Children of the King

It’s A Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie. Hands down. No competition. I absolutely love it. My wife and I watch it every Christmas Eve and it never fails to deliver. Some of the affection I hold for it is admittedly nostalgic, but it’s an all-time great movie (#11 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Movies list), and Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of George Bailey is brilliant.

As the story goes, George is an eminently likeable, affable, and all-around good guy who spends his life mostly helping others succeed. Because of this, he misses out on college, traveling, and becoming someone ‘important’, to his way of thinking.

This leads to frustration, anger, and even self-pity, all of which eventually boil over when $8,000 of company money is misplaced. The loss appears to put him out of business and a warrant is issued for his arrest on embezzlement charges, leaving George understandably despondent.

It’s at this point in the movie an angel named Clarence enters and, through a series of encounters, helps George gain the perspective he so desperately lacks. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what happens. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and watch it this Christmas season — it will be time well spent.

Before his experience with Clarence, George believes his life will be worth something only if he is able to, as he says, “shake the dust of this crummy little town off my feet” and do something really big. He fears that he’s living the life described in Thoreau’s famous quote — “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

In the end, George has an epiphany. He realizes all of the longing for something bigger and better has been replaced by the longing to once again love those who love him. He finally understands that he is loved simply for who he is — a husband, father, son, brother, and friend.

This Christmas season, my hope is that we experience a similar realization. May we be confident there is no amount of doing or being that can add one ounce of worth to who we already are in the Father’s eyes. May we truly live as sons and daughters of the King, rather than those forced to perform for affection or approval. And finally, may we rest in knowing that God sent us his Son at Christmas for one reason only — because he loves us — and that’s reason enough.

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The Long Wait

I have been blessed to meet Ced & Jean Dale. He turned 100 just before Thanksgiving. She is 95. They will have been married 72.5 years on Christmas Eve. It is so beautiful to be with them. To see the care they have for each other, the love for others they foster, the sweet mercy they display to all around makes me yearn for even a touch of those acts at any age, much less pushing a century.

Sadly, Jean Dale is nearing the end. She’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. She has moments of clarity. Times when you can whisper the sweet truth of God’s love for her come seldom, but they are there. You can tell her good news and see her eyes shine like the stars as she comprehends for a moment before the veil returns. The fog sets in and the silence pulls at your heart as you see the light dim from her eyes.

And yet, Ced still hopes. He hopes for the day in which Jean Dale will return to her former self. When she will walk without aid, when she will be the fullness of her sweet self to all who see her, when she will be able to tell of the goodness of her Savior once again – that day will be glorious. For he knows with confidence that one day it will happen. In the fullness of time, in the presence of their Savior, in a moment of erupting praise Jean Dale will be whole once again, but not here on earth. For that we wait.

In Amos 8:11-13 (NLT) we find the beautiful longing of others who were waiting. “The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from border to border searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it. Beautiful girls and strong young men will grow faint in that day, thirsting for the Lord’s word…” And grow faint they did. That’s what 400 years of waiting will do to a people. Waiting and waiting for the promises to be real, for the purposes to be found, for the praises to be brought. Waiting.

And then it comes.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1:1-5 (NLT)

That Light, born as a baby, shines like never before to return the glimmer of hope, to draw us into the warmth of His never-ending embrace of our hearts, and to restore our longing hearts with the sweet song of an always present Savior. And now we wait for he will return. And it gonna be glorious!

Dear Jean Dale/Nana – I am so blessed to become part of your family. Thank you for your legacy. I see it in your grandson’s face and sweet spirit every day. Oh, for even an inkling of that sort of impact – one can dream. With love, Debby

Debby Sutton

Even Santa Needs a Savior

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“He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice….”

The songs and folklore of Christmas tell us that Santa is not only a mystical altruistic giver of gifts to children around the world, but that he is also a vigilant watchman or ‘big brother’ keeping his eye and taking notes on the morality of every boy and girl around the world.

But did you know that Santa has some skeletons of his own in his closet? In studying the history of the man behind the legend, Saint Nicholas, a little fascinating story can be found.

Nicholas of Myra was born in the third century in a province called Lycia, which was a part of the Roman Empire. Today ancient Lycia is a part of the country we know as Turkey. Nicholas is believed to have died December 6, 343 A.D.

Stephen J. Nichols, president of Reformation Bible College and Church History specialist tells us of a time Santa got into some trouble…

“Bishop Nicholas was present at the Church’s First Ecumenical Council at Constantine’s summer palace in Nicea in 325. Hundreds of Bishops gathered there to refute the false views of Arius, a presbyter from Alexandria. Arius denied Christ’s deity. At one point while Arius was addressing the council, Nicholas’s rage got the better of him. According to some of his biographers, Nicholas stood up, crossed the floor to Arius, and promptly punched him in the face.”

According to Nichols, for this assault, Bishop Nicholas was arrested and put in jail. And more than likely found himself on his own ‘naughty’ list.

You see Bishop Nicholas was human like you and me, prone to the same temptations, impulses and passions. As benevolent and caring he was, Nicholas was also a sinner and in need of rescue.

Jesus was also a human, but he was unlike Nicholas, or any of us. He was God made flesh and although he faced the same temptations and pressures we do, he was without sin. That is why Jesus is the only who could be our savior, through his death our sins were paid for and his righteousness made ours.

So as we celebrate this Christmas, be reminded friends that the baby that was born in a Bethlehem stable was and is the only hope for sinners like you, me and even Santa.

This truly is good news! Merry Christmas.

Steve Dallwig

His Presence

At a pivotal point in The Horse and His Boy, one of the books in the well-known series The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan reveals to a young boy Shasta that he was not only with him throughout his journey to escape slavery, but he had also been guiding and protecting Shasta along the way.

“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

This beautiful picture of how God meets us where we are can also be seen in the lives of the characters in the Christmas story. The shepherds, Joseph, Simeon and Anna, and the Wise Men were in completely different life situations when God revealed Himself to them. God, however, knew where they were and used their circumstances to meet them in unique ways.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, …” (Luke 2:8,9). The shepherds were doing what they did every day, and God reached them in the mundaneness of their everyday life.

“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream …” (Matthew 1:19,20). Joseph’s plans had been shattered. Although he reacted with grace, the pain of what he was experiencing is not minimized by this passage. When the woman who he had planned to marry cheated on him (or so he thought), God used a dream to quiet his fears and clarify the future.

Because of the familiarity of the story, a mere mention of other characters reminds us that God revealed Himself to them where they were. Mary was simply living in the town of Nazareth when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. Simeon and Anna were in the temple when Jesus, the promised Messiah for whom they had waited, was brought to them. The Wise Men were far from where Jesus would be born, yet God met them in their distant country and led them directly to Jesus, even providing necessary instruction for their journey home.

Do you wonder how God will enter the commonplace aspects of your everyday life? Remember the shepherds. Are you experiencing hurt, not knowing how you will overcome it? Remember Joseph. Are you praying and waiting for something that you think will never come? Remember Simeon and Anna. Are you worried that you are far from God’s reach? Remember the Wise Men. God knows where you are, and He will meet you there.

Hopefully, these reminders from the Christmas story will help you to patiently rest knowing that God will provide you with the guidance you need in His perfect time.

Prayer:

Gracious God, thank you for the Christmas story that reminds us that you meet each of us where we are and in unique ways. Please reveal yourself to us. Give us peace that you are guiding us even when we cannot see your hand. Give us patience to wait for your direction.

In Jesus’ name – Amen.

Monica Dombrowski

 

A Homebody’s Christmas

Settle down, it’ll all be clear

Don’t pay no mind to the demons

They fill you with fear

The trouble it might drag you down

If you get lost, you can always be found

 

Just know you’re not alone

‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

Phillip Phillips,  Home

House

Being a homebody, I still get emotional thinking of home at Christmas time. I still remember those big retro screw-in colored bulbs on our tree. And one year I drove sixteen hours through the night to get home from college in time to help decorate the tree, only to fall asleep while the rest of the family decorated.

When Katherine and I lived in a tiny furnished apartment in Mississippi while in seminary, along with the lights, we also attached those clip candleholders to the tree, and nearly burned down the place!

Through the years, sharing the season with our children has brought immeasurable joy – It was always about our family experiencing the season together.

At Home.

Home is where all our stories begin.

But sadly it does not conjure good memories for everyone, in fact for some the opposite. So as precious as home is for me, it can’t possibly be the big story.

And it isn’t.

The crazy thing about the first Christmas is that it had all the elements we celebrate – except for home!

Apart from the absence of a tree, wise men brought gifts. Angels lit the sky and sang. And hey, there was no need for a nativity set, because… well, you get the idea.

But no home.

Christmas is the story of a displaced young couple whose lives were turned upside down by an unexpected pregnancy and a decree that dislodged them from their hometown.

And I think this is the point – Because between Jesus’ coming and our longing for something dearer and sweeter than this life offers, God has announced that in that holy Newborn who invaded that couple’s world by leaving His, the Father’s ‘casa’ has become ours.

In Jesus we have found our home.

What good news of great joy…

peace.

Mike Khandjian

A Very Nice Nativity

IMG_2965I had a long day at work and when I walked in the house and saw that my husband had put the lights and decorations on the tree that we had chosen with the kids this past weekend, I was overcome with thankfulness. There was so much that I needed to do before Friday when Han would be bringing her college friends home for a Christmas sleepover and Joe had just done a huge job on my list! It was an enormous surprise and relief.

His help in getting the decorations up inspired me to set up our nativity later that evening. Once again, he surprised me by jumping up to help me unpack the big box that held our nativity. The nativity meant a lot to me. My wonderful mother-in-law had bought it for me years ago when I had told her that I thought it was important to have a “very nice” nativity displayed in a home. It is my favorite Christmas decoration. As we unpacked the pieces I saw that the angel’s arm had broken off. I was devastated. My perfect, expensive, big, NICE NATIVITY was ruined and I ran for the superglue. When I returned and began gluing the angel’s arm back on, Joe tried to calm me down and reminded me that we had used it for many years and that it was not the end of the world. I ignored him and fumed that my nice nativity was now damaged.

FullSizeRender_1Then something even worse happened. Joe
unrolled the bubble wrap and tissue from around Joseph and we saw that his face was broken. JOSEPH HAD A BROKEN FACE!!! “This is not acceptable! At all! Not at all! My nativity Joseph, my very nice treasured Joseph… can NOT have a broken face!” I yelled. Then, I literally threw the tissue paper in the air and proclaimed, “Christmas is ruined! We cannot have a freakin eighty five dollar perfect tree next to a freakin broken nativity!!! Priorities Joe!!! Jesus before Santa!” We needed to show that the nativity mattered more than the gifts.

Joe just kept on tending to my nativity as I loudly lamented and he put my Joseph front and center facing the child in the manger. He then turned all the others so that their backs were to the room and their faces were towards Jesus. He changed the way we had always set up my very nice nativity. We could no longer see the carefully hand-painted front details but the angel’s missing arm was now hidden and Joseph’s broken face was out of view. Even the cracked donkey ear could not be seen, for he was facing away from us and looking at the newborn. As my husband finished creating the scene he said, “Tonya. It is ok. When you have them all look at Jesus you can’t see their cracks. Just like us, if we just face Jesus, our brokenness doesn’t matter. It’s really ok.”

I smiled at my husband and ran upstairs to take a picture of my VERY NICE nativity.

Tonya Cherry

Bad Memories and the Anticipation of Christmas

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So Christmas is always a time of anticipation, right? We look forward to the parties, the food, the presents, the beautiful candlelit midnight service.

One of the things I always enjoyed as a kid was the model train sets. I couldn’t wait to help my dad go up in the attic and pull down the musty boxes of trains, track, village scenes and miniature trees. The smell of the boxes was distinct, and, while it was probably caused by some mixture of mold on the boxes, old Spanish moss on the miniature trees, and toxic fumes from the fake snow, whenever I smelled it I would get a shiver of excitement because it meant Christmas was around the corner. I still can’t see a bag of Spanish moss without being flooded by memories of hours spent building and running the train set.

Last night I was at my parents’ house, and my father had set up an old train for my nephew – a set that my grandfather had set up in his basement when I was a kid. I couldn’t resist – I bent down and turned the switch on the transformer, sending the train racing around the track. But then I caught a whiff of another smell – electric train. I don’t know what causes it, and I don’t know if it’s all model trains or just this one, but there was a strong electric odor, and it took me back to my grandfather’s basement and many happy hours watching the trains. And then a rather unpleasant memory surfaced.

This particular train set was made well before consumer protection laws required products to come with warning labels or non-toxic paint (come to think of it, maybe that’s where the smell comes from). In order to make things as realistic as possible, red and green lights were placed next to the section of track that allowed you to switch the train between two different tracks. The lights were large, and even 30 years ago they looked very old, with cracked and pealing paint. But they were so cool – cool enough that I wanted to touch them. So one day, I did…and promptly burned my finger. Like I said: consumer safety wasn’t a top priority, and those bulbs got extremely hot. I’m sure I had a small burn for a few days, but the emotional scar of being hurt by the very thing I loved so much and looked forward to every year has stayed with me.

Come to think of it, I have so many bad Christmas memories, it’s a wonder I look forward to Christmas at all. There was the time I got sick after eating too many shrimp at Christmas Eve dinner. There was the year I had Mono and had to sit-out a family ski-vacation over Christmas week. Once I spent an entire Christmas Eve service in severe agony because my wool outfit, while cute, was also itchy. I broke a glass ornament I had bought for my mom over my brother’s head one year because he was being annoying…that incident ended in tears for all parties involved. Frozen fingers while trying to pick out a Christmas tree, presents that broke after the first use…

And yet, every year, I look forward to Christmas. I think the anticipation in the face of mixed past experiences is baked right into the story. The first Christmas certainly was a mixed bag, what with angels and lavish gifts right alongside smelly animals and lack of hotel space. But it’s more than that. It’s about the good news that will be for all people – the savior has been born. And that means we have something to celebrate now, but also something to look forward to. It means there’s hope that everything will be right one day, even if, year after year, we’re reminded that things aren’t right just yet.

Dan Passerelli

A Light

ii_151929b60106a543One of my favorite Christmas memories from childhood is driving around after the Christmas Eve service to look at all the Christmas lights. The lights at Christmas are so magical, aren’t they? It’s as if the whole world decided to light up in celebration of the season. It is truly one of the most beautiful parts of Christmas.

Have you ever noticed how dark it seems after Christmas? Driving home after 5pm suddenly seems so much gloomier. The celebration ends and it’s time to put away the light.

But Christmas tells a different story. Jesus’ light didn’t shine only for a season, only for a month before it was put away – it continues to shine now, even when we can’t seem to see it through the fog of our sometimes-gloomy world.

And so dear friend, when the lights are put away, don’t let the darkness of our world take over the light that Jesus brought to us on the first Christmas. He is “the true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9), our long-awaited King, the Savior of our hearts, and he’s here!

Maybe you need to be reminded of that light today, or you know someone who could use a little light. That’s the thing about light – it draws you in.

“A Light” by The Brilliance

Jessica Bates

Right On Time

For when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son….

Galatians 4:4

As a young boy I remember waiting with great anticipation for certain events in my life. My dad would always tell me, “don’t wish your life away,” but that made little sense for his impetuous son whose thoughts were focused on something far more exciting than what the present had to offer. Christmas morning was number one on my “Can’t Wait” list (followed by April 1, the first day of trout season – the only time my mother would deem it acceptable for me to skip school). Being told by my parents to go to sleep on Christmas Eve and remain in my bedroom until the following morning was pure torture. Seconds seemed like minutes and minutes felt like hours. Time appeared to stand still, but Christmas morning came and went (quickly I might add) each year – right on time.

In his letter to the church at Galatia, Paul wrote that Jesus came to us when the “fullness of time had come.” Many of the people we read about in the Old and New Testament knew in advance through prophecy that God would one day send His Son to rescue us. In Luke 2 we are introduced to Simeon who was fixated on the advent of Jesus. Simeon was not only versed in the prophecy of the Old Testament, but had also been enlightened by the Holy Spirit that he would one day meet the promised Messiah. He lived in great anticipation of that day. Scripture tells us that when Simeon met Jesus face to face and held Him in his arms, he was overjoyed. He must have felt the same kind of excitement that I felt rushing downstairs at my grandparents’ house on Christmas morning. His response was, “My eyes have seen Your salvation.” Simeon’s great hope was fulfilled in seeing and touching the incarnate Christ and he was now ready and content to die.

So what does it mean that Jesus has come? Jesus’ timely arrival to earth and later giving his life satisfies God’s wrath for my sin and the sin of all those who believe. God’s forgiveness ushers in freedom and peace. It provides freedom from the guilt of sin, freedom over the power of sin, and one day will give us freedom from the presence of sin. I think of William Wallace in the movie “Braveheart” who screamed “freedom” as he was tortured by his enemies. In a very real sense, Jesus cried “freedom” for us on the cross when He said, “It is finished.”

God sent His Son at just the right time in history to set his plan of redemption into motion. He gave us a visible representation of Himself and later sent His Holy Spirit to indwell our hearts. Part Two of the redemptive plan is yet to come, but we can be sure that when the fullness of time has come, Jesus will return to gather His people and redeem His creation forever, making all things new.

In the fullness of time, Jesus came (and will yet come again). Thank you, Father, for sending your Son right on time.

Rob Van Ness

 

This Christmas

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This Christmas is strange. I don’t feel like decorating. I don’t feel like making cookies. I don’t feel like doing anything but opening presents for myself and quilting the day away. As my friend encouraged, “Nothing wrong with a Mary Christmas in the aftermath of who knows how many years of making Martha Christmases.” Oh, the reminder that sometimes we need to sit and be and enjoy and reflect and see all the sweet mercies God has given in the birth of Jesus.

While thinking of such things, I happened upon this RaVonda Dalton-Rann poem presented by the Baltimore Choral Arts Christmas concert heard on 88.1 WYPR. See God’s mercy?

It is time to rest and ponder so we can “Raise our eyes and See the Child.”

This Christmas, By RaVonda Dalton-Rann
THIS CHRISTMAS…
Raise your eyes
Look beyond yourself
Call His name
Out loud
And sing the song of wisdom

THIS CHRISTMAS…
Give a child a coat
Buy that man on the corner a meal
Slow your walking pace
And
Look into the eyes of that woman who pushes that cart
Ask her what she needs
And give it to her

THIS CHRISTMAS…
Open your home
And share the warmth
Start a fire of love
And carry it with you throughout each day

THIS CHRISTMAS…
Love your neighbor
Speak to strangers
Hear the same river in each of us
Call each man a mountain

Raise your eyes
and See the Child

Debby Sutton