Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve gift!

            If you were in charge of developing a town that would be the most peaceful place to live on earth, which particular features would characterize it?
            My town would have plenty of open spaces for star gazing and be on top of a mountain with beautiful mountain views all around.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

    -Luke 2:1-20

Thank you so much for reading my Advent blog! I hope you have a very merry Christmas!

the Lord's maid.

            If it were socially acceptable for you to play with any children’s toy, with which toy would you be spending a lot of time?
            American Girl dolls, hands down.

            “Go, Gabriel; go and tell Mary.”
            On a wave of worship I flew, this time alone. I circled through the clouds and over the ground. Below me was the city where Mary was born. The Father was right; I knew her in an instant. Her heart had no shadow. Her soul was as pure as any I’ve seen.
            I made the final descent. “Mary.” I kept my voice low so as not to startle her.
            She turned but saw nothing. Then I realized I was invisible to her. I waved my wings before my body and incarnated. She covered her face at the Light and shrank into the protection of the doorway.
            “Don’t be afraid,” I urged.
            The minute I spoke, she looked up toward the sky. Again I was amazed.
            I praised my Father for His wisdom. Her heart is so flawless, so willing. “Greetings. God be with you.”
            Her eyes widened, and she turned as if to run. “Mary, you have nothing to fear. You have found favor with God. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call His name Jesus. He will be great. He will be called the Son of the Highest. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; He will rule Jacob’s house forever – no end, ever, to His kingdom.”
            Though she was listening, she was puzzled.
            “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”
            Before I spoke I looked up into the heavens. The Father was standing, giving me His blessing.
            I continued, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the highest hover over you; therefore, the child you bring to birth will be called Holy, Son of God. Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”
            Mary looked at me then up into the sky. For a long time she gazed into the blueness, so long that I, too, looked up. Did she see the angels? Did the heavens open? I do not know. But I do know when I looked back at hear, she was smiling.
            “Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.”
            As she spoke, a Light appeared in her womb.

            -Cosmic Christmas by Max Lucado

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

a Christmas parable.

            What is your favorite Christmas decoration in your home? (The Christmas tree doesn’t count!)
            I have many favorites, but I especially love our Advent ring.

            And Jesus said a certain man, while doing his Christmas shopping, fell among muggers, who stripped him of everything, beat him to within an inch of his life, and left him in an alley behind St. Luke’s Church.
            The minister came along on his way to a service, and, when he saw the man hurried into the church, afraid of becoming involved. And likewise an elder of the church came by and hurried past, as frightened as the minister. He even dropped the holly wreath he was carrying and didn’t return to pick it up.
            But the neighborhood agnostic, who didn’t even believe in exchanging Christmas presents, when he heard the poor man groaning, investigated and felt sorry for him.
            Bringing his car around, he helped the man into it, ignored the blood on his velvet-pile seats, and drove him to City Hospital.
            “Here,” he said to the receptionist, who presented him with a battery of forms. “This is my credit card, and he is my brother. Give him a private room and the very best of care, and, if it exceeds the limit of my charge account, I’ll borrow the money and pay you. What the heck, it’s Christmas Eve!”
            Which of these three men, do you think, was neighbor to the man who was mugged? And which one had a merry, merry Christmas?

-Parables for Christmas by John Killinger

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

the perfect gift.

            What would you choose as an international symbol for the word Christmas?
            I would pick a star, like the one that led the Wise Men to Jesus.

            “In whom (Christ) are hid all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge.”
            -based on Colossians 2:3
            Gifts, presents, treasures. Get them or give them. Want them, wait for them, wonder about them, or worry about them. Gifts seem to be what Christmas is all about.
            At the beginning of this century, William Sydney Porter wrote a story about Christmas presents. He called it “The Gift of the Magi.” Just as he did for all his stories, he wrote it using the name of “O. Henry.” “The Gift of the Magi” is one of the most popular of all Christmas stories, and it begins this way: “One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.”
            O. Henry’s story is about Della, the woman who had the one dollar and eighty-seven cents. It was all of her Christmas money, all she had been able to save to buy a present for her husband, Jim. Jim’s salary was twenty dollars a week. Even in those days, that wasn’t enough to have extra for gifts. Della had saved her pennies one by one out of the grocery money. When Christmas Eve came, with only one dollar and eighty-seven cents put aside to buy something for Jim, she wanted to cry. She couldn’t buy something wonderful with just those few coins.

            Then Della remembered her treasure. It was one of the two treasures in that poor little family. Della’s was her long, brown, beautiful hair. Jim’s treasure was a gold watch that had come down to him from his father and grandfather.
            O. Henry wrote that Della and Jim were so proud of Jim’s watch that they were sure that it was better than any of King Solomon’s riches. And they loved her hair so much that they felt like the Queen of Sheba would have been jealous of it.
            But because Della loved Jim more than she loved her hair, she sold it to a lady who made fancy wigs. Della got twenty dollars for her hair, enough to buy the perfect gift for Jim – a long, lovely silver-white chain to hold and show off his precious watch. Jim, too, had found the perfect gift for Della. O. Henry’s story ends with Jim giving Della her Christmas present – a set of jeweled combs to hold up her long hair. Della had admired the combs in a shop window, but she didn’t expect to own them someday. They were such expensive combs that Jim had needed to sell his watch to buy them for Della.
            So Della had her hair ornaments but not the hair to put them in, and Jim had a lovely chain, but no watch to hang on it. Della and Jim, wrote O. Henry, were “two foolish children…who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house.” But, he continued, “of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.”
            At Christmastime we hear a lot about gifts of love and about using our hearts and our treasures wisely in order to find the right Christmas spirit. Perhaps that is why O. Henry’s story is so popular. We admire Della’s and Jim’s sacrifices. We know that the love they had for each other was more valuable than the expensive Christmas presents that they had bought. We realize that presents can get old and boring, clothes wear out, and gadgets break, but love is the gift that really satisfies. Almost everyone wants to experience such peace and love at Christmas.
            But sometimes there is a difference between what we know and what we feel. We would like to have Della and Jim’s wise Christmas spirit, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem possible. Relatives or friends might drive us crazy. There are times when we don’t feel loving or lovable. There are times of sadness, even at Christmas. At times like these, the talk about the true meaning of Christmas seems a little bit unrealistic. At such times, the presents gleaming bright and beautiful for us under the Christmas tree seem more attractive than the troublesome people or events that come our way.
            At Christmas and all year round, we need more than good intentions and happy thoughts. We need God’s help. We need God’s presence. We need wisdom to live rightly and to love rightly. The beginning of the Bible’s book of Proverbs tells us that God’s wisdom brings life, joy, peace, safety, justice, righteousness, and faithfulness. His wisdom is the gift we all need, the gift we all want. It is the most perfect of Christmas gifts.
            In Christ we find the wisdom that we long for. His treasures alone bring real meaning to our Christmases and to our lives.
            -The Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader by Donna W. Payne and Fran Lenzo

goblin attack.

            If Frosty the Snowman really did come to life for a day, what one national attraction or tourist site would you encourage him to see before he melted away?
            I would tell him to go see the lights at Opryland!

            Cliff House, near the North Pole
            December 21st 1933
            My dears
            Another Christmas! And I almost thought at one time (in November) that there would not be one this year. There would be the 25th of December, of course, but nothing from your old great-great-etc. grandfather at the North Pole.
            Goblins. The worst attack we have had for centuries. They have been fearfully wild and angry ever since we took all their stolen toys off them last year and dosed them with green smoke. You remember the Red Gnomes promised to clear all of them out. There was not one to be found in any hole or cave by New Year’s day. But I said they would crop up again – in a century or so.
            They have not waited so long! They must have gathered their nasty friends from mountains all over the world, and been busy all the summer while we were at our sleepiest. This time we had very little warning.
            Soon after All Saints’ Day, Polar Bear got very restless. He now says he smelt nasty smells – but as usual he did not say anything: he says he did not want to trouble me. He really is a nice old thing, and this time he absolutely saved Christmas. He took to sleeping in the kitchen with his nose towards the cellar-door, opening on the main-stairway down into my big stores.
            One night, just about Christopher’s birthday, I woke up suddenly. There was squeaking and spluttering in the room and a nasty smell – in my own best green and purple room that I had just had done up most beautifully. I caught sight of a wicked little face at the window. Then I really was upset, for my window is high up above the cliff, and that meant there were bat-riding goblins about – which we haven’t seen since the goblin-war in 1453, that I told you about.
            I was only just quite awake, when a terrific din began far downstairs – in the store-cellars. It would take too long to describe, so I have tried to draw a picture of what I saw when I got down – after treading on a goblin on the mat.
            Only ther was more like 1000 goblins than 15.
            (But you could hardly expect me to draw 1000). Polar Bear was squeezing, squashing, trampling, boxing and kicking goblins skyhigh, and roaring like a zoo, and the goblins were yelling like engine whistles. He was splendid.
            Say no more – I enjoyed it immensely.
            Well, it is a long story. The trouble lasted for over a fortnight, and it began to look as if I should never be able to get my sleigh out this year. The goblins had set part of the stores on fire and captured several gnomes, who sleep down there on guard, before Polar Bear and some more gnomes came in – and killed 100 before I arrived.
            Even when we had put the firs out and cleared the cellars and house (I can’t think what they were doing in my room, unless they were trying to set fire to my bed) the trouble went on. The ground was black with goblins under the moon when we looked out, and they had broken up my stables and gone off with the reindeer.
            I had to blow my golden trumpet (which I have not done for many years) to summon all my friends. There were several battles – every night they used to attack and set fire in the stores – before we got the upper hand, and I am afraid quite a lot of my dear elves got hurt.
            Fortunately we have not lost much except my best string, (gold and silver) and packing papers and holy-boxes. I am very short of these: and I have been very short of messengers. Lots of my people are still away (I hope they will come back safe) chasing the goblins out of my land, those that are left alive.
            They have rescued all of my reindeer. We are quite happy and settled again now, and feel much safer. It really will be centuries before we get another goblin-trouble. Thanks to Polar Bear and the gnomes, there can’t be very many left at all.
            And Father Christmas. I wish I could draw or had time to try – you have no idea what the old man can doo! Litening and fireworks and thunder of guns!
            Polar Bear certainly has been busy helping, and double help – but he has mized up some of the girls’ things with the boys’ in his hurry. We hope we have got all sorted out – but if you hear of anyone getting a doll when they wanted an engine, you will know why. Actually Polar Bear tells me I am wrong – we did lose a lot of railway stuff – goblins always go for that – and what we got back was damaged and will have to be repainted. It will be a busy summer next year.
            Now, a merry Christmas to you all once again. I hope you will all have a very happy time; and will find that I have taken notice of your letters and sent you what you wanted. I don’t think my pictures are very good this year – though I took quite a time over them (at least two minutes). Polar Bear says, “I don’t see that a lot of stars and pictures of goblins in your bedroom are so frightfully merry.” Still I hope you won’t mind. It is rather good of Polar Bear kicking, really. Anyway I send lots of love.
            Yours ever and annually
            Father Nicholas Christmas

Sunday, December 19, 2010

divine heart of love.

            If you were going to write an editorial column for you city’s newspaper covering any Christmas topic of your choice, what would you write about?
            I would write about various local Christmas light displays, such as the lights at Opryland or the best decorations on houses in the area.

            The Father’s love was so unlimited that he wanted us to know that love and to find in it the fulfillment of our deepest desires. So, he sent us you, dear Lord Jesus, with a human heart big enough to hold all human loneliness and all human anguish. Your heart is not a heart of stone but a heart of flesh; your heart of flesh is not narrowed by human sin and unfaithfulness, but is as wide and deep as divine love itself. Your heart does not distinguish between rich and poor, friend and enemy, female and male, slave and free, sinner and saint. Your heart is open to receive anyone with total, unrestricted love.
            The Sacred Heart of Jesus
            “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for you souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
            Matthew 11:28-30
            Lord, let us place wreaths on the doors of our own hearts, so that the Holy Spirit may find these doors, enter in, and take up his lodging there, and by his presence, make us holy. We ask that the entrance of the Holy Spirit create an island of calm and gentleness within us. Amen.
            -Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen by Henri J.M. Nouwen

This little set of carolers is another find from our trip to Europe this summer - we got it in a Christmas store in Rothenburg.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

our shepherd.

In your opinion, what would the ultimate winter wonderland look like?
            There would be lots of Christmas trees, covered with twinkling lights and snow, with the scent of a bonfire in the air.

            Jesus said that He came to be our Shepherd (John 10:11). In Israel, 2,000 years ago, that phrase probably didn’t need very much explanation, because most people would have known someone who was a shepherd. They would have known what shepherds did. But not very many of us have met shepherds or been around flocks of sheep to understand what that means. So what does a shepherd do for his sheep that Jesus wants to do for us?
            The Bible gives us a good idea of what shepherds do in the 23rd Psalm. It was written by David, who was also a shepherd. And David writes that shepherds do eight things:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (The Shepherd provides for all the need of the sheep.)
            He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. (He gives them safety and rest.)
            He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. (He leads the sheep.)
            Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff (He protects the sheep), they comfort me. (The Shepherd comforts the sheep when they are afraid.)
            You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies (He feeds the sheep, even in difficult situations); You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. (The Shepherd pours oil on the sheep so their wounds can be healed.)
            Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (The Shepherd promises that the sheep will always be with Him.)
            So Jesus, in saying that He wants to be our Shepherd, is telling us that He wants to do those things for us! How? He promises to provide everything we need. He feeds us when we read our Bibles. He comforts us when we’re afraid and gives us peace by making His presence real to us. He helps us know where we’re supposed to go and what we’re supposed to do with our lived. He protects us. He heals us when we’re sick in our bodies or hurt in our hearts. And he promises that He will live with us and never leaves us alone.
            Isn’t it great to have Someone to do all of those things for you?
            -The 25 Days of Christmas by Rebecca Hayford Bauer

My dear twin graduated from college yesterday! I'm so proud!