas movies and television specials, shopping for the perfect gift for this friend or that family member, getting the decorations up and fluffy, and dreaming of all manner of Christmas goodies to eat.

According to the calendar, the Advent season begins four Sundays before Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth. Often this happens the Sunday immediately following Thanksgiving (although in years like this one, the official start is not until next week), and we really start counting the days until Christmas.

This year, I would like to suggest that you take a few moments to truly savor the story of the Savior. Read, re-read, listen to, and contemplate the famous passages from Luke chapter 2. Consider the opening verses that teach us that at the right moment in time, for the right reason, and in the perfect season, Jesus was born. Pause in your traditions of family visits and Christmas tree lighting, of present wrapping and eggnog drinking, to consider the moment. It probably wasn’t in the middle of the night on December 25 (although there are indications that it was at night). It probably had little or nothing to do with snow on the ground (although the sugary icing makes a beautiful picture). But in the perfect moment, tucked away in a stable behind someone’s house (because there was no room at the inn), the Savior of all the world was born. Let’s celebrate His timing all month long.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth.”  —Luke 2:6

I would like to take a moment to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas!

The word “Majesty” carries with it a lot of weight. In monarchies the king and queen are referred to as “Your Majesty.” Webster defines the word as “sovereign power, authority, or dignity.” When we look at a beautiful sunrise or sunset, or at a panoramic view of the beauty contained only in nature, we describe it with the term “majestic.”

And so, as we think of the event of Christmas on this Christmas Day isn’t majesty just the right word? Consider the Baby born in a manger, tucked away where no one would see Him. And then His very birth is announced out in the countryside to a group of unlikely witnesses:  shepherds, just going about their routine duty. So majestic was the announcement that they abandoned their duty (most likely a capital offense) and not only rushed to see the sight, but also spread the word throughout the rest of the night as they traveled to and from Bethlehem. Majesty!

And to top off the whole picture, we see wise men, sages from a far away land, arriving in a caravan shortly after the birth to present this One they recognize as a new King with gifts fit only for One of great majesty. And to think that we still celebrate all of these centuries later. That is Majesty!

  “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  – Isaiah 9:6b

Traditionally, angels have brought two emotions to the front of the mind of humans: Fear and Glory. I find it interesting as I note that nearly every instance that an angel visitation is recorded in the Bible, he introduces his mission with words like this, “Do not be afraid!” The angel said it to Mary when he told her she would be the mother of the Messiah. He said the same to Zechariah upon the announcement of his son John the Baptist’s upcoming birth. When Joseph dreamed of an angelic messenger, he was told not to fear taking Mary to be his wife.

And the moment that seems to top them all: when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the messenger said, “Do not fear! Look! I have great news for everyone!” and then with the help of a sky-full of angels told of the birth of Jesus that very night.

On the heels of the word of comfort, we see the angels announcing glory to God. And so, at Christmas time, one of the things that touches the heart and lips of celebrants of the Christ-child everywhere is glory to God. We like to use the Latin form of the word to bring to mind the season we celebrate, “Gloria!”

  “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory of the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth..”  – John 1:14

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