PUTTING AWAY CHRISTMAS

Today I will begin the job of taking down all the Christmas decorations and getting the house back into its usual order.  This is a chore I always dread, and I have written about it before in my book Seasons.  I love Christmas and everything that goes with it: the lights, the presents, the music, the food… all of it.  I begin Christmas early, and this year I started earlier than I usually do.  I couldn’t wait to get the tree and all the lights up.  So what goes up must come down, and it is a backbreaking chore.  

I dread all the work that goes into putting away the decorations, but this year I dread it for a different reason.  More than ever before, Christmas has been a respite from the darkness of our world in 2020.  We have left our lights on all the time except for when we go to bed.  I have turned off the news and that has made me much more peaceful.  It’s been Christmas music and Hallmark movies, and thanks to YouTube, some wonderful messages from pastors I have discovered this year.  So putting away the decorations (and I sigh as I even write these words) seems to be a signal to return to what passes for normal this year.  An end to joy and a return to reality.

But every ending is also a beginning.  There is something energizing about getting the house all clean and free of the Christmas clutter.  It is a signal that a new year is just days away, and new years bring new opportunities.  Besides, returning to reality doesn’t automatically preclude joy.  That is a choice, and I choose joy!

I have been thinking a good deal about Mary and Joseph and all the characters in the Christmas story.  I have been especially thinking about the time they lived in.  That was a dark period for Israel as they were under Roman rule.  The government issued orders that were burdensome, especially the order to return to the place of one’s birth to be counted in the census.  So we also are under burdensome rules and recommendations in 2020.  Christmas was different for many of us, and travel has been difficult.  

But what a blessing it is to be living on this side of the birth of Christ.  The Jews who lived before Christ worshipped in their temple and synagogues, but when they left to return to their homes, they left God there.  Because God came to earth on that first Christmas, we don’t leave Him in our places of worship.  He is with us all the time.  Emmanuel, God with us!  I don’t think we really stop to consider how truly remarkable that fact is.  When we receive Christ as Savior, He comes to live inside us.  Jesus said in John 14:23:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

So when I put away the Christmas decorations I will not actually be putting away Christmas.  I am not putting God in a box.  Because of Christmas I can experience joy even in the darkest days.  And because of Christmas I can face an unknown 2021; God will be with me.  And so as I turn to this big chore before me, I resolve to keep Christmas.

THE WEARY WORLD REJOICES

One of my favorite Christmas carols is O Holy Night.  I heard it on the radio the other day and these words jumped out at me:

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn

The weary world.  I know there have been many times in history when the world has been weary, but this is the weariest I can remember it in my lifetime.  We have fatigue.  Pandemic fatigue, Zoom fatigue, crisis fatigue, election fatigue…these are all real experiences.  I think weary is an accurate word to describe what many of us are feeling in 2020.  I looked up some synonyms for weary: they include exhausted, drained, disillusioned, all-in,  worn out, my personal favorite: whacked.  Sometimes I feel like 2020 has just whacked me in the face.  When I look at the word weary I see the word wear, and I think that describes how I feel.  2020 is wearing on me.  And I am concerned that January 1 is not going to make all this weariness go away.   

I am weary with this rancorous political season, weary of identity politics, weary of the notion that if I disagree with you I must hate you.  I am weary of seeing people riot in our streets, tearing down statues and burning down cities.  Oh, and I am really weary of people getting offended!  When did we become so thin-skinned that there is acceptable speech and anything else is hate speech?  I’m not an anti-masker, but I am weary of wearing a mask and of the whole mask debate.  Weary of being told what I can and cannot do.  I don’t want to be told how many people can come to my house on Christmas Day.  And I sure don’t want to be told not to hug my grandchildren.  Many of us are weary of job and income insecurity. We are weary for our children, sitting in front of screens all day because they can’t go to school.  For those of us who are grandparents saddened to miss milestone events.  We won’t get these days back.  We are weary of the long lines we see on television for Covid testing and food boxes.  And we are so weary of sickness and death and grief.  Almost everyone has lost some one or some thing.  

When you become weary you get crankier, or at least I do.  So even the not-so-important things bother me.  I’m weary of this unpredictable football season.  My Sooners didn’t get to play last Saturday and it was a disappointment.  I was cranky.  I’m weary of shortages.  The stores are out of such strange things.  Peanut butter?  Petite peas?  I wanted to buy a new Christmas tree, one of those slim pencil trees, but I guess I waited too long because I discovered that there is a shortage of both real and artificial trees.  I went to every Hobby Lobby, Lowe’s and Home Depot before I finally found one online, but Wal-Mart summarily cancelled my order!  I’m weary of tracking down all the Christmas presents I ordered that are still out there somewhere.   Where is my package that supposedly was delivered? And why is there an unauthorized charge on my American Express card?   Yesterday I received a voice mail that was recorded on last Monday.  Where was it all week?  I’m weary of technical glitches.  Why did my outgoing email suddenly quit working?  And quite frankly, I am really weary of Medicare commercials and Joe Namath’s face on TV!  

Yes, I realize that my weariness is trivial.  First world problems for sure.  I have so many friends and family members who are dealing with major problems, so I feel blessed in the midst of my weariness.  This has been a year of losses.  For many of us Christmas is going to be different.  Maybe there won’t be a family celebration this year because of COVID.  Some of us will have an empty chair at the table.  Some are facing eviction and don’t know where their table will be.  Maybe there has been bad news from the doctor.  Some of us are privately fighting battles we cannot share.  And none of us knows what is going to happen in 2021.  

I don’t think anyone gets to my season of life without some weariness, and maybe it is the weariness that gets us ready for heaven.  Haven’t you had moments this year when you have been homesick for heaven?  Longing to see Jesus, longing to see those who have passed on ahead of you, but also longing to be away from the trials and ugliness of this world?   Well I want to give you some hope today.   

I guess I’m not alone in this, but don’t sleep very well these days.  That is not a complaint, just an observation.  I find that moving to the sofa and turning on the television help me go back to sleep pretty quickly.  It’s a surprise if I wake up in my own bed.  The other night I found a soothing YouTube channel that plays scripture with a background of ocean sounds.  It plays in a continual loop, and the same words kept waking me: “…we are more than conquerors.”  

Apparently, the Lord wanted me to really absorb these words, and so I want to share them with you.  They are found in the 8th chapter of Romans, along with these familiar words:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

That is a promise we cling to. God causing everything to work together for good.  He speaks into our circumstances.  The same God who created the universe can redeem even our worst situations. I have been reminding myself to look for the good in the midst of the bad.  Because there have been some good things to come out of 2020.  We have had more time for the Lord.  This shaking that the prophet Haggai told us we would experience in these last days, this shaking is waking us up to what is really important.  It is a call to return to the Lord.  For me, I have never spent as much time in prayer as I have this year.  I am in several different prayer groups, both locally and nationally.  And we are praying big bold prayers!!

Paul goes on to tell us that we may have to face many trials and ordeals in this life.  We may go through seasons of intense distress.  But if we belong to Christ, nothing can separate us from God’s love.  Even if we “have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death” (Rom. 8:35 NLT), we are overwhelmingly victorious!  We are more than conquerors!  

Paul’s words are so beautiful I want to share the rest of this chapter in the New Living Translation:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?  Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.  Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.   No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The weary world rejoices.  Some might ask how that can be in 2020.  The answer to that question lies in the words that come right before: the thrill of hope.  We have hope!   Because Christ came to earth on that holy night we are no longer under the condemnation of sin.  We can be in a right relationship with God.  And nothing, nothing, can separate us from His love.  Even though we may still endure the weariness of this world, we know there is a better world to come.  And even death is not the end of our story.  So whether we are walking through a difficult season or one of fruitfulness, we are more than conquerors.

Dear Father,

Thank you so much for sending your son to come and dwell with us in this weary world.  He is our hope.  And because of that Hope we can rejoice even in the midst of our trials because we have your assurance that nothing can separate us from your love.  Oh how we look forward to the day when we will see you face-to-face.  Until that day, we take comfort in the promise that nothing can separate us from your love.  We are more than conquerors! 

There is a footnote to this story, a God wink.  As I was writing these words, Wal-Mart sent me a text.  They found my Christmas tree.  

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Remember when you were a child how it seemed as if Christmas would NEVER come?  Oh the days and weeks and months were so long!  When my siblings and I were growing up, Christmas was really the only time during the year when we got toys.  Oh maybe a little something on birthdays, but Christmas was it!  It was an ironclad rule at our house that we put up our tree (a real one in the early days) two weeks before Christmas and not one day earlier.  My father grew up in a household where the Christmas tree went up on Christmas Eve, so he thought two weeks was a generous compromise.  I loved the night we went to pick out a tree and brought it home to decorate.  And then we had to wait two weeks.  Oh how those two weeks drug on!  Now two weeks before Christmas goes by in the blink of an eye. 

Those were days of waiting. 

When I was a child my father worked for Western Auto.  During the Christmas season the Western Auto stores carried toys and put out a Christmas catalogue just full of things to delight children.  Oh how we would pour over that catalogue, circling our favorite toys.  Days of dreaming and waiting, wishing and hoping.  There was so much hoping as a child at Christmas.  By Christmas Eve the waiting would be at a fever pitch, making sleep so difficult.  But finally the waiting would come to an end, and Christmas morning would be filled with shrieks of joy and the sound of paper ripping.

Of course those toys are long gone now.  I barely even remember them except for a few: a Western Flyer bicycle, a Toni doll, and later, a bride doll.  They brought me joy, but only for a short time.

This morning in my quiet time I was reading about two elderly people who waited their entire lives for Christmas, Simeon and Anna.  They are two examples to us of how to wait with godly expectation.  And for me as I am well into my senior years, they serve as an example that God has a purpose and plan for us in every stage of life.  In fact, the Bible tells us in Psalm 139 that God has a pre-ordained plan for us written in a book, and that every day of our lives has a purpose.  We have a day to be born and a day to die, and the days in between are days of God’s intention for us.  When we are in tune with God, spending time in His word and in prayer, He reveals these intentions to us.  Simeon believed that he would see the Messiah before he died because He spent time with God.  We are told in the Gospel of Luke that the Holy Spirit assured him of this.  But well into his advance years, did he ever doubt?  Some of us wait a long time, even a lifetime for our prayers to be answered.  Anna was married for only seven years before she became a widow.  I’m sure that was not the life she expected.  She could have been angry with God, but instead she devoted the rest of her 84 years to serving in the temple, worshipping and fasting.  She too got to see the baby Jesus.  

Today at the close of 2020, I am waiting for some BIG things.  I wait for God to send another Great Awakening to America, that we can once again be a nation that fears and honors God, and that we will fulfill our destiny of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  And I also wait for Jesus to come and rapture His church.  I too want to see Him face-to-face.  I wait to be reunited with loved ones who have passed on ahead of me.  I long for the Millennial reign of Christ on earth, to see this world as it was intended to be.  And I look forward to the wedding supper of the Lamb, and the new heaven and earth.  I can wait like Simeon, with certain expectancy, because God has promised these things in His word.  I am reminded of the words of John Wesley in the Christmas song, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

As believers we wait for the Hope of all the earth…Jesus.  He is the desire (and the need) of every nation and the joy of every longing heart.  It is a joy that cannot be found wrapped in pretty paper under the Christmas tree.  That kind of joy doesn’t last.  But the joy that Jesus brings lasts forever.  My Christmas wish for everyone is that they discover this long expected Jesus for themselves.  

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13 NIV

I WONDER

I wonder.  I’ve always wondered.  What was it like?  What was it like for a teenaged Mary to be told by an angel that she would be the mother of God?  As I read the story I can understand her initial fear at seeing an angel, but then it seems that belief came to her quietly and naturally, as if she had just been waiting for a chance to say yes.  She had undoubtedly heard the stories from the scriptures…that one day a Messiah would come.  But did she ever really believe that He might come through her?  It seems that Mary received Christ so easily.  And that’s how it is for some people.  In their tender years Jesus comes to them and with a childlike faith they say yes.  God was giving her a privileged but difficult mission.  Mary said yes.  Would I?  I wonder.  

I wonder about Mary’s mother.  As a mother to three girls I’ve always wondered. How could she believe this story her daughter told?  And even if she did believe Mary, what about the gossip?  Hadn’t she done all the things a Jewish mother should do to bring up a daughter?  And here she had this nice marriage arranged and then this!  We aren’t told how she received the news, but as a mother myself I can put myself in her sandals.  You want to trust your child, but this story was problematic, even for one who knew the scriptures.  Maybe that is part of the reason Mary went to live with a relative.  Maybe it took Mary’s mother time to believe.  Would I have believed my daughter?  I wonder.

And what about Joseph?  We are told he was a good man, a righteous man.  I wonder about him.  Was he a man who finally had all his ducks in a row so he could marry and start a family?  Had he been waiting to get his carpentry business off the ground?  And finally, after he had found this young virgin from a good family, after he had paid the bride price and became engaged, she tells him that she is pregnant.  Since he is a virtuous man, Joseph decided to end the relationship quietly, but an angel interceded.  I wonder what it was like to be told that you would bear the responsibility for rearing God’s Son.  Joseph needed more confirmation, but he too said yes to God.  Would I?  When God interrupts my carefully made plans, am I willing to get in line with His?    

How I would love to have been on that hillside with the shepherds.  To be smacked right in the face with the glory of God!  And to be told about Jesus by not just one angel, but a multitude of them.  Sometimes Jesus comes to us in a dramatic and exciting way because we need to be told that way.  Ask Saul of Tarsus.  After the angelic announcement, we are told that the shepherds went “with haste” to find Mary, Joseph, and the baby.  Did they just go off and leave their sheep unattended?  Leave their livelihood vulnerable to prey, both animal and human?  Would I risk my financial security, trust God to take care of it while I share the Good News with others?  I wonder.   

I wonder about the magi.  Men of science, but seeking something that was missing.  Willing to go to great lengths and to pay a dear price to find the King.  I became a woman of faith long before I became a woman of science.  Would I have been open to the possibility of the miraculous after first being trained in the scientific method?  Or would I have wanted empirical proof?  I wonder.

But the One I wonder about the most is the baby.  Jesus.  The Messiah.  God who took on human flesh and came into our world as a helpless infant.  When the Father said, “Go,” did you immediately become an embryo?  What was it like for you, living and growing in the very womb that you created?  And how was it for you, equal with God, co-creator of the universe, to suffer the indignities of becoming a human baby?  To be cold and hungry?  To have your diapers changed?  I wonder.  When did you know that you were God?  At conception?  At birth?  When you were 12 years old?  When you began your public ministry?  And when did you know that your purpose in life was to become sin for me, to pay the debt I owed, to die a shameful death on a cross?  How could you love me?  I wonder.

My wondering is not doubt; it comes from a place of wanting to know Him better.  The Lord invites our wondering in Jeremiah 33:3

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.(ESV)

The New Living Translations says, “I will tell you remarkable secrets.”  I want to know His secrets.

I guess as long as I am on this earth I will wonder, but I’m not the only one.  One hot day in July of 1933, a folksinger named John Jacob Niles was attending a fundraiser in North Carolina for a group of evangelicals who had been ordered out of town by the local police.  A little girl named Annie Morgan stepped onto a makeshift stage and began to sing.  She was dirty and ragged, but beautiful.  She also had a beautiful voice, and she sang a few lines of a folk song over and over.  From those few lines, Niles composed the Christmas folk hymn, I Wonder as I Wander.  It expresses my wonderings simply but beautifully:   

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus my Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

THE SILENT YEARS

It had been four hundred years, four hundred silent years.  Four hundred years with no word from God.  We think of it as the intertestamentary period, that time between the Old and New Testaments.  In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, we leave the remnant of Israel trying to restore Jerusalem, still under Persian domination and in a fallen spiritual condition.  For all practical purposes, Israel remained in exile.  The book of Malachi is an exhortation to return to the Covenant, with severe warnings for failure to do so.  And then, God quit speaking until the events surrounding the birth of Christ.  

Those were years with no fresh word from God.  It is hard for us to even imagine how that would be, with our access to so many different translations of the Bible and the presence of the Holy Spirit to breathe them alive to us.  But as we enter this season of Advent, let us try to put ourselves in the place of the ordinary Jew at this time in history.  In fact, my Advent challenge is to put myself in the place of all the characters in the Christmas story.  

Advent is a word I don’t hear very much in my Baptist church, but it is something I try to observe personally.  Oh I don’t do the wreath and the candles, but I do Advent readings in my quiet time.  For me, Advent is a time of preparing the manger of my heart for the coming of the Messiah.  Advent covers the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and this year, in 2020, Advent begins today, November 29.  We think 2020 has been a long and difficult year, and it has.  But try 400 long and difficult years!  And we have had the blessing of the Holy Spirit with us to help us navigate this year, to comfort us in our grief and to encourage us when we are afraid.  As we close this weekend of Thanksgiving, I am thanking God for access to His word and for the presence of the Holy Spirit, for the privilege of knowing Him.

Like many believers around the world, I have spent more time in prayer this year than ever before. And like many, I have clung to the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14:  

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

We tend to hold on to the promise while glossing over the condition: if my people, who are called by my name.  We want God to heal our land, but surely it is those other people who need to repent.  This year I have repeatedly asked God to show me my wicked ways.  Don’t ask unless you are serious.  He has pulled off layer after layer of wicked ways.  It is a part of making room for Christ.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Christmas sermons tells us that Advent “is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”   I know I am poor and imperfect! 

So I put myself in the place of those post-exilic Jews who were waiting, because this has been a year of waiting.  Waiting for the virus to go away, waiting for a vaccine or a cure, waiting for schools to open, for jobs to return, for things to go back to normal.  But more than these things, like Bonhoeffer I am waiting for something greater to come.  I am waiting for a time when there will be no more death, nor more wars, no more hatred in our streets, no more broken families, no more children going hungry.  Though we strive to make these things happen (and we should), I don’t think we will see the complete realization until the Messiah returns.  While Israel waited for His first coming, we wait for Him to return in glory to establish His eternal kingdom.  Advent looks both back in time and forward.  We remember His first coming to earth as we celebrate Christmas.  But oh how we look forward to His second coming as we sing these familiar words:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel, 

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

WE NEED A LITTLE CHRISTMAS

If there has ever been a year when we need a little Christmas, 2020 is it!  We have dealt with COVID and all the fear, sickness, and death that come with it.  The unleashing of this virus then set off a cascade of events that have left us reeling: the lockdown, jobs furloughed and lost, schools in and out of the classroom, racial tension, riots and looting, fires and hurricanes, a chaotic election season, and oh!  Murder hornets!  Did I leave anything out?  So as soon as the calendar turned from October to November I began thinking about Christmas decorations.  We are always early, but this year is the earliest we have ever had ours up.  Last night we even turned on the outdoor lights.  Because we need a little Christmas.

I suppose it is the lights that I love the most.  In addition to our tree we have lots of lighted garlands and wreaths.  Oh how we enjoy drinking our morning coffee in the glow of the Christmas lights.  

I’ve been thinking about light quite a bit lately.  Our Community Bible Study groups are studying the Book of John this year.  I have read and studied John many times, but the verses have leapt off the pages as if they are brand new to me.  And in the first few verses John describes Jesus as the light.  Of course I have long been familiar with the concept of Jesus as the Light of the World, but it has grabbed me anew and I keep coming back to it.  Why is that title so important?  

Light itself is essential.  Without it we cannot have life.  The very first thing God did in the beginning was to create light (Gen. 1:3) because the rest of creation was going to need it.  I know next to nothing about physics, but I started thinking about the properties of light.  Light travels.  It has the ability to pierce the darkness; but darkness cannot dim light.  Light attracts; it has a gravitational pull.  It causes growth and produces energy. Light changes the materials it shines on.  Light heals and purifies.  And Jesus does all those things.  He attracts us, and when we search for Him, we find Him.  He moves into willing lives and shines light on our sins.  He changes and purifies us.  He doesn’t leave us the same.  He heals us and causes us to grow in righteousness.

We so need the Light of the World to penetrate our dark world right now.  There is so much hatred and anger, so much polarization.  And so much corruption.  Light exposes those things that are concealed in darkness.  Mark 4:22 tells us that things that are hidden in the darkness will be brought into the light.

Next month we will celebrate Christmas.  When Jesus was born into the world as a baby, He came in an explosion of light that lit up the night sky.  The shepherds saw it, and after their initial fear, they were filled with such joy and hope.  The Magi were drawn to it and worshipped the new King.  That is why I need my Christmas lights.  They remind me that God is still on His throne and He still has a plan, that the Light of the World still changes hearts, and that the darkness will never overcome that Light.      

THE HALLMARK FIX

I have a confession to make: 2020 is beginning to wear on me, and I suspect I am not alone.  I’ve really noticed it for about the last two weeks or so, and it is so vague it I can hardly describe it.  Ennui comes to mind…weariness with the world in its current state.  I feel irritable and out of sorts.  As a psychologist I have tried to check my thinking because I know how much our thoughts influence the way we feel.  But why do I feel so down about things?  Because for the most part we are now living our lives as normally as we can.

 

We were pretty strict about being locked down when the quarantine first began.  After all, we are supposedly in the high-risk group.  But I got really tired of not being able to see my family, so on Mother’s Day I declared that our house was “open” and the whole clan came over.  Being with my family helped immensely.  Then slowly we began to find our new normal, although there is nothing that feels “normal” about wearing a mask.  We are coming and going, doing things like grocery shopping, eating out, trips to Lowe’s and the nursery, but we haven’t been in any large crowds.  I’m not sure there have been any large crowds to be in.  Our church has still not completely opened, but we are moving in that direction.  We have only been physically to church twice and maybe that is part of what feels so off, even though we have stayed connected electronically.  My friend groups and other organizations are meeting via Zoom, and I have met friends for occasional lunches, coffees, and dinners.  So why do I feel so off kilter?

 

I don’t have to tell you what is going on in our country.  Just turn on the news (something this former news junkie can hardly do any more).  The level of hate is something I have never seen among fellow Americans before.  It just makes me sad, and I don’t see any end in sight.  So one thing that has lifted my spirits is Hallmark’s Christmas in July.  Yes, I have been watching Christmas movies, in fact, I just finished one.

 

What is it about those Christmas movies that make me feel better?  The same 20 or so actors regularly appear in plots that are so predictable (and unrealistic) even I could write one.  Boy meets girl, they usually don’t hit it off at first but later begin to fall in love (with an almost-kiss) until there is some sort of misunderstanding that sends one of them packing.  However during the last fifteen minutes they get things straightened out, have a real kiss, and it snows.

What I love the best are those charming, picture-perfect Christmas towns.  There are quaint main streets filled with mom-and-pop shops (or shoppes), carolers, cider, and always snow.  Not dirty, slushy, day-old snow, but pure and pristine snow that doesn’t even make the cars dirty.  The part that always gets me are the Christmas Eve pageants, choir performances, or school plays.  Don’t these people have to be at Grandma’s on Christmas Eve?  Doesn’t anyone leave town?  This is where Jerry reminds me, “It’s only a movie!”

 

There is a psychology to why these movies make us feel better; in fact there is a psychologist who has studied it.  Dr. Pamela Rutledge is the director of the Media Psychology Research Center at Fielding Graduate University.    Dr. Rutledge says one of Hallmark’s cinematic shortcomings is the thing our brains love: predictability.  And oh, how we crave predictability in these chaotic times we are enduring.  And we forgive the unrealistic story lines because they allow us to suspend our own reality for two hours.  These movies allow us to experience a variety of positive emotions such as connection, empathy, love, warmth, and compassion that serve as a buffer to the stress of real life.

 

However, the feel-good doesn’t last very long.  As much as I love me a good Hallmark Christmas movie, there is something much better.  I know what to do when these negative emotions start to get to me.  I go to the One who has the answers.  I turn to the Bible, prayer, and my spiritual books.  I have been reading through a beautiful little devotional book, The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times (thank you, Paula Carter).   There are study questions at the end of each section, and one reached out and grabbed me the other day.  “If you knew Jesus was literally standing beside you right now, how would you feel differently about your current Red Sea problem?”

 

That question has made a big difference, because of course, Jesus is here right now, in the person of the Holy Spirit who lives in every Believer.  Nothing about the world situation has caught Him off guard.  He’s got this.  When I feel worried or depressed it is usually because I have forgotten that He is present, right here with me.  Yes, the world is stressful right now, and may become even more difficult in days to come.  But Jesus is walking with me.

 

I did a little Word study on the presence of the Lord.  Here are some of the verses that spoke to me:

 

The Lord is near to all who call on Him… Ps. 145:18

 

The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything.  Phil. 4:5-6

 

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.  Gen. 28:15

 

These verses and many more allow me to reset, to gain equilibrium.  The world may seem to be spinning out of control, but I can rest.  I feel much better.  God is right here.

 

 

KEEPING CHRISTMAS

We got our Christmas decorations put away over the weekend, and when I say we it was really ninety percent Jerry.  I always hate it when it’s time to take down the Christmas decorations.  It makes me a little sad.  For one thing it’s a lot of backbreaking work.  We have to get all the Christmas things put away and back into the attic.  Then I have to find all the things that are usually out and remember where they go.  I’m still missing a few things but I guess they will turn up.  If they don’t then I don’t need them.  But those reasons are not really why taking down Christmas makes me sad.  You see I really love the Christmas season.  I love the celebrations, the music, and the anticipation.  And people are just nicer.  I guess what really makes me sad is that Christmas is over. 

I think the things I enjoy most are the lights.  One of my favorite things to do is to have my morning coffee with the tree lights on and a fire in the fireplace.  But it’s not just our own lights; I like the lights in our neighborhood and the lights around town.

The best lights of all are the lights from the candles at our church Christmas Eve service.  What a beautiful picture of Jesus, the Light of the World, coming into a dark world.  It gives me hope.  During the Christmas season I can push that dark world back a bit.  But when the decorations are packed away, reality comes back.  Sunday morning we awoke to the terrible news of an attack at a Hanukkah celebration and then later a shooting at a church.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it best:

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

So my prayer is that the Lord will help me keep Christmas in my heart.  Joy to the World shouldn’t be just for a few weeks of the year.  The Lord has come!  He is with us.  Yes, the world is still dark, but He has overcome the world.  A few years ago I came across this work by Howard Thurman that beautifully express keeping Christmas: 

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

EMBRACING MY SEASON

I’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic as we approach Christmas. Maybe wistful is a better word…combined with nostalgia. For some time I have been wanting to slow the calendar down. Time is racing past! And I feel it acutely at Christmas.

Several years ago I collected all our photos from past Christmases and scanned them into my computer. I made a slide show and surprised my family with it on Christmas morning. I wasn’t sure how it would go over with a tree full of presents waiting to be unwrapped. But everyone loved it, the adults as well as the children. They wanted to sit through the whole thing before unwrapping gifts. Maybe some things are better than bought presents. I’ve continued to add to the slideshow every year and I will have it playing again Christmas morning. But this year I also did something different. I am playing it continually on my Echo Show that sits on my kitchen counter. So every time I walk into the kitchen I am treated to a blast from the past. And that is what is triggering my nostalgia.

Where did the years go? I thought my children grew up fast, but my grandchildren’s childhood years have flown by at warp speed. Our youngest is nine this year and is the only remaining believer in the magic of Santa Claus. We have two who are grown and married, one with a baby of her own. Our two college kids will be joined by a third, leaving a high school senior, two in middle school, and one left in elementary school. Once they get to a certain age they don’t have as much time for us, especially when they get those driver’s licenses. It is not such a treat to come to JuJu and Paki’s house, and that is how it should be. They have lives of their own. But it makes me miss the days when there were lots of little feet in the house.

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

I would love to go back and visit a Christmas past. Maybe a Christmas Eve with my own dear grandparents. I miss them every day. A Christmas with all my siblings.  Or a Christmas at our old house, the one our kids grew up in. I can practically hear those little feet running down the stairs shouting with joy over a doll or a bicycle. We have been in our current house for almost 20 years, so we have many wonderful Christmas memories here too. Little grand babies that have grown into big people.

EPSON MFP image

I’m wondering what future Christmases will look like. Will they continue to be as much fun as the grands continue to grow older? Will we be blessed enough to have more together? Will we still be relevant in their lives I’m coaching myself to embrace the season I’m in. To be mindful of my many blessings. I’m reminded of the story of the Exodus in the Old Testament when God delivered the children of Israel from a life of slavery. What did they do? They complained and looked back on the “leeks and garlic of Egypt.” If I focus too much on Christmas Past or Christmas Future I might miss the joy of Christmas Present.

So I thank God that Jerry and I get another Christmas together. We almost didn’t. Not all of my friends are so blessed. We know that these are bonus days for us, and tell each other every day. I have friends who are dealing with loss this year. Soul crushing loss. If you are going through a season of loss this year, please know that Jesus sees you and longs to be your comfort. And if you are looking for someone to listen to your pain, I’m pretty good at that.

Jerry and I still have our health, although we are not moving around as well as we used to. I know we are so lucky to have all our children and grandchildren living right here in Tulsa, some just around the corner. I’m blessed that we get to host Christmas Day. With so many moving parts we might not always get everyone together.

I don’t know the future holds but I trust the One who holds it. So I will enjoy Christmas 2019 and be grateful for our blessings. Most of all we are grateful that all our children and grandchildren know the Lord and we will all spend eternity together in His presence.