buildingbodies4christ

building on the foundation of Jesus Christ

Archive for the tag “Christmas traditions”

Just Jesus

One year around Thanksgiving, I traveled overseas. When I came home, I decided to skip the Christmas decorations since it was later than I normally would have decorated. However, I realized while I was going through the season, I just couldn’t get into the Christmas spirit. I vowed to always put up something for Christmas. And since then I haven’t failed to decorate.

As you may have noticed, I haven’t written in a while. I still have put out small newsletters for the last couple of months, but have failed to post here in this spot. I have had quite a bit of change in the last few months.

Since the virus has increased its hold on the world, it’s made me realize I need to be near my family. I was living alone in a large city (compared to my hometown) and things were not settling down as I would have hoped. I wrestled with the idea of moving from the city I had called home for the last twenty-one years. Finally, I made the decision to put the house on the market and it sold in a day. Things began to happen quickly and decisions needed to be made quickly. It’s a bit unsettling to be transitioning to a new place at this stage of my life. But I felt it was the right time and going home seemed like the best place for me.

After five weeks, I was moved into my new place. After another couple of weeks, I started working full time (which I haven’t done in ten years). It’s been an adjustment, but I love living here again. I love hanging out with my sisters. However, it’s different. One of my sisters told me at Thanksgiving, she didn’t know if she would consider it a holiday since I usually stayed with her during the holidays. During those holidays, we did things together like cooking, shopping, and just sitting around talking before going to bed. Now, it’s different. I sleep in my own bed at the end of the day. And I mess up my own kitchen when cooking my share of the Thanksgiving meal.

Christmas will bring another adjustment for me. I have never been alone on Christmas morning. I have always stayed with one of my sisters. It reminds me of that Christmas when I didn’t decorate – it’s going to be different. And this year maybe even more different because of these circumstances we now live in. Will we have family joining us in the celebration or will it just be the immediate family? This year is just different in every way!

In my quiet time this morning, I read a message from a book written by missionaries. One of the missionaries wrote that the first Christmas on the mission field had been difficult because of all the “stuff” that surrounded her normally at Christmas time wasn’t there. They had moved with very little of their belongings. They didn’t have the friendships or the family in that new place nor was it a cold place. She realized at one point, she just wasn’t in the Christmas spirit.

She asked the Lord to show her something new about the Christmas story to help her transition in her new place. She stated the Lord showed her the actual heart of the Christmas story and in turn changed her heart. Jesus is Christmas and He is enough. “When all the stuff – the lights, gifts, trees, food and even friends – was taken away, it came down to Jesus. He is the only reason to be celebrating.”

“I said to the LORD, ‘You are my LORD, apart from you I have no good thing.’” (Psalm 16:2)

Her message gave my own spirit a nudge. It’s not about the things or even when I wake up alone – I am never alone. Jesus is enough. One day, everything will be stripped away. We will all face Jesus. He has to be enough. I am reminded of the older people in my life who live with Jesus alone. My aunt is a great example. She still reads her Bible every day. It’s her lifeline – even when her mind fails her, she still has Jesus. He is enough for her. I want that to be my heart as well. I want Jesus to be enough.

If the world goes as it is recorded in Scripture, we need to cling to Jesus. He will be our lifeline. Now is the time to anchor ourselves in Him. We grow stronger in the crisis, but we can’t be certain of Him in the crisis without knowing Him fully in times of peace. Now is not the time to drift with uncertainty but be steadfast in Jesus.

Life will always have complications, but Jesus is our Rock. He is trustworthy and true. Jesus is Christmas. He is the heart of God’s story. If we can’t celebrate that fact alone – without the trees, lights, family or friends, then we have nothing. Jesus is enough. Let’s affirm that with Him today and remind ourselves when times get difficult – He is not fretting or indecisive. He knows what we need and when we need it. He’s got everything under His control. Remember, Jesus is enough.

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:2-3

Ho Ho Home for Christmas

No matter what stage of life I’m in, I always want to be home for Christmas. I love being there with my family gathered together. This year is extra special since my nephew and his family is back from the far country where they have been for the last few years. I am grateful that God has brought them home again safe and sound. But I am also grateful for the time they have had serving the Lord in what He has called them to do. As we all gather, my nephews and families, my sisters and husbands, my Dad and his wife – it will be as it should be – together again.

Home has changed throughout the years. When my parents and I moved when I was twelve, home moved with us. However, the dynamics changed because my sisters didn’t move with us. Christmas became a moving event. We either went to my sisters or my sisters came to us. Sometimes it was just for a day, sometimes it was for two or three days; every year was a bit different. But when my parents settled back in my hometown after their retirement, it once again felt like it should be. It was home in every sense of the word.

When my Mom died, it felt like everything got off kilter and we lost our center – our anchor. The first year was a tough year. But we managed through it. As the years have passed, I have come to realize Mom wasn’t the center of our family. Mom was a representation – a physical presence – but what lives on is love. Love is the core of who we are as a family. It wraps us up in a warm embrace. It feels like home.

This morning, I read about Jacob’s dream (found in Genesis 28:10-17) about seeing God and the angels that went to and fro from the place where he rested. God gave Jacob a promise that night. God said that Jacob’s descendants would possess the land where he rested. That land was going to be home to millions. But at that time, Jacob had no one. He was alone and running from his brother. God promised Jacob “Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 28:14). That’s a big promise.

Eventually, Jacob did make it back to that place and settled in that land. Eventually, there would be millions who would come from his family line. God fulfilled His promise to Jacob. But the bigger promise of everyone being blessed because of Jacob’s family was much more defined by a person than the family itself. The blessing came centuries after the promise through Jesus Christ. A baby would be born in Bethlehem to a virgin; an announcement from the angel under a starlit sky to shepherds watching over those sacrificial lambs; God had done this thing He promised to do. The blessing was born – the promised fulfilled.

The author who wrote the devotional this morning (Tim Gustafson, Our Daily Bread, December 21, 2017) had this take away from the Jacob’s dream scripture: “Home is not so much a place on a map, as it is a place to belong. God gives us that place.” Jesus is our home. He is the love that surrounds us and gives us that belonging. He is the center of our family and He is the one who draws us close.

Sometimes we can run away from home, but love will always bring us back. If we are truly Jesus’ followers, no matter how far away we run, He will always search for us and receive us back. He wants us to be home with Him forever. He went to great lengths to assure us of His promise that we will always have a place with Him. “Home is where the heart is” but it’s Jesus at the center of that heart that makes it true in every sense.

Jesus gave us another big promise at the end of His life. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3) Just as the promise for Jacob was fulfilled through Jesus, we can trust that what Jesus promised will also be fulfilled by His word. We have a home being prepared for that day and it’s going to be glorious.

During this Christmas season as my family gathers, I recognize that this is just a small representation of what heaven will be like one day. The larger family will gather in a glorious place filled with love. There will be a feast beyond imagination and a celebration of Jesus that we cannot fathom at this time. This is the idea that helps me celebrate with more enthusiasm every year that passes. One day, I will be home for Christmas and the best gift of all will be the eternal blessing with Jesus.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)

The Fulfillment

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 

When I began my college career, I started at a Christian college. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My parents were thrilled with my choice. I signed up for chorus; again to the delight of my parents. They thought I would follow in their footsteps singing in church choirs in my future life. Both of my parents loved singing. When they moved to new towns, they chose churches based on choirs first; preachers second (or at least that was my perception).

I didn’t really want to fall into their footsteps. I really wasn’t musical at all. I could hold a tune, but to sing in such a formal arrangement really held no interest, yet I did it anyway; maybe to please them. However, it was an easy grade. But I hated the black gown that I had to wear in our choral recitals. I didn’t like all the time spent going over the same song until every syllable was emphasized correctly on the right beat. It just seemed tedious. Some love singing in that manner. To me, I endured it.

Every Christmas season, when I hear Handel’s Messiah; I am brought back to that time in the college choir singing the choral presentation. “For unto us a child is born… unto us… a Son is given.” Can you hear it? Being a part of the choral presentation still brings me goose bumps when thinking about it. One hundred plus voices blending together in perfect harmony with such a beautiful arrangement of Scripture. For that alone was a good enough reason to have gone through the tedious practices and putting on that black gown. I lasted one year at that college and in that choir. That was the extent of my choir duties for the rest of my life. I’m done with it unless Jesus calls me to the heavenly choir as a background singer.

As I contemplate Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus’ birth, I look at the names Jesus is given. Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua meaning He came to save us. The name Emmanuel tells us that He is with us; He will never leave us or forsake us. Wonderful Counselor means He is personal with us; we can go to Him with anything. Mighty God means He’s everything to us; nothing is beyond Him. Everlasting Father means He is more than just God to us but shows His loving nature as a wonderful Father who loves us unconditionally. Prince of Peace means He is destined to be King of the Kingdom; the Kingdom that will never end and will be one of peace and love.

God promised a miraculous birth a few centuries before its fulfillment. He put into place everything that needed to happen at the right time. He chose Mary. She would carry the child; give birth in an unexpected place by her understanding but was perfect in God’s prophecy. Can you imagine Joseph having to make the decision to take his very pregnant wife on such a long journey? But he had to go because of the Roman law to go to one’s ancestral home. Joseph was a descendant of King David as was Mary. It just so happens this was foretold as well. Jesus would come through the line of David; be born in David’s hometown of Bethlehem. God chose a Roman government to issue a decree at the time of the Savior’s birth to get them in the right place at the right time. Nothings impossible for God.

We can go all the way back to Abraham and Sarah to see how God planted a seed that would be fulfilled many centuries later. God promised and it happened just as it was foretold. Genesis 17:6 God tells Abraham the promise that would change history. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. God became personal and brought forth the promised son who would bring forth the nation of Israel and eventually bring about Jesus through this ancestral line.

From Abraham to Jesus was written in God’s Word long before Mary had a clue that she was the one chosen for this blessing. The Gospel of Matthew records this genealogy. The Gospel of Luke goes even further back in time to the first man – Adam – from Adam to Jesus. God’s plan was established from the very foundations of the world. Jesus was sent to redeem what Adam had done. It just took a couple of thousand years to bring it about to make the conditions right for the Good News to spread.

If we can see this far back, we can see into the future because it’s all right there in black and white and read all over. God’s future promises will be fulfilled; we just don’t know the timing of it all. But at the right time, it will happen. We can believe it because of Jesus – He was promised, and He fulfilled it all. Birth. Death. Resurrection. Ascension to Heaven. Redemption for all who believe. The promised Spirit to come and be with us until Jesus’ return.

It happened just like He said it would. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). For us a child is born, a Son is given and His government will rule forever. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her (Luke 1:38). And it was done.

All I want for Christmas

My Mom used to say “there will always be a Santa Claus as long as you believe.” When we were growing up, Christmas was BIG. We got most of all our “wants” and a few of our needs. I would sit with the Christmas catalog from Sears Roebuck for hours figuring out what I really wanted for Christmas. My list was filled with the latest toy or gadget.

We had traditions that we established over the years. We all had our favorite items that Mom would incorporate into her menu planning. Things changed a bit when my sisters got married. Christmas morning didn’t seem to be as exciting as when we were all under the same roof. Then nephews came along and the excitement crept back in with each squeal of discovery. After my parents moved back to my hometown, it just became the three of us on Christmas morning. The large family gathers after all the other family units have their celebrations. The traditions took a little bit of tweaking with each passing year.

As I have grown older, my Christmas wish list has gotten smaller. But the things on it have been more expensive. Last year, I needed a new heating unit. Another year, I needed new tires. Of course, these were “needs” not “wants.” My wants have really become less and less as I try to live more simplistic. Over the last few years though, since my Mom has gone home, I realized Santa Claus no longer exists. Christmases are just not the same. We try to keep the same traditions we grew up with. We incorporate our favorite dishes into our menu planning. But it hasn’t been the same, and it never will be. I’m okay with that now.

Since Mom’s departure, I realized it’s not about the stuff anyway. My family is important to me. Jesus is important to me. All I really want for Christmas, now, is to love Jesus more. I want to spend the time wisely with my family as we never know what will change before next Christmas. If everything is stripped away, would it still be Christmas to me? I want fresh eyes to see Christmas in a new way. I want to see the Christmas story in the light of a new believer experiencing the joy of Christmas for the first time.

The Christmas story is a precious gift to us. We are given new life through Jesus’ birth. We are given a new hope through Mary’s submission. We are given a new joy as the shepherds experienced a glorious appearing. We are given a picture of humbleness, of peace, of love that is not matched in any other way in history. There has been no other birth that has changed the world as this one.

Jesus said He came to give us life – abundantly. He came to save us from our sins, but He came for so much more. If we are only getting the “get out of hell” ticket punched by Jesus’ death, we have failed to see the life that Jesus gives. Freedom. Redemption. Relationship. Joy. Peace. Love. Jesus came to remove the obstacle of religious tradition – He ripped the curtain wide open, so that we could have a relationship with God, the Father through Him, God’s Son.

Christmas might be different now than when I was a child; but the anticipation of Christmas is still here. It might look different, but Jesus is still the reason for the season. I appreciate the reason so much more today than I did as a child. Santa may be dead for me, but Jesus is alive and well. That’s the way I really want it. That’s all I really want for Christmas anyway; Jesus to be alive and well in my soul.

The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Luke 2:11-14 (NLT)

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