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Tag: Christmas

Anticipation

by Carol Nicholls

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13

My brother Bobby and I were in the kitchen helping wash up the dinner dishes. Mom had shut the kitchen door that led to the rest of the house. The doorbell rang, Bob and I ran to the closed door and put our ears as close as we could. “Ho, ho, ho” said a man’s voice. Dad said, “Welcome, please come in.”

“Have Carol and Bobby been good this year?” Santa asked. Just then Mom made a huge clatter with dishes. We couldn’t hear what Dad had said. Our anticipation turned to frustration!

In a little while Dad opened the kitchen door and we went into the living room. Right in the middle of the room was a blue Schwinn bicycle, a giant bicycle, an adult bicycle. And…it was mine. Frustration and anticipation became jubilation! Read the rest of this entry »

Good News!

by Rob Dunne

Image by Darren Tunnifliff
Flickr.com_4232232092_2be61c1467_CC BY-ND 2.0

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:31-33.

I try very hard not to read or watch the news. To a certain extent, I believe the media intentionally fills its headlines with bad news. The result is that we as consumers of media are in a constant state of fear or anxiety. News can give us a sense of hopelessness.

Two thousand years ago, God sent the angel Gabriel to give Mary and the world some good news. When Gabriel first appeared to Mary, she responded in fear. Unlike the fear that we may experience when watching the news, this fear was warranted. Imagine what it would be like for a supernatural being like an angel to appear in your room. Mary was justified in her initial response.

Read the rest of this entry »

Joy Ignited

by Mindy Kiker

Image by Jone Vasatis_Flickr.com_7962560356_374f90ea74__CC BY-ND 2.0

“My spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Luke 1:47

As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, we rejoice in God made flesh, our Savior Jesus Christ. An unusual “Christmas” verse comes to mind as I ponder rejoicing in my savior — a verse that takes us forward to the culmination of the Christmas story where we read of Jesus’ commitment to rescue us by choosing not only to be born of a woman but also to die on a cross:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

How does Jesus find joy in a brutal and painful death? He keeps His eyes on the prize. He kicks Satan in the teeth and purchases our freedom once and for all. For that great prize, he is willing to sacrifice His own life and call it a joy. Praise be to God!

Mary too, is asked to endure a type of sacrifice. Everyone knew from the Scriptural prophesies that the Messiah would be born to a virgin, but think about what it would mean to be “that virgin” — the one with child before the wedding vows are spoken. Mary, a betrothed but not-yet-married young lady, has no business being pregnant. Read the rest of this entry »

Christmas Is Not under Control

by Mike McKinniss

If the world always ran in accordance with my wishes (sigh!), there would eternally remain two to three unblemished days on the calendar every week. Naturally, the work day would be busy with productive toil, but at least a pair of evenings would ideally remain sparkling and unsoiled by plans. I’m forever hoarding a bit of space for myself, you see.

It wasn’t long ago—just before Thanksgiving, if I remember correctly—I took a peek at my December calendar, and I rather reflexively expectorated a mild but genuine curse. The whole flippin’ month is jammed full of events. Somehow without my notice, I lost control of my time this holiday season. I don’t like feeling out of control. Read the rest of this entry »

Why a Child?

by Mike McKinniss

8084964915_16bec8ed1e_z

Ami Cries” by clappstar under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Over dinner earlier this month, my inquisitive wife asked a good question: “Why did Jesus have to come as a baby?”

Astutely, I pressed for more. “Wha?”

She forged ahead, despite me. “What I mean is, why couldn’t Jesus have just supernaturally appeared as a grown man and done his thing? Why did he have to be born like every other child?”

There are any number of responses, none of which were coming to me. I mean, I know Jesus’ humanity and the nature of his birth have kept theologians employed for centuries. But I’m no theologian and I’ve only got 600 words to spend on this post.

Still, I’m mindful that as we swipe our Google calendars to 2017, with all the resolutions and fresh hope that typically accompany a new year, there is one particular lesson from the infant birth of Christ that may be helpful for us. Read the rest of this entry »

Posture of Belief

by Dawn Aldrich

Believe by the unquiet librarian_Flickr.com_5215537173_0aff0e9598_CC BY -ND 2.0

Believe by the unquiet librarian_Flickr.com_5215537173_0aff0e9598_CC BY -ND 2.0

“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!” Luke 1:45

Believing God’s promises isn’t always easy, especially when He promises the impossible.

I often marvel at Mary’s experience with the angel Gabriel, in the Christmas story. There she was, a simple Jewish maiden, minding her own business, maybe hanging laundry, walking back from the market or drawing water from the well, when suddenly Gabriel greets her as God’s “highly favored” one.

Scripture doesn’t say Mary cowered from his large stature or trembled at the sound of his booming voice. So, not wanting to frighten her, I imagine Gabriel may have seemed a plain man; someone whom Mary would not be afraid. But what did frighten her was Gabriel’s greeting. “Greetings! You are highly favored. The Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28)

You can fill in the blanks. “Who? Me? Favored? By whom? God? Oh! You must have mistaken me for someone else. I’m just…well, I’m just…I’m only Mary.” Read the rest of this entry »

God Rest You Merry

by Wendy

Christmas came, we rejoiced briefly amid too-many-things-to-do, Christmas went; then January crashed in on me, unceremoniously, with its backpack of trauma, dreads and fears. The let down from Christmas was fierce and unrelenting.

I fumbled for focus, for footing. Thankfully, Christmas actually lasted twelve days in our household this year, and I had more time than usual to internalize again the well-known carols. “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” stuck around past New Year’s and I decided to linger in it awhile, reveling in its hopeful message and gracious reminders. The world might be too much with me, but God’s story held hope for something other.

“Let nothing you dismay!, the carol reminded me. Stay merry through January and beyond. Stay joy-filled, for Jesus came to destroy the works of the enemy, rescuing us not just once but every day from the world’s evil and scorn. “To save us all from Satan’s pow’r” meant Immanuel wasn’t just with us in His birth and incarnation, He STAYS with us in the moments of our days, standing between us and the worst plans of the enemy, redeeming and turning the darkness to light.

My fears didn’t want to listen. What about the inevitable conflicted discussions about theology and ministry practice? Those didn’t sound particularly appealing. What about the lack of funds, the push for teamwork, the forging ahead to create unity? What about the day in and day out drudgery? I whined that it all seemed too hard, too constant. My drop-in-the-bucket efforts were too small, too wearing, too wearying, too little, too late, and too impossible.

I groveled for a moment, but then the “O tidings of comfort and joy” part rose up. “Listen, fears,” I scolded, “no, you will not take Christmas and trash it in January. No, you will not drag me through an alone and hopeless January. No!” I told them, as I stood up on the inside, and I meant it.

The carol and the Spirit prompted me. God had sunrises after sunsets. He held hope in darkness, promises in vacuums, and encouragement in deserts. He didn’t come to leave me stranded, facing lonely Januaries after sparkling Christmases. He came to save me from the world, the flesh, and the devil, and give me new strength and hope.

“God rest ye merry,” the carol commanded me in January. Stay hopeful, stay focused. Let the Son of God defeat the enemy once again, even while you are tempted to stray into pity and depression, it told me. Let nothing you dismay, soul. Tidings of comfort and joy may stay for the whole year – don’t pack them away at Christmas!

I fingered the one tiny Christmas crèche ornament still hiding on my desk, just to remind me. Glad tidings, it said again and again, glad tidings of comfort and JOY!

The Reason For The Season

by Rob Dunne

Image: Art4theGloryofGod by Sharon; 12/25/12; sharon-soberon.artistwebsites.com/galleries.html

Image: Art4theGloryofGod by Sharon; 12/25/12; sharon-soberon.artistwebsites.com/galleries.html

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. John 17:3

On all Hallows Eve, my wife Kellie and I had to pick some things up at BJ’s. Much to my dismay, they had a bunch of Christmas stuff out. The commercialization of the holiday is causing retailers to push Christmas on us earlier and earlier. This would not be so bad if we spent the time reflecting on the reason for the season. However, our attention tends to be focused on trying to buy the perfect gift for others or what they are getting us.

Why do we celebrate Christmas? At its core, it truly is about giving and receiving. The gift that we receive does not come wrapped in fancy paper topped with a decorative bow. Rather, it came in the form of a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.

The birth of Jesus was only the beginning. He modeled an extraordinary way of life. Each day started by communicating with God. I suspect that God gave Jesus His marching orders every morning. Then the day was spent loving people. He healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead.

Jesus also taught people what life in God’s kingdom looks like. If someone offends or hurts you, forgive them. How many times do you forgive? Infinitely. When someone strikes you on the cheek, don’t respond in kind – turn and offer them the other. Pray for your enemies and bless those who spitefully use you. How on earth is this possible?

The lifestyle that we are called to live is impossible. Human beings are too selfish to live life in this manner. This is where the true gift comes in to play. Jesus became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. As He sat down at the right hand of God, it made it possible for the Holy Spirit to come live on the inside of us. Saying yes to the gift that Jesus offers us makes it possible for us to receive new life. We die to who we once were and we are born again.

Spiritual birth is not the same as the one that we experienced when our mother’s water broke and we first came in to the world. Being born again is where we are given a brand new spirit and we are joined with the Spirit of God. This is what makes living like Jesus possible. In the same way that Jesus was able to talk to God every morning, we can communicate with God. The selfishness that once dictated our actions is replaced with the love of God. Our needs, wants and desires are erased and our thoughts turn to the needs of other people. That is kingdom living.

Christmas allows us to reflect on God’s goodness. We remember that Jesus became a man and lived a selfless life. His death allows us to be reconciled to God. That is the gift of Christmas. It is not forced upon us. Rather, we have to receive it freely. It is then our delight to share the gift with others so they too can experience God’s love.

In the busyness of the season, take time to reflect on the gift of eternal life that Jesus paid for you to enjoy and share that gift with the world around you. After all, that is the true reason for the season.

Everything Old Is New Again

by Mike McKinniss

My mother, as they say, is a saint. And I have witnessed her righteous indignation, expelled in the spirit of Elijah on Mount Carmel, at the insidiously subversive notion that Advent hymns might be too overwrought, lyrically; too dense, theologically; and too passé, musically. The initial accusation might have wrinkled her brow; the second may have elicited a silent shake of her head; the final, however, was outright blasphemous slander.

My mother’s musical blood is purebred, and Christmas songs, above all other genres, make it sing. Others may have rushed to the mall on Black Friday; my mother rushed to her LP’s, cassettes and CD’s to unleash her voluminous Christmas collection. Thus have I been raised with an appropriate reverence for carols, which I gleefully imbibe all December.

Among our favorite carols, often sung at the conclusion of the Christmas Eve services of my childhood, is the rousing “Joy to the World”. It is a favorite of many because of its celebratory tone, yet it also highlights the tensions of Advent.

“Joy to the world,” we sing, and in so doing, we echo the angel appearing to the bewildered shepherds in Luke 2:

But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: today a Savior who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David” (Lk 2:10-11, HCSB).

But these days, with ISIS wreaking havoc in the Middle East, with the bombings in Paris, and with mass shootings popping up across America with far too much frequency, you’d be forgiven wondering whether the birth of the Savior of the world had really happened two thousand years ago.

In fact, it hardly takes headline grabbing atrocities to stretch our faith. We may each be a cancer diagnosis, car accident or downsizing away from wondering whether Jesus had truly brought “peace on earth to people [God] favors” (Luke 2:14b). The tension can be all too real.

But the tension is not new.

The Christmas season, naturally, is the right time to review the nativity stories from Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Seldom, however, do we arrive at Matthew 1 by way of Malachi 4. That is, we too often begin reading these celebrated Christmas passages without their historical context.

When the angels burst into the shepherds’ lives in Luke 2, the Jews of Palestine had already been living under the Roman thumb for 60 years. Before that, with the exception of a few notable years, Jews in the Near East had been cruelly governed by the Seleucids for 140 years.  Before that, the Ptolemies had come from Egypt and harshly ruled the Jews for 120 years. Just seven years or so before that, Alexander the Great had swept through the Middle East, making everything Greek. One hundred years prior, Malachi had prophesied in a Jerusalem under Persian jurisdiction. And though the Persians were generally beneficent toward other cultures, they certainly were not Israelite descendants of David, whose throne God had promised to uphold eternally (2 Sam. 7). And before the Persians, who controlled the land for 200 years, came a half century of Jewish captivity in Babylon, which itself had been preceded by 150 years of captivity under the Assyrians.

All told, by the time Jesus was born, God’s people had been waiting over 700 years for the Lord to restore the fortunes of His people, to bring “peace on earth”.

Everything that’s old, as the saying goes, is new again.

Advent is, as it ought to be, a celebration. Yet it is further, as it ought to be, bittersweet. Like a Van Gogh painted upon a postage stamp, Advent is a frustratingly stunning portrait of how the world ought to be. Indeed, it is a premonition of God’s aim for the creation—tantalizing in the glimpses we get of that hope; frustrating in the long wait for Christ’s return, when the angels’ song for peace on earth at last will be made fully real.

This Christmas, then, I will again be singing “Joy to the World” with full throat. I will do so as a declaration of history, for those with eyes to see, and as a prophetic act: Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!

The Story Approaches Its Climax

by Mike McKinniss

Ramon Casas’s Jove Decadent via wikimedia commons

If you’re like me (alas, too few are), it is the worst kind of torture to have to set a good book down just as you are speed reading your way towards its glorious and compelling climax. Like yanking a still-beating heart from its protective rib cage, so it is to seize the life-giving novel from my fingers.

Perhaps you’re not like me (it’s OK; we’re all welcome in God’s kingdom), and you wish {re}fresh were a video blog. The analogy changes, while the truth remains. You’ve reached the final season of your favorite TV drama, you’ve nestled in with popcorn and beverage, you’re ready to binge watch via Netflix to the grand conclusion. Aaaaaaand the internet conks out.

My apologies for eliciting such awful images. But the point is made: We all love a story, and every story needs its climax.

In a way, this is what Advent is all about. In the relatively brief nativity narratives that Matthew (chapters 1-2) and Luke (again, chapters 1-2) give us, the gospel writers are telling us, in their own unique ways, that the birth of Jesus signaled the beginning of the zenith of Israel’s story.

Matthew, for example, begins his gospel with a genealogy (Mt 1:1-17). What could be more boring than that?! But Matthew’s list of “begats” tells a story. What began with God calling Abraham (v. 2), reached great heights in King David (v. 6), seemed lost in the Babylonian exile (v. 12) is now landing squarely on Jesus (v. 16).

Or in Luke’s account, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and makes an announcement: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Lk 1:32-33, NIV).

Gabriel is hitting all the main talking points from an old message given to David by the prophet Nathan. In 2 Samuel 7, God promises that David’s son will be His own son (v. 14), that this son of David’s will also be king (v. 12), and that this kingdom will be eternal (v. 16).

This story, which had begun some 15 centuries (give or take) earlier with Abraham’s faith to follow this strange new God; this story, which saw its high water mark some 10 centuries earlier in the worshiper David’s kingship; this story is now beginning its breakneck run toward the conclusion.

So settle into your favorite overstuffed chair, get a nice hot drink, and guard against all interruptions, because Advent is here. And it’s all racing ahead toward one grand conclusion.

To learn more about Mike McKinniss, please visit our Contributors Page.

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