Present

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It was an uncharacteristically warm day in November that my neighbor and I commiserated on a walk around our village. Both of us, you see, were approaching days of reckoning you might say: For my neighbor, the second anniversary of her beloved mom’s death. For me, the 10th anniversary of my beloved sister’s succumbing to cancer.

But while we both experienced, nay, re-lived the sad events leading to our losses, we each maintained that our losses were, in fact, experienced daily, not just on the anniversaries that we so obtusely celebrated.

Which brings this writer to Advent and Christmas.

The candles are in the windows, the firs in the corner a-glow with glitz, the church takes donations for turkeys and poinsettias and parents shop frantically in-store and on-line.

Christmas time is here. Children await it with anticipation. And on that day and its eve, lit candles will glorify God in sanctuaries throughout the world, ribbons will fly through the air as our kids tear through presents and joy will appear as tinsel dangling from the tree.

But while we await this celebration of the birth of the Savior of the World, let us know that God is present each and every day already. He is here already. As Christians, we know it.

Like the memory of a loved one that does not appear only on the anniversary of her death, the Savior of the World resides in us, not just on the anniversary of His birth.

For if we belong to Him, the old self has already died and the new self lives! He lives!

When we begin each day in God’s Word; when we gather in Jesus’ Name for prayer groups and Bible studies; when we prepare a meal for a sick friend or help a stranger in distress; when we praise Him as we sit down to dinner; when we plea to Him for answers and resolutions to life’s many problems, He is already here and He hears.

And so, it is not about the anniversary but about the love living in our hearts, a supernatural love, not just on the 25th of December, not just during the waiting season called Advent, but about Him who already lives in us, Whom we love and Who loves us each and every day of the year.

May we rejoice in Jesus as we recount the circumstances of His birth, His life, His sacrifice!

Marian Falkenstine

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Thanksgiving at Christmas

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From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing. I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased; I will bring them honor, and they will not be disdained. – Jeremiah 30:19

Every year, millions in the U.S. gather around tables with friends and family for the Thanksgiving holiday. For some, it’s a sweet time they look forward to each year, for others it’s a holiday they dread. Maybe it’s because the holiday reminds them of the loss of a loved one, maybe it’s because being with family draws them back into the dysfunction they spend the rest of the year avoiding or maybe it reinforces a sense of loneliness and isolation. But no matter what camp you place yourself in, the essence of the holiday is all about gratitude.

But why just at Thanksgiving? Living a life of gratitude shouldn’t be the essence of Thanksgiving; it really should be the essence of our life as believers. Thanksgiving for many is the inauguration of the next big holiday, Christmas. Christmas is about giving – and it’s centered on God’s greatest gift to us, his son. But as we all know, the message of ‘giving’ quickly turns into a message of ‘getting’. The ads on TV, the displays in the stores or at the Mall, the Christmas lists our kids write become centered on ‘What do I want?’ ‘What do I need?’ I find my own heart longing for nicer cars, bigger televisions, nicer cameras, new clothes, new gadgets and new toys. What happened to Thanksgiving?

A few years ago I helped serve breakfast at a homeless soup kitchen at Christmastime. Before the meal, there was a time of sharing and testimony. Person after person stood up and gave praise and thanks to God for what they had. “Thank you Lord for waking me up this morning.” “Thank you Lord for the breath in my lungs.” “Thank you Lord for a meal to eat.” These were men and women with nothing. Yet thankful.

Take a moment, stop and think about all that you have that you can be grateful for. Don’t compare it with what others have, that’s a losing game, but meditate on what you have been given: A roof over your head? Clothes on your back? Friends? Food to eat? etc.

This video, produced by Forest Hill Church,  captures the essence of what I’m talking about…

This year, let Christmas be a true Thanksgiving as we meditate and remember all that we have, and especially that the greatest giver of all gave freely of himself through the gift of his son, the baby in the manger who was the God of this Universe, sent for us.

Steve Dallwig

 

Besides Jesus

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When my children were young they often sat with us through the Sunday sermon. The small church we attended held Sunday school classes for kids and adults at the same hour so the children were always in the main service. Often the preaching was a bit more than their little minds could take in so my husband and I would seek to engage them after church on our drive home. We would ask them questions about the message and we quickly found that their answer to most our questions was the same- “Jesus”.

What did the pastor talk about today? “Jesus”

What do you think was the most important part of the sermon? “Jesus”

—Then we would get the occasional forced variation—

Did you learn anything new from the message today? “Um….that um…(long pause)…To love Jesus!”

In some ways, their one-subject response was encouraging because it pointed to the fact that the pastor made a pretty big deal about Jesus. On the other hand, and probably most often, they knew that Jesus was an answer that would get them out of further questioning on a message they mostly doodled and wiggled through.

Sometimes, in our little conversations about the message, we would add the caveat “besides Jesus” before asking our questions just to try to get a little more from them. Not that Jesus wasn’t a good answer, but we wanted them to engage further. It would stump them and they would stumble for an answer. Usually, other key Bible words would be their response; sin, obey, God, and maybe a biblical name or two. The “besides Jesus” trick didn’t get much more out of them.

It has been several years since we have had those conversations with our kids. They are all grown up and drive themselves to church now. We still talk about the Sunday sermon but the exchanges are much deeper and richer than those of their younger years. But the funny thing is, now more than ever before I realize that their childhood answer -“Jesus”- is actually more accurate than anything else.

As we face struggle or temptation the answer is Jesus. We need him. He is our help and hope. As we face joys and blessings it is because of Jesus. When we endure trials it is because of Jesus. He turns sorrows to joy in ways that often don’t make logical sense. Life may not be exactly how we expected but we can carry on only because of Jesus. And even more, the best is yet to come when we meet him face to face in heaven. One day everyone will know the only answer is Jesus. Every knee will bow in his presence as all things become completely clear. My kids’ simplistic answer was actually the true answer to life’s complexities. The older I get I see more clearly that there is nothing besides Jesus.

This Christmas season many of our children will come away with one message from holiday services- “Jesus”.  As they see nativities, sing Christmas carols, or hear Sunday lessons Jesus will probably be what they take away. It may seem simplistic but one day they too may see more clearly that Jesus is all there is to know.

Eliza Huie – Counselor, Life Counseling Center

Lament for Aleppo

WARNING: This video contains distressing, graphic images from Aleppo. I recommend watching it but muting the sound, as the images alone are very powerful.

I caught sight of a friend’s post this afternoon that linked to a news report about Aleppo. The quote in the article read, “Aleppo is a place where the children have stopped crying.” My eyes rose to the movie that had begun to play. I was at work, so I muted the sound. A little boy of maybe three or four sat on a table in an orange sweatshirt, his hair tousled, eyes full of horror, lips pressed together, a wound on his forehead. His small hands touched, the fingers brushed against each other. He stared sadly at those examining him. Oh, be gentle, I pleaded silently.
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Oh dear God.

A mother wailed that she had lost all of her children.

A teenage boy sobbed as he clasped the body of his infant baby brother.
Oh God, these dear ones made in Your image… There are thousands.

I cannot ignore this. I weep for the horrors they have seen, the terror on their faces, the agony and despair. I weep because while I have never experienced their specific losses, I know what it feels like to be shattered, traumatized, lost and overwhelmed. My heart breaks, spills over.

I sit alone in the darkness with Christmas lights overhead, and I believe with my whole heart that my God sees and knows and cares, both for them and for me. He knows the depth of their pain and He understands mine. He was here.

Here.

My God came here into the mess, the horror, the sadness, the chaos of this world. And He didn’t come with walls and barriers to shield Himself from it all – no, He embodied it, He suffered, and then He conquered it. So in all the sadness I cling to Him, my hope.

I ask, Oh God, who will care for them? Who will help them? Can I? Will You? Please show me how. Please show them mercy. Please, please, please save them.

Save us.

Save me.

Lauren McWilliams

Christmas Happens

FullSizeRender_jpgI 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.

Merry Christmas.

Chris Reid

Christmas Contemplation

What are you hoping for this Christmas?

wool coats, thick scarves, hats and gloves

crackly wood fires, soft twinkling lights, pretty ornaments hanging from the tree

laughter of loved ones and the clink of silverwarenoses pressed to the window pane, anticipating snow…

What are you looking for?

What are you longing for?

I long for stillness

for space to simply be

I’m so weary

I long for a heart that’s soft

soft enough to be captured by little-child wonder –

to marvel once more that God let His own son be held in human arms

Mary and Joseph held God.

Stunning

Unthinkable

creation cradling the Creator

He would make himself so vulnerable

to reach us?

Lauren Bauman