That’s Christmas to Me! ~ LOVE

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”  1 John 4:7

What is it about Christmas time that makes us think of love? Is it families gathering? Engagements happening? Is it watching the excitement of children? 

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:10-12

God loved us so much that He had His son, His one and only son to be born and to be our Savior. Webster says that propitiation is ‘the act of gaining or regaining the favor or goodwill of someone or something’. We needed Jesus in order to regain the favor of God. We have no comprehension of the kind of love God has to have for us to have sent Jesus. I have a lot of people I love a lot. But I wouldn’t want to sacrifice either one of my sons for them. If we even try to comprehend that love then we will have no choice but to love others. You see Love is the one thing that when used, when practiced, when showered on other people, you can’t use it up, it actually multiplies! 

At Christmastime and all the time really God’s love for us is the center of our faith! The love God had for us is manifested in the love we have for others. That’s what perfects our love. And I’m not talking about just those people that are easy to love. We all have people in our life that are not so easy to love. But when you are abiding in the love that God has for you, it is possible to love even the unlovely. Take the extra step this Christmas, even if you have to ask God to help you to love that person that maybe is not the easiest to love in your life. 

“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.” 1 John 4:15-16

I pray that you are abiding in the love God has for you. I pray that as we focus this week on the baby in the manger that love in our hearts will overflow to others. 

That’s Christmas to Me ~ Presents!

I have to admit I tend to go a little overboard with my people and the gift giving. I love to Christmas shop. It’s of course more of a challenge in the last couple of years. I love to watch people open gifts. I like the excitement on children’s faces when they see presents under a tree and even more so when they are opening the gifts. And yes, I probably do too much. When my children were younger if they had a need at Christmas time, be it underwear, socks or even a toothbrush chances are they would find it under the tree on Christmas morning. (I’m kidding about the toothbrush….I think) But why do we do this tradition of giving gifts at Christmas?

One of the main reasons is to remind us of the wise men and the gifts they brought to baby Jesus. 

“And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

The wise men brought gifts to Jesus, we give gifts to each other but the main reason we give gifts is we can’t forget the greatest gift to all humanity is Jesus. God sent us his one and only son to minister to us, to show us how to live, and to save us! 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

He came to earth as a baby, born to common people in a common place on an extraordinary night. He could have come with all the pomp and circumstance fit for the king that He is, but He didn’t. He chose humble beginnings. He grew in wisdom and stature, He taught, He ministered, He healed the sick and the lame and He was crucified on a cruel cross to be our holy sacrifice. He did all of this for our salvation. And all we have to do is to receive the gift. 

You know one thing we christians have to remember is that Jesus didn’t tell us to get our act together before we came. And we don’t get to do that either. So today the best present we can give to this world has already been given. We are the re-gifters here. We can give grace and peace and love to this dark and hurting world and point them to the true gift, Jesus! He’s the best gift we can give. 

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17

That’s Christmas to Me ~ Christmas Wreath

Wreaths are not just hung at Christmas even today. But it seems that for centuries they have been used and associated with many cultures. From what I have studied they have been around for centuries. Back as far as the first olympic games winners were presented with a Laurel wreath. But even before that they were possibly used as a sign of power or authority. 

While the Germans were credited with bringing us the Christmas tree, they may also get the credit of decorating with wreaths at Christmas time. Turns out, the first uses of wreaths as Christmas decoration came from not wanting to waste. You see, when they would trim the tree to get the triangular shape they would then take the leftover trimmings and form them into the shape of a wreath in order not to waste anything. 

But there is also some symbolism that comes with using wreaths in our decor at Christmas time. 

The circular shape of the wreath and using evergreen material symbolizes eternal life. Which we know can only come through Christ. 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

As Christians we know that we will have eternal life with Him, because we are adopted into the kingdom of God as his sons and daughters. When we give our life to Jesus, we are sealed for the day of redemption and our life is eternal in Him, through Him, with Him. When you see the ring of the wreath that may have been some of the thought processes in the making of these wreaths to remember. 

Many Christmas wreaths are made with holly leaves and red berries. The thorny leave of a holly were used in a wreath to symbolize the crown of thorns that were put on our Saviors head when He was crucified. It may have been a way for the early Christians to remember what Christ did for us on the cross. 

“And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him.” Mark 15:17

When the Roman soldiers placed the crown of thorns on His head they were mocking Him. Little did they know He deserves a crown. Not the painful, sharp, thorny crown they put on Him but the greatest most beautiful crown of all time. 

The red berries of the holly that were used symbolized His blood that was spilled for us. 

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Ephesians 1:7

He gave His life on a cruel cross so that we may have forgiveness for our sins. It is the pure grace that He extended to us. All we have to do is receive it. 

There are also various other wreaths that are used to adorn the Christmas season. There is the advent wreath that is used to countdown the four weeks leading up to Christmas. When using an advent wreath you light a candle and read scripture pertaining to the themes of the four weeks, Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The lights on the advent symbolize that Jesus is the light of the world. 

“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:5

What I am noticing is that the wreath could be a way of reminding us that yes as we celebrate Christmas and the fact that Jesus came to us as a baby, with humble beginnings, being born in a stable and laid in a manger, that we also need to remember where it ends. The wreath can be a way of pointing us not just to the baby Jesus, but to our Savior Jesus by remembering what He did for us on the cross and that the crown on His head and the blood that was spilled was for us. It was for the eternal life that is ours to receive if we just follow Him. 

You see Christmas is not just about the baby Jesus but it is also about what He did for us on the cross. I never realized how the wreath could remind me of that until now. I hope you will remember with me. 

That’s Christmas to Me ~ Candy Canes 

Most of you probably know that there is symbolism behind this most popular Christmas candy. The legends says that in the 1600s there was a choirmaster in Germany who would hand out sugar sticks to his young singers to keep them quiet during the live nativity program. And then around the turn of the century there was a candy maker who created the candy cane which would be a reminder of Christ and the symbols of his birth, ministry and his death. 

“The candy maker began with a stick of pure white hard candy to symbolize purity, the Virgin Birth and the Solid Rock, foundation of the church and the firmness of the promises of God.” 

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

Jesus was born of a virgin, grew to be a man and is the foundation and solid rock. 

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2

“The shape represents the staff of the shepherds or the Good Shepherd himself, which when turned upside down, also is a ‘J’ as a reminder of Jesus.”

“The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

The Shepherd uses his staff to guide his sheep. The Lord guides us and gives us a sense of security when we feel His presence and His guidance in our lives. 

“Three small red stripes were added to the traditional candy to represent the scourging of Jesus by the Roman soldiers’ and the large red stripe is a symbol of the blood he shed on the cross.” 

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by the blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Romans 5:9

We are made clean by the blood that was shed by our Jesus. There is no more need for lamb sacrifices as Jesus was the perfect, unblemished, spotless lamb sacrifice for us, for our sins. 

“The flavor of the candy canes is peppermint, which is similar to hyssop. Hyssop, from the mint family, was used in the Old Testament for purification.” 

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7

I love candy canes! We always had them hanging on our tree when I was a little girl. I almost can’t pass by a box of them without picking it up. I may not hang them on the tree anymore. But to me, I just love having them at the Christmas season especially. There is just something very Christmas-y about them. But I hope this year when I see a candy cane, I will stop and think and remember what my Lord did for me so that I could be washed clean! 

That’s Christmas to Me ~ Angels! 

Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains! 

As my thoughts turned to Angels and Christmas I must admit this chorus rang over and over in my head. I have always loved Christmas angels. The ones that are tree toppers down to the ornaments hanging on the tree. I love Angel decorations of all shapes and sizes. While I do believe that angels are everywhere all the time, they always come to my mind when thinking of all things Christmas.  After all angels were the first messengers of Jesus birth. And I think it is very significant that the message every time they appeared began with instruction to not fear. 

The first encounter I want to talk about was announcing another miraculous birth. 

“And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zecharaiah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid Zecharaiah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.’” Luke 1:11-13

I love the kindness of God to have Elizabeth and Mary both have miraculous birth experiences at the same time. There were differences no doubt as we know Jesus was God’s son. But there were miracles surrounding Elizabeth’s age and we know that John was set apart to play a role in Jesus adult life as well. 

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’” Luke 1:26-30

Can you imagine a young girl getting a message like that. One thing that I think is important to note here is God didn’t send just any old angel to Mary, this angel had a name. Which who knows maybe all angels have a name. But we only know of three. The archangel Michael, the fallen angel whose name we will not capitalize, satan, (I actually like Lisa Harpers name for him “that lying lizard”) and Gabriel. God sent a special angel to Mary to give her message. 

In the book of Matthew we see Josephs encounter with the angel. 

When Joseph first found out about about Mary being with child from the Holy Spirit, he would have been completely within his earthly rights to divorce her. Because he was a just man and didn’t want to shame her he was going to at least do it quietly. 

“But as he considered these things, behold, an angel fo the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’” Matthew 1:20

The angel told him do not fear. Humanly speaking the situation these two found themselves in could bring about a whole lot of fear. Think about it, their communities knew they weren’t married, they were betrothed but this meant like an engagement period. And yet, Mary was with child. Can you imagine the talk, the gossip. Joseph may have had to deal with people coming to him and encouraging him to divorce her. I think of what this young couple must have had to endure. I bet they had to many times over remind themselves of the angels message “do not fear”. 

And then God sent a multitude of angels to announce the birth of His son to the shepherds.

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!.’” Luke 2:10-14

Angels are God’s set apart beings that have many various tasks. They are not to be worshipped as that is reserved for God and His Son Jesus. But they were the first messengers of Christmas. And the message that they gave along with the most glorious birth announcement was “Fear Not!” What do you have that you are fearing today? A diagnosis, a job loss, an uncertain relationship, many people are fearing how they will rebuild their lives after the devastating storms this past weekend. I can’t even imagine. As we continue in this Christmas season I pray that you will be able to hang onto that message from the angels because I believe that message is for us all, not just the players in the part of the Christmas story. No matter what you may be fearing this Christmas season I pray you can hang onto the words of the angels that brought the first messages of Jesus’ birth to Fear Not!

That’s Christmas to Me ~ JOY!

Joy to the World, the Lord has come! Have you ever been able to sing that Christmas Carol without having a little Joy just spilling over into your heart? I know I haven’t. Joy, this is what the world needs a little more of, especially the last couple of years, RIGHT? What does the Joy of Christmas mean to you? To me it means focusing on the one who brings us Joy. In John 15 Jesus says to us: 

“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11

What are the things Jesus was speaking to us? 

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” John 15:9-10

Jesus is telling us to have His Joy complete in us we must be abiding in Him. We have to focus on Him. What better time of the year than Christmas to be sure that your heart abides in Him. Abiding means keeping His commandments and spending time with Him. Webster defines abide as: 

1. to remain stable or fixed in a state. 2 to continue in a place. 

Abiding with Him is remaining stable with Him, keep your eyes and your heart fixed on Jesus and Jesus is telling us that is when our Joy will be full. I pray that as we focus our hearts and our minds on Him this Christmas season that we feel His Joy complete deep down in our hearts and that it is to the overflowing. 

The last couple of years have been really hard years. We’ve lost loved ones, we have seen natural disasters and social unrest in our country. We are dealing with inflation and sickness and death. The pandemic has ushered in hard times and well quite frankly, we had gotten used to our cushy lifestyles. Everyone says they are ready for things to go back to “normal. The pandemic has stolen lots of things from us. But one thing this pandemic and the last couple of years cannot take from me, is the Joy that is deep in my heart from spending time with Jesus. I pray that you will let your heart prepare Him room today so that no matter what your circumstances of 2021 are, you too can sing. 

Joy to the World the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King!

That’s Christmas to Me ~ Wise Men 

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’” Matthew 2:1-2

Our nativity scenes that we recreate for Christmas always depict the wise men worshiping Jesus in the stable. But truthfully, the wise men came from far away and when you study commentary it says that they probably were actually several months, I have even heard a couple of years later. Also, we depict them as kings, when they were probably astronomers and/or philosophers. Something else I had never really paid close attention to in this story was the continuity of the star. In my mind, I thought they had followed the star every night on their journey to Jesus. But if you look closely it’s quite possible that the star was not there every night. 

The wise men were headed to find Jesus who was still in Bethlehem at the time. They went by way of Jerusalem and had an encounter with King Herod. Now some may say that they lost their way, but because it is noted, you have to realize that even though it stirred up Herod, who was a pretty bad guy that it is a significant part of the story. You see God can and will even use the parts of our story when it seems we may lose our way. And then what is stated next is what made me realize that the star was probably not visible every night. 

“After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Matthew 2:9-10

Did you catch that? “behold, the star they had seen” (past tense) “went before them”. The star did not lead them every step of the way, but when the time was right, it rose again to lead them straight to Jesus. 

Sometimes life for us is like that too isn’t it? We think we know a direction God is leading us. Then we can’t see it anymore and we have to take a few steps simply on faith. And eventually behold, we can see God’s hand directing us again. It may not be in the way of a star, but it is something in our mind that we can finally see our way more clearly. I think we can learn a few things from these wise men. They may have looked like they lost their way, but when the time was right BEHOLD the star rose again in the east and led them straight to Jesus, straight to their purpose. Keep following your star and when the time is right, behold it will lead you straight to your purpose too! 

That’s Christmas to Me ~ Savior

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11

What do you think of when you think of the word Savior? 

When I go to Webster the definition says:

  1. One that saves from danger or destruction; 2. One who brings salvation. 

It also says “used by Christians to refer to Jesus Christ.” 

There you have it, the politically correct, generic, vanilla definition of Savior. I also looked at synonyms of the word, savior. They were deliverer, redeemer, rescuer, saver, defender, hero, liberator, protector and there were more. I actually like the synonyms more than I do the definition. Now those are some of the words that come to my mind when I think of Savior! 

Can you imagine, what may have been going through the shepherds minds as they were sleeping on a hillside on a starry night and suddenly an angel appeared and gave them those words that a Savior had been born, who was Christ the Lord! And then there were angels singing. Glory to God in the Highest. What were they thinking this Savior would mean to them? I can’t even imagine. You see on top of that being miraculous in and of itself, God had been pretty much silent for hundreds of years. There had been no prophets around for a long time to give messages from God. The people were waiting for the Messiah but I wonder had the waiting been so long that they really wondered if it would ever happen at all. Then God broke His silence by sending the Savior of the World, His son, His only son! I can’t even imagine what was going through their minds as the angel appeared to them with this announcement, and then a heavenly host of angels sang out from the heavens. 

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:14 (NKJV) 

Scripture tells us their first emotion was fear. Then I’m sure it was awe and wonder. But did they get it? Did they understand what was meant by Savior. 

I wonder, but I can try to tell you what Savior means to me. Webster is true when it says Savior is one who brings salvation, but I like the synonyms because He has been all of those things to me. Even more than my salvation. 

He is my deliverer. He has delivered me from so many things. Sometimes He delivers me from and sometimes He delivers me through. As He delivers me, He holds me in the palm of His hand and because He holds me I know that nothing can touch me that He is not going to carry me through. I get out of bed in the mornings to meet with Him because I know that if I keep Him close He will walk with me through my days, through the hard days and the good days. Through the uncertain days and the days I think I know what might be coming. 

He is my rescuer! I probably don’t even know all the things He has rescued me from. But the things I do know, make me stand in awe of Him. He has rescued me from myself. He has rescued me from shame of a past that I wish I could erase. He makes a way when I see no way! 

He has saved me from my sin, He defends me to the accuser,He is my hero, He liberates me to be who He has made me to be and I know He protects me. He is the Savior of the world, born in a manger to a simple girl, in a simple town, in simple surroundings, but with all the fanfare of the heavenly hosts singing! But more than that to me, He is MY Savior, born for this simple minded woman, living an ordinary mundane life. He rescued me, He delivers me, He saved me and I hope I am found praising Him every day for the rest of life! But especially this season. I love the trees, the lights, the whimsy of Santa. I love the family time, and time with friends and an excuse to be together for holidays. But more than that I love my Savior! Worshiping the Savior is what Christmas is to me! 

That’s Christmas to me – Shepherds

No Christmas pageant would ever be complete without shepherds. After all, the shepherds received the first birth announcement that Jesus had been born. But have you ever stopped and wondered why God chose the shepherds to receive the news first?

I read that Billy Graham believed God chose to announce Jesus birth to shepherds in order to show Gods great love for everyone. You see, in biblical times shepherds were humble people with a humble job. They watched over the sheep but they were also looked down upon by society. Think about it, they slept outside watching over their flocks. They had to defend their sheep from other animals, they were probably not very clean as they were outside with animals as their every day existence. But God chose to reveal His son to the people who were looked down on by people. They were humble ordinary people performing an every day ordinary job. 

I like that God chose the ordinary over the notables first. He really always did, even before the birth announcement, remember David. He was a shepherd out watching over sheep when Samuel came looking for a king and Jesse paraded all of his sons in front of Samuel. All except for the youngest, the least, who was out watching over the sheep. God said no to the best and the brightest of Samuels bunch and said go get the shepherd boy, that’s the one, he has a heart for Me! 

I wonder if those shepherds, the particular ones that got that birth announcement had a heart for God already. I wonder if that was why they were chosen! I wonder if their hearts were already in tune a bit to things of God, if that is why they got to be the ones. I bet they were, because God has always looked at the heart!

And I believe He still does. We still tend to look for the best and the brightest of the bunch but God says I’m not looking for the best and the brightest, I am looking for the heart that will follow me, the every day ordinary heart that is going about the everyday ordinary job. 

I agree with Billy Graham, God sent His son, His love for all of us ordinary people. I think He chose ordinary people to show ordinary people for all time that we would still be chosen by Him! God revealed Himself, His son to ordinary people going about their ordinary job. 

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” Luke 2:8-9

I believe He still does that every day. We may not get an angel and the glory of the Lord shining all around us. But I believe that God wants us to see His glory in our every day, ordinary mundane days even now. We just have to open our eyes to it.

Lord I pray you find my heart to be that of the shepherds, ready to follow You! And I pray you will reveal your glory to me today! 

That’s Christmas to Me ~ Church

I love going to church on Christmas Eve for a Christmas Eve service. Most churches simplify things quite a bit and the Christmas Eve service is usually just a simple message with simple music and people who just simply want to focus in on the baby Jesus. There is just something about standing with other people and singing Silent Night by candlelight. I’ve been to services where we stand in a circle and I’ve also been where we just stood where we were but somehow it just always seems so Holy! 

But I also love my church all year through. I love the fellowship and the connection of being a part of the church. Church services have been different the past couple of years. The church has had to prove over and over that it is definitely more than a building. We have seen in the pandemic that the church will stand and will adapt and will continue to minister whether they can meet in person or not. I have seen churches pay off buildings and do new hires even in the midst of all the craziness. In fact ours did both. We as a people have had church in the building, in our living rooms, on back porches and around fire pits. I for one am grateful to live in a time that even if I can’t go to the building that I can log onto a computer and still worship with my faith family. Oh don’t get me wrong, I love going to the building. But at times when you just can’t it’s nice to know that the building can come to you, so to speak. 

I believe that we were created to crave community. That has been part of what has been hard about the last couple of years. We see in the Bible that some of the very first mentions of “church” were in the book of Acts, but think about it. When Jesus was teaching to people on hillsides and in temples and beside water and people were gathering to listen to him teach they were “having church” with him. Isn’t that what the church is? A place to learn about Jesus, to fellowship with other believers, to minister to people and to learn to love each other. And when we get to have church and when we get it right it is a beautiful thing. Church is a place to go to get your heart healed and there is no better place and time than on Christmas Eve. If you have never experienced a Christmas Eve service try to find you one this year. Whether you meet in a building or meet in your homes online, quiet your soul and think on that Holy Night and Jesus and let Him heal your heart just a bit from a very long hard year.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Acts 2:42-44