Tag Archives: Christmas

a curiousity regarding boxing day

Today is Boxing Day.

While I’ve never celebrated the day itself (it was always known as the day after Christmas in our house), I decided to look into it a little more. After all, it has its name penned on all calendars.

Boxing Day is an instance where a secular holiday grew out of a religious one. In most English speaking countries, Boxing Day is traditionally the day following Christmas (today), when servants and tradesmen (employees) would receive gifts, known as a “Christmas box,” from their bosses and employers. This is peculiar to me since I get these gifts before Christmas at my office.

It’s also similar to Black Friday. People hit the malls and stores to either a)return gifts they received and didn’t like (or they didn’t work) or b)hit up all of those post-Christmas sales. I know I’ll be checking out a few post New Year’s (next week)…hey, a girl’s got to restock on her favorite Bath and Body scent items if she doesn’t get them for Christmas.

That’s what it currently is…but, believe it or not (and I personally found this fascinating), Boxing Day grew out of St. Stephen’s day, a Christian holiday that commemorates Stephen, the first Christian martyr recording in the Bible.

No Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) – Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia – who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized upon Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never sops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Acts 6.8-15, read also Acts 7

Stephen was a deacon of the early church in Jerusalem. And as you can see if you read the above passage, he was accused of blasphemy after an argument with the members of the synagogue. And while he awaited trial, he said he had seen God the Father and the Son. He was stoned and, as he lay dying, he prayed that his executioners be forgiven (just as Jesus did when he was held at trial: “Father forgive them for they do know not what they are doing” (Luke 23.34)).

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: https://authentictruthseeker.wordpress.com/

December 20: Christmas solidarity

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3.8

The assembly line of Satan turns out millions of sins every day. He packs them into huge cargo plans and flies them up to heaven and spreads them out before God and laughs and laughs and laughs.

Some people work full-time on the assembly line. Others have quit the jobs there and only now and then return.

Every minute of work on the assembly line makes God the laughing stock of Satan. Sin is Satan’s business because he hates the light and beauty and purity and glory of God. Nothing pleases him more than when creatures distrust and disobey their Maker.

Therefore, Christmas is good news for man and good news for God.

“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1.15). That’s good news for us.

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3.8), That’s good news for God.

Christmas is good news for God because Jesus has come to lead a strike at Satan’s assembly plant. He has walked right into the plant, called for the Solidarity of the faithful, and begun a massive walk-out.

Christmas is a call to go on strike at the assembly plant of sin. No negotiations with the management. No bargaining. Just sing-minded, unswerving opposition to the product.

Christmas Solidarity aims to ground the cargo planes. It will not use force or violence, but with relentless devotion to Truth it will expose the life-destroying conditions of the devil’s industry.

Christmas Solidarity will not give up until a complete shutdown has been achieved.

When sin has been destroyed, God’s name will be wholly exonerated. No one will be laughing at him anymore.

If you want to give a gift to God this Christmas, walk off the assembly line and never go back. Take up your place in the picket line of love. Join Christmas Solidarity until the majestic name of God is cleared and he stands glorious amid the accolades of the righteous.

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

December 18: a model for missions

“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world”. John 17:18

Christmas is a model for missions. Missions is a mirror of Christmas. As I, so you.

For example, danger. Christ came to his own and his own received him not. So you. They plotted against him. So you. He had no permanent home. So you. They trumped up false charges against him. So you. They whipped and mocked him. So you. He died after three years of ministry. So you.

But there is a worse danger than any of these which Jesus escaped. So you!

In the mid-16th century, Francis Xavier (1506-1552), a Catholic missionary, wrote to Father Perez of Malacca (today part of Indonesia) about the perils of his mission to China. He said:

The danger of all dangers would be to lose trust and confidence in the mercy of God…To distrust him would be a far more terrible thing than any physical evil which all the enemies of God put together could inflict on us, for without God’s permission neither the evils nor their human ministers could hinder us in the slightest degree.

The greatest a danger a missionary faces is to distrust the mercy of God. If that danger is avoided, then all other dangers lose their sting.

God makes ever dagger a scepter in our hand. As J.W. Alexander says, “Each instant of present labor is to be graciously repaid with a million ages of glory.”

Christ escaped the danger of distrust. Therefore God has highly exalted him!

Remember this Advent that Christmas is a model for missions. As I, so you. And that mission means danger. And that the greatest danger is distrusting God’s mercy. Succumb to this, and all is lost. Conquer here, and nothing can harm you for a million ages.

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Shared Post: 25 Ways to Have The Best Christmas Ever by Austin Sailsbury, c/o Relevant Magazine

Rejoice, it’s finally Christmastime! And that means parties and Santa and a possibly fatal dose of “family time.” Around the world there are shoppers out shopping and caramel corn that needs popping and stockings being hung by chimneys with care.

And while its true that nostalgic traditions are a huge part of what makes Christmas that most magical time of the year, why not make this the year you start some new traditions of your own? Here are 25 ideas to help you get started on making this season the brightest (and most creative) one yet.

  1. First things first, buy Vince Guaraldi’s jazz classic album A Charlie Brown Christmas and put it on repeat. Never before has a cartoon soundtrack been so classy and so perfect for so many different occasions.
  2. Brew up some joy by making a festive “aroma pot” (orange, cinnamon, apple cider, cloves) early one Saturday morning and let it simmer on the stove all day long. Then sit back and let the Ghost of Christmas Delicious fill your entire home with seasonal smells.
  3. Surprise a neighbor, colleague or stranger with a freshly baked treat. But no fruitcakes, please.
  4. Go ahead and actually read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol this year. Go beyond the Muppets (God bless them) and get to know this oft retold (but too often watered down) story of salvation. And if you’re really brave, try Dickens’ other seasonal classic, The Cricket on the Hearth.
  5. Incorporate more candlelight into your home and soak up the chilled-out winter ambiance. Candles somehow make everything prettier.
  6. Find a way to smell some good old-fashioned woodsmoke—a campout, bonfire, fireplace or even a metal trashcan full of Home Depot scraps. Just make it happen, whatever it takes.
  7. Put on some cozy house slippers and commit to a new winter-friendly (in other words, indoor) hobby: knitting, wood carving, finger painting … you’ll figure it out.
  8. Spend a day volunteering at a homeless shelter and rediscover what it really means to be thankful and generous.
  9. Tie a little 99 cent Christmas bell to your keychain or front door handle and let the jingling begin (as a bonus, you’ll be winning big time with all the angels hoping for promotion this year).
  10. Try making homemade hot cocoa mix (and homemade ‘mallows): then add hot milk, sip, share and repeat.
  11. Create a flash mob of generosity. Make some Salvation Army bell ringer’s day by coordinating a group to fill that little red bucket with rapid-fire ascending donations: “here’s a quarter, Merry Christmas!” “Here’s a dollar, Merry Christmas!” “Here’s a check for two hundred dollars, donated from our college Ultimate team, Happy New Year!” Then dare that kindly bell ringer not to be filled with goodwill toward men.

    Take a long walk out in the cold just to get that good rosy cheeked feeling. Then see number 10. 

  13. Plan a “Christmas Remix-Mas” themed talent show / game night with friends or family: featuring charades and the restaging of beloved Christmas movie scenes (“Griswold!”)
  14. Savor Peppermint-flavored everything. Especially those beautifully fleeting light-green packaged M&Ms.
  15. Learn to play and then fall in love with the riotous Danish Christmas game “Pakkeleg” (think ‘white elephant’ at 100 mph).
  16. Go Christmas caroling. In the right setting, and with the right ensemble (and just a dash of Christmas courage) your chorus of festive voices can change someone’s world.
  17. Make sure to get outside and play in the first snow of the season: no matter what time of day or night. Don’t forget to catch a snowflake or two on your tongue and ”taste the happy.”
  18. Find someplace you can take a carriage ride, then just do it. It’s not cheesy—it’s Christmas.
  19. Try your hand at “Guerilla Decorating.” Identify something bland, ugly or Scrooge-ish in your office, city or neighborhood and give it the Buddy the Elf treatment: a little TLC, a smattering of glitter and a strand of twinkling white lights can save any old humbug!
  20. Watch a few non-traditional “Christmas movies” that focus on the beauty of redemption. Obviously start with The Royal Tenenbaums.
  21. Attend a Christmas concert at a local school, church or community center. But only if they promise to play the handbells (call ahead and ask about this. Trust me, there is nothing worse than sitting through two hours of amateur choral music and then getting no handbells. The only prescription is more handbells!).
  22. Read The Night Before Christmas aloud to a child (but be prepared for him or her to ask you “the big question” about Father Christmas.)
  23. Four words: freshly roasted candied almonds.
  24. Resurrect Santa for Mom and Dad. Surprise your parents by doing for them what they did for you all those incredible years: make Christmas morning magical. Get up early, spread out gifts, light the fire, brew some coffee and hang those stockings by the chimney with care! This is a guaranteed memory-maker.
  25. Lastly (and this is bordering on heretical), try buying no presents this year. I guarantee you that the people you love the most will treasure quality time, homemade gifts and the memories made much more than anything you can get from Amazon Prime. Plus, this way, you can avoid that whole “The Drone Who Stole Christmas” scenario, and replace seasonal materialism with something a little closer to the True Meaning of Christmas.

Read more here.

traditions: over the miles

Printers have been cashing in on Christmas since the eighteenth century (that’s a long time!) – at least in London and other large cities around the world. Schoolboys filled in with their best penmanship pages pre-printed with special holiday orders – they were called “Christmas pieces.”

Or hand-written letters…

Can you imagine sitting down and penning 125+ letters to loved ones?

I can. I tried one year and after my hand and wrist felt as if they would fall off, I opted to stick to printing and the bi-annual photo card.

The first Christmas cards for sale commercially were created by John Calcott Horsley. He was a respected illustrator from London, England, and in 1843, he was commissioned by Sir Henry Cole to create the card. Cole was a wealthy businessman who wanted to bring awareness to the need to help the poor.

See Christmas card here (it actually made the news today!).

Louis Prang became the first printer to sell cards in America in 1863, after he had paid a visit to Europe and learned about their cutting-edge German lithography.  He began creating American greeting cards and is sometimes known as the “Father of the American Christmas card.”

This tradition has grown through several generations in my own family and I find it incredibly sad that it’s becoming a lost art.

We have Facebook and Twitter and Instagram – all sorts of other ways to stay connected online. Why add to it?

Each year when I was growing up, Mom would sit at the kitchen table with a list of names and her address book. She’d spent an entire Saturday, or a weekday afternoon when us kids were off at school – little interruption (genius, I might add), and fill out envelopes and cards for Christmas. We’d do photo cards every other year, or as money allowed, and send them off sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I remember helping her lick the envelopes and place stamps and, when I was a little older, she would sometimes include little hand-written notes from us kids.

I loved it.

I’ve since moved away from home (10 years ago), but that tradition is alive and well in my own life. Each year, I write a letter capturing the last twelve months and what God has been teaching me through those events, both big and small. I didn’t want to simply state everything I’ve experienced and leave it at that; I wanted to use that holiday letter as part of my testimony and get the gospel out there to my friends, family and neighbors.

Honestly, Christmas cards and letters have always added that extra personal touch for me. I’m a sucker for a good, hand-written letter received via snail mail. And I don’t care if I end up being the only one sending out cards to loved ones each year. Sure, it gets to be expensive when you start getting into the hundreds on your list, but…if you divide that cost among that number, it’s like purchasing a $2.00 Christmas gift per person (and sometimes less if you’re sending a letter to a family of six). It’s worth it for me.

He placed it on my heart while I was in college that this should be a tool to share his love with others through the window that is my life.

The ups

The downs

The trials

The good

The bad

All of it

All of it

I have nothing to hide. I am not ashamed of who I am or Whose I am. I’m inviting you to come along with me on the journey that is my life, even if only for a short while or via a glimpse through the kitchen window. It’s my story – one that God has given me – and I’d rather use it to bring him glory by sharing it with you. Perhaps some aspect of it will touch your life and help you get through whatever circumstance you may facing or dealing with. We all have them and, even though it may feel that we are, we are not alone.

If you’d like to read this year’s letter, click here.

How about you?

If you were to send out holiday cards this year, who would be on your list? Who would you want your life to touch? There are numerous ways you can reach out to those your life directly affects – physical cards, photo cards, printed letters, handwritten letters and, for those of you who are thrifty, take the e-card route – those are usually free and require a little of your time.

And if you don’t want to write out a snapshot of your last year, simply tell those people what they mean to you.

Kind words go a long way and I encourage you to extend a little love to someone today.

© Anita J. Brands. 2013. Website: https://authentictruthseeker.wordpress.com/

traditions: Christmas bells

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people…Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:10-14

Bells have always reminded me of joy. 2aa7fd1d87d841b0b84a639a4a6f055d

Each Christmas, I hang a set on my front door, a wreath full of them on another door, some on my tree and a sole bell in my purse (that one stays there all year round). Not to mention the memories flashing through my mind each time I hear the bells toll for the Salvation Army.

Plus, I love the sound…the sound of Christmas coming and the anticipation it brings.

Historically and biblically, God had originally instructed the Israelites to put bells on the robe of the High Priest’s ephod before he entered into the Holy of Holies (Exodus 28.31-35; 39.36). Matthew Henry, an English bible commentator, interpreted those same bells as an allegory that “typify the sound of the gospel of Christ in the world, giving notice of His entrance within the veil for us.”

Bells have become an integral part of our Christmas traditions. They hang everywhere – from street corners to store entrances, wreathes and not to mention, the Salvation Army bell ringers that start ringing the day after Thanksgiving each year.

Throughout history, bells have been used to celebrate special occasion. Their bright and cheerful sound was a reminder that something important was happening.

In many village throughout the world, people would ring the church bell on special occasions.

Bells announced the coming or arrival of an event.

They toll for good times

887823cb6b70f9918b440c7572a09686They were rung during Christmas to announce the arrival of the season and to proclaim the birth of Christ.

There are even several songs that have been written in honor of bells: “Jingle Bells,” “Silver Bells,” “Carol of the Bells” (my personal favorite – to play anyway), and more.

What do the Christmas bells remind you of?

December 15: life and death at Christmas

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10.10

As I was about to begin this devotional, I received word that Marion Newstrum had just died. She and her husband Elmer have been part of Bethlehem longer than most of members have been alive. Marion was 87. They had been married 64 years.

When I spoke to Elmer and told him I wanted him to be strong in the Lord and not give up on life, he said, “He had been a true friend.” I pray that all Christians will be able to say at the end of life, “Christ has been a true friend.”

Each Advent I mark the anniversary of my mother’s death. She was cut off in her 56th year in a bus accident in Israel. It was December 16, 1974. Those events are incredibly real to me even today. If I allow myself, I can easily come to tears – for example, thinking that my sons never knew her. We buried her the day after Christmas. What a precious Christmas it was!

Many of you will feel you loss this Christmas more pointedly than before. Don’t block it out. Let it come. Feel it. What is love for, if not to intensify our affection – both in life and death? But, O, do not be bitter. It is tragically self-deconstructive to be better.

Jesus came at Christmas that we might have eternal life. “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10.10). Elmer and Marion had discussed where they would spend their final years. Elmer said, “Marion and I agreed that our final home would be with the Lord.”

Do you feel restless for home? I have family coming home for the holidays. It feels good. I think the bottom line reason for why it feels good is that they and I are destined in the depths of out being for an ultimate Homecoming. All other homecomings are foretastes. And foretastes are good.

Unless they become substitutes. O, don’t let all the sweet things of this season become substitutes of the final, great, all-satisfying Sweetness. Let every loss and every delight send your hearts a-homing after heaven.

Christmas. What is it but this: I came that they might have life. Marion Newstrum, Ruth Piper, and you and I – that we might have Life, now and forever.

Make you Now the richer and deeper this Christmas by drinking at the fountain of Forever. It is so near.

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

the gift that keeps giving

O star of wonder, star of night
star with royal beauty bright
westward leading, still proceeding
guide us to thy perfect light

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understand; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3.5-6 NIV

It’s often difficult for people to understand that Jesus was born just like us. He wasn’t born in aec0a0944fcddc228e81e7188d91e0220 luxurious place or a fancy hospital. He was born outside, in a stable. He came into a world filled with sin, yet he lived an absolutely perfect life. He came to lead us, and guide us into a loving relationship with God.

When I hear this song, I’m reminded of the wise men’s example of what complete submission to God look likes. The moment they saw that star, they likely dropped everything they were doing and embarked on a long, difficult journey. These men had no idea where they were going, but placed their complete trust in that star and that it would lead to where they needed to be. They devoted everything in seeking the Messiah no matter the cost. They gave of themselves just as Christ gave of Himself.

That is the gift that keeps on giving.

No material possession costs more than the time and love we invest in one another and in our relationship with God. Nothing costs more than giving something of value (even material value) up.

Are there areas of your life that you need to surrender to God? Recall the last time you submitted something to God. What happened? What did He do?

What would it look like in our lives if we would drop everything the way the wise men did and devote our lives to Jesus? What would it look like to live our lives in such a way that the material possessions we do own have little to no value in comparison to what we have in Christ?

Advent: the hope of Christ

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15.13

Does Christmas thrill you? Does knowing Jesus thrill you? Does living life thrill you?

It thrills me. I have always been that way, for as long as I can remember. I haven’t allowed myself to be jaded by the world when it comes to my relationship with Jesus nor do I give it (the world and those around me) the power to rule my life. I do have “off” days just like everyone else, but I don’t stay there, maintaining a victim’s mentality. It’s dark there and I do not like the dark, not when I’ve experienced the Light.

Children get excited at the coming of the season and I remember my excitement as a child fondly. I got to wear my new Christmas dress – never in red, forever in green (ah, the perks of being a redhead). Christmas meant some quality family time, not that we lacked in that the rest of the year, but it was extra-special at Christmas. Everyone was a little bit nicer. People gave more, of themselves and of their material wealth. Why couldn’t (or can’t) it be like that all year round?

Now, I know that Christmas, or the holidays in general, are not easy for everyone.

These may be some of the darkest days of the year for you. Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one recenlty and this is your first holiday without them, or your second, or third. Perhaps you’re lonely. Maybe being single this time of year is the worst thing for you. Or maybe it’s just busyness. Adults get so wrapped up in the busyness of planning parties, trimming the tree, maxing out their credit cards, paying bills, wrapping, shipping and taking/planning trips. Maybe you’re one of them and you’re exhausted just thinking about all that you have to do this holiday season.

Know that you’re not alone.

There is hope.

90f2e26207b2fa8064b89f7c2eecdf8cJust as the chords of “O Holy Night” strike up “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn,” Christ came to offer hope.

How do we find it?

Just as total darkness can’t hold back the light of a tiny flame, the smallest increment of Hope provide joy, peace and purpose.

There is hope.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11.1

Just as Israel had hope for the Messiah, we too have hope for our future: an eternity with Jesus.

This world isn’t any easy place to live. Yes, it’s true that Christ said that his yoke would be easy and his burden would be light (   ), but he didn’t say that the life lived following him would be easy.

Sure, it’s easier in some ways – when trials strike, we can stand tall and face them with a reckless fearlessness unparalleled to any other. We have a hope.

But it’s hard to make that stand. It’s hard to go against the grain and follow God’s current which flows against the ways of this world. You often feel alone when taking a stand for what’s right and holy. Satan will try to discourage you by getting to focus on half-truths and the ways this world is falling apart at the seams.

Is there hope in this dark, cruel world? Yes!

Hope invaded our world 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. If we want hope (not to mention the peace and joy that comes from knowing Jesus personally) to invade our lives, we must do what those shepherds and wise men did in Jesus’ day.

We must come and bow before the King.

Hope, peace and joy is available to those who will humble themselves and bow in faith before the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? Do you confess that you are a sinner? Do you admit your need for a Savior? Do you believe that Jesus gave it all for your sins? Will you choose him? Do you trust him?

Sadly some people only think about Jesus once a year – at Christmastime. Deeply touched, they resolve to know him personally. The moment passes and the pressures of the new year lead them away from the manager.

There is a great danger in coming near to Christ and never making a commitment.

You can’t cram for heaven the way some college students cram for their chemistry exams.

You can’t take a crash course to get into heaven.

Sooner or later, you’ve got to make the choice to follow him and make that choice daily.

Is there room in your heart, in your life, for Jesus? Are you ready to follow him? Are you willing to meet the cost it takes to follow him?

I pray for God’s grace in your life as you make that decision.