I love Christmas lights.
But I don’t love everything about them.
Looking at them? You bet. Putting them up? Nope.
Think of it this way – if you were to combine impatience with a mile-wide competitive streak, and then add a healthy dose of an unhealthy attentiveness to aesthetic detail, what you’d get is a bomb, primed and ready to explode at any minute. That’s pretty much what we’re dealing with here. I spend most of the year masquerading as a relatively sane, reasonable person only to become completely unhinged at the beginning of each December, all over a few Christmas lights.
This year was no different. I spent parts – large parts – of three days trying to get our lights up and working to no avail. Strands that were working in the house wouldn’t work once they were outside on the bushes. The icicle lights were a mess. My remarkably patient wife spent hours methodically going through each bulb of each strand to make sure they were all in good working order and yet we have no lights on our house.
Look, I tried, ok? Not without lots of shouting and swearing at the lights and then throwing them when they refused to comply with my very clear instructions, but I tried. And just in case you’re wondering, neither of those things helps the process one bit – it just scares the kids and the neighbors.
All this is to say that whether we have lights on our house or not, Christmas happens. Whether I get mad and make a fool of myself for the whole world to see or not, Christmas happens. Whether our house is the most beautifully decorated on the block or not (reference my earlier comment about competitiveness), Christmas happens.
In Matthew 1, an angel comes to Joseph in a dream and tells him that Mary will give birth to a son and that they are to give him the name Jesus because “he will save his people from their sins”.
Christmas happens. More importantly, Christmas happened. It’s the promise of restoration for a broken world. It’s hope for the hopeless. It’s forgiveness for the sinner. And it’s basis for our faith. I’m so thankful for that.
I can hear that song in my head while I’m writing this. “It’s the hap happiest season of all.” I think it may be those expectations that make Christmas such a difficult time for so many. It’s as if we expect all the troubles in the world to go away like magic the day after Thanksgiving when the Christmas carols return to the radio and the lights go up in every window.
But that’s not how it really is, and frankly, it was never how it was meant to be. A dear friend is facing the ugly reality of divorce, and she drives past twinkling lights and Santa waving from the corner as she heads off to the scariest meeting of her life; that meeting with her lawyer and his lawyer where they all sit at a big table and try to agree on things that they already know they disagree on. It’s horrible and ugly and painful. Another dear friend has been crushed this week by the suicide of a family friend; a mother; a sister; a worn and broken soul who couldn’t see a better way out. People wonder aloud at how things like this can happen because, “It’s Christmas time,” as if it wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t this time of year.
I don’t think we’re being fair to ourselves when we set such expectations for this season. The truth is, on that first Christmas, as Christ entered the world, He was coming to a dark, broken, hurting, and scary world. His arrival is the thing that brings the beauty and the hope. Our world is still broken and we’re still hurting, but by His grace we are promised a time that will truly be the “hap happiest season of all.” Now that’s something to celebrate!
What are your family’s Christmas traditions? To be honest, I’ve always been a little embarrassed about our traditions. They aren’t terribly feel-good ones or ones which reflect excessive kindness. These traditions are what glue us together like nothing else. Those traditions: Food and Christmas lights. It’s true those are the only things we have. We don’t take a lot of time opening presents. We don’t always attend church, we don’t always open our doors to others, and we don’t always go out and do something together. But we always eat lots of yummy food and drive around looking at Christmas lights. As simple as those are, it’s become clearer to me the sweetness of these delights.
When Jesus was born, a star shone throughout the heavens to announce that the Savior had been born.
Jesus’ first miracle was all about making a party even more enjoyable with the finest wine.
When Jesus was alive he pronounced that He was the light of the world.
After Jesus washed his disciples’ feet he showed them he was the bread of life.
Jesus tells us that when he returns he will be the true source of light without need for a sun.
He invites us weekly to get a taste of the wedding feast of the Lamb to which we are invited as Christ’s own.
As Christ followers, there is a sheer joy when the things of this world start to make sense in light of the world to come. Jesus promises to light our path, to find us, and to feed us from living waters. He does it all so that one Christmas we’ll be with him singing alongside the angels the song they shouted to the shepherds so long ago. But, today, we get to celebrate with little hints of that glorious tomorrow.
Anyone for pie?
One of my favorite Christmas poems comes from the 18th Century English poet, William Blake. The Lamb is written from the perspective of a child who is attempting to explain the birth of Jesus to her beloved lamb. It is brilliantly simple, and it informs the essence and vulnerability of Jesus’ birth. As the child explains Jesus, she realizes that her subject (the lamb) bears the title He bore.
I can just picture a child talking with such an animal (probably because we observed this in our little ones many times), accompanied by tenderness of voice and depth of affection.
What no child could or would comprehend is that Jesus ‘is called by his name’ because He was born, the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). He came, not as pet, but sacrifice – the one true and final sacrifice for sin.
So sure, we can agree that Jesus was referred to as ‘the Lamb of God’ because of the nature of the Old Testament sacrifices, but to stop there is to shortchange the beauty of the Incarnation. Jesus came in vulnerability because we are vulnerable. And he was born a newborn, because to the Father, in spite of what we know about ourselves, and with full view of our flaws, failures and daily struggles, amazingly and beautifully, to Him, we are precious – we are the beloved lambs He loves.
What good, sweet news…
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life & bid thee feed,
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
I fell out of bed this morning and went to the grocery store in my husband’s sweats and with uncombed hair. The reason being, I had a list a mile long of things to do to get ready for Christmas. I had to finish addressing the cards, put the garland on the banister, wrap the gifts I got in the mail this week, get a white elephant gift at CVS and still write a blog for Advent that I had no ideas for. As I stumbled through the aisles of the grocery store, I got a text from an old friend telling me that she was surprised she had not gotten my kids’ Christmas picture yet. One more thing to add to my list, I guess. When I got to the car, I had to laugh as I noticed the windshield was so dirty that I wondered how I had managed to drive there safely. Guess I’d better stop at the gas station and get a carwash on the way home. Then I backed out of the parking space and turned up the radio.
I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here
To end this crazy day with a silent night
– Amy Grant – I Need A Silent Night
God who is ever so faithful met me right where I was. The music filled my car with His compassion and understanding. He knew just what I was feeling and what I needed. This was not a song that often played or that I was familiar with, which made it even more remarkable.
I got home and I looked up the lyrics and sat down to listen to the song on YouTube. I still had a lot of things I needed to get done but I knew I had a Heavenly Father who was there to help me muddle through and I wanted to make sure I slowed down to listen to Him. This seemed like a great place to start.
As I reflect on the narrative of the birth of our Savior, one of the ironies that can be clearly seen is the contrast between the heavenly and earthly response to Christ’s birth. When Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem, no regard is given to them. They do not have great wealth, power or fame, in fact all they wanted was a room in the Inn, yet were given shelter in a stable most likely filled with livestock. There seemed no special care or thought given for this couple and for this young pregnant girl. Yet how radically different were things in the heavenly realm. In sharp contrast to the little notice given to Jesus’ birth on earth we see an entire army of angels appear to a group of shepherds and the entire heavenly host broke into song and shouted their praise and adoration for this precious one’s birth. A heavenly party and celebration had begun for the promised one had come. The heavenly realm had broken into our time and space as the angels sang before the shephereds and as our God humbled himself and entered our world in the form of this tiny babe.
Martin Luther, in the 16th century observed this same irony:
But what happens in heaven concerning this birth? As much as it is despised on earth, so much and a thousand times more is it honored in heaven. If an angel from heaven came and praised you and your work, would you not regard it of greater value than all the praise and honor the world could give you, and for which you would be willing to bear the greatest humility and reproach? What exalted honor is that when all the angels in heaven can not restrain themselves from breaking out in rejoicing, so that even poor shepherds in the fields hear them preach, praise God, sing and pour out their joy without measure? Were not all joy and honor realized at Bethlehem, yes, all joy and honor experienced by all the kings and nobles on earth, to be regarded as only dross and abomination, of which no one likes to think, when compared with the joy and glory here displayed?
Martin Luther, 1521
So let us remember that the very one who the heavens rejoiced over has taken residence in his people. That in the cold, dark and what may at times seem hopeless experience of life on this earth our Emmanuel is here. Rejoice!
I’ve always envied people who could get up early in the morning to pray and read scripture. Listening to God and speaking to him seems like a great way to start the day – but whenever I try it I end up tired and distracted. After about a week I give up in a fit of despair.
Stay up an extra hour at night? No problem. But get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning? No can do.
But I know that I cannot pursue my day without being connected to God, so I often find myself squeezing in a quick prayer in the car during the school run.
I’ve recently re-discovered a website designed to help people like me connect with God in the midst of the every-day of life. Pray As You Go contains a daily reading from scripture and a short word to help kick-start a conversation with God. Why not give it a try this Advent season? Follow the link and click on today’s date, or download their app for your phone.
Kids say the darndest things. I wish I could replay the many moments of my students saying the funniest, weirdest, borderline inappropriate things for you. We could laugh until we cried and then laugh some more.
Sometimes though, they say something that catches me off guard, something that make me think they understand more than I think they do.
Tonight I watched as one of my volunteer leaders (a high school student) taught a Bible study to a group of our middle school students. It was magical-I’m always amazed at how quickly my ‘young’ leaders become such mature examples for our students. During our discussion afterwards, I asked what would be the one thing they remembered from what we studied that night. Their responses were varied, but one stuck out:
“I think it’s pretty cool how God sent his son to earth the way he did. I mean, it’s pretty rough being born in a manger like that, and here he is, the King of Kings, coming to this world to save us, and he chose to come in such an un-kingly way. And all that just so that we would know we can relate to him, cause he was a kid once too. And all that before he died for me. I just think that’s pretty cool.”
You know what? I think that’s pretty cool too.
A Christmas tradition that has carried over from my childhood to my family is the opening of the Advent calendar. In an Advent calendar, each day of the December is represented by an intricate door or window that is opened daily. Some years the calendars had pictures hiding behind the doors while other years there was candy or chocolate. The chocolate years were my favorite because it was the only time of year I was allowed to have chocolate for breakfast.
Today my girls rise to see what sort of picture is hiding behind their daily door (no chocolate this year). I love seeing the joy on their faces at the opening of each new door. They love telling me what they discovered. Sometimes they ask me if they can open tomorrow’s door. Of course I tell them no – you have to wait. They don’t like to wait. They want the end of the story.
The end of the story is this: Jesus has come! The word Advent is a word that means “arrival” or “coming”. In the Advent season we remind ourselves of what it must have felt like to wait for Jesus to arrive 2,000 years ago – the anticipation in His coming, the discouragement in the waiting, and the joy in His arrival. In Advent we look back, but we also look forward. We look forward to the hope that this is not the end of the story. As John writes in Revelation 21:3-4,
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Our King will return to make right what is broken in our world and so at Advent we pray – “Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev 22:20)