…And His Own Received Him Not

Today is Boxing Day. Some people will leave their Christmas decorations up for awhile longer; maybe even until after the New Year. Others will box up all the holiday trappings for next year. But the boxes and bags that held gifts yesterday are likely put away– some put aside; others in the trash. We laugh about toddlers and pets being more fascinated with the boxes than with the gifts inside, but most of us tear off the paper and rip open the boxes to get to the “good stuff” hidden inside. The ribbons and bows, the gift card holders and glittery greeting cards, while they delight us in the moment, pale in comparison to the gifts and the thoughts behind them.

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What a shame it would be if all the wonderful gifts under the tree remained unopened– boxed away for another year, just to be placed back under a Christmas tree in 2023. What a useless tradition it would be to give gifts that were never opened or used, or even seen!

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And yet…the Greatest gift of all–the very reason for the Christmas season– often remains boxed up and carefully preserved for another year. “Jesus is the reason for the Season,” as some people say. But have we RECEIVED Him? Have we opened up the gift of His coming; of His offer of salvation and reconciliation– or do we just enjoy the idea of the Baby in the Manger and the Wise Men coming from afar and offering gifts; the angels singing in the night sky, and the gentle animals in the stall?

The Gospel writer and Apostle John wrote that Jesus “came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” (John 1:11) God so Loved the world that He gave His son (John 3:16), but the gift remained unopened and ignored by those who should have welcomed Him. He grew up and lived among them– healed their diseases, spoke comfort and truth, laughed and shared sorrows with them– and they cried out, “Crucify Him!” God’s “one-size-fits-all” perfect gift– the “gift that keeps on giving” eternally!–was despised and rejected. And the Gift is still rejected, ignored, scorned, and unopened today.

All the splendor and glitter of the Christmas season will fade away– the decorations will go back in their boxes; the wrappings and trimmings will be forgotten. But the Gift! Let’s bring it out and use it– revel in it; wonder at it. God with Us. God reaching down and out and beyond to bring us Home–forever! And God giving us the privilege and the power to BE His hands and feet and eyes and lips as we minister to those around us! God holding us close as sons and daughters. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name..”(John 1:12) When we open this gift, we are not just recipients, not merely believers or followers– we are Children of God.

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Lord, help me not make the grave mistake of taking your incredible gift and leaving it in a box, or worse, opening it up and putting it back in a box for later. Help me to live in the “present”– in every way– and to enjoy the privilege of being Your child forever. Amen!

Christmas Prayer

Father, this Christmas, I want to

Confess that I have not really comprehended what Christmas really means. There are times throughout this year when I have not made “room in the inn;” I have not welcomed Christ in the “least of these.” I have not followed the star, or listened to the message of the angels. I have not come to the manger with gifts. I have been like the people of Bethlehem– asleep and unaware of the miracles taking place under my nose. I have not acknowledged that you are

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Here. Not just that you came. Not just that you lived, and died, and rose again. But that you are present with me–Now! Every moment! Forever. Here. Not just beside me, but indwelling…living in me and working through me, flawed and cracked vessel that I am. Living in and working through other ordinary people You send into my life (as You send me into theirs).

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Righteous Redeemer, help me to understand better Your Wisdom, Your Power, Your Glory, and Your Holiness. You did not come to rescue us from some failed plan or cosmic mistake. You are altogether perfect in Your plan of Salvation. Even when I cannot understand Your ways, they are higher and better than anything I can imagine. And Christmas, with all its wonder and glory and contradiction was never a surprise to YOU. It wasn’t Plan B. It was timed down to the minute, scripted to the very last detail, and part of the eternal plan of Salvation.

Inspire me again with the wonder of Your Mercy and Grace. Help me to experience the Joy of the Shepherds, the Awe of the Magi, and the Hush of Heaven as You left Your throne to become a little lower than the angels who shouted Your Glory into the darkness.

Send me, as you sent the Shepherds, to make known Your wonders, as you sent the Angels to tell of Your Good News of Great Joy, and as you sent Your Son into the world to make reconciliation. Strengthen me as an instrument of Your Grace, as a Witness of Your Might, and as an Ambassador of Your Love.

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Transform my thinking. Build my Trust in You, that I would spend less time fretting about my daily needs and the unforeseen circumstances of my days, and more time praising You for what you have done, and will do, and are doing. Help me to embrace Your

Might, Your Majesty, and Your mystery. That the same voice that spoke galaxies into being and the same right arm that raised up empires was wrapped up in rags and laid in a Manger, meek and tiny. That Your glory was hidden in a cattle stall in a quiet village of a conquered nation. That Your plan to bring us life involved Your own painful death at the hands of people You had raised up to power That all of Eternity could be changed in a single instant, even as the Earth slept.

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Accept my adoration, incomplete and uncomprehending as it is. And equip me to Act in ways that bring You Glory and Honor. Advance Your Kingdom, and Thank You for making it possible to be reconciled to You.

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Sovereign Savior and Gracious Shepherd, let Christmas be born in me anew this season. Let me grow in Faith and Obedience. Let me shine like that first star– drawing others to worship You.

Amen.

Christmas Wish Lists

When I was a child, we used to write letters to “Santa” with a list of what we wanted to find under the Christmas Tree that year. Sometimes this was a school project– practice in letter-writing etiquette, etc.– and sometimes, it was done spontaneously after poring through the Sears “Wish Book” Christmas catalog, or after watching Saturday morning cartoons with their endless ads for toys, dolls, bikes, and sugary cereals.

As adults, we often do something similar, drafting a Christmas “wish list” in our prayers and Advent dreams. Our adult lists may be as shallow as those of childhood–a new dishwasher, or a shiny piece of jewelry; a new “toy” boat for Dad, etc. Sometimes, they sound more virtuous– world peace, a healthy economy, a cure for cancer…

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It isn’t “wrong” to have wishes at any time of year. And we should hope for better things in the world around us. But we can get caught up in the idea of Christmas being all about wishes and desires at the expense of the real GIFT of Christmas– Christ Himself! In fact, we can become numb to the fact that Jesus wasn’t just “another” Christmas gift among our “wish list” items.

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The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1: 9-14 (NIV)

Christ didn’t come that first Christmas in response to any person’s wish list. In fact, the Bible says that when Jesus came into the very world He created, He was rejected, ignored, even despised by those who should have recognized and welcomed Him. He didn’t come wrapped in shiny paper and waiting for us to enjoy Him. He came wrapped in rags, forced to go into exile under threat of death, and honored only by humble shepherds and strangers from foreign lands. No one sought Him out on their own. Even the shepherds and wise men were led by angels and a guiding star.

This year, instead of concentrating on wish lists and our desires (even noble ones!), let’s reflect on God’s wish list– that we would turn from sin and rebellion, and be reconciled to Him; that we would make His gift our greatest desire!

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Lullabies and Hallelujahs

During this season of the year, we hear a lot of “Christmas” music. Much of it is secular music–Santa Claus and magical snowmen, gifts and parties, and the Holiday “blues.” But much of it is related to the real reason for Christmas: the birth of Our Lord. And the number of songs, hymns, cantatas and symphonies related to Christ’s birth is staggering! Popular secular singers record “their” versions of favorite hymns; choirs and orchestras present new songs and ancient melodies. Many of the songs fall into two distinct categories, however. There are quiet lullabies–peaceful and meditative, focused on the infant in the manger; and there are Hallelujahs– joyful and majestic, focused on the wonder of God coming to earth.

I don’t know if there were actually lullabies OR Hallelujahs on that first Christmas. The Bible mentions the visit of the angels, but they were “praising God and SAYING, ‘Glory to God in the Highest..'” We often assume that their praise included singing, but the Bible isn’t specific. But it is interesting to look at the contrast of the quietness of the manger and the Glory of the angel hosts, and hear the contrast in the hymns we raise at this time of year.

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Lullabies, and quiet songs, like “Silent Night,” or “Away in a Manger” call our minds and hearts to the humility of the Christ child. Babies are cute and engaging. And they are not “silent.” But they do not command authority and majesty. Babies cry out for help. They are needy in a way that God is NOT. And yet…God came in the form of a helpless baby. The God who created the galaxies needed someone to feed and change Him; to carry Him from place to place and rock Him to sleep. “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” reminds us that He came to a cattle shed in a small town, rather than to a palace in the seat of power.

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Hallelujahs, like “Joy to the World” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” remind us that this was no ordinary child. And yet…the angels did not appear IN the manger or even in the little Town of Bethlehem. The Angels were compelled to sing their praises, not to the learned priests, or the courts of power, but to dumb-founded shepherds on a cold hillside. What an explosive visitation! Their praises (whether shouted or sung) shattered the quiet and the darkness. Like a sudden fireworks display, the Glory of God’s servants split the night.

God enters our hearts– sometimes quietly, like the cooing of an infant; sometimes dramatically, like a chorus of angels. God is at work– sometimes in humble moments and ordinary gestures; sometimes in glorious flashes of insight and inexplicable miracles. And this season, our prayers will rise up– sometimes like the humble cries of a newborn baby; sometimes like the soaring songs of angel hosts– prayers of need; prayers of thanksgiving; prayers of awe-struck worship; prayers of simple confession of our own unworthiness, and of God’s sufficiency and everlasting Love. Peace and Glory; lullabies and Hallelujahs; simplicity and majesty– all wrapped up on a manger of hay on one Holy Night.

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Christmas is about both the lullabies and the Hallelujahs; the simple light of Truth and the glorious radiance of God’s Holiness.

…And the Word WAS God!

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5; 14

Emmanuel– God WITH us. The Baby Jesus in the manger is the same Jesus on the Cross; the same Jesus who was involved in the Creation of the universe.

We love seeing the Baby Jesus in the manger. We like the idea of Jesus, the good teacher and friend. We even bow our heads to honor the Jesus of the cross. We pray to Jesus, acknowledging that He is the God-Man who came to save us from Sin. But sometimes, we get so comfortable seeing Jesus lying peacefully in the manger or serenely enduring the pain of the Cross, that we ignore His absolute Holiness and Power.

Jesus was fully human– he ate, slept, cried, felt cold, and felt pain. But He is also God– fully Divine; fully Sovereign. He doesn’t force us to worship Him– not now, anyway. Someday, though, every knee will bow, and every tongue compelled to confess that Jesus is the Ultimate Authority in Heaven and on Earth (Philippians 2:10-11). Larger than life; more permanent than history; eternally Sovereign.

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We pray to a God who is so awesome and glorious that no person can see His face and live. And yet, we pray to a God who so loved mankind that He came and walked among us, lived among us, and died among us. We look at Baby Jesus in the manger– we see the face of God. And when we look at our neighbors and friends, we look at those made in the image of God– we see those beloved of God; those Jesus came to save.

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This is not new theology. This is basic Christianity. But sometimes, in the bustle of the “Season, ” we forget the wonder and the miracle that is the very reason for it all. God is NOT distant. He is not looking for reasons to reject or condemn us. He reaches out to us EXACTLY like a baby reaches out– seeking to be held close. He is as close as the person sitting next to you at the dinner table, or sharing a seat on the bus. GOD! Not a theology; not a list of do’s and don’t’s. Not an esoteric idea. A Presence; a living Christmas Present! An eternal Gift of Love! One with arms and legs; a twinkling eye and infectious smile.

In this season of Advent and Christmas, may we let the Glory of God fill us with awe and wonder. And may we let the Love of God fill us with hope and joy. May our prayers be like the sweet singing of the Angels on that Holy Night so long ago. “Glory to God in the Highest! And, on earth, Peace among those with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14).

…And the Word Was With God…

We get excited about Christmas coming–we put up trees and decorations, and often a manger scene or Creche, with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus in the manger. But Jesus didn’t start as a baby. Long before He ever came to Bethlehem, Jesus was one with the Father. He ruled from the heights of Heaven. He saw the first dawn of the first day on Earth. He walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve. He was a witness to all the events leading up to His own birth.

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We like to picture Jesus as a baby. We like to picture Him as a man. We like to think of Him as a good teacher. And these are all correct. But we miss the full picture if we never imagine Jesus with God before He ascended to Heaven. The Ascension was Jesus returning to His rightful place, after the work of Salvation was accomplished in chronological, Earthly time. Jesus walked with His disciples. He ate with them, He laughed and talked with them. But He spent His earthly life talking and walking and relating with His Father, too. Nothing separated them, until that moment when Jesus became Sin for us so that we could be restored to a relationship with the Father.

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On the Cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken ME?”(Matthew 27:46 or Mark 15:34). God was not just “sending” His son as an emissary or a benign sacrifice to demonstrate how much He could love us. Jesus came, fully intending to be a living sacrifice. He endured the “imposed” separation of a human body, bound by time and place, separated physically from the glories of Heaven. But this separation– this knowledge of being forsaken, banished to Hell and Death–was what Jesus came to take upon Himself. The one who had eternally existed in loving harmony with the Father and the Spirit, had to be ripped away from Himself, forsaken by the Father and Spirit as one condemned. The one who had lived a perfect life of obedience had to be shunned as one who was unclean and unworthy of life, so that WE could have the right to be adopted as sons and daughters of God. We can be “with God” because He chose to endure the inconceivable pain of the rejection that we deserved. But there is another miracle of the Birth of Jesus that we overlook.

At the moment of Jesus’ birth, He was Emmanuel– God with US. Just by entering into a human existence, God already fulfilled His promise to bring us to Himself. When Jesus ate with His disciples, God was eating with them. When He laughed with them and walked side by side with them, the fullness of God was there. By His death, He continued “with us” to the grave and beyond. There is not a single moment of life –or death– that God, through Jesus, has not experienced and shared with us. In His resurrection, Jesus broke the power of Sin and death to separate us from God. Even the power of God’s justice cannot condemn those who put their trust in the finished work of Jesus, because Jesus has paid the debt in full. There is NOTHING that can ever separate us from God’s love and His loving presence. The Word was with God– and that same Word was with us. That same Word lives with, and in, and through us throughout our days on earth. And, if we have put our faith in this same Emmanuel, we will be “with God” throughout eternity.

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I need to meditate on this truth today. Even in the Holiday season, I can feel very separated from God–surrounded by stress and worries; focused on my own struggles and goals; chasing after a temporary joy in the busyness of preparations. Jesus has not forsaken me to return to Heaven– He is no less “with me” for being once again “with God.” No, He doesn’t physically walk beside me and eat with me, or talk audibly to me. But His presence is constant, steady, and promised.

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The Word– the same Word that spoke galaxies into being; the same Word that conquered Death and Sin–is “with us!” Today. Every moment! We will never have to cry out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” And we know this because Jesus CAME! He didn’t just “say” it. He gave us “His Word.”

In the Beginning Was the Word…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-14 (Authorized KJV)
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We celebrate Christmas as the “birth” of Christ. Yet, the Bible tells us that Jesus (Christ) was in the beginning with God: Jesus had no beginning and no end. He is eternal with the Father and Spirit. We call this season before Christmas “Advent”– we await and celebrate, not the birth of a new being, but the advent of His coming from Heaven to earth.

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Jesus came to Earth for many reasons– some of which are given in the Bible, and some of which are likely beyond our comprehension. He came to live among us as a man of flesh and bone (John 1:14); He came to bring life and light (vv.4-9); He came to live a sinless life, which He sacrificed as a ransom for the sins of the those who repent: and He came to serve others–to model the kind of service that God desires from us (Matthew 20:28). Jesus came in obedience to the Father (John 6:38). Finally, Jesus (as a member of the Triune Godhead) came because “God so Loved the World” (John 3:16) –He Wanted to come! The Advent was part of God’s perfect plan. It was not Plan B, developed after the fall of man. It was so “from the beginning.” It was foretold and prophesied. It was planned down to the tiniest detail.

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Jesus has always been. He has always been The Word of God. Jesus speaks. Jesus listens. When we pray, it is natural to speak words to The Word. Jesus created us to communicate. Unlike any other creature on earth, mankind chooses to communicate through complex and subtle language, as well as through art, music, dance, architecture…even food! We chatter about trivia; we choose to wear certain colors to express our moods; we make silly faces at infants and delight in their own facial contortions.

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Prayer is so important, because it is the essence of expressing our hearts and minds to the very one who created us to BE communicators. God listens through all the words of all the languages we use (or the non-verbalized thoughts, groanings, etc.) to hear our true heart-cry.

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This season, we take time to reflect on just what it means that Jesus was “In the Beginning…” as well as in the manger. We reflect that “before Abraham was”–He IS (John 8:58). We glory in the knowledge that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8). These “words” give us life and hope and joy– not just now, but throughout all the years of our lives.

What a reason to say just a few words today in prayer!

When God Sends Clarence

(This post is a reprint from a little over a year ago, but I thought it worth sharing again.)

I’m a huge fan of the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It tells the story of George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) who considers committing suicide on Christmas Eve. His uncle and business partner has lost $8,000– enough to ruin their business. His rival has called for him to be arrested, after George has begged him for help. He had nowhere left to turn. In desperation, he leaves his family, goes to a bar, has a drink, and finally, broken and crying, he prays a simple prayer. Almost immediately, an angry man slugs him in the jaw, and both men are thrown out into the cold. George runs his car into a tree, and proceeds on foot to a bridge, where he plans to jump to his death before he can be arrested and sent to prison. Not a feel-good holiday movie, right?

However, that simple prayer has been heard in Heaven. George thinks that the “answer” to his prayer was being punched, but God has other plans, which include sending a “guardian angel” to help George change his mind. But God doesn’t send a mighty angel to prevent George from jumping off the bridge. He doesn’t send a glorious angel of light to amaze and instruct George. He doesn’t send a warrior angel to protect him from his rival or the consequences of his uncle’s mistake. Instead, He sends Clarence.

Now, I have to pause a moment to say that I disagree with the film in its depiction of angels. I believe angels are spiritual beings who serve the Lord of Heaven, but I don’t believe that humans “become” angels after they die, nor do I believe that they must “earn their wings.” In fact, this flies in the face of the Gospel, that we are justified by faith in the saving work of Christ on the Cross.

But I mention Clarence, because, in the film, he is precisely the sort of “help” we do not expect of God– someone who is earnest, but inept and uninformed. Clarence has almost no clue how to keep George from throwing away his life. He tries to reason with George, but to no avail. He tries to cheer him up, encourage him, and befriend him, even explaining that if George would just let him help, Clarence would earn his wings. George is still determined that his life has been in vain. Finally, he tells Clarence to go away, and claims it would have just been better if he (George) had never been born.

I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who has never seen it, but the story reaffirms the value and the joy of life, even as it faces the very real darkness of depression and despair. George finally realizes that his life is really far more wonderful than his circumstances– and very much worth living!

We live in a desperate and dark world– many people are discouraged and facing dark days. Debt, sickness, grief, homelessness, betrayal, alcoholism and addiction, prison, abuse–they are all very real and overwhelmingly oppressive. Sometimes those who face such circumstances cry out in desperation, only to have an experience similar to George Bailey’s– they end up getting punched in the jaw! But this is NOT the answer from God– this is the world’s “solution.” Anger, despair, chaos, violence and abuse come when we try to run away from problems or solve them in our own powerlessness. God’s answers often come in unexpected packages. An unexpected encounter with a stranger; an overheard conversation on a bus or train; even an ad on TV or a song on the radio. God doesn’t usually send an angel– He often “sends” ordinary people in ordinary ways to do His extraordinary work.

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But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

1 Corinthians 1:27 (KJV)

God delights in using the “simple” things and ordinary people. (See a much fuller exposition here:) https://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_corinthians/1-27.htm#:~:text=To%20confound%20the%20wise%20%E2%80%94%20To%20shame%20those,he%20does%20it%20in%20irony%2C%20he%20aggrandizes%20them. George Bailey is a simple man who stays true (often in spite of himself) to what he knows is right. Even as he despises his life, it has produced dozens of small miracles. But it requires a change of perspective to see them. “Clever” people; “powerful” people, and “successful” people have surrounded, and even “surpassed” George, but it takes a “Clarence” to make him see the eternal value of a life well-lived. George’s life is worth far more than money; far more than worldly success; far more than power and greed. George is truly “the richest man in town” in all the things that most matter.

It’s a Wonderful Life– George with his family

If God has blessed you by sending a “Clarence,” take a moment to thank Him. If God is calling you to be a “Clarence” in someone’s life today, take a moment to thank Him for that, too! You may not earn a pair of wings, but I guarantee you will be blessed.

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It Came Without Ribbons…

In the Dr. Seuss classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” the bitter and devious Grinch tries to “steal” Christmas from the village of Whoville. He steals all the things the Whos of the village seem to need in order to celebrate a holiday he hates. He hates their gift exchanges, their feasting, their singing, and their general happiness, all of which serve to remind him of his own loneliness and gloom.

With mounting glee, the Grinch proceeds to pile up his hoard of goodies– presents, decorations, food, anything that could serve to make the holiday cheery and bright. He loads up all his stolen loot and takes it to the top of a mountain, where he plans to dump it. But first, he stops to savor the shock and pain he expects to hear as the Whos discover that their holiday has been ruined. He waits in the cold of a clear dawn to hear wailing and lamenting, but the sound he hears instead is singing…the Whos have come together to sing a hymn of gratitude and peace. There is no lamenting; there is no distress. Instead there is a peaceful acceptance that the new day has brought joy and goodwill that has nothing to do with all the trappings of celebration.

He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming. It came!
Somehow or other it came just the same.
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!–Dr. Seuss
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The first Christmas came without any of the festive trappings we’ve added over the years. There were no groups of cheery carolers; no jingle bells and tinsel; no greeting cards or candy canes. Jesus came in the dead of night, in the midst of chaos and terror, as people were groaning under the oppression of an invading empire, being forced to travel long distances to be counted and taxed by their oppressors. There were no Christmas parties, no brightly decorated trees, no stockings filled with treats, no cookies and cocoa on a cold night. The gifts would come later– and they would be followed by death threats and exile! But Jesus came! He came just the same!

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This year, Christmas will come– with or without ribbons or tags. Christmas will come to those who are homeless, and those who are lonely in palaces and mansions. Christmas will come in spite of efforts to erase the holiday from our culture. It will come just like the dawn of each new day– quiet in its wonder and glorious in its simplicity. Christmas doesn’t come wrapped in shiny paper or announced with blaring horns and neon lights. Christmas comes just as Christ came so many years ago–wrapped in rags, laid in a straw bed on a cold, dark night; announced to simple people going about their business, signaled by a single star ignored by most, wondered at by others. Christmas will seep into the hearts and eyes of those with child-like faith and willing to sing when things are darkest.

God chooses to come in simplicity– He creeps like the dawning day; He sighs like a gentle breeze; He comes as a harmless infant, or a wandering teacher and healer. And when our Christmas Day comes without ribbons and boxes or feasting and lights– it will come just the same. Christ will enter darkened hotel rooms and alleys, He will sit beside hospital beds and in makeshift refugee shelters. He will sneak into homes where Christians huddle in secret, and He will knock gently on the doors of the lonely and the lost. Because Christmas DOESN’T come from a store. It doesn’t come from our bounty and our glittering decorations. It comes from the heart– the heart of God, who SO loved the world, that He came! And He will come this year, just the same!

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Fruitcake?

Poor Fruitcake– the butt of dozens of Christmas jokes. Someone once said that there were 20 Fruitcakes produced in France in 1541– and they are all still in circulation today! I know a few people who like fruitcake, but most people just make fun of it. Technically, it IS a cake, but it is mostly made up of fruit and nuts soaked in rum or brandy or candied for preservation. Fruitcakes can be mailed, shipped, and saved for months without rotting, but the fruits never taste fresh, and much of their flavor is overwhelmed by the sugars used to preserve them. Fruitcake is heavy, and sweet. It is full of things that are “good for you,” but the end result is not very healthful.

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I was reading the other day in Galatians, and a couple of days later in Philippians– two passages that speak of Christians producing fruit. Our lives are to be characterized by virtues and acts of service that bring health and healing, joy and peace to those around us. And these virtues are the products of our Faith in Action– of The Holy Spirit working in and through us.

22 But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23 gentleness and self-control; and here there is no conflict with Jewish laws.

Galatians 5:22-23 (Living Bible–emphasis added)

 So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

Phillipians 1:9-11 (The Message–emphasis added)
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“Fruit of the Spirit” is not something we can manufacture ourselves. Only God’s Spirit at work IN us can produce such fruit. And, while it is Fruit that will last, it doesn’t need to be dried or candied or soaked for preservation. Unlike the fruit in Fruitcake, the Fruit of the Spirit is eternally fresh and bursting with life and flavor. There is nothing wrong or evil about Holiday Fruitcake. But it cannot compare with fresh fruit for wholesomeness and healthfulness.

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Sometimes, we try to manufacture our own “Fruit of the Spirit.” And this can be far worse than a harmless but calorie-laden Holiday Fruitcake. Even those who are opposed to Christ can manufacture a certain amount of Joy, or Patience, or Self-Control. Anyone can appear Gentle or Kind when they choose. But, separated from the source of life and growth, we cannot produce fresh fruit. Our Joy may be soaked in Rum. Our Patience may dry up. Our Kindness may be candy-sweet, but hiding malicious or selfish motives. Or we may surround our fruit with worldly “wisdom,” disguising and transforming it with cake and nuts.

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This holiday season, let’s not become dried out or artificially sweetened in our acts of service and Love. Let’s be producers of Godly Fruit– Love that reaches out to the Lost, the lonely, and the “unlovable” with true love and not just sentimentality; Joy that bubbles up from a thankful heart and a transformed mind; Peace that transcends our current trials and circumstances; Patience that endures hardship without losing hope; Kindness that wraps itself around the unworthy and never tires; Goodness that knows no conceit and seeks no credit; Faithfulness that inspires and produces hope in a faithless world; Gentleness that smooths over troubled waters without being overcome; and a rock-solid Self-Control and steadiness that produces trust– not in our own power or wisdom, but in the One who produces it in our lives. We should be humble and grateful, teachable, and ready to forgive, encourage, and pray for others.

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Don’t be a Fruitcake this Christmas– be a Fruit Basket instead!

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