Christmas Hymns of Faith

With my day to post on Christmas Eve, I just couldn’t write about a favorite vintage book. December 24 is as much of a holy day on the Christian calendar as is Christmas Day. In fact, the two days together create a most holy time rivaled only by Holy Week leading up to Easter.


What better way to acknowledge this sacred time than to look at a few centuries-old hymns celebrating the birth of our Lord? I love at least a dozen, having sung them since I knew how to carry a tune. I’ve picked three.


“O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I fell in love with this melody in a minor key the first time I was allowed to attend the midnight Christmas Eve service. Within the lyrics, I recognized how the people ached for Messiah’s arrival. They mourned in lonely exile. They begged Him to end all envy, strife, and quarrels. I felt their pain, and at the same time, I was filled with joy. For Messiah came! He answered their prayers! And I reap the benefits of His arrival, and subsequent sacrifice, on earth.

credit to: dewthis.blogspot.com

“Angels We Have Heard on High.” Every verse is filled with the story of the angels proclaiming Christ’s birth: they appeared to the shepherds, the shepherds were jubilant, and they were invited to see the newborn Messiah for themselves. The final stanza invites all of us to find this joy for ourselves.

But it was the “Glorias” that hooked me. What a thrill to take a deep breath and then belt out “GLO—————-RIA!” My little girl worship soared to the heavens, and I knew Jesus was pleased. Kind of like what the Little Drummer Boy felt–but I’m not going to choose his song today.

joy-to-the-world

“Joy to the World!” This hymn is so familiar, I tend to take it for granted, but when I consider the words, oh my! The words are why we sing it so often! Be joyful! The Lord has come. Even the rocks cry out! He’s broken the curse! We have the best ruler the world has ever known or will ever know! And He loves us beyond what we can imagine. Lots of exclamation points. I don’t know how to skimp on exclamation points with such a hymn! One is even included in the title.
It’s certainly worth your time to go over the words in these hymns with your children. Each is an individual sermon.
Which hymn would you choose to share with your child in detail? And why?
Have a blessed Christmas!

A different kind of Christmas warmth…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… or not.

In my corner of the world—northeastern Indiana—while we don’t always have snow for Christmas, we’re accustomed to cold weather as the days close in on the yuletide celebration. This December, however, has been unseasonably warm—almost ridiculously so—leaving us with absolutely no chance of a white Christmas.

forecast

Many moons ago as we celebrated our first December 25 as a married couple, the mercury hit a record high of 64 degrees accompanied by a very high “low” of only 55. I was incredibly bummed as I tip-toed around mud holes in the foggy, rainy/drizzly conditions. I felt cheated of the joy of my favorite time of year.

I guess I’ve matured over the years because, while I’ve oft repeated in the last couple weeks how “it doesn’t seem like Christmas time with the weather being so warm!”, I’m not bummed. Actually today as I hit the grocery store and begin to cook and rearrange the furniture to accommodate 40 people in my living/dining room area, the weather is the least of my concerns. I’m bustling with fun ideas for entertaining each age group, with special attention to how to fit in each of the looked-forward-to traditions as our time together this Christmas Eve will be a bit short due to work schedules. As family from out of state are unable to make the trip this year, we’re hoping to include them in the festivities via an online connection. Better than not “being” with them at all. So, yeah, there’s much more important things to conDSCF6702sider than the weather.

Oh, I love the look  of freshly-fallen snow blanketing the ground, and a chill in the air does make it feel more like Christmas. Should we wake up on Thursday and/or Friday to find the weather predictors got it all wrong, I wouldn’t complain. To be greeted with a white Christmas would be very nice. But I’m not counting on it. Nor am I wasting even a second on wishing for snow or cold.winter snow scene

And once the group arrives on Christmas  Eve, I’ll forgot about the spots on the family room carpet that refused to disappear despite repeated scrubbings or the even-shabbier-than-last-year kitchen cabinets that we’d hoped to have replaced by now. Nothing will matter except being together to celebrate GOD’s greatest gift to mankind—HIS son born in a manager, destined to be the Saviour of the world. Our hearts will be filled to overflowing with the warmth and joy of CHRISTMAS. Oh, I can hardly wait…

What about you? What are you most looking forward to about CHRISTMAS this year?

 

 

The Greatest Story

Remember when you first learned about the baby Jesus?
Remember learning how angels suddenly appeared to the shepherds and scared them half to death as they sang about a wonderful baby born to be a king?

angels and shepherds
Remember hearing of other kings who came from far away to bow down to this baby?
As a little kid, I shivered in awe at the thought of God coming to earth as a baby. I wished I had been a shepherd who had seen the sky filled with angels and heard songs more beautiful than the most fabulous choirs from the Metropolitan Opera.
I wondered why only three kings followed a star that was so obviously different from what the heavens had displayed for centuries.

3 kings
I grew up. I learned what the Christmas story was truly about. Jesus’s birth was only the beginning of a greater story. I was challenged to become a follower of Christ, to witness of His love to others, to attend church and Sunday school, and to organize church programs for the purpose of outreach.
Can you see how our childhood wonder devolves into grown-up responsibilities? I don’t deny that outreach and church and sharing the love of Christ is vital to a Christian for spiritual growth and for spreading the Gospel, but never allow the “ought-to’s” of Christendom to obscure the “want-to’s” of worshiping the Holy Babe in the manger and setting aside all other chores in order to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Keep that childlike wonder

nativity

as you gaze upon the King of kings, Lord of Lords, wonderful Counselor, and Prince of Peace.

Chanukah or Christmas?

Hanukkah-in-Jerusalem-3

Chanukah in Jerusalem AP

The Jewish Feast of Dedication (Chanukah in Hebrew) begins Sunday evening and my husband will be lighting the first candle on our chanukiyah. The tradition of Chanukah began 165 years before the birth of Messiah. The apostle John (10:22-23) said, “At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon.…”

 

Why is Chanukah associated with lights? When the Maccabees drove the Greeks out of Jerusalem. The priests found only a one-day supply of consecrated oil for the golden lampstand (which must burn continually before the Lord). Although consecrating oil is an eight-day process, the one-day supply kept the lampstand burning until the new oil was ready.

Tel Aviv Memoriah

Tel Aviv AP

 

Jerusalem celebrated the Lord’s miracle, and thus began the annual tradition of remembering the dedication of the Temple with lamps, candles, and—now—electric outdoor menorahs.

 

Jewish sages teach the menorah light is both physical and spiritual. According to the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, “The Sanctuary’s windows allowed the special ethereal light coming forth from the menorah to burst out to the world from within the hallowed hall.”

 

When Jesus proclaimed, “I am the light of the world,” the citizens of Jerusalem knew exactly what he meant, and they called Him a blasphemer because only the light in the Temple represented the Lord’s light shining out to the world.

 

Warsaw AP photo

Warsaw

Stuttgart Jews Celebrate Hanukkah

STUTTGART, GERMANY – DECEMBER 16, 2014 (Photo by Alex Quesada/Getty Images)

Paris menorah

Paris AP

 

I grew up in a home that celebrated the Christmas season with baked goodies, midnight worship, a lit-up tree, and a few gifts. As a believer grafted into the commonwealth of Israel, I now find special meaning in Jewish traditions; the lessons in each resonates in the context of Yeshua’s all-too-short time on earth.

 

Do you think it is okay for non-Jews to celebrate Chanukah? And is it acceptable for Jews to share and celebrate the secular joy of Christmas. What do you think?

 

“Where is Baby Jesus?”

My nearly three-year-old grandson raced through the house in a panic. “Mom! Where is Baby Jesus? He disappeared! I can’t find Him anywhere!”Dylan's nativity

For several weeks he’d played with a 3 piece nativity his parents had found in his grandpa’s belongings. The young lad had latched on to the miniature, clear glass figurines, with a special fondness for the wee babe in the manager.

With the help of his mom, the lost child was found. The relieved youngster resumed toting around the tiny infant. And all was well.

I’m afraid Baby Jesus is in danger of disappearing from Christmas—the holiday created to celebrate HIS extraordinary birth and continued presence in the lives of boys and girls, men and women.

Oh, that this “disappearance” could be solved as easily. Consumed with shopping and gifts and parties and fun and food and traditions, how easy it is to neglect… to disregard… to overlook the significance of why we celebrate, of why we give gifts and share Christmas cheer and goodwill.

As each of us make the necessary preparations to celebrate this holiday meant to commemorate the greatest gift ever given, I challenge you to make Baby Jesus an integral part of your family’s Christmas.

In your corner of the world, make sure friends and family and neighbors and acquaintances and yes, even strangers know why you celebrate Christmas.

         Give gifts. Spread Christmas cheer. Make memories.  Treasure traditions.                                                       Have fun. Indulge in tasty treats.                                                        Celebrate. Celebrate. Celebrate.        

     And do it all with the remembrance that … 

 

jesus is the reason 

 What is you family’s favorite way to celebrate that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”? 

 

STOP BUYING THINGS (AKA How to Simplify Christmas)

Simplify Christmas 1

(I almost titled this post “Looking Past Thanksgiving,” a little tongue-in-cheek poke at Beth’s wonderful post from Tuesday.)

Over the last few years, I’ve come to dread December. Part of the reason is because I work part-time at a church and December can be like tax season for an accountant if you let it. Add to that the onus of decorating, purchasing gifts, parties, and travel and I find myself tired before the season has even begun. What should be one of the most hope filled, joyful seasons of the year has become something I’m beginning to dread. How messed up is that?

And I don’t think it’s just me. I hear people say things like, “I can’t wait for January 2nd.” Others get upset about coffee cup design at Starbucks. (Really?) Black Friday isn’t enough, now stores are opening on Thanksgiving, because isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? We’re thankful we have a day off work to go out and buy things?

OK, time to stop and reign in the cynical… /deep breath/

It doesn’t have to be this way, folks. Christmas doesn’t have to be a season of DOing. I can be a season of BEing.

Do you remember what Christmas was like as a child? The round-eyed wonder of the Christmas tree. Candlelight services. Family gathered around. Christmas lights.

What if we all took a step back this year?

Our kids (and grandkids!) don’t need as many presents as Dudley Dursley on his birthday! What if you gave your kids less? Good friends of ours give 3 gifts to their kids (because Jesus received three gifts from the wise men): something fun, something educational, and something spiritual. Or recently on Facebook, I saw an article suggesting 4 gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.

What if you didn’t send out Christmas cards? Or maybe this year you skip the Christmas letter?

What if you only put out a third of your Christmas decorations? Or none at all?

What if you didn’t schedule all those parties? Or maybe skip a few this year?

What if you decided not to buy gifts for everyone you know? Maybe give a card instead? Or tell people you’re taking a year off?

What if you took a break from Commercial Christmas like some people do social media? Instead of going on a Facebook or Twitter fast, what if you took a Christmas fast? Get back to the basics. What is most important to you at Christmas? Spending time with family? Going to church? Watching Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer? Do those things.

What if you replaced gift giving with memory making? Why not write a letter and tell the person why they really matter to you instead of buying them something? Draw a picture? Send them a throwback picture. Go caroling, sleigh riding, bike riding. Make a memory, don’t give someone something to collect dust. Be creative. Use your talents.

Do things because you WANT to, not because they are expected. Not because they’ve become a laundry list of traditions.

Here’s my challenge to you: Make a list of all the things you do for Christmas, and then go through and strike off half of them. Extra points if you get rid of 2 out of 3!

Simplify. Be the dentist and pull all the teeth out of the Abominable Commercial Christmas monster. You’ll be glad you did.

Simplify Christmas

NOW YOU: On a scale of 1 (stress free) to 10 (completely crazy), how hectic is the holiday season for you? What can you cut out this year to make the season more fun and less run? What was your favorite thing about Christmas as a child?

Please, no more SURVIVING Christmas!

The holidays are over and “normal” has returned—school is back in session, full work schedules have resumed, no DSCF7713
leftovers remain.

The Christmas tree may or may not still be up as customs regarding the not-so-fun ritual of dismantling the premier of Christmas decorations vary from family to family. That’s a nice way of saying some people have major issues unearthing the time and energy for this thankless task. My husband is the subtle type. After about January 3, he unplugs the lights on the tree. He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t take the initiative to undecorate the tree. He simply pulls the plug.

I love all things Christmas—the baking, shopping, entertaining, decorating—all of it. That’s why it literally pains me that some people associate the word SURVIVED with Christmas or the more general term “the holidays”. As if Christmas and New Year’s were events to endure, to dread like a hurricane or drought or some other sort of devastating occurrence.

Christmas should be a joyous occasion, a looked-forward-to season anticipated with enthusiasm and excitement. A time to make cherished memories.

Then why, oh why, do so many people, by December 26, feel as if they’ve just endured another Christmas?

DSCF7711I’ll admit December was pretty busy around our place this year. But I expected it to be kind of crazy, and I prepared myself—mostly mentally—for the anticipated hecticness. And I was tired by December 26, but it was a happy, satisfied tired. Everything went well, and I felt really good about Christmas 2014.

A few years ago my December wasn’t going so well. The more I thought about all I had yet to do, the nearer I came to a panic-induced meltdown. I was forced to evaluate the necessity of each and every item on my overly looooong to-do list. What could I cross off the list without ruining Christmas? What would I miss on such a massive scale that it had to somehow be squeezed in?

I decided I couldn’t bear to skip our annual Christmas card/picture although if the newsy letter to accompany it had to be axed this once, I’d still live. I baked fewer batches of cookies and nixed a couple other things that slip my mind now. Christmas happened as planned, for the most part, and in no way was it ruined.

Despite the gray hairs, the near meltdown reinforced several truths.

  1. There are only so many hours in a day. Even in December.
  2. Sleep needs to occur in every 24 hour period. Even in December.
  3. Expectations can easily swell to an impossible level. Especially in December.

Many busy holiday seasons have led me to several time/energy/sanity saving conclusions.

  1. SHOPPING: The earlier I begin shopping, the better. Even though I enjoy shopping, it’s time consuming so I DSCF7717purchased about 80% of my gifts online this year. That made shopping for the other 20% a piece of cake.
  2.  DECORATING: The earlier I tackle decorating the house the better—except we don’t do ANY Christmas before Thanksgiving. So if I get on it right after Thanksgiving and don’t dawdle, I can cross DECORATING off my list AND enjoy the pretty decorations the entire month. I leave my collection of snowmen up throughout the winter which means I have half as much to take down after Christmas AND the house isn’t so bare during the cold, dreary months.
  3.  BAKING: I love to give homemade goodies to friends, co-workers and family. I learned to spread the gifting throughout the month rather than try to make and distribute it ALL in the couple days before the 25th. We love decorated sugar cookies, but I limit the shapes to stars and bells with ONE shade of frosting and quickly added colorful sprinkles—no intricate decorating. It’s the taste that counts, right?
  4.  ENTERTAINING: We host several gatherings each Christmas, often with similar menus from year-to-year. So I begin stocking up on ingredients, paper products, etc., as early as October when I spot items on sale.  As some point, I take an inventory, make a HUGE list of needed items for each menu, then hit the store. Last second trips to the grocery are maddening and the store in my small town closes at 10 pm, and I’m a night owl, so planning ahead is a necessity.
  5.  PLANNING:  It ALWAYS takes longer than you anticipate to make that special dish or the entire meal, detail the bathroom or wax the floor. This is a hard one for me. Too often when I thought I allowed plenty of time, in reality I finished like 94 seconds before the doorbell rang. Talk about stressful. Start EARLY… have a bit of time to relax—I’m having that engraved on a nice refrigerator magnet. Do you want one too???
  6. EXPECTATIONS: Please promise not to tell my husband this one, okay? Sometimes my expectations, in hind sight, were ridiculously unrealistic. Ow… that’s painful to even type. But it’s true. I’m learning—really I am—but it’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of Christmas and over schedule myself. Nothing robs the joy from the season like being totally exhausted. Reign in your expectations and let yourself relax at least a little.

winter snow sceneAs I’m enjoying the slower pace of a cold Indiana January, I’ve made some notes from Christmas 2014 to help me with planning and preparing for Christmas 2015. While the memories are still somewhat fresh, why don’t you do the same. And go on record by sharing in the comments at least ONE thing you want to do differently next Christmas.