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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

O Come All Ye Faithful, Joyful and triumphant . . .

Come and behold him, Born the King of Angels . . .

All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee, Born this happy morning

Those words from a traditional hymn are on my mind this Christmas morning. Today the world celebrates Jesus, the Son of God who became human about 2000 years ago. Remembering his birth fills hearts with joy and mouths with song. People give gifts and feast with family and friends.

Venice - The Adoration of Magi in Santa Maria dei Frari.But not everyone is so happy this Christmas morning. Some miss loved ones from whom they’re separated by death or conflict. Some remember painful Christmas experiences. Some are alone. Some wonder if they really believe what they’ve been taught to rejoice about on December 25.

Life is not all “joyful and triumphant.” Sometimes we don’t want to greet the Lord because we feel that the Lord has abandoned us. We may feel forgotten, forsaken, far from faith.

If you haven’t experienced such darkness, expect it. Prepare for it. Bolster your faith in advance. Ask hard questions. Pursue truth no matter what it might do to what you’ve been taught. Befriend experienced, wise Christians who can mentor you through faith and doubt. Pray now for strength to persevere when you feel like you can’t pray.

If you have experienced such darkness, share it. Use that experience to bless people who are currently going through it. Let them know that they are not alone. Assure them that their doubt does not kick them out of heaven. Gently come alongside them. Be present for them. Be patient when they’re not ready to talk. Be willing to wait, to listen. Pray for them.

If you are experiencing such darkness right now, know that you’re in good company. Read through the Psalms to find words to express your experience in uncensored prayer to God who understands and expects our cries and questions and can handle whatever pain we spew out. Find words of lament from Psalm 22 arising in agony from the lips of the Son of God on the cross and know that questioning God’s presence is part of faith.

“Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light” (Frederick Buechner).

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580px-Jesus_Christ_The_Child_by_Wissam_Shekhani,_ink_on_paperThe world’s praise to God heightens each December. Participation in worship events increases. Carols ring out. Stories remind. Christmas is a time of joy, a season of celebrating the birth of Jesus.

The season is not all joy. No season escapes evil’s bite.

As I type these words in a Memphis coffee shop, a television tuned to CNN takes me to Newtown. Bells toll there, “once for each life lost at the school.” Now bells toll in Miami, now in Washington, now in my mind.

And bells toll in our theologies, in our spiritualities, in our lives. Life and death, evil and good coexist and conflict. No truth, no promise, no belief can ever deny our experience of that reality.

The story of Jesus’ birth does not try to deny it but embraces it. That birth story begins with the crucifixion sight. The child’s life begins in “the shadow of the cross.” The story embraces the reality of joy and pain, redefining both.

K. Rex Butts says it well: “With the news of last Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I remind myself once again that Jesus has come and is coming again to rid God’s creation of its evil and injustice once and for all.” Amen, brother.

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Image: “Jesus Christ The Child Looking To The Sky” by Wissam Shekhani.

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Hezekiah is a good king in a time when many monarchs are evil, and his effectiveness arises from his faithfulness.

This morning I heard a preacher say that the greatest miracle of Christmas is not the baby in the manger or even the virgin birth but the God who cares. That deserves my faith. It reminds me how amazing the God Story is. Christ’s compassion compels me; life in the Spirit enthralls me. And, like King Hezekiah, I want to lay everything before the Lord.

As we celebrate Christ and anticipate 2012, let’s commit to living in faith. How can your life be more faithful? Lay it before the Lord and see.

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Some prefer Luke 2, but my Christmas reading is Second Kings 15-17.

Men kill to become kings and perform notorious evil. Azariah and Jotham aren’t too shabby, but the rest are whacked, and the kingly chaos culminates in calamity. Assyria captures Samaria, Israel’s capital, and deports its residents.

Why? Check out verses 7 and 8 of chapter 17:

All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced.

On this Christmas Day let’s remember that Jesus calls us back to relationship with God and shows us what it means to live well.

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These chapters should be rated at least R. When I read the violence, I find no uplifting thought to write, no devotional message to encourage you. I search my feelings and find disgust and embarrassment and am tempted to rethink my allegiance to the Story of scripture.

Then I find redemption. In the midst of the gruesomeness, a small hope arises and grows. The murderous Athaliah exits the stage, and young Joash accepts the crown to become one of the few righteous kings of his time period.

When all seems evil, look for the growing hope. This Christmas we remember that Jesus is our hope of promised peace.

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Commercialization consumes Christmas. At least it threatens to. From Black Friday to last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve, my culture worships the stuff god.

I like giving presents that make people smile, and I enjoy receiving useful and thoughtful gifts, but Christmas can be more. It can be an opportunity to thank God for blessings (especially Jesus) and to give gifts (most importantly ourselves) to the Giver.

Solomon seems to accept this challenge. He spends seven years building a temple where people can worship God.

Then he takes almost twice as long to construct his own palace.

This Christmas I pray our hearts will draw close to God. I pray our desire for heavenly blessings will outweigh our pursuit of stuff. I pray we will give more time to God and spend less on ourselves.

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Christmas quickly approaches. I enjoy some extra time to read and write. Tamara and I share a relaxed evening together. I meet a colleague for lunch, successfully hunt for my last two gift purchases, plan for some ministry events in the new year, and listen to music.

In the world of Christmas songs, I prefer the classics. But some newer ones catch my ear as well. Some I like, and some I don’t. One stumps me. I can’t decide if I’m a fan of it or not.

That song is “Give This Christmas Away” by Matthew West. While I enjoy some of West’s songs, the sound of this one doesn’t particularly attract my favor. However, like most of his works, its message is helpful.

“Give This Christmas Away.” What does that mean?

For Mr. West, it means “feeding the hungry, serving the poor… telling the orphan, you’re not forgotten anymore… doing what love does, even when no one’s watching you.”

Those certainly are good deeds, but why should we do them? And why does the Christmas season lead us to focus on such acts of kindness?

The song answers the first question. We should do these things because of what God did for us. God gave us the Son, showing us divine love. That’s why West encourages us not to let the love just stay in our hearts, but to find ways to give it away.

The answer to the second question lies in our society’s concentrated attention to the birth of Jesus Christ at this time of year. Perhaps in December more than any other month, millions of world citizens are listening to Jesus-centered messages. Sometimes those messages reach our hearts and behaviors; sometimes our consumerism and selfishness crowd our souls and don’t leave room for more beneficial messages to reach us deeply.

I pray that the message of Matthew West’s new Christmas song can spur you to seek God’s guidance in how you might be able to “Give This Christmas Away.” Maybe you’ll get to participate in an effort to provide gifts for children in needy families or without families. Perhaps you’ll find an opportunity to serve in a soup kitchen. You might have a chance to comfort someone to whom Christmas brings loneliness, grief, or other pain. Whether you can do anything like these suggestions by this Friday or not, I hope you can share God’s love with people in need at other times throughout the year.

The ears of my mind turn to another song–not a Christmas one, but an old hymn. Frances Havergal penned the words in 1858; and despite the now archaic language, the message still rings true and relevant. “I gave, I gave My life for thee, what hast thou given for Me?”

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