Christmas Presents

Sublime upon sublime scarcely presents a contrast, and we need a little rest from everything, even the beautiful. ~Victor Hugo

Our family has Christmas traditions you won’t find in The Saturday Evening Post. A White Rabbit candy box has been used for nearly thirty years to hide surprise packages. Whoever receives it has to pass it along the next year. The ladies of the house make peanut butter crackers to dip in melted chocolate on Christmas Eve. And all of the men receive duct tape.

The tape was a big joke until the year Cousin Jerry’s car broke down. Jerry is a mechanical genius and he whipped out the duct tape in the back seat to make a fix until he could get back to town. Then he knew the great worth of the present.

Jesus was born in a hole-in-the-wall village. His parents were poor, his birth questionable, and his circumstances unsavory.  He looked like the kind of present you chuck in the back seat and forget about.

But then, your life breaks down; you look behind the seat, in the trunk, down in the cracks with the jack. . . and you find HIM. Just the present you need to fix the mess you’re in. You pull off a small piece at first and wrap it around your broken heart. Then yank off a longer piece, tear it off with your teeth in your hurry to stop the pain, and affix the tape to the breaking heart of your life.

The duct tape holds. It’s just what you need. The perfect gift that you’ve had all along and never even knew you needed.

Won’t you let Jesus be your duct tape this Christmas?


Who can believe what we have heard,
    and for whose sake has the Lord’s arm been revealed?
He grew up like a young plant before us,
    like a root from dry ground.
He possessed no splendid form for us to see,
    no desirable appearance.
He was despised and avoided by others;
    a man who suffered, who knew sickness well.
Like someone from whom people hid their faces,
    he was despised, and we didn’t think about him.

It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
    and our sufferings that he bore,
    but we thought him afflicted,
    struck down by God and tormented. Isaiah 53:1-4 CEB

The Christ, Part 4

As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Luke 1:44 NIV

You won’t be in a group of women for very long before the baby stories begin. It’s what unites so many women. It’s what perpetuates mankind.

Stories of cars that don’t make it to the hospital, babies born in elevators, and “Surprise! It’s twins!” Stories of hurricane power outages, friends delivering the precious package, and fainting fathers.

But not every woman has those stories.

Some women are childless. Some women lose their children. Some stories are sad, painful, heartbreaking.

When you hear “The Christmas Story,” you are listening to Luke’s gospel. Did you ever wonder why Luke has more detail around the birth of Jesus than any of the other gospels?

Mary.

That’s right. Mary.

As much as he could, Luke went to the sources for his stories. One of his main sources was Mary, the mother of Jesus.

And what do mothers love to tell?

Birthday stories. Exciting things about their kids. What people said about their child. Predictions about their special one. And that time he got lost and she was so nervous and upset, but he was riding the escalator oblivious to all the panic . . .

But Luke tells other stories, too.

Stories of childless women, crippled women, poor women. He tells about foreigners healed by Jesus, rich men who don’t make it to heaven, and poor men who are welcomed by the king. He tells about common folk called to be the companions of Christ.

Luke wants to let everyone know that this Light from Heaven, this Suffering Servant, this King of Kings, is the Savior of All.

You don’t have to have the perfect story. You don’t have to have the perfect kids, the perfect home, the perfect job.

In fact, you don’t have to be perfect.

Because he was perfect for you.


While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple,praising God. Luke 24:51-53 NIV

The Christ, Part 3

‘The time has come,’ the walrus said, ‘to talk of many things: of shoes and ships – and sealing wax – of cabbages and kings.’ ~Lewis Carroll

Last week the new season of ‘The Crown’ came out on Netflix. The series follows Queen Elizabeth’s reign in Britain. The glamour, the glitz, the war and worry, the ups and downs. She’s had it all.

The modern world views royalty as celebrity. We watch what they wear, who they date, what they name their babies. A royal wedding inspires fashions and photos; a royal death inspires love songs and lullabies.

But historically, being royal was dangerous work. You led the army against the enemies. You fought the dragons and the sea serpents. You laid down your life for your subjects.

A king, a strong king, was the salvation of the country.

Matthew’s gospel announces a king. Matthew begins with the lineage that highlights Jesus’s relation to the throne. Then he tells us that the current king was so fearful of this new king that he tried to assassinate him. Other kings, “wise men”, came to pay homage to this greater king. How did they find this new king? He was announced in the stars- divinely appointed as all true kings are.

When the wise men came they asked, “Where is the king?” John the Baptist announced “the kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus also preached, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” People questioned whether Jesus could be the “Son of David,” the most notable king of Israel. A little while later, a mother declared that Jesus is the Son of David. And then he came riding into town on a donkey’s colt, the traditional sign of a peaceful king.

In the end, the governor asked if he was the king. Soldiers mockingly called him “King.” And finally, his title was written on the cross above his head. “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

He did exactly what a king is supposed to do.

He laid down his life for his subjects.

Bow before your king.

“Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn king.”

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
    and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
    and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
    His rule will extend from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth. Zechariah 9:9-10 NIV

The Christ, Part 2

We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival. ~Winston Churchill

Christmas is a happy time- angels, children, gifts, singing. It’s peace, joy, hope, and love. Christmas is God’s graciousness and mercy. Fa la la and ringing bells. Sleigh rides, snowmen, and hot chocolate.

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens,
There shone a holy light:
Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

But Mark doesn’t have time for all that.

The first 15 verses of Mark are rapid fire. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Isaiah predicts his coming, John says he’s coming, and then, BOOM, there he is!

Jesus comes down from Nazareth to be baptized. John is arrested, Jesus is tempted, and “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

What? No manger? No singing angels? No PRESENTS!?

No.

Mark is writing to a group of Christians who understand persecution. They’re being rounded up, taken from their homes, and set on fire to light Nero’s garden at night. They are the Christmas lights.

For Mark’s readers, it’s important to know that Christ also suffered.

He lost his family. He lost his friends. He faced ridicule, hatred, and persecution. He suffered at the hands of men and of Satan. His suffering was mental, emotional, and physical.

Mark spends his book writing about this suffering savior, and then he ends it this way:

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 

Jesus’s birth was announced by angels, and everyone came to see the miracle. His resurrection was also announced by angels, and people ran to hide.

As you celebrate Jesus’s birth this month, enjoy the glamour and gift-giving, the cookies and crafts, the parties and punch.

But don’t forget that Jesus also suffered so that one day we can enjoy the ultimate celebration. Be sure to tell the end of the story this Christmas, too.

I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins
And won the victory.


And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:37-39 ESV

The Christ, Part 1

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. ~Og Mandino

My father proposed to my mother while they were out looking at Christmas lights. It became a family tradition every year to drive around town looking at the twinkling colors.

It was a tradition I continued with my own family. Though I don’t decorate for the holidays, every year we drive through the neighborhoods looking at the lights. In some places we have lived we have even visited special light shows.

Darkness falls like cold black waters in late December, but the Christmas lights offer warmth and hope.

John’s gospel opens with such a light.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John mentions light many times in his book.

Nicodemus, a member of the Ruling Council, came to Jesus at night, cloaked in darkness to avoid being seen. He talks with Jesus, wanting clarification of who Jesus is. Jesus answers with the famous lines- For God so loved the world that he gave his only son- and then spoke light into Nicodemus’s world-  “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light . . .” (John 3:1-21)

The Morning Star continued . . .

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8:12)

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (9:5)

John details a miraculous healing in chapter 9. A man born blind is healed and can see for the first time in his life. The Pharisees and rulers are baffled about what to do. They see the man in front of them, but they don’t see the God who healed him. Jesus says now it is the Pharisees who are blind. They have no light.

And as Jesus prepares to be handed over to death he tells his disciples, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light . . . so that you may become children of light.” (12:35-36)

John ends his book with the resurrection of Jesus. It is dark, just before dawn, and Mary Magdalene has gone to anoint the body with herbs and spices. It will be her last act of reverence for the one she believed was the Christ.

Only, his body isn’t there.

As the day dawns, and light floods the garden, Mary recognizes the risen Lord.

“I have seen the Lord!” she declares to all who will listen.

December is dark. Night comes early. Coldness descends. But lights break through the darkness reminding us that Jesus came into the world.

Have you seen the Christmas Light?


The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. Isaiah 9:2 ESV

White Rabbits

Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering – because you can’t take it in all at once. ~Audrey Hepburn

I don’t know how it started. No one does. But many years ago, probably 25 now, a Christmas package wrapped in a tin was offered to someone at the family Christmas celebration.

The box was a used candy tin from some of my father-in-law’s Chinese students. Whether the candy was tasty is long forgotten, even what was given in the tin that first year is not remembered.

But the tin . . . We remember.

You see every year, the tin is filled with a new present and given to someone else in the family. Everyone waits expectantly to see who will receive the “White Rabbit” gift that year.

It isn’t a large tin; the present will be something small . . . a gift card, a notebook for your purse, a pair of underwear. Really the present isn’t what we care about. It’s all about getting the White Rabbit tin.

There was a lull in White Rabbit giving for several years. We noticed its absence, but we didn’t know what had happened to it. Had we given the tin to someone out of the family by mistake? Had it been inadvertently thrown away or sent to a thrift store? Like Alice’s White Rabbit, it seemed to be gone.

Then, after many years, it reappeared.

My sister-in-law, new to the family tradition, had not known its importance. We failed to tell her of its significance. She received the tin, but never passed it on. Finally, by sheer luck, she placed a gift in it one Christmas.

There was great rejoicing in the house. The White Rabbit tin was back. Again we have no idea what the present was; but we remember and rejoice at its presence. Like a long lost friend, the tin reminds us of Christmases past.

Josiah was a child when he became king of Israel. After reigning for 18 years he sent to the temple to make repairs. The priest passed on a book he had found by chance.

It was the Book of the Law.

Josiah read the book and mourned that its contents had been forgotten and ignored. He spent the rest of his days trying to bring Israel into a right relationship with God.

Someone, somewhere, had put the Book of the Law aside. They didn’t know its importance, or the great present that it held inside. For many years it sat unopened, like a White Rabbit tin that was misunderstood.

God told Josiah that the Israelites would still suffer because of their faithlessness, but Josiah tried to make it right anyway. He wouldn’t let the present be forgotten again.

You, too, have an opportunity to open a long-forgotten present: The Bible. It’s not an old family tradition of forgettable presents in an unexceptional tin. Neither is it a book of laws condemning us to suffering and shame.

It’s a new present, filled with the Love of God. It brings joy, excitement, peace, and comfort every time it’s opened.

Don’t ever forget what’s inside.

And don’t ever stop giving it to others.


Shaphan read it, then went back to Josiah and reported, “Your officials collected the money in the temple and gave it to the men supervising the repairs. But there’s something else, Your Majesty. The priest Hilkiah gave me this book.” Then Shaphan read it out loud.

 When Josiah heard what was in The Book of God’s Law, he tore his clothes in sorrow. At once he called together Hilkiah, Shaphan, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, and his own servant Asaiah. He said, “The Lord must be furious with me and everyone else in Judah, because our ancestors did not obey the laws written in this book. Go find out what the Lord wants us to do.” 2 Kings 22:9-13 CEV

A Christmas Gift

Giving is a really big thing around Christmas, as well it should be. Christmas is about giving, and it all stems from the greatest gift the world has ever received – the gift of Jesus Christ. ~Monica Johnson

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I was twelve, the age of confusion. No longer a child, not yet a woman. I played with my doll babies alone in my room. I knew it wasn’t considered cool or mature. Only a child played with dolls.

That Christmas I received a gift packaged in a hair dryer box. I was ecstatic as I thanked my mother for the gift. I hadn’t known I wanted one, but now, well, a hair dryer was the gift I had always longed for.

My mother’s face fell.

“You better open it up.”

I don’t remember what was inside, but it wasn’t a hair dryer. It wasn’t the gift I had expected.

I’m sure I tried to recover and thank my parents for the non-hair dryer gift, but 35 years later, I still remember the disappointment.

She was a young girl, not a child, but neither was she yet a woman. She played with the children and tried to fit in with the older girls. It was a time of confusion and uncertainty.

She was given a gift. The package was startling. It didn’t meet anyone’s expectations. It was what she had always wanted, and never known she desired.

It was a gift she would never forget. A pain and a joy that would overwhelm all disappointment.

May you find the real Christmas present every day of the year.


” Then he blessed them and told Mary, “This child of yours will cause many people in Israel to fall and others to stand. The child will be like a warning sign. Many people will reject him, and you, Mary, will suffer as though you had been stabbed by a dagger. But all this will show what people are really thinking.” Luke 2:34-35 CEV

Christmas Crazy

candles-64177__180If I were sixteen and planning out my life there are a few things I would do differently. Toward the top of the list is that I would not get married in December, and right below that I would not have babies near Christmas. During five weeks in December and January, our family celebrates three birthdays, two holidays, and one anniversary in a pear tree. It gets crazy.

For years now I have done away with holiday decorating and baking. I shop almost exclusively online, and I spread it out over the year. This year the first Christmas present was bought at an after-Valentine’s Day sale at Walgreen’s. I can’t wait to see my niece’s face when she opens up the gigantic hippo from us!

But even with these time savers, I still feel rushed at this time of year. There are parties and plays. There are special times for worship and for serving. There are still gifts to wrap and birthdays to plan. And in the midst of it all someone always gets sick.

It seems like the harder I try to calm things down, the more crazy and wild they get. So when I heard this song on the radio a few weeks ago, I sighed.

I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here
To end this crazy day with a silent night

Merry Christmas to All! May your holidays, birthdays, and even anniversaries be merry and bright!!


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, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:8-14

Christmas Traditions

advent-15187__180A cup of paper strips sat in the table centerpiece while Jonathan and I shared a lunch break. “What’s that?” he asked.

“It was to be an activity for the Ladies’ Breakfast last week, but we didn’t need it,” I answered.

He chewed a little longer and then pointed at the cup. A man of few words, I knew what he meant. I pulled out the first strip and read it off to him.

“What is your favorite Christmas memory and why?”

He started laughing. His favorite memory, believe it or not, is that we did NOT have a Christmas tree. You see, every year we packed up the kids and took the interstate north to West Virginia. They always wanted to spend Christmas with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. After several years of decorating a house, leaving it empty on Christmas, and then returning to clean up the decorations AND unpack from the trip, I had had enough. I declared if we were going home for Christmas, then Christmas would stay in WV.

I have taken a lot of flak for that decision. Don’t I miss looking at the tree? No. Don’t I feel like I am depriving the children of the holiday spirit? No. Don’t I wish we had family Christmas traditions? No, because we do.

We go home for Christmas. We visit our loved ones that we only see at Christmas. We go to church together on Christmas Eve. We unwrap presents at particular times, set out cookies for Santa, throw oats on the lawn for the reindeer, and make cookies together.

Today at lunch I was finally affirmed. “People always said what a bad mother you were because we didn’t have a Christmas tree. The truth is I never cared. We always went to the grandparents for Christmas and that was all I cared about,” Jonathan grinned as he shared his secret. “But I still thought it was funny that people said things about it.”


Build traditions of family vacations and trips and outings. These memories will never be forgotten by your children.
Ezra Taft Benson

Deck the Wall Hanging

christmas-991807__180Years ago, when my guys were little, my mother-in-law gave me a remnant of my husband’s childhood. It was a crocheted red and white wall hanging for Advent. There were twenty-four loose pieces of yarn to which I should tie pieces of candy. Then each day the boys would untie a piece of candy and be a day closer to Christmas. It was a way of building up to the true sweetness of Christmas.

One year, though, as I got out all of the Christmas decorations, the red and white wall hanging was ruined, shredded by a family of mice. Everyone was sad to see the end of the wall hanging. The boys were sad because they thought there might not be candy coming their way. I was sad because something special was ruined, and Matt was sad because a precious memory was now lost.

Jesus told us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 NIV

The wall hanging was a precious item because of its sentimental value. The yarn was of little material value. But our happiness was not intrinsic to the wall hanging. In fact, we mostly haven’t even noticed its absence.

Christmas has continued to come every year, even without the wall hanging. Christmas continues to come, because Christ came, not because of rituals and traditions. He is the truly treasured present that stays out all year long, even when mice are around.


God has entrusted us with his most precious treasure – people. He asks us to shepherd and mold them into strong disciples, with brave faith and good character.
John Ortberg