Christmas Light

You really can’t miss one of the main ways that people show they celebrate Christmas, whether secular or religious; the lights. They’re on houses, trees, businesses and light poles.  People drive many miles just to see what a particular house or street has created this year.  For people of faith though, light means many things.

Light helps us see our way:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.”  Matthew 3:1-12

Light should fill our lives:
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”  Colossians 3:16

Light is meant to be shared:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

Light means hope and promise:
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

Light begins with Jesus:
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.””  John 8:12

As you look around you and enjoy the sights of the season I encourage you to take a look at your life.  Are you shining light with the words you say and things you do? Are you teaching your kids what it means to be a light, even if that light is just about being a kind, considerate and loving person?  Are you focused on the darkness around you or on what the light shows?  Are you sharing a kind smile, a helping hand, a little love or even a little hope with someone?  Are you giving someone a reason to smile? Are you smiling at the surprises and holiday cheer that you see?  Are you sharing the message and story of the First Christmas?  Are you hanging lights and decorations to bring a smile to someone?

Yes, the holiday season has created many a grump, and there are plenty of reasons to be grumpy. But I believe that being grumpy is a choice, as is being filled with Christmas cheer.  Will you choose to spread light or darkness this Christmas season?

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The Revelations of Christmas: Joy

This month we’ll be taking a look at both Christmas (and Hanukkah) and the topic of revelation, and today the topic I want to talk about is joy. If there’s something that most people can tell you, it’s that the month of December is all about joy. Whether you’re celebrating the birth of a savior, the re-dedication of the temple, or the arrival of Santa, there’s a magic in the air that’s unlike any other time of the year.

I love that December allows us to kick back a bit and really enjoy life and each other. We’ve all got many pressures and responsibilities that weigh on us, and while they don’t disappear in December, it’s like being given a homework pass, and opportunity to let go of the reins just a little bit. We spread cheer, sing joyful carols and hymns, laugh and play with friends and family, celebrate the year that is ending, and give joyfully to the people that make living worth it.

However, for some of us adults the month starts off so joyful and by the time we’ve gotten to the actual holiday we’re very done with holiday cheer and celebrating. We may even start to look at bit like an early Scrooge. If we really want the most cheer in this month I suggest we take a page from the kids of the world. They’re excited up to and through the holidays. Why? Because they don’t let the excitement, joy or magic die. And while they might not fight the lines at the store or have to do all the decorating and cooking, I still think that we can add back into our lives some of their sparkle.

Whether it’s in the baking and decorating of holiday treats together, finding the perfect gift, finding hiding places for gifts, moving the elves, the stories from your childhood, decorating the tree, snuggling up for holiday movies or enjoying the look of surprise and joy on someone’s face as they open their gifts, I think that we adults can find little moments that will keep joy in this month all month long. What little bit of joy will you find in today?

Celebrating A New Year Everyday

This week is the celebration of Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish New Year. It celebrates something that Christians are familiar with, the creation of Adam and Eve. More than anything else it’s a period of celebration, of joy and of prayers for peace, prosperity and blessing for the new year. While it’s not a day that Christians celebrate, it is one that can teach us a few important lessons about life, faith/spirituality and our journey.

One of the most interesting things to note is that it is a celebration of Adam and Eve. If you remember they’re the people the Bible begins with, the people everyone can trace their roots back to. They’re also the people who connected this world and our lives with sin when they ate from the tree that God told them not to eat from. It’s not exactly the best moment in our collective spiritual history is it? And yet we can all agree these people are worth remembering, and their creation worth celebrating.

The other thing that I’m reminded of by the celebration of a new year in September, what is known to many as the 9th month of the given year, is that everyone has different beginnings. If you’re familiar with the business world at all you know that many businesses start their year at some time other than January 1st. Personally, it would drive me nuts to try and balance more than one calendar. But if you really think about it we’ve all got a different calendar we could go by, because very few of us were born on January 1st (technically my year begins in October).

So what can we learn from the celebration of Rosh Hashanah? First and foremost that you don’t have to be perfect, do perfect things or get it right all the time to celebrate. Sometimes the little moments and victories should be celebrated more than the big ones. Second, any day is a great day for a fresh start. Don’t say that you have to wait for 2018 to make changes in your life, you can begin today, or tomorrow, or whenever you feel inspired. Third, if God says that Adam and Eve are worth remembering, even with their really big mistake, I would say that each of us are worth remembering and celebrating as well. Finally, take time today to celebrate, and if you can’t come up with anything to celebrate, you can celebrate that you’re alive and have another day to live, learn, and love.   What will you do with today?

Counting it Joy

We’re less than a week away from the new year and I’m ready.  2016 had lots of new starts for me and taught me lots of lessons. I’m looking forward to a 2017 that in many ways is better than 2016 and contains opportunities to implement what I learned in 2016.  As we finish out the month and the year this week I want to take one last spiritual look at our topic of the month: joy.  It’s a great month to talk about this topic because we’ve celebrated Christmas and are in the midst of celebrating Hanukkah as well if that’s your holiday.  We take this month to celebrate the year we’re putting behind us and the people in our lives, no matter how often we see them, or whether or not we tell them what they mean to us.

As we head towards the finish line of this year, let’s consider James 1:2-4: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” 

If you’ve been tested this year I encourage you to not give up.  Faith isn’t a guarantee of a stress-and-problem-free life, it’s a guarantee that you’ve got Someone going with you through everything, and the promise of something great at the end for those who believe and are saved.  Second, look for the joy. Sometimes it’s obvious that there’s joy happening around you and there are things to celebrate.  Other times you have to look a little harder to find it or make the joy yourself.

If you’re looking for some joy, we do have the new year just a few days away with 365 new days to find joy, but in all honesty each and every day is a new opportunity for you to find, create and share some joy.  So if you’re facing trouble or you meet someone who is facing trouble, I encourage you to not get dragged down by the challenges but instead to look for or share joy.  Even just choosing to share joy with someone in need can help you through your challenge as well.

Christmas Carol Classics: Joy to the World

“Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.”

On this eve of Christmas I want to take a moment to pause and consider the words and story of this famous Christmas carol.  While you listen to the carol, let’s take a look at the story behind it.

Joy to the World was written by Isaac Watts based on the second half of Psalm 98 in the Bible.  It was first published in 1719.  Watts wrote it thinking about not the first Christmas but the second coming when Jesus returns one day.  The song is still one of praise rather than contemplation because God remains faithful to us as we wait through the (long) wait for Jesus’ return.  It’s also one of the most published Christmas hymns in North America and has been recorded by countless well-known artists.

As we await the arrival of Christmas Day just a little over an hour away where I am, Joy to the World is such a great reminder to celebrate this day.  We got such a gift from the birth of Jesus, one that hasn’t been matched since, but each year we give gifts to each other in a way of remembering and commemorating that gift that He gave.  So as you wrap a few last gifts and maybe try to calm the excitement in your hours and hope you get a few hours of sleep before the kids wake you up for gifts, take time to count your blessings and then celebrate them.  Just like on Thanksgiving we make time to give thanks, Christmas is a great time to celebrate all those things we are thankful for and the ways we’ve been blessed in our lives.  What are you celebrating today?

Looking Ahead This Christmas

We’re fully involved in the Christmas season now, there are lights everywhere, trees going up, songs being sung, plays being done, presents being hid and cheer being shared.  I love this season because it’s a time for us all to come together and celebrate life, and for people of faith the reason for hope.  In the church this period of time before Christmas is known as Advent. It’s when we’re supposed to prepare our hearts and lives for the day of Christmas.

So much of our lives are about preparing.  We go through school to prepare for our careers, we read books and take courses about kids to prepare for our kids, and we learn about health issues when we or loved ones have them to prepare for treatment options and negative possibilities.  We’re always looking ahead and thinking about what’s coming up, which is really a good thing.  Yes, we do spend time looking back and considering what we’ve done in the past (especially if we’re feeling guilty or working on improvements), and some of us do get stuck there.  And sometimes it seems like we spend so much time getting ready for stuff or thinking about the past that when we do actually get to a milestone it can feel anticlimactic, especially if we’ve got lots stuff yet to come that we’re still preparing for.

But the Christmas season is a reminder that while the journey never ends and there’s always a next step to prepare for, it’s super important to take time to stop and celebrate.  The angels stopped what they were doing to sing, the shepherds went to visit even though it was late and they were tired, the wise men stopped whatever they usually did and took a huge journey, and Mary and Joseph put their plans on hold to have Jesus.  I have no doubts though that if you asked any of them if they were glad that they took the time to stop in their regular lives and activities to make time to celebrate this important birth they would all tell you that it was one of the best moments of their life.

This upcoming Christmas may not be your best.  It may be one of your less-than-happy ones. And there certainly were moments in that first Christmas that were less than awesome.  But I’m confident that just like they found reason to celebrate some 2000 years ago, you’ll be able to find time and reason to do so as well.  Don’t let the season and the year end without taking time to stop and celebrate what you’ve accomplished and the difference that Jesus has made in your life and the ways that He’s preparing you for what’s next. What will you celebrate this Christmas?

Getting Involved with Christmas

We’re another week closer to Christmas, a week closer to the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  It amazes me every year as we get around this time that we have the blessing of celebrating Christmas another year.  It’s truly a gift, a joy, that not everyone can celebrate in the way that we do in the USA, with freedom to share our excitement and gather together.

There are a lot of emotions that we associate with the original Christmas story as well as our Christmases today, from joy and tenderness to pain and fear, but it’s joy that is most remembered with this  celebration.  As I was reading my devotions this week I was reminded that not only are we to count it all joy, but that we are to be full of joy in the Lord.  Joy isn’t something we can attain as humans, it needs God’s involvement, which is exactly what God did that first Christmas: He got involved.

Christmas is a time for us to celebrate with our families, but it’s also a time that we can use to help out in the community.  As a church, as a family, as a town we can help support the soldiers, donate food and time to help the homeless and be a little kinder to those we interact with.  How will you get involved this Christmas season?

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Luke 1:46-47a