Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hosting IOW: Sharing the Celebration

Let us remember the proclamation of the angel: "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11).

May our hearts go out to the unconverted people...who have no blessed Christmas day. "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord" (Nehemiah 8:10).
by Mrs. L.B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert

Our personal celebration of Christmas was a deliberate attempt to establish a sense of home, even though our home changed every two to three years. My husband's career in the US Air Force took us all over the country and we enjoyed the travel and experiences for 22 years. During that career we were blessed with three children. Sometimes the years were lean and we could not travel back to our parents' homes to celebrate. Sometimes the years were fat and we did travel to our extended family during the holidays.

If you ask my children their favorite Christmas traditions, they will respond with

1) our Advent devotions - to redirect our focus to the meaning of Christmas we began very deliberate nightly devotions when our children were in elementary school;

2) baking cookies for the Air Force base gate guards who stood on duty on Christmas day;

3) their father reading the Christmas story from Luke every Christmas eve and then getting to open their Christmas eve pajamas and perhaps one family gift to share.

I believe the reason these traditions are most special to our children is because out of all the things we did during the holidays, these most reflected Jesus' example of celebration.

When the Creator of everything took on human flesh in the form of a tiny baby born to a young Jewish girl, the established traditions were thrown into an uproar. An angelic choir announced His arrival... The heavens themselves lit the way to Him with a bright star... The news of His birth was first shared with the people lowest on the social ladder.

I am sure many still clung to their old celebrations and ways of worshiping the Holy One of Israel, but change was coming even to them. Their world, and even time itself, was about to be split apart. While some still don't believe in the miracle of that first Christmas, there will come a day when no one will be able to deny it.

In the meantime, we are to celebrate.

That small Baby in Bethlehem tends to be the focus of a believer's winter holidays. It is good that we mark the miracle of Jesus' birth in a special way. But if that wonderful announcement to the shepherds ended with their finding the Baby in a manger and worshiping Him there, we would all be lost still.

The Baby grew up and it is His life after the stable that should be the focus of our celebrations. The parties and other gatherings are good -- Christ Himself participated in social events. Our task as His followers is to become like Him through what we know of Him.

The Baby in the manger was born to die on a cruel Roman cross to pay our penalty for sin and to conquer death in His humanity and diety by raising from death victoriously into life. Eternal life is the gift we all receive who believe in the miracle in the stable.

Along the way from the way from His birth to His resurrection, He showed us how to celebrate:

1) He gathered with family and friends.
...a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. (John 2:1-2)
2) He reached out to others to teach them the reason to celebrate.
The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." (Mark 1:15-17)
3) He established traditions to mark the importance of the celebrations.
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:17-19)
Our Celebration This Year

Our children are all gathered in and we've been working to make our celebration both memorable and evocative of past Christmas memories. This is a year of transitions for us. So many changes in the past few months, but I love how God has orchestrated this celebration to gift us with the comfort of the familiar. Even though the circumstances have included worrisome and at times, painful, moments, we have been brought together for perhaps the last of our "traditional" Christmases. I cherish this time and look forward to how God will establish our celebrations in the future.

Our three adult children are all home with us --

Our oldest daughter, studying baking and pastry at a college 3-1/2 hours away, got home just in time to help facilitate the traditions she holds most dear and to incorporate them into her 4-year-old son's Christmas.

Our second daughter, usually working more than an hour from home and living a half hour away from us, had back surgery and is staying with us for some Mama-care. She has been inspiring the rest of us to get our gifting done as she made sure to get hers done as soon as she was able to get out and about --- simple, thoughtful gifts for each recipient.

Our son (and youngest child) was allowed to come home for a couple of weeks between training programs with the US Marines. His young bride will join us this year, a welcome addition to our family and our celebrations.

This year we are establishing another tradition to replace the cookies for the gate guards. We received a Christmas card from our newspaper delivery man. I know of this man's circumstances because my husband delivers his mail. This man's wife is housebound from disabilities. They are raising two or three little boys that are not their own. They live in an old Habitat for Humanity house. They are extremely poor. I have deliberately left the envelope the Christmas card came in on a side table. Every time someone tidies the family room, they pick it up and ask me who this person is. I tell his story...and relate that we are going to share some of our bountiful blessings with this family in need.

My first goal throughout this next year is to be a good steward of our resources so that I can share with someone in need next Christmas. The card the man gave us indicates they know the Christmas story. I will pray that my gift will help them see and feel that story in action.

My second goal for the new year is to be aware of those around me...in particular, "those who have nothing prepared." The thing about giving of ourselves is that we are given so much more than things in return.

God bless you, my friends! I pray your Christmas will be full to overflowing of the Savior's love and that you will have many opportunities to share Him with others.

For more information on In Other Words, visit Loni at Writing Canvas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent Lost: A Christmas Parable

She slipped quietly into the back pew after the service started. The congregation’s song washed over her, calming her slightly, as she looked around the modest sanctuary through the veil of her hair.

The song came to an end and the worship leader told the congregation to shake hands with everyone around them. Suppressing a surge of panic, she hurried out the doors and went into the restroom she had seen as she walked in the church foyer. She stayed there until she heard the music start again.

Back in the same seat, she watched as the pastor stepped into the pulpit. Over the course of the next 30 minutes she chuckled softly, wept quietly, and finally rejoiced silently as he explained how much God loved her. The message was not new to her; she had just pushed it far away from her conscious mind. When the congregation stood for the invitational hymn, she slipped out the back doors, a little smile on her face.

She came back the next Sunday.

And the next.

The first Sunday of Advent, after the candle was lit, the first song was sung, and the congregation turned to each other to shake hands, she stayed in the sanctuary. She smiled shyly as people came up, shook her hand, and welcomed her to the church.

On the second Sunday of Advent, instead of sitting at the back, she gave in to her eager heart, drawn by the words being spoken about the love of the Father, and moved closer to the pulpit.

The third Sunday of Advent, she sat closer still. Something within her was calling her to go forward during the invitation. When the upbeat song began for the invitation, she hesitated just a minute, a bit frightened and excited. Right as she worked up the courage to step out of the pew, a woman in the pew in front of her turned to her companion frowning and speaking in a loud whisper said she really hated today’s music selections and asked heatedly what was wrong with traditional hymns. Her companion nodded sympathetically.

Instead of stepping out of the pew, she stood frozen. She hurried out of a side door as soon as the service was over.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, she sat near the back. She still felt anticipation building as the pastor told the story of the angel visiting the mother and earthly father of God’s Son, announcing the coming Savior. When she stood for the invitation, again she hesitated to gather her courage but thinking about the rescue for her life that awaited her at the end of the walk down the aisle.

Just over from her, she heard Bibles zipped shut and a couple discussing lunch plans. She tried to ignore the conversation and go ahead to the front, but her heart broke and she stood statue still when the words came to her ears that he didn’t understand why it took so long to tell the same old story that gets told every year.

Instead of going forward, she hurried out the back door, holding in her tears until she got to her car. Sobbing with overwhelming grief from hearing the critical spirits from the same ones who smiled and shook her hand in welcome each Sunday, she started the car and drove out of the parking lot.

She didn’t come back on the Sunday after Christmas.

Or the next.

On a Sunday toward the end of January, as a group of friends walked to their cars, one asked if anyone had seen that shy woman who sat in the back. For a minute everyone tried to remember when he or she had last seen her. Then someone piped up with a suggestion that they all try out that new restaurant downtown for lunch. And they got in their cars, forgetting about her as they drove out of the parking lot to fellowship with each other some more.

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10:32-33 [NIV]