Category Archives: Christmas 2013

keeping Christ

The title of this post is “Keeping Christ” for good reason. I don’t want to keep him just in Christmas, but all year long. How do we do that? What does that even look like?

It seems easy, but it isn’t.

We need to have him present in our everyday life, not just seasonally.

Keeping Christ is more about how you live your life than the things you say. You can say that you love Jesus; that you’re a Christian, but if you don’t live it, those words mean very little.

Keeping Christ in your life means revealing the character, love and spirit of Christ that dwells in you on a daily basis, not just once a year. It would be impossible to do that once a year. Think about it. How would you become like Christ if you don’t spend time with him?

It’s through those actions that we are able to reveal Christ to others.

How does one maintain a relationship with a person you can’t physically see? What does that look like?

  1. Give God one very special gift from you to him – it must be something personal; no one else needs to know about it and these gifts will require sacrifice on your part. Maybe it’s forgiving another. Maybe it’s submitting more of your time/life to him. Maybe it’s something he’s asked you to give up – the longing for marriage or children, or maybe the desires you have for your career. Trust him with it – you won’t regret it.
  2. Set aside time to read through the Christmas story throughout the year and be reminded of the anticipation of that season and the hope we have of his return.
  3. Keep your Nativity scene up in your home – you don’t have to do this, but I’ve done it before and it serves as a great reminder of what he did for me.
  4. Schedule in time to volunteer on a regular basis. Christ came for the underdogs, so to speak. We show him love by loving the least of us.
  5. Visit the elderly or children in a children’s hospital.
  6. Give gifts of service to your family members throughout the year. Jesus came to serve us and he commands that we serve others rather than ourselves.
  7. Set aside time each day for devotions, time in the Word and prayer.
  8. Attend church regularly and get plugged in to a small group. You’ll never know how valuable these tools are in keeping you grounded in Christ and accountable to what he has called us to be if you don’t.
  9. Send letters throughout the year to share the good  news of what God has done and is doing for you; not just at Christmas. I like to include the gospel message in mine…you never know who God will reach through you.
  10. Write a letter to a missionary. We all need encouragement to get through this life.

Favorite Christmas Hymns: an everlasting light

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel;
Born is the King of Israel!

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. – Matthew 1.21 NIV

Every time this son is played, I’m reminded of a time in my childhood….the glass-spun star looping over the shepherds heads as they had just heard the angels sing of Christ’s birth. I remember watching them all scramble to their feet, with their handmade staffs in tow, holding onto their sashes in fear that their costumes would fall off if they didn’t. Children rushing to the make-shift manger holding a doll that represented Jesus, just to catch a glimpse of what it may have been like for those real shepherds; for the real Mary and Joseph.

The imagination of a child is an amazing thing. I feel blessed in the fact that I’ve managed to hold on to some of mine. I remember what it was like and how easy it was to simply believe. No questions.

It simply was.

It simply still is.

It is widely known that Noel is the French word for Christmas, but do you know the origin of the word? Noel comes from the Latin words natalis, meaning “birth.” Therefore, the title of the hymn, fully translated, is “The First Birth.”

This song is about the Nativity Story, the birth of Jesus as we see in the Bible. Angels came to Joseph and Mary, telling them “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Jesus came to save us from our sings. That is what this season is about: the remembrance of this birth and the life of Jesus. He was born here, lived here, died here and was raised again here, all so that we could have life and a new way to have a relationship with God.

This song reminds of the hopes and expectations of salvation that came with the birth of Jesus, and serves to remind us that, no matter where we find ourselves in our lives right now, that this Jesus was here, and we will always have hope in that. This is a chance to celebrate not only the newness of his life, but an opportunity to start your life over with new birth (“You must be born again” 9 John 3.74)).

Whatever sin, whatever shortcoming, whatever failure, whatever weakness, whatever reason you have, a child was born and he has come to save you.

a little post-holiday humor

Can we talk hilarity for just a moment? I was curious. So I Googled, just a bit this morning, and found this poem.

‘Twas the Day After Christmas

‘Twas the day after Christmas and all through the house
All the family was sleeping, yes, even my spouse.
The stockings were tossed by the chimney with flair
Some turned inside out to make sure nothing’s left there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
Nintendo DSes tucked under their heads
And I in my bathrobe, MacBook on my lap
Was happy to know there were no gifts left to wrap.

When out from the kitchen there rose such a clatter
I sprang from the couch to see what we the matter
I waded my way ‘cross a floor filled with trash
To a kitchen heaped high from our Christmas Eve bash

The sun through the window gave it quite a glow
[(shining brightly, reflecting on a fresh layer of snow)]
It shone on the remains of the Christmas day cheer
The leftover cheese ball, the dregs of the beer
The un-put-away brownies as hard as a fossil
And o’er on the stone, it shone down on the wassail

I blinked as the sun blasted straight into my eye
And just in time glimpsed a brown streak passing by
Four-footed and furry and dragging a ham,
Dodging around me and trying to scram
And as he ran off with a peppermint cluster
I knew in a moment, it was my dog Buster

More rapid than eagles he streaked ‘cross the floor
Buster grabbed what he wanted, and came back from more
More cheesecake, more truffles, more bagels and lox
More chocolate chip cookies, more scotch on the rocks
He smashed and he scrambled, bumped into the wall,
Then dashed away, dashed away, dashed away all

“I should have cleaned up when the guests said good-bye,”
I moaned to myself with a pretty big sigh
After two days of feasting, the kitchen looked grubby
I scrounged in the sink, tried to dig up the scrubby

I searched quite in vain for a halfway clean towel
When out from the living room came quite a howl
I set down the saucepan all caked with goo
The glaze for the ham which had now turned to glue

I skipped to the living room, limber of foot
And inched past the fireplace, dripping with soot
Unraveling ribbons clung fast to my shin
As I looked ‘round the post-Christmas scene with chagrin

A mountain of presents all covered the floor
They looked so appealing when bought at the store
Now gift wrap was ripped and the tissue was crumbled
The new shoes abandoned, the new tank tops rumpled

I picked my way round all the presents caloric,
The baskets of chocolate to make me euphoric
Strange foods so exotic that no one would try it
(And don’t my friends know, New Year’s Day starts the diet?)

And just then I heard from the top of the spruce
The pitiful cry of a dog on the loose
I lifted my eyes from amidst the debris
Old Bust had climbed to the top of the Christmas tree

The angel crashed down as the Christmas tree swayed
The ornaments flew in a sparkly cascade
The puppy leapt on me, I felt his claws rip
And then right behind, the tree started to tip

The lights all exploded as down the tree crashed
The pine needles shredded, the presents were smashed
And I said as I landed on top of the pup
“Happy Christmas to all – Someone else can clean up!”
© Janet Batchler, Quoth the Maven, December 26, 2009

I couldn’t help but laugh as I read through that and while I hope that my home never looks like that after the holidays (I’m too much of a neat-freak to allow it), I can’t say it never will. I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did.

Favortie Carols: come adore

O come, all ye faithful
Joyful and triumphant
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem
Come and behold him
Born the King of angels!
O come, let us adore Him!
O come, let us adore Him!
O come, let us adore Him
Christ, the Lord!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2.9-11 NIV

It’s a catchy tune and a chorus I find myself humming or singing at random throughout the year; not just at Christmas.

O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord!

My heart smiles at those words…along with:

For You alone are worthy…


He will reign forever…

It’s true. He is and He will.

Adoration is a word that we love to use during the Christmas season thanks largely to this classic carol. Sadly, many of us during the Christmas season spend more time thinking about Christ and giving him adoration than other time of the year.

Think about that for a moment.

Christmas and Easter

More people go to church during those two holidays than any other time of the year.

We also tend to find ourselves singing and listening to songs about Jesus more during the Christmas season than another other time of the year…much in the way that Philippians 2 describes.

That breaks my heart.

So many of us do not know what we are missing out on when we give Jesus one season a year.

He deserves to have it all, not just one day a year (or two for some of us).

I’m not going to say that I have it down pat either. I’m human. I fail on a daily basis. He knows it and yet, he doesn’t hold it against me. Instead, he forgives me, showers me with grace and mercy and helps me get back up on my feet (or humbled knees, rather). God doesn’t see my failures when he looks at me and for that, I am humbly grateful.

While it’s great that Christ earns so much of our attention and adoration during the Christmas season, it’s important to remember that we should pay the same amount of attention to Him 12 months a year instead of just one.

Sure, it’s easier to get caught up in all the Christmas hype and spend more time thinking, singing, praying, and adoring Christ during December. It’s also easy to get swept away by the busyness of the new year, focus again on the start of new business revenues, start making plans for the next year and get lost in the hubbub of keeping resolutions, schedules and life in general. Not to mention the material things of this world pulling us this way and that. We are so easily distracted.

In order to have a true relationship him, we must adore and spend time with him daily…not just during Christmas.

My challenge to you is that this year, 2014 and beyond, as you move out of the Christmas season and back into the normalcy of life, strive to find a way to capture the spirit that will enable to you adore Him and grow with Him every day of your life.

Think about it. What things keep you from doing this? What have you put before him on the throne of your life? What would it look like to put him first on a daily basis? What would it look like to adore him every other day of the year? What steps will you take to get there? What choices will you make?

Take a stand for him.


Choose life.

Favorite Carols: a greater day

Joy to the world
the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn –
should for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountain sing together for joy;
let them sing before the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.
Psalm 98.4-9

Another favorite…or it at least is on the top ten list.

As one of the most joyous of all Christmas hymns, this carol omits references to shepherds, angelic choruses, and wise men. Instead, this hymn emphasizes the reverent but ecstatic joy that Christ has come!

When declining health forced Isaac Watts to cut back on his preaching, he turned to another task: Christianizing the Psalms.

In 1719, at the age of 45, he sat under his favorite tree on the Abney estate property of close friends with whom he lived, and penned the now famous words of “Joy to the World,” based on Psalm 98.5c6de0c7d331ad26fc3319cd7ad81c96 

Psalm 98 celebrated God’s protection and restoration of his chosen people. Watts’ carol rejoices in the same, as it expresses praise for the salvation that began when God became man. Both the psalm and the hymn also look ahead, to the second coming of Christ, when he will reign again.

Today, in a season for celebrating our Savior’s birth, Watts’ hymn beautifully expresses our joy at the coming of our Savior and shouldn’t be reserved for just this season.

My prayer for you is that you won’t just sing this hymn at Christmastime. Its joyful message shouldn’t be confined to just one portion of the year. Every day our desire should be to “let earth receive her King” as we eagerly anticipate Jesus’ coming again. Every day, our prayer should be to “let every heart prepare him room.” Joy is a choice and a state of being. It’s not fleeting like our emotions – choose this day. Choose joy.

© Anita J. Brands. 2013. Website:


traditions: the Christmas story

Looking back over all of the holiday traditions of my childhood, I would have to make the statementd6e07314d4a42739997d194397dc0a33 that the reading of the real Christmas story was the most meaningful. It wasn’t even a topic of discussion: whether Mom and Dad would tell us about Santa and leave it at that or if they’d combine that with the story of Jesus’ birth (or either/or).

There was no such thing as Santa vs. Jesus in our household.

Sure, all four of us (my siblings and I) knew about Santa; we all knew he wasn’t real because of how my parents talked about him. Jesus was the only thing that mattered at Christmas.

I looked forward to plenty at Christmas (preparations started in early November)

Getting a new Christmas dress

Attending Christmas services

Singing in the pageants

Playing Mary (only one year) or an angel in said pageant

But on Christmas Eve, my mom would sit in her rocker with all four of us gathered close – my brother and I on the floor and my younger sister and baby brother on her lap (up to a certain age) – and would read us the Christmas story from the books of Matthew and Luke, every year without fail (Matthew 1:18-25, 2.1-12; Luke 1.26-38, 2.1-20).

This quickly became my favorite tradition and those memories stick with me. I’ve long since grown up and left home, but that tradition is alive and well in my own home.

Yesterday was Christmas Eve. I didn’t have to attend services anywhere as I had gone out the night before. I curled up on a floor pillow with my Bible in my lap and read the Christmas story aloud, just as she did so many years ago.

I’ll admit that it is sometimes a difficult read in the fact that I’ve read it so many times, it’s easy to fall into going through the motions. I do my best to make it a point to read it with fresh eyes and God has surprised me each time I’ve made that choice. He’s brought light and truth to segments of the story that my heart accepts. Last night was no different.

While I’m still processing that, I’ll leave you with this:

Ponder what “Immanuel – God with us” means for you as you read the Christmas story with fresh eyes this year. Try it. Pray over it. You might be delighted and filled with wonder over what God reveals to you.

© Anita J. Brands. 2013. Website:

hope arrived

We have lasting hope through the salvation we have in Christ – Hope means that even when it looks like it’s all over, it’s not all over yet. That’s why the Bible says we can rejoice even in our tribulations. God is working in our hard times to produce proven character and hope in us.  – Dr. Tony Evans, “Totally Saved”a2f99134889ad13c7c739ed264224338

For millions of people around the world, Christmas is nothing more than parties, gifts, decorations, and time off from work.

For me, a Christ-follower, it’s so much more than that.

Sure, I love the decorations and enjoy giving gifts (and receiving them – who doesn’t?), but that all pales in light of the real reason I celebrate this season: a season to remember the hope we have because of Jesus Christ.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Hebrews 6.19

Before Jesus came, God seemed distant. Read any book in the Old Testament and you’ll understand what I mean by that. He was hidden away in the Holy of Holies in the temple, accessible only by the high priest. Worshipers wondered whether their sacrifices were acceptable. They probably often doubted their salvation.

Then Jesus came and with him, hope arrived.

He has come for us
This Jesus
He’s the hope for all mankind
He has come for us
The Messiah
Born to give us life

Christ means hope – to the person out of work, to the struggling single mother (or father), to the dying believer. Even if you feel that you can’t find your way out of the murkiness of the struggles of this life, if you have Jesus, you have hope.

The hope he brings is not a false hope. It’s very real.

And when he arose from the dead in his new, resurrected, physical form (a form we will one day be in too), God ended that argument once and for all.

Christmas renews that hope for us; it reconfirms this hope for us, especially when our vision has grown dim. God settled it long ago and we have no reason to doubt. Jesus is the fulfillment of that hope; our deepest longings have come true.

Do not be afraid…be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things! Joel 2.21

Find your hope in him this season… and choose to continue finding that hope beyond this season.


traditions: O Holy Night

Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!

He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the Glory of your people Israel! Luke 2.32 NLT

Each year, I take part in singing Christmas carols, whether within the four walls of my downtown apartment, in front of church or with another group of people (via caroling or during a Christmas Eve service somewhere). I love them all, but O Holy Night is by far my most favorite Christmas carol. I have favorites…as in I like most of them (with the exception of Presley’s Blue Christmas and Burl Ives croon Holly, Jolly Christmas – I could so do without those each year), but O Holy Night takes the cake.

Every year

Every time I hear it.

Yes, I’ll admit that the vocal range is pretty broad, but, if played in the right key(s), I can hit them all and this little personal form of excitement (a triumphant Hallelujah!) takes over.

I had the privilege of hearing this song played out and even got to sing it at a pre-Christmas Eve candlelight service I attended last night with a dear friend.

You see – I work until close this evening and wouldn’t have had an option of even attending a Christmas Eve service somewhere by the time I’m off. When my friend asked if I’d like to join her and her mom for last night’s service, I immediately said yes.

It was awesome

The gospel was taught enthusiastically and being on the other end of the music part of the service, well, it was a nice reprieve. I could sing as loud as I wanted and when I heard the beginning chords of O Holy Night, my heart soared, just as it has since I was a little girl.

My favorite Christmas hymn

One that brings my heart to its knees the moment the chorus hits

Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, divine! O night, O night divine!

[I’m even listening to David Crowder’s version right now…ending on Jeff Buckley’s chorus of A Broken Hallelujah…beautiful).

And then my favorite part arrived: the last chorus where the “O night…” is drawn out on a “ritardando,” held and then finished out. [You can hear Selah’s version here].

My soul soared

Just as it always does

Two thousand years ago, in the midst of so much imperfection, Christ was born on what can be considered one of the most perfect nights even in the history of mankind. God used imperfection circumstances and an imperfect location in the form of a humble manger to bring His perfect and holy Son into our world.

He could have so easily made Jesus’ birth a triumphant one, allowing Christ to be born in a palace, but he didn’t.

He chose not to.

This was the only way he could save all of mankind.

It is through all that imperfection that made this night so holy and so perfect.

The way God brought Jesus into our world is very similar to the way he works in our lives.

More often than not, God takes our imperfections – situations, circumstances, personalities, etc. – and uses them to perfect us; to make us who he intended us to be at the dawn of creation.

God loves to take the physical and emotional scars and use those to help us grow into stronger people. He also desires that we take what we have learned from our imperfections and help others who may be struggling with similar things.

And just as Jesus was a light to reveal God to all nations, we can be that same light as well.

Perhaps that’s why I love this song so much. Through the lens of the cross, I see my imperfections, and in spite of the fact that I am my worst critic, Jesus gives me the grace, strength and mercy to be kind to myself and, in doing so, I’m able to see what God is doing with and through my imperfection and where he has started perfecting certain aspects of my person.

Don’t let your imperfections hinder you from what God has for you. Allow God to use them to shape you into the person he designed you to be – and be a light in this dark world. Submit your weakness to God so that he can turn them into your greatest strengths.

traditions: candlelight services

christmas-candle-for-alexis-blog-12212010When I was a child, the small-town church my family attended didn’t have a Christmas Eve service. Everything was held on Christmas Day, making it one of the busiest days of the year. The morning would start with chores (just as every other morning did…cows don’t take a day off, you know) which would promptly be followed by a flurry of getting ready and loading up the car – imagine one bathroom to six people, three of them girls. We’d drive off to church, attend the service, visit with a few people and then pack up and head off to Grandpa and Grandma’s for dinner and presents before we returned home to open ours.

I don’t miss that….the busyness.

When I was fifteen, that church finally made the switch to a candlelight service on Christmas Eve. It gave us an additional four hours of free time on Christmas Day No more rushing from one place to the next, being too exhausted to even enjoy the time we spend with our immediate family.

I also discovered that I felt more at home in the presence of God at those candlelight services. The darkening of the room with only the candles to light the pages with Christmas carols to be sung aided in my imagining what the heavens must have looked like the night Jesus was born. So many stars, possibly including that bright one that led the wise men to his presence.

I’d also like to think that one day, when we join him in heaven, there will be an instant replay for everything that has ever happened in our history. I would love to watch that scene unfold.

It’s been thirteen years since my first candlelight service and I find that this is one tradition I look forward to most –  an evening where it’s just Jesus and me, no matter who I’m sharing the service with. I ponder the news of his birth and the implications his sacrifice has had on my life and I thank him for all that he’s done and continues to do.

What about you? What do you enjoy most about the Christmas season? Choose to allow God to use those traditions to remind you of what he did for you and where you’ve come from.

Carol Favorites: the christmas truce

For unto us a child is born…and his name shall be called…Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9.6

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

“The romantic version of the “Silent Night” story has an Austrian priest at his wits’ end when th church organ breaks down on Christmas Eve. With the prospect of a silent night ahead, heand the organist come up with a new hymn that can be sung without accompaniment. The result, “Silent Night,” goes on to become one of the most popular Christmas carols of all time.

The real story (according to Silent Night Museum in Salzburn, Austria) is grittier but possibly more inspirational.

Joseph Mohr was born illegitimately in a time when illegitimacy halted any possibility of social progress. Fortunately, his singing voice caught the ear of the cathedral choirmaster, and he was encouraged into the priesthood.

Working as an assistance priest, he helped translate hymns from Latin to German, to the delight of parishioners and the furty of the chruch establishment. Mohr’s liberal priest was replaced by a hard-liner.

Resenting Morh’s popularity, the new priest attempted to blacken his reputation by bringing up his illegitimate beginnings. The battle of wills culminated on Christmas Eve 1818 when the church organ mysteriously died. Mice were blamed, but another likely suspect was Mohr’s friend, organist Franz Gruber. He put music to lyrics Mohr had written two years before, and “Silent Night” had its first public performance. It wa sung in German with a guitar accompaniment, something that normally never would have been allowed.

The carol’s popularity in both German and English made it the one song both armies could sing in unison from their trenches during the Christmas truce of 1914.

Joseph Mohr died in 1863. he left this world as poor as he came into it, having given everything he had for hte sake of the poor. Not only did the life of this relatively unknown priest benefit his parishioners, but it glorified his Lord and gave the whole world a beautiful reminder of the night the world fell silent lest it wake a newborn baby.”