Archives for posts with tag: Christmas

drummer boy

Of all the beautiful Christmas carols, Little Drummer Boy has always been my least favorite. I find the repetition of “pa rum pa pum pum” irritating. But today as I listened to it, I discovered profound truth in its words.

In the story of this song, the little boy with a drum is taken to the manger where he is told the baby is a king. He recognizes the significance of that moment. The baby’s parents are clearly not rich, but the little boy senses the holiness of that place where God has come to earth. The boy wants to give something to the baby, but feels he has nothing of value to offer.

Isn’t that true for most of us? We want to serve others; we want to show God how much we love him, but we feel inept. Other people’s capabilities and talents look far more glamorous and impressive. Others can inspire with their words or touch deep places in our hearts with music or art. Others are so confident or so gifted. We want to be significant and appreciated; we want to do the right thing and have it work out well. But too often, our best efforts look more clumsy and unprofessional than impressive. So we come to the manger again this Christmas, with patches on our disappointments, hiding our brokenness and frustration, desperately seeking to see the face of God in the midst of the mess and strife of this earth.

The drummer boy had nothing tangible to offer this holy family. But the God who created all the earth and has all power and majesty…didn’t want a gift that man values. What this God values is His people. The boy took what he had in his hands and used it the best he knew how. And the innocence and effort of the child brought a smile to the face of the King of Heaven. This was not about the best drum solo ever; it was about a pure heart offering its best to God.

Does your Christmas include seeking the face of God, or have you allowed our culture to devalue this holiday into frenetic activity? Do you withhold what God has given you because you disdain it or dismiss it as insignificant? Or will you offer what you hold in your hand, trusting that God will see the desires of your heart and transform your best effort into what brings your good and His glory?

What is your drum? The finest gift you have may not earn awards or praise from men, but it can bring a smile to the face of God if you offer it to bring Him pleasure. This Christmas, may you find yourself in the presence of the one who desperately loves you, who left heaven to come and be where you are. With all of your heart and soul, offer him whatever is in your hand…that is what he values most.

Come they told me, A new born king to see

Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the king.

So to honor him, when we come.

Little baby, I am a poor boy too.

I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give our king.

Shall I play for you on my drum?

Mary nodded; The ox and lamb kept time.

I played my drum for him I played my best for him.

Then he smiled at me and my drum.

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stars and angelsUneducated shepherds were doing a menial job and were interrupted by angels. They found God in the middle of the night in a manger in their hometown. The Wise Men didn’t hear from angels; they saw a star. They felt compelled to travel hundreds of miles in a time when travel was dangerous and difficult. Their education and curiosity led them to leave where they were and follow a hunch to see where it led them. They found God at the end of a long, tedious, intentional journey.

Every once in a while, we see evidence of God in our world. Our awareness can come as an unplanned event that takes us by surprise, or it may be an intentional choice to pursue our faith in God, rather than focusing on our circumstances. Sometimes we “find” God when we’re not looking for Him. We are going through the motions of our lives, doing what must be done as best we can, when God interrupts our schedule and unmistakably calls us to Himself.

But sometimes finding God involves our commitment to keep looking. It may be a long journey from where we are and what we know to the place where we understand and see Him face to face. We may have to keep our focus on what we believe as we journey through all that will lead us from where we are to where He is.

The shepherds could have decided that a decent night’s sleep was more important than traipsing off into town. The Wise Men could have easily justified simply recording the appearance of an unusual star, rather than sacrificing a substantial amount of time and money on what could very likely be a wild good chase. But they didn’t. Their hearts were unmistakably stirred, and they ignored common sense and beheld the face of God.

We don’t know what happened after they left the Christ child and went home. Were they permanently changed by their encounter with God come to earth, or was the thrill temporary? Did they spend the rest of their lives telling the story of the moment they saw God, or did their circumstances and schedules retake control of their expectations? Was Christmas a one-time event for them or was it a turning point in their lives?

Our culture has tried to reinvent Christmas into something less than God intended it to be. Receiving the gift of the presence of God is too often eclipsed by the frantic search for presents to buy. Anticipation of His presence and blessing gets lost in the preparation and parties. We’ve made Christmas into something we do, rather than a celebration of the God who never forgets a promise, whose incredible love continually calls us into His presence, the one who left Heaven to come live with us.

Whether your invitation looks like an angelic interruption or the nagging hope of a star that draws you to seek Him, follow your heart into His presence. Find Him amid the to-do lists and demands of your Christmas. Immanuel, God with us, wants relationship with you. Let that bring you hope and joy that transforms the event of Christmas Day into a turning point in your journey with God.

advent

Our expectations usually land somewhere in between our hope and the reality of our past experience. Past disappointments can diminish our expectations. We can be so focused on our expectations that we miss God. That’s why we need Advent.

 Luke 1:5-25 Zechariah tells the story of God interrupting the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They are both “well along in years”. He had been a priest for decades. He may have given up hope of ever serving in the Holy of Holies, but one day, unexpectedly, he was chosen as the priest who would go to burn incense in the Holy of Holies. He no doubt expected to be awed by the beauty and the deep meaning of the moment. He undoubtedly prepared a beautiful blessing to be given to the crowds outside, waiting for him to finish.

 Elizabeth spent decades hoping to get pregnant. In a culture that saw barrenness as a curse from God, she undoubtedly begged God year after year for a baby. But her wrinkles replaced her hope, and she no doubt gave up hope of having a family.

 God miraculously interrupted the expectations of both of them with what they did not expect. Zechariah went into the Holy of Holies to serve God; it never occurred to him that God would actually meet him there. Elizabeth assumed that if God didn’t honor her prayers on her time table, that God didn’t honor her prayers. Both underestimated the God who exceeds the expectations of His people.

 Zechariah’s doubt at the power of God to give him a son left him speechless (literally!) and postponed that prepared blessing until after the birth of John (Luke 1:67-79). We don’t know how Elizabeth received the news, but I have to believe that the pantomime when Zechariah got home was hilarious.

 Advent is the season of the Christian calendar where we “wait” for the coming of God into our world. We don’t like to wait. We try to fill the time with activity and tasks. Too many spend Advent frustrated with long lines, endless chores, traffic jams, and schedules that are too full. We will spend too much money on presents and decorations that will be momentarily appreciated and quickly forgotten. New Year’s Day will find us unchanged by the celebration of Christmas.

 I’ve always believed that I can nearly always find what I’m looking for. Looking for trouble or looking for blessing will give me a much greater chance of finding them. What are you looking for this Christmas? Are you so focused on your to do list that you will miss the presence of God? Does the mundane consume so much of your attention that the holy moments pass you by, unnoticed? Do you eagerly anticipate God’s presence? Do you expect that He will bless you and bring you joy? Are you planning for his answers to your prayers and expecting Him to do something new in your life?

 Hoping that God will interrupt your life to bring your good and His glory is very different from expecting that He will. Begin each day of Advent expecting God to interrupt your schedule. Look for His fingerprints on the events and circumstances on your day. Anticipate a new perspective on His plan for your life. Watch for Him to delight you with His presence and praise Him when He does.

 

presents 2

I’m to the age where opening the presents on Christmas morning isn’t near as important to me as the precious people who gather with me, even if only by phone, at the party, around the tree, around the table. The people who make relationship with me, who make my presence their priority, are an incredible gift that makes me feel valued and loved.

There are all kinds of presents. There are presents that meet my needs and others that bring me delight. There are some that are given in gratitude, and some that are given in unconditional love. Charities give me “gifts” of address labels and notepads because they want me to contribute to make a contribution. But the people who really matter, the ones who really love you, give you their presence.

God gave the present of his presence to an undeserving people. God sent his only begotten son to the mess and the struggle of earth because relationship with us right now is his priority. Being with us was more important to God than the perfect praise of heaven or protecting his glory. He had already given us all the riches of earth, but on that first Christmas he gave us his physical presence for the first time since Eden. God loved and value us so much that sent his only begotten son to be present with us because he values and loves us.

May you know the presence of the ones who love you during these holidays. May the presents you receive bring you joy. And may the presence of Immanuel, God with us, fill your heart and your home with strength for your struggles, with joy for your blessings, and with gratitude for his love.

lost and found

Yesterday I lost my keys…again. I frantically search all over, everywhere I could think they might be, or anywhere that I might have laid them down while I was focusing on something else.  That is how it usually happens.  My mind is one place and my activity is somewhere else.  But when my search finally leads me to what I seek, there is delight, relief, and the opportunity to focus on what is next, rather than endlessly repeating where I’ve been.

This morning as I read the Christmas story, taking comfort in the familiar words, I saw something new. Mary was “found” to be with child (Mat 1:18).  Because the Joseph aspect of the story is in Matthew and the Elizabeth story is in Luke, it’s hard to merge the chronology of these two. Did Mary just run away to Elizabeth immediately after the visit from the angel?  Was everyone surprised when she returned home, months later, looking very pregnant? Did she even try to talk to Joseph before the town gossips got in on the action? How exactly did he “find” out? Who “found” her to be pregnant? What did they choose to do with this information that they “found”? Did they assume Joseph had violated the betrothal laws, or that Mary had betrayed him during the months she was away?

But when I searched the word “found” in the gospels, I learned that the first “finding” in the Christmas story was when Mary “found” favor with God (Luke 1:30).  The Christmas story is full of “finding”.  The Shepherds “found” Jesus, lying in the manger (Luke 2:16). Herod “found out” from the Wise Men when the star had appeared.

 The idea of being found is a key image and message of the gospel. When Jesus was lost, Mary and Joseph “found” him at the temple.  When Andrew met Jesus, he told his brother that he had “found” the messiah. When Jesus was crucified, the soldiers came to break his legs, but “found” he was already dead. The women who came to the tomb “found” the stone rolled away. Luke 15 records three parables Jesus taught about “finding”: sheep, coin, and a lost son. In each of these parables he describes the utter joy of the one who “found” what he was looking for.

The Christmas story is God coming to “be found” by his people. He always knew where we were; he left where he was and came to Bethlehem that night in such a way that we could “find” him. He gave his own job description in Luke 19:10 when he said he came to seek and save the lost. His direction to us is to “seek first his kingdom”.

When I study history or read the news headlines, it is difficult for me to understand why God would seek us. We are unquestionably lost. We seek false gods that do not satisfy. We seek the “far country” and our own power and control. We seek what gives us temporary pleasure and are ultimately destroyed by our evil desires. Even those of us who want so much to be defined by our relationship with God sometimes “find” ourselves lost in the temptations and distractions of our world.

We are never lost to God.  He always knows where we are.  We are lost only in the sense that we “find” ourselves somewhere we don’t belong.  As I look back at my life and all the times I’ve chosen to wander away from God, I’m completely humbled by a Savior who left heaven to “find” me, who seeks me every time I wander off.

We worship the God who made himself available to us, who seeks us, who wants to be “found” by us. When we realize that what we most seek in this life is the relationship with God who so wants to be “found”, we find relief and delight that the world cannot give, and we can then focus on the story and life that God so wants to share with us. This Christmas may you “find” the wonder of the baby in the manger who came to where you are, the love of the savior who left heaven to be found by you, and the joy of the Father/Shepherd whose incredible love forbids him from letting you stay lost.

(reposted from 12/25/13)

stars and angel

They were the invitations God sent to include man in the Christmas story. The Wise Men followed the star; the shepherds followed through on the directions given them by the angels. Stars and Angels beckoned non-members of the Holy Family to celebrate with the new parents. Their role in that first Christmas was to call people into the presence of Immanuel, God made flesh.

Now they are common in our Christmas decorations. We sing about them in our carols, and we usually top our trees with a star or an angel. Christmas pageants always include a “host” of angels.

I wonder if any others saw the signs or heard the invitation of that first Christmas and just chose to ignore them. I wonder how many others saw the star, were fascinated by its appearing, and chose not to interrupt their schedules. I wonder why the angels picked those particular shepherds to invite to the manger. Did the inn keeper’s family know a baby was being born in their stable? Did they check on that laboring mother, or were they too busy with other plans and chores? Was their story left out of biblical account, or did they leave God out of their story that night?

Too many of us see the signs of Christmas and appreciate them from afar, without ever following them into the presence of God. The light of that star shone over the birthplace of the Light of the World. God put the sign where everyone could see it, but very few made the effort or had the desire to follow it into his presence. The angels told of the blessing that the birth of Jesus brought to Earth, but only the shepherds went to see for themselves.

 Appreciating the decorations, even being aware of the event, will not necessarily bring you into the presence of Immanuel. When you see a star or an angel during this season, be reminded that they were always God’s invitation to be a part of his story. In the days leading up to the celebration of Christmas, may you follow the star and the angels past the tradition and ritual of the holiday into the presence of God himself.

gift

Gift wrap matters to me. Wrapped presents under the tree increase the expectation for Christmas morning, and are part of the decoration in my home.  Somehow the color and beauty of the wrapping and bows and the process of peeling them away escalates the anticipation of the gift inside.

Sometimes gift wrap can be deceiving. My dad used to put a box in a box in a box until a tiny gift loomed large under the tree. My Sunday School class does white elephant gifts at our annual Christmas party, and the silliest, ugliest presents are often hidden beneath the most beautiful paper. There were times when my boys were small that the wrapping on their precious gifts for me used more tape than paper.

Wrapping is scriptural. David described God as “wrapped in light”. (Ps 104:2) God took the holiness and divinity of his son and wrapped him in human flesh when he sent him to earth for that first Christmas. Mary wrapped that baby in cloths and placed him in a manger. Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus from the cross and wrapped him in linen before placing his body in the tomb.

The gifts under my tree represent planning and shopping that I hope will bring joy to the recipients. But the bottom line is that the wrapping is just the presentation. By the end of Christmas morning, crumpled paper and torn ribbon will be stuffed into trash bags and thrown away. It is the gift itself that matters. What determines the importance of a gift is not whether you like the wrapping; it is what you do with the gift once the wrapping is gone.

Christmas is our reminder that God loved the world so much that he gave us the incredible gift of his son, wrapped in the form of a human baby. (John 3:16) What will you do with the meaning and purpose of Christmas once the celebration and wrapping are gone? Let God’s gift that became Christmas bring you new hope and joy as you chose to celebrate his presence, throughout this season and until you see him face to face.

Tree

One of the tenderest parts of my preparation for Christmas is putting up the tree. Decorating it usually brings a few tears. Many of the ornaments were given to me by people who are now waiting for me in heaven. Many of the ornaments were made by my precious children who are now wonderful grown men. Some were given to me by people I rarely see anymore. Each ornament represents a person or an event or a trip that blessed me or my family. Each one has a story. I have spent twenty seven years accumulating the ornaments that make my tree complete and give it beauty and meaning.

It’s not a perfect tree where everything matches. It’s a tree that mirrors real life. Most of the ornaments on it are one of a kind. Some are elegantly beautiful; some are whimsically fun. Some shine; some are worn by age. Some are religious; some are secular. All are precious to me and are a reflection of the story of my life.

The decorations and parties and concerts are one way I try to make celebrating Christmas look different from the rest of my year. The older I get, the more my celebrations are lace with memory and tradition. That tree is precious to me because it is where those that I love will gather on Christmas morning. My tree, my life, and my effort to celebrate the birth of my Savior are all imperfect, but God is not deterred by my imperfection; it is the reason he came to save me.

My intentional focus on the fact the God interrupted history to send his son to earth is intertwined with family needs and schedule demands. When I choose to acknowledge God’s incredible gift of that first holy night of Jesus’ life, Christmas comes to my den and my heart as surely as it did to the stable and hillside in Bethlehem.

That Christ child would grow up to lead those willing to follow him through all the events of their lives: the shiny and the raggedy, the glorious and the tender, the sacred and the secular. He didn’t insist that we become holy so that we could know him; he came to help us become holy in the midst of all the stuff and shine and stress of our lives. May your home and your Christmas celebration be characterized by his presence, his peace, and his joy as you allow him to weave the story of your past into all that is to come in the new year.

 

angels

God sent one angel to announce the birth of Jesus and tell the shepherds how they could find the holy family. Then a whole “host” of angels showed up with a different proclamation.

 Luke 2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God and peace to men – that is what the birth of Christ brought to earth that night. The angels proclaimed glory to God who loved his stubborn, disobedient people so much that nothing would prevent him from dwelling with them. And they proclaimed heaven’s peace to men who could not seem to find or create peace for themselves. There was no immediate change in the lives of the shepherds that night. After the angels disappeared, their circumstances were unchanged. The sheep still needed to be watched. Their family and economic situations were unchanged. And they faced a new day with no sleep. But their hearts and expectations were changed. Those shepherds who were so afraid of the sudden appearance of the angels did what the angels told them to do…and they saw God.

Luke 2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Looking at all the strife in our hearts and our headlines, it seems we need the same thing today. Giving glory to God often takes a back seat to our comfort zone, our agenda, and political correctness. Too often when God comes to us, we are too busy, too hopeful for our own glory. We forget or refuse to honor the one who has come to us over and over, who has blessed us, who loves us so much he refuses to let go of us. We don’t give praise and glory to the only one who deserves it…and that robs us of our peace.

I suspect our peace here on earth is rooted in our ability to choose to see the glory of God in the midst of all the other stuff in life. God never promised to grant all your wishes, but over and over he promised his presence. May you hear the proclamation of the angels with new insight this Christmas, and may that knowledge lead you to see God in the midst of the circumstances of your life. Let the honor you show to God bring you deep peace.

Empty

My family had a wonderful day yesterday. We ate and laughed. We found joy in each other’s company. We were reminded that we are loved and belong to the incredible gift of family. But yesterday is gone in all but our memory. My patio has a pile of wadded up wrapping paper and dilapidated boxes this morning. Each box used to contain a gift that was given to bring joy and reminder of love. While the paper and boxes are piled on the patio, the gifts they contained are now in drawers and closets, on nightstands and desks. They will be used and worn in ways that provide utility and comfort. And they are evidence that our family celebrated each other yesterday.

When they were wrapped under the tree, those boxes gave beauty to the room, and created anticipation of what was to come on Christmas morning. The boxes contained the gifts, but the value of what was in the boxes will be determined by what we do with the gift itself.

Christmas is no more about the boxes that contained the gifts than it is about the manger. Both were made special because of what they held. That manger may symbolize the drama of that first Christmas night, but eventually it was empty. The Shepherds went back to field, the Wise Men went back home a different way. Joseph and Mary had to move past the birth of this holy child and begin a life with him, starting by fleeing to Egypt to protect him from Herod. Jesus didn’t stay in the manger; it was just where he began his life on earth; it was not the purpose for which he came.

As you move into the new year, what difference does that empty manger make in your plans, expectations, and perspective for all that is to come in 2014? God gave his only son as his gift to humanity. That same son also left us the incredible gift of an empty tomb. What you do with that gift will determine how you spend eternity.