Archive | December, 2013

Whose Party Is It?

21 Dec

Very few people believe Jesus of Nazareth was actually born on December 25, yet that’s when most Christians celebrate His birth. I get that. I was born December 24, a date easily remembered but difficult to celebrate. I was never short on birthday wishes, but my only “non-family” party happened when I was in the 7th grade. I didn’t care that it wasn’t my actual birth date. What mattered was celebrating with friends.

I’m a flexible celebrator for another reason. My dad was a “locomotive engineer on the Santa Fe Railroad.” That title was both a source of pride and humility. Papa loved his job and was very good at it. However, he didn’t want anyone to assume he was an electrical, mechanical, or any other kind of engineer. Driving a train occasionally took Papa out of town on December 25, yet somehow Santa always knew if he needed to arrive on the 24th or 26th. We didn’t care that it wasn’t actually Christmas day; what mattered was celebrating as a family.

What do you think matters to Jesus? Decorations, presents, parties? We can get a pretty good idea by looking at how God the Father orchestrated Christ’s first birthday. The venue seemed low on His priorities. Or perhaps the smelly stable intentionally introduced a humble Servant-King. Humility and unselfishness undoubtedly matter to Jesus.

Father outdid Himself on the invitations. He decorated a lonely pasture with brilliant light while angels announced the party with shouts of praise. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:13–14 NKJV).

No matter the celebration location, I think Jesus would like candles and lights, beautiful music, and most of all, a sense of wonder. How can it be that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords would invite lowly shepherds and us to this amazing event? Last Sunday as my husband conducted John Rutter’s Gloria for choir, brass, and percussion, I fought back tears as we sang. I think the Lord Jesus Christ was glorified and pleased with our offering, and the congregation was inspired. I wondered if it might have been a tiny taste of what we will experience in heaven.

The shepherds’ reaction went from intense terror to eager expectation and curiosity. It’s not every day angels declare a treasure hunt for a king wrapped in strips of cloth lying in a feed trough. The shepherds hurried to Bethlehem and searched until they found Mary, Joseph, and the Baby King. They amazed their friends with the story of this most miraculous birthday party. When they returned to work the shepherds continued “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20 NKJV).

Jesus must long for more awe and less commercialism surrounding His birth. I think He would be pleased to hear us eagerly share His story with those who haven’t heard, rather than carefully consider whether to proclaim “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” I’m certain He doesn’t want this to be a one-day celebration. Rather, He would have us search daily for Him in the common places of our lives then celebrate and share our Discovery.

Never doubt you’ll find Him—if that’s your desire. “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 NKJV).

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, Jesus. I hope you like your party.

Do You Choose Ashes or Beauty?

7 Dec

It’s fireplace weather as the weatherman predicts single digit temperatures. I love rotating in front of the fire like a marshmallow on a coat hanger—equally toasted on all sides. Frequent fires produce abundant ashes.

As I transferred cold ashes from the fireplace to a trashbag, I thought how they no longer resembled the logs originally placed on the grate. No longer sturdy logs, the ash pile was now gray, powdery, and easily scattered by the slightest puff of air. Perhaps, like me, there was a time when your life was in ashes—cold, colorless, without meaning or apparent value, no longer resembling the life you once envisioned.

The Bible uses ashes to symbolize misery, shame, humility, and repentance. Deeply distressed mourners sat on ashes and threw them toward heaven, allowing the ashes to fall as a head covering. That’s why Isaiah’s prophecy was so powerful. He promised “comfort [for] all who mourn, . . .a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3a).

This dramatic transformation would come through faith in God. Jesus Christ later read this passage from the scroll of Isaiah, “‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:18–21 NIV).

No matter what you’ve been through or what you’re facing, Jesus offers understanding and victory. He gave up heavenly glory to be born in a stable. He endured poverty, grief, injustice, rejection and faced every human temptation for our sake. Why then do we continue to cover ourselves in ashes when He offers a crown of beauty? Our freedom comes not through escaping our circumstances, but in accepting the love, power, and joy offered in Jesus Christ.

The fireplace wood we burn is often a mixture of pine and oak. Pine flames quickly; oak burns slowly and provides lasting warmth. God can transform our lives from ashes to oak. As Isaiah says, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3b NIV).

My prayer for us is that we display God’s splendor, as we remain strong in His power and love.

Make a Joyful Noise

1 Dec

I marvel at the news reports of Black Friday, the biggest day of the year for retail sales. Sleeping out in the cold for the best place in line goes beyond my imagination. Since I’m not trained for combat, I don’t venture out on Black Friday. I have no desire to be embroiled in the pushing, grabbing, fights, and offensive language. (To be fair, there seems to be much less of that locally than what I see nationally.)

However, what really causes me sadness is the desperation that breeds such greed and selfishness. Apparently, we have a need to grab all we can because tomorrow may not come. Our world seems to teeter on the brink of political, economic, and/or natural disaster. At any moment, our entire lives could change. But so has it ever been—think Pearl Harbor or Twin Towers. I’m grateful our security doesn’t rely on government or circumstances. Because of God’s great love, we can not only be grateful, we can be gracious.

The fact that you’re reading this means you have an education and live in a country where freedom of speech still exits. I can also imagine you have a roof over your head, adequate food and clothing, and someone who cares about you.

God gives us such abundance so we can share. This season let’s turn our eyes on God and focus on what we have instead of what we wish we had. I encourage you to shout about the good stuff.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: Come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, And into his courts with praise: Be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; And his truth endureth to all generations.”
(Psalm 100:1–5 KJV 1900—the version I memorized as a kid).

I’m so thankful for the faithful followers of this blog. May God richly bless you this season and throughout your life.