Don’t Forget Christmas

A few years ago, when I was still single, I found myself after Christmas reflecting on the holiday season.  I have to tell you, I wasn’t happy with what I found.

I had scuffled and scurried, hurrying to this party and that sale right up to Christmas Day, without ever taking the time to stop and think about Jesus and His birth, and what an awesome reason we have to celebrate.  I was ashamed of myself and regretted missing out on the opportunity to worship and commune with God during those days.

I did learn from it, but I felt cheated out of any real sense of celebration that year.  Don’t forget to take time to really think about what Christmas really means to all of us each day.

Take time to think about what it really means that Jesus left His father’s side to come and dwell here with us and to offer us redemption.  “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

Trisha Umanah

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Undeserving Riches

tipforjesus-2

If you have spent anytime on social media you have undoubtedly run into various stories of waiters and waitresses who have found themselves stiffed by professing Christians.  These servers take their empty transaction receipts with notes that say “Jesus Saves” and post them all over social media.  These stories fuel what is already a really negative perception of Christians within the restaurant community.  Because I worked in a restaurant in college I know this to be true. Waiting tables is incredibly challenging and stressful work, and it offers few if any rewards. Whenever I read these stories via social media it makes me shake my head in disgust, but then my core is equally as rotten and capable of such a gospel distortion.  How many times have I failed to be generous with my time, resources and attitude?  How often have I been stingy?  In response to the negative perceptions of Christian patrons a group who call themselves “tip for Jesus” have left ridiculous amounts of money as tips for those who serve.  You can follow their account via Instagram via (http://instagram.com/tipsforjesus)

What makes this story really beautiful in my mind is that it is done anonymously and generously.   It’s not said whether or not these waiters or waitresses deserve this blessing because there is seemingly no pattern, just a group of people trying to bring renewal to a broken part of our culture.  It is everyday and ordinary. Isn’t it in the everyday and ordinary moments that we get to participate in God’s renewing work? In talking about God’s renewing work Rich Mullins said, “I tend to think my ministry is to clean up my hotel room before I leave. My ministry is to leave a generous tip for a waitress who’s having a really lousy day and who’s had a bad attitude when waiting on me.  If you’re a Christian, ministry is just an accident of being alive.”

As I thought about this and Christmas I am reminded of Mathew 1:20-21 “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Verse 21 summarizes the beauty of what we celebrate this Christmas. Jesus doesn’t give us what we deserve. Instead He gives us everything we don’t.   He is the generous giver who takes our frailties, weaknesses, our fears and anxieties to renew us.  He is our hope, our salvation and our redeemer and he invites us to taste and see how good He really is.  He gave everything that he had, born to die so that we might live.  We don’t deserve such riches, we don’t deserve such Joy and yet what makes us deserving is Christ himself, Emanuel- God with us!

Patrick Allen

Christmas Town

We went to Christmas Town in Busch Gardens last week. My family loves it. The place is lit up with a gazillion festive lights and there are even live penguins! They change the names of the rides to things like Reindeer Roller coaster, they waft pine scent through the causeways, and the kiosks all sell peppermint hot chocolate. It really puts a person in the holiday spirit.

I had so many favorite parts of Christmas Town this year. I loved that my husband won me a Santa at Whack-an-Elf. I especially loved that my son rode the swings because his sister wanted to, even though it was 32 degrees, and I loved that he was wearing the new hat she had bought for him the night before. I loved when Frosty came on stage during the Deck the Halls Show so much that I ignored my family’s teasing and kept bopping back and forth and clapping along as he danced. We all loved when the little girl saw the nativity in the gift shop and yelled, “Jesus toys!”

Most of all I loved the life-sized marble nativity outside standing under the trees. It was dark and the four of us had just gotten off a ride in “Italy”. They were trying to find a heater so they could read the park map in its light and I wandered around the corner. There before me was Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. It was lovely, lit up in this quiet little area of Christmas Town. As I stood there taking in its beauty, a little boy and girl walked over to it. The boy was about 10 and when he got to the manger, he took off his hat and kneeled. In this busy place, this big exciting place, this little boy stopped in reverence to acknowledge our Savior’s birth. That was by far, the very best part of Christmas Town.

I know I am going to get caught up in decorations and festivities many times in the next few weeks, but as things get busy and exciting I want to be like that little boy. I want to stop in the midst of it all to acknowledge what this season is really about, my Savior.

Merry Christmas, Little Boy from Christmas Town. Thanks for the reminder.

Tonya Cherry

Tears

I see a lot of tears each week. Life is hard, people hurt, and relationships are messy. For many, this time of year brings greater expectations, stresses, and financial concerns like no other time of the year. Many people going through separation and divorce try and recreate an impression or appearance of past holidays in order to feel as normal as possible, but the reality is things will never be the same as before.

Our emotions can surprise us. We can become ambushed by pain. Our emotions can be tough, intense, and unpredictable.

As we look at the Bible, we will notice a great deal of tears as well. We see Peter, the disciple of Jesus, weeping bitterly when he realized he had betrayed him.

In the story of David’s life there is much weeping. We see him and Jonathan embracing and crying when David had to flee for his life. We see tears when one son died in infancy.

And the shortest verse in the Bible tells us that Jesus wept.

In Luke 7, a widow was weeping because her only son had died, and when Jesus saw her, it says that he had compassion on her and said in verse 13, “Do not weep.” Jesus then raises the dead man to life.

Jesus looks with great compassion upon all of us who suffer. He understands our pain and suffering, for he knows it full well, he knows what it’s like to suffer. When Jesus tells us “Do not weep”, it’s because he has reached out with his own hand to touch the source of our tears, to take it to the cross, so that he speaks to us with words of life. Jesus understands sorrow.

Our tears are never wasted. We will weep our way into heaven, but not one of our tears will ever fall without hope. We look forward to that great day when all our tears will be no more, and God himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Rich Starsoneck

That Girl

We don’t know much about Mary.  From the history of the time we can get some idea of what she was going through when she became pregnant with Jesus.  Mary was probably about 13.  Her marriage was arranged and she was betrothed a 20-30 year old Joseph whom she knew from being in the same village and community.  While waiting the 6-12 months until the wedding transition she was learning skills to bring to her new family’s house.  She was creating linens, drying herbs, learning to cook with her mom.  Part of the agreement for her to be married was that she would be a benefit to her husband’s family, a God-fearing, helpful, congenial, virgin girl.  She needed to be baggage free.

Debby pic - pondering

Then it happened.  She’s pregnant!  The baggage store delivered the biggest baggage EVER!  We know what happens after this – Elizabeth, Joseph, the stable, Jesus.  But, what about Mary before the story we know and love?  What was it about this girl?  My niece is 13.  I asked her how she’d react if tonight an angel came to tell her she was pregnant with Jesus.

“I’d be really scared.

“I don’t want to have a kid now.

“But, if the angel said God wanted me to have to do it, I’d do it.”

Not much different from Mary’s conversation with the angel, is it?

The angel tells her to not be afraid.  He tells her that nothing is impossible with God, even for an innocent girl knowing the potential struggles ahead for her not-yet marriage.  He tells her all that will be involved and how it will happen.  He assures her that God has found favor in her and that she is the right one for this job.  And Mary’s response, “I’m the Lord’s servant; let it be according to me as you said.”

Not much different from our conversations with God either.

God knows our hearts and meets us there.  Jesus answers our hesitations before we can even acknowledge they exist.  The Spirit guides our steps through the blessings and the storms.  He removes our baggage.  Because of Jesus, God finds favor in us.

“And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
  for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
  for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.”

Matthew 2:46-49

Debby Sutton

Have I Known Jesus?

My generation is used to having everything at our fingertips.  Movies on demand, texts delivered instantly, cities on the other side of the world just hours away.  Waiting is not really in our DNA.  We idolize people like Mark Zuckerburg, Tim O’Shaughnessy, and David Karp (founders of Facebook, LivingSocial, and Tumblr) – all of whom have achieved wild success well before their 30th birthday.  Standing in my place, firmly in the middle of 30 and 40, it’s easy to look back and wonder why I haven’t made my mark like those guys.  It doesn’t help that I also grew up in the days when everybody got a trophy and mediocrity was rewarded with a certificate of achievement.  Why, if I was so special and received all those trophies and awards, have I not continued that success by starting a world-changing company or inventing a life-saving product?  It’s easy to let the angst set in.

But then I read in the Christmas story about Simeon – a man who spent his entire life in obscurity, at least from the Bible’s perspective.  He waited an entire lifetime for his one moment, which comes in Luke 2:25-35, when he speaks a blessing over Jesus and prophesies to Mary.  And that’s it – his moment comes, he speaks his two sentences, and then presumably he dies soon after.

I also read about Mary, who experiences a meteoric rise that would make any young tech god jealous.  By her mid-teens she had reached the pinnacle of her life.  She gave birth to the Son of God – an accomplishment so profound that all generations from that point on would call her blessed.  She had the rest of her life to live, knowing that she would never do anything as profound as that again.

What is it about these two that gives me so much comfort in the midst of my angst?  It’s the fact that they are important not because of how much they accomplished in life, but because of their connection to Jesus.  Our significance as humans comes not from what we accomplish, but from knowing Jesus.  For Simeon, Jesus was worth waiting a lifetime for.  For Mary, he was worth giving the best of her youth for.  For me, it doesn’t matter whether I accomplished much in my 20s, or how much I do between now and 40.  The only question that matters is “Have I known Jesus?”

Dan Passerelli

Tis So Sweet

What a wonderful Christmas song!  As I sit listening to the beautiful acoustic arrangement with the advent season quickly approaching, I’m filled with seemingly conflicting emotions.

The holidays can be painful for so many.  My heart aches for a friend who should be retiring with her husband instead of watching their business crumble into financial ruin.  A neighbor has recently lost a mother and a mentor, and now faces her father’s failing health.  A couple approaching years that our bodies stop bearing children, remain childless.   A dear brother lies in a hospital bed, physically shattered. While shopping for lunch, news broadcasts in the background, and I hear the devastated cries of my Filipino brothers and sisters.  Our world is broken.

At the same time, I’m rejoicing with my friends who have survived a tough year of adoption and are finding themselves a new family. Neighbors are delighting in the birth of a new grand baby. I just celebrated as my dear friend got married to a man who adores her. We are entering a season filled with celebration.

I’ll never forget when I first discovered that heartbreak and joy could live together, and that in the heart of a believer – they do.

Today, I am thankful that I am free to experience grief and celebration at the same time. Today, I honor those who are in the midst of overwhelming pain and pray with them, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”   Today, I rest in joy that we have a Victor, Redeemer, Friend, Brother, and Intercessor that humbled himself and took on the form of man to make all things new.

Naomi Moseley

Christmas Madness

First PageEach year I enter into the madness that is Christmas, the crazy rush, music, TV specials and decorum that come with the season (all of which I love, by the way), and also because out of my need for direction for that year’s Advent messages.  The process is both maddening and intoxicating.

It begins with prayer and reading through the entire Christmas narrative, both in prophecy as well as the actual events, along with extensive note taking, and with no idea where God will lead.  I do so in the hope that He will bring fresh insights into the Nativity.  It all ends on Christmas Eve.

God has never disappointed.

This year’s Advent series is entitled, ‘They will Dwell Secure’ and throughout the month I hope we will discover what this means, but for now I want to encourage you to wrestle with the story as a whole, and to fight the natural tendency to let it all get past you as ‘yet another season.’  It isn’t.

To be clear, a resolve to wrestle with the story of God is sheer madness and threatens everything we think we are, with no idea where it will all lead.  But my challenge is that you enter into the madness, and discover as I do every Advent, that He never disappoints.

What good news.

peace.

Advent Series

 Mike Khandjian