Merry Christmas everyone! It's Christmas Day!
Come with me as I reminisce how Christmas has changed for me (which may be similar to your experience) and what I have found about Christmas to always stay the same.
When I was young, the magic and mystery of Christmas surrounded me. Time seemed to slow the months, weeks, days and even hours before Christmas. It was as if time played a trick on me every year and dragged its feet like a rebellious child not wanting to enter the room named Christmas, no matter how hard I tried to convince it to get there earlier.
I couldn't wait for Christmas Day. I couldn't wait for the opportunity to actually want to wake up at 6 in the morning. Presents would appear under the tree that weren't there the night before. The magic of Christmas infected me. And though I didn't know it then, I had tapped into something about Christmas, its joy and excitement, ultimately personified in hope that should be in everyone's Christmas.
I see that same joy and excitement in my daughter Victoria, who looks forward to Christmastime as a nearly 16 year old young lady, with the same enthusiasm that I had when I was 8. She loves to give gifts, in the same way that I looked forward to receiving them. If I had to guess, I would think that she actually has more fun than I ever did as a kid. I think that she gets it.
Around the age of 19, I came to understand the true meaning of Christmas. Not the second birthday for myself given by a magical pudgy grandfather figure in a sleigh who seemed to always know if I had been naughty or nice, but still gave me gifts anyway, but the small Child in a manger who was born to be the gift to me (and the whole world). That revelation has rocked my world ever since and changed the way that I have celebrated Christmas.
As I have grown from a young man to a young married man to a father, there has been a mission for me to make sure that when I celebrate Christmas, Christ doesn't get lost in the celebration, but is the center of it. How do I continue to celebrate the most profound of mysteries, namely the God of the universe wrapping Himself in flesh and bone to commune and ultimately die for us, and not make the celebration about me?
A number of years ago, my wife and I made a decision not to buy gifts for our family for Christmas. Rather we would spend our time focusing on Jesus and what He would have us do during this time of year. During these years, we have bought Christmas presents for others through Operation Christmas Child, served homeless families with our lifegroup at Joy Junction, given to missionaries whom we know are spreading the good news of Christ around the world, provided gifts to needy families within our church, as well as, giving the traditional gifts to friends and family as God gave us leading and joy to do it. And on every Christmas Day, like today, we sit down and spend time in prayer and worship for the One who's birthday we celebrate.
As I look forward to the years to come, I see many friends who are experiencing suffering and hardship, as Christmas becomes a reminder of friends and family who are hurting or no longer here this time of year. There is a tree planted outside our church from a dear friend who passed away earlier this year. His wife and grandson took great care to put some simple decorations on the tree bringing a festive look to the outside of our church with far greater meaning than those who see it will ever truly know. Another in our church family is experiencing the recent loss of a wife of 60+ years, and though I know he is surrounded by a great family, my heart aches for these wonderful people, and many others like them that I know, as Christmas takes on a different nature than what it began. I will be praying for them today.
I know that as I grow older, these realities await me in even greater frequency than I currently experience them. It is why my Facebook feed today is filled with rightful reminders to remember those who are hurting or missing loved ones.
So how do I celebrate as this becomes a greater part of my Christmas reality?
I believe that there is a connecting thread of hope that undergirds the true meaning and celebration of Christmas that provides wonder and awe for the child, the joy of selfless giving for the youth and adult, and the comfort needed to those who are suffering loss.
For it is the same Babe in the manger that would command the waves and the wind and walk on the water as a sheet of glass and give hope to the child that nothing is impossible with God.
It is this same Babe in the manger who would command us to love our neighbors as ourselves and remind us that it is more blessed to give than to receive and give hope to the youth and adult that true joy and purpose comes from following Him rather
than our own selfish desires.
It is this same Babe in the manger who would promise those in a place of sorrow or suffering that there is a place being prepared for them and all who believe where there will be no more pain, no more sickness, no more suffering and no more death and give hope that this life is not the end. It is only the separation that is temporary, the joy, however, is permanent.
And this hope is personified in the coming of the Babe in a manger. He is the reason we celebrate Christmas and is the only One who can bring any true lasting, enduring meaning to it. He is the reason we have hope. He is God's gift to the world.
Makes sense, if you ask me. After all, it is His birthday.
"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." -- Luke 2:10b-11 ESV
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