Tag Archives: Christmas

Beginning the Work of Christmas

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Many people are now experiencing an after Christmas let-down.  The gifts are opened, the parties are over, family and friends have gone home.  Hopefully, as Christians, we see Christmas as a beginning, not an end.  Advent is only the start of the liturgical year, and when Christmas Day is over, the Christ candle remains and is lit during our services to symbolize the presence of Jesus with us and His ministry on earth.  That ministry now belongs to us, His body, the church.  Below is a poem composed by Howard Thurman, and African-American theologian, educator and civil rights leader.  It expresses my thoughts well:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

How are you planning to carry Christmas forward into the New Year?  I’d like to hear your thoughts.

 

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A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE (Written in 2014)

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It’s Christmas. That should come as no surprise. The traffic around the malls has been backed up for two weeks. Christmas carols have been playing on the radio since Thanksgiving. And stores have been decorated since before Halloween. If anything, we should be saying, “Thank heaven it’s finally Christmas.” But Christmas is anything but final.

For Christians, there are constant reminders that Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus. Slogans such as “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “Wise men still seek him” appear on Christmas cards and sweatshirts and Facebook posts—reminders that it isn’t about the gifts or the decorations or the food. But I have to say this: Christmas is NOT ALL about the birth of Jesus.

If Jesus had only been born, we would have nothing to celebrate. If God had come to us in the form of one of us and . . . what? Just lived and died? Lived and ascended? Lived here forever? . . . Christmas would not have the meaning it does for our lives.

The celebration of Jesus’ birth is only fulfilled by the agony of his death and the glory of his resurrection. When we bask in the gentle glow of the manger scene, it is with the certain knowledge that of all babies everywhere, this baby was born to die—and not just to die but to die for us. And everything in that scene and everything in our celebration points to that certainty.

o The infant sleeps in a manger because people did not make room for him.
o The man will walk the road to the cross because people do not accept him.

o The nighttime sky turns bright as day at the announcement of his birth.
o The daytime sky will turn dark as night at the moment of his death.

o His mother wraps him in swaddling cloths—a tight wrapping all around his body.
o Friends will wrap his body tightly in cloth to prepare it for the grave.

o Sometime in his early years, and still associated with the Christmas story, wise men bring him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
o The gold is a symbol of kingship, the frankincense a symbol of priesthood, but the myrrh is a foretelling of his death. John says that Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about 100 pounds to be used in the preparation of the body for burial.

o He is laid in a borrowed manger, which was probably a hollowed-out stone.
o He will be laid in a borrowed tomb, which was probably a hollowed-out stone.

Even our Christmas traditions echo the reality that this birth is also about his death.

o Loving family around us reminds us that through this child’s sacrifice we become part of God’s family.

o The feast we eat at Christmas reminds us of his final meal with his disciples and of the feast we will share with him forever.

o Evergreens remind us of the eternal life this child will suffer to bring us.

o Cutting down a tree reminds us of his cross, made from a tree, and of his life cut down.

o Carrying the tree reminds us that he carried his cross.

o Lights on the tree remind us that the child in the manger is the light of the world, the light that shines so that no darkness can overcome it—but the darkness will try.

o Sharing with the poor reminds us that he came to earth poor, that he cared for the marginalized people of his society, and that he told us to do likewise.

o Wrapping gifts reminds us that he was wrapped as an infant and again wrapped for burial.

o Opening gifts reminds us that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was opened and the empty wrappings lay folded there.

o Giving gifts reminds us that God has given us the best gift of all—the gift of himself.

For the most important comparison of the season is this:

o At Jesus’ birth, the angel said, “Fear not—he is here.”

o At Jesus’ tomb, the angel said, “Fear not—he is not here.”

And that is why we celebrate Christmas.

It’s Christmas. Make room for Jesus. In everything you do, remember the infant, remember the man, remember the sacrifice he made for us, remember his resurrection, and remember that he loves you beyond measure. Follow his light, for on this night of all nights Bethlehem is everywhere, and Christ is here, God is with us. Fear not.

Amen.

A CHRISTMAS SONNET

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The day slips into memory; the storm

No longer keens among the weary trees.

A savage people in their anguish freeze

Before the God who wears a human form.

Stilled is the sound of battle, stilled the cry

Of pain, and stilled the voice of hate and fear—

For one brief moment all creation hears

The hush that echoes farther than the sky.

This night begins a day that for all time

Becomes the dawn of Time; the dream ignites.

The candle that alone withstands the night

Will kindle yet a flame to save mankind.

Listen for the laughter of the stars:

A child is born; tomorrow will be ours!

 

– M.A. Moore

In A Circle

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This short poem was written by Avery Brooke, a spiritual director and author of books on prayer and meditation.  I think it captures the essence of the Christmas season in Christian community.

Mary, Joseph and the young Jesus, hold hands in a circle.

We, with family (and friends), hold hands in a circle.

And God’s circle weaves in and out of our circle while the light grows brighter,

the hearts fonder, and we feel like singing.

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Martin Luther on Christmas #2

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Advent – Part 3 – Final Installment

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This is the third and final installment in the Advent sermon given by Jim Edgel.

 

Last week Michele and I were driving home from a friend’s house and were struck by the number of homes that already had Christmas lights brilliantly lit.   And during this week it has become even more so. It was my feeling that this year there are more lights than past years and I wondered why. Especially why there are so many on the homes of those who do not believe in the one who’s birth we celebrate in just a little over three weeks from now. Those who do not understand the treasure that is contained within our faith. I believe the lights that we see everywhere we go are expressions of defiance in the face of hard times. A tangible way to show that when all is increasingly dark – that there is hope. These lights are an attempt on the part of believers and non-believers alike to show that there is goodness and joy to be had. We all need beauty, we all should defy darkness, and we all need hope. The lights of Christmas provide or represent all three. Sadly, however, they do it differently for different people. For many people the lights that they string up represent a sad and futile hope.
                                 The hope of a Christmas like they had as a child and did not know the sorrow of this world –                                           a  Christmas of warm fires, cold snow and sweet aromas
                                 The hope for a family gathering – and a family life like that before they knew the pain of                                                  divorce, the agony of untimely death and the grief that separation brings.
                                  The hope for a world of magic, a world in which Santa Claus and his elves really make and                                            deliver all the toys that our children could possibly desire.
                                  A world in which all the problems and pressures of daily living can be erased if only the                                                  carols are played from the rooftop speakers loud enough.

But for those that do not have the real hope that Christmas represents… this is all in vain.

— The lights of Christmas cannot and will not make Christmas like it was when we were children.
— The lights of Christmas cannot and will not hold back the darkness of sin and sorrow.
— The lights of Christmas cannot and will not change the world and bring us the salvation we desire.

Only the Christ that was born on Christmas day can do that. Only the hope that we have in him, who was crucified for our sins and who rose from the dead and who has promised to return can change our lives and make them worth living. Only the risen and living Lord can make the celebration of his birth something that is more than a brief, frantic and senseless time of feasting until we are sick of sweets, drinking until we are sick of drink, and spending money we don’t have on gifts that our children don’t need – until the rest of the world is sick of our wasteful and self-indulgent ways. For too many people the lights of Christmas are a reminder of the joy that existed in the past, rather than the promise of a joy to come – the joy that is to come when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains. For too many the decorations and the preparations are an attempt to capture for a brief moment the peace of forgetting the pain of the world rather than the triumphant proclamation that the Lord if light, the living God, will soon come and judge between the nations – and that on that day they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks – and that the pain of the world will be ended. Nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. There are many kinds of hope my friends, some are false hopes and some are true.

— It is a wonderful thing to prepare for Christmas by hanging lights and decorating trees and preparing gifts for those you love
— It is a wonderful thing to defy the course of the world and to proclaim that there is a special day – a day in which family and friends may gather and dine together in peace and with joy.

— But it is even more wonderful – when in doing so – you have reason to believe that a day is coming when the whole world will be at peace – reason to believe that when your life is done you will enter into a joy that is eternal – when you have reason to believe the light which only briefly defies the darkness during our Christmas celebrations, will be established forever.

We have such reasons – we have such hope.
And because of that – I – and you – can rejoice at Christmas time.

–Even when the money is tighter than we have ever known.

— Even when jobs are not secure or our health if failing.

— Even when our children have moved far away or our parents have died.

Because of the one who came at the first Christmas – because of his life – his death – his resurrection and his promise to come again – and because even now he is present in the hearts of all those who believe in him – you and I can face the world as it is – and make a difference to it – and be at peace in it.
The light of the world has come – may his light shine from your homes this Advent season and in all the seasons of your days. Amen.

Martin Luther on Christmas

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Luther’s writings contain a multitude of references to Advent and Christmas. The following excerpt comes from a sermon on the Nativity that he preached in 1530:

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If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, his birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was rather to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to him. Now he reveals himself to the miserable in order not to give any impression that he arrives with great power, splendor, wisdom, and aristocratic manners. But upon his return on that Day, when he will oppose the high and the mighty, it will be different. Now he comes to the poor, who need a Savior, but then he will come as a Judge against those who are persecuting him now.

Three Wise Women

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See the source imageHave you ever imagined what the Christmas story would have been like if the wise men had been wise women?

Rest Along the Weary Road

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This article was originally published in The Lutheran Ambassador, a publication of the AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Churches).

Have you ever read a portion of Scripture and found a certain verse or phrase jumping out at you, striking you in a completely new way?  Or listened to a sermon when the Pastor said something that seemed meant just for you and your current situation?  Or had a hymn run through your mind over and over again?

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I think most of us have had that sort of experience, and when we do, we should pay attention.  The Holy Spirit may be nudging us to a deeper understanding, encouraging us with a word of comfort, or empowering us to take action.  Here’s a time that happened to me.

At our church during the Christmas season we always have a service when members have a chance to call out their favorite carols and the congregation sings a verse or two of each one.  As we sang “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” one year, I was suddenly and powerfully struck by the words, “rest along the weary road and hear the angels sing.”  Wow, I thought, that’s what Christmas should be about.  Nobody can deny that life is a weary road.  The Bible tells us that “man …is few of days and full of trouble”(Job 14:1), and that we can expect to experience trials and suffering (John 16:33).  All we have to do is look around our congregation to see people mourning the loss of loved ones, others who have lost their jobs, members in difficult relationships, or suffering from illness.  Christmas is a time to stop, to rest from all that, to remember the day God broke into our human lives with a precious gift, His own son, Jesus, to die for our sins.

Those of us in church know this.  The youngest child can tell you that Christmas is the birthday of baby Jesus, and the most theologically sophisticated use a big word to describe it, the “incarnation.”  But what is Christmas really about for most of us?  Far too often, Christmas becomes a time of frantic busyness instead of rest.  We have gifts to buy and wrap, cookies to bake, cards to send, people to entertain, parties to attend, a home and church to be decorated, more evenings out as we practice special music or a Christmas pageant.  We stress over whether our presents, our hospitality and our appearance have made the grade.  Maybe we spend more money than we should.  Then when Christmas Eve arrives, we’re too tired out to really appreciate it.  It’s just one more task to get through on the way to the conclusion of the season, when we can sigh and say, “Thank goodness I got everything done.”

None of the things we normally do around Christmas are bad.  Giving of ourselves in various ways, getting together with family and friends, spending some extra time at church, or singing Christmas carols, are all good things, especially if we do them in remembrance and thanks for God’s great gift to us.  But if, like Martha, we become “anxious and troubled about many things”  and miss “the one thing (that is ) necessary (Luke 10:41-42), we’ve lost the gift Christ wanted us to have.  Jesus Himself said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)  This year, I’m going to try to be more like the shepherds.  I’ll think of Christmas as a time to take a break instead of a time to get a million things done–a time to eave the worries about my life behind and stop to worship the baby King, a time to rest along the weary road and listen to the angels.

A Sacrificial Change

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“…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  Philippians 2:5-6

We think of the sacrifice Jesus made by dying on the cross, but do we even remember His first sacrifice?  God Himself gave up the glory of heaven to be incarnated as a helpless human baby.  What a humiliating change!  You might compare it to one of us becoming an ant, or a worm.  Yet He made that change for us. It reminds me of this beautiful hymn:

What Wondrous Love Is This
By: American Folk Hymn

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down
Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb,
Who is the great I AM,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free
I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

Remember the resurrection could not have happened without the incarnation.  They are chapters of the same story — the story that changed us from being dead in our sins to alive in Christ.