Merry Christmas

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

Merry Christmas!

Chri$tma$

Retail sales this Christmas are expected to exceed $500 billion in total. You would have to live in a cave to somehow be without a cell phone, cable tv, or the internet in order to avoid the onslaught of advertising related to gift-giving and Christmas. For instance, I know that as a guy I have already blown it this Christmas – I didn’t go to Jared’s.

I often hear from other Christians as they lament over the commercialization of Christmas. It seems Christmas is more about the cash than it is Christ. We often even refer to this as the War on Christmas. My problem is we act as if this is something new.

We have bought the idea that Christmas was somehow never about the money and yet I would suggest to you that it has always been about the money – from the first day.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Luke 2:1

Jesus was born into a place of conflict, occupation, and oppression.

Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem so that the occupying Roman empire would know how much to tax their subjects. The birth of Christ in Bethlehem happened amidst a money-grab by those in power. And you can bet the vendors in the market place were taking advantage of the influx of outsiders to make their money.

The Good News is that Jesus came to us in this unlikely and unexpected way to show us the depth of God’s love for us to show us that God is so in love with us that God would go to any length for us, even to being humbly born in a stable (because there was no room in the inn).

And the really GOOD NEWS is that Jesus still shows up in the unexpected places in our world and in our lives. Jesus still shows up in our time whenever there is struggle, strife, injustice – wherever violence threatens and seeks to destroy the innocent and the good. Jesus even shows up in the midst of the over-commercialization of Christmas – IF you will let Him.

Jesus is born to bring hope in the midst of our despair; born to bring light in the midst of darkness.

Jesus is born to give us a choice of giving over greed.

In Jesus, God entered into our reality and our lives. God knows what it is like to be human. God knows intimately what we go through. God knows what it is like to have hopes and dreams, fears and doubts, to belong and to be rejected, to succeed and fail.

I think sometimes the most unexpected place for us to think of God is in our own lives – amidst our frustrations. We somehow think that God is too distant, too busy, to break through all the gift-giving, advertisements, and business of Christmas and reach us.

But that is the point of Christmas. It reminds us that God chooses to be with us, wherever we are. God is with us, today, tomorrow. Always.

Jesus is God’s love made visible. His humble birth amidst the business of the Roman Empire puts that love on full display. It is a beautiful and unexpected gift in a humble and unexpected place.

Sometimes the greatest gifts you will ever receive are the ones you least expect. I pray that your Christmas will be filled with unexpected gifts – presents, relationships, or moments of grace. And may they come to you in unexpected places – the mall, home, or in church.

May they remind you of the original unexpected gift of Christmas—Jesus—and of God’s great love for you.

Elf on the Shelf meet John Wesley

You gotta love the idea behind Elf on the Shelf.  What a great way to engage children in good behavior during December.  The children actually self-police their good behavior as an imagery stuffed elf looks on.
As a adults, we even find ourselves caught up in the fanciful world; hence, the countless photos appearing everywhere of elves in the craziest of places. BUT, as adults we also find ourselves noticing are kids doing good things AND we actually take the time to speak words of kindness and thanks to our children – maybe that is more important than the elf?

When our elf (Buddy) made his first appearance in the house, our son proudly declared, “Buddy is back and watching! But that’s okay because I’ve been good.”

His statement got me thinking …

Remember that famous quote by John Wesley (1703-1791) the founder of the Methodist movement?

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
So, what if we created little John Wesley dolls and had them appear around town – at the grocery, at the bank, at the workplace, at the gym, at the mall – you know all the places we live, work, and play.
And what if we told a story about how he is watching to see if we are living out our faith?

Would something as little as this help us figure out that how we live our faith matters?

After all how we live our faith matters a lot more than a few presents showing up on Christmas day! or at least that’s how I interpret the story that Jesus told:

31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all of his angels, he will sit on his royal throne. 32 The people of all nations will be brought before him, and he will separate them, as shepherds separate their sheep from their goats.
33 He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 Then the king will say to those on his right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. 35 When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, 36 and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.”
37 Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? 38 When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear 39 or visit you while you were sick or in jail?”
40 The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”
41 Then the king will say to those on his left, “Get away from me! You are under God’s curse. Go into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 I was hungry, but you did not give me anything to eat, and I was thirsty, but you did not give me anything to drink. 43 I was a stranger, but you did not welcome me, and I was naked, but you did not give me any clothes to wear. I was sick and in jail, but you did not take care of me.”
44 Then the people will ask, “Lord, when did we fail to help you when you were hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in jail?”
45 The king will say to them, “Whenever you failed to help any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do it for me.”

46 Then Jesus said, “Those people will be punished forever. But the ones who pleased God will have eternal life.”            Matthew 25:31-46 CEV

Assembling a Merry Christmas


“We’re just a couple of misfits. Trying to fit in”

Like many Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is one of my favorite cartoons of Christmas. I like the part of the story about all of the misfit toys (a toy train with square wheels or a squirt gun with jelly, or an elephant with pink spots, or perhaps even a “Charlie-in-the-box”) and of course the misfits – Rudolph and Hermey the elf who wants to be a dentist. I can relate to the misfits because most of my life I have seemingly been a bit of a misfit.

Now I have a theory about where all the toys on the Island of Misfit Toys come from. I believe these toys aren’t actually from the North Pole, but rather they are the sad victims of countless parents’ poor attempts at assembling toys without instructions on Christmas morning. Perhaps as a result of watching these misfits, or a childhood trauma, or a lesson learned as an adult, I have become an assembly instruction aficionado.

I love instructions, or as my son puts it, “Where are the ‘Questions’?” I guess he has witnessed one too many instruction-less assemblies!

I believe many of us struggle with Christmas and all the associated joy. We struggle like a misfit trying to fit in while those around us relish in a season of merriment and joy. I propose to you this day that our problem is not with the product of Christmas, but rather we have failed to properly read and follow the instructions.

So let’s review the instructions given us to assemble a merry Christmas:

Step 1A Find and follow the instructions

This seems obvious, but it needs to be said. Remember the trouble shooting guide for a desk lamp says, “1) Have you checked to be sure the light bulb is good? 2) Is the lamp turned on? 3) Is the lamp plugged in?” All seems obvious, but you know someone didn’t read them. Don’t let that someone be you this year.

Our instructions will be found in the gospel of Luke in the second chapter.

Step 1B Find the important part. 

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. Luke 2:15-16

A Merry Christmas begins with a baby in a manger. This is the most unlikely place to find a Merry Christmas for some, but this is no ordinary baby. Sometimes the most unlikely part is the most important part.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11

This baby was born to die so HE could be our Savior. This baby was the anointed one, our Christ. This baby is Lord of all (including us). A more joyous celebration cannot be found. The main focus of Christmas must be sought carefully and diligently or it will be missed.

Sometimes the most important part can be lost because it is so small. Christmas is found at a lowly stable in Bethlehem. You would miss it unless you were following the directions.

Step 2 Find someone else to help you celebrate.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. Luke 2:17

The whole reason for the season is found in the birth of Christ, but part of the joy of the season is sharing the news (not presents or fruitcakes). The shepherds increased their joy by spreading the good news of Jesus’ birth. Keeping the story of Christmas to ourselves will rob us of the greatest opportunity we have to discover true joy and to have a Merry Christmas.

Step 3 Think it through

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. Luke 2:18

The true meaning of Christmas gets lost in the hustle and bustle of adding to the season things that distract us. The message was plain to those shepherds that night and it struck wonder in the hearts of those that heard their tale. The message was simple and uncomplicated.

Take time and read the story of the first Christmas and listen to the Word of God. Take the time to sit, relax and meditate on the wonder of the true story of Christmas. If by focusing and listening to the story we can rediscover the true meaning of Christmas, we will indeed have begun to assemble a Merry Christmas.

Step 4 Don’t throw anything away! 

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

First, understand “kept” to mean that she remembered the events of that night and the things connected to the birth of the Savior. She meditated on those things. Every detail that surrounds Christmas is important and must not be forgotten. If it is lost then our Merry Christmas is just a poor facsimile of the original. Have you ever looked at the finished product and compared it with the picture on the box?

They do look similar but if not constructed carefully there will be tell tale differences that will be evident in the copy. If you try to skip steps, the parts left over testify to a sloppy job or poor assembly, or missed instructions.
Secondly, “kept” can also signify “to observe or to celebrate”. As we observe the Christmas season, let us center our traditions and celebrations around the things that remind us of that blessed event or the important part.

Step 5 Don’t stop until the job is done.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto themLuke 2:20

Many things are left unfinished simply because we did not take the time to finish them. The shepherds returned to their job and their responsibilities with a different attitude. They may have gone back to the same boring job but they were not the same men. The joy of the first Christmas had changed them and they shared the story of what they has seen with all they encountered.

Have you allowed Christmas to make a positive difference in your life? Do you return to work after Christmas, praising God for the gift of his Son and rejoicing in a Merry Christmas?

The steps to assembling a Merry Christmas are clear but they are not always easy. It takes some effort to assemble a Merry Christmas. It certainly took some effort on the part of the shepherds and Mary.

And let’s not forget poor Hermey and Rudolph who felt like misfits while trying to assemble a Merry Christmas.

Perhaps, you are struggling this year to put together a Merry Christmas.

This season try following the instructions to assemble a Merry Christmas.

If assembled correctly, what you build will stay with you the entire year.

So, if you are having trouble assembling a Merry Christmas, take time to read the instructions this year and assemble a Merry Christmas for yourself.