Friday, December 25, 2009

run toward his light.

Merry Christmas! I hope you enjoyed reading my blog as much as I enjoyed writing it! I would love to hear your feedback, in case I decide to do this again next year. Have a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year!

You are a painter and have just been commissioned to do a large oil-on-canvas painting that depicts something about the holiday season. What scene would you choose to paint?

I think I would paint the wise men following the star.

And who are you?

Not an angel, no.

Not Herod.

But perhaps you are

A magi, mapping the miracle

On a chart of stars;

A Shepherd

Trading sleep

For a chance to seek

A golden child

In swaddling clothes;

A Simeon

Who has hoped for a lifetime

To find the one called

Emmanuel, God with us.

Or are you like Mary,

Prayerfully waiting for the King of Kings

To be born in you?

Well, He is here!

Sing! Sing, “O, Holy Night.”

Run toward His Light!

-Voices of Christmas by Nikki Grimes

Thursday, December 24, 2009

christmas eve gift.

Merry Christmas Eve! On Christmas Eve in the Bennett family, we all try to be the first person to say Christmas Eve Gift. If you get someone, then supposedly they have to give you a present. So, Christmas Eve gift!

If, like Santa, you could take a night flight in a sleigh over any city in the world, which city would you choose?

I think I would have to choose Paris.

I know I have shared a lot of favorite things this month, but Cosmic Christmas (also known as An Angel’s Story) by Max Lucado is possibly my most favorite Christmas book. It tells the story of the birth of Jesus through the eyes of the angel Gabriel. I won’t tell you the whole story, but Gabriel fights to protect Mary and Joseph through her pregnancy and their journey to Bethlehem. Towards the end of the story, Jesus is finally born, and I want to share this passage with you.

We were a wreath of Light around the stable, a necklace of diamonds around the structure. Every angel had been called from his post for the coming, even Michael. None doubted God would, but none knew how He could, fulfill His promise….

Within moments the Awaited One was born. I was privileged to have a position close to the couple, only a step behind Michael. We both gazed into the wrinkled face of the infant. Joseph had placed hay in a feed trough, giving Jesus his first bed. All of God was in the infant. Light encircled His face and radiated from His tiny hands. The very glory I had witnessed in His throne room now burst through His skin.

I felt we should sing but did not know what. We had no song. We had no verse. We had never seen the sight of God in a baby. When God had made a star, our words had roared. When He had delivered His servants, our tongues had flown with praise. Before His throne, our songs never ended. But what do you sing to God in a feed trough?

…Sophio was whispering. I drew near to hear his words:

‘A child has been given to us; God has given a Son to us. He will be responsible for leading the people. His name will be: Wonderful Counselor, Powerful God, Father who lives forever, Prince of Peace. He will be wounded for the wrong they did, crushed for the evil they did. The punishment which will make them well will be given to Him. They will be healed because of His wounds.’

…So this is He. Immanuel. This is God’s gift. A Savior. He shall save His people from their sins. ‘Worthy is the Lamb,’ I whispered as I knelt before my God. My heart was full. I turned to Mary as she cradled her child and I spoke. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t hear me. The stars could. All of nature could. And most of all, my King could.

‘Do you know who you hold, Mary? You secure the Author of grace. He who is ageless is now moments old. He who is limitless is now suckling your milk. He who strides upon the stars, now has legs too weak to walk; the hands which held the oceans are now an infant’s fist. To Him who has never asked a question, you will teach the name of the wind. The Source of language will learn words from you. He who has never stumbled, you will carry. He who has never hungered, you will feed. The King of creation is in your arms.’

‘What manner of love is this?’ Michael whispered, and again we were covered with silence. A blanket of awe. Finally, Michael again opened his mouth, this time to sing. He began quietly, pausing between the words.

‘Glory, glory, glory to God in the highest.’

…Our praise rose into the realms of the universe. In the most distant galaxy the dust on the oldest star danced with our praise. In the depths of the ocean, the water rippled with adoration. The tiniest microbe turned, the mightiest constellation spun, all of nature joined with us as we worshiped Immanuel, the God who had become flesh.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Suppose that a new fad was to wrap your gifts in anything other than wrapping paper. With what would you wrap your presents?

If I had lots of time, I would knit little bags so that each present looked like a little stocking.

It was the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, and the manager of a certain department store hired Santa Clauses to stand outside the store. A few days later, business was so brisk that he hired others to stand there too. A week before Christmas, buying was at an all-time peak, and the manager engaged still more Santa Clauses, so that his store was veritably surrounded by men in red suits ringing bells and wishing people “Merry Christmas.”

On Christmas Eve, the manager called in all the Santa clauses and gave them their pay envelopes. When they opened them, they discovered that they had all received the same amount.

“Hey!” demanded the ones who were hired first. “What is going on here?” We have been pounding the pavement outside this store since Thanksgiving. We should have had a lot more than these other men.”

The second group agreed. “And we should have had more than these last bums!’ they said. “We have frozen our cans off a week longer than they did. It isn’t fair to give us all the same pay.”

“Why not?” said the manager. “Haven’t I paid you what we agreed to? And besides, isn’t this what Christmas is all about, that we are dealt with not according to our merit, but according to grace? So don’t let it spoil your Christmas. Rejoice in the gift of the Savior!”

-Parables for Christmas by John Killinger

I love this parable, because it once again reminds me of the true importance of Christmas. Even in the midst of the frantic last minute shopping and preparations, I don’t want to forget to rejoice in the gift of the Savior!

Let the stable still astonish:

Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,

Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;

Crumbling, crooked walls;

No bed to carry that pain,

And then, the child,

Rag-wrapped, laid to cry

In a trough.

Who would have chosen this?

Who would have said: “Yes,

Let the God of all the heavens and earth

Be born here, in this place?”

Who but the same God

Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms

Of our hearts

And says, “Yes,

Let the God of Heaven and Earth

Be born here –

In this place.”

-Leslie Leyland Fields

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

the donkey's dream.

What ingredients go into your favorite Christmas drink or beverage?

Chai tea, eggnog, and nutmeg.

Today I want to share one of my favorite Christmas picture books with you.

Once there was a gray donkey. He was walking along as usual, with a load on his back. A man was leading him. And as they walked on and on through the starry night, the donkey began to dream.

He dreamed he was carrying a city, with gates and towers and temple domes. He dreamed a child cried in the city. And doves flew all around.

He dreamed he was carrying a ship. It rocked like a cradle. It shone like the moon. And the sea danced all around.

He dreamed he was carrying a fountain. Its water splashed and sang like a child’s laughter. And a garden sprang from the desert sand all around.

He dreamed he was carrying a rose, soft as a mother’s touch and sweet as the sleep of a baby. Angels stood all around.

Then he dreamed he was carrying a lady full of heaven. They had come to a town. But only the village dogs ran to greet them. The man knocked on a door. It did not open, so they had to go on. The donkey followed him down narrow alleyways paved with cobblestones.

They came to a place that smelled of hay, with a watering trough and a cave for a stable. The man helped the lady down from the donkey’s back. Then he took the donkey’s saddle off and followed the lady into the cave.

But the donkey was left alone outside. He had walked so long, his back was aching and his legs were sore. One star high above him shone in the watering trough below. The tired donkey drank.

Just then, a cry rang out in the cave. And its echo rang like a bell, over the hills, all around. The night was so still, even the stars heard it. The man came out of the cave. He whispered to the donkey, “Come.”

Together, they went inside the cave, where the lady lay on a bed of hay. The donkey’s saddle was her pillow. She smiled. “Come,” she said to the donkey. “See what we have carried all this way, you and I.”

It was only a tiny child. Yet, when the baby opened his eyes, the cave was full of light. The donkey blinked. But he was not dreaming now. He was awake.

And suddenly, the donkey was not tired anymore, though he had carried a city, a ship, a fountain, a rose, and all the heavens upon his back.

-The Donkey’s Dream by Barbara Helen Berger

Monday, December 21, 2009

widening the imagination.

What do you think is the most enjoyable thing to do in the snow?

I love making snow angels, but sledding down the big hill in our neighborhood is pretty awesome too.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

-Luke 1:26-45

I love that within the story of the birth of Jesus there are so many instances of people encountering angels. Seeing an angel must be a huge faith booster. As Luci Shaw would say, receiving a message from an angel would certainly widen your imagination.

It came to me, recently, that faith is “a certain widening of the imagination.” When Mary asked the Angel, “How shall these things be?” she was asking God to widen her imagination.

All my life I have been requesting the same thing – a baptized imagination that has a wide enough faith to see the numinous in the ordinary. Without discarding reason, or analysis, I seek from my Muse, the Holy Spirit, images that will open up reality and pull me in to its center.

This is the benison of the sacramental view of life.

-from Winter Song by Luci Shaw

(In case you were wondering, numinous means supernatural, and benison means benediction.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

the most monstrous firework.

Regardless of the electric bill, what man-made or natural object would you most like to see strung or outlined with Christmas lights?

I think the Eiffel Tower would be beautiful with Christmas lights.

Today I have another letter from Father Christmas for you.

Cliff House, Top of the World, Near the North Pole

Monday December 20th 1926

My dear boys,

I am more shaky than usual this year. The North Polar Bear’s fault! It was the biggest bang in the world, and the most monstrous firework there ever has been. It turned the North Pole BLACK and shook all the stars out of place, broke the moon into four – and the Man in it fell into my back garden. He ate quite a lot of my Christmas chocolates before he said he felt better and climbed back to mend it and get the stars tidy.

Then I found out that the reindeer had broken loose. They were running all over the country, breaking reins and ropes and tossing presents up in the air. They were all packed up to start, you see – yes it only happened this morning: it was a sleighload of chocolate things, which I always send to England early. I hope yours are not badly damaged.

But isn’t the North Polar Bear silly? And he isn’t a bit sorry! Of course he did it – you remember I had to move last year because of him? The tap for turning on the Rory Bory Aylis fireworks is still in the cellar of my old house. The North Polar Bear knew he must never, never touch it. I only let it off on special days like Christmas. He says he thought it was cut off since we moved.

Anyway, he was nosing round the ruins this morning soon after breakfast (he hides things to eat there) and turned on all the Northern Lights for two years in one go. You have never heard or seen anything like it. I have tried to draw a picture of it; but I am too shaky to do it properly and you can’t paint fizzing light can you?

I think the Polar Bear has spoilt the picture rather – of course he can’t draw with those great fat paws –

Rude! I can – and write without shaking.

By going and putting a bit of his own about me chasing the reindeer and him laughing. He did laugh too. So did I when I saw him trying to draw reindeer, and inking his nice white paws.

Father Christmas had to hurry away and leave me to finish. He is old and gets worried when funny things happen. You would have laughed too! I think it is good of me laughing. It was a lovely firework. The reindeer will run quick to England this year. They are still frightened!

I must go and help pack. I don’t know what Father Christmas would do without me. He always forgets what a lot of packing I do for him.

The Snow Man is addressing our envelopes this year. He is Father Christmas’s gardener – but we don’t get much but snowdrops and frost-ferns to grow here. He always writes in white, just with his finger.

A merry Christmas to you from North Polar Bear

And love from Father Christmas to you all.

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Mary Love and I went to The Nutcracker last night, so I want to share a clip from that!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

the brightness of thy rising.

If you were asked to choose four songs for a Christmas medley, which songs would you pick?

I would pick Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming, O Holy Night, O Come O Come Emmanuel, and Angels from the Realms of Glory.

As of last night I'm home in Tennessee! We're going to see the Messiah tonight, so today I have a reading for you from a new book that my parents have been reading that is based on the Messiah.

“Let there be light,” we demand at Christmas. And in every household that celebrates Christmas and in every store that sells to Christmas shoppers, there is light. Homes and malls are decorated inside and out with blinking bulbs of all kinds imaginable. Many people mark the days of Advent using a wreath with four candles, lighting one candle each week of the four weeks before Christmas.

Christmas in every country and in every time has included light – candles and fires, burning logs, or electric wonders. Light is the essence of life and the symbol of joy and safety. It is no accident that Jesus is called the “Light of the World,” nor is it an accident that His birthday is marked by a universal display of light….

To know a little about light is to know a little about time and space, energy, and matter. To know about light is also to know a little about what God is like. Light is the symbol the Bible uses over and over to describe Him.

The New Testament book of 1 Timothy tells us that God “lives in unapproachable light.” These words suggest that we cannot know all there is to know about God or approach Him as equals. The mysteries surrounding the God of light are represented in the mysteries surrounding the nature of light.

Light is the fastest thing there is. It travels at a speed of 186,282 miles per second. (That’s equal to about eight times around the world in one second.) Scientists have concluded that if people could travel at near the speed of light, time would slow down for them and they would get heavier. Knowing the truth of these astounding possibilities doesn’t make it any easier to understand them. Our everyday ways of understanding nature are not enough to explain light. How then can we possibly expect to explain all there is to know about God?

Experiments have also shown another surprising characteristic of light. Light acts like two completely different things. It moves like a continuous wave, similar to a steady ripple that comes from a pebble dropped in a pond. Light is also totally unlike a wave, moving in little bits similar to a line of individual bullets shot from a machine gun. We can accept the truth of this seeming contradiction because it explains the observed facts about light. In the same way, Christians accept the spiritual mystery that God can be both a human baby and the all-powerful God at the same time….

Light is the source of life itself. Light warms our body with the heat that makes our blood flow and our muscles move. The sunlight that shines on our green planet enters leaf and plant where it is changed, by the miracle of photosynthesis, into the living food energy that every animal and human must have to stay live. So we can say that light is in every life giving bite of food that we put into our mouths. The Bible tells us that “God is light,” and that “in him we live and move and have our being” (1 John 1:5; Acts 17:28). He is, in a sense, the light that keeps us alive.

God showed Himself to Moses in a burning bush. He led the Israelites through the desert by a pillar of fire. The apostle Paul found his Savior in a blinding flash of light. Christ’s birth was announced by angels in a glory of light, and the wise men followed the light of a star. God is light. And just as every young child cries for the light that will take away the night fears, so every human heart longs for the light of God’s love, every mind searches for the light of God’s truth, and every spirit cries for the salvation to lighten its darkness.

-The Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader by Donna W. Payne and Fran Lenzo

Friday, December 18, 2009

a certain small shepherd.

What is one of the simple joys of Christmas that you like to savor to the fullest?

I have so many, but I especially love any chance to sing Christmas carols.

My musical selection today is especially for Mary Love and Mom because of our love of The Three Tenors.

A Certain Small Shepherd by Rebecca Caudill is one of my favorite Christmas books. If you haven’t read it, you should read the whole thing, but here is a summary. It tells the story of a little boy named Jamie who was born mute. When he was in the first grade, he was given the part of a shepherd in the Christmas play. He was so excited! His sister Saro made him a beautiful shepherd’s coat and his father found him a shepherd’s crook. But on Christmas Eve, it started snowing so hard that nobody could get to the church for the play. As the snow got worse, a man and a woman came through the storm and asked Jamie’s father for shelter in their stable.

Still Jamie stared into the fire. A strange feeling was growing inside him. This night was not like other nights, he knew. Something mysterious was going on. He felt afraid.

What was that he heard? The wind? Only the wind?

He lay down on his bed with his clothes on. He dropped off to sleep. A rattling at the door waked him.

He sat upright quickly. He looked around. His heart beat fast. But nothing in the room had changed. Everything was as it had been when he lay down – the fire was burning; two stockings, Saro’s and Honey’s, hung under the mantel; the clock was ticking solemnly.

He looked at Father’s bed. The sheets were just as Saro had turned them back.

There! There it was! He heard it again! It sounded like singing. “Glory to God! On earth peace!”

Jamie breathed hard. Had he heard that? Or had he only said it to himself?

The next morning, Jamie’s father takes Jamie, Saro, and Honey to the church, where the man and woman spent the night.

The woman smiled at them. “You came to see?” she asked, and lifted the cover.

Saro went first and peeped under the cover. Honey went next.

“You look too, Jamie,” said Saro.

For a second Jamie hesitated. He leaned forward and took one quick look. Then he turned, shot down the aisle and out of the church, slamming the door behind him….

To the house Jamie made his way…where he hurriedly pulled his shepherd’s robe over his coat. He snatched up his crook from the chimney corner.

With his hand on the doorknob, he glanced toward the fireplace. There, under the mantel, hung Saro’s and Honey’s stockings. And there, beside them, hung his stocking! Now who had hung it there? It had in it the same bulge his stocking had had every Christmas morning since he could remember – a bulge made by an orange.

Jamie ran to the fireplace and felt the toe of his stocking. Yes, there was the dime, just as on other Christmas mornings.

Hurriedly he emptied his stocking. With the orange and the dime in one hand and the crook in the other, he made his way toward the church….

Father opened the church door.

Without looking to the left or right, Jamie hurried up the aisle. Father and Saro followed him. Beside the pallet he dropped to his knees.

“Here’s a Christmas gift for the Child,” he said, clear and strong.

“Father!” gasped Saro. “Father, listen to Jamie!”

The woman turned back the covers from the baby’s face. Jamie gently laid the orange beside the baby’s tiny hand.

“And here’s a Christmas gift for the Mother,” Jamie said to the woman.

He put the dime in her hand.

Father, trembling with wonder and with joy, fell to his knees beside Jamie. Saro, too, knelt; and Honey, and the man.

“Surely,” the woman spoke softly, “the Lord lives this day.”

“Surely,” said Father, “the Lord does live this day, and all days. And he is loving and merciful and good.”

In the hush that followed, Christmas in all its joy and majesty came to Hurricane Gap. And it wasn’t so long ago at that.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

simple things.

Besides the reindeer, which animals do you associate the most with the Christmas season?

I definitely think of sheep and camels because of the Nativities that appear all over our house during the Christmas season.

An ordinary night with ordinary sheep and ordinary shepherds. And were it not for a God who loves to hook an “extra” on the front of the ordinary, the night would have gone unnoticed. The sheep would have been forgotten, and the shepherds would have slept the night away.

But God dances amidst the common. And that night he did a waltz.

The black sky exploded with brightness. Trees that had been shadows jumped into clarity. Sheep that had been silent became a chorus of curiosity. One minute the shepherd was dead asleep, the next he was rubbing his eyes and staring into the face of an alien.

The night was ordinary no more.

The angel came in the night because that is when lights are best seen and that is when they are most needed. God comes into the common for the same reason. His most powerful tools are the simplest.

- The Applause of Heaven by Max Lucado

I like the idea that his most powerful tools are the simplest. The simple things of God are the nearest to our comprehension, so it is reassuring that they are just as affective. Even his most simple things make our world extraordinary.

Sometimes I am given my most wondrous glimpses of Jesus in the small or unexpected things, from a friend pouring a cup of tea to looking up at the evening sky and seeing the tiny sliver of a moon and staying to watch the stars come out. I am filled with joy at the wonder of God’s leaving all that glory and coming to the poor fallen thing that has become of his glorious little planet, peopled by creatures who have the ability to choose right and wrong, and who so often choose wrong. Why does this give me hope rather than despair?

I suppose it gives me hope because there is nothing that happens, nothing, that is not part of God’s concern, part of that love which expressed itself completely in the Incarnation.”

- Bright Evening Star by Madeline L’Engle

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

heaven can give no more.

How do you think you would react if you were visited by an angel?

I think I would be completely terrified, just like the shepherds, but I would walk away with a much greater faith.

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,

and enlarge my mind;

Let me hear good tidings of great joy, and hearing,

Believe, rejoice, praise, adore,

My conscience bathed in an ocean of repose, my

Eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;

Place me with ox, ass, camel, goat, to look with

Them upon my Redeemer’s face, and in him

Account myself delivered from sin;

Let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart,

Embrace him with undying faith,

Exulting that he is mine and I am his.

In him thou has given me so much that heaven can give no more.

-from Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, edited by Nancy Guthrie

Since we have looked at the stories of the birth of Jesus from Matthew and John, I thought we could also look at Luke today.

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 2:4-20

Today I am struck by the importance of Mary treasuring up all these things and pondering them in her heart. This detail gives us an example of applying this story to our own lives. The very fact that our God became one of us through the incarnation is enough to completely change our world without even going on to consider his death and resurrection. How could He possibly be born a human baby, fully God and fully man? And yet how wonderful that this mystery is true!

I feel like this video is obligatory.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


If you or your family could have a Christmas photograph taken anywhere in the world, where would you want to have the picture taken?

I would want to have it taken on top of the Schilthorn in Switzerland.

Today I have another story for you.

We pressed through the crowd to the edge of a large, open circle. In front of us stood Santa’s sleigh. The reindeer were excited. They pranced and paced, ringing the silver sleigh bells that hung from their harnesses. It was a magical sound, like nothing I’d ever heard. Across the circle, the elves moved apart and Santa Claus appeared. The elves cheered wildly.

He marched over to us and, pointing to me, said, “Let’s have this fellow here.” He jumped into his sleigh. The conductor handed me up. I sat on Santa’s knee and he asked, “Now, what would you like for Christmas?”

I knew that I could have any gift I could imagine. But the thing I wanted most for Christmas was not inside Santa’s giant bag. What I wanted more than anything was one silver bell from Santa’s sleigh. When I asked, Santa smiled. Then he gave me a hug and told an elf to cut a bell from a reindeer’s harness. The elf tossed it up to Santa. He stood, holding the bell high above him, and called out, “The first gift of Christmas!”

A clock struck midnight as the elves roared their approval. Santa handed the bell to me, and I put it in my bathrobe pocket. The conductor helped me down from the sleigh. Santa shouted out the reindeer’s names and cracked his whip. His team charged forward and climbed into the air. Santa circled once above us, then disappeared in the cold, dark polar sky.

As soon as we were back inside the Polar Express, the other children asked to see the bell. I reached into my pocket, but the only thing I felt was a hole. I had lost the silver bell from Santa Claus’s sleigh. “Let’s hurry outside and look for it,” one of the children said. But the train gave a sudden lurch and started moving. We were on our way home.

It broke my heart to lose the bell. When the train reached my house, I sadly left the other children. I stood at my doorway and waved good-bye. The conductor said something from the moving train, but I couldn’t hear him. “What?” I yelled out.

He cupped his hands around his mouth. “MERRY CHRISTMAS,” he shouted. The Polar Express let out a loud blast from its whistle and sped away.

On Christmas morning my little sister Sarah and I opened our presents. When it looked as if everything had been unwrapped, Sarah found one last small box behind the tree. It had my name on it. Inside was the silver bell! There was a note: “Found this on the seat of my sleigh. Fix that hole in your pocket.” Signed, “Mr. C.”

I shook the bell. It made the most beautiful sound my sister and I had ever heard.

But my mother said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

“Yes,” said my father, “it’s broken.”

When I’d shaken the bell my parents had not heard a sound.

At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Monday, December 14, 2009

prince of peace.

A major theme of the Christmas season is peace on earth. For whatever your reason, what do you consider the most peaceful place on earth?

I have a couple. My parents’ house is always a peaceful, comforting place to me. I also feel really peaceful when I’m just sitting in a cathedral.

Christmas is called a time of peace. People talk about it. You’ve probably seen doves or other kinds of peace symbols on Christmas cards. But what most people don’t talk about is why this is a season of peace.

When the angels announced Jesus’ birth, they sang, “Peace on earth!” because one of the names for the promised Savior was the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). They were proclaiming that Peace had now come to rule on earth! Many people thought that meant that as soon as the Messiah came, He would “protect all the good guys and get rid of all the bad guys (or maybe throw them in jail)” like some kind of cartoon super hero! But Jesus came to bring a different kind of peace. He gives us a peace that stays with us no matter what. God’s kind of peace fills your heart and makes you feel loved. It is a peace that only God can give and there is nothing else that can take its place.

Many people try to fill that place with something else. Do you know kids who are angry and bully other kids? They are trying to fill that place with power. Some kids try to fill that place with friends, or food, or lots of toys and clothes. They are trying to fill that place with acceptance. Other kids try to fill that God-shaped place with something good like getting good grades, or being helpful. But even if you try filling that place in your heart with good things, it will be like using the wrong key in a lock. It can never open the door to God’s peace, and will never make you completely happy, because you have tried to fill it with something that doesn’t fit right.

Have you ever tried to open a door with the wrong key? It might look like the right key. It might even go into the lock. But when you try to turn it and open the door, nothing happens. That is what it’s like when we try to fill our hearts with something other than God: we become frustrated, unhappy, and upset. But when we fill our hearts with the Lord, we find peace.

Jesus said, “In Me you may have peace. In the world you will have hard things happen to you; but be of good cheer, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).

That means that no matter what difficult situation we face, we can have peace. If you aren’t facing something hard right now, thank the Lord. But if you are, ask the Lord to help you, and remember: no matter what you face, the Prince of Peace is right there with you.

The 25 Days of Christmas by Rebecca Hayford Bauer

Sunday, December 13, 2009

the rosebush.

If this Christmas you could be instantly transported to London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral to hear any one musical work of composition, what would you most want to hear? (It needn’t have a Christmas theme.)

I think I have to say Serenade for Strings by Tchaikovsky.

This is one of my most favorite Christmas carols.

When the right time came God sent His son to buy freedom for us. Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child and everything he has belongs to you.

-Galatians 4:4-5, 7

Today I have a story for you. Benjamin Bear opens a door on his Advent calendar to find a new picture each day. His mother tells him a story each day about a little bear who follows a shining star to Bethlehem to see the Christ Child.

Benjamin opened the next door and found a rosebush.

That night the snowflakes fell like gigantic stars. With tremendous effort, the little bear fought his way through the deep snow. His fur was wet, and he shivered. The little bear sank deeper and deeper into the snow. In front of him lay a little clearing. He squinted and saw something sparkling just ahead. The little bear bent down. He could hardly believe his eyes. In the middle of winter a rose was blooming! The ice crystals sparkled and glistened on its leaves.

It is so beautiful, thought the little bear. I will dig it out and bring it to the Child! His little paws scraped away the snow. He dug his claws into the frost-hardened earth until they were dull. Finally he was able to pull out the rosebush by its roots. He pressed the rosebush, stiff with frost, against his chest and warmed it.

Just then, a flock of birds flew by and began to sing. And, as if it were already spring, the rose released its sweet scent into the woods.

“A rose blowing in winter! That must have been wonderful to see,” said Benjamin.

Mother Bear nodded. “Always remember,” she said,” God’s love can warm and brighten the coldest, darkest night.”

-Advent Storybook: 24 Stories to Share Before Christmas by Antonie Schneider

Saturday, December 12, 2009

redeeming all brokenness.

If you were to open up a cozy, little Christmas shop, what Christmas product would be your main draw?

I would want to sell lots of different Nativity sets.

As we move into Advent we are called to listen, something we seldom take time to do in this frenetic world of over-activity. But waiting for birth, waiting for death – these are listening times, when the normal distractions of life have lost their power to take us away from God’s call to center in Christ.

During Advent we are traditionally called to contemplate death, judgment, hell and heaven. To give birth to a baby is also a kind of death – death to the incredible intimacy of carrying a child, death to old ways of life and birth into new – and it is as strange for the parents as for the baby. Judgment: John of the Cross says that in the evening of life we shall be judged on love; not on our accomplishments, not on our successes and failures in the worldly sense, but solely on love.

Once again, as happened during the past nearly two thousand years, predictions are being made of the time of this Second Coming, which, Jesus emphasized, “even the angels in heaven do not know.” But we human creatures, who are “a little lower than the angels,” too frequently try to set ourselves above them with our predictions and our arrogant assumption of knowledge which God hid even from the angels. Advent is not a time to declare, but to listen, to listen to whatever God may want to tell us through the singing of the stars, the quickening of a baby, the gallantry of a dying man.

Listen. Quietly. Humbly. Without arrogance.

In the first verse of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, we sing, “Word of God, our flesh that fashioned with the fire of life impassioned,” and the marvelous mystery of incarnation shines. “Because in the mystery of the Word made flesh,” goes one of my favorite propers, for it is indeed the mystery by which we live, give birth, watch death.

When the Second Person of the Trinity entered the virgin’s womb and prepared to be born as a human baby (a particular baby, Jesus of Nazareth), his death was inevitable.

It is only after we have been enabled to say, “Be it unto me according to your Word,” that we can accept the paradoxes of Christianity. Christ comes to live with us, bringing an incredible promise of God’s love, but never are we promised that there will be no pain, no suffering, no death, but rather that these very griefs are the road to love and eternal life.

In Advent we prepare for the coming of all Love, that love which will redeem all the brokenness, wrongness, and hardnesses of heart which have afflicted us.’

Miracle on 10th Street: And Other Christmas Writings by Madeleine L’Engle

Friday, December 11, 2009

aslan is on the move.

What is your favorite Christmas scent?

I love the smell of Mom’s coffee cake on Christmas morning.

Today I want to share with you an excerpt from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

“Didn’t I tell you,” answered Mr. Beaver, “that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well just come and see!”

And then they were all at the top and did see.

It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harnesses. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as hollyberries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world – the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.”

And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.

I love that all that it takes for Narnia to be changed is for Aslan to be on the move. The slightest movement from Aslan weakens the Witch’s power and ends the one hundred years of winter without Christmas. In the same way, all that is needed for our world to be revolutionized is the tiniest movement of God. He is so much greater than us that his smallest workings can utterly transform us.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

the risk of birth.

If you could indulge in only one type of cookie this holiday season, which cookie would you be eating a lot of?

This question is really tough since we have so many amazing cookie recipes in the Bennett household, but I think I would have to stick with Lemon-Cheese Logs.

“This is no time for a child to be born,

With the earth betrayed by war and hate

And a comet slashing the sky to warn

That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,

In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;

Honour and truth were trampled by scorn –

Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?

The inn is full on the planet earth,

And by a comet the sky is torn –

Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.”

-Madeleine L’Engle

Today I want to continue the story of Jesus’ birth according to the gospel of Matthew.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teacher of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

-Matthew 2:1-12

I am always amazed that the Magi dropped everything to simply follow a star. They had the kind of faith that completely changed their lives. They believed that following that star was worth more than anything else in their lives, and they didn’t rest until they found what they sought. And then, after they had found Jesus, they had even more faith to let a dream direct them. I want to have that kind of faith in my life.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

what can we give him?

If you were creating the ultimate gingerbread house, what unique features would it have?

My gingerbread house would have an eggnog moat with a peppermint bark bridge.

What mattered to Jesus was what went on in our hearts. What mattered was that we be right with God. What mattered was forgiveness, God’s loving forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness for each other. Jesus was not attracted by people who were more worried about other people’s sins (the mote in the eye, that stone in the hand) than their own love of God.

Bright Evening Star by Madeleine L’Engle

What a relief it is that Jesus is most concerned with our hearts. Even when we make mistakes, he can see the motives behind our actions and forgive us for our sinful nature. Not only can he see what is in our hearts, he loves what he sees! I love this poem by Christina Rossetti – what better gift can we give him than our hearts?

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him

Nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away

When He comes to reign:

In the bleak mid-winter

A stable-place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty

Jesus Christ.

What can I give Him,

Poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd

I would bring a lamb,

If I were a Wise Man

I would do my part –

Yet what I can I give Him,

I’ll give Him my heart.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

sing we now of christmas.

Out of all the musical instruments, which one do you think is the most appropriate for the Christmas season?

I think the harp is nice for Christmas.

A group of carolers went forth to carol. And, as they caroled, some carols were lost on the evening air and simply disappeared in the night. And some fell on stony ears, and as soon as they were heard, they were forgotten. And some were caught up in the general noise of the street, which at times rose up and overpowered them. And other carols went straight to their mark and gladdened the hearts of those who heard them, so that they were hummed and repeated hundreds of times as these persons went about during the Christmas season. Whoever can understand this should give thanks for carols!

Parables for Christmas by John Killinger

On Christmas Eve in 1818, a certain German priest named Father Joseph Mohr and his organist, Franz Gruber, were struggling to repair their broken organ before the traditional Midnight Mass. After a final hopeless examination of the instrument by Gruber, Mohr set out to make several pastoral visits. On one of these visits, Mohr had the opportunity to bless a new baby. As he was returning to the church, he considered the contrast between this baby and the Christ Child who was born on this same night so many centuries ago. He was suddenly inspired to write a poem entitled “Stille Nacht,” or “Silent Night.”

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright;

Round yon Virgin Mother and Child, Holy Infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.

At the church, Mohr asked Gruber to compose a melody for the poem. Since Gruber was an organist and the only available instrument was a guitar, Gruber created the melody based on the only three guitar chords that he knew. At midnight, Gruber played the simple chords on the guitar, and the two men sang the beautiful melody for the congregation.

When the organ builder, Karl Mauracher, finally came to repair the broken organ, Gruber played the carol for him. Maraucher took a manuscript of “Stille Nacht” with him and later introduced it to the four Strasser children. They sang the song so beautifully that it became known as “The Song From Heaven.” The Director-General of Music of the Kingdom of Saxony, Mr. Pohlenz, heard the Strassers sing and invited the children to perform for the King and Queen. The carol was further promoted by the translation into English by Reverand John Young Freeman. The song has been a reminder of peace and joy to many people. During the First World War, a truce was called at Christmastime. Across the no-man’s land, British soldiers heard German voices singing “Stille Nacht” and joined in English. “Silent Night” has become one of the most famous Christmas carols because two men were faithful to trust God in the midst of their struggles.

Monday, December 7, 2009

father christmas and the great polar bear.

If you could decorate any famous building for Christmas (inside and outside), which building would you choose?

I think it would be fun to decorate a cathedral, so I might choose Notre Dame.

Since so many of my updates have been pretty serious so far, I thought we could lighten the mood today. One of my recent Christmas book finds is Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien wrote a series of letters to his children under the pseudonym of Father Christmas that detail the adventures of Father Christmas and his accident-prone assistant, the Great Polar Bear.

Cliff House, Top of the World, Near the North Pole

Christmas 1925

My dear boys,

I am dreadfully busy this year – it makes my hand more shaky than ever when I think of it – and not very rich; in fact awful things have been happening, and some of the presents have got spoilt, and I haven’t got the North Polar bear to help me, and I have had to move house just before Christmas, so you can imagine what a state everything is in, and you will see why I have a new address, and why I can only write one letter between you both.

It all happened like this: one very windy day last November my hood blew off and went and stuck on the top of the North Pole. I told him not to, but the North Polar Bear climbed up to the thin top to get it down – and he did. The pole broke in the middle and fell on the roof of my house, and the North Polar Bear fell through the hole it made into the dining room with my hood over his nose, and all the snow fell off the roof into the house and melted and put out all the fires and ran down into the cellars, where I was collecting this year’s presents, and the North Polar Bear’s leg got broken.

He is well again now, but I was so cross with him that he says he won’t try to help me again – I expect his temper is hurt, and will be mended by next Christmas.

I send you a picture of the accident and of my new house on the cliffs above the North Pole (with beautiful cellars in the cliffs). If John can’t read my old shaky writing (one thousand nine hundred and twenty-five years old) he must get his father to. When is Michael going to learn to read, and write his own letters to me? Lots of love to you both and Christopher, whose name is rather like mine.

That’s all: Good Bye

Father Christmas


Father Christmas was in a great hurry – told me to put in one of his magic wishing crackers. As you pull, wish, and see if it doesn’t come true. Excuse thick writing I have a fat paw. I help Father Christmas with his packing: I live with him I am the


Sunday, December 6, 2009

the spirit of giving.

If you had written the story, what type of animal would be pulling Santa’s sleigh?

I think cheetahs would be good since they’re so fast.

Today I want to talk about St. Nicholas. He isn’t really an integral part of Advent, but I think his story is very encouraging. We are reminded of the true spirit in which we should give gifts when we remember his generosity.

Dear Grown-up:

Nicholas is a real historical figure who lived in the fourth century. He was Bishop of Myra, a city in Lycia, Asia Minor (What is modern-day Turkey). The region is situated on the Mediterranean Sea across from Greece.

The people of Myra had already heard the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ before Nicholas came to serve them. The Apostle Paul had traveled there on his mission journey. This visit is recorded in Acts 27:5-6. As a Christian, Nicholas suffered persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian and was imprisoned until Constantine came into power and showed tolerance to Christians.

Tales of Nicholas’s generosity were widespread, and he became patron saint of Russia. In Europe, he was known as Father Christmas, and in America, Santa Claus. Legends about his home at the North Pole, flying reindeer, and distributing gifts all over the world on Christmas Eve were created to enhance his story, but his generosity is based in historical fact. The story of his supplying the dowries for the three girls is believed to be factual.

Nicholas’s feast day (the day he died) is December 6th. Many families observe St. Nicholas Day by having the children in the home place their shoes by the door when they go to bed the night before. When they awaken on the morning of December 6, their shoes are filled with bags of gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins that were secretly placed there during the night.

The significance of Nicholas for us today is that his response to God’s great love for us in Jesus was to care for other people. His kindness and care for children are modeled every time we give a gift out of love.

Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer

When Mary Love and Grace and I were little, we would set out our shoes and get gold coins in the morning.

As you give and receive gifts during this season, remember the generosity and godliness of the real St. Nicholas.