Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hang onto the Warmth

The Christmas holiday has passed, but the warm memories remain.

The other night as I tucked in my preschooler, she smiled. "Wanna know what I was just thinking about?"


"How much you love me."

That'll bring a smile to your face and warm up your heart.

It's important to remember how much we are loved, especially if we're in the crash of post-holiday cheer. What we're craving at Christmas isn't a gift. It's what we think we want, but in fact, what we're truly, deeply hoping for is something to fill the void inside. That's why we shop and hope and hint. But even if we get the gadget we longed for, we may find there is a hollowness in the experience.

Then what?

There have been lots of changes this year for our extended family's Christmas celebration. Usually we travel out of state. Not this year. A relationship changed so we won't see a certain member of the family this year. One beloved grandparent is in the hospital, so we won't see her. No snow. (For some of us this is important. I say it's important if you don't have to drive in it. :) But there is one constant. We have to hang onto the one constant in order to not be disappointed.

That constant? Jesus.

Keeping our gaze fixed on the heart of Christmas--the true celebration--will keep us anchored in the ups and downs, the disappointments, the missing of family members who aren't with us. That's the key.

And remembering how much we are loved by God and family and friends will bring a smile, helping fill up that void inside with joy and peace. That's how we'll hang onto the warmth even as the Christmas season fades.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pointing Toward Hope

This time of year is filled with highs and lows. Folks rushing around with joy, feeling the rush that shopping brings as they find their treasures. Christmas pageants and music concerts, plays and movies all celebrate the season. There's the warmth you feel sitting by the fire, gazing at a Christmas tree covered in lights. Perhaps you hold a mug of hot tea in your hands, and a favorite novel is your reward for a long work day.

But there are signs of another experience this season. Signs of people struggling. The recent economic climate has led to our seeing more homeless people as we drive through busy streets. They hold signs and try to hope in the kindness of strangers. I've heard the suicide rate goes up at Christmas time. People running out of hope in the midst of what should be a hopeful season.

So, what can we do?

First, hang onto our own hope. Christmas isn't about gifts--either giving or getting, really. Christmas is commemorated that way, but it's truly about Jesus, the Son of God coming to earth as a baby to bring HOPE. As if He's saying to the poor and downtrodden, "Look to Me. I came to give you hope." He would say to the hopeless who contemplate giving up on life, "I am the way, the truth and the life. Come and let me give you hope."

When you smile at people, you offer them hope. When you lend a helping hand, you offer hope. When you serve others, putting others first, you offer them hope.

The Psalmist said, "I would have fainted unless I believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." (see Psalm 27:13) He was talking about hope. Without hope, people give up.

So, first, we hang onto our own hope, keeping it refreshed through recent time with God. Then, second, we share that hope with others. Reach out. Help.

Point toward hope.

Now 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)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Then, He Smiled at Me

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved various imaginative Christmas songs, beyond hymns. We used to learn them for school programs. Words to The Marvelous Toy and Do You Hear What I Hear? still run through my mind this time of year.

One of my favorites is still a favorite today: The Little Drummer Boy.

From the first notes on the piano, I’m hooked. Then, the words describe journey of this little drummer boy to see the Baby Jesus. The little musician has nothing to give but his talent. In humility he asks permission to play his drum for the Baby. Mary nods and then . . .

Jesus smiles at the drummer boy.

Do you picture Jesus smiling at you?

Maybe when the day is going well. Maybe if you can’t remember losing your temper that day or making any mistakes, or giving into temptation. Then, Jesus must smile at you, right?

Jesus is full of joy (see Psalm 45:7 & Hebrews 1:9)! The only issue that could have concerned Him, the condemnation of the entire human race due to sin, He Himself conquered. He righted the wrong. He is full of joy when people accept His forgiveness, His offered gift of reconciliation to God. He is glad to see you come to pray, worship or read His Word. He wants relationship with you!

So, when you come to Him, He is smiling. Sure the stuff of our lives will need to be dealt with, but it isn’t God’s primary basis for relating with us. What revelation! What a gift.

He just wants you to come. Get close enough to see Him smiling at you.

Sing with me now,

Then, He smiled at me . . .

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Music of Christmas

"O come, all ye faithful . . ."

"Hark the herald angels sing . . ."

"O little town of Bethlehem . . ."

"Silent night, holy night . . ."

Can you hear the melodies as you read those lines?

I imagine you have a favorite Christmas carol or song. Every year, new Christmas songs are written and recorded. Some will become classics like "Breath of Heaven" or "Mary, Did you Know?". Are you familiar with those? My mind immediately slips into the mode of recalling the words as well as the emotions. I think that's why we enjoy music. It touches our hearts.

That's why I love the music of Christmas.

My favorite Christmas hymn? "O Holy Night."

One year, nearly twenty years ago, my husband and I sang this as a special for a church near our home.

Before we began our a capella (accompaniment-free) rendition, my husband played the notes we'd start on. Mine first, then his, separately. For some reason, my mind clicked on his note, a third higher than the key we'd practiced in. Uh-oh.

That song goes super high (calling all singers--can I hear an "amen"?). So there I was, up in the rafters with the highest notes. Because of my mistake, my poor hubby had to ad-lib his harmonies on the spot. I wondered why he wasn't singing along like we practiced. Oops. We finished though, and people's comments were complimentary afterward. (Whew!)

I love the holiness inherent in Christmas carols. A hush falls on the gathered ones who stand holding lit candles and raising their hearts to the Lord. It's enchanting. Magical. Beautiful.

This week we'll attend a school band concert. One of my kiddos plays the flute. Next week we're off to a choir concert because one of my daughter participates in two school choirs. I love attending and listening to the well-practiced harmonies.

What's your favorite Christmas song or hymn? Why?

Enjoy the music of this season. It's a once-a-year gift.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Frosty Mornings

The temperatures have been super cold here lately, unusually so for our corner of the country. We haven’t had snow yet, but we’ve had some serious frosts. We awake early in the morning to discover thick layers of ice on cars and plants, rooftops and yards.

Our summer months this year were unbelievably hot—lingering around 100-degrees day after day. One afternoon, sitting in my un-air-conditioned home office, I offered a silly prayer or promise to God—"I’ll never complain about being cold again (yes, cold). Just please cool things down." The other morning, warming up our frigid van in order to drive my middle daughter to school, what did I do? Complain about the cold. Good grief, I’m a finicky human.

So, this December, I’m trying to be thankful. Frost is pretty. Christmas is coming. Family will visit. I can be thankful for friendships, writing, church, etc.

As my focus shifts from one thing to another, I want to make a point of zeroing in Jesus. His love carries me through the frostiest moments in life. His faithfulness assures me He sees my needs.

May your Christmas season be filled with thankfullness and joy as you remember Jesus is the reason for this beautiful season.