Christmas Catastrophe

As we look forward to celebrating Christmas and saying goodbye to 2020 it is okay to acknowledge that 2020 has been a disaster in many ways – the media has bombarded us with earthquakes, fire, floods, pandemic and political unrest. But remember the narrative of our Saviors’ birth happened under Roman occupation, forced to travel miles for a census and not being able to find a proper Inn, Mary gave birth in a stable. That seems pretty awful to me but it was part of God’s plan.

It seems an appropriate time to share one of our stories. It was early Christmas morning when my husband awoke to the smell of smoke.  The alarms hadn’t gone off yet. Thankfully it was not a fire but our furnace had “puffed back” and oily black soot was infiltrating the house. Paul shut off the heat, opened the bulkhead door and later at a decent hour called our oil company.

The children were up and opening their presents with great joy when “Dennis” arrived tool box in hand. They were wearing their footsie pajamas and had blackened little noses and toes but barely paid attention as the stranger entered the house. They didn’t notice the chill in the air or soot on their toys. I asked them to stop playing and wave good bye as we thanked him profusely and apologized for ruining his Christmas morning. While I was greatly dismayed thinking about the clean up that would come afterwards, the children were focused on their gifts. 

What takes away our attention from God’s gift? There was great joy at Jesus’ birth despite the difficult and humble beginning. If you remember, Joseph and Mary didn’t plan any of their circumstances! Maybe it will be good for us that our celebrations will be “different” this year. Missing family members, downsized celebrations and maybe a quieter day will give us time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Luke 2:8-14

Christmas Day will come – whether there is a pandemic or your furnace has trouble. Most of our problems are temporary and can be cleaned, fixed or healed. Christmas is the day for remembering that God came down to earth to make His home with mankind and later to lay down His life for us. Knowing Jesus brings peace to our hearts, hope for the future and true joy. Make sure your focus is on His best gift today.

 For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Blessed Nativity and The Broken Camel

Blessed Nativity and The Broken Camel

The National LaSalette Shrine in nearby Attleboro (MA) celebrates Christmas by lighting every tree on the property and proclaiming Jesus’ birth in story and song. Thousands come every year to worship and or enjoy the lights and myriad of displays. One of the buildings houses a collection of nativity sets, large and small, from all over the world.  Many of these are quite different from our American scenes.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.   Luke 2:15-16

For many years I collected Precious Moments figurines including the Nativity scene which are made from porcelain. I always told my children that they could look but not touch. Invariably I would find the sheep had wandered away from the stable or baby Jesus had acquired a ball to play with. “Somehow” a camel broke its neck one year. I was quite upset at the time but couldn’t get too angry – it was an accident. We carefully glued the pieces and today I can hardly see the crack. In high school my son added a Spiderman quietly hanging over the manger. And so, this porcelain “no touch” nativity set became precious as our family enjoyed the sweet figurines and cherished the story of our Saviors birth every year.

The whole point of having a Creche and all the pieces is to recreate and retell the story found in Luke 2 and Matthew 2. The real birth of Jesus was far from a perfect setting just like the broken camel. Forced to travel for a Roman census, no room with family or at an Inn , Mary gave birth in a barn. The hard reality is that Jesus was born during Roman occupation where Jews were barely tolerated and King Herod of the Jews wanted to kill him. Dirty shepherds were the first to visit the newborn. This is not a comfy cozy narrative like we envision today. God came into a broken world as a baby so we would approach Him without fear. He knows that life can be hard and promises to be with us and give us peace.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.7 His government and its peace will never end. Isaiah 9:6-7 (NLT)

I set my figurines up after Thanksgiving thru New Years to remind us that the season is not about Santa bringing us gifts but That Jesus came to offer us the best gift of all. The love of God goes beyond barriers to offer us undeserved forgiveness for sin and peace that passes all understanding. All we need to do is come to Him in faith.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. Romans 10:9-10

The Innkeeper and the Rest of the Story

Every Christmas pageant that I have seen includes an Innkeeper that gruffly says; “Sorryno room but there is no room in the Inn. Go away,” and he slams the door.  Poor little Billy’s heart wasn’t in it. After perfectly saying his lines he whispered, “you can stay in my room.”    I hate to burst your bubble but the Bible doesn’t mention an Innkeeper and there were no Hilton hotels in first century Palestine.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.            Luke 2:4-7 (ESV)  or because there was no lodging available for them. Luke 2:7 (NLT)

Mary and Joseph were inconveniently ordered to go to Bethlehem in Judea – his ancestral home for a census.  It would be customary to find a relative to lodge with but we can safely assume that other family members beat them there.  The Greek word used here for “Inn” is “kataluma” meaning guest room.  This is the same word used for “the Upper Room” Jesus shared His last meal in.  The word used for “Inn” in the story of the Good Samaritan was “pandocheion” where a fee was paid.

The stable we like to envision was actually in a cave or more likely an extra room below the family home where animals were brought for warmth and safety at night. The manger would have been a stone chiseled feeding trough not a wooden crib.  However the truth is it would still have been warm and far more private to give birth there than in the hallway or middle of a room surrounded by people.  We don’t know if a mid-wife was on hand to help or any other small details.

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So what do we know?   The Shepherds were told to find the baby in a manger as a sign and they did.  God shifted from the Divine to human when He sent His Son to be born to humble, outcast parents. A small baby is not intimidating but instead people draw near.  Jesus was not born in a palace but in the middle of a busy, crowded, small town to ordinary people.  Joseph and Mary were ordinary people chosen for a very unique and sacred task; to care for, teach and love the Son of God. We know that they trusted God and faithfully obeyed His Word.

Innkeeper or not, the same questions remain.  Will you make room in your heart and home for Jesus ? He doesn’t care about the busy, messy, crowded life you live. He wants to have a relationship with ordinary, everyday people, just like you. The Christmas season calls us to draw near, make room and worship Him.

 

Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne –  a hymn

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,

When Thou came-est to earth for me,

But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room

For Thy holy nativity:

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus; There is room in my heart for Thee

 

 

 

My A,B,C’s to a Merrier Christmas

My A,B,C’s to a Merrier Christmas

Angels –  The first messengers of Jesus’ birth.  They heralded the good news for all mankind – and they sang loud and clear.

Baking –  I enjoy making, sharing  and eating Christmas cookies. It’s fun receiving them too!

Cleaning – is not optional but you can focus on the main living areas if you don’t have company coming. Nobody is going to look in your closets or under the bed  (except the kids).

Deck the HallsThe 3 main areas you should decorate if you don’t have time or the money are the tree, the Door and the Mantle or table. (however I tend to deck the whole downstairs)

Enjoy – What is the point if you run yourself ragged and don’t enjoy the celebration?  Savor the memories!  Remember Emmanuel means “God with us.”

Food & Fa-la-la  Every holiday in America seems to include food. Make the favorites and forget the experiments. If you have a big gang coming – use paper and forget the china!!!

GiftsSanta promises a gift if you are good, NOT that you will get everything you ever dreamed of.  Being thoughtful and creative is best. Shorten your lists if need be or have a “Yankee Swap”.

Humor – Try not to be so uptight. Laugh at yourself and the foibles around you. It is really OK – no one will remember if the cake fell or your furnace died.  (I know because the oil man had to fix ours one Christmas and the kids paid no attention to that nice man!)

Invitation- you may get many invitations during the holidays but you do not have to say yes to them all. Most of us already have extra concerts, programs and family obligations on the calendar. Do not over extend yourself or your family – it only makes everyone grumpy.

JESUS He is THE reason for the season. Read the Christmas story to your family. Set up a manger that the children can touch. Have a birthday cake for Jesus.

KingListen to the Hallelujah chorus –“King of kings and Lord of lords!”  It will lift your spirits!

Lights –  There are many beautiful light displays to enjoy.  The bright lights make the gloomy short days of December so much better and remind us that Jesus is the Light of the World.

Music – Listen to music in your home and car. Sing along! Sing with your children. I can’t imagine Christmas without singing carols.

Noel – means Christmas. It comes from an old Latin word meaning “to be born.”

Open – your hearts to the One who loves you most. Open your home and open your arms for hugging.

Peace – Shalom means wholeness, wellness and inner peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

Quiet Time – Play games, do puzzles, have some old fashioned fun!

Rest  God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Treat yourself to cat naps whenever possible. When we get over tired we lose our cheer and sanity.

Shepherds – were outcasts in their day – dirty and ceremonially unclean.  But God came down at Christmas for even the “least of these.”  Sharing with those who are needy is good for our soul and teaches our children to be grateful.

Tree – is more than a decoration to Christians. The tree is a symbol of everlasting life with God. It can also serve as a reminder of the Tree in the Garden of Eden and the tree (cross) Jesus died on.

Unplug shut the news off! Very little on TV is uplifting.  Limit your own time on electronic devices as well as your children. Sometimes the constant input can crank you up instead of calm you down.

Vintage I sometimes get miffed that toys I played with are now called “Vintage”. Sharing your stories and traditions with each other brings happy memories and laughter. Looking at old photos is also a wonderful way to remember those we loved who are not with us anymore.

Wisemen – The wisemen came from afar with costly gifts seeking the  prophesied infant King. Wisemen and women still seek Him.

Xmass is not offensive to me. The X represents the Greek letter chi, the initial letter in the word Xpiotoc (Christos)

Yuletide – the Christmas season  (remember it is only a season!)

Zzzzz it’s time to take that nap I mentioned.  Have a blessed, not stressed, Christmas season everyone!

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Soul Care for the Holidays

Soul Care for the Holidays

The Holiday season can be stressful and exhausting!  It does not need to be that way! First we need to realize it is only a season!  Approximately 6 weeks of non-stop advertising and extra to-do’s added to the calendar. Everyday we have choices and can control the chaos to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The bottom line to enjoying the holiday season is an attitude of being grateful instead of greedy . We as well as our children get caught in the trap of consumerism. We DON’T have to match up to Martha Stewart – the queen of everything practically perfect…. Or have a Magnolia house. First of all we don’t have their staff! And TV is not real life.

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What are the most important traditions for you and your family?  Put those at the top of the list!  Carefully consider other events before saying yes.  Don’t try to do it all or you won’t enjoy anything yourself. If Mommy (or Daddy) isn’t happy then nobody is happy!

Have limits and lower expectations that everything will be Hallmark perfect. If you have  small children and especially if you have children with special needs ,you may have to say no to too many extra activities.  Don’t feel guilty. No time to bake? Buy cookies. Limit the visiting hours and try to maintain a regular bedtime. One year we just couldn’t get our family Christmas letter done and didn’t send any cards. Nobody died because of it.

If this is a particularly stressful or financially tight year for you then only decorate the Tree, The Mantle or table and the front door. The tree represents – eternal life and Jesus the Light of the world.  The Mantle or table decoration is right in view for you while the front door is what others see and where you enter and exit everyday.

Plan and limit your shopping. It is too stressful to push through the crowds of people to”find the perfect gift”. I have been so happy with online shopping. Truly watch your spending and set limits there too. Getting into debt over gifts is not a satisfying feeling afterwards.

tired shopper

Stop and take a deep breath – seriously. Breathing helps clear our minds, calm our racing thoughts and lower blood pressure. Think about it for a minute– do you hold your breath when upset???

Make sleep a PRIORITY –  Take cat naps if necessary – I am finding a great benefit to it. Have a coffee or tea and take a 5 minute power nap – it really will refresh you!

I love the idea of  “no politics” at the table. Sharing funny stories or remembrances is a much better way to enjoy and connect even with difficult relatives. Take a walk, play a board game or watch a classic movie together instead.

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Take advantage of FREE things. Driving around the neighborhood to view different lights and displays is fun!  Enjoy a local holiday parade (or Macy’s on TV).  Play music: slow to relax or fast to pump you up to finish a task. Music is an international language that directly speaks to the soul!

Most important DO NOT neglect your time with God!  Read a Christmas devotional or one Chapter of Luke each day for the month. Read the real story of  Thanksgiving. Learning about their first winter and harvest meal will make you grateful! Christmas is about celebrating Jesus’ birthday and why He came.  Don’t focus on the chaos and big to do list. Ask God to help you count blessings and not focus on difficulties. He will fill your heart with peace, wonder and the joy of the season.

 

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God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

God rest you merry, gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day

To save us all from Satan’s power, when we have gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy – O tidings of comfort and joy!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy of the Shepherds

Joy of the Shepherds

adventjoyJoy and happiness are both emotions where a person has feelings of contentment or satisfaction. But both of these feelings differ from one another.  Happiness is an emotion in which feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense pleasure. Happiness is caused by earthly experiences and material objects and is often expressed by outward elation. It is often temporary and based on outward circumstances.

Joy is a stronger, less common feeling than happiness. Witnessing or achieving personal sacrifice frequently triggers this emotion or feeling spiritually connected to a god or people. It is caused by spiritual experiences, caring for others, gratitude and thankfulness. Joy is felt as inward peace and contentment.  It is lasting and based on inward circumstances.  ( definitions from Diffen website)

For the past month we have been hearing and singing about Joy. The familiar passage in the book of Luke chapter 2 tells us that ordinary shepherds experienced the most incredibly terrifying experience that somehow turned into great joy.

shepherdangels28 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God …….16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.shepherd17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished,…     20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.   Luke 2:8-20 (NLT)

 During the time of Jesus, shepherds in general were near the bottom of the social status.  They were ceremonially, physically and spiritually unclean. Only during King David’s reign did they enjoy a higher recognition. Even though sheep were needed for sacrifices, food and clothing, it was a dirty job. They couldn’t leave the fields to attend the Tabernacle or participate in many of the feasts. So why did the birth announcement of the long awaited Messiah come first to a group of poor Shepherds?

birth-of-jesus-1150128__340The shepherds anxiously went to find this newborn King as the angels had instructed. They were not afraid to approach Him small and in such humble circumstances. Baby Jesus was the One who would shepherd our souls as David had written in Psalm 23.  “Do not be afraid” the angels proclaimed, “this is good news for all people”.  Messiah had come! They saw the glory of the Lord but could not understand that this child would one day be the final sacrificial Lamb for all our sin.

16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.        John 3:16-17 (NLT)

The rich and powerful were not looking for Messiah and liked things the way they were. Most of us are like shepherds, ordinary working folks. They didn’t get cleaned up or go to the Temple first….they came just as they were. We too can experience a deep, personal and lasting inward peace and contentment in our soul by approaching a holy God because of what Jesus did for us. Come to Him just as you are and find His JOY.

 

 

 Joy to the world! The Lord is come: Let earth receive her King:

Let every heart prepare Him room and heaven and nature sing.

 

 PS – If anyone has any questions or comments, email me and I would love to get back to you personally. I wish you all a happy, healthy and joyful New Year!