Topical blogs

Away in a Manger

“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” (Luke 2:6,7 NLT) This familiar scene captured by nativity sets is one of my favorite parts of Christmas decorations. Every Christmas, I place a cherished nativity scene by my front door. I unwrap each piece with a smile remembering when my children eagerly helped me put it on display. There are camels, sheep, cows, Magi, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and of course, baby Jesus. He was always the favorite figurine and the last one to be placed in the stable. After baby Jesus was in his spot, we talked about the true meaning of Christmas.

I never really stopped to think about the significance of Jesus being born as a human baby. Why did God send his son to be born as a baby? Why not send him as he will come the second time. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout…” (I Thessalonians 4:16 NLT) Wouldn’t that have been more convincing?

The people of Nazareth certainly had a hard time believing in him. “They asked, ‘Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles? Then they scoffed, ‘He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.’ They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.” (Mark 6: 2b-3 NLT) Jesus was too ordinary for them. They knew he was the firstborn son of their neighbor.

If Jesus had come from heaven with a commanding shout, all the earth would have known of his arrival, instead of just some lowly shepherds. He would have come with power and majesty. When he performed his miracles, people would have had an easier time believing he came from his Father in heaven. Even the religious leaders might have taken him more seriously.

And that is one reason, God sent him as a little helpless baby. If the religious leaders had believed in him, they would not have sent him to the cross. Jesus had to go to the cross. Even though God’s plan might have seemed backward, he knew exactly what he was doing. Jesus could only come in victory after he defeated sin and death for us.

The other less obvious reason which proved to be a stumbling block to some, Jesus was just like them. Jesus is just like me. And that is the point. How could he empathize with my every weakness, if he had not been born as a babe? “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT) Jesus gets me. Jesus went through every phase of life that I go through (with the exception of old age). Jesus experienced all the same temptations that I encounter. He understands how cruel life can be, how disappointing relationships can be, how my body of sin is tempted, and how I long to be loved and valued.

This Christmas seeing baby Jesus lying in a manger brings me new encouragement and hope. The nativity will remind me of my High Priest who understands all my frailties. He knowingly intercedes for me with the Father because he gets me.

I pray that you will have a truly blessed Christmas dwelling on the best gift the Father could ever give us. A baby boy born of a virgin away in a manger so long ago.

Topical blogs

Christmas Carols

Christmas Carols also got their origin from copying pagans singing about their holidays. But it is one tradition for which I am very thankful. The carols we sing today were mostly written during the Victorian era when celebrating Christmas was popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Christmas Carols proclaim the birth of Christ and what that means for us. I have a new appreciation this year for those traditional songs we sing every year. They ring out the truth about Christmas. In the past, I have sung them, but I didn’t really soak in their lyrics. Songs like, “Oh come, All Ye Faithful”, “Away in a Manger”, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.

I love the lyrics to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. Charles Wesley a great evangelist wrote the lyrics to this song. It was first published in 1739. Wesley understood the gospel and all of its implications. Here is some of the truth he placed in this carol. God and sinners are reconciled. Christ is the everlasting Lord. Christ is veiled in flesh, but yet a part of the Godhead. He was pleased to dwell with men. He was born to give us second birth. He will bruise Satan’s head and erase what Adam did to the human race. This song doesn’t just recount the birth of Christ, but adds in what Christ did in coming.

Fortunately, over the years, Christian artists have come up with new Christmas carols that I have come to love. Amy Grant’s “Emmanuel”, Mark Lowry’s “Mary Did You Know”, Casting Crowns “While You Were Sleeping”. I am so thankful for the truth these songs recount also.

Of course, there are other Christmas songs that have become very nostalgic for me because they recall memories of decorating the tree with my children, baking cookies, opening presents on Christmas morning and more. Most of these songs have nothing to do with Christ’s birth. And to be honest, I preferred them over the carols because of their catchy tunes and the warm feelings they produced. I still enjoy them, I still listen to them and sing along.

But this Christmas, I’m trying to focus more on the songs that relay the truth. They help me to keep my focus on the true meaning of Christmas. When so much about this Holiday can be distracting and stressful. They have become a beacon of light for me. Carols are a way to rescue the Christmas that has been hijacked by the world.

I hope they will have new meaning for you too this Christmas as you prepare for the Holidays. May the truth of Christ’s birth bring peace to your heart this year.

Topical blogs

Christmas Hijacked

In my humble opinion, Christmas has been hijacked by the world. Christmas has become more about gift giving and decorations and Santa Claus and baking cookies and Christmas trees and Christmas movies, than about Christ’s birth. All the traditions that the world has added to Christmas appear so harmless. But are they?

I have been asking myself that question since I began my research on Christmas. I have complained for years that Christmas has been commercialized too much. It seems like “Christmas” has taken on a life of its own. I love watching the Christmas Hallmark movies, but I notice that they focus on the magic of Christmas. While, it’s fun to watch, it also makes me sad that Christmas magic has become such a competitor to the real miracle of Christ’s birth.

Christmas has become a secular holiday. What started out as a religious holiday has been taken over by the world. As Christians it makes our job much harder to remember the manger and its message. Gift giving has become bigger and bigger over the years. In an article from The Week magazine called, “A Brief History of the Christmas Present,” it says, “But when Christmas celebrations became legal in the 1680s, gift giving boomed. Rural Americans carved wooden toys and made pieces of needlework in the agricultural offseason to give to family members and neighbors. The Industrial Revolution saw those handmade items replaced with mass-manufactured trinkets and toys. By 1867, the holiday present industry was healthy enough for Macy’s in New York City to keep its doors open until midnight on Christmas Eve for the first time.” Now we have Black Friday which starts on Thursday!

Jesus has to compete with gift giving and Santa Claus. It is so easy for those things to capture our hearts, especially our children’s hearts at this time of the year. Children love getting presents! I love watching their faces light up as they open each one. I admit looking back that I over-bought at Christmas. I love giving gifts and I wanted my children to know how much I loved them. I equated gifts with love.

What child doesn’t love tales of magic? It seems so harmless. And for the most part I agree that fairytales aren’t bad. It sparks the imagination and gives joy. Fairytales are stories, not real people. I made that clear to my children. However, I encouraged my kids to believe in Santa Claus at Christmas. I knew plenty of Christians who did not. Did Santa Claus become more important to them than Jesus? I wonder?

I believe God is doing a work in my heart. I think he wants me to be more careful in how I approach Christmas. I need wisdom in knowing how to help my grandsons understand that Jesus is better than Santa. That all the presents they receive does not compare to the gift God gave us in his son. I need to help them remember that Jesus is the best reason to celebrate at any time of the year.

 

Scripture blogs, Topical blogs

Is Christmas Biblical?

Christmas biblical? For the first time this year I asked myself that question. I did a google search and I was shocked by what I found. Christmas traditions are rooted in pagan practices. Rulers and missionaries took people’s pagan festivals and changed them to Christian ones.

First, early Christians did not celebrate Christ’s birth. The Encyclopedia Americana, 1956 edition, adds, “Christmas…was not observed in the first centuries of the Christian church, since the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth…a feast was established in memory of this event [Christ’s birth] in the fourth century. The first recorded celebration of Christ’s birth was in 336 A.D. during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine. Rather, the celebration of December 25th as a feast day can be traced back to the paganism of Babylon (Jeremiah 52:31), to elements of Egyptian worship, and to the idolatrous worship of Saturn in Roman times. “Far and wide in the realms of paganism was this birth day observed”, Rev. A. Hislop, “The Two Babylons”.

Scholars know that Jesus wasn’t born in December from the text telling of his birth. Shepherds would not be out in the fields in December near Bethlehem, it is too cold. Also calculating Elizabeth’s conception from when Zechariah would have been ministering in the temple and Mary’s conception 6 months later, would make Christ’s birth in the spring.

What else is rooted in paganism? Christmas trees for one. Many cultures considered the evergreen tree as a symbol of life. Northern Europeans put evergreen trees in their homes and the Romans put evergreen branches inside in the winter as reminder that spring was coming. According to an article in Christianity Today, “many early Christians were hostile to such practices. The second-century theologian Tertullian condemned those Christians who celebrated the winter festivals, or decorated their houses with laurel boughs in honor of the emperor.” However, during the middle ages the use of the evergreen trees as part of Christmas was accepted. Christian missionaries were taking what was part of idol worship and claiming they could convert it to Christianity because of Christ’s supremacy over all.

What I am supposed to do with these new revelations? In my search, I certainly found those who believe we are sinning and displeasing God by participating in the Christmas celebration. They even quoted scripture to back up their claims.

Is there anything biblical about Christmas that can justify my participation in the season? For one, at Christmas we tend to be more generous to those in need. Proverbs 22:9 (NASB), “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.” We know that God commends us for giving to the poor. If I look at Christmas as a time for giving, not just to my family, but to those around the world who are in desperate need, then I believe God would be pleased.

Is there anything wrong with celebrating the birth of Christ? Even though it was unbelievers who commemorated the day of their birth, remembering the miraculous birth of our Savior is beneficial. God did not command that we make Christ’s birth a feast. But to worship Jesus by remembering the details around his birth is encouraging to our faith. Having a special service at church to remember God’s fulfillment of his prophecies concerning Jesus’ birth is appropriate.

Is it wrong to get involved in all the other things of Christmas, like decorations, presents, cookie baking, Christmas work parties, Santa Claus, etc.? Only the individual Christian can make that call. For me, I will trust that God is more interested in my heart attitude toward Christmas than what I do. I think I can enjoy time with family and friends making memories around Christmas traditions. I will know that Christmas is not something that God has ordained. But, I don’t think God necessarily hates Christmas either, if celebrated with the right attitude and understanding.

I will use this time as a reminder of all that God has done by sending his son as a baby. I will worship him by giving to those less fortunate than myself. I will be grateful and extend his grace and kindness to others during this crazy busy time of the year when patience is at an all-time low. And I will try not to get caught up in the frenzy. What will you do about Christmas?

Topical blogs

What do you want for Christmas?

Black Friday is now history and Cyber Monday is today. The official Christmas shopping season has begun once again. It is that time of year when, “What do you want for Christmas?” is heard all over the place. That question forces me to come up with things I want. Even if I have been content with what I have, I quickly find things I want. It isn’t even about need either, it’s about want; I never really need anything.

According to the rest of the world, I am rich. I have more stuff and income than most of the rest of the world. I am not the richest by any means, but I have plenty. However, money and material possessions are not the only wealth I hold. I am, we are as Christians, extravagantly rich in spiritual blessings. I wrote about it in my last blog.

God showed me a link between focusing on my spiritual wealth and giving generously through Paul’s words to the Corinthians. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV) Obviously, Paul isn’t talking about material wealth here, but spiritual. However, he reminded them of their riches in Christ, and urged them to give to others generously.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 ESV) Jesus started his famous Sermon on the Mount with that proclamation. If I recognize that I am spiritually poor, he will grant me the kingdom of heaven and I will become spiritually rich. If I don’t understand that I am spiritually bankrupt, then I will not see a need for Christ in my life. I will stay spiritually empty, seeking to be rich through what this world has to offer, money and stuff. If I understand I am spiritually rich, then I am prompted to give generously to others because I understand I am complete. I don’t need stuff to make me valuable.

I must admit that over the last several years, my church has really helped me change my focus at Christmas. I have come to realize just how much we spend at Christmas on our wants when there are those around the world who have dire needs. Both my husband and I have cut back spending so much on each other in order to give to others. But it has felt like a sacrifice.

This Christmas I’m asking Jesus to help me meditate on my spiritual wealth, so that giving to others doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, but a privilege. I want to be bursting with generosity and joy because I get how wealthy I truly am both materially and spiritually. Things will never make me more valuable or truly satisfy me. God has already blessed me with unfathomable value and blessings. Now what am I going to do in response?

Join me in remembering our great wealth and ask Jesus how he wants you to give to those in need this Christmas.