Thursday, December 22, 2011

Over a lifetime Christmas is a series of ever-changing mysteries. In childhood the mystery is "What's inside the wrapping paper?". Later, it becomes, "Where did they hide the presents?". Later it becomes "Is this Christmas the right time to give her an engagement ring?". Later it becomes "How will we be able to afford presents for the kids?" Later it becomes "What can I buy someone who already has everything?"

Is there any Christmas mystery left for you? Is there anything about the season that makes you smile in wonder? Does anything still thrill you and a send a shiver down your spine?

There is a mystery-a mystery greater and more wonderful than all the others combined. And that mystery isn't wrapped in colorful paper; it's wrapped in swaddling clothes. It isn't laid under the tree; it's laid to sleep in a manger. It's the Baby born in Bethlehem.

What's so mysterious about that? It's the fact that this Baby is the almighty Son of God, stooping down to become one of His creatures: a mere human. Why would He want to expose Himself to all the hurt and suffering in our crazy world? Why would God be willing to become our substitute and earn our way to heaven by His perfect life, and to suffer and die in our place on the cross?

That is the greatest mystery, a mystery God has revealed to the world. It sends a shiver down your spine to ponder what kind of love moved Him to do all of this for you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Where meek hearts will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.
Since childhood we have been taught that it is better to give than receive. Certainly, living out that principle can provide an antidote to selfishness and enlarge our generosity. But we also need to learn how to receive graciously and with an open heart.

Karen Mead offers a glimpse into her difficulty with receiving, a difficulty many share:
“No one ever taught me how to receive. Not a compliment; I am a master at countering any comment with insight about all my faults. Not a gift; I immediately feel the need to give something in return, preferably bigger. Not a kindness; I wave people away from helping me in a grocery line, no matter that I am dropping bread as I speak.
How could I have gone through so much life and have no experience with such a fundamental act as the ability to receive?”

That is a question to give us pause. Of course, the Western cultural value of autonomy and independence feeds our discomfort with receiving. But what else? Is it the vulnerability of receiving? The feeling of being passive? The dependence? The pricking of pride? The interior voices of unworthiness? The family messages such as “No one in OUR family has ever received “hand outs”?
In the annunciation story, Mary provides a model of receiving. She is presented with a gift of unprecedented grace and favor—told that she would bear a child, son of the Most High God. Richard Rohr notes that she does not respond by playing the “I am not worthy game”—a normative response in biblical theophanies. Rather she says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

During this season we can adopt some practices that may help us learn to receive. We can remind ourselves how steeped our daily lives are in the gifts of others. For example, every meal we eat depends on a chain of growers, harvesters, transporters, and more. We can practice accepting compliments with simple grace—resisting the temptation to downplay accomplishments or undercut ourselves. We can acknowledge and bless one gift every day. We can enter contemplative silence and pray with “open hands, empty hands” before God (hands on our laps, palms upturned), acknowledging that, in truth, all is grace.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Each year at Levy’s Christmas Communion Service, Theresa sings, “Breath of Heaven” by Amy Grant. Some of the words are, “I have traveled many moonless nights, cold and weary with a  baby inside, And I wonder what I’ve done..”

Think about Joseph and Mary’s journey. It was difficult, no mistaking it. Before it was over they would experience frigid weather, rugged terrain, aching bodies and bone weary exhaustion. They faced fear of the unknown—maybe even fear of being robbed by thieves-- and, upon arriving in Bethlehem, were jostled and crushed by the crowd of others registering for the census. Door after door they knocked on, but found no room, no hospitable gesture. Hearty though she was, Mary’s near- to- term pregnancy, her blessed weight, must have caused her serious discomfort. Then to take refuge in a cave used for animals, to feel the contractions start, to labor through the night until finally the child she had been carrying cried out clear and strong.

In the midst of the romanticized images of Christmas and the nativity story, we forget the difficulty on the journey to Bethlehem, the difficulty of this birth. It has been important for me to remember that again, as this Advent has been anything but holly jolly or filled with holy light for many I know. Loss, partings, work stress, conflict, fearful diagnoses, illness and imminent surgery are troublesome houseguests in many lives.
How then can this ancient pair help us to bear our own difficult journey?

There must have been times when they looked at the stars and held their breaths at the wonder of God’s creation. They must have talked together of their hopes for this child, this longed for one—must have shared their dreams to lift their hearts. From time to time, they likely exchanged stories with other fellow travelers, taking their minds off the rocky road which bruised their feet. Perhaps, after a long day’s walk, Joseph tenderly massaged Mary’s swollen feet and tried to make her as comfortable as possible, easing her burden. Privately, when sleep wouldn’t come, they each pondered their own encounters with the divine messengers, encounters which changed their lives forever. And in the darkness, waiting for Emmanuel to come, they prayed.

Breath of heaven, hold me together, be forever near me, Breath of Heaven. Breath of heaven, lighten my darkness, pour over me your holiness, for you are holy. Breath of heaven.

Monday, December 19, 2011


If you can believe polls, 35 million Americans dread having to be nice during Christmas time. A Consumer Reports national survey found that there are several things people dread. 24% dread seeing relatives. 16% said they don’t like to attend holiday parties and events. But, what tops the list? Crowds and long lines. 68% said they dread that.
Todd Marks, senior editor at Consumer Reports said, “For many folks, the holidays are a lot like the Super Bowl. Even if you’re not a football fan you watch the game because it’s a big event. "With the holidays, you may not like the game, but it’s part and parcel of the season. It’s just what we all do.” (The Christian Post, 11.30.11)
The materialism around Christmas has made it a rather difficult time for many people. This year, spend a little extra time reading the pertinent Bible passages, giving to someone in need and trying to lead someone to know the Christ of the cradle and the cross.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why was Jesus born at Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph? He was the only baby to choose His parents – He chose peasants from the country. He was the only baby to choose His birthplace – He chose a cave crowded with farm animals. He was the only baby to choose His first attendants – He chose grimy field hands.
If He would choose them, He would choose you. The Baby of Bethlehem was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). He died for you – will you live for Him?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why is the Poinsettia plant part of Christmas tradition? It is named for Joel Poinsett (1779-1851), American Ambassador to Mexico. While traveling the Mexican countryside, he was struck by a beautiful plant he found growing there. He brought it with him to his South Carolina home, where its popularity spread. Its read leaves remind us of the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross for us. His atoning love now transforms all who trust Him as their Lord.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Who originated the Christmas tree? Martin Luther, the great German reformer, was walking in a forest toward his home one clear evening. He was struck by the beauty of the stars shining through the trees. Determined that his family would share this experience with him, he cut down a small tree and brought it home. His fellow Germans picked up the custom, and later brought it to our country. Now more than 36 million Christmas trees are bought each year. The tree of Christmas reminds us of the tree of Calvary, where Jesus died to pay for the sins of humanity

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Who originated the custom of singing carols at Christmas? None other than St. Francis of Assisi. In 1223, during a Christmas Midnight Mass in a cave in central Italy, he led the congregation in carols celebrating the birth of Jesus. Today carolers go from house to house, singing for all who will listen to their music.
God hears the prayers we offer to Him and the songs we sing to Him. Revelation 8:4 says so beautifully, “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” Is God waiting to receive the incense of your intercession today?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What was the star of Christmas, that light in the sky which drew the Magi to Israel? A nova, comet, meteor, and planetary alignment have all been suggested. It seems that God created a unique astronomical phenomenon to guide the Magi to His Son. If these Persian priests could worship Jesus, all can worship Him today.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What is the most popular cookie left for Santa? Oreos win, hands down. More than 9.1 million are sold each year. Back in the 1930s, children began leaving cookies for Santa Claus – “naughty” kids to bribe him, “nice” kids to thank him for his hard work on Christmas Eve.
Why must we turn from our sins to experience spiritual awakening? Is it that we earn God’s favor by our obedience? Is that we bribe Him with our service? The biblical answer is that obedience positions us to receive all that God’s grace intends to give. God can bless only those who live in ways consistent with His will. He can give only to those who will receive His grace. Can God bless you with spiritual renewal today?

Monday, December 12, 2011

How much will you spend on Christmas this year? According to the latest Gallup poll, the average American plans to spend $740 on gifts, down somewhat from the $801 predicted at this time a year ago.
How much would you spend to experience spiritual renewal in your life? Are you walking toward or away from God’s will today? Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind any attitudes or actions which displease your Father. Write them down, specifically and honestly. Confess them to God, claiming His forgiveness and grace (I John 1:9). Throw the list away, and ask God to help you live in God’s ways.
Will you make such a spiritual inventory today? 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Who tells Santa whether children have been “naughty or nice”? According to tradition, Alabaster Snowball is the elf in charge of the Christmas list. He and his fellow elves watch children all year long so they can report behavior to Santa. He then brings presents to those who have been good.
No one who loves children can reward them from wrong behavior.
Sin is when we choose our ways rather than God’s will. Our ways may not be wicked in the eyes of the world, but if they are not obedient to our Father’s will, they are not the ways of God.
Is an area of your life not where it should be today?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why are candy canes part of Christmas? Four centuries ago, the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral in Germany asked confectioners to create sticks in the shape of sheperds’ crooks. He then gave them to children to keep them quiet during Nativity services. In 1847, a German immigrant used the candy cane to decorate his Christmas tree in Wooster, Ohio. Millions are now sold during the Christmas season, each reminding us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who has come to lead His sheep to abundant life (John 10:10). But even God can only lead those who will follow.
The word “repent” means to “turn back”, to stop going the wrong direction and turn back to the way we should be traveling. God’s word cautions us, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30). We must remove anything which hinders his transforming work in our lives.
Is an attitude or action in your life grieving the Spirit today?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Where did Santa Claus get his jolly face? Thomas Nast (1840-1902) was one of the most famous political cartoonists of his day. In 1863, Harper’s Weekly asked him to begin a series of annual drawings depicting Clement Moore’s famous The Night Before Christmas. He based his character on “Pelznikel,” the Santa Claus of his German ancestors. Santa’s face, with his round cheeks and flowing white beard, is now beloved around the world.
God wants us to seek His face. The face is the most individual part of our bodies. We don’t really know people unless we know their face. God wants us to know Him in intimate, personal communion.
Have you spent time getting close to Jesus this morning?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? Surveys indicate that more than one in three began shopping before Thanksgiving. Just under 36% began between Thanksgiving and December 15; 26% will begin between December 16 and 23. Approximately 2% don’t begin until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (yes, there are stores open on Christmas). Their holiday will be consumed with consumption.
God wants us to seek His presence with passion. He wants us to run after the Christ of Christmas harder than we run after a gift for Christmas.
Have you sought an audience with Jesus yet today?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Have you heard of the Christmas rose? It blooms during winter in the mountains of central Europe, and is tied by legend to a shepherd girl named Madelon. As she tended her sheep one wintry night, the Magi passed with their gifts for the Christ child. Grieved that she had nothing to give him, she began to weep. An angel saw her tears and brushed away the snow to reveal a beautiful white flower tipped with pink – the Christmas rose.
What can we give Jesus for His birthday? The Apostle Paul instructs us to, “pray continually.” All through the Christmas season, you and I can serve in the cause of spiritual renewal in prayer. Pray for the people you’ll see at parties. Pray before going to a family member’s home. Pray for opportunities to put others before yourself, to treat others well in stores. Pray for God’s Spirit to help you be kind in this hectic seasons, exhibiting the joy of Jesus in the season of His birth.
For whose soul have you prayed today?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Who were the Wise Men? The Magi were a class of priests in Persia, modern-day Iran. They were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and their promise of a coming Messiah. When they “saw His star in the east” (Matthew 2:2), they traveled to Israel to meet him. If Persian priests could worship Jesus 20 centuries ago, all can worship Him today.
The Wise Men confronted Herod.
We need to ask God to bring spiritual renewal to our leaders and nation. Have you prayed for your president and leaders yet today?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Why do we hang wreaths at Christmas? In Greek and Roman times, a wreath signified victory in an athletic competition. Much like our Olympic gold medals, wreaths woven of leaves or made of gold were given to winners of significant races and contests. In the same way, Christians wear the wreath of eternal victory in Jesus. If you have asked Jesus to forgive your sins and give you eternal life, you have won the battle for your soul.
Many Christians have surrendered themselves to Christ as Savior but have gone no further in the spiritual life. Are you seeking to know God more intimately today than you did yesterday?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Why is mistletoe a Christmas tradition? In medieval England, people believed that the plant possessed medicinal qualities and magical powers. When two enemies met under the mistletoe, a magical spell was supposed to cause them to lay down their arms and embrace. In a similar way, young men at Christmas parties have long hoped that the magic of mistletoe would help them with young ladies.
God calls us to lay down our arms and submit ourselves to Him as our King.
John the Baptist demonstrated such a spirit when he said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
How could you glorify Jesus this Christmas season?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

When you were a child, did you write a letter to Santa? I did, mailing it to “Santa Claus, North Pole.” I was worried that he might not remember what I wanted for Christmas. The post office receives hundreds of thousands of letters like mine during the Christmas Season, all asking for toys and presents. No matter how busy you are with Christmas cards this season, Santa is busier.
God’s invitation is addressed personally to you. The only person whose relationship with God you can determine is your own.
Gypsy Smith, a great evangelist of an earlier generation, was once asked how revival begins. He suggested, “Take a piece of chalk and draw a circle around yourself. Pray until everything inside that circle is right with God, and revival will be upon us.” Would you take his advice today?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Do you know why we hang Christmas stockings on fireplace mantels? The custom originates with St. Nicholas (born A.D. 280 in modern-day Turkey), the original Santa Claus. He was a wealthy Christian priest who left gifts at the homes of needy people. Tradition says that Nicholas once heard about a poor man who had no money to give his three daughters for their wedding day. To help them, he dropped bags of gold into stockings they had left to dry by the fire. Ever since, we hang stockings by the fireplace on Christmas Even for Santa to fill.
Even God cannot give us presents we are unwilling to receive. Would you receive His gift of eternal life today?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Did you know that Christmas was once illegal in England? When Puritans came to power in Great Britain in 1653, they abolished the holiday as pagan and frivolous. Their sentiments carried over to the New World as well. Statutes against Christmas were repealed decades later, but many still chose to ignore the holiday and treat December 25 like any other day of the year.
Not to decide for Jesus is to decide against Him. God’s inviting you to invite Jesus into your heart and life. What is your answer to Him?