For Lutherans and numerous other Christian denominations, Christmas is not just Christmas Eve, December 24th, and Christmas Day, December 25th. It is an extended season often called Christmastide celebrated from Christmas Eve until January 5th – the twelve days of Christmas. During this time we continue to observe the birth of Jesus. Many of us leave decorations in place until January 5th, the Twelfth Night, or until February 2nd, Candlemas, as we continue with our Christmas. In Lutheran and Episcopalian tradition , Candlemas is a time when congregants bring their candles to church for blessing. These candles are then used the rest of the year. They are symbolic of Jesus, the Christ, who referred to Himself as the Light of the World.
It is a time of communal celebration as well as personal reflection upon the meaning of this Holy season. It is a time to come and see what God has done.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” JOHN 3:16KJV
Probably most of the Christian world has whispered a hushed ‘phewww’ now that the pace of the season is over. Time to kick back, watch some football on TV and run to WalMart to exchange those unwanted gifts.
But, what shall we do with Jesus, the greatest gift of all? We could put him on the fireplace mantel until next year, pack him away with the rest of the Christmas decororations, or shove him into the closet with the other unwanted gifts.
What will I do with Jesus? Several years ago, a renown comedian referred to Jesus as our imaginary friend. Amidst his profanity, the tasteless attempts at comedy, his crude sexual referrals, this one comment offended my senses more than any.
But, it caused me to contemplate. Is this just a product of my imagination? Have I been bamboozled by opportunistic theologians? Am I searching fruitlessly for answers in an unknown realm of belief?
The truth is that I don’t know. What I perceive is a belief in something unknown and unproven in our physical world. Some would define this as faith and for me faith is good enough to call Jesus real – as real as anything I can see, hear or touch.
I do know as factual the functioning body with which I have been blessed, the beautiful Creation in which I live, the wondrous unfolding amazement of a friend’s love, the purring cat lying beside me. My recovery and redemption from a life of alcoholic addiction is certainly proof of an intervention by an unseen and unproven God.
It is my choice what I do with this gift that renews every Christmas. I can receive everlasting love, peace and comfort or I can set it aside for another year to collect dust.
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Him ye creatures here below; praise Him above ye heavenly Host; praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
A well-remembered adage flowing freely around the tables of Alcoholics Anonymous was this:
“You have got to give it away to keep it.”
Sobriety, the clean and serene, the return of sanity, the restoration of family and community was a gift of a Higher Power whom we trusted and revered. It was freely given through the grace of a loving, magnanimous God. Many of us, needing definition to this God, rely on the Christian concept of Jesus, the Christ. I have to give Him away to keep Him.
Celebrating the birth is part of this Jesus story that has given meaning to life as well as understanding to death. A boyhood verse learned in Sunday School said, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
Alcoholism kidnapped my relationship with Jesus and set me in the darkness of the deep valleys. My story is found in the New Testament book of Luke, chapter 15, the parable of the prodigal son. Through Jesus, my Father and I have claimed victory over alcoholism and spiritual death.
Yes, yes, yes, I will go tell it on the mountain, in the valley, on the streets and wherever anyone will listen. Tonight I celebrate the birth of the Son who saved me from insanity or jail or death. Tonight is all about God’s gift to humanity. This little light of mine – I’m gonna let it shine.
It is an extraordinary Christmas Eve. The normal candlelight services are mostly online only. Family gatherings are limited. Did you make yourself weary with the decorating, the house-cleaning, the meal preparations, and, of course, the shopping in a covid-19 environment?
Not me. I determined several years ago that simplicity was the best way to celebrate Christmas. I have moved my pre-lit tree from a corner in my craft area to centerstage in the living room where I can sit at night and early morning admiring the beauty of a tree with only lights and icicles. The other ornaments remained in their storage containers. Simple, right? As for gifts….lottery tickets by the handful provide entertainment and anticipation.
My Christmas Day meal has been planned for several weeks. The most extravagant dish will be a casserole of oyster dressing – Jim’s favorite holiday treat. Along with a roasted turkey breast and giblet gravy there will be cooked carrots, cranberry sauce, pickled beets in a strawberry jello and fruit cake. This is my idea of Christmas dinner done simply.
We can’t help but think of the many families struggling for food and shelter, searching for a light in the darkness of our country this year. The video I am sharing touched my heart in a mighty way reminding me, and hopefully you, what it is we are honoring and celebrating at this time of the year. It’s not about the decorations, the glitz, the food or the socializing. It is all about the gift of love given to us by a gracious and merciful God. It is about life lived victoriously in sobriety. It is about me caring about you more than me. It is about trusting the heart over the theology.
Enjoy the season. It is meant to be joyous and festive, but don’t forget the reason for the season. Merry Christmas and a blessed 2021 to all of you.
I find it difficult today to feel loved because my heart is not one of empathy or sympathy surrounding the health crisis enveloping the Administration. This post was written 5 months ago, a reader put a like on it today and I had to review it to remember my words. THANK YOU readers for making blogging more heart work than brain work.
Have I denied,
have I abandoned,
have I blasphemed,
have I lied,
have I been the prodigal,
have I been Judas,
have I been Peter,
have I driven the nails,
have I been the mocking crowd?
YES, BUT YOU LOVE ME ANYWAY
I am the thorn in Your crown But You love me anyway I am the sweat from Your brow But You love me anyway I am the nail in Your wrist But You love me anyway I am Judas’ kiss But You love me anyway
Years ago when living in Pennsylvania, it was a short Sunday afternoon drive to the mountaintops of the state’s share of the Appalachian Trail. An autumn trip on interstate 81 provided spectacular color and views of the surrounding countryside.
Unfortunately easy access to this mountain interstate also provided to the city of Philadelphia an inexpensive place to dump their garbage and to international corporations cheap land for construction of gigantic distribution centers. Landfills and warehouses began to dot the views along the roadway.
Strip mining for coal also became more profitable because of the interstate access. It was cheaper and easier than the shafts and tunnels of traditional mining. Huge gouges appeared in the previously pristine landscape. Pennsylvania was not the only victim as other states such as West Virginia suffered the same pillage and rape.
I receive newsletters from YES MAGAZINE via e-mail. Today’s mailing details the recovery efforts of one such mining area in West Virginia. Dedicated environmentalists, enlisting local residents facing unemployment due to a decline in coal mining, are attempting to build farm communities over the filled-in mines and covered-over landfills where the devastation occurred during the past decades.
Granted, it’s an economic undertaking to improve the lives of local residents, but can we also see these works as acts of love directed to restore our Creator’s creation? Love is not only for mankind, but for every mountain, every river, every forest, every tree, every creature put here for our enjoyment and need.
“I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made it detestable.” JEREMIAH 2:7
Scroll to the bottom of the page provided above in the YES MAGAZINE link for a free subscription to their newsletters.
What does freedom mean to you? What price will you pay for it? Would you be willing to die so others could enjoy freedom?
I’m not sure what the motives were for my father and three of his brothers. They all enlisted in the military service of their country during WW2. But, whatever their reasoning, they are my heroes on this Memorial Day. Returning to civilian life after the war, they continued to serve their families and communities. In my eyes they put everything on the line to ensure the freedom of every one of us for generations to come. That kind of courage and selflessness is rare in today’s America.
Freedom is not free. It comes at great cost. I often wonder if I have paid my dues – have I paid the price for the freedoms I enjoy today? Perhaps that I.O.U will come due sometime in the future. What do I owe and to whom? Will I have the courage and selflessness to pay my debt?
The greatest gifting of freedom, aside from the sacrifices of our fallen military heroes, has been the adventure of sobriety given to a helpless, hopeless drunk. Undeserved and unmerited, this gift of amazing grace has allowed a life of celebration and thankfulness rather than one of dread and misery. John 8:36 says it all:
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
This is not a freedom with conditional clauses and a litany of ‘thou shalt and shalt not’. It is not tied to any particular faith walk or theology. It does not consign me to hell for being bad or promise me heaven for being good. There are only two requirements for enjoying this freedom forever.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all you mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” JOHN 10:27
Pretty simple stuff. Freedom can be costly, but need not be difficult.
“While scientists look desperately for medicines and mechanism to avoid catastrophe, many others are beginning to realize that what is needed is not only externally administered remedies, preventive or curative, but an internal change in the way we behave, a hard second look at the values which have brought us to this dangerous brink.”